While society often tries to confine us to a singular identity, Amanda Pericles breaks that linearity through Afrolatinas_, an Instagram account that “highlight[s] the diversity and beauty among black women of Latin-American descent.” Boasting over 10K followers, Afrolatinas_ is a testament to the multiple identities within this community and an affirmation of the need for a more global representation of black people. In what originally started as an exploration of Amanda’s own ethnic and racial identity, Afrolatinas_ has now flourished into an intentional space for the Afro-Latinx identity, and from it, a strong community of Afro-Latinas emerged. In this Spotlight, Amanda shares with us what it means to own the black and Latin-American experience and reminds us of the strength and fluidity of a dual identity.
Tell us about yourself. What led you to create @afrolatinas_?
My parents were both born in Dominican Republic, came to the United States when they were relatively young, and both speak English fluently. I'd say my family is pretty Americanized. I was also raised as a pretty conservative Seventh-Day Adventist Christian. I grew up knowing I was Dominican, speaking Spanish, eating typical Latin American foods (I also grew up with lots of Guatemalans), but my household wasn't blasting bachata and merengue, we weren't dancing all the time, my parents weren't talking about Dominican Republic and its history, and they were speaking "Standard" Spanish. These were things I thought of as normal, since many of my church friends' households were similar. I grew up in diverse public schools and later, a primarily white private school, but I never felt obligated to see myself in a racial light until college. It's as if I just thought of myself as Amanda, who happened to be Dominican. I knew there was a difference between me and my white classmates, but I never perceived it as a significant difference.
As I made friends in college, I found myself connecting to the African Americans, Caribbeans, and Africans, and not so much the Hispanics. Time passed, and I knew I felt comfortable with the former groups, but I still felt a wall between us, like I truly didn't fit in. I didn't understand certain references and I found myself learning some culture aspects as I went along. You'd think that since I was Dominican, I would feel comfortable with the Hispanic crowd, but I didn't understand their references to Spanish-language television or music, either. I felt stuck in the middle.
College was also when I truly started embracing my natural hair. I first got my hair relaxed in the 5th grade and stopped in 11th grade, but I was still straightening my hair at least once a month. As I learned to love my hair with the natural hair movement, I continued learning what I could about the different cultures I was encountering and placing myself in social settings where I felt comfortable and accepted.
Once I left college, I really started diving into what all these factors of my life meant for me, racially and ethnically. My husband, then boyfriend, was Haitian, practically all my friends were Black non-Hispanics. I even considered myself a part of Black Twitter, haha. I knew I was Latina and I knew I was Dominican, but I still felt so isolated! None of my other Dominican friends were thinking about this or talking about their racial identity. On October 10th, 2015, a friend shared a poem on Facebook by Elizabeth Acevedo entitled "Afro-Latina." I'd never heard the term before, but once I finished listening, I knew that this was the box I could check myself into. It was truly the answer to my questions, and although I didn't know much, I knew that I hadn't seen anything on social media yet. So, that same day, I created @afrolatinas_.
The intersection between being black and Latinx runs deep, and yet the Afro-Latinx experience remains invisible in mainstream media such as Univision or Telemundo. How does your platform reclaim the beauty and fluidity of a dual identity?
Almost everyone has some sort of social media account, so it only makes sense to take advantage of the opportunity to reach so many people through platforms like Instagram. My platforms, both the Instagram page and my personal blog, are dedicated to showing the diversity within the Afro-Latinx identity. I feel as though the Latinx identity has been portrayed as one-dimensional. All Latinxs love Selena, tacos, conchas, and speak Spanish. I, for one, feel connected to Black American culture more than I do the Dominican culture. I don't really listen to mainstream Spanish music. I also don't like tacos that much. That's my reality, but it doesn't negate my Afro-Latinidad. There is no one way to be Afro-Latinx or Latinx, and the women I post all claim different narratives while simultaneously claiming their Afro-Latinx identity.
Black history and black indigenous identities are often erased in large parts of Central America, where the everyday person may not think Afro-Latinx come from and instead associate them with countries like Dominican Republic, Cuba, Brazil, etc. What are some ways in which we can uplift the Afro-Latinx narrative everywhere and combat anti-blackness, specifically in Latinx communities?
Simply by existing unapologetically as Black Latinxs and showing the world we exist. Many of us grew up only identifying with part of us, the Latinx side, and now that education and awareness is increasing, we're joining the many Latinxs who were already claiming their blackness. The Latinx narrative so often erases the Black Latinx narrative, just like the rest of the world does to the Black narrative, to the point where we still have FIRSTS occurring in 2018. Ilia Calderon is the first Black Latina evening news-anchor on Univision. That is crazy! Why is she the only one and why is she the first? Why does Brazil have only two Black Miss Universe winners, and why was the second crowned in 2016, 30 years after the first? Being Black Latinx isn't normalized. The Latin community needs to embrace the Asian community, the Indigenous community, the Black community, all of them, and portray them in a positive light.
What are some of the most encouraging direct messages you've received from your supporters? What has the response been like from the online community you have brought together?
Messages from young teenagers and young women who are struggling always bring a smile to my face, because they remind me of my little sister. Some of them are going through these journeys so much earlier now, accompanied by the usual peer pressure and social issues they already face on the daily. I didn't start thinking about my racial identity until I was in my 20s! Some of them come back and tell me how much they appreciate my words and insight, and they feel better about their decision to identify the way they've chosen to identify.
I also love getting messages with submissions about how people love my page! Some people tell me that they've shared this page with their friends or younger women they know. Others tell me they wish they had something like this when they were younger or that they've been looking for a page like this and they're so glad they've found it.
The response has been overwhelmingly positive. I get the occasional negative comment from people who don't even follow me when I post educational things because, ignorance, haha. But my following seems to love learning and they love when their country is represented! They really want to be able to meet up and find events and resources in their community, especially places like the midwest or certain southern cities. Not everyone lives in ethnic and racial melting pots like New York.
What advice would you like to share with other women of color who are thinking about creating similar identity/representation spaces such as Afro-Latinas?
There have been so many pages created in the last few years or so. As a matter of fact, someone took it upon themselves to create the male version of my page, which I thought was super cool! To anyone trying to create something similar, I'd say just go for it! I learn as I go along, and really didn't know what I was getting myself into when I started, so don't be afraid to start something new if you're truly passionate about it. Also, make it your own. Yeah, there are similar spaces, but no one else can bring or add what YOU do to your space.
What's your vision and next steps for Afro-Latinas? How can we be supportive?
I just co-hosted my first event in Harlem at Lenox Coffee on February 25th with three other brands (Blatina with the Good Hair, AfroChicas, and Blactina the Series) and it went so well! It was a sip & chat type of event where followers could meet up with us, mingle, network, and engage in discussion. I'd really love to continue connecting with other brands and pages, as well as my followers, so I'm hoping we can do more events!
I'd really just like to continue educating and connecting with other brands and pages. Eventually, I'd love for Afrolatinas to become a brand in conjunction with Your Average Afrolatina, and kind of be a one stop shop for every and all resource Afro-latina. It's a big goal, but for now, I'm just really happy with the growth and exposure we've had in the last two and a half years. Like I said, this was a passion project of mine I created the very same day I thought of it, and it's become a really important part of my life. I'm grateful for any recognition I receive. The fact that you reached out to me and are willing to spread the word about me and my page is plenty of support, in my book.
Self-expression looks different to everyone. What medium do you use to translate and express your identity?
Since I ran my page anonymously for almost the first two years, I found myself wanting a place to express myself individually. I created my blog Your Average Afrolatina and published my first post on July 20th of last year. I actually hate writing, but I figured since I do talk and rant a lot on social media, I should at least try it out, haha. I advertise that my blog posts will not always tie into being Latina or Black because I want to show that our identities are multifaceted and don't necessarily always have to revolve around our race or ethnicity, although those things do play a big part.
I also feel that (when I actually put in effort), the way I dress expresses who I am. I feel like I enjoy the best of both worlds. I love wearing makeup, putting on a dress, and letting my fro rock, but I also love tossing my hair up on a pineapple and wearing a t-shirt and sweats. I love bold colors and patterns (I have a large Cosby sweater collection), but I also love minimalism and neutral colors. My love for patterns typically beats out my love for neutrals while shopping though, haha.
What is one thing about your culture that you would like to share with us?
People love to assume that Black Latinos only exist in the Caribbean Hispanic countries like Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Cuba, and people from those countries seem to always catch the most slack from others about their anti-blackness. You can find Afro-Latinos in ANY Latin American country (and colorism and anti-blackness are sure to exist there, too). I've featured Black women from nearly every Latin American country on my page. They're out there.