Festival aims to celebrate Afro-Latino culture and fight 'erasure'

A woman dances with drummers and flags on the stage behind her.
AfroLatinidad — Vibras de la Diaspora not only celebrates and embraces Afro-Latinidad, but also educates on what it means to be Latino.
Courtesy of Borikén Cultural Center

Being Latino often means having more than one identity.

One of those identities, Afro-Latinidad, is invisible to many people, said Marisol Chiclana-Ayala, of the Boriken Cultural Center, a St. Paul nonprofit that shares Afro Puerto Rican art, music and traditions.

“Boricuas have African ancestry, indigenous Taino and of course Spanish (ancestry). And we are telling folks we must be proud of all our identities and celebrate them,” Chiclana-Ayala said.

And that’s the idea behind the event, AfroLatinidad — Vibras de la Diaspora, to not only celebrate and embrace Afro-Latinidad, but also to educate.

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It takes place July 8 at La Doña Cervecería in Minneapolis. 

LatinoLEAD is organizing the event in partnership with the Boriken Cultural Center.

Afro-Latinidad has been an important focus of LatinoLEAD, said its executive director Irma Marquez Trapero. This is the third year the Minnesota leadership organization has held an event focused on Afro-Latinidad, the first two were virtual due to the pandemic. The idea for the event came from a conversation the organization had about being inclusive of the entire Latino community and also challenging the anti-blackness within the Latino community, she said.

“There has been an erasure of blackness within our Latinx community. As a community we tend to uphold Eurocentric customs. And that is at the expense of our Black indigenous roots,” Marquez Trapero said.

While she acknowledges she is Latina, Chiclana-Ayala said it’s a label she was given when she moved to Minnesota. In Puerto Rico she was either Boricua or Puerto Rican.

Latino and Hispanic are umbrella terms used in the U.S., and rarely if ever used in Latin America and the Caribbean, to identify people from Latin American countries, which have distinct cultures and histories.

The event isn’t meant to separate anyone, Chiclana-Ayala said.

“We just want to say, yes, we are Latinos. And we have a very important part of who we are and that is our Afro heritage, and we want to share that,” she said.

There were about six million Afro-Latinos in the United States in 2020, according to a Pew Research Center report released earlier this year. Afro-Latinos made up about 12 percent of the adult Latino population in the U.S.

Chiclana-Ayala said to be Afro-Latino is to have full or part African descent ancestry.

“And to claim that as part of who you are. It has nothing to do with your skin color,” she said.

Camila Mercado Michelli, an organizer of the event, identifies as an Afro descendent. Her father is from the Dominican Republic and Black. Her mother is Argentinian and white. 

Mercado Michelli was born and raised in Puerto Rico.

The Pew report found that the life experiences of Afro-Latinos are shaped by race, skin tone and other factors. Their experiences also differ from other Latinos. The report also found that although most Afro-Latinos identify as Hispanic or Latino, not all do.

“I am multicultural, multiracial. And so a lot of what I experienced as a young woman in Puerto Rico, but also in Minnesota, kind of influenced a lot of how I see myself in this Afro diaspora,” Mercado Michelli said.

“We are the most diverse ethnic group in the world. We have Asians we have Indigenous we have white European, we have mulatos, mestizos — everything. Todo lo que se te ocurra. Y hay que celebrarlo y reconocerlo.”

A man performs on drums, the image is black and white.
Beto Torrens performs on the drums. Torrens, who is from Puerto Rico, will perform at AfroLatinidad – Vibras de la Diaspora event on July 8.
Courtesy of Meinl Percussion

In addition to education, the event will also focus on music. International percussionist Beto Torrens who is from Puerto Rico, will perform during the event. Music, especially the rhythm of drums, is closely connected to Afro-Latinidad, Chiclana-Ayala said.

“That is something that we all have in common. Those that share that Afro heritage and tradition. The drums are something that really unite us. The rhythm of the drum. The sound of the drum, really is something that is really close to our heart and is who we are,” she said.

Vicki Adame covers Minnesota’s Latino communities for MPR News via Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues and communities.