Why is identifying as a Black Latino/Afro Latino important to you?
As I was growing up in the Dominican Republic, because of the color of my skin and the way I look, I was treated differently by some friends and relatives. I was trying to figure out who I was. Coming to this country, and facing realities and the challenges of being a person of color, helped me to face who I am. The transition helped me understand where I came from. In the Dominican Republic I was a “morenita” o “india” My Dominican passport still says that my skin color is “india”! Unbelievable! Here in the US I was a black person. It was then, that I came to openly accept my African roots and why Africa is in Latin America. It is a journey. I am still going through that journey. The Afro-Latina term was specifically created to speak to our complexities. I knew it was something that made me different as a Latina and African descendant and what it is to be me in Latin America. I became true to myself and to my identity. We don’t fully learn about our African history, we don’t proudly talk about it. We are missing out on a lot because we don’t know it and in many occasions have chosen to even deny it. We have been programmed to deny who we are and try to conform in a mold. I chose to identify as an Afro Latina to show that my African roots are part of my identity. For those that don’t understand the term, or why we make the distinction, I use the example of our Chicano brothers and sisters and what that means to them; they are choosing to highlight their Latinidad and their Indigenous roots. It is the same thought behind Afro-Latinos.
What has been the impact, both positive and negative of people not seeing you as a Black Latino/Afro Latino?
In my case it is interesting. People think I am black or mixed or they try to label me as “Indian” because the texture of my hair and my complexion. But it is not until I open my mouth that people say, who are you? Where are you from? Because of my accent. I am three minorities, Black, Latina and a woman. All of this comes together in not very positive ways most of the time. I came to the US at the age of 15, and even thought I had what I consider a great childhood with loving family and friends, I was always aware that I am the dark one, “la negrita,” “pretty para ser negrita” and looked upon as less by many because of the color of my skin. We are raised to lean closer to the white European side. My family skin tones are very mixed, all tones and hair textures, but you are raised to choose to want to identify more with the white side of the family and your European ancestry. You are systematically pushed to highlight the lighter side of the family because it was about society looking at me in a better way and fitting in. It was sad that I had to do that to find a place in society that was safe for me. As I was growing up, my life mostly happened in a medium-upper class environment, attending private catholic school and all of the conforming that can comes with that. I reflect on how I was sheltered from many realities. My upbringing was mostly seen as privileged and traditionally associated with lighter skin tones and white ancestry in Latin America, always denying our blackness and trying to stay away from “el negro detras de la oreja.” All of this caused damage and confusion and a sense of disconnection with my true identity. I would looked at my mother, for example, fair skin, beautiful wavy hair and green eyes and thought she was so beautiful and questioned why I didn’t look more like her. She always made me feel so smart, beautiful and loved, and I know she felt the backlash of society and by her own relatives for marrying a black man and having black children.
As a Dominican, I recognized that as a society we have so many conflicts with our identity. You can see it in how some of us deny our blackness while others choose to embrace it. It is so complex. It wasn’t until I came here, when I was confronted with determining which “box” I was supposed to check, that I started to understand that I’m Black, Latina, Dominican and a woman, and with that, that I am smart, beautiful, I speak two languages and I can showcase who I am without denying myself the complex beauty that it is where I come from. Here it was more about embracing my blackness and my Dominican roots.
The experiences as Afro Latinas intersect with the experiences of both Black women and Latinas across the globe. As Black Latinos, we sometimes lack the privilege that some lighter skin Latinos have. We don’t have the option to “blend in.” It is hard, to position yourself in a space of Latinos who also look white. It is also hard to fit in a space where some of the Latinos you identify with the most, also look down on you because of the color of your skin; It is harder, but we need to stay true to ourselves and keep going.
How do you Amplify/show up in a Latinx world that expects us all to look like J.Lo and Marc Anthony?
Just by being who I am: outspoken, unapologetic and proud. Not being ashamed of celebrating who I am and bringing along others like me. Highlighting those Afro-Latinos who are doing wonderful things and working hard to have more representation. My hope is that we change how we present Black in Latin America; I want to do that as an activist and as a social entrepreneur. I want to help position all Latinos, but specially Afro-Latinos in a positive light. I want to help reveal who we are and to bring light to our beautiful and rich culture. I want to do that by engaging everyone in a transformative dialog through curated experiences through the arts and by consciously and intentionally engaging in work that highlights and truly represents all of my culture.
Message for BHM– Let’s learn our history, our African history, our Black history. Vamos a desempolvar toda nuestra historia que esta cubierta y esperando salir a la luz. It is really important to me to learn the history that I was not taught. Everyone needs to learn our African history, it will change the way we look at things and the way we see ourselves. It will make us stronger and unite us in so many ways.
BIO: Rosario Ubiera-Minaya is an afro-Latina leader, community activist and social entrepreneur originally from the Dominican Republic. Rosario has over 25 years of experience working and advocating for systemic change, social justice, and equity, on behalf of the Latinx community, in the areas of education, housing, voter engagement, public health, and the arts. She has successfully developed and implemented initiatives that have made impactful contributions to promoting the social and economic wellbeing of the Latinx community.
She is the founder of Cojuelos’ Productions, which proudly celebrates all artistic expression through creative and innovative, diverse and culturally-oriented programming and high-end special events. Cojuelos’ Productions thrives in creating curated experiences for private, corporate, and community settings with an emphasis on cultural and educational programming. Rosario’s work focuses explicitly on creating a platform for elevating under-represented cultures and communities of color by providing an outlet for expression and by respectfully representing our histories, stories, and perspectives through the arts. Rosario’s vision has led to what is today the PUNTO Urban Arts Museum in Salem, an outdoor collection of public art that serves as a vehicle to start breaking down the socioeconomic and invisible divides that systematically exist in low-income communities of color.
She has received numerous awards and recognitions including the Rising Star Award for Outstanding Leadership in Community Development from the Massachusetts Association of Community Development Coalitions and, the Community Service Award from the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers; she was recognized as Community Hero by the Negro Election Day Association and as a Boston’s Hispanic Hero by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.