To Be Young, Gifted, & Afro-Latina: 30 Afro-Latinas You Should Know

Afro-Cuban Singer & "Queen of Salsa" Celia Cruz 

 “I am black; I am in total fusion with the world; I am truly a drop of sun under the earth,” philosopher-revolutionary Frantz Fanon wrote triumphantly, exulting in the beauty and intricacies of blackness. It is easy to forget that to be black is to beautifully complex. That said; as we observe Black History Month we would like to take time to honor Afro-Latinas, who proudly occupy the intersection of blackness and Latinidad, by sharing a list of prominent Afro-Latina scholars, athletes, politicians, and artists with you. To learn more about Afro-Latino identity check out this short documentary with Laz Alonzo, Christina Milian, and Mimi Valdes here


Singer, “Queen of Latin Soul”  (Afro-Cuban) 

 “A rebel and innovator, pop singer [Victoria Yoli Raymond], otherwise known as La Lupe or La Yiyiyi, was renowned for her emotional performance style. Her renditions of classics such as “My Way,” “Fever” and “Going Out of My Head” were famous worldwide. But the legendary Cuban-born star was also a single mother of two, a survivor of domestic abuse and a Santera who later became an evangelist Christian speaker.” Text by Lisa Ko & Independent Lens (PBS) 


Percussionist and Drummer (Mexican and Creole) 

"Sheila Escovedo picked up the drumsticks and started making music at the...age of three, while watching her legendary father, percussionist Pete Escovedo rehearse. Best known to music fans as Sheila E., she became a top session and touring musician before the age of 20, performing and recording with George Duke, Herbie Hancock, Billy Cobham and countless others. In the 1980's, Prince helped catapult her to pop stardom.In recent years, she has served as musical director for the likes of Jennifer Lopez, Beyonce Knowles, and Prince." Text by Triche Entertainment Enterprise


News Anchor and Journalist (Afro-Cuban & Caucasian) 

"Maria de la Soledad Teresa O’Brien is an anchor and special correspondent for CNN/U.S. O'Brien joined CNN in July 2003 as the co-anchor of the network's flagship morning program, American Morning, and distinguished herself by reporting from the scene on the transformational stories that broke on her watch, including Hurricane Katrina and the tsunami in Southeast Asia. She is a graduate of Harvard University." Text by the Huffington Post


Doctor, Teacher, Activist (Afro-Dominican) 

"Dr. Andrea Evangelina Rodriguez Perozo became the first woman to receive a medical degree in the Dominican Republic after graduating from the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo in 1911. In 1920,  she pursued specialization in obstetrics and gynecology in Paris. Upon her return to the Dominican Republic, she dedicated her career to giving medical attention to poor communities in the south of the country. [She protested] against the human rights crimes committed under Dictator Rafael Trujillo’s regime." Text from


Renaissance Woman (Afro-Peruvian) 

"Monica Carillo is an Afro-Peruvian Hip-Hop activist, writer, poet, singer, musician, community leader, journalist, human rights advocate, feminist and educator, working to empower her community, especially working with younger generations of Peruvian young people that live under poverty. Carrillo, who goes by the name Oru, creates music that mixes poetry, afro-beat, soul, hip-hop and Afro Peruvian music to illuminate the contributions made by those of African descent living in Peru, to bring attention to the ongoing effects of racism and sexism and as a form of self expression." Text by the Fresh, Bold, and So Def Research Project 


Activist & Politician (Afro-Colombian) 

"Zulia Mena has been active in the struggle for Afro-Colombian and women's rights in Colombia for nearly her entire life. Mena came to the forefront of the Afro-Colombian community through her role in the development of new legislation on Afro-Colombian rights after the ratification of Colombia's new constitution in 1991. Subsequently, she was elected to Congress in 1994, serving four years as Colombia's first ever Afro-Colombian congresswoman." Text by the Washington Office on Latin America


Singer (Afro-Spanish) 

"The daughter of political refugees from the African nation of Equatorial Guinea, Buika grew up in a gypsy neighborhood on the Spanish island of Mallorca, in the only black family on the island. Her father left when she was a young girl. She started singing in a hotel bar as a teenager because the pay was good, and did a stint as a Tina Turner impersonator in Las Vegas. [She was voted one of the World's Best 50 Voices by NPR and won a Latin Grammy in 2010]." Text from and


Singer (Afro-Peruvian) 

"Eva Ayllon is sometimes called Peru's Tina Turner. Her 30-year career has taken her in many musical directions, but she remains best known for her renditions of Afro-Peruvian music. That's a style that emerged in 1950s Lima, hand in hand with the notion of 'black pride.'" Text by Banning Eyre of NPR Music


Athlete & Politician (Afro-Colombian) 

"Maria Isabel Urrutia is an Afro-Colombian Olympic gold medal winner in weightlifting and Colombian politician. She spent over a decade as an athlete at the Olympic level and won Colombia's first and only gold medal in history with the women's 75kg. As a politician, Urrutia has advocated against government corruption and worked to advance poor and working-class Colombians during her tenure." Text by Bianca Laureano of the Latino Sexuality blog 


Anchor & Journalist (Afro-Colombian) 

"A native of Colombia, Ilia Calderón began her career in 1994 anchoring a local newscast in Colombia’s second largest city, Medellín. Calderón is currently the co-anchor of "Noticiero Univision Edición Nocturna”, a week day  edition of Univision's late evening newscast. She has received several recognitions during her professional career,  including a National Emmy Award in 2002 and in 2005, she received the “Premio  Orquídea” award, which honors Colombians abroad, for best international  journalist of the year." Text by the Hispana Leadership Summit


Poet (Afro-Cuban) 

"Nancy Morejón is the best known and most widely translated woman poet of post-revolutionary Cuba. Born in 1944 in Havana to a militant dock worker and a trade-unionist seamstress, Morejón graduated from Havana University and would become the first black woman poet to publish widely and be accepted as a professional writer, critic, and translator. Morejón’s work addresses contemporary issues of ethnicity, gender, history, politics, and Afro-Cuban identity." Text by The Poetry Center at Smith College 


Advocate (Afro-Dominican) 

"Zenaida Mendez earned her Bachelor’s degree in government and public administration from John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a Master’s degree in public administration from the CUNY Graduate School of Public Affairs. An avid voice for tolerance, Ms. Mendez served for almost three years as director of Racial Diversity Programs at the National Organization for Women (NOW) where she successfully spearheaded a diversity and inclusion training program, a woman of color and allies summit, and the campaign on the femicide of the women of Juarez and Chihuahua, Mexico." Text from the website of the NY State Senate 


Writer & Activist (Afro-Panamanian) 

"Yvette Modestin is a writer and activist focusing on Afro-Latino issues. She was born and raised in Colon, Panama. She is the founder/director of Encuentro Diaspora Afro in Boston, Massachusetts, which mobilizes the Afro-Latino community, empowers young girls of African descent and builds bridges of understanding between African Americans and Latinos. Modestin has been profiled by the Boston Globe as "The Uniter" for her work in bringing the Latin American and African American communities together and for her activism in building a voice for the Afro-Latino community." Text from


Actress (Afro-Puerto Rican) 

"Lauren Velez is an American actress and the twin sister of actress Loraine Vélez. Her most notable roles are as María LaGuerta on Dexter, Detective Nina Moreno on Fox's New York Undercover, Dr. Gloria Nathan on HBO's prison drama, Oz, and Elena on ABC's comedy-drama, Ugly Betty. She is slated to co-produce and play the lead in 'They Call me La Lupe,' a biopic about the life of the Cuban singer Victoria Yoli Raymond a. k. a. La Lupe." Text from Wikipedia and The Huffington Post 


Businesswoman  (Afro-Puerto Rican)

"Miriam Muléy   is CEO  of The 85% Niche, a strategic marketing consultancy firm dedicated to helping companies increase market share among women—a group that controls 85% or more of all purchase decisions. Ms. Muley is a published author, and has written "The 85% Niche:  The Power of Women of All Colors—Latina, Black, and Asian providing a monumental body of work on the power of diverse women. Ms. Muléy, Puerto Rican by ancestry holds a M.B.A. in Marketing from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Business and a B.A. in Psychology from Marymount Manhattan College. She has 25 years of executive marketing and sales experience in Fortune 100 companies." Text from Decisive Magazine


Actress (Afro-Cuban) 

"Gina Torres is known for her roles in films and TV shows such as The Matrix, Alias and 24. The NYC born Cubana married actor Laurence Fishburne in 2002 and they have one daughter named Delilah together. She can currently be seen in the critically acclaimed Sundance darling Don't Let Me Drown." Text by 


Dancer & Choreographer (Afro-Puerto Rican) 

"This dancer, choreographer and Afro-Puerto Rican activist was born in Santurce, PR. She studied vocals and dance at the Metropolitan Opera and eventually founded El Coqui Theater, recognized by the Panamerican Association of the New World Festival as the most important authority of Black Puerto Rican culture." Text by


Journalist  (Barbadian and Panamanian) 

"Gwen Ifill is moderator and managing editor of "Washington Week" and senior correspondent for "The PBS NewsHour." The best-selling author of "The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama," she also moderated the Vice Presidential debates during the Presidential elections in 2004 and 2008." Text by


Jazz Singer (Afro-Puerto Rican)

"At the age of fifteen, Lucy Fabery made her professional debut at the Normandie Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico. In 1950, she moved to Cuba where she performed as a regular on Espectacular de la Noche, a well-known Cuban television show. Fabery was considered a sex symbol and became known for her unique singing style and glamorous wardrobe." Text from Wikipedia  


Activist (Afro-Peruvian) 

"Maria Elena Moyano Delgado was a Peruvian community organizer and activist of Afro-Peruvian descent.   Her activism began in her teens, as a member of the Movimiento de Jóvenes Pobladores, a youth organization in Villa El Salvador. In 1984, at age 24, she was elected president of the Federación Popular de Mujeres de Villa El Salvador, a federation of women from Villa El Salvador. At the age of 33, the day after leading a peaceful march she was gunned down by maoist insurgents called the Shining Path. Nearly 300,000 people attended her funeral." Text by and Wikipedia 


Singer & Government Official (Afro-Peruvian)

"Susana Esther Baca de la Colina is a prominent Peruvian singer-songwriter and two-time Latin Grammy Award winner. She has been a key figure in the revival of Afro-Peruvian music. In July 2011, she was named Peru's Minister of Culture in the Ollanta Humala government. becoming the second Afro-Peruvian cabinet minister in the history of independent Peru." Text by Wikipedia


Athlete & Politician (Afro-Peruvian) 

"Cecilia Roxana Tait Villacorta  is a former volleyball player from Lima, and a Peruvian politician. Nicknamed La Zurda del Oro (The Golden Left-Handed Woman) she participated in three Summer Olympics with the Peruvian national team, finishing 4th in 1984 and receiving a silver medal at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul. In 1998 Tait entered politics, becoming elected municipal councillor in Villa María del Triunfo, representing the Fujimorist party Vamos Vecino. Tait was elected Congresswoman in 2000. She was the first Afro-Peruvian elected to Peru's Congress." Text by Wikipedia 


Activist & Teacher

"Denise Oliver-Velez has been a political activist and community organizer for more than 40 years. She was involved in the civil rights movement, women’s movement, AIDS activism movement and was a member of both the Young Lords Party and the Black Panther Party. She is currently an adjunct Professor of Anthropology and Women’s Studies at SUNY New Paltz. She is also a Featured Writer for Daily Kos, and is an editor of Black Kos." Text from


Author (Afro-Panamanian) 

"Veronica Chambers is a prolific author best known for her critically acclaimed memoir, Mama's Girl. The New Yorker called Mama's Girl, "a troubling testament to grit and mother love… one of the finest and most evenhanded in the genre in recent years." Born in Panama and raised in Brooklyn, her work often reflects her Afro-Latina heritage." Text from


Singer (Afro-Mexican) 

"Toña la Negra (born Maria Antonia del Carmen Peregrino Álvarez) was an Afro-Mexican singer known for her interpretation of boleros, sones, rumbas and songs from Agustín Lara. She became famous for her interpretation of Lara's song "Enamorada." He would later write "Lamento Jarocho" especially for her. After her death the municipality of Veracruz erected a statue of her in her honor." Text from Wikipedia


Scholar (Afro-Puerto Rican) 

"Dr. Marta Moreno Vega is a professor at El Centro de Estudios Avanzados Puertorriquenos de Puerto Rico y El Caribe in San Juan, Puerto Rico. She has also taught at Hunter College, City University of New York. She is the co-author of Women Warriors of the Afro-Latina Diaspora and When the Spirits Dance Mambo: Growing Up Nuyorican in El Barrio. She is the founder/president of the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora and co-founder of the Global Afro Latino and Caribbean Initiative. She lives and works in New York City." Text from


Actress (Afro-Panamanian) 

"Tatyana Ali is a Broadway-trained actress, singer, producer, activist and graduate of Harvard University. Known to millions for her role as “Ashley Banks” on “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, she is a three-time NAACP Image Award winner and is a fierce advocate for youth and education." Text from


Singer (Afro-Dominican) 

Maluca, born Natalie Yepez, is a Bronx-bred singer who broke into the music industry after a serendipitous meeting with acclaimed music producer Diplo who produced her first single "El Tigeroso."


Editor & Journalist (Afro-Puerto Rican/Cuban) 

Mimi Valdes is an accomplished culture writer and editor who has been the Editor-in-Chief of  Vibe, Blaze Magazine, and Latina Magazines. She has collaborated with Pharrell Williams and is credited with launching the careers of Lil' Wayne, Chris Brown, and Keyshia Cole through giving them media exposure.


Scholar & Educator (Afro-Puerto Rican) 

"Dr. Georgina Falú is a Black and Puerto Rican scholar and educator with over 35 years of teaching experience in colleges and universities in Puerto Rico and the continental United States. Dr. Falú was the first woman Dean of the Business School at the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras, and the first woman Vice President of Administration for Union Theological School at Columbia University. She received her Bachelors degree in accounting from the University of Puerto Rico, a Masters in Business Administration from the University of California at Berkeley  and a Doctorate in Higher Education Finance from Columbia University." Text from

Assita Camara is a writer residing somewhere below the Mason-Dixon. She writes about culture at her blog The Afro-Modernist and crafts prose about culture, herstory, and life at her philosophie. You can follow her tweets about music, poetry, and technology at @assitawrites

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