Growing up, I rarely saw Afro-Latinx people on television, in film, or in the books I read. I also didn’t see them in beauty. The Spanish colonizers’ Eurocentric standard of beauty left its imprint on the Latinx community. The message has permeated the culture: It’s not just that Afro-Latinx people aren’t considered beautiful — they practically don’t exist.
Latininiad in the U.S. is often equated with Eurocentric markers of beauty (being fair-skinned with dark, mostly straight or wavy hair), or being of Mexican heritage. Typically, Latinx people are presented as white-adjacent, which has led to the erasure of anyone who does not fit that narrow mold.
But Black Latinxs are literally all over Latin America — the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Honduras, Panama, Colombia, Brazil, Mexico, the list goes on. Fortunately, we’re living in a time where people from the Afro-Latinx community are not just celebrating that they’re Black and proud but they’re also creating spaces, brands, and content to address their unique beauty needs.
Afro-Latinxs are just as much a part of the African diaspora, but America’s misconceptions of race and ethnicity also often excluded them from dialogues surrounding Blackness and beauty. Thankfully, perceptions are changing and Afro-Latinxs are finally finding their place in the beauty world, catering to people like themselves, and using their platforms to combat the anti-Blackness and internalized racism that still very much exists in our communities.
We spoke to 12 Afro-Latina entrepreneurs and influencers about their own experiences with anti-Blackness, their relationships with beauty, and how that all intersects and ultimately led to them building their own beauty brands.
Carolina Contreras, 33
When you hear the phrase “Dominican salon,” blowouts and straightened hair are normally what comes to mind. But Contreras set out to change all that when she opened the Miss Rizos salon on Calle Isabel La Católica in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.
The salon was named after the blog Contreras created after deciding to embrace her own natural hair texture. She had done the big chop and was experimenting with natural ingredients to keep her curls healthy when she realized there weren’t a lot of resources on going natural for women in the Dominican Republic — despite it being a predominately Black country. In 2014, after the blog gained popularity, Contreras was inspired to open one of the first salons in the DR specifically dedicated to caring, cutting, and styling naturally curly hair. This past October, after years of success at the original spot, she opened her second location in NYC’s little DR — Washington Heights.
But Miss Rizos isn’t just about hair for Contreras, who has been participating in activist work since she was 14 years old. It’s also about helping Afro-Latinas like herself feel seen and valued. She started to slowly understand her blackness when she was 15 after reading Cornel West’s book Race Matters.
Contreras attended Ursinus College in Pennsylvania, where one of her many majors was Peace and Justice Studies. There, she began to develop an understanding of Black American history.
“I started to fully embrace my blackness when I was 23 and at a beach sunbathing in the DR and was told to get out of the sun because I was going to get darker. I got into an argument with this woman, she was a professor, and was like, ‘You don’t want to get dark like a Haitian,'” Contreras recalls. “I was like what are you talking about? What’s wrong with being dark? And [then she responded], ‘I don’t know what you’re professing when you straighten your hair with a relaxer.'”
That was her aha moment. “For me to not be able to honestly say I relax my hair because that’s what I want to do when I was relaxing my hair because I thought that was what I had to do — that was [the beginning] of my journey to Blackness.”
Contreras, who experienced her fair share of microaggressions living in the States, had even more overt experiences of anti-Blackness living in the Dominican Republic, where she wasn’t even allowed into certain clubs or bars because of her dark skin and natural hair. These instances played a huge role in her fighting for women like her on the island.
Contreras got heavily involved in the fight against hair discrimination. In 2012, when the Dominican Republic rolled out new cedulas (forms of identification), some women reported being told to comb down or straighten their Afro-textured hair if it didn’t fit in the frame of the photo. “Myself and other activists called upon the minister from
“I want Miss Rizos to be a brand that inspires people to really love themselves just as they are. I want people to look at themselves in the mirror and just be proud and celebrate the reflection they see,” she says. “I want people that come across the Miss Rizos brand [and] feel inspired to start something whether it’s a movement, leaving their job, or taking on a new career.”
Ada Rojas, 30
Ada Rojas, who was born and raised in uptown Manhattan and the Bronx, started blogging back in 2010 after being inspired by her own hair and identity journey. The blog, formerly known as “Gypsy in the City” and later changed to “All Things Ada,” originally covered curly hair.
“For me, it’s almost embarrassing to admit that I didn’t start identifying as Afro-Latina until I got to college and took a Black and Caribbean studies class. That’s sad because I was 22. It’s not okay that it took me 22 years to come to terms with my Blackness,” she says. “When I would go into white spaces they would always ask me all the time if I was mixed or Black and I was always like ‘No, I’m Dominican,’ which I know now was really anti-Black. I just kept thinking about young adults like myself that are going through what I was going through at 22 and how I can show up for them.”
After years of working with various natural hair brands and creating content for Black Latinas looking to embrace their curls, Rojas launched her own natural hair brand in 2019 called Botanika Beauty, a curly hair-care line made with the Latinx people in mind.
Rojas also uses her platform to highlight issues of anti-Blackness within the Latinx community. In June, shortly after George Floyd’s death and national protesting against racial injustice began, Rojas started an IG Live series called “Black Latinx and Identity” where she hosted discussions with other Black Latinas “to discuss, understand, and celebrate the diversity that exists with the Black community.”
“I feel like Black Latinos are often left out of [Black Lives Matter] narratives because when people think Black, they usually think African-American,” she says. “They don’t necessarily look at a worldwide view of blackness — what does that look like? I just wanted to create a safe space for the Black Latinx community to have the difficult conversations that we’ve been avoiding for so long. At the end of the day you can’t be for BLM if all Black lives don’t matter, right? We need to have those difficult conversations — ya ta bueno.”
Additionally, Rojas discusses privilege even within the Afro-Latinx community, especially for those with lighter brown complexions like herself. She’s very cautious about not taking up too much space. “You have to read the room. If you are the lightest person in the room and they are talking about Blackness, sit and pass the mic. If you are in a room and you’re the darkest person in the room, educate those about the darker people that come after you. You can’t be about the movement, you can’t be about uplifting Black women, you can’t be about uplifting Black people, if you are not fighting for others that have it worse than you.”
Alexa Dolmo, 24
Lifestyle and beauty blogger, @alexadarling_
Alexa Dolmo was 14 years old when she and her parents migrated from Honduras to Houston, Texas. It was a major culture shock on many levels. Not only did she have to learn an entirely new language but she also found herself having to defend and explain her identity to peers who couldn’t understand that you could be both Black and Latinx.
“It was really difficult because the kids would see me and they thought I was African-American so when I would start to speak Spanish to defend myself they would look at me weird, like I was from another planet or something,” she says. “I was like wait a minute, am I the only person you guys have ever met who speaks Spanish and is Black?”
This was a strange reality for Dolmo who grew up with family members who are both proud to be Latinx and incredibly pro-Black. Her family is Garifuna, descendants of an Afro-indigenous population who came from West Africa, landed in St. Vincent, and then spread out to countries like Honduras, Belize, Nicaragua, and Panama. One of the reasons why Garifunas have been able to beautifully preserve their West African culture is because, unlike other African descendants in the Caribbean and other parts of Latin America, the Garifuna people were not enslaved.
“My mom always told me we got exiled and went from St. Vincent and from [there] we came to Honduras and from there everyone spread from Guatemala, Nicaragua, and places like Belize. That’s how we were able to spread,” she says. “We were free because somehow we were able to escape. It’s very interesting because we were not slaves.”
But explaining this to her middle school peers was like talking to a wall. Like many Americans, a lot of the kids at her school couldn’t grasp the distinction between race and ethnicity. As a result, she never felt fully accepted by any group and it really started to impact how she felt about her own identity.
It wasn’t until Dolmo hit her late teens that she started to fully embrace her Garifuna culture and felt more comfortable letting folks know she was Latina. She decided to use the questions she would constantly get about her identity as an opportunity to educate people. In fact, her own self-discovery and self-love journey is what inspired her to become a beauty and lifestyle influencer.
“Growing up, I didn’t have very high self-esteem. I used to not consider myself pretty. I would talk ugly to myself. When I started my YouTube channel when I was about 17 or 18, I was falling in love with makeup,” she says. “That’s how it started — with showing people how to do their makeup.”
From there, she started sharing some of her personal stories regarding race and started incorporating more lifestyle and culture on her platforms. She received so much engagement and positive feedback whenever she’d talk about Afro-Latiniad and Garifuna culture that she eventually felt inspired to create another account called Garifuna Bosses.
“I was not seeing enough community for [Garifunas], so my goal was to connect with other Garifuna people. I wanted to connect and empower them and also promote their businesses,” she says. “If they were creators, if they had a business, I would repost what they do and expose the business to other people.”
Whether it’s through her @garifunabosses or @alexadarling_ page, Dolmo really wants to help other Afro-Latinas like herself feel seen. She’s even been documenting her natural hair and loc journey in hopes that it would inspire other Black women to love and embrace their hair.
“People think because I’m Latina I’m supposed to be light-skinned and it’s like, no. Listen, we’re so diverse,” she says. “I think we’ve made a lot of progress especially because of social media but I still feel like we can do better. I’m going to be so happy the day I finally see a Black Latina starring in a telenovela because I haven’t seen that yet. Even on the news — you don’t really see that. They are hiding us and we have so much to bring to the table.”
Lulu Cordero, 33
After years of straightening and damaging her own curls, Lulu Cordero, who was born in the Dominican Republic and raised in Miami, essentially repaired her hair by creating her own blend of oils, which is now known as the Bomba Curls Forbidden Oil. Creating a curly hair brand was very much inspired by her own natural hair journey, which started in 2004 when she was only 17.
“For me going natural, it did not mean oh, now I’m embracing my Blackness,” she says. “I was someone who always knew I was Black. I always identified as Negra — 100 percent. In my case, it has to do with the fact that I’m originally from Villa Mella in the Dominican Republic. Villa Mella is a very pro-Black place. We are super in touch with our African heritage. My mom — who has always been a proud Black Dominican woman — always made sure to buy me Black dolls [when I was] growing up and made sure to tell me nuestros somos Negros. We’re Black — we’re proud. And as I got older, I realized she was preparing me to grow up in the type of culture that unfortunately is very pro-Euro with beauty standards that are very Eurocentric.”
Despite always having a clear grasp of the fact that she was Black Latina, Cordero did experience her fair share of microaggressions and anti-Blackness, especially from the paternal side of the family, who are significantly lighter-skinned than her maternal side.
“On my dad’s side, my grandmother was a blonde white woman. Her people actually were from Spain and came to DR in 1870. My grandmother was not happy that my father was marrying this Black woman from Villa Mella. A lot of my father’s side of the family was not happy about this and growing up everything that was ‘good’ was attributed to your whiteness and everything that was ‘bad’ was attributed to your blackness,” she says. “When I was a kid, I had a lot of energy and I would always ask all these questions. They would be like, ‘You can’t deny she’s Black.’ These were things that I was told as a child — like that I had ‘una cara de mono’ (a monkey face). To hear that type of talk, the comments about your hair, face, and being told to marry a white man they’d say para ‘mejorar la raza’ (to better the race), was harmful.”
All of these things played a factor in the creation of Bomba Curls, a hair brand by an Afro-Latina for Afro-Latinas to feel comfortable embracing their natural hair and their natural beauty, all made with natural ingredients.
“I want people to understand that you need to celebrate the skin you’re in. You are Bomba — just as you were made and you need to celebrate that and love yourself. Love who you are. There’s no better feeling in the whole wide world.”
Mabel (33) and Shaira Frías (32)
When Dominican-American sisters Mabel and Shaira Frías couldn’t find high-quality makeup products that complemented their beautiful brown complexions, they decided to create their own indie beauty and cosmetic company inspired by the Dominican Republic and the rich cultures of the Caribbean and Latin America.
While anti-Blackness is very much prevalent in the Dominican Republic and the rest of Latin America, the sisters — similar to Cordero — actually grew up in a household where their Blackness was praised, not insulted. Born in Miami, the girls spent the first 10 years of their lives in St. Croix, where a majority of the folks they were surrounded by were not just Black but proud.
“I’m going to be really honest, the idea of anti-Blackness was never something we felt in our immediate family and I say that because my mother shared the same dark skin tone as my sister Shaira. My mother is morena morena morena, so I can honestly say we never heard things like ‘we’re not black’ in our family,” Mabel says. “If anything, it was something that was celebrated.”
In fact, the two of them didn’t really start to experience colorism and overt anti-Blackness until they migrated to New York. “I think we started to notice things when we were around our external/extended family and the cousins who grew up here and who came from the DR straight to the Bronx,” Mabel says. “We started to notice them observe our perceived differences. We started to hear comments around ‘pelo malo‘ (bad hair) or ‘pelo bueno‘ (good hair). You have to relax your hair, blow-dry your hair but it was always them saying these things to us, and my sister and I looking at each other like ‘What are they talking about?’ To us, it felt so foreign but also hurtful.”
Experiencing microaggressions after coming to the States and not seeing themselves represented anywhere is what ultimately fueled them to create Luna Magic Beauty, a cosmetics line for women like themselves who have historically been largely ignored by major beauty brands.
“We [Afro-Latinas] were here before, we’re here now, and we’ll be here after,” Shaira says. “Unfortunately, [we were] not on television. Not on Univision or Telemundo. You didn’t know about us. Where are we? We were nowhere to be found.”
“We had one token Afro-Latina [in pop culture] — Celia Cruz. That’s the only person I saw that looked like me growing up,” Shaira explains. “And there’s always that one token person that they put on Spanish-language television.”
“We want people to feel good when they experience our brand,” Mabel adds. “We never want people to feel like we don’t have a formulation for you. What we’re saying is we thought about you, we’re here for you, and have fun while we do this because it’s meant to be fun.”
Iliana Ayala, 27
Plus-size model and beauty influencer, @beautymarkedilly
There are a lot of misconceptions that unfortunately still exist around Afro-Latinidad. One being that Afro-Latinxs only come from the Dominican Republic, when there are Black folks all over Latin America, including on the island of Puerto Rico. This a myth Ayala herself has worked towards debunking. The plus-size model and beauty influencer is half Bolivian on her dad’s side (most of her paternal relatives are of Indigenous ancestry) and half Afro-Puerto Rican on her mom’s side. Her own journey to embracing her Blackness has very much influenced her career journey.
“Growing up, it was always that you’re Puerto Rican and that’s it — [but] I’m also Bolivian. And I just knew there was so much more especially because I see my uncle, and I can see my great grandmother and my grandmother and they are Black,” she says.
“One thing that really introduced me to learning my history as an Afro-Latina was dancing. I would take folklore and Afro-Caribbean dance and the teacher started introducing us to where the drums come from and the stories behind a lot of African spirituality. I started learning more and then I realized I do have African ancestry, as many Puerto Ricans do.”
Ayala’s own hair journey inspired her to become a beauty influencer on Instagram. Though she grew up in Spanish Harlem among Latinas with brown skin, curvy figures, and curly hair — just like her — straight hair was still pushed as the ultimate beauty standard.
“It was always, you have to straighten your hair. At one point, I didn’t even know I had curls. [I either] straightened my hair or put it in a bun, then went back to the salon and straightened it,” she says. “It wasn’t until my sophomore year in high school, [that] I realized I had curls. By that time, it was damaged. I had to go and damage my hair to be seen as beautiful. I feel like that’s definitely a denial of the Black heritage we have.”
In 2013, Ayala started growing out her curls, laying low on heat-styling, and documenting the journey on IG for her followers. She was inspired by another Afro-Latina known as SunKissAlba, who was creating a lot of content around transitioning and curly hair care. Next thing she knew she was making product recommendations and providing tips for her followers, which eventually led to partnerships and sponsorships with curly hair brands.
In 2016, Ayala won an Instagram contest for a big plus-size brand and a modeling agency out in New York City. “Around this time, I was barely posting full-body pictures because I wasn’t too comfortable with that. But the photos that I did have, I was like you know what, let me just try it. I don’t got nothing to lose,” she says. “So I tried it, and I ended up winning. Ever since that, I won a two-year contract with an agency. It’s been four years. I’m still with the agency and it’s been up from there.”
Ayala has since worked with a number of brands including Adidas, Footlocker, Target, JCPenney, CoverGirl, and more. She wants to use her platform not just to shift the representation in beauty and fashion but to help women of color like herself love themselves and discover how freeing that is. She also wants folks to understand Afro-Latiniad and that Afro-Latinas exist.
“I don’t think people understand that people can still be Black and be Puerto Rican, Dominican, or Cuban. You can still be that but you’re just a Black person raised in Latin America or raised in that culture. And I think that’s the confusion because [here], it’s like either you’re Black or you’re Latinx and it’s like no, you’re not. You can be both.”
Linda Elaine, 28
Lifestyle influencer and founder of Enialē Cosmetics
Being visibly Black often makes people question a person’s Latinx identity. But when you’re someone with only one Latinx parent, you can pretty much count on regularly fielding a multitude of questions from people who think they have the right to tell you how to identify. For Linda Elaine, that experience is all too familiar. The lifestyle influencer and founder of Enialē Cosmetics proudly reps being both Jamaican and Mexican, but didn’t feel like she had the right to claim Latiniad for years. Not only did she grow up with her peers telling her she wasn’t “Latina enough” because she was dark and wasn’t fluent in Spanish, but she also never met her Afro-Mexican grandfather.
“It wasn’t something I always embraced. I remember my grandmother would say things [about my] Mexican granddad but overall they never really spoke a lot about him because he wasn’t present in my life. He died two years before I was born,” she says. “Growing up, I didn’t really embrace my Mexican side until I got to middle school and I realized why not? Just because I don’t know him doesn’t mean I can’t embrace every aspect of myself.”
But the fact that Linda presents as Black and her Mexican grandparent was also Black
made it that much harder for people to grasp. For centuries, Mexico has gone out of its way to keep the black community there invisible.
“As far as my sister and I, it was just something we wanted to get more in touch with and learn more about because since our grandfather was Afro-Latino that wasn’t something that was really being talked about very much in the Mexican community,” she says.
Linda recalls a time when she was younger when she would wear a Jamaican flag chain, as well as a Mexican one, and get bullied for it. People told her she didn’t have the right to rep the Mexican flag because she was Black.
Her own identity and self-love journey also played a major role in her wanting to launch a beauty line. Linda was diagnosed with alopecia areata in her late teens, two years after growing out her natural hair. During the hair loss process, she found herself experimenting with makeup and creating looks to express herself artistically.
“I was always a nude lip and clean makeup kind of girl. I never liked the super extravagant looks. I always loved nude lips but at the time, for my complexion, there were never ever any nude lipstick colors. I had to mix multiple shades to get the color that I wanted,” she says. “I was like, ‘I might as well create my own shade so I have one lipstick that does the job.’ That’s how Enialē Cosmetics was born.” The line includes six lip shades all designed to work for brown skin tones.
“It’s definitely intended to be an inclusive line for anybody who feels like they’ve been out of the limelight,” she says. “Even some of the companies that may have shades for us, [aren’t] actually highlighting [us] on their social media or in marketing campaigns. As a blogger, when [brands come] to me with products asking me to try them, I go to their social media accounts and there’s no one there that looks like me. It’s like you want me to sell your products but don’t want to show that your products are for me too. It’s such a disconnect. With my cosmetic line, I want to be able to show a multitude of ranges in skin tones always because I feel like there’s still such a lack of inclusivity.”
As far as Afro-Latiniad goes, there’s a lot Linda wants folks to finally get right. “I want people to understand that many of us very much embrace being Black. Embracing that I’m Latina doesn’t take away from my Blackness. I’m very much proud to be a Black woman,” she says. “But I also want people to understand that the world is more of a melting pot than you think it is. Just because I don’t look a certain way doesn’t mean I can’t identify with a certain culture.”
Ona Diaz-Santin, 42
Ona Diaz-Santin grew up in the Dominican hair salon business. Her mother, who migrated from the Dominican Republic, owned four salons in New York City. From a very young age, she was exposed to the microaggressions and anti-Blackness that is prevalent in those spaces, whether it was the glorification of straight hair or the constant criticism and denial of Blackness.
“It was really important for me to cater to curly-haired women, especially women of African descent because we’re constantly told we’re not beautiful,” she says. “My dad is a white Dominican with blue eyes and he had blonde hair when he was younger. My mom is negra — she’s Black. And they are both Dominican and they both speak Spanish.”
Like Rojas, Diaz-Santin is very much aware of the privileges that come with being an Afro-Latina with lighter skin and a softer curl pattern, and she makes sure to always keep that in mind when navigating certain spaces. Through her own journey, she has realized that there is a way to fully embrace your Blackness as a Latina while also not taking attention away from darker-skinned Black women, who often receive significantly less representation.
“I think a lot of that salon life and seeing people really hating themselves, really hating their hair and calling it ‘pelo malo,’ was [my introduction to] colorism. I can’t say that I’m white and though I’m careful about not taking up too much space because I’m light-skinned, I relate to my Blackness. You can see it. Look at me. How can I deny it?”
Diaz started off as an assistant at 5 Salon Spa in Fort Lee, New Jersey, eventually becoming a senior stylist. Her talent working with highly-textured hair helped her amass a clientele that included curly influencers and even Dominican author Elizabeth Acevedo. She then was promoted to creative director and eventually took over and bought the salon.
Jewelliana Palencia, 27
Beauty and lifestyle influencer, @jewejewebee
Like Linda, Jewelliana Palencia knows what it’s like to have one Latinx parent and to be told you’re “not Latina enough.” While she’s always fully embraced her Blackness, it was only in recent years she started to identify as Afro-Latina. Palencia’s father is Guatemalan but she was raised with her Black American mother and naturally found herself relating more to Black culture.
“Even recently I was talking to someone and I forgot how we got on the topic but I had mentioned that I was Latina and Black and she was like, ‘I would have never guessed that. You don’t look like it at all.’ What does Latina look like? It doesn’t really have a look,” she tells Allure. “I definitely have gotten a lot of that. I definitely had trouble identifying with who I am growing up. It was [easier for people to grasp being from a certain country] versus having one parent who is Latino and one who is Black American.”
Palencia didn’t grow up speaking Spanish. Her dad didn’t teach her and he also didn’t talk to her much about Guatemala and its culture, so for years, she felt a disconnect with that side of her. Dating someone who was Latino was one of the first pushes she received in helping her explore more of her Latinx roots from learning words and small Spanish phrases to listening and embracing the music, as well as Guatemalan cuisine. She’s also realized over the years that she doesn’t have to speak Spanish fluently or even at all to embrace her Latiniad. It’s part of who she is.
And while she may not have always felt like she fit in with her Guatemalan side, she was fortunate to never experience discrimination or colorism from her dad’s side of the family. Not only did her father and her relatives support her in embracing her natural curls, but she never got negative comments regarding her Blackness or her darker skin tone. Palencia says her natural hair journey not only played a large role in developing her self-confidence and embracing her natural beauty, but also led her to become a beauty influencer.
“I always say this — my page actually started as a regular Instagram. Maybe I was following two more people than were following me. People started reaching out and becoming interested, asking what I was doing with my hair, so I decided to create posts around my [that] and I started to get more followers,” she says. “That’s when I got on YouTube. I never set out to be an influencer. It just kind of happened, which I love.”
Palencia’s page will give you curl inspo for days. She’s got content on how to perfectly lay your edges, refreshing next day curls, and product and brush recommendations to help cut down on detangling time. But she’s also expanded since she’s launched, now incorporating lifestyle content and creating @jewejewefitness — a page specifically dedicated to documenting her fitness journey. Palencia is all about inspiring women to feel comfortable and confident in their skin — Black girls especially.
“I think for me it’s just me embracing myself and my Blackness unapologetically. I wear my hair in a way that I feel embraces my Blackness. I just feel like by being myself I’m making the statement that I’m owning who I am,” she says. “I just want people to walk away from my page knowing that it’s okay to be yourself and love yourself regardless of what anyone has to say about it.”
Annya Santana, 32
After years of struggling with acne, Annya Santana decided to make some major lifestyle changes. She began eating a plant-based diet, started exercising more, and began creating her own organic concoctions to heal and repair her skin. It was then that Santana, who was born in the Dominican Republic and raised in the Bronx, decided to launch her own skin-care brand, Menos Mas, and move to Paris.
She wanted to create a skin-care brand for brown and Black folks, but she ultimately wanted it to be something accessible to everyone. Menos Mas is an inclusive brand that’s also gender-neutral, because skin care isn’t just for women, after all. “When I started really getting into vegan life and really understanding the labels, I learned that [products marketed towards men] were really no different [than ones marketed to women].”
Similar to Cordero and the Frías sisters, Santana also always had a clear understanding that she was a Black Latina, even when people around her couldn’t grasp it. “I don’t know if I ever [didn’t identify] with being Black and Latina and I feel very blessed. I know I’m not white and just because I’m Latina doesn’t mean that I’m not Black,” she says. “I feel really blessed to come from the Bronx, to have parents who raised me to love everyone and see the truth in things. I am Dominican and we are a byproduct of Europeans and slavery and so my skin is a reflection of that. My hair is a reflection of that.”
In terms of the anti-Blackness she herself experienced growing up, Santana says it was always in some shape or formed tied to colorism. Whether it was hearing lighter complexions or Eurocentric features praised, being criticized for her curly hair, or being advised to marry a lighter person. But she’s all for seeing more Black Latinos align and unite themselves with Black Americans.
“Why do we have to separate because I speak Spanish, you speak English, and he speaks Patois? We’re all the same. We all come from the same concoction of being enslaved. We just got colonized by different people and speak different languages attached to different cultures but we’re all really under the same umbrella. We’re all part of the African diaspora.”
Santana, who is in the process of rebranding and updating the packaging and aesthetics of Menos Mas, wants to do more than just offer brown and Black people good, organic skin-care products. She also wants to create a space where folks like her can feel seen and valued. She wants to create content that speaks to the unique experiences of Afro-Latinx people and is in the process of creating an entirely new platform called Hood Health, which would be the editorial version of Menos Mas.
“I think the message for us is about being well. Being well is not the norm for us. Wellness is something that stems from us — from our ancestors. They survived. They had the potions and the cures and they were connected to the earth and things were stripped away from us and so many factors that were removed from what wellness comes from,” Santana says. “It’s been associated with white affluence and richness but it actually stems from us, our ancestors, and who we are as people.”
Julissa Prado, 30
Julissa Prado, who is Mexican-American and born and raised in Los Angeles, started embracing her curls and her Afro-Latinx identity when she was in high school. Her mother is a white Mexican and her father has Afro-Mexican ancestry, but understanding her own identity has been a journey.
“I think a lot of the time, even when you’re able to understand certain features you have comes from your African blood, you kind of feel like you get the backlash on both ends,” she says. “You feel like you get backlash if you claim it too hard because you don’t look Black enough but then you get backlash when it’s clear you’re not white and you do have those features people recognize on you but they feel you aren’t claiming it.”
Afro-Mexicans have been fighting for visibility and recognition for years. In fact, Mexico has worked so hard to keep them invisible that it wasn’t until 2016 that Black Mexicans were actually acknowledged in the national census. A survey done by Mexico’s statistics in
stitute in 2015 estimated the Afro-Mexican population is around 1.3 million, mostly in states like Veracruz, Guerrero, and Oaxaca.
Despite the statistics, the country has for centuries erased the existence of Black Mexicans and has continued to adhere to the appraisal of whiteness. Prado had straightened her natural curls for years because of the Eurocentric beauty standards that had been very much embedded in both her family but also in Latinx culture overall.
“Even growing up on the [Afro-Mexican side] of the family, even if they embraced [their Afro heritage], they were still trying to change things about themselves that connected them to their Blackness whether it was going through great lengths to straighten their hair or [avoiding] the sun,” she explains. “Things that they had internalized that told them they needed to look more European in order to be beautiful.”
Prado grew up in a predominately brown and Black part of L.A. and attended Cleveland Valley High School, where she started to learn about systemic racism at a young age. This is what ultimately led her to stop straightening her own hair and embrace her Afro-Latinx identity. It was through her own curl journey, creating products at home from natural ingredients like aloe vera, that eventually led to what is now Rizos Curls. The brand is still self-funded by her and her brother.
“What I want people to understand about my brand is that it’s not just about curls. It’s about the three Cs: curls, community, and culture. All three things are so important to me,” she says. “I also want people to understand the difference between race and ethnicity. Just because someone is Afro-Mexican doesn’t make them any less Mexican.”
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Originally Appeared on Allure