Since my post last month on learning from mistakes and making changes, I’ve been working to highlight the voices and experiences of a diverse array of Latina feminists. We’ve already interviewed Juana Rosa Cavero, director of the Reproductive Justice Coalition of Los Angeles, and two members of the LatinNegr@s Project, Bianca Laureano and Jessica Marie Johnson.
Today, we’re excited to feature an interview with Kim Haas, director of the blog Los Afro Latinos, which is dedicated to celebrating the culture and work of Afro-descendents throughout the Americas. Haas was kind enough to answer some of my questions about her mission.
Juliana (JB): Could you tell us a bit about the work you do, specifically with Los Afro-Latinos?
Kim (KH): My name is Kim Haas, I’m the founder of Los Afros-Latinos. I founded the blog January 2011, two years ago this January. The reason why I founded the blog was because I was really hungry for more information about Afro-Latinos. It’s been an area of interest of mine – a passion of mine – for many years. I used to work at one of the Spanish language television affiliates, and I watch Spanish television. I’m not Afro-Latina, I’m African-American, but I’ve traveled throughout Latin America and I often go during my visits to Afro-Latino towns, pueblos where the culture is really maintained.
I know that when I was working at the Spanish language television station there was no one of color on television. And I knew this before, so it wasn’t like I got there and I was like “Whoa, there’s nobody on TV.” You just realize that you know, when I go travel, and I go to Cuba, and I go to Puerto Rico, and I go to Peru. You go to these places and you see people who are brown, of indigenous descent. But then you look at the television and you go, “How come what I see is not what I saw when I visited these places?”
Media images and representations play such a key, pivotal role in terms of how people think about other people, what people think is beautiful, how people consider and think about other people in terms of being intelligent or not intelligent. So there’s so much loaded in these images, and when you constantly see one group of people in television, in movies, in advertisements, in high positions in the government…. it does a really disservice to all of us.
With this whole growth of blogs, I realized that instead of waiting for someone else to cover these stories… thank goodness for blogs and the democratization of the means of communication. We can now go out and cover these stories ourselves, we don’t have to wait for anybody to bring us a story that we want to cover.
JB: Now, you’re not actually Afro-Latina, right? What drew you to write about this topic?
KH: Thank goodness for my parents who always instilled in me a great sense of self-pride about African-American culture. They always felt good about who they are and the skin they’re in. Especially being darker skinned African-Americans. So they didn’t have issues about not feeling “good enough” and they didn’t pass that on to me either and I’ve very grateful for that. So between being very interested in African-American issues, and in school I was a Spanish major, so that was where the beginnings of my interest in Afro-Latinidad came in. Just studying and learning opens up so many doors.
JB: Do you see many similarities between the fight for racial justice in the African-American community and the Afro-Latino community? Is there room for collaboration?
KH: In terms of shared experiences its obviously how our ancestors arrived at our respective nations. I think knowing that in so many of these communities these are the people who are often marginalized, disregarded, and you don’t see them often in positions of power. So I think that there are a lot of commonalities.
Latin American didn’t have a civil rights movement like we had here in the U.S. in the 50’s and 60’s so in that sense you know, we see where the histories are quite different. Because there was no main figure like a Martin Luther King in many of these countries, that’s one of the differences. But there is so much that binds us, and I feel like we can draw on those experiences to help lift everybody forward. So that’s another reason why I hope that Los Afro-Latinos can bring something new to the table.
JB: I know that you tend to write a lot about history and culture of Afro-Latin@s living in Latin America. I’m curious if you’ve done any work addressing the intersection of gender and Afro-Latinidad for people living in the U.S.
KH: It’s funny you mention that because that’s something I’ve been wanting to work on for the next year. I’ve been speaking with some Afro-Latinas about doing a piece on what it’s like to be Afro-Latina in terms of self-image and media representation. One of the things I’ve been talking about with these women is about having a roundtable discussion on how they see themselves as Afro-Latinas. Like, what does that mean?
Because one thing we’ve found is that when we do a piece on Afro-Latinas, a common theme in subsequent conversations is that they are so glad just be spoken to. They feel like they are kind of living between two worlds and they are ignored. Time and time again they say “We’re not black enough to be black, but we’re not Latina enough to be Latina.” And they feel like they are in this middle, no-man’s land. So we want to give a voice to that.
JB: Can you tell us about any upcoming projects you have?
KH: We have a children’s supplement which I’m really proud of because we’re featuring authors who are Afro-Latino or children’s books that focus on Afro-Latinos. We’ve interviewed a Puerto Rican author, Eric Velasquez who wrote a book “Grandma’s Records.” It’s a sweet story about visiting his grandma in Puerto Rico. He talks about how she introduced him to music and salsa music. I have a three year-old daughter so I read that to her a lot.
We just interviewed another author, Marshalla Ramos who wrote the book Isabella’s Hair and How She Learned to Love It. We were excited to talk about the whole hair issue!
The idea is that, you know as a parent, you want your children to see themselves reflected in children’s books. We have some information about how very few times children of color are actually featured in books. So we’re going to put this together, and hopefully it will give people a resource that they might use. And also to be able to spotlight and shine the light on some authors that people aren’t familiar with!
Juliana wishes she had more time for reading books.