How Janel Martinez Embraces Her Afro-Latina Identity
For many Latinas, defining identity can be complex. Most Latina stereotypes embody the likes of Sofia Vergara, Jennifer Lopez, and Salma Hayek. However, Latinas are very complex, multi-dimensional, and multi-faceted women.
According to a 2016 Pew Research study, one-quarter of all U.S. Latinos self-identify as Afro-Latino, Afro-Caribbean or of African descent with roots in Latin America.
The concept of being black and Latino is hard for many people to understand, mostly due to the lack of representation in the media and other visible platforms. This is where Janel Martinez comes in. She’s the founder of Ain’t I Latina?, a website dedicated to illuminating the beauty of the Afro-Latina community. Inspired by Sojourner Truth’s poem “Ain’t I A Woman?" Martinez, a 20-something journalist, and New York native, wanted to create a space where millennial Latinas can celebrate their diversity.
Martinez was motivated to create the site due to the lack of acceptance of black identity within the Latino community. “Unfortunately within our [Latino] communities, being black is seen as a negative thing,” Martinez states. “It’s not embraced by our media; we somehow fail to acknowledge that part of our collective identity.”
Example: Sammy Sosa
The Dominican born former Chicago Cubs player recently made headlines when he appeared on ESPN looking dramatically different. In the interview, his complexion appeared to be much whiter than his naturally darker, mocha skin.
In a 2009 interview with ESPN, Sosa addressed his lighter appearance. "It's a bleaching cream that I apply before going to bed and whitens my skin some," he said. "It's a cream that I have, that I use to soften [my skin], but has bleached me some. I'm not a racist, I live my life happily."
This problematic mentality around Afro-Latinx identity is why platforms like Ain't I Latina? is so vital. This resonates deeply with Martinez and is why she shares her journey of self-discovery, acceptance, and love.
Martinez tells MBG, “The need to create this site came out a lived experience. Every question surrounding my identity growing up led me to create this site. Who gets to decide the actual creation of content in magazines like Vogue, Glamour, and Essence? Who gets to decide what to print? The main decision makers come from a different point of view. The stories of black and brown people are often left out, and if/when they are included, it’s often in a 1-dimensional view. I didn’t see myself represented. I didn’t see that intersectional conversation happen. So I’m making it happen.”
Martinez’s work on the site has helped Latinas of all ages re-discover, learn, and embrace just how deep their Afro-Latina culture is ingrained in the Latino community. Ain’t I Latina? is successfully encouraging Afro-Latinas to embrace and acknowledge their complete identity.