posted 2012-03-07 20:09:45

Afro Latinos: The Untaught Stories

Film previewed and discussed by one of its co-creators

Nikelle Riggs, Contributing Writer

Every year in February, the United States celebrates the lives of those who once were only regarded as three-fifths of a person. During Black History Month, many people share and reflect on African- American and Afro-Latino history. However, writer and producer Alicia Anabel Santos claims that she celebrates her culture “every day of every month”— not just during February.

This past month, in Professor Denis- Rosario’s Puerto Rican History course, Santos shared a trailer of a film that she is working on. Titled Afro Latinos: The Untaught Stories, the documentary gathers stories to educate viewers on the twenty-one countries that Afro-Latinos have come from. After watching the trailer, the twenty students in the class provided their own insights into Afro Latino culture and discussed the content of the documentary with Santos.

The trailer for the eight-part series features interviews with locals of nineteen countries that Santos and her partner Renzo Devia have traveled to since 2008, just one year after the project was started. The two set out to explore the African heritage that makes up a third of the roots of Latino culture.

At the beginning of the discussion, Santos was pleasantly surprised to find a few students in the class who mentioned African heritage in their description of Latino culture. She exclaimed that throughout numerous scenes in the series—which she said discusses history, faith, music, dance, food, and social issues—viewers will learn that there are “two cultures marching to one drum.”

The fact is that not many people are aware of the connection between Latino and African cultures.

Santos recalled an earlier period in her writing career that led to her interest in informing people of the Afro-Latino heritage. She was told by the editors of Essence magazine that her research on Latino women did not fit in with their theme of black women and women in the Caribbean.

In her discussion, she repeatedly proclaimed that North America is not the only place that African slaves were shipped to. Latin countries received ships as well, and the descendants of these slaves face an incredible struggle with identity. Many face racism and social injustices in their communities due to their differences in skin color. Shots of the interactions between these Afro Latino communities, and their living conditions are shown in the trailer.

After realizing Essence magazine was not her place, Santos set out to discover what her place of origin meant to her.

When Santos and Devia met, Devia essentially asked Santos to quit her job in order to spend her resources on learning first-hand about Afro-Latino communities. For Santos, creating the documentary helped her realize her place within her own heritage, while leading others to do so as well.

The documentary aims to highlight the lack of knowledge of and provide education on African influence within Latino heritage.

One of the eight-parts of the documentary deals with resolving the problem of Latinos’ forgotten African heritage. In a plea with the students in the class, Santos asked that they all make an effort to become informed about Afro Latino culture. The solution to aiding these communities, she explained, is not through donating money but through education.

Santos believes the simple act of “bringing maps of the African continent” to these communities would help tremendously. Even at a college as diverse as Hunter, Santos stresses the importance of showing tolerance and an interest in heritages—a kind of daily remembrance that Santos already does for her own culture.

Afro Latinos: The Untaught Stories is currently in post-production, with a future release pending on further funding.