Amara La Negra: Too Black To Be Latina? Too Latina To Be Black? People are constantly telling Amara La Negra that she doesn't fit anywhere. Sometimes, she's "too black to be Latina." Other times, she's "too Latina to be black." But Amara says afro-Latinas aren't rare and they're no cause for confusion — they're just in dire need of more representation.
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Amara La Negra: Too Black To Be Latina? Too Latina To Be Black?

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Amara La Negra: Too Black To Be Latina? Too Latina To Be Black?

Amara La Negra: Too Black To Be Latina? Too Latina To Be Black?

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AMARA LA NEGRA: I know that nobody wants to talk about it. But we suffer a lot of racism. We suffer a lot of colorism among ourselves.

SHEREEN MARISOL MERAJI, BYLINE: That's artist and Afro-Latina Amara La Negra, putting Latinx folks on blast for all the racist comments she's heard over the years.

AMARA LA NEGRA: Somebody needs to say something. Like, are we just going to keep hearing it and not do anything about it?

GENE DEMBY, HOST:

Diana Danelys De Los Santos (ph) is her real name. Amara La Negra - that's her stage name. It means love the black woman.

MERAJI: She was the breakout star on VH1's show "Love & Hip Hop: Miami." The reality show follows the lives of artists and music industry folks as they break in, comeback and crossover.

DEMBY: And when Amara La Negra is not singing or dancing or acting, she's busy calling out anti-blackness.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MERAJI: This is CODE SWITCH. I'm Shereen Marisol Meraji.

DEMBY: And I'm Gene Demby. How are you feeling, homie?

MERAJI: I'm a little sick this week. You're going to be hearing it in my voice.

DEMBY: It's raspy, though. I like it.

MERAJI: (Laughter). I wish I could keep it like this, actually. Although, it's hard to say things in Spanish with my voice like this and being all sick. I don't know. I find that difficult. Anyway, we're talking about Amara La Negra who - I actually didn't know who she was at all until this guy brought it to my attention.

JUSTIN RICHMOND, BYLINE: My name is Justin Richmond. And I'm a producer on Morning Edition.

MERAJI: I work with Justin out here at NPR West on the best coast. And one morning, he came over to my desk.

RICHMOND: And you were busy. And you didn't want to hear it from me like usual (laughter). I was like, Shereen, just - I know you're busy. Just stop. Stop. Go to YouTube. Put on "The Breakfast Club," Amara La Negra.

DEMBY: Quick explanatory comma - "The Breakfast Club" is a morning show. It's recorded out of New York City on Power 105 FM.

MERAJI: The hosts are DJ Envy, Angela Yee and Charlamagne Tha God. And they interview celebrities who are connected, in some way, to hip-hop culture.

DEMBY: And they tend to stir up a lot of ish (ph).

MERAJI: (Laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, "THE BREAKFAST CLUB")

DJ ENVY: Morning, everybody. It's DJ Envy, Angela Yee, Charlamagne Tha God. We are "The Breakfast Club." We got a special guest in the building from "Love & Hip Hop: Miami," Amara La Negra.

ANGELA YEE: Oh, that was...

CHARLAMAGNE THA GOD: Amara La Negra.

AMARA LA NEGRA: Hey.

DJ ENVY: I got it. See that?

AMARA LA NEGRA: Yes, you got it. You got it.

YEE: That was good.

DJ ENVY: I practiced that.

AMARA LA NEGRA: Oh, man. I'm excited. I'm so excited to be here, I have to say. I've seen so many huge artists that I admire, sitting in the same seat. And I'm like, oh, my God. I can't believe I'm here. I thought I had to, like - at least 50 hits before sitting here. But I'm excited. So thank you for having me here today.

DJ ENVY: Well, welcome.

CHARLAMAGNE THA GOD: What are you?

AMARA LA NEGRA: Huh?

CHARLAMAGNE THA GOD: Like race wise.

MERAJI: Oh, Charlamagne.

(LAUGHTER)

MERAJI: Starting out the interview so gracefully with Amara by asking, what are you? Gene, you know that's one of my personal favorites.

DEMBY: This is one of your favorites (laughter).

MERAJI: What are you? Then he adds, like race wise.

DEMBY: That story absolutely just...

MERAJI: (Laughter).

DEMBY: ...That's so Charlamagne.

DEMBY: So Justin felt like Charlamagne was being super disrespectful in various ways - and if you know Charlamagne, you know what I'm talking about - throughout that interview. And it just really made Justin uncomfortable.

RICHMOND: It just seems that we should have respect for other people, other cultures and the way other people identify. And so I just felt very, like, weird to me. And as interview progressed - and she sort of explained other issues, too, like that she's not only having with the black American community but that she's having with the Latino community, the colorism that exists. I'm always trying to think about what's Shereen going to like? So I'm, like, this is Shereen's story right here. That's how it happened.

MERAJI: Big thanks to Justin Richmond for that story pitch. After I watched that "Breakfast Club" interview, GD, I went down the Internet rabbit hole and realized that I've actually been dancing to Amara La Negra's 2012 hit "Ayy," for years now.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AYY (EDB ORIGINAL MIX)")

AMARA LA NEGRA: (Singing in Spanish).

DEMBY: All right. Just explain listen to the listeners, Shereen, how you've been dancing to her music for all this time and didn't know it was her.

MERAJI: If people follow me on Twitter, they know I love Zumba.

(LAUGHTER)

MERAJI: I love Zumba so much.

DEMBY: Get it. Get it how you live.

MERAJI: And, yeah. Zumba instructors love this song.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AYY (EDB ORIGINAL MIX)")

AMARA LA NEGRA: (Singing in Spanish).

MERAJI: It's very Zumba-friendly.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AYY (EDB ORIGINAL MIX)")

AMARA LA NEGRA: (Singing in Spanish).

MERAJI: So yeah, this whole time, I've been doing little dances to "Ayy." And I didn't even know that it was Amara La Negra.

DEMBY: So all this time, Amara La Negra has been in your life - I wish she had been in my life.

(LAUGHTER)

DEMBY: You and Amara La Negra are going to talk about her life, and her career, and that "Breakfast Club" interview, and what it's like trying to be a celebrity when you are Afro-Latina.

AMARA LA NEGRA: You're too negra. You're too black to be Latina. Or you're too Latina to be black. Or your hair is too nappy. You know, you need to be more petite, more skinny, more slim, long legs. It's your accent. It's everything.

MERAJI: Stay with us.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DEMBY: Gene.

MERAJI: Shereen.

DEMBY: CODE SWITCH.

AMARA LA NEGRA: Hey, guys. My name is Amara La Negra. I am an artist. I am Dominican. I was born and raised in Miami. But I'm an artist. I sing. I dance. I act. I do a little bit of everything. I call myself a (speaking Spanish). I do everything. And whatever I don't know, I'm always willing to learn. I don't know what else is it that you want...

MERAJI: That was good. That was it...

AMARA LA NEGRA: This is just mic check, no?

MERAJI: Yeah, mic check and - I like to use it sometimes...

AMARA LA NEGRA: Oh, OK.

MERAJI: ...Because I think it's fun.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LOVE & HIP HOP: MIAMI")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Flight 305 to Miami is now boarding.

MERAJI: Amara La Negra, the bilingual daughter of a Dominican immigrant who reps Hialeah. GD, what do you know about Hialeah?

DEMBY: Literally not a damn thing. What is that, like, a Hawaiian island or something?

AMARA LA NEGRA: I was born and raised in Miami.

MERAJI: OK.

AMARA LA NEGRA: And in Miami, there's an area called Hialeah where there's a lot of Latinos. It's very cha-cha...

MERAJI: Yes.

AMARA LA NEGRA: ...As they call it. And then I grew up in Hialeah.

MERAJI: I know it's, like, 96 percent Latino - mostly Cuban, actually.

AMARA LA NEGRA: Yes.

MERAJI: Is there a story from growing up that, for you, encapsulates Hialeah?

AMARA LA NEGRA: Well, me growing up, I remember that, you know, Hialeah's a type of place where you'll find Cuban music all over the place and (speaking Spanish) and empanadas and croquettas and Cuban coffee. And then there's the ladies with the rollers in her hair. And they're selling flowers in the streets. And it's just very Latino. And it's not just Cuban. Obviously, there's more Cubans than anything. But there's Dominicans. And there's Colombians. And there's the Venezuelans. And there's a little bit of everything. So I definitely remember listening to a lot of music. It's very loud. It's very - like, the ones that are, like, outside the window, screaming, hey, pass me some sugar - type of thing. Yeah, I love it.

MERAJI: So Amara was raised in Hialeah by a single mom, Ana Maria, her biggest cheerleader, her biggest fan. And Ana Maria is a big part of Amara's storyline on "Love & Hip Hop: Miami."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LOVE & HIP HOP: MIAMI")

AMARA LA NEGRA: I may have big dreams, but her dreams for me are even bigger.

ANA MARIA: (Speaking Spanish).

AMARA LA NEGRA: I know, Mom. I really want to be able to make you proud. It's not just about me. (Speaking Spanish). It's about us.

DEMBY: Real quick, Shereen.

MERAJI: Yeah?

DEMBY: What was her mom saying there?

MERAJI: That she wants Amara to have a star, you know, on the sidewalk, on the Walk of Fame - I'm assuming the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

DEMBY: Oh, got it. Immigrant parents, you know what I mean?

MERAJI: Oh, yeah. You know how it is. We sacrifice everything, so you better be the best ever. No pressure (laughter). Seriously, though, I love that her mom's a part of the show.

DEMBY: Me, too.

MERAJI: I know this is reality TV, and it's totally over the top. But the way that Amara interacts with her mom on the show, it's - I find it really touching. Her mom speaks Spanish. And then Amara speaks back to her in Spanish and English and Spanglish. And it feels really true to the lives that many of us kids of immigrants or kids of parents from another country experience.

DEMBY: Her mom still holding it down. (Singing) You always was a black queen, mama.

MERAJI: Your mom is obviously very important to you but...

AMARA LA NEGRA: Extremely.

MERAJI: ...Can you - and she's been here for over 20 years?

AMARA LA NEGRA: Thirty years, yes.

MERAJI: Thirty years. Can you talk about why she immigrated to the United States? What's her story?

AMARA LA NEGRA: I think that everybody pretty much immigrates to the United States looking for the American dream, you know? You're in your country struggling. And I admire her for having the guts to actually say, I'm going to leave. She didn't leave with any family. She just left by herself. She crossed the Mexican border. And just that journey alone really talks about your strength and your courage.

MERAJI: Yeah.

AMARA LA NEGRA: And she did it. And she made it to the United States. And ever since, you know, she obviously lived a little bit in Texas. And she had to travel through lots of...

MERAJI: That's what I was wondering.

AMARA LA NEGRA: Yeah, she lived in different states for a little bit until she finally ended up being in Miami, where it became home because she felt it was very Latino. And it was just more Caribbean. And it was just perfect for her. And I'm grateful because then I was born in Miami.

MERAJI: (Laughter).

AMARA LA NEGRA: So yeah.

MERAJI: Your mom and you have, like, this super-tight relationship.

AMARA LA NEGRA: Yes.

MERAJI: It's just the two of you.

AMARA LA NEGRA: It's the two-of-us-against-the-world type of thing.

MERAJI: (Laughter).

AMARA LA NEGRA: Yeah, my mom comes with me everywhere. If go to the strip club, if I go to a club, if I go to the beach, if I go on a - I could go on a date and be like, you know what? I feel like bringing my mom. Mom, are you hungry? Yeah, this guy wants to take me out. Yeah? All right, let's go. And then that's it.

MERAJI: (Laughter).

AMARA LA NEGRA: It's either you take it or leave it. You don't like my mama. I don't like you, either. (Laughter) So no.

MERAJI: (Laughter). What does your mom do? You said that she - because I was watching one of the episodes...

AMARA LA NEGRA: Yes.

MERAJI: ...And you said that she had burned herself in the kitchen. And I was like, does she cook? Like, what does she...

AMARA LA NEGRA: My mom's a cook.

MERAJI: OK.

AMARA LA NEGRA: My mom's a cook. My mom's been cooking all her life. Before, you know, she used to clean houses. And I would go. And I would clean houses with my mom. I'm not ashamed to say it. My mom used to sell flowers in the corners of the streets. And I would sit there and protect the flowers. And I was there. You know, it was - like I said, it's me and my mom against the world. And I would never leave her.

I grew up without any brothers or sisters or a grandmother - like, I don't know what it is to have any of that. But I know what it is to have a good mother. So, you know, me growing up, she always saw that I was very charismatic. And I was very sassy. And I told her, Mom, when I grow up, I want to be a superstar. And I'm going to be a superstar. So then...

MERAJI: So that came from you?

AMARA LA NEGRA: That came from me. And I was just so confident about it. And I would model everywhere. And I would sing everywhere. And I would put my teddy bears. And I would sing to them. And she saw that I was really taking it seriously. Like, this is really what she wants to do. So instead of telling me no, she said, well, if this is what you want to do, I'm going to support you. And I'm going to get another job. And she got a part-time job besides her full-time job. She got an extra job to be able just to pay for my singing classes and dancing classes and competition outfits. All those things are - this career is very expensive.

MERAJI: Yeah.

AMARA LA NEGRA: So she did that just to support me. And that's why I'm so grateful because I know that a lot of people don't have the opportunity to have somebody to support them the way that my mom did.

MERAJI: At 4, Amara gets her first big break.

DEMBY: So precocious - 4 years old?

MERAJI: Yes, on the longest-running variety show in TV history, hosted by Don Francisco. Any guesses?

DEMBY: "Sabado Gigante."

MERAJI: (Singing) Sabado gigante.

(SOUNDBITE OF "SABADO GIGANTE" THEME SONG)

MERAJI: That show totally reminds me of my childhood, Gene. My grandparents had it on every Saturday without fail.

DEMBY: I would only see it in passing, but - and I don't know what people were saying on "Sabado Gigante," but it always felt like that show was on for, like, five hours at a time.

MERAJI: I think it might've been. And then on Sunday, there was a totally different variety show I remember watching called "Siempre En Domingo." Oh, my God, it's so hard to speak Spanish when you feel sick. Shoutout to those of us who remember "Siempre En Domingo" anyway.

DEMBY: So much happened on those shows. It was dancing.

MERAJI: So much.

DEMBY: It was, like, comedy bits. It was like, yo, these hosts better get their electrolytes, you know what I mean?

MERAJI: And on "Sabado Gigante," kids were always a big part of the show. And when Amara was 4, there was an open competition to be one of those regular kids.

AMARA LA NEGRA: I went to this competition. I won. And then because I was so sassy, Don Francisco at the time said, oh, my God, we would love to have her in this segment that we have where the children talk. It was, like, a little talk thing for kids. And I was there for six years every Saturday. Then I ended up being a backup dancer for the TV station - a whole bunch of stuff.

MERAJI: Yeah.

AMARA LA NEGRA: So I'm just grateful for that.

MERAJI: I mean, one of your - I mean, your main storyline here in "Love & Hip Hop" is you're Afro-Latina.

AMARA LA NEGRA: Yes.

MERAJI: And there are a lot of struggles that come with that in...

AMARA LA NEGRA: Of course.

MERAJI: ...The Latin entertainment industry.

AMARA LA NEGRA: Right.

MERAJI: And I'm hearing you, and you're like, but I was on "Sabado Gigante," and I was, like, all of this stuff. So what age were you when you realized, oh, man, like, this is going to be an issue?

AMARA LA NEGRA: The thing is that when you say that I was on "Sabado Gigante" or when you talk about the things that I have done, you have to understand that if you look at the history, for example, of "Sabado Gigante" back then, I was the only one in 50 years on the show being on air who was an Afro-Latina staple on the channel. So a lot of people see - take it as, well, you were accepted, and you did get this. Yes, but I had to push my way in through that - to there. And there's millions of people that look like myself that don't get that opportunity till this day. So yes, I have done a lot of things, but I had to push my way to get to where I was.

MERAJI: Did you know when you were little that you were doing that? Did you know...

AMARA LA NEGRA: I didn't know that I was doing it, but I did know that I was different. I was always placed either in the middle or in the back because then - I always kind of felt like a bug in the middle of a cup of milk. Like, they don't know where to place you. Like, and we don't want to seem racist, so we have to have her.

The one moment I do recall and I will always be clear about was I was getting my hair done backstage for the TV station. And the hairstylist told my mom, you need to perm her hair. You need to do something about her hair because her hair is unmanageable. We cannot deal with this. We don't have time for this. I remember my mom looking - her facial expression that moment. I was, like, about 5 or 6. And I remember her looking at me, and her face just told me everything.

I still remember her face because it was just letting me know that this is the beginning of the struggle, you know? Your hair isn't good enough. Your skin is too dark. Your nose, your this, your body - I used to feel very uncomfortable with my body. So I remember going through all these stages where I didn't feel good about myself because I just felt I didn't fit in till it took me to a point where I'm like, all right, that's it. Take it or leave it. Yeah.

MERAJI: So when was that revelation? Like, how old were you - when did Amara La Negra become...

AMARA LA NEGRA: Amara La Negra?

MERAJI: Yeah.

AMARA LA NEGRA: I was, like, about 17 when I realized, like, I can't - I always loved me because my mom always made sure to tell me from a very early age, you're beautiful. You're strong. You're a queen. Your skin is beautiful. You're - and she did - always did tell me, you're always going to have to work twice as hard to be noticed for your work. Let's not get it twisted, you know what I mean? You're beautiful and everything, but you're black. You're going to have to really put in that work. So it wasn't till, like, about the age of, like, 17, where I just really was just tired of trying to fit in. Like, I don't want to do this anymore. Like...

MERAJI: Was there an incident in anything that you were just like, I'm done?

AMARA LA NEGRA: I do remember a moment for my hair because everybody wants to know, oh, what happened with the hair? So Dominicans are known for doing hair.

MERAJI: Yes.

AMARA LA NEGRA: My mom used to perm my hair. And I used to have straight hair for many, many years. I had straight hair. I did the braids. I did all types of stuff. But then when I was in school - I was about 15, 16 - and we had always spoken about Black History Month. And you always knew about the Martin Luther Kings and the Malcom Xs and all that stuff. But it wasn't till that age that I really understood their power and what they did and how they made a difference.

And just getting to know more of their strength made me realize, why am I perming my hair again? I don't know. Why, like, to fit society's standards of beauty? So then I just stopped doing it. And then my hair fell off because once you start perming and putting all these products in your hair and you stop, automatically, your hair is going to get thinner, and it is going to fall off. So I went through a stage where my hair was very kind of short. And then I started growing out the fro. And then for many years, I rocked my natural fro, and it was great. But with this lifestyle that I live, it's kind of hard to have a perfect afro 24/7.

MERAJI: Yeah.

AMARA LA NEGRA: So then it was my mom's idea - OK, so how about if we start also adding extensions - like, afro extensions - and then you can still be yourself and still embrace it and still feel good? But you know, how you want to express yourself.

MERAJI: Let's talk about this idea that Amara La Negra's too Latina to be black. Her huge afro definitely plays a role in this discussion. She's been called out on social media for wearing an afro wig. People have accused her of lying about being black. This is other black people.

DEMBY: Yeah. And there was - a couple of months ago, there were all these videos on Twitter, on YouTube basically of people going at her, saying that she was, like, faking the funk, that she was appropriating black culture.

AMARA LA NEGRA: I have been told that I do blackface. People on social media, for the most part - you know, Twitter, Instagram, whatever - that I do blackface. There's videos on YouTube. I've had to let people touch me...

MERAJI: Yeah.

AMARA LA NEGRA: ...To prove, like, look, it's not coming off - show baby pictures, show baby videos. I didn't get my nose done. In my country, and like many others, we have a big mix. So having to go through that process really sucks. I've been told I take melanin shots to, you know, be darker. I'm willing to take it. And I'm willing to do it because it's more than just about me.

MERAJI: But there's something about you that's confusing for some reason to people. I mean, I'm just, like, going to "The Breakfast Club"...

AMARA LA NEGRA: (Laughter).

MERAJI: ...Ridiculousness that I watched.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, "THE BREAKFAST CLUB")

CHARLAMAGNE THA GOD: What are you - like, race wise?

AMARA LA NEGRA: Oh.

CHARLAMAGNE THA GOD: Who am I? I'm...

AMARA LA NEGRA: Yeah. What are you? No...

(LAUGHTER)

AMARA LA NEGRA: I'm Dominican - well, born and raised in Miami. My parents...

CHARLAMAGNE THA GOD: OK.

AMARA LA NEGRA: ...Are Dominican. And I am obviously an Afro-Latina, so yes. And...

DJ ENVY: So what is an Afro-Latina? I thought that was half black, half something else.

CHARLAMAGNE THA GOD: That's what I thought it was, too.

DJ ENVY: Half Latino.

CHARLAMAGNE THA GOD: I thought it was half black, half Latino.

AMARA LA NEGRA: Well, the thing is that - how we see black here in the United States is different. You think black, you think African-American.

DJ ENVY: Right.

AMARA LA NEGRA: See, for us in the Dominican Republic - because we're all Dominican - you only have but to say you're black.

DJ ENVY: I thought Dominicans didn't...

AMARA LA NEGRA: What are you? The question, what are you? Well, besides the fact that I'm human...

(LAUGHTER)

AMARA LA NEGRA: What I think that - what makes people feel some type of way is the fact that I rock an afro, so it it makes me very black. I am very black. But at the same time, I'm very Latina. I'm very cha-cha. And then that can be confusing only because of the fact that there is such a lack of a representation of the Afro-Latino community that they don't understand it. They're like, wait, you're black? You speak Spanish? Say something. Like, even there, I had to prove myself. Yes, you know, I come from a country where there's a lot of us.

MERAJI: (Laughter).

AMARA LA NEGRA: You just haven't seen us. So...

MERAJI: Yeah, but they're in New York. I mean, I was really shocked by that.

AMARA LA NEGRA: You were shocked by what?

MERAJI: The way that "The Breakfast Club" - they reacted to you saying that you were Afro-Latina.

AMARA LA NEGRA: It's because, why are you saying that you're Afro-Latina? You're Dominican. You're Dominican. You're - OK, we get it. You're Spanish, so why are you Afro-Latina? The way that the United States is set up - if you are white, you're Caucasian. Boom. If you are black, you're African-American. Boom. And if you're Latino, you're everything else.

MERAJI: Yeah.

AMARA LA NEGRA: You're in there.

MERAJI: Right.

AMARA LA NEGRA: It doesn't matter if you're Colombian, Venezuelan, Dominican - you're Latino. Yeah. There's that confusion. We understand as black as being African-American and Latino as being everything else. So - and then with the Afro-Latina, then I just basically explained that 'cause a lot of people seem to be confused. And I don't get it 'cause...

MERAJI: Yeah, me either.

AMARA LA NEGRA: ...There isn't just black people in the United States. You do know that, right? Like, in the rest of the world - in the map - there's more people. And there's more black people, too. So that's really where the confusion comes in.

MERAJI: Do you get that a lot?

AMARA LA NEGRA: Having to explain it, or what?

MERAJI: Yeah.

AMARA LA NEGRA: Yeah, I do. And I don't even feel bad. I feel more the need to educate and give you my point of view and talk to you about my culture and where I come from. I'm willing to take it. And I'm willing to do it because it's more than just about me. It's about a whole community of people. It's about the new generation that's growing up that looks up to me 'cause they don't have any representation. And they don't have anybody to look up to. I at least have Celia Cruz.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LA NEGRA TIENE TUMBAO")

CELIA CRUZ: (Singing in foreign language).

AMARA LA NEGRA: She was, like, everything to me. (Speaking Spanish). I used to love her. She was everything. She was loud. And she was - you know, her charisma, her - she was very humble. She was an amazing person. When she passed away, I was like, well, then if she's gone, then I'll never be able to be like her. There's nobody else that I can be like. So how must it feel for the new girls that are growing up that look like me, and they automatically don't have anybody in their community? They have to look into the Beyonces, the Nicki Minajes, the - and they're amazing, but they're not Latinas.

MERAJI: Now, let's talk about what Amara La Negra said about being too black to be Latina. So in 2016, a Dominican celebrity and former beauty queen Geisha Montes de Oca went on Spanish language TV - on this Spanish language TV show - where they imitate other celebrities. And Geisha wore an afro wig...

DEMBY: Uh-oh.

MERAJI: ...Dark brown face paint.

DEMBY: Oh.

MERAJI: So she was in blackface. And she sang along to Amara's hit "AYY," which we heard earlier, and did a dance for the audience who - in turn, Gene - clapped and danced along to these racist shenanigans.

DEMBY: Wow, but that's what we're doing? We're doing blackface? That's what we're really doing? OK. I'm sure the Internet loved that.

MERAJI: Oh, (laughter) the Internet went in. Geisha's defense was that, you know, race is different in the Dominican Republic. And the Internet did not buy that (laughter).

DEMBY: Right.

MERAJI: She was ripped apart on her own Instagram. She eventually deleted the posts where she's dressed like Amara La Negra.

DEMBY: Screen grabs - I got receipts.

MERAJI: Oh, yeah. And you can find the receipts on the Internet if you do a little searching. You can find the video of her doing the dance and lip-syncing to the song. Anyway, Amara told me she wanted her storyline on "Love & Hip Hop: Miami" to really expose Latino racism and colorism. And that happens in the very first episode. She gets set up with this Miami producer. He's Puerto Rican. He goes by Young Hollywood.

DEMBY: Of course he does.

MERAJI: (Laughter) And they meet up to see if he can help her make, you know, this big break from the Latin to the American market, as she says. And the first thing he does - the first thing he does is suggest that she change up her look - be more Beyonce and less Macy Gray is what he tells her.

DEMBY: Of course he did.

AMARA LA NEGRA: So I can't be elegant if I have a 'fro? Is that what you're saying?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

YOUNG HOLLYWOOD: Yeah. I guess so.

DEMBY: (Laughter). I wish that every time somebody said some wild stuff about race, like, every time you experience a microaggression, there was a score with that music (laughter).

MERAJI: Dun-un, dun-un, dun-un (ph). I totally agree. And, by the way, Young Hollywood, the Internet skewered him, too.

DEMBY: Of course it did.

MERAJI: He denied he was racist, obviously, and said he didn't properly articulate what he meant to say.

DEMBY: Of course he did.

AMARA LA NEGRA: It was his natural reaction that instead of asking me about my music - what direction I wanted to go, what I wanted to do - he was too concerned about my hair. He was too concerned about my looks.

MERAJI: Right. More Beyonce...

AMARA LA NEGRA: Yeah. More Beyonce, less Macy Gray.

MERAJI: Right.

AMARA LA NEGRA: Don't do - don't be you, and kind of copy somebody else so that you can succeed.

MERAJI: The thing that I loved about your interaction with Young Hollywood, watching it, is that you were airing some really good dirty laundry.

AMARA LA NEGRA: Yes. And I'm going to put it out there.

MERAJI: And I respect that...

AMARA LA NEGRA: Thank you.

MERAJI: Very, very much, I would like to say.

AMARA LA NEGRA: Yeah. I'm going to put it out there. Look, I know that nobody wants to talk about it, but we suffer a lot of racism, we suffer a lot of colorism amongst ourselves. You know? We'll say it all the time. If you want to argue with me, the first thing they'll say is, la negra esa - the black this, or that black, da, da, da, da (ph). You know? It's always like as if calling me black is offensive, or it should offend me some type of way or make me feel, you know, inferior. You know, I get all the time, whenever you get married, don't get married to no black man 'cause you need to better the race. You don't want nappy hair. You don't want a big nose, big lips. You don't want - so it's just that self-hate that has been taught and has been, you know, put generation through generations that is just awful. Somebody, somebody needs to say something. Like, are we just going to keep hearing it and not do anything about it? I mean...

MERAJI: Because a lot of this was your crossover, the Latin market to the American market. Do you think it's worse in the Latin market?

AMARA LA NEGRA: Of course. Yeah, yeah, yeah. It's definitely worse. That's not even a question. That is the truth. It is definitely worse. I feel that in the United States, you - because the African-Americans really stepped their ground and stood firm for their rights, they have a bigger platform to promote themselves. Like, for example, you'll see African-Americans in movies, in TV, in commercials, in this and that. And then it gives you the opportunity to see versatility as far as shades. In the Latino community, you don't. Movies, novellas, you know, soap operas, magazine covers, commercials, whatever the case may be, you barely ever, ever see people that look like myself. And there's people like me in every Latin country. So it's like you're talking to the Latino community, but why aren't you talking to people that look like me? What's the problem with me? Why am I not a good representation of what a Latino or Latina should look like?

MERAJI: So I know Amara La Negra's talking about all these race issues in a really disarming and funny way, but the impact, not only of the lack of representation in the media, but the outright racism that Afro-Latinx folks face, that's serious.

DEMBY: Right. I mean, y'all might remember, we talked about weathering on the show a couple months ago. And that term was coined by a public health researcher named Arline Geronimus, and she coined that term to talk about sort of the effects of everyday racism, that, like, background radiation of racism and how it erodes the health and well-being of black Americans.

MERAJI: Now, the Centers for Disease Control published findings that show Latinx folks in the U.S. are actually generally healthier than white Americans despite risk factors like higher poverty and less access to health care. But - and this is a big but - very few studies have been done on Afro-Latinx folks specifically, because we tend to, you know, lump all Latinx people into the same category, despite race.

DEMBY: So we don't know. We don't have a good sense of what the particular challenges are for Afro-Latino people.

MERAJI: Right. And, you know, before anyone says, there's a box on the census that you can check for your race after you check that you're Hispanic or Latino or of Spanish origin, yes, that's true, but, for Afro-Latinx people, that doesn't work very well because, you know, in Latin America, there are various categories for color. But those don't exist in the U.S., and black is often synonymous with African-American. So it's really tricky. And people don't check those boxes the way you think they might.

DEMBY: Right. So there was this Pew study where Afro-Latinos were asked directly about their race. And 18 percent said they were black, 39 percent said they were white alone or white in combination with another race, and 24 percent said their race was just Hispanic or Latino.

MERAJI: Which we know is not actually considered a race.

DEMBY: Right.

MERAJI: It's an ethnicity. All that to say, like, you said, it's really hard to do targeted research and disaggregate data for the Afro-Latinx community. I called up a social scientist who works in the Department of Community Health at Tufts University to talk about this. His name is Dr. Adolfo Cuevas. He's Afro-Dominican. He grew up in Washington Heights in New York City, and he studies race and Latinx health outcomes. And he calls those findings about, you know, Latinx folks being healthier than white Americans despite so many obstacles, he calls that the Latino paradox. And he's trying to find out if the Latino paradox is actually a thing if you're Afro-Latinx.

Are you familiar with Amara La Negra?

ADOLFO CUEVAS: You know, I am because there was a Power 105...

MERAJI: "The Breakfast Club" thing.

CUEVAS: Yes. Yes. And I was rooting for her when I listened to her really stick up, not just stick up but also have this really strong argument for why we have to acknowledge Afro-Latinas and Afro-Latinos in the discourse of blackness. And I'm sure you've heard this before, you know, things like good hair, bad hair, within the Latino community and how the darker skin are often called ugly or not good looking or as attractive as their white counterparts or lighter-skinned counterparts. And it's something that people walk with them. It's embodied in their day-to-day lives, and it's not something that you can let go easily.

MERAJI: Is there data around that? How is this affecting Afro-Latinos who are living - I don't know - in Latin America or in the United States?

CUEVAS: There's emerging research - so when we started doing this kind of research, not surprisingly there was very few studies kind of examining this issue of race and skin color among Latinos and Latinas. But the few that we found kind of shows that race plays a significant influence on Latino-Latina health. For example, black Latinos are much more likely to have hypertension. They have greater odds of reporting poor health. They have greater body mass index. They have higher levels of depressive symptoms compared to their white counterparts.

And one study actually shows that Afro-Latinos actually may engage in more menthol cigarette consumption compared to their white counterparts. We know that darker-skinned Latinos in Latin America have poorer health compared to lighter-skinned Latinos. And when they immigrate to the United States and experience new forms of discrimination both interpersonally and institutionally, how is their health profile different from white Latinos within the context of the Latino paradox is a question that remains to be explored.

MERAJI: So you're going to figure that out (laughter).

CUEVAS: That's our goal. (Laughter) We're doing - we're doing quite a bit of research in New York City. So this is kind of, like, coming full circle here. I am now doing research in Washington Heights where we're interviewing Dominican - Dominican-Americans and asking them questions about skin color, socially assigned race, discrimination and health outcomes. A quick teaser - what we're finding is that a lot of Dominicans, darker skinned - when I interview them, they're darker skinned than me. I would say I am dark brown, but they would rate their skin color lighter than what I would rate it. And they're less likely to identify as black, more likely to identify as Afro-Latino. And - but those who identify as black have poorer health compared to those who identify as Afro-Latino. It's a very complex question that we're still trying to grapple with.

MERAJI: Are you also finding that those who identify as black are maybe second generation and that those who identify as Afro-Latino are either immigrants themselves or maybe first generation?

CUEVAS: Latinos who are more likely to identify as black are those who are younger than the age of 25. Their identity, their racial identity, is being shaped in such an early age, and this movement of, you know, appreciating your black identity and your Africanness is really shaping a younger generation of Dominicans.

MERAJI: But yet, you're saying that the health outcomes are worse if they identify with being black.

CUEVAS: Right because perhaps they're more likely to, you know, perceive now more discrimination. You know, it's kind of like biting the apple. Now that you identify strongly or just simply identify as black, you're beginning to look around you and identify some of the injustice that not only Latinos but Afro-Latinos experience in the United States.

MERAJI: Big, big thanks to Adolfo Cuevas for talking about his work with us. Obviously, Gene, there's so much more research that needs to happen to determine the physical and psychological effects of racism on the health of the Afro-Latinx people in the United States.

DEMBY: Right. And it'll be interesting to see, like, what the long-term economic outlooks are for people who identify as Afro-Latinx.

MERAJI: I agree. Social scientists, get to work.

DEMBY: Yeah.

MERAJI: Economists.

DEMBY: Dr. Cuevas, we're going to be following you at the soca (ph) - Psychosocial Determinants of Health Lab at Tufts.

MERAJI: (Laughter) Say that again.

DEMBY: Psychosocial Determinants of Health Lab at Tufts. Psychosocial Determinants of Health Lab at Tufts. Psychosocial Determinants of Health Lab at Tufts.

MERAJI: All right. All right.

DEMBY: All right, sorry.

MERAJI: Back to Amara La Negra. She definitely thinks more positive media representation can help with all this. She just signed a big record deal. She's got a doll collection in the works. She told me she's working on some TV and film projects, and she just dropped her new crossover single, "Insecure."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "INSECURE")

AMARA LA NEGRA: (Singing) You say I'm loca, crazy, said I've been trippin' lately. I wanna know, baby, does that make me insecure, mi amore?

MERAJI: That's the song giving us life this week.

DEMBY: And that's our show. You can follow us on Twitter. We're @nprcodeswitch. We want to hear from you as always. Our email is codeswitch@npr.org. Subscribe to the podcast wherever fine podcasts can be found or streamed.

MERAJI: Sami Yenigun, Leah Donnella and I produced this episode. It was edited by Sami Yenigun.

DEMBY: Shoutout to the rest of the CODE SWITCH fam - Steve Drummond, Karen Grigsby Bates, Walter Ray Watson, Adrian Florido, Maria Paz Gutierrez and Kat Chow.

MERAJI: Our intern is Kumari Devarajan.

DEMBY: K-Dev (ph). I'm Gene Demby.

MERAJI: And I'm Shereen Marisol Meraji.

DEMBY: Be easy.

MERAJI: Paz.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "INSECURE")

AMARA LA NEGRA: (Singing) Till I up and leave.

MERAJI: Is there anything that I'm missing that you want to say?

AMARA LA NEGRA: Mommy - Mommy, I love you so much. Thank you. I can't wait to go home and give you a hug. I miss you so much. OK (laughter).

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