Written by: Annabelle Manzo, Cisneros Class of 2024
“We are not an exhibit in a museum. We exist, we are here and our memory is alive.”
During Black History Month, the Mayor’s Office on Latino Affairs (MOLA) in collaboration with the DC Afro Latino Caucus launched a social media campaign series to highlight the diversity of stories, history, and experiences of Afro-Latinos in DC.
Created by Celestino Barrera, an Afro-Caribbean documentarian, photographer, social researcher, and activist — this project entitled “De Caras Lindas DC” is a series of 21 short videos released throughout February, highlighting Afro-Latino DC community members. Each video is focused on who they are, where they work, and their contribution to the political and economic culture. The subjects featured consist of a variety of Latin-American cultures, ages, occupations, citizenship status, and overall life experiences. This was an intentional choice as a major goal of the project is to disrupt the perception of Latinos as a monolith, especially, the simplification of Afro-Latino identities. Celestino Barrera explained that they want to emphasize the vast diaspora, array of stories, narratives, and experiences within the Afro-Latino community while also celebrating their African ancestry.
In January, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mr. Barrera to discuss the inspiration, purpose, and background behind this series. Mr. Barrera explained that the project’s name took inspiration from Afro-Puerto Rican musician and activist Ismael Rivera’s “Las Caras Lindas de mi Gente Negra”, a song that speaks about being proud of his people and the beauty he sees in them because they are Black. The creators of the De Caras Linda project brought that same sentiment into this project, and focus on highlighting the beauty and diversity that encapsulates their community.
“We are working to protect, fight, and provide for our family; Bringing food to the table but our food is our knowledge, our beautiful faces, hair, and skin.”
This is seen in every video, where the successes and stories of the 21 featured community members are celebrated and valued. The professional experiences of the Afro-Latinos featured are wide-ranging and include laborers, political executives, artists, lawyers, and professors. While society might view some of these professional backgrounds and experiences as more valuable than others, this project emphasizes that regardless of their individual differences, they all equally contribute to the fabric, history, and building of this city.
Below are some of these stories:
Celestino continued on to say that MOLA and the DC Afro-Latino Caucus work to preserve the oral history passed on from community elders. The community is fighting for their memories and the recognition of their contributions to the DC community. He explained that this project, along with other organizational efforts, shares their real stories and works to correct the historical narrative that continuously excludes Afro-Latino contributions.
“We are always in connection with our ancestors, my personal passion is a collective passion. We exist in relation to one another and when we share our stories, we show that we are alive and that we continue to build our history”
It is important to celebrate the beauty and contributions of the Afro-Latino community in DC and work in alliance with these organizations to support their fight for the correction, recognition, and preservation of the past and current narratives about the Afro-Latino community.
Check out the Mayor’s Office of Latino Affairs (@oladcgov) and the DC Afro-Latino Caucus (@dcafrolatinocaucus) on Instagram to view this campaign.
Annabelle Manzo is a second-year Cisneros Scholar majoring in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and Political Science. She is from San Diego, CA. Annabelle's views are her own and not necessarily reflective of the Cisneros Institute.
Graphic created by Annabelle Manzo. Photos and videos provided by Celestino Barrera.