15 Afro-Latinx Celebrities Living Their Best Lives

Celebrating Black Latinx Stars During Latinx Heritage Month

1. Ilia Calderón

Last November, Ilia Calderón became the first Black women to anchor a major news desk at Univision. Born in Chocó Colombia in 1972, Calderon majored in Social Work at the University of Antioquia. After she appeared in several news shows and made it to national television in 1998, joining Telemundo three years later. In 2007, her career at Univision began. Most people know Calderón for her chilling interview with Ku Klux Klan grand wizard Chris Baker who called her the n-word and other derogatory names. Calderón held her own in this uncomfortable interview while exposing their hatred. In addition to her professional success, she is happily married to Eugene Jang and they have daughter together named Anna Jang-Calderón.

2. Tego Calderón

A lot of people credit “Tego Tec” as one of the early influencers of Reggaeton in the 90’s and remember him for vocalizing the issues of Black Puerto Ricans through his lyrics. Tego Calderón, born in Santurce, Puerto Rico in 1972 to a school teacher and government worker for the Department of Health, moved to Miami from his native island at a young age. In the states, he was exposed to a variety of cultures and musical styles and eventually found himself studying percussion. Later, he worked as a drummer for a rock band. Tego would develop a unique style that combined elements of salsa, plena, dancehall and hip hop. He has been nominated for several Grammy Awards, Latin Grammy Awards and won a Latin Grammy Award for Best Urban Music Album in 2015.

3. Leiomy Maldonado

If you have not seen the fierce and powerful Leiomy Maldonado vogue for her life, you need to search her name on YouTube right now. Known as the “Wonder Woman of Vogue,” Maldonado hails from the Bronx, NY. Born in 1987, she is the first-ever openly trans woman to compete on MTV’s America’s Best Dance Crew. She choreographed and appeared in Willow Smith’s “Whip My Hair” music video, inspiring performers like Janet Jackson, Lady Gaga, Britney Spears and Beyonce to adopt the infamous “Leiomy Lolly.” Maldonado continues to make a lasting contribution to queer Black/ Latinx youth as House Mother of Tati 007. Currently, she is the choreographer for FX’s Pose Ballroom scene and starred in the season one finale as the character Florida.

4. Cardi B

Belcalis Marlenis Almanzar can conjure up a hit that will have you bopping for days but when she began her career as a rapper, no one would have expected her to have the level of success she has today. Born October 11, 1992 in The Bronx to a Trinidadian mother and Dominican father, Cardi B and her little sister Hennessy Carolina loved to entertain other people and each other. She is the “American success story of 2017.” Around the age of 16, she became a Blood, worked at the Amish Market in Lower Manhattan, began stripping at 19, found herself in an abusive relationship, used her cash from stripping to escape the relationship, dropped out of college and found Instagram fame before joining the cast of Love and Hip Hop: New York. This move propelled her to doing something she always wanted to do- make music. She recorded two well-received mixtapes with her own money and signed a record deal… you know the rest.

5. Julissa Calderón

This Calderón is just getting started. Most people are familiar with Julissa Calderón spreading platano power with Gadiel Del Orbe on Buzzfeed’s Pero Like but her career started out with a dream. She wanted to act so after college she decided to buy a one-way ticket to Los Angeles. In an interview with Vanessa Alamo for The Huffington Post online, she said her mother gave her an ultimatum after college- find a job in two weeks or move back home to Miami. Julissa did not let anything stop her. After a few setbacks and losing her job as a waitress, she ended up landing a feature on the viral Buzzfeed video with Gadiel titled “11 Things Dominicans Know to be True.” This eventually led to her viral videos on Latina moms and a residency at Buzzfeed. Julissa’s hard work paid off because earlier this year she accepted the Tecla Award at Hispanicize 2018 for “Best Breakout Creator of the Year.” Amazing.

6. Rosario Dawson

Rosario Dawson made headlines for her support of presidential candidate Bernie Sanders during the 2016 Elections, however, she is no stranger to the public eye. Many people remember her as the  HIV-positive heroin addict and stripper Mimi Marquez in Rent. Through her acting and political activism, Dawson shined as someone engaged in the fight for quality. Born in New York City, Dawson is both of Puerto Rican and Afro-Cuban descent. She currently portrays Claire Temple in the Marvel/ Netflix universe, most notably in Luke Cage, however, you can also catch her as Jane “J.R.” Ramos in Jane the Virgin. Aside from an actress, Dawson is also a comic book writer, producer, singer and philanthropist. She also sits on the Board of Directors of Scenarios USA, a nonprofit organization that that uses writing and filmmaking to foster youth leadership, advocacy and self-expression.

7. Amara La Negra

If you have not heard of Amara La Negra in 2018, you must not have social media or television. Long before she went viral after an uncomfortable interaction with some producer called “Young Hollywood” on the premier episode of Love and Hip Hop: Miami, she was already making hits such as “Ayy” reclaiming her body, womaness and blackness in a collaboration with notable reggaeton artists Ricky, Los Pepes, Jowell Y Randy. Born Diana Danelys De Los Santos to a single immigrant mother from the Dominican Republic, Amara La Negra would like the world to know she is more than her hair and she can record hits. Since a young age, she has always been a performer starring on Latin American television contests and rubbing shoulders with the Queen of Salsa Celia Cruz back in the day. Amara has been very vocal about what it means to be an Afro-Latina and colorism within the Latinx community. Recently, she published a children’s book titled “Amarita’s Way” which she said will contain three stories “that are intended to motivate positivity, inspiration, and ambition in life.”

8. Ozuna

When you hear “El negrito ojos claros” at the beginning of a song, you know it’s a banger. Juan Carlos Ozuna Rosada’s breakthrough came at the beginning of 2016 when he recorded the hit single “La Ocasión” alongside DJ Luian, Mambo Kingz, De La Ghetto, Arcángel and Anuel AA. Born in San Juan, Puerto Rico to a Dominican father and Puerto Rican mother he grew up very poor, mainly raised by his paternal grandmother. Unfortunately, his father was fatally shot when Ozuna was three. Ozuna tells his story in his dayview album Odisea (2017). Ozuna found inspiration for his music career during his college days in New York City. In December, he released the track “La Modelo” featuring Cardi B which debuted at number 52 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Since then, he has recorded more collaborations with other Latin Trap/ Reggaeton artists like Maluma and Anuel AA while working on his new album Aura (2018). We can be sure the 26-year-old black boy with the light eyes will continue to make good music.

9. Maxwell

Remember on Love and Basketball when Monica lost her virginity to Quincy while “This Woman’s Work” by Maxwell was playing in the background? If not, get your life together. That film was iconic. Gerald Maxwell Rivera has been active in the music industry since 1991. He was born in Brooklyn, NY to a Haitian mother and Puerto Rican father who died in a plane crash when Maxwell was three. Maxwell grew up in a devout Baptist household and would later become one of the most notable names in Neo-Soul. Maxwell, D’Angelo and Erykah Badu are credited with bringing the Neo Soul movement to life in the 1990’s. Maxwell might not always be in the limelight, however, he always returns with a soulful album every few years. Audiences are still serenaded singles such as “Pretty Wings,” “Fistfull of Tears,” and his collaboration with Alicia Keys, “Fire We Make.” In 2016, he released blackSUMMERS’night and has taken a break since. The artist is not completely off the radar, he remains active on Twitter where his pinned tweet is a photo of the late great artist Jean-Michel Basquiat.

10. Dascha Polanco

Fans of Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black fell in love with Dascha Polanco for her portrayal of the character Dayanara “Daya” Diaz in season one but when it comes to the 35 year-old actress there is a lot to love. Born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, she moved to the United States with her parents at a young age. Her mother, a cosmetologist and father, a mechanic, provided for her and her two younger siblings. Polanco said she always wanted to be an actress since she was young but had insecurities about her weight. After getting a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Hunter College in the City of New York, she began working in the healthcare industry. After finding the courage to go for her dreams, she registered with a talent agency and secured a few minor roles on television. In 2012, Polanco was casted in the hit Netflix series OITNB, her first prominent and full time role. Since, she’s played Detective Lori Wieder in The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story but fans can expect to see more of her. In her personal life, she has a daughter and a son. Her daughter played the younger version of her character in the fifth season of OITNB.

11. ChocQuibTown

Originally from the Colombian department of Chocó, Gloria “Goyo” Martinez alongside and her husband Carlos “Tostao” Valencia and her brother Miguel “Slow” Martinez moved to Bogotá in the early 2000’s to make music highlighting Afro-Colombian culture. Gaining popularity in bars, the group uses influences from a variety of musical styles including hip-hop, salsa, Latin jazz and other Afro-Latin rhythms. The group’s first two albums Somos Pacifico (2006) and Oro (2010) featured popular singles like “Somos Pacifico” and “De Donde Vengo Yo” which won a Latin Grammy in 2011. The idea for the group began with a passion for African diasporic music. After Gloria moved to Cali, Colombia to study psychology at the university level, she found herself exploring the underground Hip Hop scene. Both her and brother Miguel grew up listening to Hip Hop sailors brought on their trips. Valencia told Gloria he thought it would be a great if they formed a fusion band that blended elements of Colombian Afro-Caribbean music and Hip Hop. After Miguel jumped in as producer, the group was born. Currently, the group is working on a new album due to release sometime this year.

12. Laz Alonso

Laz Alonso has been active in the entertainment industry since 2000 but fans probably know him best for his role as Jason Taylor in Jumping the Broom and Fenix Calderon in the Fast and Furious franchise. Born in Washington D.C. where he also attended the prestigious Howard University, the 44-year-old Afro-Cuban actor started his career hosting programs on BET. He even appeared in music videos for Toni Braxton and Aalyah. In 2012, he won the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture for his role in Jumping the Broom. Most notably, Alonso played a major role as Tsu’tey in James Cameron’s science fiction film Avatar but since he has gone on to play Billy Soto in The Mysteries of Laura and John Conyers in the 2017 film Detroit. Outside of acting, most people don’t know he was an investment banker at Merrill Lynch on Wall Street before making his way into entertainment. Within the last year, he has been very vocal about the erasure of Afro-Latinos within society discussing his experiences on Hollywood Unlocked and on Instagram.

13. Christina Milian

Known for her career as an actress, singer and songwriter, Christina Milian is a very familiar face. From hit singles like “Say I” and blockbusters like Love Don’t Cost A Thing when she managed to make Nick Cannon cool, we will always have fond memories of Milian. Born in Jersey City, New Jersey, the Cuban American entertainer showed an interest in show business since the age of four. Her parents, Don Flores and Carmen Milian supported her. Milian adopted her mother’s maiden name in hopes of securing more roles but has been honest about the challenges for Afro-Latinos in the entertainment industry. Milian made her first professional musical appearance on rapper Ja Rule’s song “Between Me and You.” Since, she recorded three studio albums, one EP and appeared in many televisions shows as well as films.

14. Dave East

Born in Harlem, NY, Dave East was chosen as part of XXL magazine 2016 Freshman Class and is signed to Def Jam Recordings. The rapper who is of Bajan, Dominican and Kréyol Lalwizyànn descent grew up playing basketball in the city. In addition to playing for his high school, he played in the the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) with Ty Lawson, Greivis Vasquez and Kevin Durant before they joined the NBA. East released his first mixtape in 2010 but his breakthrough would not come until 2016 after his music reached Hip Hop legend Nas. Fans admire his rawness and storytelling style. East, a member of the Crips, has been very honest about his life journey. While in prison, he said he converted to Islam. “Islam really brought a discipline to my life that I didn’t really have before… My old mindset was if they ain’t helping me, I ain’t helping them, but you can’t live life that way. It’s about whatchu can do, not how people witchu,” East said. He released his album P2 back in January which features artists T.I. and Tory Lanez.

15. La La Anthony

Everyone knows and loves La La whether you’ve watched her as Keisha on Power produced by rapper 50 Cent or as host on MTV’s TRL back in the day. The Afro-Puerto Rican media mogul is a television personality, New York Times best-selling author, businesswoman, producer and an actress. Alani “La La” Anthony, formerly Vázquez was raised in New York City and attended Howard University in Washington, D.C. where she studied communications. She has hosted and produced numerous shows making her face know throughout Viacom but she began her career as an intern at WQHT-FM, HOT 97.5 in Georgia. In 2014, she published The Love Playbook which climbed to #1 on both the Barnes & Noble Best Seller list and on February 7 hit #1 on The New York Times Best Seller list. Everyone knows La La is absolutely a powerhouse and wonder woman but most recently she partnered with BET for a new documentary Killer Curves: Bodies to Die For which she serves as the executive producer. The documentary will be an investigative project on “the increasingly popular and sometimes fatal trend that is globally impacting the lives of many women of color: black market cosmetic surgery.”

Honorable Mentions

  1. Soledad O’Brien, a proud Afro-Cubana, American broadcaster and executive producer who was named the Journalist of the Year by the National Association of Black Journalists in 2010. O’Brien appeared on MSNBC, CNN, Al Jazeera America, HBO and currently anchors nationally syndicated weekly political show Matter of Fact with Soledad O’Brien on Hearst Television.
  2. Lauren Velez, an Afro-Puerto Rican actress most known for her role as Detective Nina Moreno on Fox’s New York Undercover and Middleton President Soraya Hargrove How to Get Away with Murder received the Rita Moreno HOLA Award for Excellence from the Hispanic Organization of Latin Actors (HOLA) in 2010. She will play Rio Morales, Miles Morales’ brother in the upcoming Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse film.
  3. Tessa Thompson, born to the Afro-Panamanian singer-songwriter Marc Anthony Thompson and a Mexican mother, made a name for herself as an actress starring in For Colored Girls, Creed, Thor: Ragnarok and other films. In June, Thompson came out as bisexual during an interview with Porter Magazine and was rumored to have a romance with Janelle Monae after the two have been seen spending a lot of time together.  

 

Honoring A Historical Figure