Breena Nuñez Peralta Is An Afro-Salvadoran-Guatemalan Artist Making Cartoons About Black Central Americans

credit: Instagram / @breenache

Breena Nuñez Peralta’s cartoons and zines are an ode to Black Central Americans who may be having issues reclaiming their latinidad, blackness and Central American identity.

In 2014, the Salvadoran-Guatemalan artist published “Colocha-Head,” a zine exploring what it means to be a “colocha” —  southern Mexican and Central American slang for “curly-haired” — in the United States, a place where her Latin American community and family don’t necessarily have a literacy on Central American blackness.

In the zine, the main character, a young Nuñez, has trouble managing her afro-textured hair, an attribute that marks her as “different” among her peers. We see this when a girl encounters the young lead character, calling herself white and Nuñez Black and saying that, because of their racial differences, the two cannot play together. It was the first time someone called Nuñez Black with degrading intent, and the moment left her with phases of self-loathing.

(Photo Credit: Instagram / @breenache)

Throughout “Colocha-Head,” Nuñez, 29, explores anti-blackness, colorism, internalized racism and self-love in Central American and U.S. communities, narratives rarely touched on in popular media — even less so through cartoons.

“Comics are an important part of Latin American history,” Nuñez, noting her mom’s own love of the medium, tells FIERCE on why she chose to tackle these topics through cartoons.

Since publishing the zine, the San Francisco Bay Area-based artist has taken to Instagram to craft narratives of Black Central Americans, rupturing the idea that there are no Black people in Latin America.

(Photo Credit: Instagram / @breenache)

In one of Nuñez’s recent sketches, she depicts a blue-skinned character with letters on the upper left side of the panel that reads, “Honduran Queen.” The monarch is adorned with a beautiful flower in her curly hair, dark-framed glasses, black lipstick, a statement necklace and a printed top. Both her eyes and lips are closed, signifying importance. She’s a Black Honduran femme who knows her worth, value, elegance and majesty, and here, Nuñez’s followers aren’t only rendered an image of a Black Honduran woman, but one of excellence.

Next to the blue queen, the artist shares a sketchbook page that reads, “dark-skinned, unruly hair, and with an accent.” In this image, Nuñez provides a framework of how to reclaim aspects of one’s experience that may be used to oppress and/or shame them.

“There’s a beauty that I didn’t always embrace when I was a kid: my hair, my skin…,” Nuñez says, noting that she is now committed to celebrate her complexion and hair texture.

(Photo Credit: Instagram / @breenache)

But it hasn’t always been easy, especially with the constant pushback she received in reclaiming her blackness as a Central American woman.

“[I want to] challenge both people of color and white people by questioning history because history is always written from a place of power, academic requirements or places of access,” she said.

Nuñez is right. While Latin America and the Caribbean received 95 percent of enslaved Africans, more than the 5 percent that were brought to the U.S., there remains a significant dearth in Black Latinx narratives.

(Photo Credit: Instagram / @breenache)

In Nuñez’s piece “Costa Rican Talent,” she depicts an African-diasporic, yellow-green character who is supposed to symbolize the Costa Rican diaspora. The Central American country was a destination that many formerly enslaved people migrated to after slavery emancipation, a less known fact that author Quince Duncan, recognized as the first Afro-Costa Rican writer to narrate stories about Black life, anti-blackness and racism in Costa Rica, makes clear.

With works from Duncan, as well as Veronica Chambers, Sulma Arzu-Brown and Mercy Tullis-Bukhari, among others, Nuñez believes Afro-Central Americans are finally seeing themselves in writing. Through her art, it’s now her hope to “encourage people to take ownership of their own narratives.”

In “Costa Rican Talent” as well as her piece “Belizean Beauty,” Nuñez’s characters, again, rest with their eyes closed. Their ambiguity creates a Black feminist aesthetic in which Nuñez can render us stories of Black femininity but the audience will never get to leave saying, “I know everything I need to know about this subject.” Instead, the viewer may have questions, pushing them to critically reflect on their own notions of latinidad.

While Nuñez often draws sketches of other Black femmes, she doesn’t distance herself from the work. In “Chapina Star,” for instance, we witness a self-portrait of the cartoonist with a beautiful set of curls resting on the top of her head while the sides are shaved.

(Photo Credit: Instagram / @breenache)

Nuñez, who identifies as a “bad Salvi” and a “bad Chapina” because of her commitment to exploring her blackness, says, “we don’t ever hear the stories about queer Central Americans fighting for their lives, the first-generation Central Americans or the awkward sensitive Central Americans.”

As a response to this erasure of Central American narratives, she encourages her followers to break the silence and to share their stories no matter the pushback.

Her words of affirmation to Afro-Latinxs: “you have the right to criticize history [and create] another world.”

Read: This Salvadoran-Guatemalan Artist Is Paying Homage To Latino Staples Through Her Andy Warhol-Inspired Illustrations

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