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Ilia Calderón’s Promotion At Univision Matters When It Comes To Black Representation In Latino Media

With the appointment of rock star news journalist Ilia Calderón, to co-anchor the primetime “Noticiero Univisión,” racial justice and media activists have scored a monumental victory.

Gracias @univisionny . Encantada de estar aqui disfrutando de esta comunidad maravillosa.

A post shared by Ilia Calderon. (@iliacalderon) on

Starting in December, Calderón will succeed the legendary María Elena Salinas to host alongside the iconic Jorge Ramos. This is unprecedented here, and probably everywhere, except in parts of Africa and the Caribbean. Noticiero Univisión’s new co-anchor is Black.

Calderón and I were teens when, in 1987, Salinas became co-anchor to Ramos, who took the post just a year prior. Both are white and of Mexican extraction. Growing up, neither Calderón’s native Colombia nor my Dominican Republic had news anchors that reflected us.

But guess who became her own hero on national Colombian television? Calderón eventually landed in Miami and at Telemundo in 2001. A decade later, she was hosting Univisión’s late news edition. Next month, that will be her old job.  

Victoria Arzú, from Proyecto Más Color (PMC), reacted to the news happily but with caution. Since its founding in 2014, PMC has targeted Univisión and Telemundo, the two largest Spanish language networks in the U.S. The organization protests degradation and invisibility in the portrayal of Afro and Indigenous Latinxs, and others, and demands change. As Arzú puts it, “the media is the window to the outside world for so many of our people. It has a responsibility to show the reality, the true colors of Latin America.”

“I’m content about it but not satisfied,” says Arzú. “[Ilia] has already been broadcasting on national news and it’s a face people know. I think they’re trying to do that to appease critics but they’re not doing enough.”

Arzú believes that the media will “suffer the consequences” if they fail to include Afro-Latinos, especially considering the African influence “that has made Latin America what it is today.”

While there is cause for celebration, many factors were likely involved in the decision to hire Calderón. The bottom line is that the policies, practices and programming of these networks have attracted attention. And advertising dollars, shareholders and the race to stay relevant in the digital era are at the heart of their priorities.

I suspect many influences that include the activism of PMC, bloggers such as NegrawithTumbao and other issues at play, like:

1) The reputation of racism that led an executive in the early 1990s to warn Cuban-born veteran reporter for Telemundo, Lori Montenegro, then a newbie, that “when those Mexicans [at her new job at Univisión] saw a Black woman, she wouldn’t last six months.

2) The outstanding Telemundo miniseries “Celia,” about Celia Cruz, which featured a respectably-sized cast of Afrodescendants. It created the expectation in non-white audiences of greater representation.

3) Former Univisión host and fashion reporter Rodner Figueroa’s temporary downfall in 2015 after making an infamous joke live on air comparing then First Lady Michelle Obama to apes. He was fired at Univisión, but just hired at Telemundo.

4) Univisión’s purchase of The Root, the largest outlet for African-American news, chaired by Harvard scholar Dr. Henry Louis Gates, producer of the PBS documentary “Black in Latin America.”

Lastly, Calderón’s weekly news journal, “Aquí y Ahora,” produced “En la Boca del Lobo” (in the wolf’s mouth) this summer, exposing the twin evils of anti-Black racism and xenophobia.

Many viewers found themselves witnesses and vicarious targets of Calderón’s ordeal.

Credit: Univisión

Facing a vicious KKK leader, who had agreed to be interviewed apparently unaware of the anchor’s identity, she endured hate speech via the N-word, hearing that immigrants deserved death and getting threatened with arson if she didn’t leave the premises—all while exhibiting unimaginable restraint. In an era of white supremacist savagery, both networks also compete to improve their own long-tarnished image on diversity, equity and progress.

This is not to take away from Calderón, who is impressive in her own right. Her qualities have been demonstrated by her Emmy, the successful juggling of three simultaneous and challenging roles at Univisión and the love and respect of many.

Ilia’s impassioned and extensive March 2015 letter,  written in Spanish and soon after translated to English and shared widely, was triggered by Figueroa and earned her a loyal base. She wrote:

I worry about the world in which I live, but I worry even more about the world in which my daughter will live. One day, in a park, a boy tells a girl: ‘You’re ugly, you’re black’. Her response was more intelligent than we could have imagined, ‘then your heart is the color of my skin’. What grief to know that at seven years old, she had to learn to answer like that. Once, the 5-year old daughter of the manager of a company for which I worked told me, ‘Do not touch me, you are black’…

We are full of ‘little phrases’ that have become so common, that we accept them without thinking of the consequence and the damage it can cause others. Dr. Maya Angelou said it right: “People will forget what you do. People will forget what you say. But never forget how you made them feel.“ And it happens every day, at all times, and without us noticing.

Through the statement, she challenged Latinxs to watch out for hatred and discrimination while demanding respect and dignity for groups aggrieved by casual prejudices, including same-sex couples and her own daughter, who is of Black and East Asian parentage. The journalist becomes the conscience of the marginalized, along the way asking more of her followers as humans and parents.

She said to People Chica that it’s a great responsibility knowing she’s opening doors for other generations. Not only for journalists, but for other girls and women who want to succeed at what they do.

Comenzamos #EdiciónNocturna

A post shared by Ilia Calderon. (@iliacalderon) on

“My commitment is not only to the Afro-Hispanic community but to the Hispanic community in general,” she says.

It’s obvious that Calderón has earned this, and that, like us, has been waiting. Given what she’s shown us so far, we’ve never needed her more. In so many ways.

READ: This Isn’t The First Time Ilia Calderón Has Made History For Being The First Afro-Latina In Such A High Position

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10 Empowering Songs By Afro-Latinas About Loving Yourself


10 Empowering Songs By Afro-Latinas About Loving Yourself

It’s Black History Month, a time to uplift and celebrate the historic events and people of African descent who have contributed to culture, achieved excellence and sparked social and political change. But it’s also a moment for reflection, of honestly evaluating how much — and how little — has changed for the African diaspora throughout the US, Latin America and beyond.

Confronting the everyday violence, discrimination, disadvantages and inequality Black individuals have and continue to endure, while necessary, could be enraging and upsetting, and makes self-care practices all the more necessary.

This year, whether you’re celebrating the beauty, resilience and magia of blackness with a Black History Month party or well-deserved care day, music can always add to the occasion. Here, a mix of Spanish and English songs by Afro-Latinas and for Black women that unapologetically declare self-love and engage in self-worship to add to any Black joy playlist for the month of February and all the days that follow it.

1. Celebrate being a daughter of “La Diaspora” with Nitty Scott.

When the Afro-Boricua rapper dropped Creature in 2017, she gifted Black women, particularly Black Latinx femmes, with a full project that saw, understood and exalted their existence. None of the bangers on the LP did this as intentionally as the song and short film “La Diaspora.”

2. Make your voice and joy heard with Christina Milian’s “Say I”

When the cubana teamed with Young Jeezy to drop this 2009 bop, she encouraged women to “do what you want to do. Don’t let nobody tell you what you’re supposed to do.” And that’s some pretty liberating ishh.

3. Some might call you “CRZY,” but Kehlani wants you to embrace the term.

Confidently dancing to the beat of your own drum, especially as a woman of color, is neither expected nor welcomed, largely because it makes it more difficult for white supremacy to thrive. With “CRZY,” the part-Mexican R&B songstress encourages femmes to embrace and reclaim the slights people throw at you for being a radiant, go-getting mami.

4. And Calma Carmona’s “I Got Life” shows that there is so much to be joyous about.

In her Spanglish rendition of Nina Simone’s “I Ain’t Got No … I Got Life,” the Puerto Rican soul singer declares all the beauty she has, from her voice, to her hair, to her smile to her life, in a world that told her she has nothing.

5. Something else you have: “Tumbao.”

In la reina de salsa’s multi-generational hit “La Negra Tiene Tumbao,” the late cubana Celia Cruz reminds Black women of that unfading, indescribable, swing and swag that Black women carry with them in every space they occupy.

6. Prefer an English joint? Cardi B will also remind you how “Bad” you are.

With “She Bad,” featuring YG, the Dominican-Trinidadian rapper engages in self-worship and encourages other Black women to feel themselves and own their sexuality without apprehension or apologies.

7. ‘Cause Like Maluca told you, you’re “la mami del block.”

In the Dominican singer-rapper’s mega bop “El Tigeraso,” Maluca makes the indisputable claim that Afro-Latinas have it all: “tengo fly, tengo party, tengo una sabrosura.”

8. And like Farina says, not everyone is deserving of your greatness.

In “la nena fina’s” urbano-pop jam “Mucho Pa’ Ti,” the colombiana raps what everyone knows: She, and you, are too much — too poppin’, too powerful, too radiant — for the unworthy.

9. Now that you’re reminded of who you are, enter every space like Melii walked into the club in her music video for “Icey.”

With sparkly, high-heeled white boots, a laced v-neck bodysuit, some tiny red shades and confidence that entraps you, dominicana-cubana Melii knows her value — as a woman and an artist — and watching or listening to how self-assured she is will undoubtedly rub off on you.

10. ‘Cause at the end of the day, you’re a “Million Dollar Girl” like Trina.

Like the Dominican-Bahamian rapper, alongside Keri Hilson and Diddy, told you in 2010: “Baby if I want it, I got it / ‘Cause I’ll be gettin’ some more / ‘Cause I’m a million dollar girl, for sure.”

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A Latina High School Student Just Won A Massive Scholarship After Writing An Essay That Praised Celia Cruz For Being ‘Unapologetically Black’


A Latina High School Student Just Won A Massive Scholarship After Writing An Essay That Praised Celia Cruz For Being ‘Unapologetically Black’

Cuban singer and world-renowned Queen of Salsa Celia Cruz (RIP) has long been an inspiration to millions of men and women around the globe. Throughout her career and after her death, Celia’s fans have hailed her as a musical icon and a Cuban force of resistance. All of these years later, and Cruz who passed away in 2003, is still inspiring the generations that came decades after her.  In fact, in a bid to stake her claim in a college scholarship program, high school student  Genesis Diaz recently applied for and won a lucrative prize from Altice USA (the provider of Optimum and Suddenlink) all thanks to an essay she wrote about the late singer.

In her inspirational essay about the  Cuban singer, Diaz wrote about admiring Celia Cruz for being “unapologetically black.”

According to BKLYNER, Altice USA holds an essay contest in the fall to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month (which runs from September 15 through October 15th). The prompt, which is given to middle and high school students, is to “name a Latino, past or present, with whom you would choose to spend a day and explain why.” The grand prize this year is a whopping $1,500 check which, if you remember college costs, can really help out any student eyeing higher education.

Diaz, a senior in James Madison High School in Brooklyn, New York, won this year’s contest. Her essay was selected out of over 700 submissions from across the country, according to Jen Rivera from Altice USA, who spoke with BKLYNER.

In her powerful essay, Diaz wrote that she would want to spend the day with Celia Cruz because she exclusively surrounds herself with people who “radiate positive energy.”

“And who’s more positive than Celia Cruz?”, Diaz wrote.

But what she really captured in her essay on Cruz isn’t just her positive energy but rather the way that she was unapologetic about being Black and Cubana and how she used her African roots in her music. While writing about the artist’s accomplishments as well as her being Hispanic and Black, Diaz emphasized the effect that Cruz has had on the Latinx community throughout her life and beyond.

“Black has always been seen as a color of inferiority, which is why Celia Cruz’s early critics claimed that she did not have the right look,” she said in her essay. “She wasn’t an ideal artist simply because of her African descent.”

Diaz went onto say that Cruz “carried her African roots in her heart and through her lyrics… Celia told everyone, including me, how phenomenal and majestic it is to be unapologetically black.”

Diaz, who hopes to attend New York University and is anxiously awaiting her acceptance from the prestigious school, was celebrated last week by school officials, classmates, members of Altice USA and Council Member Chaim Deutsch

“I couldn’t believe I actually won!” Diaz said in her view.. “I was very proud and very emotional. I feel like people take entertainment figures for granted. What people don’t realize that these figures are activists also.”

Diaz’s description of Cruz as an activist and powerhouse, couldn’t be more accurate.  The Afro-Cubana proved herself to be an icon and hero in her time, when she rose to face as a salsa vocalist and eventually became the symbol and spirit of the Cuban expatriate community.

Celia Cruz has inspired countless amounts of people, including people like Amara La Negra.

“Growing up, I never saw anyone who looked like me besides Celia Cruz. She was such a strong, powerful woman. She was a very inspirational person,” Amara La Negra told Latino USA about the late singer who considered her Blackness with a sense of pride that eventually turned songs like “La Negra Tiene Tumbao” into huge hits. “When Celia Cruz passed away, there was no one else to really look up to as an Afro-Latino or Afro-Latina on TV. So, I went and became a fan of Whitney Houston, Tina Turner, Donna Summers, who are truly talented women and I truly admire them. But, as far as the Latin community, we really didn’t have anyone to look up to.”

For her part, Diaz, who her principal calls a “remarkable young woman,” has become her own source of inspiration. Not only did the award-winning student win the grand prize for her Celia Cruz essay but she has also started her own club “about Hispanic, Black and Carribean cultures,” according to BKLYNER. There, students can gather once a week to “discuss issues facing the school and the community as a whole.”

It’s extremely encouraging to see the younger generation fall in love (and be inspired by) Celia Cruz just as much as the rest of us were. Here’s hoping that Diaz, with her award-winning essay, continues to draw inspiration from the Cubana and that she herself embodies being “unapologetically black.”

Read: Meet Mona Marie, The Caribeña Helping Women Find Their Strength And Freedom Through Pole Dancing

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