While attending Miami University in Ohio, I had an unexpected epiphany: I learned I was Black while reading Latina magazine. One month, I was particularly excited to see Zoe Saldana on the cover—a fellow Dominican! The following month, the reader comment on the cover was: “Finally, a Black Latina on the cover!” There it was, in black and white, like a mirror held to my face. Zoe had a skin tone similar to mine; her hair would curl and straighten like mine. I was like her, and she was like me. If she was a Black Latina, then I was a Black Latina.
Throughout college, I found more similarities with some Black students, including our faith and how we worshiped. And although we were born in different countries and spoke different languages, our moms had similar sayings. This familiarity created a comfortable intersection where my race and ethnicity melded naturally. So much so that when it came to finding that special someone with whom I matched both intellectually and spiritually, I knew he would likely be African American.
The growing racial and ethnic diversity in the U.S. is exposing us to one another in ways that couldn’t happen in our home countries. As our world engages in a conversation about race, adversity and the glare of contrasting experiences, I once again find myself owning an interesting perspective. Being a person who checks the Black race box, the Latina ethnicity box and the Dominican nationality box, I live my life at social intersections. It’s because of my unique perspective I chose a career as an advertising strategist.
Through my work experience, I’ve remained a constant student of culture and seen shifts in conversations about the U.S. Hispanic market, similar to the shift that needs to happen now. Hispanics may be unified by ancestry and language or a variation of both, but depending on where we reside within the U.S., our experiences can differ. Mexicans, Cubans, Afro-Latinos and other Hispanic groups encounter challenges as diverse as our respective histories.
My experience of what’s happening through my lens of an Afro-Latina mother raising Black men in the U.S. is vastly different from that of some of my friends and colleagues. I’ve had conversations about my concerns for my husband and children that my friends of other races or with lighter skin hues may never have to consider. I’ve had to address a 5-year-old Hispanic girl at a playground who told my son he couldn’t play on the swings because of his skin color. I was present when my husband had “The Talk” (not the one about birds and bees) with our sons; he also reminds me that I cannot teach our sons how to be Black men in America—only he can.
These kinds of experiences are what prompt many Latinos to lean into this conversation and post #TuLuchaEsMiLucha (#YourStruggleIsMyStruggle). The Black Lives Matter movement has led many of us to research our history and learn that without the civil rights movement, there would be no Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which makes our lives here in the U.S. possible, regardless of our skin tone. This is why we march in tandem.
Brands and agencies are digging deeper at this moment to reexamine their relationships with multicultural communities. Now more than ever, brands and agencies need to have ongoing conversations with these communities and challenge themselves regarding representation in their work as well as programs that are reflective and that support the diversity of today’s consumers and society in general.
One of the most appealing aspects of our industry is its capacity to influence culture. We’ve been presented, once again, with the opportunity to inspire change. The same skills we’ve honed to make people fall in love with brands can also be used to solve some of the world’s toughest problems. Let’s make people love and celebrate one another’s differences.
Let’s rise to the occasion.