Top photo credit: Lauren McDowell
Juliana Pache is a writer, singer, womanist, and, depending on when you ask her, she may even identify as an activist. It's a title that most would feel she's earned. As the creator of #BlackLatinxHistory, she's making history with a hashtag.
It all started in February when Pache, herself an Afro-Latina, noticed a conspicuous lack of Black History Month content when she visited the social media feeds of her favorite Latina publications.
"Because so many Latina people are black, I figured, of course we're gonna be celebrating black history," Juliana said. That wasn't the case, and it's an oversight that many outlets are guilty of. In response, Juliana decided to take matters into her own hands and use the widespread erasure of Afro-Latinos as her source of inspiration.
"Latinx," pronounced La-tee-nex, refers to and includes Latino people across the gender spectrum. Through he uber inclusive hashtag #BlackLatinxHistory, Pache began telling the story of notable Black Latinx individuals, from Zulia Mena, the first Afro-Colombian congresswoman, to Jan Rodrigues, the first African man to settle in Manhattan. Posting daily, she began telling the stories so often left out during Black History Month, and her hashtag took the Twitterverse by storm.
"At first it got a lot of positive feedback, mostly from other Black Latinx people. It resonated with Black Latinx people especially and I think it's because often we don't see ourselves anywhere," Juliana said.
But she also encountered more than her fair share of trolls, including people claiming that she was trying to appropriate Black History Month.
"'We have Latino History Month; we don't need to take Black History Month,'" Juliana recalls. "I don't think people totally understand that black is a race; Latinx is not, it's an ethnicity, in a similar way that gender and ethnicity can intersect. I think people don't understand that, in part because they've never really been introduced to Black people from Latin America, or when they see Black people from Latin America they don't know that they're from Latin America, so they assume that we don't exist. They're used to seeing the media's version of a Latina - light skin, European features, wavy hair, and curvy."
The idea that black history and Latinx history are separate - that one can not be both Latinx and black at the same time - is all too common, and Hollywood is partly to blame. For so long, Black Latinx representation on screen has been extremely limited, and it's a problem that many Black Latinx actors have spoken up about in recent years.
"When I became an actress, I quickly realized that the world wanted their Latinos to look like Italians, and not like me," said Gina Torres in an interview with The Huffington Post. Torres is of Afro-Cuban descent, and one of many Black Latinx actors who have found roles limited by narrow-minded casting departments.
"I couldn't get an audition as a Latina. People didn't know what that was, they just said, 'Well, our version of a Latina looks more Mexican, or Central American, or Spanish.' And that was an interesting journey to take and something that I had to struggle with initially," said Lauren Veléz, another Black Latinx actress.
The struggle that Veléz describes - of not fitting into society's ideas of what a Black or Latinx person should look like - is one that many Black Latinx are all too familiar with. That the identities of others may not be as black and white as some would like to believe hasn't yet caught on in the mainstream, but Juliana's work in the social media sphere is helping to change that.
(Photo Credit: Doug Segars)
"[Social media] gives people access to discussions that they otherwise don't have the time to have," Juliana continued. "It helps people organize, it helps people discuss what's important to them. For me, social media has helped me learn things about the world and about myself. [It's shown me] how my experiences relate to the world."
It just goes to show - if you want to spread a little knowledge, sometimes all you need is a hashtag.