Latino Voices

Afro-Latinos Who've Influenced American Culture (SLIDESHOW)

Soledad O'Brien

Afro-Latinos Who've Marked American Pop Culture

Hispanic Heritage Month is about celebrating diversity -- acknowledging one of the many different identities that flow within the melting pot that is the United States. But the term holds true even within the Latino community.

With the Spanish and British crowns’ arrival to the ‘New World’ came more than just settlers -- the Americas required labor to grow economically, a demand that would be fulfilled by the millions of victims that were brought through the Middle Passage.

Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr explored the African diaspora in Latin America in his 2011 PBS series ‘Black in Latin America.’ His research showed that the slave trade brought more individuals to Latin America than the U.S.

"There were 11.2 million Africans who came to the New World in the slave trade and of that 11.2 million, only 450,000 came to the United States," Gates, Jr told

These Africans were instrumental in the development of traditions and customs -- of culture -- across Latin America and the Caribbean, which in turn have made their way into the U.S. through successive waves of immigration. From Puerto Rico, Cuba, Colombia and Peru, from the Dominican Republic, Brazil, and Central America as well.

Today, Afro-Latino influencers grace the covers of major magazines, star in hit TV shows, lead art and literary movements, and excel at America's pastime. But as illustrated in an interview with The Huffington Post, Puerto Rican actress Lauren Vélez -- who will soon portray Afro-Cuban singer ‘La Lupe’ in a biopic -- admitted this wasn’t always the case in Hollywood.

“Somebody asked me about what it was like when I was first auditioning as an Afro-Caribbean woman; I couldn’t get an audition as a Latina. People didn’t know what that was, they just said, 'Well our vision 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.”

Despite the continuing struggles against prejudice, the slideshow above shows 27 Afro-Latinos who have left their mark on American culture. Who else should be on the list? Tell us in the comments below.

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