Black History Month: Afro Latinas

When Afro-Latinos discuss Black History month, we think about the struggle of correctly identifying Latino historical figures that this month should represent alongside accomplished African-Americans. I focused on men in my earlier discussion and as an employee of Barnard College, an all-women's institution, I would be remiss to not recognize black women who have a loud and proud voice.

Black women have always been the heart of Black History. Their plight has been toughest throughout the years because of having to deal with the struggles of both racism and sexism. Yet, the black woman has always remained the pinnacle of the African descendent legacy. Rosa Parks gave the nation the will to fight oppressive laws with a single gesture. Harriet Tubman and her work with the Underground Railroad and the Union Army gave freedom to numerous slaves during the civil war and showed us how one woman can change the fate of an entire race.

Afro-Latinas have made many noteworthy contributions and should be brought to light during this month of reflection. While most of us can easily identify a woman like Celia Cruz -- who will always remain the queen of Salsa -- here are just a few strong Afro-Latinas we should recognize:

Dr. Evangelina Rodriguez (1879 - 1947) was an Afro-Dominican and the first woman in the Dominican Republic to become a doctor. She graduated from the University of Santo Domingo in 1909 and went on to study and graduate from University of Paris-Sorbonne where she specialized in gynecology and pediatrics. She returned to the Dominican Republic in 1925 and opened up her own practice where she treated women and children while providing education on family planning. She lived during the time of Trujillo, whom she openly denounced, where the harassment and discrimination of blacks were open and even encouraged. She became a victim of mental illness late in life before she passed away in 1947. Today the Dr. Evangelia Rodriquez clinic exists in San Francisco de Macoris providing the same services that she provided just a century ago.

• María Elena Moyano Delgado (1958 - 1992) was an outspoken Afro- Peruvian community activist that fought against poverty and violence among women in Peru. She became president of Federación Popular de Mujeres de Villa El Salvado and expanded the organization to provide food to hungry children throughout the country. She was assassinated on 1992 by the Shining Path guerrillas, who considered her a threat to their rebellion.

• Sylvia del Villard (1928 -1990) was a Puerto Rican activist and choreographer that incorporated elements of African identity within her performances. She is the founder of the "Afro-Boricua El Coqui Theater," which was renown as an important authority in black Puerto Rican culture. She was a huge proponent of black Puerto Rican rights and became the first and only director of Afro-Puerto Rican Affairs at the Institute of Puerto Rican Institute of Culture in 1981.

• Eusebia Cosme (1911-1976) is an Afro-Cuban woman who relocated to the United States during the late 1930s. She was a renowned performer of Afro-Antillean poetry and designed costumes and scenery for her enactments of prominent poets such as Luis Pales Matos and Langston Hughes. She became an actress in 1950 and starred in Mexican movies and telenovelas. She is most known for her role in Mama Dolores.

• Dr. Pilar Barbosa de Rosario (1898 - 1997) was the daughter of Jose Celso Barbosa. She established the History and Social Sciences Department at the University of Puerto Rico in 1929 and was named the first modern Official Historian of Puerto Rico in 1993. After Dr. Barbosa de Rosario's death, the senate of Puerto Rico established the Pilar Barbosa Education Internship Program, a which provides training for public school educators on the island.

These women all had similar struggles with racism and sexism that took a toll on their lives -- yet their lives were revolutionary. I must admit that I learned something new from researching each woman on this list and that is what Black History Month is all about. It shouldn't be limited to celebrating and learning about the figures we are already acquainted with. It should be about exploring our past so we can be hopeful of our future.

The sad thing is, there is so little information available about Afro-Latinas. I had to enlist the help of my fellow bloggers from The Latinegr@s Project. I would be remiss if I did not thank Violeta Donawa and Bianca Laureano. They remind me all the time that Afro-Latinas will always have a voice even if history tries to forget them.