‘Afro-Latinx Revolution’ Documentary explores Black Identity in Puerto Rico

DeMicia Inman

Natasha Alford, the journalist behind the short film, shared with theGrio her process and intent behind the upcoming documentary.

In the documentary Afro-LatinX Revolution, theGrio’s V.P. of digital content and senior correspondent, Natasha Alford, took a trip to Loíza, Puerto Rico, to unpack the concept of Blackness on the island and document political unrest through the voices and experiences of the citizens on the ground.

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“I’m African American and Puerto Rican, and as somebody who lives at that intersection, I hear the ways that both communities think about race and Blackness. There was some searching that I wanted to do for myself, to understand Blackness in the Puerto Rican context. I wanted to understand how Black pride was expressed, or rather not understand it, but explore it, highlight it, and find Afro Puerto Ricans who were proud of their Blackness and fighting for change. I wanted to elevate their voices. It took me on a journey,” Alford shared with theGrio.

Through the short, yet informational documentary, Alford provided a full-look at the multiple beliefs that find home in Puerto Rico.

“I don’t approach this work as an activist. I approach it as a journalist and a documentarian. In this documentary, I represented multiple views on Latinidad, even if I didn’t agree with those views,” she remarked.

Afro-LatinX Revolution first premiered at the Afro-Latino Festival NYC last fall and was produced in partnership with the Pulitzer Center through a Crisis Reporting grant.

theGrio spoke with Alford about her inspiration behind the documentary, some of the experiences encountered during production, and the continued goal of her work as a journalist. Read the conversation below:

theGrio: Could you expand a little bit on what inspired you to begin doing this work?

Natasha Alford: I was inspired as a journalist, and a person that watches the news, to complicate our narratives and understanding around race in the diaspora. Oftentimes, when we read news headlines in the U.S., it talks about Black and Latino as if they’re two completely separate things, and the reality is that there are black Latinos who are both, and they exist. Latinidad, this idea of what it means to be Latino, is really diverse, and it encompasses a lot. Being Mexican is very different than being Puerto Rican. I felt like there was some overlap. And there were some stories that were being overlooked in the black diaspora.

Specifically, in 2019, we were reporting all these stories about this protest in Puerto Rico and how Puerto Rican ousted their governor over these sexist and homophobic text messages that he sent. It left me wondering why I didn’t see stories about racism as a part of this revolution that was taking place. I ended up getting a grant from the Pulitzer Center to go to Puerto Rico on a reporting trip to focus on the racial aspects of living on the island while this revolution was taking place. I think that there’s an untold story there, and there are connections to the Black diaspora that is worth our attention.

Afro-LatinX Revolution www.theGrio.com
Afro-LatinX Revolution www.theGrio.com

tG: What was something that you learned brand new about the landscape and Puerto Rico, or any of the movements that they had going on?

NA: It’s very hard because even if you have a connection to a community, if you don’t live there, you’re still somewhat of an outsider. I only had one week to really like establish relationships and get people to talk about a very taboo subject. What I would find is that some people, I’d asked if racism existed there, they would say, “Oh no, not really like,” [or] “we’re all proud of being Puerto Rican.” But then, when you dig and ask more specific questions, they’ll give examples of ways in which they are marginalized because of their race. Blackness is still very real and existing as a Black person, and the discrimination that comes with that, the suspicion, the anti-Blackness is still very real. I think that was one thing that stood out to me.

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tG: Did you find any or encounter any people who were apprehensive to identifying as Black not just due to the history of like racism and slavery, but how black Americans ourselves are portrayed maybe in media or to Puerto Ricans in media?

NA: There is one subject in our documentary who does not call himself Afro Puerto Rican. He wants to be considered Puerto Rican, and he doesn’t necessarily call himself Black, even though he is darker than me. I don’t want to speak for him, but yes, there are people who it is imperative to them to be seen. Their nationality is important to them, and being of the Puerto Rican culture is important. They fear that by not calling themselves Puerto Rican or being seen as African American, that somehow they’re losing that culture or fear being erased. But, we have plenty of modern-day examples of people who exist in both. I’m an example, but I think of Carmelo Anthony, who is both Puerto Rican and African American.

tG: What were some of your favorite moments and what can viewers expect? What do you hope that viewers take away after they’re done watching?

NA: I just hope that this inspires more conversation about the Black diaspora at large. I think it was powerful to see how this particular town in Puerto Rico responded to the death of George Floyd. Hopefully, some of the history that people will learn is eye-opening or a good introduction for somebody new to understanding Afro Latino identity. For example, just like here in the continental U.S. where we have Juneteenth, the enslaved Africans of Puerto Rico were forced to work for three years after they were supposed to be free. So just like us, they also were forced to work, but they were also differences.

I hope that in learning about some of those differences in the way that slavery played out, people will just be inspired to find out more. This documentary is really just an introduction for some people. It’s only 35 minutes long. There’s a whole world of writing and scholarship and activism that exists around this. So I hope people see the power in our communities coming together to fight racism, anti-Blackness, and for the rights of Black people across the diaspora.

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