This Juneteenth we want to honor and recognize the efforts of Afro-Latinx leaders and organizers who fought for Black liberation across the U.S., Central and South America, and the Caribbean. Below we share the origin of Juneteenth, ideas on how to engage with the holiday if you are not Black or afrodescendiente, and stories of 10 Afro-Latinx leaders in modern history who dedicated their lives to lifting up the African diaspora and fighting for Black liberation.
What is Juneteenth?
Juneteenth commemorates the freedom of the last group of enslaved Black people in Galveston Bay, Texas on June 19, 1865, two years after slavery was officially ended with the Emancipation Proclamation. Because of this, Juneteenth is recognized as the most accurate date to the end of slavery in the United States and has been long celebrated by Black communities, especially in the South.
The first celebration of Juneteenth occurred in Texas the next year, and following celebrations included prayer meetings, singing of spirituals, family gatherings, and events with food and dancing. Though Juneteenth was officially recognized as a federal holiday in 2021, many are right to remind us all to stay grounded in its origins:
“I grew up recognizing that this is really a reflection of Black joy and Black freedom. We take a pause and say: “Thank goodness, we are free”. My parents used to explain it was like the Fourth of July for Black folks. You’re talking about the joy of no longer being controlled by your oppressors. Juneteenth is a wonderful celebration of Blackness and the celebration of all of the struggles and all of the amazing ways that we should be celebrating Black identity in our country.”
Sherri Craig, Assistant Professor of English, Juneteenth Scholars Program
How Can Non-Black Folks Celebrate Juneteenth?
- Sherri Craig suggests that on Juneteenth non-Black folks can take a moment to reflect on both liberation and harm. Take time today to think about what freedom means to you, how you have been harmed by anti-Blackness in our cultures, and how you have caused harm.
- Donate to Black and Black-led groups in the fight for Black liberation, grassroots organizing and transformative justice:
- Read the stories below of 10 Afro-Latinx freedom fighters in modern history that fought for Black liberation, both in the U.S. and across the globe.
10 Modern History Afro-Latinx Freedom Fighters
Victoria Eugenia Santa Cruz Gammara was an Afro-Peruvian playwright, author, and choreographer, and is known as the mother of Afro-Peruvian dance. After opening the first Black-owned theater with her brother, Santa Cruz produced three plays that spotlighted the experiences and racial strife that Afro-Latinas faced in daily life.
During the 1966 Olympics, her dance group Teatro y Danzas Negras del Perú was invited to perform, spreading the visibility of Afro-Latinx culture on an international scale. In 1976, she debuted her widely renown poem Me Gritaron Negra, on rejecting anti-Black shame and reclaiming her pride as a Black woman. You can watch her perform the poem below:
Dr. Carlos Enrique Russell was an Afro-Panamanian activist, creative artist, and academic who pitched the idea of a Black Solidarity Day to fellow organizers in New York City and helped hold the first event on November 3, 1969. The action called for Black people to boycott white-owned businesses and the American economy/society as a whole, as an act against continued violence against Black bodies. Black Solidarity Day continues annually on the Monday before Election Day.
When speaking to the similarities between the Black American experience and Panamanian experience, Russell notes: “The United States carried with it across the sea the same oppressi[on], the same arrogance, the same sense of dominance that it controlled the world politically.” Dr. Russell served as Panama’s ambassador to the Organization of American States, and Panama’s ambassador to the United Nations, and remained active in local civil rights fights, working with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the initial planning of the “Poor People’s Campaign”.
Jaime Ricaurte Hurtado González was an Afro-Ecuadorian politician who served as Deputy for the Democratic People’s Movement (MPD). Growing up in an agricultural family in a region known for its large Black population, Hurtado learned early to care for the disenfranchised. As he got older he became a leader for the working class struggle, devoted to exposing government corruption and fighting against social and racial inequalities.
In his role as a congressman, he helped restore the students and trades unions, and he became the first Black man to run for president of Ecuador in 1999. Though it seemed like he had a strong chance of winning, Hurtado was assassinated that same year. During his eulogy, the following was shared:
“Our organizations are rooted in the people and our people do not get scared. They will not be able to scare us. On the contrary we raise today the banners of revolutionary change with more enthusiasm ….” Spoken during Hurtado’s eulogy
Miriam Esther Jiménez Román was an Afro-Puertorican professor, author, and scholar, known as a pioneering founder of Afro-Latinx studies. As a young Afro-Latina, she encountered different forms of anti-Black racism living in New York and in Puerto Rico. She was inspired by Black power and civil rights movements, and noted how the needs and experiences of Afro-Latinx communities were largely absent in mainstream spaces and conversations.
In the 1980’s, Román published dozens of fundamental texts that challenged the myth of racial democracy, Taíno revivalism, the US census, and blanqueamiento. In 2005 Román and her husband Juan Flores founded the Afro-Latin@ Project — an collective of engaging in advocacy and organizing events devoted to Afro-Latinx identity. She is celebrated for compiling and editing The Afro-Latin@ Reader, a collection of 67 short stories, poems, interviews, and recollections of Alfo-Latinidad.
Nicolás Guillén was an Afro-Cuban political activist and poet who led the Afro-Cuban movement in the late 1920s and ’30s. Unsatisfied with the treatment of the poor and working class, Guillén began to weave in political undertones and highlight Afro-Cuban themes and music (called Son) in his writings, which he was eventually jailed for.
Guillén wrote poems about Afro-Cuban music, dance, and daily life at a time when Black people were not seen as worthy topics for great literature, and found ways to work in cultural rhythms into the cadance and form.
You can listen to him reciting his poem “La Canción del Bongó” below:
Solange ‘Sonia’ Pierre was an Afro-Dominican activist who notably fought against racial discrimination and for the right to citizenship of Dominicans of Haitian descent, long before Dominican Republic rewrote its constitution, denaturalizing thousands of people. In her work she focused on the needs of the people, particularly disenfranchised women.
Born on a migrant laborer sugar plantation, she began her activism at 14 years old when she organized a successful 5-day protest for workers demanding better living conditions and wages. At 20, she founded Movimiento de Mujeres Dominico-Haitiana (MUDHA) to initially tackle economic needs and access to proper healthcare and education, pivoting to issues of citizenship as her political activism grew. In 2005, she legally challenged the Dominican Republic before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and won.
Marielle Franco was an Afro-Brazilian politician, sociologist, and activist, who fought for human rights and dignity for the people living in the favelas, neighborhood settlements that were created after the abolishment of slavery. Born into a family of migrants living in the favela Maré, Franco started working when she was only 11 years old. At 19 Franco gave birth to her daughter, and at 23 she entered the university, where she began her political education in earnest.
In 2006, Franco joined Marcelo Freixo’s campaign for state deputy and became part of his cabinet, working in the Human Rights Commission. After 10 years in political service there, she ran for councilor in 2016 and won as a Black, openly queer, working-class woman. During her term, up until she was assassinated in 2018, Franco fought passionately for oppressed communities – residents of the favelas, Black people, women, LGBTQ+ people, and the working-class overall. ‘Lute como Marielle Franco’ is a feminist, rallying cry to this day. Watch a profile on Franco sharing why she got involved in politics below:
Marta Victoria Salgado Henríquez is an Afro-Chilean educator and activist, working to increase the protections to and political access of women and African descendants in public policy. She also works on the cultural preservation of Afro-Chilean communities. Salgado grew up in Arica, a region where the majority of descendants of African slaves who arrived during the colonial period lived.
To combat government disinformation that said “There are no Blacks here”, Salgado wrote many works around Afro-Chilean history, culture, and legacy. In 2001, Salgado cofounded Fundación Oro Negro, an NGO to advance the rights of Afro-Chileans, bringing the Afro-Chilean experience to the 2001 World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance for the first time.
Abdias do Nascimento was an Afro-Brazilian scholar and activist, who became politically active after joining the Army at 15 and moving to São Paulo. Through his involvement with Frente Negra Brasileira, the first Afro-Brazilian organized political movement, he created Teatro Nacional do Negro, a program centered on Afro-Brazilian identity and heritage that used art to promote education and fight against social inequalitites.
After some time of exile, due to his work, do Nascimento returned to Brazil andformed the Partido Democrata Trabalhista and ran a campaign for Congress on Afro-Brazilian rights and was elected. In 2014, he was recognized by a Presidential award for his work for Black rights, against prejudice, discrimination, and racism.
María Elena Moyano Delgado was an Afro-Peruvian community organizer and committed to improving the material conditions of women and financially marginalized communities. She was vocal in her criticisms of police and state violence and neoliberal policies that exacerbated the issues of the poor and working class.
In 1986 and 1988, Moyano served as president of the Federación Popular de Mujeres de Villa El Salvador, before becoming deputy mayor of Villa El Salvador and serving in that role until her assassination in 1992. For her work in the community, and relentless dedication to Afro-Peruvians and women, Moyano was nicknamed Madre Coraje.