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City College Students Work to Include Afro-Latinos During Black History Month Celebrations



BRETT FORREST, HOST:


It's Black History Month, and across the U.S., students are learning about icons like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Jackie Robinson. But what about Cuban salsa queen Celia Cruz, or Puerto Rican historian Arturo Schomburg? Black History Month has long been focused on the contributions of African-Americans, which often makes Afro-Latinos feel excluded. Students and professors at City College think that should change. Janmaris Perez reports on how they’re including Afro-Latino students as part of their Black History Month celebrations this year.


JANMARIS PEREZ, BYLINE: About 10 students at City College sat around tables blowing up purple balloons on Thursday night. Not for a party, but as the base for the Dominican carnival masks they’re making.


MARIAH RAMIREZ: We tried to get, like something to roll pizza dough, but we didn’t find that so we got candles instead so we could roll out the clay. We got balloons so that they can put the clay and mold it to a face like shape.


PEREZ: This mask-making event is one example of how City College is including Afro-Latinos in their Black History Month programming. Next week, they’ll celebrate Dominican Independence Day in the academic center’s rotunda. Mariah Ramirez is president of the Dominican Students Association and she’s so excited about the event, she breaks out into Spanish while describing it.


RAMIREZ: So that's a whole two hours that we will have our music, we'll sell our food, we will have a traditional dance, but also like merengue, and bachata, y cosas asi. Sorry, that was like [laughs] my fault, my fault.


PEREZ: Ramirez says it’s important to include Afro-Latino culture in Black History Month to combat the idea that people in the Latinx community haven’t embraced their blackness.


RAMIREZ: There's a stereotype that Dominicans don't think that they're black and I've heard it a lot. That's just a misconception and it's a lot of older heads that feel like that.


PEREZ: Ramirez says in her experience, everyone in the Dominican Students Association is proud of their blackness. Fatima Mi


lls is a member of the school’s National Council of Negro Women. When I asked her if there was any apprehension towards including Afro-Latinos, she said she could see how the historical stereotype might make some black students skeptical.


FATIMA MILLS: It's like, "Are you black or do you just like what the black culture is right now?"and such, so it’s like a weird place to navigate.


PEREZ: But Mills and other members of black organizations want to be more inclusive of the groups they share their roots with.


MILLS: We don't really work with each other like that and that kind of sucks, especially for a lot of people who are a part of both groups and they feel like they have to pick one side.


PEREZ: Students shouldn’t have to choose between their identities, says Shamari Coleman. She’s a senior and member of two black student organizations on campus. She wants her Afro-Latino peers to feel welcome.


SHAMARI COLEMAN: No one's going to tell


you "No, you're not black. You don't deserve to be in this space," when you obviously do.


PEREZ: The push to include Afro-Latinos started last year, when Dr. Vanessa Valdés became the Director of City College’s Black Studies Program.


DR. VANESSA VALDÉS 1: There's a recognition that our battles are not separate, right? They're all entangled and we can only learn from each other.


PEREZ: But the question of who gets to be part of Black History Month is as old as the holiday itself. Since national Negro History Week was established in 1926, scholars have debated the definition of blackness and whether it includes people from non-English speaking countries.


VALDÉS: When we think about traditional renderings of blackness, there is a push for of course, an emphasis on the united states, but by the same token there were also people then who were trying to expand it.


PEREZ: Nearly a century later, City College represents the next generation who are continuing to challenge the way we look at blackness.

Janmaris Perez, Columbia Radio News.

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