Amara La Negra, The Afro-Latinx icon pushing Black excellence in the Latino community
From Sabado Gigante to Love & Hip Hop, Amara La Negra is becoming an activist icon for Afro-Latinos.
Everyone has had a different experience with COVID-19 and taken something different from the experience of quarantine. It has been shocking and scary, but also made people more comfortable in their own skin.
At least, that’s what Amara La Negra told AL DÍA in a virtual call back on Aug. 28.
“Usually, interviews on radio and tv shows you come out all glammed up, and it's a production, here it’s more like the real me. Away from everything else,” she said from her house in Miami.
Amara’s career took off from a very young age.
Born and raised in Miami to Dominican parents, she began as a dancer for Univision’s now-canceled show Sabado Gigante at four years old. For six years, she would trek to the TV station every Saturday for the show.
After that, she became a backup dancer for the channel where she appeared on awards shows like Premios Juventud and the Latin Grammys.
The singer is multifaceted and has tapped into every industry scene, from being a television and radio host to movies, reality tv, even authoring her own book.
Despite the plethora of avenues, she began in a Latin-based environment, which she is more than happy operating in and has stuck to throughout her career.
Her birth name is Diana Danelys De Los Santos, but her stage name, “Amara La Negra,” draws from multiple influences. “Amara” originates from a girl-singer group called AMARA that broke up. She kept the name because it means “woman of beauty and cinnamon skin,” which she felt described her essence.
As for ‘La Negra,’ she said no one could remember her name, so it was distinctive. More definitively, it was her way of being rebellious towards society, representing her people, herself, and “showing how proud I am of my negritude.”
“So I’m Amara La Negra; WHAT’S UP?!” she said.
The artist’s big break came during her time on Love & Hip Hop Miami, a reality TV show on VH1. It allowed Amara to grow her fan base, opened new doors, and gave her the chance to talk about her work as an activist for the Afro-Latinx community.
Speaking of her activism for Afro-Latinos, she told AL DÍA it’s all about supporting diversity and inclusion.
“We want to be seen, we want to be talked about. It shouldn’t have to be ‘at least we had this opportunity, or at least we see this one Black Latino,’” Amara said.
She added that even though it’s cool to see more Latinx representation in general, it’s not enough if Black Latinos are not part of that progress.
“It is very unfortunate because we talk about diversity, especially in the Latin culture with TV, and we never see a representation of us in magazines, news anchors, in novelas, movies,” said Amara.
Regarding the spectrum of Black Latinos in the media industry, she pinpointed three names people know, such as Ilia Calderon, Tony Dandrades, and Francisca Lachapelle.
However, without discrediting those who fought tooth and nail to get to where they are, “we’re not even talking about really melanated people like myself. We’re talking about a lightened version that it’s almost acceptable [in society], but not melanated people like myself,” said Amara
To be in the spotlight, not only as Latino but as a Black Latino, Amara said she has to work twice as hard. For a white person, if you get a job in the media industry as a writer or anchor, for example, you got it based on your talent and a bonus if you’re pretty. However, for Black Latinos, “based only on the color of our skin, they’re automatically like: ‘Eh, I don’t want to hire this person,’ or ‘eh we shouldn’t want them on our team.”
To break with the systemic racism, it is going to take the effort of everyone. Amara said everyone needs to be held accountable for why Black Latinos are not being portrayed, from producers to directors and CEOs.
“Until those people in power don't decide to create change, we’re never going to evolve from the same cycle we’ve been going in for generations,” she said.
Amara’s experiences of being denied work solely based on her skin color have not been few.
“No ponemos gente negra porque we don’t get the ratings” is just one of the many rejection reasons she’s heard in her career.
But to monetize, you need to normalize.
Up to this point in the media, Amara said what’s been depicted as a normalized characteristic of Black people is that they’re threatening, violent, loud, or dangerous.
Those depictions harm her and any other Black Latino trying to get a break in the industry.
“I want to be part of the diversity of the change,” said Amara.
People should want to make a change, from the bottom of the totem pole in the media industry up, but Amara said it’s not going to be easy and require some people to feel uncomfortable.
But change is uncomfortable.
When it comes to the civil unrest of late, the artist said that although as a society we’re attacking racism now, it is just the surface.
Amara learned from a very young age what racism was.
“Yo no te quiero jugando con esa negrita,” was just one of the many insults Amara remembered being thrown at her by white Latino parents.
“It would make me feel bad. Like why can’t she play with me? We’re friends,” she would ask.
The treatment perpetuated all facets of her young life.
When she started dating, if she liked a boy, she would hear the parents say: “no te quiero con esa negra.”
Amara even heard her family tell her not to date a Black man because she needed to “better the race.”
“Para ser negrita, you have really nice features, don’t mess it up. You have to have babies with good hair,” they would tell her.
“You learn your hair nappy, your hair is bad. No one wants to have a big nose or big lips, so I just feel like you learn to hate yourself early on,” she said.
In a time when all those deep-rooted prejudices are being confronted, Amara’s advice for anyone wanting to support the movement is to be an ally.
Be a friend, be a brother, a sister.
“If you ever hear a friend say something being negative or disrespectful of somebody else, say something. Don’t stay quiet. Educate people that surround you. When people say, ‘you’re pretty for being Black,’ be like, ‘no, she is a beautiful girl no matter what her color is.’ Help deprogram those who have that mindset because if not, you're part of the problem,” she said.