5 Afro-Latina Disruptors Changing the Course of the Beauty Industry

This particular moment in history is loaded for countless folks, but it's undeniable that Black and brown people are at the forefront of many movements currently taking place in the US and abroad. The turmoil of this period has forced me to take a close look at my own experiences as a Black woman and acknowledge some uncomfortable truths about the ways I've learned to subconsciously shrink myself to fit the mold of what I thought would most align me with worthiness. (My hair has had a lot to do with it, which I wrote about here.) It's been emotional and eye-opening and really got me thinking about what must be coming up for my sisters existing in a different part of the African diaspora: Afro-Latinas.

While I'm familiar with Latina legends like Celia Cruz, who had beautiful melanated skin, it wasn't until relatively recently that I started gaining a deeper understanding of how complex an experience it can be to claim a mixed heritage that not everyone firmly grasps. But more than ever, those with Afro-Latino roots are refusing to be forced into boxes that chip away at their expansive and rich identities. It's a beautiful thing to witness because it's educational for us all and because watching people step into the most authentic expressions of themselves, unapologetically and without trepidation, is super profound.

But guess what. There's nothing new about Afro-Latino heritage! It's quite literally as old as the Eurocentric beauty standards that have caused many to adopt and strictly adhere to a singular and incomplete notion of what an "acceptable" Latina looks like. To those bucking that system, we hear you, we see you, and we have mad love and respect for you.

And bucking the system is exactly what Alba Ramos, Christine Cruz, Diana Danelys De Los Santos, Grasie Mercedes, and Monica Veloz are doing. Ahead, meet these five powerhouse Afro-Latina creatives sharing their own stories through art and beauty and forging a new path of representation for all who identify with their unique perspectives. Get to know all about them and their experiences in the beauty industry and beyond, and check out the products they count among their favorites.

Alba Ramos, Clean Beauty and Lifestyle Vlogger

What does beauty mean to you?

To me, beauty is the whole package. It’s having the combination of character quality and a genuine or unique physical appearance. Both give pleasure to our senses when experiencing, from internal quality and physical appearance. But the truth is a person is too often considered beautiful based on their appearance alone without categorizing their beauty as a whole. Physical beauty is just a bonus.

What is a misconception about Afro-Latino heritage/identity that you'd like to clarify?

I think the most common misconception I encounter is that identifying as Afro-Latino means you are mixed, with one parent being Latino and the other being African American. This can be true for some, but it’s not how Afro-Latino is defined. Being Afro-Latino means you come from a Hispanic heritage/culture or country and have beautiful brown skin of all intensities due to our Black ancestry. This clarification is needed because the thought of a Hispanic person looking like Jennifer Lopez is still assumed by many. In my case, I was born in the Dominican Republic. Both of my parents were also born there and so were my grandparents. Both my parents have a similar brown complexion, but my grandparents have a mix of parents of African descent and Spanish descent with opposite skin complexions.

How has your individual life experience influenced your beauty philosophy?

As a child, my mother's idea of beauty influenced my own. That’s always been an issue because, since my mother struggled with her identity and self-acceptance, I naturally adapted to her wrong perception of beauty. As a child, I used to think I couldn't be in the sun too long because being darker meant being less beautiful and that I shouldn’t wear sunscreen because brown people don’t burn. I was forced to straighten my hair for every family party or special occasion and was rarely allowed to style my hair in its naturally curly state. These are just some of the wrong beauty ideologies I grew up with, which, thankfully, changed as I came into my late teens. Most importantly, through constant conversations, I’ve been able to change my parents' philosophies on beauty also. 

Have you ever felt “othered” or excluded from beauty trends or the beauty industry at large? If so, please describe an instance that you can recall.

I used to rarely see myself represented on TV, magazines, and, surprisingly, even in Spanish television (which is still a huge problem). My first language is Spanish, and there’s always been an unfair portrayal of beauty in Spanish media. Magazines and novelas largely showed the light skin, straight hair Hispanics as main characters in their story lines and excluded brown skin and naturally curly hair from being seen as beautiful, too. I’ve seen some improvements in recent times, but this is still an issue in the Spanish-speaking beauty industry especially. 

What’s something you would like to change about the beauty industry? How can allies be helpful?

One big change I’d like to see in the beauty industry that’s personal to me and many women are more realistic bodies after giving birth. Celebrities have a great advantage to get back into shape quicker than most of us who have fewer recourses to physical fitness and health practices, so the idea that a woman’s body is supposed to shrink back quickly is often seen as the norm when, in reality, it is not. And that pressure is greatly damaging to new mothers who should only be prioritizing the care and health of her new baby.

What advice do you have for Afro-Latino humans who may be struggling with the complexities of their identity in the beauty space or the world in general?

For those struggling with their own identity as a Hispanic, something that helped me is the realization that being Latina is not a race—it’s my heritage. I didn’t always know that, and I’m sure it’s still a struggle for many today. I also want to encourage you to not be afraid of having these respectful conversations with your parents, cousins, friends, aunts, and uncles because that’s when true change happens.

"This is a clean facial scrub that instantly buffs away dead skin and makes my skin look so smooth with less-visible pores without overdrying or dehydrating my skin. The ingredients are naturally amazing—it’s always in my shower."

"This is my go-to product for daily wear without the need for any other makeup. RMS is a clean brand with organic ingredients, and I use this Lip2Cheek as a cream blush applied with my fingers for a natural-looking flush of color to my cheeks and lips. I love that it can be worn with or without other makeup so easily."

"This is a smoothing and hydrating hair mask made without toxins and synthetics that’s great for thirsty and damaged hair. I have curly hair and love using this hair mask several times a month combined with my favorite hair oil, too. It always makes my curls bounce even more and look healthier and smoother."

Christine Cruz, Beauty and Lifestyle Influencer

What does beauty mean to you?

Embracing my flaws and imperfections is what beauty means to me. I suffered from bad acne growing up, and now, I'm left with so many scars because of it. For a long time, I was too ashamed to show my shoulders out in public because I was scared people would ask about it. I would always cover them and skip out on wearing dresses that would show my shoulders. It started to really affect me, and it wasn't until after my high school prom that, for the first time, I felt beautiful with my shoulders out. From that point on, it's been a consistent back-and-forth with myself to learn to appreciate my imperfections. Some days, it's hard to not be insecure about them, but most days, I think it's truly beautiful to embrace what we may not like about ourselves. No one could ever tear you down.

What is a misconception about Afro-Latino heritage/identity that you'd like to clarify?

There's no certain look to a Latino. We all come in different sizes and shades. Just because I may be a light-skinned woman, it doesn't make me anything less than an Afro-Latina.

How has your individual life experience influenced your beauty philosophy?

Makeup has been so therapeutic throughout the last few years of my life. Sometimes if I've had a bad day, I'll sit at my vanity and play my favorite playlist and just do my makeup. I truly enjoy my transformation. I'm a pretty-confident girl, but everyone has those days where maybe you're not feeling your best. Makeup has been there to help me get through some bad days and good days.

Are there any beauty standards or trends you ignore?

I don't believe that people with problematic skin shouldn't wear makeup or that perfection is beauty. I think it's the imperfections that make beauty raw and beautiful. 

What inspires you to share your gifts with the world?

I just want to share that I go through the same challenges most of us go through. I just want to be transparent about my journey and show the world we're all just taking it day by day. How can I grow as a creative if I don't share my knowledge with others who can benefit from it? 

What advice do you have for Afro-Latino humans who may be struggling with the complexities of their identity in the beauty space or the world in general?

The advice I would give is to take time and really learn about yourself and where you come from and embrace it. It's okay to be different. As long as you are yourself and genuine, people will gravitate to you.

"I can never leave the house without some type of gloss or balm. I love my lips hydrated and moisturized."

"Sunscreen is absolutely so important in everyone's skincare routine. Never leave the house without some SPF—your skin will thank you in the long run!"

"I love this just to add some details to my eyes, and I can also lightly run my mascara through my brows." 

Diana Danelys De Los Santos AKA Amara La Negra, Singer, Actress, Dancer, and Author

What does beauty mean to you?

To me, beauty is being 100% yourself. Being in love with and truly confident in yourself allows you to be beautiful in a way beyond what shows on the outside. Being as kind to others as you are to yourself and allowing yourself to grow and be a better version of you every day, that is beauty to me.

What is a misconception about Afro-Latino heritage/identity that you'd like to clarify?

That we have to identify as one or the other. 

Are there any beauty standards or trends you ignore?

I ignore the idea that natural hair cannot be neat or professional. My afro and natural hair are a staple of my roots and a part of who I am. How could anyone not accept the hair that grows out of my own head?

What inspires you to share your gifts with the world?

My mom crossed the Mexican border. She immigrated from the Dominican Republic. I was taught to stand up for what I believe in, work hard, and value family. Once I realized that I can use my voice and influence to uplift others, I knew it was what I wanted to do for life.

What’s something you would like to change about the beauty industry? How can allies be helpful?

I would love to change the false expectation of perfection. I think social media has made people think that they have to look a certain way to be beautiful or accepted, but the most beautiful thing about this industry is that every product, style, etc. looks totally different on everyone. Beauty is not meant to be uniform—it should be bold and expressive and unique.

What advice do you have for Afro-Latino humans who may be struggling with the complexities of their identity in the beauty space or the world in general?

I advise fellow members of the Afro-Latino community to find pride in their roots. Find and support the beauty brands that create their products with you in mind.

"I love that this looks good over any lipstick, but it’s also stunning by itself."

"These always have the dramatic look I strive for, and they actually last!"

Grasie Mercedes, Actress, Writer, and Content Creator

Latina Beauty: Grasie Mercedes

Photo:

Brecht Van't Hof

What does beauty mean to you?

As cliché as it sounds, to me, beauty comes from within. If you don't feel beautiful, you won't exude beauty. If you are internally beautiful then I will only see beauty regardless of what you physically look like. I love beautiful people and surround myself with them. My friends and family are all beautiful, kind, generous, loving, giving people, and I count my blessings that I have them in my life.

What is a misconception about Afro-Latino heritage/identity that you'd like to clarify?

The term Afro-Latinx is a newer one, so a lot of people outside of the Latinx community have no idea what it means. I've had people think it meant that one of my parents is African American and one is Latinx, and I even had one person think it was the term used for a Latinx person with an afro. (Ha! Nope.)

But I can't totally blame them since the history we are taught in this country excludes actual facts around New World colonization and the African diaspora. So I'll give you a quick history lesson on the matter: White Europeans (Spanish, French, Dutch) colonized islands in the Caribbean (present-day Dominican Republic, Haiti, Cuba, etc.). There were already Native Indians on these lands, and the Europeans brought African slaves with them. Since only European men did the colonizing, they eventually starting raping the African and Native women, which began a lineage of "mixed" people. These people span the spectrum of skin hues and European, Native, and African features, which is why today's Latinx are so diverse! Lesson over. Both my parents are from the Dominican Republic. I was born here in the states in Brooklyn, so I'm Dominican American. Both my parents are Afro-Latinx, meaning they are Latinx with African features and brown skin, and I look just like them. We are all racially Black and ethnically Latinx, more specifically Dominican.

Sadly, there is still a lot of colorism in the Latinx community, as we've been brainwashed to think that whiter is better. For this reason, a lot of Afro-Latinx don't use the term and denounce their African heritage. It makes me sad, but I think it's starting to change, and hopefully, articles like these will open more people's eyes to our beautiful diversity. 

How has your individual life experience influenced your beauty philosophy?

My mom has gorgeous skin and does not age, so all my life, I've looked up to her beauty and makeup routines. She has always kept it simple, and I do the same. I only wear heavy makeup for auditions, but my daily makeup look consists of mascara, blush, brow powder, and a lip balm—that's it! For skincare, I've stepped it up over the last few years, but my major rule that I also learned from mom is to never go to sleep with makeup on. I've been wearing makeup since high school, and I have never once fallen asleep with it on!

What inspires you to share your gifts with the world?

When I think of young Grasie—the painfully insecure little girl that was too shy to look anyone in the eye until her early 20s—that inspires me to get to work. I'm a storyteller, and whether I'm telling stories via acting or writing or directing or blogging or podcasting, I love to tell stories! And I want those stories to be for women, for Black girls, for Latinx girls, for all BIPOCs, for the LGBTQ+ community, and for those who are disabled—for anyone who's ever felt "other" or "less than." That's why I tell stories and do what I do. I want to inspire little girls and boys to embrace their uniqueness and not feel ashamed of it or like they need to change or assimilate to exist. Representation matters, and I aspire to do everything in my power as a storyteller to make sure everyone's stories are told. 

Have you ever felt “othered” or excluded from beauty trends or the beauty industry at large? If so, please describe an instance that you can recall.

Yes, all the time. Especially when I'm on set as an actor and the makeup person has to mix two shades of foundation to match my skin color or when they can't match it at all because they just don't have enough experience with brown skin. Or when the hair person takes one look at my curls and is clearly intimidated. The beauty industry needs to diversify its color palettes. And while some companies are doing that, there's still a ways to go. There are levels to our brown and Blackness with different undertones of yellow or red, and makeup brands need more variety, and makeup artists need to be trained to work with all skin hues. As far as hair, that's a big topic we can dedicate another whole article to. But I'll say this: I've had so many bad hair experiences on set that now when I book a job, I send the producers images of my hair curly, straight, and wavy and ask them how they would like my hair done so I can show up that way and, hopefully, avoid more nightmare situations. This shouldn't be the case, but it is for so many Black and brown actors. It needs to change. 

What advice do you have for Afro-Latino humans who may be struggling with the complexities of their identity in the beauty space or the world in general?

Embrace your Blackness and your Latinidad! Don't shrink to fit into white spaces and know that you are beautiful! 

"Pattern Beauty Shampoo, Medium Conditioner, and Leave-In are my current must-have products for my hair. All curls are not one size fits all, and I love the way this line caters to that."

"In these COVID times, it's nice to be able to do your own mani/pedi, and Olive and June shares great tips on how to achieve the perfect mani."

"I'm currently loving the Image Skincare Ageless line and use the face wash twice a day. Plus, the Prevention+ Daily Ultimate Protection Moisturizer SPF 50 ($44) is my daily must-have for skin protection."

Monica Veloz, Beauty Influencer

What does beauty mean to you? 

Beauty means to love yourself beyond words while also accepting your flaws regardless of what anyone thinks of you.

What is a misconception about Afro-Latino heritage/identity that you'd like to clarify?

That, because I embrace being an Afro-Latina, I'm denying my Blackness. When I say I'm Afro-Latina, that is a statement stating I am a Black woman first and nothing can ever change that!

How has your individual life experience influenced your beauty philosophy?

I was always called names about my complexion, and people would roll their eyes every time I spoke Spanish because they thought I was trying to prove that I was Dominican. Growing up, it was hard to deal with that feeling of not knowing who I was and what the world wanted me to be. Now, I use all those memories to fuel and encourage others to live their truth regardless of what society wants them to be.

Are there any beauty standards or trends you ignore?

I honestly don't believe in beauty standards. I believe that beauty is endless, and it's up to that person to define beauty whichever way they see fit. 

What inspires you to share your gifts with the world?

I guess you can say I've always enjoyed speaking with people, and I believe I'm a part of a narrative that is so necessary for our Latino community. I wish, growing up, I saw more people who looked like me loving themselves. 

What advice do you have for Afro-Latino humans who may be struggling with the complexities of their identity in the beauty space or the world in general?

If you have that little voice in your head telling you to be free and live your truth, do it! I remember when I first started my YouTube channel how many people thought it was absurd for me to speak Spanish. They wanted me to create a whole other channel, but I said, "Why? I'm a bilingual/Spanglish channel." And now, that's what people know me for. So just live your truth. It's always scary at first, but the reward of having the freedom of being yourself is so worth it.

"This has to be one of my favorite go-to nudes at the moment. It's absolutely gorgeous, and it's perfect for any occasion. Although it's a matte liquid pigment for lips, cheeks, and eyes, I've been using it for my lips, and I'm obsessed."

"Live Tinted Huesticks are an absolute must if you have any discoloration and want to give yourself a flawless foundation application. Definitely try these Huesticks—they are a game changer! I use [the shades] Origin, Free, and Rise!"

Up next, 9 Latin American Celebs Defining Cool Style Right Now 

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