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Celebrating Afro-Latino history and influence in Connecticut

FILE: Peru Negro performs Afro–Peruvian dance.
Lawrence K. Ho
Los Angeles Times / Getty
FILE: Peru Negro performs Afro Peruvian dance.

Hispanic Heritage month is being celebrated across the country. For Afro-Latinos in Connecticut it’s also a time to remember their unique contributions to Latino history and culture.

One example is the empowering poem, “Me gritaron Negra,” which was written by Peruvian artist Victoria Santa Cruzin 1978, and is still being used as a toolfor civil rights activism today.

The poem tells the story of Victoria, a young girl who comes to consciousness and pride in her Black identity.

It’s important to remember the contributions of other Afro-Latinos like Santa Cruz, said Maria del Rosario Mosquera Vargas, an Afro-Peruvian chef who has been living in Connecticut for a decade.

“Whenever I hear the poem, I feel like a heat is all over my face,” Mosquera said. “I will never feel like I'm less than anybody because my skin is Black. My blood is like everybody else. Black or white, at the end, we are all the same. And I'm proud to be Peruvian.”

Her own family history is similar to many people of Hispanic descent throughout Central and South America.

“The Spaniards brought my great-grandmother to Peru from France. They sold her to the landowners in the area of San Jose. All the Africans were brought there. All those people worked in agriculture,” Mosquera said.

Mosquera came to the United States to practice her culinary skills and decided to stay. She mentioned that Chincha is the place where most famous Peruvian dishes originated and are now being shared in Connecticut.

“We preserve our culture, and our food. When the Spaniards arrived in Peru, they had the enslaved people in the tunnels,” Mosqueda said. “The enslaved people created our food from the visors that the Spanish did not eat. From there, the Cau Cau, and the Anticuchoswere invented. Now, those dishes are famous, but they come from our roots.”

Juan David Coronado, an associate professor at Central Connecticut State University’s Department of Latin American, Latino and Caribbean Studies, said that there is an ever-increasing interest in researching and understanding the unique culture of Afro-Latinos in the state.

“I have a great number of students who identify as Afro-Latino.” Coronado said. “And perhaps from K to 12 they have not been exposed to that type of history, but they get to the college level and they are surprised and in shock and they want to know more about their history.”

According to previous estimates from state education officials, 27% of Connecticut students identify as Hispanic, and 13% identify as Black or African American. In 2022 Connecticut became the first state requiring high schools to offer courses in Black and Latino Studies.

Afro-Latinos are contributing to Connecticut's vibrant cultural landscape, Coronado said.

“We see it in the music, in the sound, in the dances,” he said. “You have the merengue, bachata and is a mixture of all those cultures coming together. The use of the African drums and the influence of the Spanish guitar. All of that is a beautiful blend.”

Coronado praised Victoria Santa Cruz' poem, saying it is powerful, and filled with messages of hope, resilience and empowerment, and more people need to be aware of it and appreciate it.

“People have really begun to embrace and say brown is beautiful," he said. "The poem reminds of the importance of keeping the idea of really embracing beauty for what it is, and not what certain people tell us what it should be."

Maricarmen Cajahuaringa is a journalist with extensive experience in Latino communities' politics, social issues, and culture. She founded Boceto Media, a digital Spanish-language newspaper based in Connecticut. Maricarmen holds a Bachelor's in Social Work from Springfield College, and a Master's in Journalism and Media Production from Sacred Heart University. As a reporter for Connecticut Public, she is dedicated to delivering accurate and informative coverage of the Hispanic/Latino population in the region. Maricarmen is an experienced and passionate journalist who strives to bring a voice to the stories of her community.

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