We’re thrilled to be joining forces with @HBCUPalante during Latinx Heritage Month to bring a wide-ranging look at the African Diaspora — honing in on intersectionality, specifically those of Latinx descent.
Historians often attempt to erase the African Diaspora in Latinx culture. Those that identify as AfroLatinx understand the complexities of their heritage as both African and Latinx persons. It is important to highlight this distinction because AfroLatinx people are part of the Black experience both individually and collectively.
Erasure builds walls where there should be bridges — and @HBCUPalante intentionally works to make HBCUs a welcoming space for the African Diaspora. That’s why throughout the month we are highlighting AfroLatinx individuals and organizations that have done and are doing Black liberation work.
First up is Sylvia Del Villard — an AfroLatina born in 1928 in Saturce, San Juan, Puerto Rico. She enrolled at Fisk University, an HBCU in Nashville, TN where she studied Sociology & Anthropology. As a dark-skinned AfroLatina, Del Villiard’s aesthetic was that of Black Americans.
While she was welcomed into the community at Fisk, outside the campus walls she experienced Blackness through the lens of white supremacy. The trauma caused Del Villard to return to her homeland.
The construct of race as understood in Puerto Rico puts Patria (country) first. Terms used in Puerto Rico to denote those of African descent include Trigueño/a, Indio/a, Negrito/a, and Negro/a. These terms are descriptive, to illustrate the range in complexion and hair texture of the subject. However, the terms are secondary and can be used in either an endearing fashion or pejoratively. They are Puerto Rican first. Del Villard’s exposure to white supremacy caused her to reexamine Blackness in Puerto Rican society.
Sylvia Del Villard’s experience at Fisk fueled her to fight against bigotry and racism within the Puerto Rican media. In 1971, she made a public statement reprimanding the bigoted practices in Puerto Rican TV, such as the ongoing use of blackface and the limited opportunities for Black actors and actresses. She then went on to establish the Teatro Afro-Boricua El Coquí company in 1968, which was recognized as “the most important authority of Black Puerto Rican culture.” The troupe performed at different colleges throughout the U.S.
Uplifting the experiences of AfroLatinx people like Sylvia Del Villard is important to remember as we fight for the total liberation of Black people as a whole. Join us in directly supporting the Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center by chipping in $5, or whatever you can. Your contribution will benefit the AfroLatinx community in Chicago far beyond Latinx Heritage Month.
In 1981, Sylvia Del Villard became the first and only director of the office of the Afro Puerto Rican Affairs at the Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña — whose mission is to investigate, conserve, promote, and disseminate Puerto Rican culture in its diversity and complexity including race and culture. She also began to develop Puerto África, a cultural project intended to display the nuances of Blackness through the arts but was unable to complete it before passing in 1990.
Sylvia Del Villard’s contributions to the arts were innately and fiercely, Black. She embraced her African roots and bridged the culture that acknowledged the connection to Puerto Rico. She was a pioneer and deeply identified with global Blackness. Please join us in supporting the Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center by making a donation, as they continue to promote AfroLatinx arts and culture in Chicago during Latinx Heritage Month and beyond.