More than 5,000 Black and Latino journalists gathered in Las Vegas last week for the joint conventions of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ) and the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ).
Both organizations have fought for decades for equal and more diverse representation in the media. One of the most underrepresented groups of journalists are Afro-Latinos.
A panel discussion held at the conference addressed the need to tell more Afro-Latino stories in the media and the need for journalists of color themselves to offer more support to Afro-Latino journalists. The session called “Two Worlds: Afro-Latinx in the Newsroom” featured Natasha S. Alford, vice president digital content and senior correspondent with The Grio, Aisha Al-Muslim, senior editor, newsroom interships at The Wall Street Journal and Alex Perez, national correspondent with ABC News.
Alford recalled that one time she posted the Puerto Rican flag on social media. One reader posted a reaction in disbelief that a Dominican ran The Grio. The reader didn’t know the difference between the two flags and also was surprised that Alford was Afro-Latina.
“There is an education that needs to happen on both sides,” Alford said.
Alford also created the documentary “Afro-Latinx Revolution: Puerto Rico.” She explored race and racism in Puerto Rico. She said we need more stories of Afro-Latinos to be told.
“I’m talking about representation across the board. Negra and proud. That’s what I want to see on television,” Alford said.
Al-Muslim was born in Panama and started at The Wall Street Journal in 2017.
“I’m Afro-Latina. I’m black. I’m an immigrant,” she said proudly of her identity.
Some of the attendees also shared their experience with facing racism from white people and also from other Latinos. There is often questioning about where they are from or even a denial that they are Latino because they also are black.
“Sometimes you don’t have to explain yourself. You just live you,” Perez offered advice to the attendees.
The panelists agreed there needs to be more advocacy for and media coverage of the diverse Afro-Latinx community.
“It’s not just about I’m proud to be Afro-Latina and put it on a T-shirt or mug,” Alford said. “This is about actually organizing for power. Why are there no Afro-Latinos on your board? Why are there no Afro-Latinos CEOs at this company? This is why we need community so we demand these opportunities.”
Afro-Latinos make up almost 25% of the Latino population, according to a study by the Pew Research Center. In the field of journalism, Black and Latino journalists are underrepresented in the news media and Afro-Latino journalists even more so. According to a recent GAO report an estimated 11% of news analysts, reporters and journalists in the U.S. are Latino, including Spanish-language networks. However, Latinos are 19% of the U.S. population. Pew Research also found 7% of newsroom employees are black. However, 13.4% of the U.S. population is Black.
According to 2021 membership data kept by NAHJ, around 2% of its members are Afro-Latino. In 2021, NAHJ also announced the creation of a scholarship awarded to Afro-Latino students pursuing careers in English and Spanish-language journalism. This panel and others at past conventions are a much needed effort for NAHJ to be more inclusive of Latinx diversity.
The panelists also said that Afro-Latino culture should be celebrated.
“There’s also joy in being Afro-Latino. It’s not just about the struggle. We create beauty wherever we are,”Alford said.