Milwaukee muralist talks exploring her Afro-Latina identity & valuing African ancestry of Latinos
In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, WUWM is celebrating the rich cultural diversity of Milwaukee’s Hispanic and Latino people.
Today, we highlight Afro-Latino voices in the city. Afro-Latinos are Latin Americans of African descent. According to the Pew Research Center, about six million U.S. adults identify as Afro-Latino.
Rozalia Hernandez-Singh is the daughter of famed muralist Reynaldo Hernandez. He is Black and Mexican, her mom was born in Puerto Rico. Singh has lived in Milwaukee her whole life and grew up on the city's north side in a predominantly black neighborhood.
"It was very apparent that the kids would see me as different ... I wanted to kind of get into where I had to come up with how I identified myself. People would ask me what I was and I remember being in elementary school kind of taking out my fingers and kind of saying well I'm Puerto Rican, I'm Black I'm Mexican, Native American —you know kind of giving a a list."
Singh says she would have conversations with her grandmother who would tell her she didn't have to list all of those identities. Singh says her grandmother told her she could just say she's Latino and that would cover the bases.
"So, that that kind of changed you know how I started to address that with people when they would ask me."
Singh says she hadn't thought about the terminology of Afro-Latina until she was an adult; she can't remember ever hearing it as a child. When she got older she started to dig into her ancestry.
"Me getting my DNA done I found out that I had more African ancestry than I knew. I end up having like 38% African ancestry so I was like wow that's a lot more than I thought. So that was me getting into genealogy learning about how we get 50%, it's random but then also knowing that it was higher for a reason and wanting to know why and where that came from."
Singh's interest in her own family's heritage, led her to searching Europeans in Puerto Rico, and African ancestry in Mexico. "There is an erasure of African history and indigenous history in the Latino and there is also where when you're wanting to mix there you're encouraged to mix with somebody who is lighter who looks more European. That's what you're wanting because that is what's considered beautiful that's appealing that's also a form of survival, you know, a caste system was created in Mexico by the Spaniards and on the bottom we have the Africans and the very bottom the African indigenous, you know, right one step above. This is something that they did throughout history but it has a big influence on what's happening today as far as how we identify as Latinos."
Singh says while she doesn't officially celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month — she sees it as more of a political activity, honoring marginalized people for only one month — she tries to inform people through her artwork.
"I think a lot of it had to do from my father," Singh says, "he would create these beautiful paintings of Black women and it would be in our house so I always looked at Black women as you know something beautiful, you know, something that I admired and then now that I am an artist and I make sure that I am intentional about putting out those faces of Brown people and Black people as a as something beautiful."
Singh says, "I want people to think of you know we are part of that African diaspora and I want Latinos to make that - the African history - to be something that they honor along with the European and indigenous. I want to make sure that yeah so we can change our history and going further. I feel like if we change our thinking we start opening up like a something new and and that's important to me and that's what I'm gonna continue to do."