‘The Black Latina Movement’ Founder Crystal Roman On Importance of Identity in Acting
January 04, 2016 at 7:00 am
This week, we’re featuring CEO and founder of The Black Latina Movement Crystal Roman. The actress, innovator and mother of two caught up with Ain’t I Latina? to discuss why she started The Black Latina Movement, why she prefers the term Black Latina and what audiences can expect this fall.
Ain’t I Latina?: Crystal, you’ve been at the forefront of content creators who are making sure the Afro-Latina story is being told. What inspired you to create The Black Latina Movement in 2008?
Roman: The Movement totally chose me. It was a snowball effect. I was an actress at that time for about seven years, and I wanted to get into writing. I wrote what is now the company’s signature piece Black Latina (The Play) as an outlet of my frustration of being in an industry that boxed actresses into categories based on a look. That along with my own personal plight of this dual identity really created the platform for the success of the play, which in turn sparked the creation of the Movement as a company.
As an actress, you’ve experienced firsthand the bias that exists when it comes to representation of Afro-Latinas. Oftentimes directors don’t cast Afro-Latinas in the ‘Latina’ role, only African-American roles. How have you dealt with that sort of discrimination? How has it fueled your work?
I can completely relate because the opposite was often done to me. I am of olive complexion, so automatically I would get cast for a ‘Latina’ role knowing that there may be an African-American role I could play and bring to life. But because of my look, I wouldn’t get considered for the role. So the problem definitely existed the other way around with other Afro-Latinas not cast for African-American roles. I have combated this by intentionally going against the rules. Casting actresses that don’t fit this ‘typical’ mold the industry places on us.
You’ve released a selection of theatrical work, including Black Latina, Memoirs of a Black Latina and Colors of Love, which turned into a web series. How is the Afro-Latina experience weaved throughout each work?
Memoirs of a Black Latina is a film adaption of the stage play Black Latina. Black Latina discusses head on the social and economical highs and lows of this double identity. Colors of Love is a more visual piece, while it doesn’t deal with the socioeconomic issues as Black Latina, Colors of Love gives Black Latina women/actresses the opportunity to see themselves in front of the camera as the main characters dealing with issues women across the board deal with.
Recently, you and I spoke about the importance of highlighting intersectionality. Why do you feel it’s so important for people to understand that all Latinas aren’t the same?
It’s important because then and only will the world understand who we really are. When you present a face that only represents a portion of the community, it causes a ripple effect that has deep rooted scars. Self loathing and hatred seeps in and dissatisfaction of underrepresentation in the media forces young girls to question their beauty and value. Leaving the sentiment that the Latina that is displayed more is the better representation of the group. It’s this old slave mentality and brainwashing to flush out the ‘blackness’ and show the lighter, ‘better’ versions of Latinas. Once people understand our diversity, they can learn the broad spectrum of just what really is a Black Latina. Love it, embrace it and carry on! This is far from easy, but the process has to start somewhere.
How do you identity? Do you consider yourself Afro-Latina, or use another term to describe your race and/or ethnicity?
I am an Afro-Latina, but I started using the term Black Latina to widen out the umbrella of just who embodies that term. I was once told an Afro-Latina is one who originates within the Latin American countries, specifically those affected by the African Diaspora, aka the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. Yes, I am part of that with family whose descendants are Afro-Puerto Rican. But living in the North, specifically the inner cities of NYC, I grew up in a world where Blacks and Latinos, as with many inner cities throughout the US, were the main minorities; seeing the mixing of the two groups created children like my mother a Jamaican/Puerto Rican. As with the President of The Movement, her parents are African-American and Ecuadorian. So, while in both cases of my mother and partner, they in definition may not fall under the category of Afro-Latinas, their experience and commonalities pale in comparison to their differences to that of an Afro-Latina. To embrace both groups of women, we started using the term Black Latina.
What is your earliest memory of identifying as Afro-Latina/Blatina/Latinegra, etc? How did you come to identify as such?
There are so many memories good and bad that helped me understand this identity. From getting on a bus in Staten Island and the driver telling my mom the bus doesn’t go to Harlem, to as far back as I can remember. The food at home was always the best of both worlds and comforted me on who I was. I knew very early on that both my sides were vital to my identity.
Which Latina matriarch do you most identify with and why?
I have to say my grandmothers: One great grandmother (Afro-Puerto rican), her daughter, which is my grandmother, and my paternal grandmother (Anglo-Puerto rican). They were both a wonderful mix of old and new. Super feminist with a balance of traditionalistic views regarding the male/female relationship. Both heavy and devoted believers in God. Strong powerhouse women with a kickass sense of style, and awesome cooks. I couldn’t have asked for better women to have had the privileged to be surrounded by.
Who inspires you?
I have to say my boys do. Raising two Black Latino males in these trying times is extremely difficult, so thankfully we put God first. But my sons inspire me to push even when I feel I can’t push anymore. They constantly give me a renewed sense of worth and understanding to who I am. Often times parents don’t understand that children can be our greatest teachers.
What’s next for The Black Latina Movement?
We have our tour for Black Latina (The Play) coming up for Hispanic Heritage Month. We have made some awesome stops like Penn State and Hamilton College, so I am really looking forward to where we are going next. Our series, The Colors of Love, has 5 more episode to be released on our YouTube channel and we are looking forward to screenings this summer in NYC. As well as the revival of the Off-Broadway stage version of The Colors of Love. As always, we also have top secret goodies up our sleeves that we shall unveil along the way.