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Keka Araújo is Unapologetically Afro-Latina

“I am not biracial; I am bicultural.”

By Antonia Naje Allsopp
Celebrate National Latin-American/Hispanic Heritage Month with us! Through October 15, we’ll be sharing various stories from the Latinx community — be sure to read them all here.
In an adorably straightforward cartoon to explain his Mexican-American, bicultural, mixed-race heritage, cartoonist Terry Blas clarified the confusing terminology: “Hispanic” defines
language, while “Latino” defines geography. (“Latinx” is becoming popular, too, as it eliminates the male-female binary inherent in the original term.) None of these distinctions are defined by race. Let’s explore the many shades of Latin that grace us each day.
Araújo

“I remember when you told black Latinas that they were black and they would want to fight you,” says Keka Araújo, as we discuss the recently fashionable topic of being Afro-Latina. “Some people want to make me biracial. I am not biracial; I am bicultural,” she continues. “I am unapologetically black.”

Of growing up in a Pan-African household with an African-American father who is Muslim and a black Cuban mother who practiced an African religion, Araújo says, “A lot of times there [was] a struggle people had fitting into boxes — I didn’t really have that issue because my parents exposed me to blackness from everywhere. There was never a time where I questioned what blackness was. Growing up like that really gave me a different perspective.”

Araújo is a journalist and editor-in-chief of the blog “Negra with Tumbao,” which focuses on life, beauty and culture. Negra means “black” and tumbao is a rhythm on the bass in Afro-Cuban music. Her inspiration for the name? This song:

“Celia Cruz is the black patron saint of Cuba,” Araújo explains, referring to the Afro-Cuban music legend well-known for her song “La Negra Tiene Tumbao,” among many others. Cruz ruled the Latin airwaves for five decades, was called the Queen of Salsa and was key to the music genre’s popularity. Cruz also embraced African parts of her identity at a time when it wasn’t chic to do so.

“She just embodies everything about blackness,” Araújo says. Rather than name her blog “Negra con Tumbao,” the Miami-based maven’s mix of English and Spanish is purposeful. “I’m bicultural and I’m bilingual — I didn’t want it to be all Spanish because I didn’t want to forget my dad’s identity because I embrace both.”

For her, being in-between and traversing the two distinct cultures of her heritage comes easily. She suggests it’s outsiders of those cultures who are often the ones to make things more difficult. Simple code-switching comes inherently to those who live in both worlds.

“We always had a connection to who we were in terms of being Latin,” she says. “When we went to my grandmother’s house, I knew I would get liver and onions. When we would go to my TiTi’s house, I knew I would hear salsa, I would dance rumba, that we would dance and sing. I think it’s very important instead of separating ourselves by culture or separating ourselves by language, we should realize we’re all connected.”

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3 comments

  1. I love the proud differentiation Keka makes here about not being biracial — she is Black. She is bicultural. And I think pride in these multiple cultures through keeping the languages alive as they grow up and through enjoying the music they were raised with keeps bicultural people connected with their backgrounds.

  2. I find Araújo’s fulfilling experience being a bicultural person of mixed heritage, to be connected to her ability to code-switch easily in her life along with her attention to including both worlds in her identity. Both come easily to her but nevertheless, it takes conscious effort and a lot of courage to live up to your own ideals. I love her last point, “we should realize we’re all connected” and that includes accepting other people’s hidden identities, along with your own, completely and unapologetically, as Araújo does.

  3. I like the acknowledgement of the connection between cultures, rather than seperating the latinx culture and the black culture identifying as bicultural. It is really nice to see the celebration of music, food and language to keep their and their families culture alive. The statement that it is outsiders that make it more difficult to switch inbetween cultures was a very interesting observation as code switching comes naturally to those who have lived in two cultures rather than those who haven’t.

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