Janel Martinez of ‘Ain’t I Latina?’ Is Committed to Amplifying the Voices of Black Latinx Women

Janel Martinez of ‘Ain’t I Latina?’ Is Committed to Amplifying the Voices of Black Latinx Women

Photo cred: GO USA TV

 Our new Bomba Profile Series aims to empower our shoppers, supporters, and followers by featuring inspirational women of color who are doing great work in their respective fields, and servicing their communities.

By Johanna Ferreira 

Before Janel Martinez launched her blog Ain’t I Latina? in 2013, there were very few internet spaces where Black Latinx women could find themselves reflected and represented. Her mission to celebrate, elevate, and support this underserved community has since evolved. Not only has she become one of the most prominent and known Afro-Latinx voices in the digital world, but she's successfully used her platform to amplify the narratives of Afro-diasporic women and create change. 

Martinez who was born to Honduran parents and raised in the Bronx, was inspired to launch Ain’t I Latina? while trying to navigate her own journey in embracing both her Black and Latinx identities. Being a Black Honduran-American — and add to that of Garifuna heritage — resulted in folks constantly questioning her Latiniad.

“The inspiration for Ain’t I Latina? — before it was a title or even a concept — started at a very young age for me. I grew up very intrigued by media and very into magazines. I was reading Vibe, Essence, Jet, and Ebony magazine and watching ‘90s sitcoms like Living Single, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and The Parent 'Hood,” she tells Bomba Curls. “Even though I could see my blackness being reflected in these shows and flipping through the pages of these very particular magazines, I also understood that I’m of Latin American descent as well. And if I was to pick up a different kind of magazine that caters to a Latinx person, I wasn’t going to see myself reflected in that. It became important for me to create a space where I could see myself but also where other Black women and girls of Latin American descent could also see themselves represented.”

While the driving force was to create more representation, her work today encompasses so much more than that.

“I’m now in a place where I want to be transparent in saying that representation isn’t enough. While I do think that for me, that was part of the beginnings of itit can’t be all of the work. The representation was really the entry point,” she says. “It became about talking about anti-blackness in Latin America and in the Caribbean and really amplifying even some of the conversations that were happening online and interviewing other people doing this work. It’s really just holding up a mirror to the media industry. I have had the opportunity to directly speak to people in leadership at corporations and in major media outlets and share with them the problems or issues that they need to tackle within media. I’m using my platform to amplify the voices of other Afro-Latinx women that are doing this important work but also on an institutional level, I’m using my platform to call out certain things and putting the pressure on some of these institutions and corporations to really reflect and ideally change it they are willing.”

Photo cred: Francis Carrero 
Cuba, Jan. 2020 


Q&A with Janel Martinez

What are you up to and working on these days?

Since I launched Ain’t I Latina? In 2013, the conversation has really changed. I think when you look at the landscape in 2013, the conversations being had were primarily happening on social media and there were a few destinations and documentaries out, but it was nowhere near what we’re seeing today. I’m not even saying that what we’re seeing today is enough — there’s still so much work to do. But Afro-Latinx or Black people in Latin America is no longer something people don’t know exists. We’re not really hearing people being as surprised by the idea that there are Black Latinxs like we did back then. Nobody can say that at this point which is important.

I’m actually at a place where though we’re doing a lot, I’m also trying to reflect on what the brand's next steps should be and what it will look like in terms of the type of content we’ll be doing. Video is something we’ve seen has done really well and so we plan on continuing that. In the later half of 2019, we launched a crowd funding campaign to raise funds for a documentary series that we plan on shooting in Puerto Rico. COVID19 happened a few months after we made the announcement. The project is still very much in the works but it’s been on pause since the pandemic hit. Recently there was the cover reveal for Wild Tongues Can’t be Tamed, which is an anthology that I am featured in and edited by the brilliant Bronx native writer Saraciea J. Fennell, who is also of Garifuna descent. There’s a lot of really talented writers in this book — including Elizabeth Acevedo — so I’m really honored to be a part of it. It comes out September 14th.

What do you want people to understand about Garifuna culture specifically?

There’s a lot of things I want people to understand. First off, I think as Black people there’s a lot of different components to our story, our culture, and our history. Something that’s very specific to Garifuna identity and history is that we were intended to be enslaved and we were not. We remained free people. Though the intent was to be enslaved, we ended up in St. Vincent. We fought off the colonial powers there — both the British and the French. We then ended up being exiled but that’s how we ended up alongside the Caribbean coast of Central America. I feel very proud to be of this lineage.

Sometimes when things get hard, I remind myself — and this is not exclusive to Garifuna people but also Black diasporic people — that we’ve just have gone through so much and are still here. We’re here for many reasons. We’re here because we’re resilient and we’re here because we are covered on a spiritual level by those who came before us. That’s something I’m very proud of. I’m proud to be a descendant of those who fought resiliently to be and maintain their freedom. I’m also glad that Garfiuna is something people are no longer confused about. At the time that I grew up, people did not know what it was to be Garifuna. So I’m thankful, when I look at the younger generations embracing this part of themselves. I wasn’t always the proudest growing up simply because of the fact that people didn’t know who we were and I found myself always having to explain and it just felt like too much. But I’m proud to see this next generation understanding and being about our culture. I also feel like our cultural markers are very beautiful. What I do also appreciate is that you can see how it connects to other aspects of the Black diaspora. You can see it even in our food. I’m proud of our culture, our history and our story. But also I’m proud of how it fits into Black diasporic culture.

How do you identify and prefer to be referred to as?

I no longer identify as Latina as a standalone. I will go by Afro-Latina if it’s in terms of a collective. But I identify as a Black woman, I identify as Garifuna, and I identify as Afro or Black Indigenous. When people think of indieneity, they often don’t think Blackness is included in that. And so I made the decision to note these things because I think people need to be cognitive of that. It’s not erasing my blackness.

What inspired you to love and embrace your natural hair?

It’s interesting because I have 4B/4C textured hair and I don’t think marketing ever embraced that in any respects when I was growing up. So naturally, I grew up relaxing and straightening my hair. I started getting my hair pressed at 10 and by the time I was 11, I was getting my hair relaxed. I had my hair relaxed all the way through college. At the end of my junior year I had started to go natural. I went to my typical salon and my hair dresser was like why would you do that? So I ended up straightening my hair again with the relaxer. I eventually switched hairdressers once I decided I was really going to do this because I couldn’t have someone telling me I couldn’t and shouldn’t wear my hair in the way it naturally exists.

I think I was just tired of the process of getting relaxers. Something that many people who have gotten relaxers before can relate to was the relaxer burn. I had a really bad relaxer burn that every time I got a relaxer would essentially be open. So I would constantly feel pain every time I got a relaxer. I remember as a kid even getting relaxer in my eye. It’s a lot of chemicals and I was tired of the process and was coming into my fullness as a person and understanding that I didn’t need to do this to my hair. By the end of 2010, I had done the big chop.

But I had to really love on myself, because at that point there was some marketing around 4B/4C short hair, but it wasn’t prominent. I realized that after years of relaxing my hair for so long, that I had no idea what my natural texture was. I actually thought that my hair with certain products would be a looser curl pattern and had to come to an understanding within myself that my hair would never be 3B/3C like Tracee Ellis Ross. But once I arrived to that realization, it was the best thing that happened to me. I realized I needed to find products that can help me manage my hair because even though 4B and 4C is beautiful, for the longest we weren’t told that. People love to crack on 4B/4C hair. The industry alone doesn’t really center those textures.

How do you feel racism has played in role in how those curl types are perceived in society?

Whiteness is still used as a standard even within our own communities. That’s by design. That’s why the marketing teams at companies still fixate on a certain curl texture, type, and pattern. That’s why if you have a certain type and it’s considered “nappy” or coarse, it’s still seen by some as the opposite of what’s desirable. As someone who grew up knowing that my hair texture according to society’s terms wasn’t the ideal, I had to do a lot of embracing because I remember those early days of my hair journey. For a certain amount of time I would blow dry it and two-strand twist it to have a more lengthened style because it was so short. I absolutely love my hair now but it took me a while to get there.

What does wash day look like for you?

I usually start with a hot-oil treatment. I’ll leave it in and put a shower cap on and let it sit for a little while before rinsing it out with a cleansing but very moisturizing shampoo, that won’t dry my hair out. After I wash it out, I’ll apply a deep conditioning treatment and leave it in for hours. I like to keep it in for a while so my hair really absorbs the moisture. Then I detangle my hair in the shower before washing out. I use a special detangling brush that saves me a lot more time than when I was using a wide tooth comb. I rinse the conditioner out and use a special product that’s designed for twist and locks and section my hair and two-strand each section and then let it air dry. The next day I’ll put in an oil like grape seed oil or almond oil, maybe even vitamin E oil, and just run it through my hair before I take the twists out.

What does self-care look like for you?

Self-care can look like a lot of different things for me. Ideally, the night before I’d go to sleep at a descent time. Then I wake up at a descent time and I journal. I’ll meditate or pray. If it’s a really good morning, I’ll carve time to do a quick workout. Usually something workout related. If I don’t do the workout in the morning, I’ll try to do it in the evening. I’ll make myself breakfast, I’ll hop in the shower and then I’ll start work. It’s important for me to really not just jump into work. I say this because I haven’t been on my self-care routine as I should as of late and I see the difference. It’s important that I do that for myself. I like to do things that make me feel good like using an eucalyptus soap in the shower or taking my time to do my skincare routine. I make sure to wash, exfoliate, use a toner, a serum, and really moisturize. I also take my time applying body butter. Self-care is also prioritizing my mental health. I recently started seeing a therapist and it’s been such a beautiful experience.


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