Arturo Alfonso Schomburg, the late Puerto Rican historian, writer and activist, was an indispensable component of the Harlem Renaissance. Born and largely raised on the island, Schomburg dedicated his life to collecting and documenting the literary and artistic contributions of African peoples in the Americas and across the diaspora. Concerning the “lost black Hispanic heritage,” one figure Schomburg studied and discussed at length was the prestigious Puerto Rican painter José Campeche, who in his lifetime emerged a toast of the art world among white Spaniards, but whose ancestors were little-talked-about — “a conspiracy of silence” Schomburg spent all his years breaking. That is precisely what this project has been about: undoing a dreaded history of silence.
Thanks to Schomburg and to works like Dr. Vanessa K. Valdés’ Diasporic Blackness, we know the richness, brilliance, necessity and gravity of black narratives in places like the Caribbean, from where lots of the music we Latinxs know and love is rooted. At the top of 2018, Billboard sent out a particularly non-traditional call to some of our favorite recording artists of varied backgrounds, but bound by one exquisite attribute: negritude.
We solicited a number of video submissions that responded to the query: What has been your experience as a black Latino musician or recording artist navigating today’s industry? To my surprise, there were no apparent concerns and no one required clarity on the topic, which I was fully prepared to expound on. (My personal anxieties were rooted in the arguable fact that for all intents and purposes the Spanish-speaking world is years behind when it comes to discourse on race, ethnicity, gender, sex etc.).