Janel Martinez of ¡Representa! on Being a Magnifier for the Afro-Latina Community in Film and Media

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by Cydney Rhines

In a world blooming with creativity, there are some who go beyond the limit to make storytelling more compelling and authentic. Meet Janel Martinez who is the award-winning creator of blog, Ain’t I Latina?, an online destination celebrating Afro-Latinas. Martinez’s platform has featured interviews with prominent Afro-Latinas, including actress Selenis Leyva and singer Amara La Negra, among others.

The Bronx native is a frequent public speaker discussing media, tech, entrepreneurship, culture and identity at events for Bloomberg, NBCU, Oath, SXSW and more. Recently, Martinez took her talents to a higher level by curating and hosting the original Blossom series, ¡Representa! which is now available on THEA.

THEA: Where did the idea of “Ain’t I Latina” come from? What prompted you to create this outlet?

Janel Martinez: Often times, I would say the term “Ain’t I Latina” from my own experiences. Growing up in New York gave me the chance to see that it is a very diverse place. I grew up knowing about my blackness and my Latino roots because both of my parents were born in Honduras, and then, with me being born in the Bronx, there were certain cultural practices that were very clear in my household. It was when I left my household that I realized there were people who were trying to figure out who I was as in, “How does this black girl have the last name ‘Martinez,’ when she’s clearly black?”

If we fast forward, I went away to school for magazine journalism, and I knew early on that I wanted to tell the stories of black and brown people across the globe, but I wasn’t sure how that would exist until I studied abroad. You know, I studied the likes of James Baldwin, Josephine Baker and Countee Cullen, and that’s what became that reference of blackness: global blackness and understanding that blackness is everywhere. Upon that research I came across the term Afro-Latina and that it’s one term that really fits with my identity.

THEA: Did you know that integrating your love for media would lead you to this platform for sharing your perspective?

Martinez: I absolutely feel like media has led me to this point because I grew up intrigued by images on television that looked like and represented me. I watched Oprah every day at 4:00 p.m. after school, Living Single, Fresh Prince, the News – like I was a child who didn’t know it was media, but I knew I loved it. I always submerged myself because I was intrigued by creativity that was packaged in that way. I think that as I got older I wanted to get into media, but growing up in spaces where creativity had to look a certain way, I didn’t know what media was or what I could do until I got into my undergrad journey.

While understanding how media works in these classes, I realized my own personal narrative wasn’t being included, and my narrative often reflected the journeys of other brown and black people. That’s when I asked myself, how can I craft this to make sure our stories are also at the forefront? And I think that the first step is to just have the confidence to do it. Don’t wait on other people to create it. There are holes in media, and if I have an idea I should just go with it.

THEA: When you see other millennials and now Gen Z embracing their cultures as a part of their identities, where do you think this conversation is going in fields like film and media?

Martinez: When I see other millennials creating thought-provoking media and harvesting conversations around identity, I think that it could go in so many different ways. One thing I would encourage is to really just pay attention, not only to the creative side, but to the business side as well. Many of us are really “scrappy” and build things on our own. While being able to sustain it, we have figured out a way to do this work without the outside support. I would say, keep that scrappy mentality but be open for growth and business opportunities because you have to see both sides.

THEA: What is your hope for the film and media industry when it comes to storytelling, diversity and inclusion?

Martinez: Around the time I started ‘Ain’t I Latina,’ there were a lot of women talking [about the]Afro-Latina identity. There is a bridge that needs to be unified, and now we focus on how do we [connect]that creativity with creatives who are pushing the narrative to the funding because there are so many more risks that need to be taken.

Overall, I’d really love to see more traditional outlets wanting to support indie creatives in a way that doesn’t stifle indie folks, but are also supportive of their creativity and business, as well as their missions.

Are you ready to know more about Ain’t I Latina? After tuning into ¡Representa! head over to their site to learn about the latest.

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