Opportunities and Perspectives in the Post-COVID Era: The Case of Latino Students and Outstanding Afro-Latinos
November 19–20, 2021
After more than a year of enduring numerous challenges in the United States resulting from the tragic COVID pandemic, the light at the end of the tunnel is finally becoming more vivid as citizens are embarking upon the much-anticipated return to normalcy. While this time in history may be one of optimism and elation for many due to the progress being made, the aforementioned numerous challenges include the unmistakable racial, ethnic, and economic disparities that have reared their ugly heads, causing our black and brown citizens to bear the brunt of the horrible crisis.
Many journalism students lost access to their supervised internships and exchanges because of the pandemic. How could they practice their skills and approach the media industry during a pandemic? How could virtual work and life become the engine to help them succeed in their first work experiences?
In addition to completing projects during a trying time, journalism students are confronting the importance of the inclusion of more positive media images of Afro-Latinos and people of color. Watterson (2011) investigated the attitudes of African-American students towards foreign language study and found a lackluster mindset, which encourages us to ponder various approaches to eradicating the problem. Once this goal in media coverage is achieved, there will likely be increased interest among HBCU students in foreign languages and Africana Studies, which would guarantee more positive relations among various racial groups in the community and the world as well as heightened enrollment at HBCUs. Here we explore the perspectives of Afro-Latinos/Latinos and how Afro-Latinos/Latinos are continuously portrayed in society, as well as the opportunities afforded journalism students by virtual academic modalities in the pandemic and post-pandemic contexts.
An Opportunity to Learn Practice
EntreMedios is an academic project aimed at students of journalism from the Universidad del Sagrado Corazón (USC) in San Juan, Puerto Rico, to put into practice their knowledge of writing, audiovisual production, and research during their bachelor’s degree.
Its mission is to create a practical learning experience for students through the production of journalistic material to be published in media outlets in Puerto Rico and other platforms.
The result? More than 20 students had their first publication in a media outlet during the COVID-19 academic year and more than 200 articles were published in a laboratory of 15 mentor media outlets inside and outside the University. The opportunity to explore new media horizons brought students the possibility of receiving jobs offers and contracts as freelance journalists. The students had the opportunity to publish for local media in Puerto Rico in written, audio, and visual formats in English and Spanish. The subject matter of the coverage depended on the media, but included: politics (coverage of the 2020 elections in Puerto Rico), culture, entertainment, entrepreneurship, environment, and sports in investigative, interview, profile, and news formats.
Here I would like to tell you how the logistics of the academic project were managed through Zoom, what factors influenced the positive development of this experience, and what has been the response of the students and mentor media outlets participating in EntreMedios.
In order to participate in EntreMedios, journalism students and mentors must receive an invitation to be part of the program. The students and the mentors interested in the project are then interviewed to understand their expectations.
Following the interview phase, students and mentors are paired according to the topics that interest them. Finally, the students and the mentors start working together!
EntreMedios began as a pilot with only five members and five mentors. The project has always been virtual and freshmen are eligible to participate. Alumni have come back to the university to collaborate with mentees on their media projects and some students keep working with their mentors after completing their projects.
From August 2020 to May 2021, a total of 23 students participated in the program accompanied by 15 mentors who helped them to publish on their platforms.
Eighty-eight percent of students published in a media outlet during the academic year. A total of 182 pieces were published by participating students during the 2020-2021 academic year.
During this academic year, EntreMedios reached some milestones. The students had the opportunity to write for English-centered publications and to produce news articles in audio formats, such as podcasts. Students also had the opportunity to produce news articles in video formats, including an Instagram reel. Senior students have been able to complete their practicum course through the program.
Students and mentors also connected with Sembra Media, an online directory that focuses on media projects in Spanish in the US, Latin America, and Spain, and have had the opportunity to participate in workshops related to their experiences in the program.
Finally, three of our students are mentoring high school students as part of the 2020 Challenge Fund for Innovation in Journalism Education from the Online News Association (ONA), and two of our students won a National Association of Hispanic Journalists award for an article that they cowrote during their time in EntreMedios (Del Valle, 2022, Nuestro Barrio, 2021; Rabarison, 2020).
As a result of a collaborative study between Johnson C. Smith University and Universidad del Sagrado Corazon, journalism students in the project are now contemplating story ideas that relate to people of color. They are making plans to shape the future of media coverage in order to promote a more harmonious society among ethnic groups.
Media images play an important role in our perceptions of certain ethnic groups of people. The negative portrayal of people of color is not what we would consider a new reality since such images have been perpetuated for hundreds of years. According to Tracy Jan of the Washington Post (2017), “If all you knew about black families was what national news outlets reported, you are likely to think African Americans overwhelmingly poor, reliant on welfare, absentee fathers and criminals, despite what government data show.” African Americans are believed to be dependent on welfare as a way of life, while even as early as the 1920s it has been accepted that anti-poverty programs that have also served as a safety net for their Caucasian counterparts are only needed during a temporary difficult time in life, or when these individuals have run into “hard luck.” Despite the constant portrayal of African Americans and Latinos as downtrodden, Rhee and Watterson (2020) state that these images should encourage social science researchers and academicians to accept the challenge of breaking barriers in order to “prepare [students] to live and work effectively in an increasingly global society.”
If we fast forward to the COVID era, not only are we faced with the reality of racial inequity of people of color in terms of healthcare as “Hispanics and Latinos are 1.7 times more likely to contract COVID-19 than their non-Hispanic white counterparts” (Zamarripa & Roque, 2021), but the aforementioned media images have become even more dreadful. In our quest to educate students in languages and cultures in preparation to live and work in society and the world as global citizens, there is a dire need to counter such negative images to which we are constantly exposed. Such images only enforce the repeated cycle of racism and division in the community, and measures are needed to expel these images.
African Americans and Latinos are not the welfare dependents, criminals, rapists, and murderers oftentimes portrayed in the media, and positive images should be utilized in the media to demonstrate this fact.
There is a plethora of Afro-Latino and black individuals who have devoted their lives to making positive contributions to entertainment, education, the arts, news media, and many more fields. Numerous Afro-Latinos have made exceptional contributions to the community and the world with their talents and abilities.
As a staple of the civil rights movement, the observance of Black History Month could prove to be an essential approach in educating students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities. But are faculty and staff doing our part in magnifying positive images of not only African Americans, but also Afro-Latinos during this month? There is a lustrous history that pinpoints the various contributions of African Americans and Afro-Latinos alike in the United States. Jenay Wright (2018) also notices the absence of a more global acknowledgement of blacks during this observance and reflects on the celebration among African Americans in the United States during Black History Month. She describes the commemoration as exclusive in that it only highlights the achievements of African Americans and not those of Afro-Latinos, who have also contributed immensely to the United States. She states, “While we commonly learn about imperative African-American figures like Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, Maya Angelou, and others, we don’t often hear about the importance of Afro-Latinos in the United States” (2018). She claims that such division between African Americans and Afro-Latinos should be eradicated when both are people of color who should be celebrated and acknowledged all the same. Wright’s expressions leave much to ponder in curriculum development of African Studies and similar courses and degree programs in schools and universities. She also sparks ideas in terms of enhancing Black History observance beyond only African Americans.
As Wright (2018) further reflects on the sentiment of encouraging unity among African Americans and Afro-Latinos, she recognizes the accomplishments of such iconic, legendary Afro-Latina figures as Afro-Puerto Rican author Miriam Jimenez Roman and Afro-Cuban poet Julia de Borgos, who both left a rich legacy which to this day depicts the strength and profundity of Afro-Latino presence in the United States. Moreover, she discusses the ongoing contributions of other Afro-Latinos like Felipe Luciano, an Afro-Puerto community activist and journalist, who continues to press towards a world of equality for all.
These positive images of Afro-Latinos are the images that should flood the media in the effort of educating students beyond the portrayal of downtrodden people of color who do not utilize their abilities to edify the community. The following Afro-Latinos represent various walks of life that range from sports and entertainment to social work and education. Some have established an enormous following of young people as they strive to uphold the values of dedication and diligence as they exercise their crafts and skills.
Carmelo Anthony is an Afro-Puerto Rican NBA player from Brooklyn, NY, who currently plays with the Los Angeles Lakers. His father, Carmelo Iriarte, whose ancestry includes Africans, Spaniards, and indigenous family members, was born in Manhattan to Puerto Rican parents.
His mother, Mary Anthony, is African-American. Before entering the NBA, he played college basketball for the Syracuse Orange, winning the championship his freshman year in 2003 and being named Most Outstanding Player (“Carmelo Anthony,” 2022).
Antonio Fargas is a legendary American actor of Afro-Puerto Rican descent, with ancestry also from Trinidad and Tobago. He grew up in New York’s Spanish Harlem and graduated from Fashion Industries High School in 1965. He appeared in such classic TV shows as All My Children, Living Single, and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, but he is best known for his role as Huggy Bear on Starsky and Hutch. He starred in numerous blaxploitation movies in the 1970s, including Across 110th Street (1972) and Foxy Brown (1974) (“Antonio Fargas,” 2022).
Stariera Becco is an Afro-Puerto Rican social worker who holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University at Buffalo and a master’s degree in social work from the University at Albany (“BHM: Meet the Afro-Latina,” 2019).
Ilia Calderon is an Afro-Colombian journalist who is the anchor for Univision’s national evening newscast. Her 2017 interview with the Ku Klux Klan’s imperial wizard, Christopher Barker, won her an Emmy Award. On March 15, 2020, she co-hosted the eleventh Democratic Presidential Debate on CNN alongside Jake Tapper and Dana Bash (“Ilia Calderon,” 2022).
Dr. Bárbara Abadía-Rexach
Dr. Bárbara Abadía-Rexach is an assistant professor of AfroLatinidades in the Latina/Latino Studies Department at San Francisco State University. She received her PhD from the anthropology department at The University of Texas at Austin. A native Black Puerto Rican writer and public intellectual, she focuses her research on Afro-Latinxs, Latinxs in the US and other culture-based subjects which focus on the African Diaspora (“Gender violence,” 2021).
Ashaunti Brown, of Afro-Puerto Rican and European descent from Altamonte Springs, Florida, is currently a senior at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, NC, majoring in business administration with a concentration in marketing. In addition to excelling as a basketball player for the Golden Bulls, she is a history buff who enjoys visiting museums in her spare time. Her future career goal is to become a social media manager.
Expanding the spectrum of opportunities and diversity for media and journalism students while they are attending the University is one of the most valuable academic strategies that can be developed. The dynamic practice and sense of progress provided by the publication of student stories strengthens the teaching of journalism.
The work of EntreMedios students at the Universidad del Sagrado Corazón enhances their abilities and exposes them to new scenarios in the profession, enriching the learning they receive on a daily basis. Collaboration between industry and academia must be solid and based on opportunities and representation.
As part of this representation exercise, it is important to add diverse voices to academia. Increasing enrollment at Johnson C. Smith University and other HBCUs in foreign languages and Africana Studies is a first step in adding voices and strengthening a diverse academy with active learning opportunities for all.
As part of the effort to provide more representation of Afro-Latinos in media, this paper invites the creation of textbook reformation in foreign languages and other subjects as well as an investigation on spotlighting global blacks for Black History Month.
The future goals of EntreMedios include adding international media and mentors, workshops and capacitation opportunities, and inter-university collaborations. Also, students will be covering more news stories on people of color to portray positive images.
Antonio Farga. In Wikipedia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antonio_Fargas
BHM: Meet the Afro-Latina, social worker, eco-conscious who’s a true Star. (2019). Round + Square. Retrieved from https://roundplussquare.com/blogs/news/bhm-meet-the-afro-latina-social-worker-eco-conscious-whos-a-true-star
Carmelo Anthony. In Wikipedia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carmelo_Anthony
Comunicaciones Integradas. (2020, October 15). Entremedios: A new development program for journalists. inSagrado. Retrieved from https://insagrado.sagrado.edu/en/entremedios-a-new-development-program-for-journalists/
Comunicaciones Integradas. (2021) Casa Abierta Virtual Escuela de Comunicación Ferré Rangel. Sagrado. Retrieved from https://www.sagrado.edu/casa-abierta-comunicacion/
Del Valle, Y. (2022, January 7). La NAHJ galardona un reportaje gestado en Sagrado. inSagrado. Retrieved from https://insagrado.sagrado.edu/la-nahj-galardona-un-reportaje-gestado-en-sagrado/
Gender violence and discrimination in Puerto Rico. College of Arts and Letters: Notre Dame Initiative on Race and Resilience. Retrieved from https://raceandresilience.nd.edu/news-and-events/events/2021/04/29/gender-violence-and-discrimination-in-puerto-rico/
Ilia Calderon. In Wikipedia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ilia_Calder%C3%B3n
Jan, T. (2017, December 13). News media offers consistently warped portrayals of black families, study finds. The Washington Post. Retrieved from
Media Moves: Covering Latinos in the Media Industry. (2017. November 9). Ilia Calderon set. [Photograph of Ilia Calderon]. [Article Photograph]. Retrieved May 16, 2022 from https://www.mediamoves.com/2017/11/univision-names-ilia-calderon-anchor-noticiero-univision.html/ilia-calderon-set
NBA: Los Angeles Lakers (2021, August 6). Lakers Sign Carmelo Anthony. Retrieved May 16, 2022 from nba.com/lakers/releases/lakers-sign-carmelo-anthony-2021
Nuestro Barrio community media lab: Un proyecto para contar las historias desde la perspectiva de los residentes. (2021, December 23). Nuestro Barrio. Retrieved May 3, 2022, from
Rabarison, K. (2020, December 16). Investing in journalism education and local news: ONA awards $140,000 to seven universities through the 2020 Challenge Fund. Online News Association. Retrieved May 3, 2022, from https://journalists.org/2020/12/16/investing-in-journalism-education-and-local-news-2020-challenge-fund/
Rhee, M., & Watterson, K. (2020). Global Kinships: A Beginners’ Community-Based Research Agenda. Faculty Resource Network: Critical Conversations and the Academy. Retrieved May 4, 2022 from https://facultyresourcenetwork.org/publications/critical-conversations-and-the-academy/global-kinships-a-beginners-community-based-research-agenda/
Watterson, K. G. (2011). The attitudes of African American students towards the study of foreign languages and cultures (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Wright, J. (2018). 8 Afro Latinos who made important contributions to US history. Remezcla. Retrieved from https://remezcla.com/lists/culture/afro-latinos-contributions-us-history-literature-culture/
Zamarripa, R., & Roque, L. (2021). Latinos face disproportionate health and economic impacts from COVID-19. Retrieved from https://www.americanprogress.org/article/latinos-face-disproportionate-health-economic-impacts-covid-19/