Article on Afro-Latinos, NBC Latino

Afro-Latinos are making waves in art, music, literature and cuisine.

Celebrating Afro-Latinos who inspire us through art

by Erika L. Sánchez
2:56 pm on 02/21/2013

Eva Ayllón

“I always liked to sing, but I didn’t know I was going to end up as a singer,” Ayllón says. She first thought she’d become a nurse, but changed her mind when she was in her teens. Nevertheless, Ayllón still liked the idea of healing people, and decided to do this through her singing.

Ayllón began performing in Peruvian nightclubs in the 1970s, and by the 1980s, she was producing and collaborating with established Peruvian groups. In 2003, she received two Latin Grammy nominations in the “Best Folk Album” category, and in 2008 she sold out Carnegie Hall.

She says that the most difficult point in her career was when she had to perform when she was still distraught over the death of her mother. “I think we artists are like little clowns. We have to have a great temperament and great attitude during adverse situations like death.”

Because of this perseverance, her music has made an impact on people all over the world. She says that some fans have even approached her after concerts to tell her that her music saved their lives. “Some people said they were going to commit suicide, but listened to one of my songs and felt revived,” she says.

“This isn’t vanity for me. I was born singing.”

Junot Diaz

“I discovered my love for books when I immigrated to the United States. I loved books to death,” says Dominican American writer Junot Diaz.

But success didn’t come easy for Diaz, who before establishing his writing career, worked in a steel mill, washed dishes, pumped gas, and delivered pool tables. “For a Dominican kid from New Jersey, it was an unusual and impractical dream,” he says.

Despite the obstacles, the idea of becoming a writer was something he wouldn’t let go of even though, he says, “there was no sign that it was going to get better.”

And his persistence paid off. Diaz is the author of “Drown”; ”The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” which won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award; and “This Is How You Lose Her,” a New York Times bestseller and National Book Award finalist. He has won numerous other awards and is currently a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“Part of being a young artist is being true to your dream. I don’t think I would give advice to young writers of color, but I will give advice to young people of color with a dream: there is nothing in the world that makes the dream easy except the love of the practice. I had to constantly rekindle my love of reading and find ways to honor that love.”


Sandra Andino

Sandra Andino was in her mid-20s when she decided to pursue photography. She first received her Bachelor of Arts in psychology from the University of Puerto Rico, then moved to move to Philadelphia to attend graduate school at Temple University. During this time, she started to meet other artists. “I realized it was my calling,” she says.

Though her family always encouraged her to be creative, they didn’t think she should pursue photography as a career. “Making a career out of making art wasn’t something my family understood.”

She has now shown her work at several galleries and has served as an arts administrator in agencies such as Taller Puertorriqueño, WHYY-TV, Brooklyn Children’s Museum, Bed-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation and others.

For a long time, Andino said she had a 9 to 5 job and practiced her art on the side, but she recently decided to dedicate herself to her photography full time.

“Despite what others might say, stay focused, centered, and positive,” she says. “If you give it value, then others will.”

Nilton Borges, Jr.

Chef Nilton Borges Jr. grew up cooking with his mother and grandmother. “I always had an affinity for food,” he says.

And though he was passionate about cooking, Borges didn’t decide to become a chef at first. “Growing up in Brazil and being black, there was always that image that you have to have a position with more status.” Borges attended medical school in Brazil, but when he was 20, however, he decided to move to New York to look for other options.

His first job in New York was as a bathroom attendant at a music venue, but eventually, Borges ended up in kitchens. “I started as a dishwasher and working in kitchens for free,” he says. After working in restaurants for eight years, he decided to go culinary school.

Borges is now the executive chef at Amali, a Greek restaurant “dedicated to supporting sustainable farming, viniculture and design,” which has won many awards including New and Notable Newcomer in Wine & Spirits Magazine, 2012, and Diner’s Choice Mediterranean Restaurant, Tri-State Area, 2012

“I’ve been blessed with the people I work with and the place where I work,” Borges says. “I’m successful by doing what I intended to do.”

He believes that to succeed in the culinary world, you should always focus on your skills. “Always try to move to places where you can learn. Never follow the money,” he says.

Article on Eating Disorders, NBC Latino

Latina struggles when eating disorders and culture collide

12:03 am on 02/09/2013

Corazón Tierra, 43, began developing an eating disorder when she was only eight years old.

As an immigrant from Puerto Rico, she felt like her physical appearance didn’t fit into American culture. “When I came here, it became more complicated. We’re not beautiful according to the standard,” she says.
Corazón Tierra has been battling an eating disorder since she was a child, but now helps other women overcome their eating issues. (Photo courtesy Corazón Tierra)

Corazón Tierra has been battling an eating disorder since she was a child, but now helps other women overcome their eating issues. (Photo courtesy Corazón Tierra)

Tierra also felt pressure from her mother to be thin. “The only territory I had to control was my body.”

Her eating disorder continued unnoticed when she was a teenager. When she was about 18, she weighed only 85 pounds. She hadn’t gained weight since she was 12 years old.

Tierra feels that there is a contradiction in her culture when it comes to food and body image. “There is a very mixed message,” she says. “There is so much attention on food, but then everyone is concerned about weight.

Ovidio Bermudez, M.D., chief medical officer and medical director of child and adolescent services at Eating Recovery Center in Denver, Colorado, says the notion that Latinas are less susceptible to eating disorders may have been statistically true at one time but is now an absolute myth.

“Ethnicity was able to offer protection from the development of an eating disorder. At one point it was true, but is a myth today. That protectiveness has eroded,” Bermudez says. “Latina women and Latino men today are as much at risk as the Caucasian population.”

Dr. Marisol Perez, a clinical psychologist specializing in eating disorders and associate professor at Texas A&M University, says the reason for this misconception was because Latinas were not included in the research at the time. “Historically, it was thought to be a white upper class phenomenon,” she says. “And most research was conducted among this population.”

But recent studies have found that Latinas have eating disorders and body image concerns at rates comparable to or greater than non-Latina whites.

“If you look at the research literature, the perception is not well-founded,” says Deb Franko, professor of counseling & applied educational psychology and associate dean at Northeastern University.

In the study, “Considering J.Lo and Ugly Betty: a qualitative examination of risk factors and prevention targets for body dissatisfaction, eating disorders, and obesity in young Latina women,” Franko and her colleagues found that the college-aged Latinas in their focus groups struggled with conflicting cultural expectations. “The messages from their families that larger bodies are beautiful are bumping against a more Caucasian white culture that promotes a thin body ideal,” Franko says.

Some experts believe that acculturation also plays an important role. “The prevalence goes up for each generation that is here in the U.S.,” Perez says.

Bermudez believes this shift is also a result of globalization and the easy access to mainstream culture. “We know that Latina women are more and more vulnerable,” he says.

Sometimes, however, Hispanic women with eating disorders may not necessarily be concerned about weight. “Body dissatisfaction is different for Latinas,” Perez says. Because of this, they may be missed in health screenings. Additionally, the stigma of seeking psychological help and the high cost of treatment may be barriers in seeking care.

“We are barely scratching the surface of prevention,” Bermudez says. “I do think that debunking the myth is necessary. We should be making people aware of the reality and informing families of what they can do.”

Parents can help prevent the development of eating disorders by learning to detect changes in behavior. Some early indicators, Perez says, are rigid rules about food, displeasure with their body, baggier clothes, and going to the bathroom after eating.

“Parents can teach their children to accept their bodies. They should really strive to include compliments about their other qualities like personality and leadership skills,” she says.

Edie Hernandez Putt, PsyD, LPC, believes that mothers also play a pivotal role in their daughters’ relationship with food. “Girls are ripe to words, language, and behaviors of their mothers. We should be watching how we talk about food,” she says.

If parents are worried their children may be suffering from an eating disorder, Perez suggests looking for resources at Academy for Eating Disorders and the National Eating Disorders Association. Organizations like these are also becoming increasingly interested in Latinas and other women of color.

As an eating disorder survivor, Tierra now uses her experiences to raise awareness about eating disorders among Latinas. “There are so many body image issues that we need to address,” she says. “We need to start seeing ourselves from the inside.”