Afro Latinx Materials to Explore at the Schomburg Center

By Lisa Herndon, Manager of Communications and Publications at the Schomburg Center, and Cayla Torres, Schomburg Center Summer Associate
September 13, 2022
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture

With over 11 million items in its archives, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture is celebrated for its vast collections preserving and documenting the works of activists, authors, artists, historians, and scholars across the African diaspora, including those who identify as Latinx and Afro Latinx.

As we celebrate Hispanic and Latinx Heritage Month (September 15–October 15), schedule a research appointment to explore the Center’s materials in-person. Plus, explore resources online.

Watch a feature-length film directed by Cuba’s first female filmmaker. View the poignant photographs capturing the joys, hardships, and everyday lives of Puerto Rican and African Americans in New York City through the lens of an Afro Cuban photographer. See lithographs from an Afro Cuban Chinese artist who inspired peers such as Pablo Picasso. Read materials of a Black and Puerto Rican bibliophile whose personal collections went on to become the cornerstone of our world-renowned research library. Plus, study the writings of a Puerto Rican scholar of African descent whose books expand and redefine conversations on Afro Latinx culture. 

Sara Gómez

A DVD cover. The words, Sara Gomez, An Afro-Cuban Filmmaker, Donde Esta Sara Gomes? There is a photo of Sara Gomez looking in a film camera. There is a male person standing next to her.
Sara Gómez was Cuba’s first female filmmaker. Her groundbreaking work helped to shape the country’s cinema.

Sara Gómez (1943-1974) was Cuba’s first female filmmaker. Born and raised in Havana, her documentary shorts addressed the social, political, economic, and women’s issues impacting the country’s Afro Cuban community such as En la otra isla (1968), I’m Going to Santiago (1964), and Historia de la piratería (1962).

Gómez also wrote for both the Communist Party newspapers Noticias de Hoy (News of Today) and for the youth magazine, Mella. She later held a position at Instituto Cubano Del Arte e Industria Cinematográficos (ICAIC).

The Moving Image and Recorded Sound Division holds a copy of her only feature-length film De Cierta Manera (One Way or Another). Released posthumously in 1977, Gómez’s film touches on economic inequalities and examines how the country has evolved and what’s left to resolve since the Communist Revolution. 

Alessandra Müller’s documentary, Where is Sara Gómez?, offers an in-depth look at the filmmaker through archival footage, and interviews with her family, colleagues, friends, and cast members of her films.

The Jean Blackwell Hutson Research and Reference Division holds a copy of The Cinema of Sara Gómez: Reframing Revolution (edited by Susan Lord and María Caridad Cumaná with Victor Fowler Calzada). The book discusses how Cuba’s political, social, and cultural coming of age during the 1960s and 70s helped to shape Gómez’s films and perspective. Additionally, the book covers Gómez’s groundbreaking career and how she shaped Cuban cinema, feminist film culture, and inspires current-day media artists.

Rómulo Lachatañeré

hoto on the left, a group of children under a sprinkler. In the middle picture, a young girl is looking directly at the camera. A building is behind her. On the right side, two adults are sitting with two young children. A child is standing in front of each person.
Activist, author, and photographer Rómulo Lachatañeré used his skills to document the lives and unequal living conditions of Black and Puerto Rican people.

Digital Images: 3990817, 3990819, and 2048206

Still photographs by Rómulo Lachatañeré (1909–1952) captured the everyday lives of Puerto Ricans and African Americans living in Harlem and East Harlem. Some of his images also capture the lives of those living in Puerto Rico. His pictures span the years 1947–1952.

The Photographs and Prints Division has his full collection of images to view in person. Some of the photographs, which were digitized earlier this year, are available to view online.

Born and raised in Cuba, he received a degree in pharmacy from the University of Havana in 1929. Lachatañeré was arrested and imprisoned for taking part in a strike in 1934. He left the island soon after his release, according to the book Unbecoming Blackness: The Diaspora Cultures of Afro-Cuban America by Antonio Lopez.

The self-taught photographer and ethnologist moved to New York City in 1939. He worked as a laboratory technician at hospitals such as Bellevue and Columbia Presbyterian. During his years in the city, he photographed and wrote news stories documenting the poor living conditions of Black and Latinx peoples. He also cofounded the Afro Cuban social club Club Cubano Inter-Americano in 1945. The Center’s Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division holds the organization’s records.

Lachatañeré authored books such as Oh, mío Yemayá!!, which discusses the myths of the orishas. Manual de Santeria (1942) covers the beliefs and religious practices of many Afro Cubans. Both texts and Lopez’s book are available in the Research and Reference Division.

Lachatañeré also passed along his spirit of advocacy and preserving Afro Latinx history to his daughter Diana, who worked at the Center. She started in 1980 and became the curator of the Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division in 1989. She rose to the assistant director for Collections and Services in 1995 and later managed the Center’s Scholars-in-Residence program in the early 1990s. Diana Lachatañeré retired in 2013.

Wifredo Lam

Book cover of Wifredo Lam and the International Avant Garde is on the left side. It is read with the type in white.
Wifredo Lam’s painting, sculptures, and drawings came from the perspective of those oppressed under Spanish colonial rule.

Born to a Chinese father and Afro Cuban mother, painter and sculptor Wifredo Lam (1902–1982) played a pivotal role in the Modern Arts movement.

Lam studied at Havana's Academic Nacional de Bella Artes San Alejandro and won a scholarship to the Museo del Prado in 1923 to continue his learning. The Cuban-born artist stayed in Madrid for over a decade and later moved to Paris, where he was a hit with the avant-garde set. Admirers of his work included painter Pablo Picasso and writer André Breton.

After the Nazi occupation of France in 1940, he returned to Cuba. During a layover in Martinique, Lam met with Aimé Césaire, a founder of the Négritude movement. The visit made a lasting impact on Lam and his art. Lam, who already incorporated Modernism, Surrealism, and Cubism in his work, created items from the perspective of those oppressed under centuries of Spanish colonial rule. The approach became part of his signature style, reflecting his Afro Cuban roots.

The Center’s Art and Artifacts Division has Lam’s lithographs Montee des Seves (1974) and Untitled (1974).

The Research and Reference Division holds Wifredo Lam and his Contemporaries, 1938-1952, a catalog of his exhibition at the Studio Museum in Harlem in 1992. Wifredo Lam, Early Works, 1942 to 1951: Paintings, Gouaches, Watercolors & Drawings: [exhibition] June 1 to 26, 1982 Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York, which is also in the division, contains images of Lam’s work.

In his book Wifredo Lam and the International Avant Garde, 1947-1982, Lowery Stokes Sims examines the latter half of Lam’s career and works rooted in his Afro Cuban heritage.

Arturo Schomburg

On the left is the page with typed lettering giving information about the political group Las Dos Antillas. The page is in a plastic covering. On the right side are handwritten meeting notes Las Dos Antillas. Each page is inside a plastic covering and bound in a blue hardcover book.
The Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Book Division holds Mr. Schomburg’s handwritten meeting minutes and organizational notes of the political group, Las Dos Antillas. He was one of the organization's cofounders.

Photo: Lisa Herndon

The Center’s founder, Arturo Schomburg (1874–1938), a native son of Puerto Rico and of African descent, moved to New York City in 1891. There, the bibliophile embarked on a career of activism.

From 1892–98, Mr. Schomburg helped found and served as a secretary to Las Dos Antillas, a political club advocating for the independence of Cuba and Puerto Rico from Spain. The Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Book Division holds Mr. Schomburg’s handwritten meeting minutes and organizational notes.

The division also holds the books from Mr. Schomburg’s personal collection. Historia Geografica de San Juan Bautista (1866) by Iñigo Abbad y Lasierra, a comprehensive history of Puerto Rico, is considered one of the earliest books detailing the history of the island.

Mr. Schomburg wrote a short pamphlet, Placido: A Cuban Martyr, about the poet and independence fighter, Gabriel de la Concepcion Valdez, in 1909, which the Research and Reference Division has in its collections.

Throughout his life, Mr. Schomburg collected books, artwork, manuscripts, and pamphlets documenting the achievements, stories, and works of people across the African diaspora. The New York Public Library purchased Mr. Schomburg’s collection in 1926.

Mr. Schomburg would go on to serve as the curator of the Schomburg Collection in the Division of Negro Literature, History and Prints at 135th Street Branch in 1932 until his death. NYPL designated the Schomburg Collection as one of its research libraries and was renamed the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in 1972.

Explore the Center’s online research guide to learn more about Mr. Schomburg and his collections. Materials are available in all five divisions. Plus, digital copies of texts similar to the ones Mr. Schomburg owned are available to read on HathiTrust. 


Dr. Vanessa K. Valdés

Book covers of Racialized Visions: Haiti and the Hispanic Caribbean, The Future is Now: A New Look at African Diaspora Studies, and Diasporic Blackness: The Life and Times of Arturo Alfonso Schomburg by Dr. Vanessa K. Valdés.
The writings of Dr. Vanessa K. Valdés highlight the cultures between people of African descent across the Americas and Caribbean.

Currently serving as the Associate Provost for Community Engagement at The City College of New York, Dr. Vanessa K. Valdés is an educator, writer, editor, and historian. She was previously the interim dean of CUNY’s Macaulay Honors College and Director of City College’s Black Studies Program. Additionally, Dr. Valdés edits the SUNY Press book series, Afro-Latinx Futures. Her teaching and writings focus on people of African descent throughout the U.S., Caribbean, Latin America, and Brazil and their cultural ties throughout the region.

The Research and Reference Division has Dr. Valdés’s books in its collections.

Let Spirit Speak! Cultural Journeys Through the African Diaspora (2012), includes works by writers, historians, and poets who celebrate the cultural contributions of peoples of the African diaspora across the Western hemisphere.

With essays in English, Spanish, French, and Haitian Creole, 2013’s The Future Is Now: A New Look at African Diaspora Studies looks at the contributions of those of African and Latinx descent to art, music, and film. Chapters include Puerto Rican art, Columbian poetry, and African photography, taking readers on a cultural journey through the diaspora. Dr. Valdés served as the book’s editor. 

Oshun’s Daughters: The Search for Womanhood in the Americas (2014) examines African diasporic religions from novels and poems written by women in the U.S, the Spanish Caribbean, and Brazil.

Her 2017 book, Diasporic Blackness: The Life and Times of Arturo Alfonso Schomburg, is widely considered one of the most definitive and comprehensive texts on the Schomburg Center founder. Using the Center’s collections for her research, Dr. Valdés constructs her biography of Mr. Schomburg with an in-depth look at both sides of his heritage. 

Dr. Valdés moderated the 2019 panel discussion, “Talks at the Schomburg Center: The Autobiography of Malcolm X.” She served as the director of CUNY’s Black Studies Program from 2019-2021. The conversation marked the anniversary of the human rights leader’s assassination and the Center’s recent acquisition of the book’s manuscripts with hand-written notes between Malcolm X and Alex Haley. It’s posted on the Center’s Livestream channel.

Racialized Visions: Haiti and the Hispanic Caribbean (2020), a collection of 12 essays, illustrates the cultural exchange between Haiti and its Spanish-speaking neighboring Caribbean nation, demonstrating how oppressors used racist representations of Haiti to retain control of its colonies. Dr. Valdés served as the book’s editor and a contributing writer. This title is part of the SUNY series.

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