Many are just discovering Amara La Negra, her beautiful Afro, and her unabashed Afro-Latina pride for the first time thanks to the hit VH1 reality television series Love and Hip Hop Miami. But the Miami–born, Dominican–rooted dynamo has been making waves in the entertainment industry since childhood.
Born Dana Danelys De Los Santos, La Negra released her successful single “Quittate La Ropa” back in 2012. And there will be much more where that came from as she just signed a major record deal and is set to release a new song in the next couple of months. In between studio sessions and gracefully clapping back at ill-informed comments about black beauty and natural hair, we talked to La Negra about how she maintains her Afro, when she decided to go natural, racism in the Afro-Latino community, and more.
Allure: A lot of people are discovering you for the first time because of Love and Hip Hop Miami, but you’ve actually been in the industry for a while now. As a kid, you were on Sabado Gigante, so I’m wondering when you realized that you wanted to be an artist and get into the music game.
Amara La Negra: To be honest, ever since I was about four years old I used to walk around telling people I was an artist. My mom thought it was so funny in a “who does she think she is?” kind of way. I’ve always been very secure in who I am and in what I wanted, so since I was four, I knew this was the path I wanted to take. I haven’t doubted that and I haven’t done anything that’s really not a part of the entertainment industry.
Allure: You just signed a record deal, which is such an amazing accomplishment. How are you feeling about all of your success and everything that’s happening for you right now?
La Negra: I’m really happy and I feel extremely blessed for the opportunities God is putting in my path. With the record deal, I’ve spent years waiting for this moment. It’s finally here, so I’m very excited about that. Everything that’s happening with the show, I’m super excited about that as well. Obviously, talking and being a voice for Afro-Latinos comes with a lot of responsibility, which I feel the pressure of now. But I’m happy to know that at the end of the day, I’m making a difference and that means a lot to me.
Allure: One topic the show discusses is that of race. That’s a huge conversation taking place in society right now, especially with Trump being President. But your season is exploring it a little differently. My dad is from Panama, so I’m Afro-Latina as well and as kids, we realize that race is something people are judged on. I was wondering what your interactions were like as a kid because I know you’re very proud of your culture. Did you have a moment when you realized that being an Afro-Latina of a certain complexion would be something you’d be judged for? Or did you see that more as you grew older?
La Negra: I saw it when I was very young. When I was four years old, [I was] on this very important network and TV show Sabado Gigante with Don Francisco, known to all the Latin community. I was there for every Saturday and I always remember my mom telling me, “You know what? You don’t understand now, but you’ll understand later that because of your skin color, you’re always going to have to work twice as hard to be recognized for your work. In that moment, I was thinking, “Why?” because I just looked at myself like everyone else did.
I started to notice that I was the only black girl in the group and I was put right in the middle or all the way in the back. I always recall this one specific moment when I was getting my hair done at the TV station and the hairstylist told my mom I needed to get my hair permed because it wasn’t manageable and they didn’t have time for that. So it was that moment there when I really realized my mom was right. Obviously, that look in my mom’s face when that man said that was like, “I don’t know what to say or to do.”
I was thinking, “What’s wrong with my hair?” because I couldn’t process all the information. Later on, my mom had to perm my hair and then I became like one of the rest of the girls. That was my way of fitting in. But I always knew from a very early age that my skin color was different from the rest of the people I worked with and that it came with a responsibility, racism, being looked down upon. You know when you’re walking down the sidewalk and people who don’t look like us are holding tight to their purses. And anytime there are cops, I go into a total panic because even though I’m Afro-Latina, we feel the same fears as the African-American community. Until you talk to us, you don’t know that we’re Latino. We’re seen as black and we have the same fears. I’ve felt the pressure all my life.
Allure: That “unmanageable” comment about your hair… I’m natural and have been for about seven years now and that’s something I heard when I was first going through the process. After you got your hair permed, when did you decide that you wanted to embrace your Afro and wear your hair the way you have it now?
La Negra: I was in middle school on my way to high school and I went through this phase. You know when you’re just getting to know yourself and learn about the world? I went through this phase when I really started to educate myself about Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., and all these amazing people who used their voice and their power to really make a difference. I had to look to them because I don’t recall seeing anyone in the Latin community doing that. The Afro-Latin community: I don’t recall them ever having marches or having movements. They were just ignored as if they didn’t exist.
So because of that, I had to find that voice in the African-American community. I fell in love with their message and their strength and after that, I started questioning who I’m really doing this for. I wasn’t doing it to please me because my mom would burn my scalp and it would be painful throughout that entire process. So I thought I’m doing this to please who? The one who needs to be happy with who she is at the end of the day is me. Around the age of 16 or 17, I decided to completely stop perming my hair. A lot of my hair fell off and I had a small Afro. Years later, I’m still rocking my ‘fro. And I change my hair, going from braids to wigs to weaves, to all types of things. I’m very open-minded to doing it, but I’m just not open-minded to feeling that I have to change the way I look to fit society’s standards of beauty.
Allure: The conversation you and Young Hollywood had on Love and Hip Hop Miami was a very triggering conversation. As black women, Afro-Latinos, and women of color who decide to wear our hair natural, we have heard that at work, in our relationships, from our parents, and from people we don’t know. It’s definitely a very demoralizing conversation, but you handled it with a lot of grace. Were Hollywood’s comments something you had heard from people before?
La Negra: Oh yeah. I’ve heard that from people so many times. “What are you doing with your hair?” and “why don’t you straighten your hair?” “You don’t look elegant, you look nappy and crazy.” I’ve been told everything in the book, but at the end of the day, I feel like it’s a sign of rebellion. I don’t want to fit in a box. I don’t want to look like anyone else. There’s only one of me. Why do I have to change how I look to copy someone else? If I do, I should do it because I want to and I like it, not because someone is telling me that I have to. I’ve gotten this several times.
At certain moments in my life, I thought about just completely letting go of the ‘fro and doing what they told me. But there was another part of me that was like, fight it, don’t do it, don’t fall for it. Don’t let them get the power in you. At the end of the day, we’re born alone and we’re going to die alone, so be happy and be you. If you worry about everyone else’s opinion, you’ll never be happy with yourself. So I decided not to do it and felt I’d be accepted the way I am. I’ve changed, but on my terms. I’ve heard it a lot and I feel it’s a brainwashed mentality.
It has gotten to a lot of people in the Latin community and there is a lot of racism amongst Latinos ourselves. They look down upon the ones who are darker and say, “we’re not the same.” But yes, we are the same. You’re just a couple shades lighter than me, so fall back. We do get it and to me, it isn’t just an Afro-Latino thing, a black thing, an Asian thing. I have to use my voice to talk about Afro-Latinos because I feel like we’ve been ignored for so many years, but mainly at the end of the day, my message is that you should never feel that you’re aren’t beautiful. Don’t feel you need to change the way you look and the way you are to fit into the standards of beauty society has created. Don’t feel the pressure to change who you are because society, your parents, or your family are saying you have to. I’m totally against that. You need to do what makes you feel good.
Allure: You have an interaction with Young Hollywood after the whole “your Afro is isn’t elegant” situation. It is equally painful to watch is, as he calls you“ignorant.” And I think there was even an implication when you were standing up for yourself, that was some kind of aggression in that. I feel that we deal with a lot of coded language. When you get comments like that, how are you able to defend yourself but stay graceful and remain composed?
La Negra: I’ve been told so many times, “You’re so pretty for being black,” and then I just have to give them that look. It bothers me because why can’t I just be beautiful? Why can’t I just be pretty? Why do I have to be pretty for being black? What does that mean? I had a viewing event for Love and Hip Hop Miami and I didn’t realize the power of my words, the power of my message. I met this little girl who was about five or six years old. She came specifically to see me and said that she loved me after seeing my pictures. Young girls do know and they do realize. She told me she was sad, and I asked her why. She hugged me and started crying, so I asked her what was wrong.
She said white people don’t like me and they don’t like her either and that she didn’t think she was pretty. Listen, hearing those words from a five-year-old broke my heart. She’s so young and she should never feel that way. There’s nothing wrong with you and there’s nothing wrong with me. There’s nothing wrong with any of us. Who are these people who are making us feel this way? That’s unacceptable. It isn’t acceptable for your children and the new generation to feel as if they have no choice and that they’re not beautiful because they don’t look like the Barbies and the girls in the magazines. Meeting that little girl gave me so much strength to keep pushing and keep using my voice to empower young girls and women who look like myself — whether you’re Afro-Latina, African-American, or whatever your race and ethnicity may be. I really want to use my voice to make a difference. I don’t want to be just one more person on this planet.
Allure: I think you being on Love and Hip Hop right now is important, with it being such a big moment for the entertainment industry because of everything that’s going on with Young Hollywood with all these women speaking out.
La Negra: You can’t blame him and that’s another thing too. That’s why I’m so mellow, cool, and collected when I’m talking to him. It’s because I always try my best to put my feet in the other person’s shoes. What’s your point of view and why do you feel that way? And to understand that they’ve been brainwashed. It’s been years of brainwash[ing] and no matter how much I tell you, it’s going to take you time to understand and process what’s being said. I’m against violence and the death threats that they’re sending [to Young Hollywood]. We’re getting so upset, but what we need to do is communicate and use our voice to educate. The reason you feel that way is because you don’t know the right information about my culture and where I come from.
I’m not going to be mad at you because you have ignorant comments. Let me educate you. Let me tell you what it really is. That’s how I pursue situations like that. We need to educate one another and talk and get each other’s point of view. That’s just the right way of doing it. I’m so thankful for Mona [Scott-Young] and VH1 for giving me the opportunity of using this amazing platform. A multi-million dollar franchise viewed by millions of people every Monday. I’m glad she gave me the opportunity to shed light on a situation that has been going on for so many years. Not only am I promoting my music and who I am as a person which is super important, but also my ALN clothing line and the other projects I’m doing. To be able to talk about [this issue] and use my voice to really make a difference on her show, that really meant a lot to me and I will forever be thankful.
Allure: When you think of the natural hair industry over the past few years, it’s really exploded because there are a lot of women who are looking to showcase their natural beauty. Do you have any specific brands and products that you use for your hair and skin?
La Negra: I’ll tell you this much: I only let my mom do my hair. I only let her wash my hair. This kind of sounds weird but my head is my crown and it’s my energy and aura. I just don’t feel comfortable with everyone putting their hands on my head. My mom has that special gift and special art in her hands. She’s done my hair since I was a little girl. She uses a lot of avocado, mayo, honey, rosemary, and cinnamon oil. My mom is very organic-friendly when it comes to hair. A lot of coconut oil. And everything that she does works. Sometimes it can be a lot with working and traveling and it’s hard to maintain a perfect Afro at all times and have it be healthy. But I’m always excited to go back home because my mom always gets me back on track.
As far as my skin, I don’t really have a skin regimen. People think that I airbrush my face and do melanin shots and so many other crazy stories that they’ve made, but I don’t really do much. One thing I do like is coconut oil. I bathe in it as much as possible and I do a lot of sugar scrubs and oatmeal scrubs. But those are just things I like to do when I’m home. I do believe in doing brown sugar, honey, and sometimes I’ll add a little bit of oatmeal. I love to just scrub my body really good and let it sit for a couple of minutes. It makes me feel good and your skin does get smoother because you exfoliate a lot of dead cells. I keep it very natural
Allure: What’s next for you?
La Negra: I’m super excited about my record deal and within the next three months or so, I’ll be putting out my first official single. I’m in the studio right now working. I don’t want to jinx it, but there a couple of things in the works for movies. I’m doing a commercial for CoverGirl. There are a lot of blessings coming my way. Like I said, there’s my clothing line ALN. So there are a lot of things coming up. I’m very happy. I’m very blessed. And the show has opened a lot of doors. You definitely have to keep watching the show every Monday because you’re totally going to change your perspective about Young Hollywood and Veronica, myself, and being Afro-Latino.