Ten years ago, Kim Haas dreamed up a television program focusing on the African Diaspora of Latin America—but she was met with one closed door after another, not just by television producers, but by potential host countries themselves. “I was unable to get support for the show,” Haas explains. “People in the United States were confused about the term Afro-Latino.”
A lot can change over the course of a decade, and thankfully, it has. “Many tourism boards in Latin American countries are now devoting resources to the preservation of their respective Afro-descendant communities,” she continues. “I see greater acknowledgement of them in large part because Afro-descendant communities everywhere are exerting their political, social, economic and cultural power.”
Formerly of Telemundo and an on-camera host for public television in Philadelphia, Haas dances, listens, and eats her way through 500 years of Black Latino culture on her freshly-minted PBS travel series, Afro-Latino Travels with Kim Haas. The veteran globetrotter and expert polyglot takes us on a quest to excavate the roots of African descendants in countries around Latin America, starting with San Jose, Costa Rica, where the black natives built the country’s biggest infrastructure in the 1900s: the railroad.
Watching Haas affirm the lives and contributions of a community historically disallowed—even in our own backyards—this cultural journey of honor and discovery arrives in urgent fashion. We spoke with Haas during Hispanic Heritage Month (or Latinx Heritage Month, as many would prefer to call it) about the inspiration behind her show, what led her to dedicate her life to Afro-Latino discourse, and where viewers can expect her to venture throughout the series.
How did travel play a role in your life growing up?
I was so fortunate that my grandmother took me to Acapulco, Mexico when I was about eight. Someone taught me how to count in Spanish in a hotel lobby. I don’t even remember life before traveling, so I owe it to my grandmother because she’s the one who got me on this journey. She was the epitome of a grandmother—of an abuela. We dedicate the show to her and her parents.
What was the impetus for wanting to immerse yourself in Black Latino studies and culture?
Because of traveling and my grandmother, but I also majored in Spanish in college. I lived in Spain my junior year. And what really inspired me was the lack of representation of Black folks in Spanish-language media in particular.
I worked for a Telemundo affiliate in Philadelphia before I started my business. I began to travel and I had friends in Philly who were Dominican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, and my friend who is Black Venezuelan (and started the Arturo Schomburg symposium in Philadelphia). She began to share with me the richness of the African diaspora in Latin America. Anyone who reads about the Middle Passage understands that not everything adds up.
How do you mean?
I go to Cuba, and I see a whole lot of people that look like me! But then I don’t see any of them on television. When you pick up a magazine, the face of a Latino or Latinx was never somebody who was Black, brown, or Indigenous. We all know the power of television to create stereotypes, certain images, and people’s perceptions about other people. I wanted to be part of a change.
Why did you choose to start the series in Costa Rica?
Costa Rica was not initially on my radar—I was thinking Brazil or Cuba. But you never know where the blessings are, where it’s going to come from. And I say that because they were welcoming of the idea. [The Costa Rican tourism board] wanted to give more attention to one of the cities in particular, Limón, on the Caribbean coast. And I’m grateful for that.
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