Latino Heritage Month speaker embraces identity and offers encouragement to students

Syracuse University alumna Janel Martinez returned to speak about her experiences at the Newhouse School and in the media industry as an Afro-Latina woman.

Syracuse University alumna and multimedia journalist Janel Martinez spoke on her activism regarding Afro-Latina diversity issues in media and shared her experience as a student of color at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications on Thursday, Sept. 24, at Peter Graham Scholarly Commons at Bird Library.

Martinez graduated from SU in 2010 with a dual major in magazine journalism and sociology. After graduation, she interned at Latina magazine and then worked as technology editor and content producer at Black Enterprise. She is currently a freelancer and founder of, an online destination that celebrates diversity among Afro-Latinas. The Office of Multicultural Affairs co-sponsored the speech in honor of Latino Heritage Month.

Martinez said that the mainstream media and some Spanish-language shows underrepresent Afro-Latinas, promoting the beauty standard of fair-skinned people and the marginalization of dark-skinned Latinas. She emphasized that Afro-Latinas were often asked to appear as African Americans in Hollywood because they were told that their skin color was too dark to play their own ethnicity.

In addition, Martinez addressed that even Spanish-language media usually misrepresents Afro-Latinas as hypersexual. For example, in the video Ellas son las bellas chicas de Miss Colita from Univision, they dressed in tight shorts and behaved in a sexualized way.

“Despite Afro-Latinas leading the movement and pride in Latino Americans and in the states, our images are often left out of equation,” Martinez said.

Upon launching, Martinez hopes to present the true images of Afro-Latinas and tackle their underrepresentation and misrepresentation. Growing up in the Bronx, New York, and attending schools where there were mostly blacks and Latinos, she initially experienced a cultural shock as a woman of color at Newhouse, where the majority of students were white.

“Sometimes you have to be a very strong person to navigate that sort of space,” Martinez said, recalling the moments when she had to explain to some peers and professors why some cultural topics mattered in her stories because those people had a different cultural background from hers. “You need to believe that you are here at Newhouse because you are qualified.”

Martinez expressed gratitude to the faculty and staff at Newhouse who supported her to address her culture in her stories, including Melissa Chessher, chair of the magazine department, and Max Patiño, former director of recruitment and diversity. She further encouraged students of color to stay persistent when facing obstacles at school and in the real world.

“Things may seem hard to you right now, but if you stick it out, they can be a rewarding experience when you recall them a few years later,” Martinez said.

The audience applauded at the end of the speech and some said the speech was a great experience.

“It was nice to see her passion for the topic, and I think it is something that should be more spoken about,” said public relations and information management and techonolgy junior Sonya Mattis.

Secondary education graduate student Ronald Taylor said he was really impressed when Martinez shared her story. “There should be more people here. The room should be packed up.”

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