Celia Cruz: An important Figure of Black History Month


Veronica Sierra

If you grew up listening to salsa in your household, you probably heard the name Celia Cruz, with her joyful music and Afro-Latinx vibes.  If you haven’t heard her name you probably heard the most famous catchphrase in most of her songs: “Azúcar,” making her recognizable whenever her music is played. As a result of her unique Afro-Latinx style with afro-hair, colorful clothing, she was and is an iconic figure not only in Black history but also in history as a whole. She was a prominent figure for her community and still continues to influence with her great legacy.

Celia Cruz was born as Ursula Hilaria Celia de la Caridad Cruz Alfonso in Havana, Cuba on 

October 21,1925. Even though her dream was always to become a singer, her father wanted her to pursue a career in education, so she attended a school for teachers in Havana. One of her teachers told her that she could earn more as a musician than as a teacher, so she dropped out of school to pursue music. 

Cruz started her career as the main singer of Cuba’s most recognized orchestra “La Sonora Matancera” making her the first woman of color to become the lead singer of that band. During that time there was very little representation of female Afro-Latinx in the salsa scene. Though she was a woman of color in an industry dominated by men, Cruz managed to prevail by not giving up her dreams and working hard. 

“I admire her grit, I know definitely that earlier in her career she didn’t get as much as support as she wanted and she definitely had to face diversity early on,” said junior Carlos Ordoñez who identifies as Afro-Latinx.

In her long and successful music career, she earned four Grammys, three Latin Grammys and was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Bill Clinton in 1994. She was not only an astounding singer whose voice was strong and impactful, but she also sent strong messages about acceptance and happiness through her songs inspiring a whole generation. 

Celia felt proud of her African heritage. She displayed pride in her songs, such as “Oshun con Chango” where she referenced African religious saints of Santeria in the Yoruba language. It’s important to highlight that approximately 600,000 Africans were brought to Cuba according to Traces of the Trade

“A lot of Yoruba people went to Cuba. And so a lot of the people in Cuba have descendants from Yoruba people. And so Celia Cruz was very into that,” said Assistant Principal Andrew Daramola, “And that actually happens to be my ethnicity. I’m Yoruban, my parents are both Yoruba people, that’s our tribe.”

Her songs not only showed her pride in being black but it also displayed positive messages towards black women. One example of this is her iconic song “La Negra Tiene Tumbao” (The Black Woman Walks With Grace), where she sings about a black woman that walks with her chin up with style and grace without any worry. 

She also talked about other topics in her songs. ith the quote: “Ay, no hay que llorar (No hay que llorar) Que la vida es un Carnaval (There’s no need to cry, life is a Carnival)” from one of her most famous hits “La Vida Es Un Carnaval” (The Life is a Carnival) sends out the message that although life can have its adversities, there are good moments that can be enjoyed without any worries. 

“That song kind of reminds me that life’s an adventure. especially because, you know, I heard it as a kid and it was like a carnival,” said sophomore Chiquis Cisneros, “ow that I’ve gotten older, and I listened to it, not only does it make me reminisce but life is changing, it’s fun.”

Even after Cruz’s passing in 2003, her music still lives on today. She’s well-known by different generations in the Afro-Latinx community as well as other communities as an icon and representation of Afro-Latinx in the media. 

“A lot of times when you’re Afro-Latino, you have to either pick a side. Her being Afro-Latino expressing both sides of her heritage really does a lot for Afro-Latinx,” said Ordoñez