This Love & Hip Hop Star Won't "Shut Up" About Race

Since the very first episode of Love & Hip Hop's latest franchise edition in Miami in January, Amara La Negra has clearly been the breakout star. When we met just before her taping of the Love & Hip Hop reunion in New York last month, I could see why: Everyone quiets down as soon as she walks into the room. She talks quickly and loudly, using her hands to emphasize her points (traits we joke that many Latinas share), and has the kind of magnetic energy that's made for television. And on the show, her no-holds-barred opinions and signature gimmicks (she takes her mom everywhere, from the recording studio to the club), has earned her comparisons to LAHH personalities like Joseline Hernandez and, of course, the franchise's latest success story Cardi B.
But Amara's story is all her own. First, there's her career path: While on the show, both Hernandez and Cardi B put an empowering spin on how their past as strippers helped them break into music; Amara has been performing since she was a kid in Miami. The daughter of a single mother who immigrated from the Dominican Republic, Amara began dancing on Univision's classic variety program Sábado Gigante at the age of 4; she started singing at 6, and over the years landed gigs backup dancing and singing alongside greats like Celia Cruz and at the Latin Grammys, Premio Lo Nuestro Awards, and more. She's since she gained a fan base in Latin America as a Latin fusion singer, blending reggaeton with Brazilian funk, afrobeat, dancehall, and more; before even heading to Love & Hip Hop, she had over 500,000 Instagram followers, and last fall she was named one of Billboard's Artists On The Rise.
But Amara is also using the LAHH platform much differently than any of her predecessors, shining a light on her Afro-Latina identity — and the racism she often experiences at the intersection of her culture and skin color. Born Dana Danelys De Los Santos, she adopted the stage name "Amara La Negra" as a nod to the Spanish nickname "la negra" that's commonly bestowed upon darker-skinned women. Viewers became privy to her struggles as a Black Latina on the premiere episode of LAHH this season when she met with Puerto Rican producer Young Hollywood. When Hollywood asked if she might consider ditching her signature afro to look "a little bit more Beyoncé, a little less Macy Gray," Amara responded, "As an Afro-Latina, I embrace it." Hollywood then asked her to "elaborate" on the term Afro-Latina: "Are you African, or that's just because you have an afro?"
Unfortunately, Hollywood's way of thinking is all too common in the Latino community, but it's also one that's rarely discussed — especially on American television. But Amara says she didn't let the moment discourage her; in fact, the ignorance of people like Hollywood was the exact reason she signed up for reality TV.
"A lot of people questioned why I wanted to do this show, because it sometimes gets a negative reputation," she says, an armful of bracelets jangling as she speaks. Today, she's rocking stunning waist-length cornrows in lieu of her curly 'fro. "But I view Love & Hip Hop as a platform that's viewed by millions of people every Monday. For me, it was an opportunity to promote my music to a more American audience, and for the first time, introduce them to the Afro-Latina community. Who would turn that opportunity down?"
Since, Amara has been unapologetically vocal about the progress she hopes to see for Afro-Latinas well beyond the Love & Hip Hop cameras. She's appeared multiple times as a guest host on the daytime talk show The Real, and a clip of her educating The Breakfast Club's Charlamagne on her identity — including the fact that being Afro-Latina doesn't mean you're "half Black" — went viral. Here, Amara talks more about colorism, those Cardi B comparisons — and yes, her real thoughts on that Young Hollywood incident.
You're surprisingly vulnerable on this show, more so than many of the characters in the franchise's past. In one episode, you even admitted to carrying a fake designer bag to keep up appearances. What made you decide you were going to be that emotionally transparent in front of millions?
"A lot of people say the drama on Love & Hip Hop isn't real, but for most characters, it's as real as you personally choose for it to be. I said if I'm going to do this show, I have to be real. I don't want to only show the luxurious aspects of being an artist or a celebrity — I want people to see the real deal. Part of being real is admitting that a lot of us are out here buying bootleg bags and faking it, to show people that we have money — that we have things that we really don't. I did it myself, I won't lie. It's not something I'm necessarily proud of, but I'm not ashamed of it either. It's a shame that we buy stuff that we can't afford just so that other broke people can approve of us and think we have money. I feel like that's something people could relate to, so why not talk about it on television?"
You've been very vocal all season, both on and off camera, about colorism amongst Latinos. How would you explain it to someone who's unfamiliar — or who doesn't understand that Black and Latino aren't mutually exclusive — and why is this something you're so passionate about?
"I've talked about it for years within my own communities, and unfortunately it wasn’t until Love & Hip Hop that people started to pay attention. There are many struggles having my skin color as a Latina, and a lot of Americans, especially, are only familiar with the race and colorism struggles of African-Americans. But this exists for Latinos as well. My mother is lighter than I am, my father is darker than I am, I have a lot of family members who are way lighter than I am — we come in all different shades and sizes and shapes, that's just how we are in the Latin community. But people don’t want to talk about the fact that there is a lot of racism in our culture. We will be judged differently based on the color of our skin. They don't ever put women who look like myself, or men with my skin color, as the lead characters in novelas — soap operas — movies, or magazine covers. I love all of these women, but in our culture, only women who look like Shakira, Sofia Vergara, or J. Lo are seen as beautiful or as stars. And when we are included in movies or novelas, it's usually in a negative light, as the prostitute, or the gangster, the one robbing a bank, or raping the girl. A lot of us in the industry stay quiet and say 'I’ll wait until another role shows up.'
"But I'm tired of waiting; it’s 2018, and somebody should talk about it. And I know that I'm taking a lot of responsibility by being the one talking about it — I’m taking a lot of backlash as well. But I feel that it's worth it. A lot of people want to shut me down — they want me to get over talking about race, they tell me to shut up and move on...they say, man, we get it, you're Afro-Latina, okay! But I’m not gonna move on; this is just the beginning of me talking about it. Until I see change, I will keep talking about it. Until I see Afro-Latinas as the protagonists in novelas, or starring in a major movie, or on the cover of People En Español, I'm going to keep talking about it."
How do you feel when people call you the next Cardi B?
"It is an honor for people to compare me to Cardi B, because I do admire her, especially as a fellow Dominicana and Afro-Latina as well. I admire her work, her struggles, her sacrifice, her discipline. However, I'd rather people just say you’re the next Amara La Negra. We have different styles, our music is different, and we have different stories, so I won't be the next Cardi B. But I will be the next Amara La Negra."
I'm sure we'll learn more once we see the reunion, but your friendships with some of your girlfriends on the show were strained after your run-in with Young Hollywood and more drama throughout the season. Where do things stand now?
"Some of my fellow colleagues on the show were my friends before the show, but obviously in time I realized that they weren’t my friends. But it’s ok, because not everyone is meant to love you; some people are meant to come into your life for a specific amount of time, they do their purpose in your life, and then they’re meant to be gone. Do I feel like we’re ever gonna be friends again? I don't feel that's possible. Once you pass a certain line of disrespect, I'm like, there's more people in the world, I'll survive."
What about your relationship with Young Hollywood?
"For some reason on the show it almost comes off in the end as if we like each other, which we don’t. So please write down: Hell no, with a lot of L’s, I will never be cool with Young Hollywood again. But what I did do was try to move forward. Some people are just ignorant, some people just don't know how to communicate, and some people you have to take for who they are. I took Hollywood's apology, I hugged it out, and tried to move forward. But at the end of the day, realistically the way that I feel is that he only tried to be nice to me and invite me to radio interviews because he was getting backlash on social media because of his comments toward me. But he mocked me and the Afro-Latina community — both an entire culture and an entire race. I did many interviews after where I asked people to stop threatening him, because I don't want to see him get hurt. But his comments were not a joke — it has to do with history, people's emotions, a lot of things, so you need to be respectful. People make mistakes, people say fucked-up things and then regret it, cool. But he keeps prolonging it. I don't know what the future may hold, but I know that we ain't cool right now."
So what's next for Amara La Negra? I hear you signed a big record deal recently!
"Yes! I just signed a multi-million dollar deal with BMG, and I'm working in the studio right now with producers like Rock City and Jim Jonsin, who have worked with artists like Beyoncé, Rihanna, and Nicki Minaj. And my EP is coming out in the next few months or so. I also have my Amara La Negra clothing line, a shoe line coming, a few movie options in the works...I've worked my whole life for this moment, so I hope the world is ready."
The first part of the Love & Hip Hop: Miami reunion airs March 12 at 8 PM on VH1.