Philly native Kim Haas understands that the richness of Afro culture across Latin America deserves to be shared not only during Hispanic Heritage Month, but all year round. As the host of PBS’ Afro-Latino Travels with Kim Haas, she’s bringing much needed visibility to the people who have contributed so much to the region.
We recently sat down with Haas to learn what drew her into Afro Latino culture as a Black American woman, how she honors Afro-descendants during Hispanic Heritage Month, as well as some of her favorite Afro-Latino communities visited thus far.
For her, learning the Spanish language as a child was the pathway to her love and passion for Afro-Latino culture and people. Although she would encounter and interact with people who looked like her during her travels to the region, there was a gap in representation when it came to the people featured on Spanish-language television channels.
“I knew that there were artists, musicians, poets, writers, and more of African descent greatly contributing to the culture in Latin American countries, but I never understood why they weren’t being featured on the television shows I watched, too,” Hass told Ebony. “In the rare instances that Afro Latino people were shown, it was either for a very small role or they were being portrayed in a negative light. This inspired me to want to bring more visibility to the people who have literally felt invisible for years.”
Haas would go on to pitch the idea for her show to PBS, and since then, she has filmed three episodes, with the first two from Costa Rica currently being broadcast nationally. She recently traveled to Cali, Colombia, to film episode 3, and it should air sometime in 2023.
Cali is a city in Colombia that is said to be about 70% Black. Each year, the city hosts the Petronio Alverez Fest, a multiday music event named after an Afro-Colombian musician. It’s said to be one of the largest music festivals in all of South America, if not the largest.
“Everything about Cali and Petronio Alvarez Fest was absolutely amazing,” shared Haas. “I’ll always remember meeting a 4th generation marimba player while there. As he was playing for me during our filming, a woman who was working in the kitchen nearby came out to listen, and she was moved to tears. She told me how grateful she was that I was helping to preserve and share her culture. For me, that moment signified that the Marimba is more than just an instrument for Afro-Colombians, but a symbol of their culture.”
During her filming in Costa Rica, she spent time in Limón and Puerto Viejo—two areas with large Afro populations.
“The episodes have been out for a while now, but there are still people who email me saying they never knew there were Afro-Costa Rican people. They are the same people who helped build Costa Rica’s rail system. So, not only have Afro people contributed to the music and arts of Latin America, but also the infrastructure.”
Hass also shares that although each country in the region has its own feel, some of her other favorite Latin American countries to visit for vibrant Afro culture are Brazil, Mexico, and Honduras—the latter two being destinations for her 2023 episodes, thanks to a grant from the Ford Foundation. But honestly, she loves them all!
“The Ford Foundation really believes in and understands the need for this show. So, I am very grateful to them for that.”
How Haas Honors Hispanic Heritage Month
As we continue to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month through October 15, Haas has scheduled a series of live web chats called Afro-Latino Talks with people from various Afro-Latino communities. During the chats, they talk about their culture as well as their contributions to the region. The chats are hosted on Wednesdays from 5:30 - 6:30pm EST. “I also host chats during throughout the year, including Black History Month,” she said.
You can watch current Afro-Latino Travels with Kim Haas episodes on PBS.