Sometimes the best business ideas don’t necessarily come out of a groundbreaking new product concept but rather out of an authentic desire to fill a void. In the case of Yo Soy Afro Latina, founder Bianca Kea built her brand out of a genuine desire to create a community for Afro Latinas who wanted to be seen and who wanted to belong.
This Latina entrepreneur created a brand that empowers and that brings people together. It’s so much more than a collection of cool products — though the products are undeniably cool.
Yo Soy Afro Latina is on a mission to bring awareness and acknowledgment to the often-overlooked Afro Latina community and shed light on Afro Latinas’ beauty everywhere. Now that is a mission we can get behind.
Bianca Kea grew up in a suburb of Detroit that was primarily black and white, with few (if any) Afro Latinas to relate to. Although her single mother did her fair share to pass on her Latinidad to her daughter and educate her about her Mexican roots, Kea still grew up without a true understanding of what it even means to be an Afro Latina.
She felt a disconnect from the Latin community, she explains on the Yo Soy Afro Latina website. She didn’t look like other Latinas or what she thought a Latina should look like. She knew that she identified as a Latina but felt she wasn’t quite Latina enough.
Beyond trying to find other women she could relate to in her surroundings, Bianca also recalls struggling to find role models in pop culture she could identify with. “Celia Cruz was the only Afro-Latina that I saw on mainstream media, so I aspired to be like her. She was just so proud to be this Black Latina,” she told PopSugar. “I wanted to feel that empowered and feel that confident and comfortable in my own skin.”
Her upbringing and longing for an opportunity to truly understand her multifaceted identity led Bianca to create Yo Soy Afro Latina — a move that would not only help her come to terms with her own background but also help Afro Latinas everywhere feel a sense of belonging.
After several trips to Mexico, where Bianca explains she felt “recognized” and “seen” after engaging with people who looked like her, Bianca moved to New York City, a move that would change her life.
There she was exposed to people from all over the world, with different cultural backgrounds, ethnicities, and traditions. “The more I started seeing different parts of the world—like Colombia, Puerto Rico, and Dominican Republic—the more I was able to connect with those who have the same complexion as me,” she said.
Her time in New York City ignited something inside and helped Bianca understand just how complex and rich the Afro-Latinx community is. Next, she moved to Los Angeles to continue her journey, just to find that the culture was somewhat isolating. She was not seen as the Afro-Latina she identified as, but rather as a Black woman.
“People simply saw me as a Black woman there. They didn’t know that I could speak Spanish. They didn’t know that I could understand them and be at the intersection of two cultures. That is when the idea for Yo Soy Afro Latina started brewing and coming about,” she told PopSugar.
Feeling misunderstood and lost, Bianca created a plan that started with hardcore education. She read every book she could about race. The book that really transformed her perspective was Black in Latin America by Henry Louis Gates Jr. The book opened her eyes to the Black diaspora and gave her a newfound appreciation for this deep understanding.
“Growing up, my mother didn’t have this knowledge, so I truly did not understand just how Black people were everywhere, in every country, and that book taught me about the Black revolution in Brazil, the Black revolution in Mexico, taught me about race relations in the Dominican Republic . . . So insightful and informative.”
Armed with that knowledge and a sort of cultural awakening, Bianca knew what role she wanted to play – she was on a mission to foster a community that celebrates Afro-Latinidad.
The mission is bold.
“At Yo Soy Afro Latina, we are on a mission to empower Black women within the Latin community. Founded by a Black woman, YSAL celebrates Afro-Latinidad in the Americas, and we’re here to validate our hermanas’ experience. This is more than a trend or a movement. This is a celebration of a culture that is just as diverse as it is rich in pride.”
On her website, she states: “My goal is to shed light on the beauty and the magnitude of Afro Latinas, to create a space where we are acknowledged, and to celebrate our beautiful, diverse culture. We’ve been here, and we’re not going anywhere. This is our time to shine.”
Bianca saw an opportunity to create a space for a community of people who had been so often overlooked or who had felt under-represented in their worlds. Her goal was to build a platform and a place that celebrates Afro Latinas.
The awesome, must-have fashion and beauty goods that came next were almost a happy accident.
While they may not have been her initial focus, the trendy, feel-good, empowering products available on Yo Soy Afro Latina are a positive byproduct of the community she has created. Bianca’s desire for a sense of community, a sorority of sorts, led her to create an on-brand march, mostly because she wanted something empowering to wear. That piece of her business quickly took off.
“When I first began crafting YSAL, I knew I wanted to create pieces that promoted the visibility of the Black Diaspora within Latin America and the Caribbean; but in particular, I wanted to take phrases that had a bad connotation attached to them like ‘Morena’ or ‘Pelo Malo’ and turn them into a phrase that celebrated us and our Blackness,” she told Forbes.com. “I began creating products like hats, mugs, and t-shirts that highlight and celebrate our beautifully diverse culture as Afro Latinos.”
Her best-selling product? You’ve probably seen the “Morenita” tees around, whether in person or on your social media feeds. “I was thinking about how my mom always calls me ‘Bianquita,’ she always added that ‘ita’ for everything. So, that’s how it came about,” Bianca said. From t-shirts and totes to mugs and phone cases, YSAL has something for everyone.
Ignited by passion and purpose, Bianca Kea is a Latina entrepreneur to watch. Yo Soy Afro Latina began with a woman who was longing for a role model to make her feel like she was acknowledged and like she was important. Today, Bianca Key is that role model for Afro Latinas everywhere. Her brand and the community she has created are helping other Afro Latinas feel seen, and we are here for it.