Janel is one of those women who you admire for her drive and longing to make the world a more understanding and inclusive place to live. From her work as a journalist, content creator and CEO of Ain't I Latina, you can constantly find her working towards enlightening the masses of the importance of both respecting and embracing culture. We had the honor of chatting with Janel to learn more about her work, travels and how she hopes to inspire others.
Can you tell us a bit about who Janel Martinez is, both personally and professionally?
I am a multimedia journalist and content creator. I’m the founder and editor-in-chief of AintILatina.com. I’m a proud Afro-Latina, specifically Honduran, Garifuna. I’ve previously served as technology editor at Black Enterprise, and now write for a bevy of outlets. I can put it down in 140 characters and less. I love to travel, spend time with my family and friends, and binge watch motivational speeches and interviews. I’m a magazine hoarder. I have some serious gems in my stash.
My goal in life: To add more value to the spaces and lives of those around me.
What inspired you to start the site and community, Ain’t I Latina?
I had the idea for Ain’t I Latina? a while before I launched the site. It was birthed out of my lived experience of not really knowing where I fit in. I identify as Afro-Latina, both of my parents are from Honduras. We’re Garifuna. We’re Black Latinos. However, because outside of the community there is little to no visibility in media, it was difficult for people to understand my identity, and the identity of Afro-Latinos.
Growing up, I loved reading magazines – I later ended up majoring in Magazine Journalism – watching TV and following the latest news, but I didn’t see other girls and women that openly identified as Afro-Latina. After some research, I realized there were quite a few Afro-Latinas in media: Soledad O’Brien, Gina Torres, Tatyana Ali and Kelis, among others. Growing up, if I’d known this, for me, that representation would’ve spoken volumes. It would’ve shown me that Afro-Latinas are present in all facets of life, in different industries. We’re out there. We matter. I know we’re powerful. Representation is important and I felt our stories needed to be shown consistently.
I stopped waiting for it to be done and did it myself. I knew I wanted to show Afro-Latinas doing big things no matter the industry, as well as highlight some of the conversations we have internally. Hence, in December 2014, I launched AintILatina.com. The community and fellowship that has come from it has been absolutely beautiful.
Do you feel that your mission with Ain’t I Latina? also overlaps with your other professional work?
Absolutely. I’m a journalist. A content creator. I’ve always been very adamant about telling the stories of Black and Latino communities. It’s something I naturally gravitated toward. It’s something I expressed early on as a student and writing for campus publications like The Black Voice and La Voz, and later being an editor at Black Enterprise; and now writing for several sites, outside of my own, like Vivala, Flama and Latina.
My identity is central to who I am, and I’m still exploring and learning. But I love that I can bring that into my professional work. I don’t think the two have to be mutually exclusive.
Being from NY, it’s very easy to connect and collaborate with the diverse and thriving Latina community. How do you try to reach individuals throughout the states as well as internationally?
I agree. New York is super diverse. It’s funny, though. A lot of the connecting and collaborating starts online. It will usually then transition from web to in-person meetings. I guess since Ain’t I Latina? is online, it’s only right that it starts there and on social media. I’ve been able to connect with so many women from all walks of life online. Many live in NYC, but lots live in other areas of the country like Texas and California, as well as outside of the states in Brazil and Colombia. I’m definitely looking at ways to collaborate more within and outside of NYC in 2016. 2015 has been huge in that way in working with the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute and others, so excited to explore more in 2016.
As an Afro-Latina, what are some of your favorite things about each of the cultures? Do you find that they often overlap?
As a Black Latina, Afro-Latina. The cultures are intertwined. We’re Black, we’re Latino and they’re not separate. I’m a foodie, so hands down my favorite is food. My family eats arroz con frijoles, tortillas, tamales, and lots of really great food. We also eat a traditional Garifuna meal known as machuca, which is made with mashed plantains, usually served with either coconut, chicken, or fish/seafood soup. It is very similar to mongue, mofongu and fufu, a West African dish. I don’t each machuca as often as I used to, but I have so many fond memories of Saturday morning machuca prep and getting to enjoy the meal as a family. I love platanos (plantains). It’s a staple in many Caribbean, Latino and African dishes and homes.
Music and dance styles are another great example of the Diaspora. So many of the instruments used may go by different names, but are the same. The rhythm and beats found in rumba, salsa, samba, merengue, punta and the like exist in Latin America and the Caribbean but have a strong African influence.
Your drive is amazing. What does a day in the life look like?
Wow, thank you! No two days look the same for me. I try to start my day the night before by mapping out my schedule, everything from the time I plan to meditate/pray to meeting and writing times. Working on this, but my night’s end at 2-3am and begin back at 8am. Days start with prayer and meditation, reading time (social media, articles and emails), and then getting myself ready to leave the house if I have in-person meetings. If not, I get ready to work from home. The day can consist of several phone meetings, writing articles, lots of emails and more writing or editing articles. Somewhere in between all of that is breakfast, lunch and dinner. I also try, and I repeat try, to get in a run. Again, no day is the same but you can bet I’m either on my cell or laptop, or both, at all times.
Where do you find inspiration as an entrepreneur and creative?
My Twitter and Instagram timelines.
I follow so many innovative, entrepreneurial and motivated people, so I’m always finding things that inspire me on social media. I didn’t come out the womb as an entrepreneur, so it’s a trait that I build and nurture daily. For business, I read Fast Company, Inc, Forbes and TechCrunch; for cultural news, Essence, Blavity, Latina, Latino Rebels and the like; and travel inspo, AFAR and Travel & Leisure. I consume a lot of content. I’m missing others, but this hits my screen regularly.
How do you long to empower and inspire other women of color through example of the life that you’re living?
I want other women of color to live fearlessly. Living fearlessly isn't a life without fear, but a life in which fear doesn’t stop your dreams and aspirations. I’ve let fear stop me in the past, but within the last year or two have worked on dealing with fear. I work very hard not to let it stop me. It’ll always be there, but don’t let it stop you.
I’m a true believer in living your truth, what you envision for your life can happen. It won’t be easy. But always believe in yourself, always.
Tell us about your travel essentials. What are five things that you can’t leave home without?
I can’t leave home without my chapstick (Carmex), wallet, a good book/magazine, my cell phone and my purse. I’m one of those women that always has a bag; likely includes way more things than I need.
Traveling and experiencing different cultures allow us to, in turn, learn more about ourselves. How has travel helped you tap in to your self-identity and growth?
Travel has been a huge part of my life and identity. With my family being from Honduras, I visited Honduras at an early age and it taught me to value my life and the access I’ve been afforded. In short, resources we have here in the US are far different than the resources and access available there. I may’ve not had everything I wanted, but I was very thankful for what I did have.
Also, when it came to identity, my study abroad experience in Paris is one of my most memorable. For years, I struggled with how to identify. Of course I was Honduran, Garifuna. Black, but also Latina. After studying intersectionality and expatriates from the US who moved to Paris, France – intellectuals and creatives like James Baldwin and Josephine Baker – I finally settled on the term Afro-Latina. Sounds crazy, but it was through them and that experience that I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m Afro-Latina.’ You can be more than one thing.
Travel really has a way of putting life into perspective. It’s so much larger than us. I don’t take it for granted.
What big plans do you have coming up for the next year? What can we expect from Janel and also from the Ain’t I Latina platform?
Next year is going to be amazing! I’m declaring it will be. Expect a lot more engagement on and offline with Ain’t I Latina?, as well as more events and collaborations. This year, Ain’t I Latina? powered the ‘Afro-Latinas Who Rock’ Awards Brunch, where we honored Zahira Kelly, sociocultural critic, artist and activist; Nadia Lopez, founding principal at Mott Hall Bridges Academy; Crystal Roman, founder and CEO of The Black Latina Movement; Dr. Marta Moreno Vega, president and founder of the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute; Seven Brown, founder of Harlem Skin & Laser Clinic, philanthropist and beauty expert; and Erica Nichole, creator of EverythingEnJ and Love & Relationships Editor at xoNecole. We’re gearing up for our second annual awards brunch in 2016.
For me, more writing and speaking engagements. Stay tuned!
This interview was conducted by Sienna Brown. Sienna Brown is the founder of Las Morenas de España. From New York to Murcia, Spain, she is constantly on a journey to inspire and be inspired while engaging in different methods of creation. Her passion for learning about others leads her towards constant exploration and practicing the art of listening as much as she can. See more of her work here and follow her adventures on instagram.