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January 30, 2018 03:45 PM

On Jan. 1, Amara La Negra’s life changed completely. During her captivating debut on Love & Hip-Hop Miami, which airs Mondays (9:00 p.m. ET), the Dominican-American singer brought an important conversation about Afro-Latino identity, along with her Latin fusion beats, to the mainstream. 

She spoke to PEOPLE CHICA in honor of Black History Month.

“I’m in such a good place in my life and my career right now,” Amara said, adding: “I never thought that out of one episode things would turn out the way they have.”

The rising star, who was born Dana Danelys de los Santos, started her career at four years old as a dancer on Sabado Gigante and has worked as a backup dancer and singer ever since. But the performer has all the excitement and energy of a newcomer and she poised to conquer the American market. The week after Love and Hip-Hop Miami debuted, La Negra announced that she signed a record deal with BMG Records.

Since then, Amara has kept audiences glued to the TV every Monday night to watch her break down stereotypes and showcase her musical talent on Love & Hip-Hop. But, she says she never saw herself as a reality TV star, even if she was a fan of the series’ Atlanta spin-off.  She admits, though, that she’s “glad the opportunity came along to do something new.” 

While her higher profile has won her hundreds of thousands of fans, she’s also become the target of criticism. Some online haters, for example, have accused her blackface. But many have celebrated her for raising awareness about racism and colorism in Latin music.

She memorably sparred with producer Young Hollywood on the first episode of Love & Hip Hop Miami when he challenged her self-identification as an Afro-Latina. “Afro-Latina. Elaborate. Is that because you’re African or is that because you have an Afro?” he asked. He then suggested she be “less Macy Gray and more Beyoncé” and rudely called her the “Nutella Queen” because of her complexion. After the exchange, the singer furiously said: “All because of my looks or because I am dark-skinned. But, that doesn’t make me less Latina.”

La Negra admits that she wasn’t always the strong, confident woman viewers witness from week to week on the show. 

As a young girl on Sábado Gigante, La Negra experienced her first encounters with racism. “One hairstylist told my mom one time she needed to perm my hair,” she recalls, “because it was unmanageable.” The Miami-born singer says it took her some time to understand that people saw her differently than others.  Midway through her career, she started to actively reject the prejudices she’d endured earlier in her professional life. “ I understood that I needed to love myself the way that I was,” she says. Activists like Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. inspired La Negra to embrace her Afro-Latina heritage. “These amazing people stood up for what they believed, even if it meant some type of physical or emotional hurt,” she says.

La Negra calls Celia Cruz the biggest Afro-Latina artist of her generation and puts her at the top of her list of heroes. As a young backup dancer, she recalls, she had the opportunity to meet and share the stage with the Cuban singer, which describes as a life-changing experience. “It was such a blessing to share a space with someone I admire so much,” she says.

Now that she’s secured a space for herself as an Afro-Latina performer, she hopes to become this generation’s Celia Cruz. It looks like she’s on her way.  

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