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Robert Asprilla sits in his cousin’s one-room efficiency off upper 16th Street NW thumbing the glossy pages of Moro (“The Moors”), his new Afro-Latin quarterly magazine. Three years ago, a lot of people doubted he’d ever be able to pull off the launch. But he’s just printed 8,000 copies of his first issue, which comes out this week. “I get emotional looking at it,” he says.
In 1995, Asprilla, 31, then a student at the University of Maryland, College Park, wondered why there were no Spanish-language magazines geared toward Latinos of African descent. Afro-Latinos, after all, number some 150 million worldwide. His native Colombia alone has a black population of 20 million.
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Asprilla tosses over a copy of Ysabela, a major Dominican publication. Ysabela’s pages are graced by the mugs of blond, light-skinned women. “Not one black face in there,” he says, stressing the absurdity of blacks’ absence in a magazine published in a country whose population is 75 percent biracial. The leading Colombian monthly, Chromos, features a regular cartoon character, Nieves (“Snow”), a kinky-haired, dark-skinned, Afro-Latina caricature who asks for pedigrees when she means pedicures. “Imagine a magazine in Sweden with all black faces,” Carlos Nazati, the marketing director, chimes in. “It would be shocking.”
Apart from his disgust with existing media, Asprilla is eyeing a massive, neglected market of Afro-Latinos. He persuaded family members (including his influential uncle, Vicente Murrain, a former advisor on black affairs to Colombian President Ernesto Samper) to chip in seed money and rounded up a group of childhood friends (Asprilla has lived in the D.C. area for 22 years) to help with the start-up. He converted his cousin Alex Hurtado’s cramped apartmentstrewn with CDs, shoes, and cigarette buttsinto a veritable publication house, complete with silk-screening equipment for Moro T-shirts.
Asprilla and his young cadre made ends meet by throwing salsa and merengue parties, first at Republic Gardens, then at Habana Village. He recruited young writers and photographers from Howard and the University of Maryland. A spread in the premiere issue titled “El Sabor de Howard University” features young Howard students posing like Calvin Klein models in haute couture.
Moro, which sells for $3 per issue, will focus primarily on Afro-Latino business interests, personalities, fashion, and history. In July, Asprilla plans to open an office in Bogota and take a 10-city tour of Colombia to promote his magazinewhich, eventually, he hopes to turn into a monthly.Guy Raz
For more information on Moro, call (202) 722-2774.