Toña La Negra was one of Mexico’s most famous singers and actresses. Her “The Black” part of the name is in reference to her Afro-Mexican ancestry.
She was born in the coastal state of Veracruz, where today, she’s remembered as a notable native.
Toña was discovered by a fellow Veracruzan musician who helped her become a popular national icon. Her fans are across Mexico.
She is best known for her powerful voice and huge stage presence. With her songs often tackling social and political issues, Toña earned the respect of many Mexicans.
In this article, I will talk about her early life, her work, and her legacy.
Of course, I will also tell you how to visit her hometown.
Toña La Negra’s Early Life in Veracruz
Toña La Negra was born into a musical family as María Antonia del Carmen Peregrino Álvarez in 1912. Her father played instruments and her mother sang, and her brother became another famous singer.
She was born in the La Huaca neighborhood of Heroica Veracruz. The neighborhood is located in the city center and is part of the oldest area of the city.
Toña grew up in a poor household and had to start working hard at a young age to help make ends meet.
One of the people in the area she was born said to me that she had to start singing at the age of six, joining her mother at local events.
Despite the challenges she faced, she developed a love for music and went on to get discovered.
Popular National Artist
Toña La Negra is best known for her collaborations with Agustín Lara. When she was just 20 years old, she met Lara at a party where she was singing.
He was immediately smitten with her voice and began working with her. Together, they created some of the most memorable songs in Mexican history.
Lara composed the music for many of Toña’s most famous songs, including “Azul.”
As an actress, she appeared in many films, often singing. One of her first films is “Payasadas de la Vida” (Tricks of Life), directed by Miguel Zacarías and released in 1934. In this film, she shows up as a cabaret singer.
In Alejandro Galindo’s “Konga Roja” (Red Konga), Toña La Negra plays Marta la mulata (the mulatto woman).
Another popular film is Adolfo Fernández Bustamante’s “La mulata de Córdoba” (The Mulatto Woman from Córdoba). This is a 1945 film in which Toña La Negra appears as a singer.
When she died in 1982 at the age of 70, she wasn’t as rich as some of her contemporaries, but she had a life she could look back on with pride.
Today, she appears on soundtracks. For example, in “Güeros,” the multi-award-winning 2014 comedy by Alonso Ruizpalacios, her voice shows up three times.
In 2022, Veracruz’s RTV released a documentary on her life.
Toña La Negra Street in Veracruz
Toña La Negra’s life is celebrated in Veracruz in big ways. One of those is at Callejon Toña La Negra, which is a pedestrian street in La Huaca.
In this colorful street, you will find a statue of Toña La Negra.
“You have to dance with her,” says José, a local man. “She was a great musical genius, and one must take the opportunity to place his hands in hers.”
Another local said it’s a pity that many people don’t know who she is, even some who live in this city.
Alongside Toña La Negra, the street also has a statue of Agustín Lara.
You could say they’re both back home.
How to Visit Toña La Negra
Veracruz is a coastal state on the Gulf of Mexico. It’s definitely one of the most beautiful states in the country, and so you have a lot to visit here for.
To get there, you can hop on a nonstop flight from Mexico City, arriving at Veracruz International Airport.
Veracruz’s airport is about twenty minutes outside of the city center. It’s about 6 miles (or 10 km) away, and there are many taxis available to whisk you into town.
If you’re starting from Zócalo de Veracruz, the heart of the city, then Barrio de la Huaca, where the statue of Toña La Negra stands, is a 10-minute walk away.
Toña La Negra defied the norms of her time. She was a woman of mixed ancestry in a culture that was still discriminatory toward people with darker skin.
Despite the odds, she became a famous and successful artist. As a result, she was an inspiration to many people and helped to break down barriers for other Afro-Mexicans.
Although I think every traveler to Mexico can benefit from learning more about her life, I think people of African ancestry can have a deeper appreciation.
So, if you have the chance, make a trip to Veracruz!
AJ Paris is a travel photographer based in New York. He is the editor of Caravanzers.
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