Eleven years ago, Kim Haas had a realization: She shouldn’t wait for what she wanted to see on television to magically appear there—she should make it happen herself. Haas, who majored in Spanish as an undergraduate and graduate student and spent years traveling throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, was particularly interested in the Middle Passage—in which millions of Africans were forcibly taken to the West Indies—and stories of how African descendents had influenced the culture of countries like Cuba, Costa Rica, Colombia, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, and Mexico.
And so Haas got to work: researching, writing, pitching, networking, and applying for funding. More than a decade after that original dream, her hard work has paid off: Afro-Latino Travels With Kim Haas premiered in mid-September on PBS as a two-part special in conjunction with National Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs through October 15. (Haas had to come to the network with the show developed and with financing for production.) Though Haas does not have Latinx heritage herself, she says it’s important for her to show viewers that Black people have contributed tremendously to the fabric and foundation of these countries.
“It’s important for me to be able to bring to the camera and bring to television what I see when I travel—and that’s all these amazing artists and writers and chefs with these great stories,” says Haas, a former marketing director for Telemundo’s Philadelphia station and the creator, executive producer, and host of the PBS show.
The first two episodes of the series focus on Costa Rica, in the cities of San José, the capital, and coastal Limón, which has a sizable Afro-Costa Rican community. Through interviews and activities, Haas traces how Jamaican immigrants arrived in Costa Rica for employment, and how the group was largely responsible for building Costa Rica’s railway system. Despite history that could make the show feel heavy, the episodes are well-paced and dynamic, thanks in large part to Haas, who is an enthusiastic and capable host, never afraid to get in on the action: She walks with one of the country’s most renowned writers, Quince Duncan; learns how to cook rondón, a Jamaican-inspired seafood stew; and dances—a lot. “How do you go to Latin America and not dance?” she says with a laugh.
Before the pandemic hit, Haas and her team were on track to film in Salvador, Brazil, as well as Rio de Janeiro, with plans for shows in other countries like Cuba (Havana and Santiago de Cuba) and Colombia (Cali). The goal—whenever they are able to resume filming—is at least 12 episodes. “There’s so much we can do,” says Haas. “And I think there’s no greater time.”