Wednesday, July 17, 2019

What's It Like for a Black Man in Perú?

 Late Afro-Peruvian singer Pepe Vazquez
I received the following message in an e-mail from Sean, one of my blog readers, with the following inquiry:

 Good afternoon, Sir:

Are you still in Lima? I saw your blogs about being a black man in Lima where I am about to visit for a week. I wanted to get a perspective of how things are for a black man there.

Afro-Peruvian drumming on the cajon. This popular percussion instrument was invented by Black slaves.

My e-mail response:
 As a black man in Lima, and Perú in general, it has been my personal observation that there is not much visibility of black people working in shops, office buildings, in transportation, on the police force, or in restaurants. 

In the heavily black populated province of Chincha where I did considerable amount of banking, the staff is lily white with the exception of maybe the security guard. Black people are restricted to  certain types of jobs like security guards, pall beaters, nannies, factory workers, and entertainers.

The good news is that racially motivated police brutality and hate crimes are non-existent compared to the U.S.A. I personally know a Black American family who chose to live in Perú because their black male child would be safer than he would be in the U.S.

With the owner of a tourist popular soul food restaurant in Guayabo, Perú

As a visitor with a U.S. passport, you will be treated as an upper-class white person. Even the black people you meet will see you as a brother from another culture, or in the Afro-Peruvian vernacular, "familia" with a pocket full of money.

If you do as I did and try to blend in with the black community speaking only Spanish, then you will notice some racial disrespect. 

 At an El Carmen, Perú resort

In a music store in Lima, I was serruptitiously followed by a white employee. In a high-end shirt shop, the store clerks didn't want to serve me because they thought I didn't make enough money. When I approached the store owner who noticed my Muhammad Ali t-shirt and the heavy foreign accent in my Spanish, he treated me as though I were a fellow businessman.

At a bus station where I was hanging with a local Afro-Peruvian, I approached a ticket agent inquiring about a bus ticket to Ecuador. In a demeaning tone, he blurted a price that he was so sure I could not afford. In each of these cases, had I flashed my passport and burst some English, their whole attitude, like the shirt store owner, would have taken an about face.

 At a block party in El Carmen, Perú

As far as the black community is concerned, I got way too close where people felt comfortable hitting on me for money. That won't happen to you if they meet you briefly knowing that you are only there for a week or two. It was I who made multiple visits trying to immerse myself in the language, including their Spanish Ebonics, and their culture.

With all that said, expect to have a rewarding, learning, uplifting experience in Perú! If you have any more questions, my number is listed in my e-mail signature.

Monday, April 29, 2019

South America's Own Ebony Magazine

 Revista Ébano/Ebony Magazine

When I was in Cartagena, Colombia, I could not resist bringing back this souvenir I accidentally found in a black business: South America's EBONY MAGAZINE. Colombia has the largest Spanish-speaking black population in Colombia. 

The same West African music that gave birth to the blues and gospel music in the U.S.A; music that merged with White American music, gave birth to Cumbia music in Colombia. Cumbia is a mixture of West African, Spanish, and indigenous music. 

What's weird, a Colombian woman whose race is unknown, wrote on one of my blog posts that we Americas make too big of a deal about race. 

However, she gave me a deafening silence to something that I pointed out about her country. In a predominately black and brown city like Cartagena, why are there little or no black employees working in businesses, banks, office buildings, and on the police force? Is it racial discrimination? 

Colombia, like most Latin American countries deny racism in their country. It is indeed there, they just try to sweep it under the rug.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

African American-Latino World (MY STORY!)

 Wearing my Peruvian t-shirt at a Peruvian restaurant eating Peruvian 
"soul" food with the Peruvian national drink; pisco sour (brandy)

It all started for me at the age of 10 while living walking distance from New York's Spanish Harlem where I began noticing cultural exchanges between some African-Americans and Puerto Ricans in the community. Even African American R&B and jazz radio stations included crossover Latin music in their formats. 

This heavy Puerto Rican presence inspired me to dash over to my local public library and check out a "children's" book entitled, "Fun with Spanish," which I memorized cover to cover before befriending Puerto Rican classmates and neighbors to practice what I learned and to continue learning from them. 

During the Spring and Summer months, it was common to see African-American and Puerto Rican musicians jamming on their conga drums, bongos, flutes, and other percussion and wind instruments to American jazz and Latin jazz on the streets of East Harlem and in public parks. By my teenage years, I was so hooked on Latin music that an African-American classmate noticed a large collection of salsa and Latin jazz music in my room; he chuckled and remarked that I was turning into a Puerto Rican. 


Chilling out on Cuba's national drink, a mojito, in Havana, Cuba

Even people in the Spanish-speaking countries that I've visited assumed that I too am Latino. In Ecuador, a cab driver asked me if I am from Latin-American country in the Caribbean. Evidently, my Spanish sounded Puerto Rican, or in reality, Nuyorican (New York Puerto Rican). In Perú where I earned an Advanced Spanish certification, one of the instructors told me that she too thought I was Puerto Rican. When I lived in California, Mexicans and Mexican-Americans suspected that I might be Cuban or Puerto Rican.

It wasn't until late in my adulthood when I decided to adopt Spanish seriously as a second language. My late Mexican-American friend, Yolanda Gutierrez, encouraged me to learn the "culture" as well as the language. Taking her advice, I started reading about the Latin American cultures where African slaves influenced the music that I enjoy most, such as salsa, Afro-Cuban, and Peruvian festejo.

I began traveling to selected Latin American countries to explore their black experience. For example, in Colombia, I visited a landmark African village where their descendants freed themselves, Nat Turner style, from Spanish rule. A feat that was achieved 200 years before the rest of South America, including Colombia, won their independence.

I, second from the left, at a party in the hub of Afro-Peruvian culture

As of today, I've visited 32 Latin American cities, towns, and villages in the Caribbean, Central America, and South America seeking out black communities such as Valle de Chota (Ecuador), El Carmen de Chincha (Perú), and San Basilio de Palenque (Colombia). I want to include Miami, which I consider to be an honorary Latin-American city where the Cubans who are in-your-face proud of their culture and their language are always ready to roll with their Spanish "if" you can hang. 

I remember walking into Cuban restaurant where the cook asked me in broken English, “can I help you?” When I told her in Spanish that it was OK for her to speak to me in Spanish, she, her co-worker, and a even a customer were so cheered that they acted as though I were one of them. I've even had jobs, one with bilingual pay, where I used my Spanish daily. 

Surprisingly, I have not yet been to the island of Puerto Rico, but as of this writing, I am planning to take that trip and was so glad to learn that Puerto Rico is officially recognizing "Spanish" as their official language and relegating English as second. There is an area of Puerto Rico where descendants of African slaves produced bomba and plena music, a mixture of Spanish and West African music. Thus, my blog and Facebook page—"African American-Latino Word."

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Racial Confusion among Latinos & African Americans

 Two Black men portraying their Puerto Rican Pride
in the annual Puerto Rican Day parade in New York

Why is it so challenging for so  many people, especially African-Americans and U.S. Latinos, to understand that there is a difference between someone's race and someone's culture? Two individuals can be of the same race, but of an entirely different culture and speak a different language. Another two can be of the same culture and nationality, but a member of an entirely different race.

I was working as a counselor in San Francisco, California when an African-American woman who noticed my Spanish and pictures of Afro-Latinos on my wall; looked me right in the face and asked me to confirm that I'm black. Likewise, a Mexican-American woman with whom I engaged in a Spanish-speaking conversation, which included a discussion of my traveling through Mexico City, told an African-American co-worker, behind my back, that I am not black.

Afro-Bolivians jamming to their own
version of black
music  called "Saya"

Here in New York, when blacks from the Dominican Republic first began migrating here in droves, they insisted in heavily accented English, "I'm not black, I'm Dominican." They too were confusing their race (black) with their culture and nationality (Dominican). I have not heard them make such a blusterous comment since I moved back to New York from California. At least, not yet. But then again, I do not discuss race with Latinos, especially Afro-Latinos, until I get a better understanding of their ethnic awareness.

Black women of Guatemala

The other day, I was communicating with a Puerto Rican who happens to be a staunch Trump supporter on Facebook. He strongly insisted that I am not of his race. Since I never met him face to face, I don't know what race he is, but I had to ask him if he has ever been to Loiza, a city on Puerto Rico's east coast where descendants of African slaves (people of my race) lived for centuries. Bomba and plena music that is popular in that area has the same African roots as African-American blues and gospel music. That did not set well with him.

Afro Uruguayan "Candombé" dancer at a Carnival
in Montevideo, the nation's capital

What upset him even more was when I shared my travels through nine Spanish-speaking countries and sought out people of "my race" who viewed me as a "brother" from another "culture." He abruptly ended our little debate and wished me happy holidays.

Latin-American countries such as Cuba, Panamá, Colombia, Perú, Ecuador, and hell, even Bolivia, Argentina, and Uruguay; countries where I have Facebook friends that are on my list of places to visit are "saying it loud, they are black and they are proud," and are struggling for black civil rights in their respective countries.

I'm showing a good friend from Ecuador,
South America around New York City

During my Latin American travels, I noticed that the racial discrimination for employment and housing is much worse than that of the U.S. In Peru, there are TV shows that stereotype Afro-Peruvians and Indigenous people as stupid, silly, and dishonest. In high-end stores, I've been racially profiled as not having enough money to purchase their items. In Ecuador, I had trouble catching cabs because drivers thought that I was a poor Afro-Ecuadorian out to commit a robbery.

On positive note, the police force in Latin-American countries, with the exception of Bogotá, Colombia, are not finding bogus excuses to shoot and kill or brutalize innocent, unarmed black and brown people as so commonly practiced  here in the U.S.A, which is why many black families, one whom I know personally, feel much safer living in Latin America.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Black Mexican Towns Hold Annual Conferences

XIX Meeting of Black Villages 
Coahuila, México
“El Pueblo Unido Jamás Será Vencido!”
(The United Village Will Never be Defeated!)

This post is credited to Patrica Ann Talley, MBA who has been living in the Afro-Mexican region of La Costa Chica for over 20 years. 
See for a full report

In 1999, a priest from Trinidad & Tobago arrived to help unite and educate Afro-Mexicans on their African history, and has since coordinated annual meetings of black villages in La Costa Chica (the small coast) section of Mexico, a region along the west coast encompassing the states of Oaxaca and Guerrero with large Afro-Mexican populations.

In contrast to the Afro-descendant communities on Mexico's east coast state of Veracruz, these communities along the Pacific coast (La Costa Chica) have experienced greater geographic isolation. This resulted in their being closer to their African roots, such as the practice of carrying objects on top of one’s head, using round thatch-roofed houses, which are constructed like African huts, as well as of religious traditions and social organization that link these communities to the African continent. 

The African presence in La Costa Chica is a result of colonial expansion in the area and the need for African slaves to work on large plantations. Oral tradition claims that the communities are also descendants of African maroons who escaped the shipwreck of the
Puerta de Oro (Gold Port) along the Pacific coast. Some of the current Afro-Mexican inhabitants are said to be the descendants of these maroons. 

Despite their social, cultural, political and economic contributions to the region and to the nation, the majority of the Afro-Mexican communities in the Costa Chica often suffer from poverty, lack of government investment and infrastructure, and discrimination. Until 2015, there was no constitutional recognition of Afro-Mexicans, as this group has been left out of government and institutional programs that aid in funding. 

It was through increased individual, community activism that  garnered greater attention to the contributions, rights, and goals of the Afro-Descendent communities of La Costa Chica. For example, there is a museum that is dedicated to teaching about the African presence in Mexico. It displays information and items related to this history including political and military contributions during the War of Independence and the Revolution, and artifacts used in cultural dances and celebrations. 

Moreover, civic organizations such as México Negro A.C. along with other community groups and local activists and scholars have convened an annual conference, the Encuentro de Pueblos Negros (Meeting of the Black Towns and Peoples), in order to foster awareness of the history and traditions of these communities, and to increase attention to their social, political, and economic needs.

As a result of their voices and efforts, in 2011 the Ministry of Indigenous Affairs announced that they would be creating a Department of Afro-Mexican Community Affairs in Oaxaca. The legal recognition of these communities is a crucial step in achieving not only state, but more importantly, federal recognition of Afro-Mexicans. 

Even though they were denied being counted as a separate ethnic group on the 2010 census by the National Institute of Statistics and Geography, they continue to fight to be recognized as a specific ethnicity affording them all the constitutional rights and support. 

On their pathways to freedom, the voices and activism of the Afro-Mexican communities in La  Costa Chica continue to rescue and promote their cultural traditions, and to fight for a greater visibility that matches the extensive contributions that they have made throughout Mexican history.