Tuesday, October 18, 2016

A Language Learning Program That is Way Better than Rosetta Stone

Receiving my Advanced Spanish certification 
from El Sol language school in Lima, Perú

I had several jobs where hardly a day went by when I did not engage Spanish speakers or serve as an interpreter. One company gave me bi-lingual pay. Many people, especially native Spanish speakers, believed that I too was from a Spanish-speaking country, and were often surprised to the point of disbelief (and disappointment) to learn otherwise.

I am not a native Spanish speaker nor did I have an abundance of Spanish classes in school. The bulk of my Spanish learning came from self-teaching out of books and the use of self-made flash cards. However, I did have the opportunity to spend my vacations in two different Spanish-language intensive training programs in Cuba (legally) and in Perú where the instructors, tutors, and the families I stayed with speak Spanish only!

Arriving in Havana, Cuba (legally) to attend Spanish language intensive training through Global Exchange, Inc. based in San Francisco, California.

 I once had a supervisor who was so impressed with my Spanish that she asked me to help improve hers. The irony of her request was that she minored in Spanish in college. Why did she need “my” help of all people?

The difference between her progress and mine was my constant attempts at immersion. I seized every opportunity available to engage monolingual Spanish speakers in conversation. Even if I only exchanged two words, every little bit helped to build my confidence and level of fluency.

  With one of my instructors at the El Sol 
Spanish School in Lima, Perú

Immersing oneself in a new language will result in much better results than any classroom. In fact, it is way better than the rave being advertised in the mediaRosetta Stone. For example, once I am in a Spanish-speaking country for more than two or three days, my Spanish flows like a river. I even had dreams in Spanish.

This is not to say one should abandon the classroom, Rosetta Stone, or any other mode of study as they all serve as solid foundations for learning a new language. However, I have found from personal experience traveling through nine different countries that the real learning comes through being so immersed in your new that language that you cannot fall back on your English because no one speaks it.

In just about every country, there are immersion schools where you can spend one, two, and three weeks or more with instructors, tutors, and families with whom you will be lodging and dining speak no English and will be interacting with you in their own language. This to be a powerful way to develop foreign language skills.

Campus of the University of Havana, Cuba where I attended 
Spanish language intensive classes for foreigners

In one of my trips, I crossed the border from Ecuador to Perú by cab where within minutes I was stopped by the Peruvian National Police who seemed to have felt that I was either an illegal alien or was up to no good. Because the officer spoke no English, I was forced to answer his questions in Spanish, which inadvertently boosted my confidence in the language.

As the police officer walked dejectedly back to his patrol car seemingly disappointed that he didn't make a bust (or collect a bribe), I shouted to him Spanish, “THANK YOU FOR HELPING ME PRACTICE MY SPANISH!” My cab driver bubbled over in laughter as he watched the office brush me off in disgust.

Friday, October 14, 2016

A Puerto Rican Finds Her Black Identity

Real Latinos come in all colors, including black. However, there are many Latinos of African ancestry who, despite being descendants of African slaves and experiencing home-grown racism in their respective countries, deny their black skin, and some their African heritage. 

They confuse their race with their nationalities. For example, a Puerto Rican woman of my complexion stated to me bluntly, “African Americans are black—I'm not black, I'm Puerto Rican.” She got very upset and began hurling insults at me when I pointed out that her nationality is Puerto Rican, but her skin is black.

In the video below, Rosa Clemente, a self-identified black Puerto Rican activist and Ph.D candidate in Black Studies, explains the confusion among so many Afro-Latinos, and discusses the black awakening that she herself achieved through education. She is being interviewed by Afro-Panamanian filmmaker Dash Harris who produced multiple documentaries on the Afro-Latino identity and experience.


Monday, October 10, 2016

Ecuador Celebrates Black Heritage Month in October

October, Afro-Ecuadorian Heritage Month

Negro, negro renegrido       Black, black, blackened
Negro, hermano del carbón       black, brother of charcoal,
negro de negros nacido      
born black                   
Negro ayer, mañana y hoy       Black yesterday, tomorrow, and today
Algunos creen insultarme       Some believe they insult me
gritándome mi color       mocking my color,
más lo mismo yo pregono       but I myself proclaim it
con orgullo frente al sol       with pride in the place of the sun

Negro he sido, negro soy        Black I was, black I am
negro vengo, negro voy       Black I come, black I go
negro bien negro nací               black, real black I was born,
negro negro he de vivir       black black I must live
y como negro morir       and as a black I must die

~~~Nelson Estumpiñán Bass, 
Afro-Ecuadorian writer/poet

 Alonso de Illescas, liberator of black and indigenous 
Ecudorians against Spanish rule and slavery

Ecuador has a black population of 1.1 million. Whille 70% of Afro-Ecuadorians live in the northwest province of Esmeraldas—the black capital of Ecuador, the others will be mainly found in Guayaquil, the nation's largest city, Quito, the nation's capital, and up in the Andes Mountains in an area known as Valle de Chota.

 Portrait María Chinquinquirá exhibited ina museum in Ecuador's largest 
city Guayaqui, took her slave master to court to win her freedom

In 1997, Ecuaor's national congress declared the first Sunday in October as Afro-Ecuadorian Day giving recognition to black national heroes like Alonso de Illescas who led the black and indigenous people in defense of their liberty against Spanish colonial forces. Black Ecuadorian civil rights organizations throughout the country decided on the whole month of October as Afro-Ecuadorian Heritage Month to promote awareness of cultural, political, and economic issues. 

Agustín Delgado, Ecuador's retired all-time
 leading scorer and world cup soccer star

After years of constant struggle, Ecuador's Ministry of Education agreed to include Black Ecuadorian History in textbooks. The historic move comes as Afro-Ecuadorans across the country celebrated their heritage to honor the historic achievements blacks have made while highlighting the challenges of racism and discrimination they continue to face today. 

 Afro-Ecuadorian Cultural Center in Quito Ecuador

Throughout the month, Afro-Ecuadorians turn the public spotlight on the importance of their lives, historical legacy, and culture through an array of parades, musical performances, marches, and academic panels. 

Freddy Cevallos, a university Afro-Ecuadorian studies consultant 
whom I treated to lunch with his girlfriend in 2010

R.I.P. Gloria Chalá of Quito, Ecuador who took me in 
like family during my five-nation Latin-American tour 
I truly miss you, Gloria!

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Afro Latinos React to “Blacks in Latin America” PBS Series

I have fought many years as a youngster growing up in the U.S., and not being accepted by blacks because they say I was “different,” and not accepted by Latinos because I did not look like Ricky Martin.”
Marcus Edwin, son of a black Cuban mother
and a black Panamanian father

In one sense, I can feel Marcus' pain, and I am African American. Having grown up in New York City where the black community is much more diverse in terms of lifestyles, attitudes, and cultural interests than a city like Oakland, California where I spent most of my adult life; a city where the black community overwhelmingly considered me to be “different” and reacted to me accordingly.

 As a defense mechanism, I punctuated my “difference” by keeping my New York accent as well as my direct, straight-forward style of communication. I even came out of my proverbial closet as a lover of the Afro-Latino culture embracing the music, re-learning the language, and taking vacations to Spanish-speaking countries. As a result, some of the Oakland black folks were shallow enough to ask me if I am “black.”

When the PBS series, Black in Latin America hosted by Dr. Henry Louis Gates aired; it not only triggered a sharp increase in my blog readership but awakened more African Americans outside of New York to the existence of a Spanish-speaking black community. 

In response to the aired series, Tomáas Fernández Robaina of the National Library of Cuba, wrote in his essay of black struggles erupting in Latin-American countries, and how they should be recognized by all members of the African diaspora living in the Americas so our collective demands will gain more social and political strength, and become more internationally visible.

Marcus himself expressed delight that black Latinos are finally being noticed. His mother being black and Cuban, and his father, black and Panamanian, raised him and his siblings to be proud of their blackness, but as a kid growing up in the U.S., he was not accepted by blacks because he was perceived as “different,” and not accepted by Latinos because he lacked the stereotypical look of a Ricky Martin.

Elicia, an African American was enlighted by the series had no idea that African slaves were brought to Latin America. As a matter of fact, slave ships made their way through the Spanish-speaking countries over 100 years before coming to the U.S.

Murphy Brown of Guyana, South America, says that it is way past time that the presence of Africans in Latin America acknowledged. She herself freaked out when she met a black Portuguese-speaking Brazilian for the first time. It finally dawned on her that black folks in the Americas speak a diversity of languages.

Miticia, whose family is from Costa Rica, Central America, is shocked that so many people are unaware of the fact that one could be both black and Latino. People would ask her how long it took her to learn Spanish, And when she tells them of her family roots, they respond with a look of surprise and a frown. She firmly reminds them that black people are everywhere.

Mark, a black man of Dominican and Puerto Rican heritage, lives in San Antonio, Texas with a large Mexican population. He finds that people are shocked when they hear him speak Spanish; however, he is still given the second-class treatment in a city that caters to white and brown people.
From my personal travel experience in Latin America, I noticed the same thing that Mark experienced in San Antonio where white and brown people are treated much better than black and indigenous people. 

There were instances when non-blacks didn't realize that I was a foreign visitor, and treated me with less respect than they would have if I were a white person. Of course, when they realized that I am American, presumably with a pocket full of money, their attitudes instantly change for the better. In Latin America, money whitens black skin.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Afro Latinos React to “Blacks in Latin America” PBS Series

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Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Legacy of Black Music in Latin America

I am addressing the New Amsterdam Musical Association in Harlem, New York City, the largest African-American musical association in the U.S. on African history in Latin Music.

Years ago, I was coming home from work on the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) train from San Francisco where I  worked headed to Oakland where I lived. On the train, I ran into a black friend from Cuba. A couple of stops later, a friend (black) from Colombia, South America joined us. Because his English was limited, the three of us switched our communication to Spanish, and it became evident that the rapport between the three of us was quite strong. 

 Kimba Kúa dancers of Paraguay, South America

Yet, despite our black skins, brown eyes, and wide noses, we still saw each other as foreigners. It never occurred to any of us that there could have been the possibility of our having the same ancestors from the same village in Western Africa as  family members and fellow villagers that were broken up during that notorious slave trade, and scattered throughout the Americas.

Singer Pépe Vasquez of Perú

In the U.S., blues was born among the African descendants, rumba music was born in Cuba to African descendants, and in Colombia, cumbia music was born. I, as an African-American grew up on rhythm and blues, just one of the various legacies of black music in the U.S. My Cuban friend grew up on son-montuno music, another legacy of black music in Cuba, And naturally,  my friend from Colombia grew up on cumbia music and Colombian-style salsa.

 Afro-Venezuelan dancing to tambo music at a festival

The legacy of black music took various forms all over Latin America depending upon the nation, and the various regions in those nations. This is just a short list:

Argentina: the tango
Bolivia: saya music
Brazil: samba
Chile: cueca
Colombia: champeta, cumbia, and vallenato
Costa Rica: calypso and reggae
Cuba: rumba, son-montuno, changui, songo, and timba
Dominican Republic: bachata and merengue
Ecuador: bomba and marimba
Mexico: son-jarocho
Honduras: punta rock
Panama:calypso, congo, cumbia, reggaetón, and tamborito, 
Perú: festejo, landó, and zamacuenca
Puerto Rico: bomba and plena
Uruguay: candomble
Venezuela: tambor

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Black Pride in a Latino World

The main square of the all-black town of San Basilio
 de Palenque in Colombia, South America

All through my life, I heard stories about black Americans who try to pretend they are Native American, Latino, or anything other than black American, but never met them personally until I met Harold who goes by the name of Mialdo. With his impressive salsa dancing skills, he proceeds through life masquerading as a Puerto Rican, but speaks very little Spanish. 

One Saturday evening, Harold and I went to a salsa music and dance club near San Francisco where he stated to a group of Latinos that both he and I are Puerto Rican. I didn't want to make a scene; I simply looked at Mialdo out of disgust for his apparent self-hatred and his propensity to live a lie. And when he included me in his lie, I made up my mind not to socialize with him again.
Visiting a black community in the Andes Mountains 
of Ecuador, South America

Back in the day when answering machines were mainstream, I had an outgoing message to entertain callers waiting to leave a message. It was a bilingual English/Spanish message with salsa music in the background. My girlfriend at the time accused me of being like Mialdo, trying to be something other than black American. Of course, I knew better, but surprisingly, I have been called a sellout by a few other African Americans and criticized by even some Latinos for having such an ardent interest in Latino culture appearing to forsake my own. 

Posing with Mamainé at her Peruvian soul food restaurant
in Guayabo, Perú

My late Mexican-American friend, Yolanda, who noticed the progress I was making in learning to speak Spanish admonished me to learn the culture if I am going to speak the language. In my exuberance to follow her advice, I decided, as a black person, to make an effort to explore, and when possible, immerse myself in black Latin-American cultures while improving my Spanish.

When I travel through Latin America, I habitually wear t-shirts with pictures of Barak Obama, Luther Vandross, or Muhammad Ali proudly representing black U.S.A.  At the same time, I try to blend, as much as possible, with black communities to learn more about black history and culture in those countries and blog about my experience.

 This is as touristy as I have ever gotten
 in my travels, a trip to the equator

I am inclined to believe that I am one of the very few black travelers to Latin America who engage the black communities in my visits. Most blacks, as do other tourists, opt for fancy hotels and major tourist attractions whereas I head straight for the barrio (the hood) where I can have more fun stretching my dollars. 

When I visited a historic African village in Colombia, South America, a village that won its freedom from the Spanish almost 200 years before the rest of South America, I was served a scrumptious fish, rice, and plantain dinner. The bill was not even five dollars. Many of the residents, pleased to see a “black” visitor touring the town for a change, they marveled openly wondering who I was and where I come from.  

No, I have no issues whatsoever with my black American heritage. Like Marcus Garvey and Malcolm X, I am a lover and respecter of the African diaspora in the western world where we members represent a diversity of cultures and speak a diversity of languages. Music such as salsa, samba, reggae, jazz, R&B, hip hop, and even the tango are nothing more than African legacies made in the Americas.