Friday, August 3, 2018

Too "Black" to be Latino and too "Latino" to be Considered Black

VH1’s Love & Hip Hop: Miami star Amara La Negra from the Dominican Republic

A 19-year old Chicagoan of Afro-Mexican ancestry does not feel fully accepted by his Mexican-American community because of his color. Even when he visits Mexico speaking his first language, Spanish, he is marked as different, which often tempts him to embrace the African-American community where he encounters another problem; he is too Latino to be black. Other Afro Latinos feel forced to choose which side they are on, black American or Latino.

My lady friend whom I will call Antonia, also a Spanish speaker of Honduran (Garífuna) ancestry, grew up living as an African-American. She was once married to one and her children blend perfectly into the African-American social circle. Despite my ardent interest in Afro-Latino culture, she always appeared very reluctant to discuss the Latina side of her bloodline. 

One evening, she and I went to see a live performance of the Afro-Peruvian dance troupe Perú Negro. Although, I myself was engaging the Peruvian patrons in Spanish, she simply eavesdropped refusing to let other Spanish speakers know that she too can speak the language.

Then there is Mariela who could easily pass for black American, but chooses to only identify herself by her nationality, Puerto Rican. One day, she snapped at me stating, “what you’ve got to understand, Bill, is that when people say “black,” they mean African American.” When I tried to give her some historical facts about black heritage around the world, even in Puerto Rico, she literally flew off the handle hurling personal insults in an attempt to distract me from the main point of our discussion.  

Mariela practices what is known in Latin America as “mejorar la raza (improving the race)" or “blanquemiento (whitening)” where she sought and found a Puerto Rican marital partner who is of fairer complexion so her children will appear to be something other than black. "Our culture has to move forward," she asserts.

Below is a link as well as a copy of the original article about the Afro-Latino dilemma:

ORIGINAL ARTICLE—Bringing Attention to What's Between the Lines: The Afro Latinx Community in Chicago

He is a self-proclaimed Afro-Latino living with his Mexican immigrant mother, Veronica Hernandez, on the north side of Chicago.
"Growing up, my twin brother would burn his curly hair straight just to try to fit in. We’ve never felt a part of the black community or even the Mexican community; it’s a shame.”
Tyson Hernandez is not alone in feeling isolated and confused as an Afro-Latino.
In a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2016 —which focused on Afro-Latinx for the first time in history— it was reported that 24% of Latinos, almost a quarter of the 57 million, identify as Afro-Latinos, Afro-Caribbean or of African descent, but only 18% said they were Black, 24% identified as Hispanics and the majority, 39% said they identify as white. That is perhaps, an example of the convoluted nature of identity hanging on the Latinx population.
After much deliberation, Tyson believes he is “more Black.”
“But I’m definitely Afro-Latino. My mom used to take me to Mexico, and even though I was able to speak Spanish, the kids didn’t like me. After that, I figured I needed to try to be more Black because the Mexicans don’t like,’ he said. “I’ve always felt like I have to be one or the other.”
The Afro-Latinx plight is unique because prejudice and stereotypes historically shackle it. It dates back to the colonization of Latin America when about 15 times as many slaves were taken to Latin American than the United States, according to historians.
And although there are roughly 130 million people of African descent living in Latin America, that is 25% of the population, the legacy of colorism has maintained them at the margins.
Veronica Hernandez, 50, Tyson’s mother, was born in Mexico and moved to the states at the age of 8, she recalls how her father was worried and scared for her children.
“He said that Mexicans weren’t liked here in the states and Blacks either,” she said. “He felt very sad that my children were going to be double discriminated.”
Still, few people acknowledge the term Afro-latinos and the struggles they face beyond identity issues.
“Some people still don’t recognize that there’s such a thing as Afro-Latinos,” said Ana Vicky Castillo, an Afro-Colombian educator, and historian in the Chicago area. “That’s our central struggle, our ethnicity is Latino, our race is Black, but we are too Black to be a Hispanic and too Latino to fit in with the Black community.”
In Chicago, an attempt to create an organization to bring visibility to issues affecting Afro-Latinos was founded in 2006. However, The Afro-Lati@ Insititute of Chicago (ALIC) lost momentum and did not proceed.
Later, Castillo, who had been a founder of ALIC, created the Afrolatinos Historical Society, a non-for-profit organization intended to advocate for the issues impacting Afro-latinos. Their purpose is to “bridge” the gap between Afro-Latinos and the African diaspora “so that people, in Latin America and in in the United States understand the legacy of this group of people and make them visible.”

 “That invisibility is the cause of the racism and discrimination within the Latino community towards Black Latinos,” Castillo said. And while the organization looks to strengthen Black and Brown relationships, “first we must look to strengthen the relationship between the different afro-latinos in the United States and the within Latinos overall in Latin America.”
“Latinos are terribly racist to one another based on the color their skin,” Castillo said. “We have to fix that within our community to bring visibility to the Afro-Latinx.”
In Chicago, the presence of Afro-Boricuas, those Puerto Ricans with an African-decent, is significant, Castillo said. But there is also Afro-latinos from Panama, Afro-Colombians, Afro-Cubanos and a few Afro-Mexicanos, like Tyson.
“We’ve never really felt a part of the black community or the Mexican community it’s a shame,” said Tyson. “Some of the Mexicans I around call me ‘Negro’ and I don’t like that. They say it like it’s something nasty. Or, they say it in a nasty way. No show or movie about black people is going to make people less racist.”
VH1’s Love & Hip Hop: Miami star Amara La Negra, a self-identifying Black Dominican, is using her platform to speak on the need for more Afro-Latina representation in mainstream media.
In an interview on The Real, Amara La Negra said, “It doesn’t matter where you go, there are black people, but why aren’t we portrayed in the magazines, movies, the novelas?”
Castillo asks the same question and says she is committed to change that. While she works to find a headquarters office for AHS to continue with their mission, she is looking to compile data of the Afro-latinos living in the area to create those connections.
“Afro-panameños have events, Afro-Colombians, Afro-Cubanos, Afro-Boricuas already do have their individual events, it’s a matter of working together, inviting each other and finding that common ground,” Castillo said. “We must first recognize ourselves amongst each other, then with the Black community and then globally, pointing our presence in history books.”
Samantha Cook is a fourth-year journalism student at DePaul University. She collaborated with HOY's Laura Rodriguez on this story as part of the Define American Film Festival coverage for VOICE IT. 


Friday, June 22, 2018

A Black Traveler Asks about Being Black in Perú

 At a supper club in Lima, Perú, a female performer came 
to my table to bring me on stage to dance with her.

I often get e-mails from my blog readers asking various questions about what they can expect in references to the places I've traveled. This blog reader; however, appears to be wild and freaky, and I could only give him a frank response from my own personal experience as a “culture vulture:”
“Hey bro. I saw your blog. How do they treat brothas down there. I'll be well dressed, of course. How is the pay for play game (prostitution) and are the Peruvian women open to anal? Also, hotel recommendations would be helpful.”  
Response: What-up, bruh! Yes, racism exists in Perú , but not to the violent extent of the U.S. with its long history of hate crimes and police brutality. In Perú, the racism that I noticed is focused, as a rule, on jobs with the best going to the ones with the whitest skin and the menial to those with the darkest skin. 

However, with your American passport, you are going to be treated as a white person. But if you do what I do when I travel and try to blend in with the local black community, people are going to assume that you are a broke ass, and treat you accordingly.

The better your Spanish-speaking skills, the better your chances meeting women of all colors, especially when they know that you are a gringo with a  pocket full of money. How much of a "freak" she might be depends on the individual woman. Cab drivers can help you find the pay for play games. I did not get involved in that action because my trips were strictly for language and cultural immersion.

In regards to hotels; again, I did not fool with the tourist industry. I stayed in the hood (barrios) where I could be around ordinary, everyday Peruvians and feel a more direct impact of the real culture. 

I would encourage you to go visit and ask your questions in the Peru forum. There is also a search engine that can help you find the cheapest flights and hotels that meet your budget.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Colombia, South America's Black Salsa Music Icon

Grupo Niche

This is my favorite salsa band of all time with it's lively, yet suave musical style. The word, Niche (pronounced Knee-Chay), in Colombian Spanish, describes the darkest-skinned black people. The group was founded and lead by the late Jairo Varela, which became the first salsa group to gain a wide international following. Mr. Varela took the salsa music traditions of Puerto Rico, Cuba, and New York and mixed it with the black music of his home province of Chocó in the nation of Colombia leading his band to seven gold and four platinum records.

Maestro Jairo Varela, who pulled himself out of poverty in Quibdó, a tiny village in Chocó on the Pacific coast of Colombia, asserted that his music is not Colombian, but of African influence based in his predominately black province of Chocó.

Jairo Varela

With Varela, who boasted of having the best-paid salsa band in the world, how is it that he could be sentenced to three years in prison for allegedly having business dealings with major drug traffickers? He contended that Colombian prosecutors were willing to believe that his income was ill-gotten because he is black in a country where few black residents have his kind of income. Varela insists that Colombian racism is quite clear.

Even during my own short visit to Colombia, such as in the predominately black and brown City of Cartagena where I noticed that the whiter a person, the better the employment, and the darker, the more menial. I went into banks to do business and saw not one black or brown face; that is with the exception of a security guard.

While in jail, Jairo Varela enjoyed a private cell due to his celebrity status, and was able to manage his band by cell phone. This was in he began thinking deeply about justice and racism, which was reflected in his music. 

A Young Jairo Varela
Despite, Jairo Varela's incarceration, his popularity has not suffered. Mr. Varela  was invited to appear on live television program, where former members of his band performed boleros in Mr. Varela's honor. The show, ''Noche de Luna (Night of the Moon),'' was broadcasted on Spanish-language stations from Canada to Perú. ''People were absolutely convinced of his innocence believing that his wealth and influence got him into trouble with the law in a country that is not ready to accept a successful black man.

Below is a song Jairo Varela wrote while incarcerated. The song is about being away from all of his loved ones and that “freedom is a treasure whose value you don't know until you've lost it.''