Thursday, October 4, 2018

Sad Ending with my Afro-Peruvian Goddaughter

I was fascinated by a CD, "the Soul of Black Perú" that alerted me to this country's black population. And as a lifetime Spanish student seeking to learn about black cultures in Latin America, Perú joined my list of places to visit. Through my planing and research, I learned of a prominent black musical family in Perú's southern district of El Carmen that entertains and accommodates visitors wanting to explore the Afro-Peruvian community and its culture. My first trip took place in October 2005.

 Daniela and I hanging out in Chincha Alta, Perú

This family took me in as though I were a long, lost cousin making it easier for me to mix with residents in the community. One evening, while in the living room working on my laptop, a sweet three-year-old wandered in from next door, and I offered her some sugarless candy that I brought from the U.S. Her name is Daniela, and suddenly, I was deeply struck by a strong, paternal connection.

La Plaza de Armas (Main Square) of El Carmen, the hub of Afro-Peruvian culture

When she reached the age of five, Daniela asked me a question that has always been very dear to my heart; she wanted to know if she could be my daughter. I never met her father, but according to hearsay, he is quite a player running around with different women at will. In fact, I even met two of Daniela's half sisters fathered by this same man.

Daniela at an amusement park in Sunampe, Perú

Even while at home in the U.S., I would make calls to Daniela and her family and wire money hoping that she would benefit. As I made repeat visits to Perú, I would take Daniela and her family and playmates to dinners, amusement parks, and beaches. During her puberty, I taught her how to play chess, Monopoly, and Scrabble, and later bought her a bicycle. In addition to trying to get her started early in the English language, I made attempts to encourage her to develop her reading and math skills beyond grade level by purchasing children's books.

Daniela and I enjoying treats outside a local store

Unfortunately, because I live in the U.S. and she in Perú, I inadvertently missed far too many opportunities to be the influence in her life as I would have loved. Her mother sold the bicycle and all the other gifts and educational materials that I purchased for Daniela. Because of the marginalized educational system in this predominately black and brown community, her Spanish is now the equivalent of U.S. black "ghetto talk." Even though Spanish is not my first language, I quickly detected the poorly written messages she sends me through Facebook today as a teen. 

Relaxing at a local resort in El Carmen while Daniela's mother (background) 
supervises the kids on the waterfront.

It was when Daniela turned nine that I noticed a marked difference in her behavior towards me when I arrived in El Carmen. It was obvious that she was surreptitiously influenced by her mother or other family members to hustle me, i.e, capitalize on the tender spot that I have in my heart for Daniela by having me purchase items supposedly for her and her little sister, but in reality, for her mother to sell. I really wanted to help Daniela enjoy her childhood, but her mother kept getting in the way for personal gain.

La Calle (San Jose Street) in El Carmen, Peru

On Daniela's 15th birthday, I paid half the expenses for her Quinceañera, which is like the U.S. Sweet 16 celebration, but for 15-year-olds. Still trying to encourage her to think about her future as she rapidly approaches adulthood, I sent her pictures of successful black women, such as Muriel Bowser informing her that this is the mayor of our nation's capital. Indeed, she was impressed by her beauty as well as her status as a black female, but not enough to try to think about her own life and future.

The sign reads, "We Are Ebony," at a children's community center.
El Carmen, Perú

I really spoiled Daniela's family! Today, as Daniela recently turned16, it has become blatantly evident that she is being used to withdraw an increasing amount of money out of me. Sadly, I caught Daniela in so many lies about her needs and wants and noticed inconsistencies and holes in her stories as she continues to come up with excuses to get me to wire more money, which of course, will go to her mother, and not to Daniela.
Daniela after an Afro-Peruvian dance class

A Peruvian-American acquaintance, told me years ago not to be fooled by all the love that I get from Peruvian people; "it's about the benjamins, moron," he insisted out of frustration. In some instances, he was right, but fortunately, I met others, such as the musical family who always gave me a place to stay never hitting on me for money, but treated me as a blood relative. They even cared for me when I got sick, and nursed me back to health. However, Daniela's family was different once they realized how much I really cared for her and were determined to take advantage.
We are toasting with our Inca Cola as we await grilled chicken dinners

No way do I blame Daniela as I believe she truly desired and valued our father-daughter relationship. She is only a child and was vehemently sidetracked by loved ones into going for the benjamins, which is far beyond her control. It is sad, but I chose to cut off all communication with her and her family and simply move on with my life.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

LATINO HERITAGE MONTH: A Black Pictorial Celebration

Hispanic (Latino) Heritage Month, September 15 to October 15, addresses little, if any, of its racial diversity consisting of Asians, Blacks, Indigenous, Jews, Middle Easterners, Whites, and a mixture of some or all of the above.

The Latino (Hispanic) black population has been around for over a century before that of the African American. Thus, I am presenting  22 photos denoting Black History in Latin America.

 María Chiquinquirá

She was the first slave to win her freedom in a court battle changing the course of history for thousands of black woman in Ecuador.

Nicomedus Santa Cruz

 Poet, composer, journalist, and folklorist helped raise awareness of Afro-Peruvian culture.

Victoria Santa Cruz

Dubbed as the Mother of Afro-Peruvian culture, she is the wife of Nicomedus (above); a choreographer, composer, and social activist.

Statue of Lt. Pedro Camejo

He is known as El Primero Negro (the First Black) fight under the South American liberator Simón Bolívar.

Antonio Ruiz

Thousands of Argentine blacks fought in Argentina's revolutionary war and on behalf of other South American countries seeking independence from Spain.

Piedad Córdoba
Colombia's First Black Senator

Vicente Guerrero

Before becoming México's First Black President in 1829, he is credited for liberating México from Spain in 1810. He is the son of an African slave mother and a Mestizo peasant father.

 Rafael Cordero
Puerto Rico

A monument built in San Juan in honor of the Father of Education

Soul Food Cook

I had my tasteful enjoyment of this cuisine in Southern Perú where Afro-Peruvian recipes were passed down since slavery.

Mónica Chalá
former Miss Ecuador

Brigadier General Antonio Maceo

He was known as the Bronze Titan in Cuba's revolutionary war against Spain.

Arnaldo Temayo Mendes

World's first black Astronaut who flew with Russians in 1980.

 Lt. Estéban Hotense
Dominican Republic

Raised in Kentucky (USA), he became a member of the famous all-black World War II Tuskegee Airmen.

Alonso Illescas
Successful slave rebel, strategist, and guerrilla warrior built an alliance of escaped African slaves and indigenous people in Ecuador's black capital—Esmeraldas.

Statue of Gaspar Yanga

Originally from an area of West Africa now known as Gabón, this slave rebel created México's first free black town 200 years before the rest of México gained independence from Spain.

Remedios Del Valle

Known as the Madre de Patria (the Mother of her Country) having served in many military battles in defense of Argentina.

José Leandro Andrade

Decades before World Cup soccer star Pele, Andrade was know as the The Black Marvel who enchanted international soccer fans with effortless grace and elegance.

Ballumbrosio Family
El Carmen, Perú 

I am in the back (2nd from right) with Perú's famous music family with whom I stay every time I visit Perú. 

Black Heritage Celebration
Caracas, Venezuela 

Black Bolivians Celebrating their African heritage

Jorge Medina
First Black Senator

The Garinagu (Garifunas)
Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, & Nicaragua

In the Bronx borough of New York City, black immigrants from Central America celebrate their ethnic heritage. They speak Spanish, English, and their native tongue Garífuna.


Friday, September 21, 2018

Latinos Who Prejudge Blacks

Any one or all three of these men speak Spanish as a first or second language, 
but you will never know by simply looking at their outer appearance.

What is it with so many Latinos (and black folks) in the U.S. who feel that all Spanish speakers are of the same color as those you see on Univisión and Telemundo? During my travels through Latin-America, I met blacks, Asians, whites, and Middle Easterners, not to mention indigenous people, who speak their country's national languageSpanish. Yet when you read newspapers or watch TV in their respective countries, you see mainly whites and those of olive complexions. And if you see any blacks at all, they are usually entertainers, athletes, or criminals.

 I am posing with the owner of Mamainé restaurant in Guayabo, Perú where I dined on some good Peruvian soul food. She speaks only Spanish!

One day, I walked into a dental office in Harlem, New York City where there was a light-brown skinned African-American woman ahead of me who, in perfect English, asked to be registered. The dark brown-skinned woman who happens to be from the Dominican Republic assumed because of her color that she is Latina and responded in Spanish. The African-American woman snapped, "No Spanish!" The receptionist complied and continued the registration in English.

Former baseball manager Dusty Baker is fluent in Spanish

 When my turn came, LOL, I greeted the receptionist in Spanish saying, "good afternoon, I have an 11:00 appointment." Looking at my skin color, she instinctively answered me in English. I snapped in Spanish, “No English!” Being from the Dominican Republic, she should know first hand that people who speak her language come in all colors, including black. Why is she coming to the U.S. prejudging folks' ability to speak Spanish based solely on outer appearance, especially when there are so many U.S. Latinos who speak limited Spanish or none at all?

In The Bronx (New York), black immigrants from Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua celebrate their heritage. They speak Spanish, English, and their native tongue Garífuna.

I chuckle every time I think of an incident in San Francisco, California when I was walking with a lady-friend from India. Suddenly, a monolingual Spanish speaker who needed directions got right in her face and asked with a thick accent, "Spanish?" My Indian lady-friend does not speak Spanish, but my “black ass” do and gave him the directions he needed. As the woman and I continued on our way, the man appeared totally bewildered, and could not take his eyes off of me. LOL.

Monday, August 20, 2018

An Object Lesson on U.S. Latinos

In a hot Havana heat in July, I'm chilling
out on a mojito, Cuba's national drink.

On my first day in Cuba, I learned an object lesson as to how so many bilingual U.S. Latinos feel, when we non-native speakers try to practice our Spanish on them.

I was bicycling along the malecón (waterfront) in Havana, and this brother rode up beside me striking up a conversation in "English." I got insulted because I felt that he thinks "this gringo" can't speak Spanish. To teach his narrow ass a lesson, I decided to respond to everything he says to me in Spanish; just as U.S. Latinos respond to me in English when I speak to them in Spanish.

Finally, the brother snapped and shouted, "MAN, STOP SPEAKING SPANISH, I'M TRYING TO PRACTICE MY ENGLISH!" My empathy and compassion suddenly kicked in, and I gladly complied :-)

The same thing happened in Lima, Perú. When a man whom I kept responding to in Spanish inside of a restaurant asked me politely if its OK to practice his English, I granted his request knowing that I will be overwhelmed with plenty of other opportunities to practice my Spanish. 

I just wished that more of my U.S. Latino neighbors and schoolmates had the same compassion for me in my attempts to improve my Spanish.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Fast & Fun Spanish Language Development

Chowing down on a Peruvian dinner with a 
glass of pisco sour, Perú's national drink

Normally, I am very confident and perform impressively during job interviews, but this time, the hiring manager asked if it was OK to switch our conversation to Spanish. This was unprecedented, and for once, I felt quite nervous as always around bilingual Latinos. Reluctantly I complied, and surprisingly, passed the interview with flying colors.  The company wasted no time bringing me on board.

I credit a recent trip to Cuba (legally) where I spent two weeks at a Spanish-language intensive training sponsored in partnership with Global Exchange, Inc. based in San Francisco, California and the University of Havana offering beginning to advanced Spanish classes to foreigners.

Receiving my Advance Spanish certification 
from El Sol School in Lima, Perú

Being primarily self-taught in Spanish, I've been encouraged to try a Spanish language immersion school for more rapid development. Such schools can be found in every Spanish-speaking country. In Perú and Ecuador where I've made several visits, you can get private lessons for an equivalent of $5.00 - $7.00 per hour vs. the $30.00 - $40.00 per hour charged here in the U.S.

An Afro-Cuban guest speaker (sitting wearing pink) discussing Cuban 
issues my student group from the U.S. England, France, and Germany

I chose the immersion schools in Cuba and Perú because I love and appreciate the music of both countries. You don't learn textbook Spanish in an immersion school as your focus is strictly on "conversation." In my opinion; however, you get the best results if you've had at least one semester of Spanish in high school or college or have been self taught such as I. 

In an immersion school, your instructors do not speak English, neither do your tutors, nor your host family. After one week, I started waking up in the morning "thinking" and even had a couple of dreams in Spanish.

Jaime, of Chincha, Perú who charged me under $5.00 per 
hour to drill me on my Spanish as we roamed about town

In Havana, Cuba, I made it my business to mix with Cuban citizens after school where I visited and dined with the family of a Cuban expat friend living in the U.S., dated and went salsa dancing with neighborhood women, and was invited to the home of a vendor at the University of Havana. A bicycle taxi driver I hired taught me Cuban slang words on our way to my destinations. All of this supplemented my Spanish training at the University of Havana.

University of Havana campus

In Perú, I did the same thing, especially on weekends where I stayed with an Afro-Peruvian music and dance family who lived three hours south of Lima, the nation's capital where they had numerous dance performances in their home. I never had to go anywhere for entertainment because there was always something going on right there in the community. This family treated me with so much love that, to this day, they inspire and welcome me to make repeated trips to Perú, and I did.

I'm standing in the back, 2nd from the right, with Perú's famous 
Ballumbrosio family who gave me a room during my visits

Practicing your Spanish with U.S. Latinos is not generally the best option because too many have issues speaking Spanish with non-native speakers, especially if their English is equally fluent. There are others who are so Americanized that they are more comfortable with English, and may not speak any Spanish at all. And still, there are others who are so determined to perfect their English that they find we Spanish learners to be an irritating distraction. 

Thus, an immersion school in a Spanish-speaking country would be worth the investment; even if it's just for a vacation, which is exactly what I did in Cuba and in my first trip to Perú. I also vacationed in six other Latin-American countries while noticing an obviously huge difference in my Spanish, which was often used on my various jobs.

An Afro-Cuban dance class in Havana, Cuba

Finally, for those of you who've had Spanish in school way back in the day, and think you've forgotten everything, I would challenge you to just spend a few days in a Spanish-speaking country where no one speaks English, and you will be pleasantly surprised at how much of what you've think you've forgotten suddenly rises to the surface.

In terms of travel expenses, you can get cheap airfares through and These fare get even cheaper when you book your flights weeks or months in advance, and again, even cheaper when you schedule your takeoff date during a slow off-peak season.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Mexican Independence Day: What Blacks (& Mexicans) Should Know!

Along with Spanish explorers, Moroccan born Estevánico was one of the first native Africans to reach what later became Mexican territory before this territory was taken over by the United States after the Mexican-American war, namely Arizona and New Mexico. 

Some years ago while riding a city bus in Oakland, California; I found myself lecturing a group of Mexican-American high school students (in Spanish) who apparently were not accustomed to meeting black folks, not to mention Afro Latinos, who can speak their language. They laughed hysterically when they heard me. The little lesson that I shared with them was a brief history of “Black” Latin America, which of course, includes Mexico.

Equally frustrating were some of my fellow African Americans, again in California, who questioned my racial identity because of my Spanish and love for Afro-Latino culture, especially the music. They'd snicker and make comments, such as, “listen to this black Mexican,” facetiously implying that the existence of black Mexicans is a mythical joke. 

Let me begin by sharing one, hardcore, historical fact; there is a strong black heritage stretching from south of the border 
all the way down to Argentina. This black heritage started a century before it started here in the United States of America. Popular Latin music sounds, such as salsa, cumbia, tango, merengue, punta, and festejo, among many other genres, share African roots.

The National Park Service of The U.S. Department of the Interior documented the following regarding some of the Spanish explorers who happened to be of African ancestry:
Africans and their descendants were a pertinent part of the settling and developing of Spanish colonial societies. The infusion of African culture into the Spanish colonies and the Americas as a whole can be seen in African techniques for fishing, farming, cooking, building construction and other trades and crafts (Deagan and MacMahon 1995:15).

Gonzalo Aguirre Beltán
author of

"The Black Population of Mexico"

In 2006, the Chicago National Museum of Mexican Art opened a groundbreaking exhibition, “the African Presence in Mexico.” During the early years of Spanish colonialism, the black population was much larger in Mexico than that of the Spanish population until those black folks began intermarrying with the Spanish and the Indigenous for over a period of 500 years. Who knows, any of those Mexican-American students on that bus could unknowingly have African blood in their veins.

According to the late anthropologist and professor at Mexico’s University of Vera Cruz, Gonzalo Aguirre Beltrán, who published in his book, La Población Negra de México (the Black Population of Mexico), more than 500,000 African slaves were brought in through Mexico’s Port of Vera Cruz from 1519, the time of Cortez's invasion, until the day of Mexican independence in 1810. The Spanish relied on the slavery of Africans to expand their empire and increase their wealth in Mexico and stretching all the way down through Argentina. 

A statue of Mexico's rebel slave leader Gaspar Yanga

In Mexico's state of Vera Cruz, an African slave rebel named Gaspar Yanga, born in what is now known as Gabon, West Africa, joined forces with another rebel slave leader named Francisco de Matosa in battles against Spanish forces to establish Mexico’s first free town, a free Black town independent of Spanish rule, 200 years before the rest of Mexico won her independence.  

After the cry for Mexican independence by Father Miguel Hidalgo on Sept. 16, 1810, Spain’s worst nightmares became reality. The first to respond to Father Hidalgo’s plea were liberal Spaniards who were born in Mexico (creoles) along with black and indigenous slaves seeking to earn their freedom as soldiers.

Father Juan Hidalgo

During the Mexican War of Independence, which lasted from 1810-1821, it is estimated that 30-40 percent of the rebel army was comprised of mixed-race Mexicans and black folks. According to writer/researcher Jameelah Muhammad, contributor to the book, "No Longer Invisible: Afro Latins Today by Minority Rights Press," it was the Ejército Moreno (the Colored troops) who launched the independence struggle on behalf of Mexico.

When a mule driver named Vicente Guerrero, who happens to be the son of an African slave mother named María Guadalupe Saldaña, and a mestizo peasant father named Juan Pedro Guerrero joined the Mexican revolution, he distinguished himself in major battles achieving the rank of captain, then colonel, and finally general showing superior tactical ability and outstanding courage. With weapons and supplies captured from Spanish forces, Guerrero took his little gang of less than 100 men and built it into a strong, disciplined military force of over 1,000 warriors.

 Vicente Guerrero
Mexico's Liberator  & First Black President

One by one leading Mexican revolutionaries such as Father Miguel Hidalgo, Ignacio Allende, Juan Aldama, Mariano Jimenez, and Javier Mina were slain or made prisoner. The rest accepted the king's pardon. But General Vicente Guerrero remained the only major rebel leader still at large and became the "Soul" of Mexican Independence.

On April 1, 1829, Vicente Guerrero became Mexico's second president. and at once abolished slavery. This is just one of reasons that the Mexican state of Tejas (pronounce Tay-Hahs) became the Lone Star state of Texas and revolted against Mexico and joined the American Union.