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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Freedom to Travel to Cuba


















As staunch supporter of Barack Obama, his policies on Cuba is one of the areas where he and I part company. During his presidential campaign, Obama promised to lift restrictions on travel to Cuba and even promised to lift the trade embargo. I'm now feeling let down because he seems to be trying too hard to please the very people who, almost unanimously, have such a fervent desire to see him fail as president.

I proudly state on my résumé that I studied Spanish at the University of Havana, only having to explain (proudly) when challenged during job interviews that I was there “legally” through Global Exchange, based in San Francisco, CA. Global Exchange was licensed by the U.S. State Department to send people to Cuba for studies in Spanish, music and dance, history and culture, and even sponsored bicycle tours, among other activities. This was years before the George Bush administration tightened restrictions on travel to Cuba, causing Global Exchange to lose its license from the State Department in sponsoring those educational and culturally enlightning trips.

In Cuba, I saw first-hand how U.S. government policies are hurting innocent men, women, and children, who feel no animosity whatsoever towards American people, much more than it is hurting the Castro administration. As a visitor, I felt nothing but love and admiration from ordinary, everyday Cuban citizens who boast 100% literacy and universal health-care in their country.
















There was Luisa whom I befriended only for the purpose of learning and experiencing life from an Afro-Cuban perspective who did not waste any time begging me to take her home to the United States. And it was not because she was in love, not hardly! She was economically desperate and tired of being hungry. There were times I wanted a bite to eat, and casually took her along to a local fast-food place called El Rápido (meaning Fast), which is similar to Church's Chicken. To her, this was luxury.

The good news is that Obama lifted “some” of the restrictions to travel to Cuba.


Saturday, February 26, 2011

Lifetime Friendships through Travel (El Carmen, Perú)

 

















El Carmen de Chincha, Perú

As a traveler (not a tourist), I prefer to stay away from tourist attractions and activities and be among the everyday people of the places I visit. This, in my opinion, is the best way to experience the real culture; particularly if you want to master the language. In my case, Spanish.

Years ago, I was astonished to learn from an article I read that there are more black Latinos in the Americas than there are black gringos. What surprises me to the point of frustration is that too many Latinos I meet, from New York to California, do not know about the blacks in their own communities who speak Spanish as their first language. What a shame as they, of all people, should know better.

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Before making my first trip to Perú in 2005, I got the phone number from a travel guide of Peru's famous Ballumbrosio family (above), of whom the patriarch, the late-great maestro violinist Amador Ballumbrosio, helped to revive and popularize Afro-Peruvian music. I picked up the phone, called and told them I needed a place to stay. Amador Ballumbrosio's daughter Maribel was so loving over the phone that my heart was deeply touched. I made the reservation to rent a room from the family, got clear directions from the Airport to their home in El Carmen.

Mamá Adelina's birthday

Adelina, the wife of the late, great Amador. We are celebrating her birthday

Going to the beach

I care for my goddaughter Daniela (far right front, by the window) so much that I often invite her friends, family, and neighbors to participate in activities I plan for her. In this photo, I rented a van and took everyone pictured to the beach in Chincha, Perú.

Polla a la Brasa


After the beach, we dined at a chicken-and-fries joint (pollo-a-la-braza).


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Family members of my goddaughter Daniela. L-R: her aunt Cristina, her sister Ruth, her cousin Mariana, her uncle Jesus, and her cousin Yomira.

Daniela new bike
Daniela (in yellow) and her cousin (to the left) Mariana of El Carmen, Perú

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Daniela and I at the Plaza de Armas (main square) in Chincha, Perú


Friday, February 18, 2011

Teaching Myself Spanish




Had I known that being self-taught in Spanish would be such a long, arduous task, I doubt if I would have continued to learn on my own and set unrealistic goals.



I was hired at my current place of employment because of my ability to speak Spanish. Hardly a day goes by when I'm not greeting, conversing or counseling a Spanish-speaking client. Unlike your average bilingual professional, I'm not a native speaker, nor did I take years of classes at a university. I am self-taught, primarily out of a book entitled Practical Spanish Grammar by Marcial Prado (a self-teaching guide).

Even to this day, it is evident that the more Spanish I learn, the more Spanish I realize I “don't” know.

Had I known that being self-taught in Spanish would be such a long, arduous task, I doubt if I would have continued to learn on my own and set unrealistic goals. I was advised on more than one occasion to take classes, but I didn't have the time. I really thought that I could be fluent within my first year of self-learning (LOL). As time passed, even to this day, it is evident that the more Spanish I learn, the more Spanish I realize I “don't” know. However, it is now too late to stop, considering the progress that I've made so far.

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Alberto, my private guide in Chincha Alta, Perú, accompanied me (three hours daily) about town as we conversed in Spanish.

In fact, I'm still learning the language and am still taking every opportunity to become more fluent through more self-study and travel to Spanish-speaking countries like Mexico, Cuba, El Salvador, Perú, and Ecuador. It was in Cuba and Perú where I took formal two-week crash courses to improve my Spanish while on vacation. In the Fall of 2010, I will include Chile and Colombia in my itinerary.





















It was in the beautiful Miraflores section of Lima, Perú where I earned an advanced Spanish certificate at a Spanish-immersion school.

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I was awarded an Advance Spanish Certificate
from El Sol-Escuela de Español, Lima, Perú

In addition, I practiced my Spanish by reading newspapers and storybooks, and by striking conversations randomly with those whom I perceived to be Spanish only. I created flash cards to memorize items from an English/Spanish phrasebook while waiting on line, waiting for a bus, or any situation where I might be bored. A fun way in which I practice my Spanish is by watching Spanish movies with English subtitles, and sometimes, English movies with Spanish subtitles. I even have a Spanish Facebook account, in addition to my English account, for making friends in Latin American countries and to develop contacts for my upcoming trips.

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I spent my summer vacation taking an intensive Spanish course
at the University of Havana in Cuba

Sometimes, my Spanish really surprises me. There are times when my words flow like a native speaker, such as the time I was stopped by the Peruvian National Police for traveling-while-black, and there are times when I struggle to come up with words to express myself, such as conversing with a native Spanish-speaker who is fluent in English (bilinguals make me nervous). When I'm in a Spanish-speaking country where hardly anyone speaks English, my level of fluency rises by default. When I'm home in the USA where I'm speaking mostly English, my level of Spanish fluency takes a dive.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Travel & Marriage to a Foreigner?

Today, I got into an online chat with a dear female friend I met in Perú over a year ago. As a dear friend, I truly love her. In this particular conversation, she, to my surprise, popped the question; marry her so she can come to the USA. I explained to her that when I marry, it will be for love and nothing less.

As a single guy, I've been approached by women from nine different countries about marriage. Most were up front about their motive and even offered me several thousand dollars. María, the Peruvian-American owner of a café that I frequent in the mornings, asked if I will be looking for someone special when I return to Perú. My mind went back to my trip to Cuba where I met Luisa who immediately begged me to take her back home to the USA. It was evident through her behavior that true love was not in the equation, especially when I suggested that I stay in Cuba to be with her. That shut her up! I had only two reasons for being in Cuba in the first place----language and cultural immersion and the development of my salsa dancing skills. Making lifetime “friendships” was a big plus, but marriage? I don't “think” so!

It was evident through her behavior that true love was not in the equation, especially when I suggested that I stay in Cuba to be with her. That shut her up!

My fourth and most recent trip to Perú was no different from my trip to Cuba, or any other country that I've visited; it was strictly for language and cultural immersion. Making lifetime “friendships“ was a plus.

Fortunately, I have several family-like connections in Perú. People whom I love and respect as members of the African diaspora. I especially look forward to seeing Daniela, my goddaughter and her family to whom I frequently call and send money. When I'm in Perú, we have a great time playing games, going to parks, the beach, children play centers, to dinners, and eating ice cream.

There are too many cases of men and women marrying someone from a different country only to burned when their spouses acquire permanent resident status.


But marriage? Ummm, I don't “think” so! At least not to someone who doesn't legally reside in the USA. There are too many cases of men and women marrying someone from a different country only to be burned when their spouses acquire permanent resident status. María, who herself knows of such cases, told me that I shouldn't blame them for they are only looking for a better life. Although, I can understand looking for a better life, but feigning love and breaking the hearts of those who who truly love them is not the answer; in fact, it's corruption. If I meet and marry a woman, she will either be a citizen of the United States of America, or at least, a permanent resident alien already.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Black Heritage Month: Perú

Exploring Black Peruvian Culture

Other than to practice my Spanish, I visited Perú to explore her rich, black heritage where its music and dance not only became national treasures, but also achieved international acclaim.
However, it was in the late 1950s to the 1970s, a cultural revival brought back old, forgotten African music that inadvertently merged with Spanish and indigenous music (the Incas) during slavery, resulting in a whole new genre of music... Afro Peruvian Music.
Here in the U.S., we celebrate Black Heritage in the month of February, and so does the land of the great Inca Empire, Perú where their black population is concentrated in the province of Chincha on the southern pacific coast of Perú . They call this celebration Verano Negro (Black Summer). Remember, in Perú, it is summertime from December through February. People from all over Perú and from different parts of the world flock to Chincha to celebrate Black Summer with the slogan, ¡Vamos Pa' Chincha Familia (Let's go to Chincha, brothers and sisters)! Black people in Perú refer to themselves as “familia.”

Amador Ballumbrosio
The late Amador Ballumbrosio who helped to
revive & promote Afro-Peruvian music & dance.




















People flock to Chincha from everywhere to
celebrate Peru's Black Heritage.

Cesar y Maribel
César Ballumbrosio (L) and Maribel Ballumbrosio (R),
children of the late
Amador Ballumbrosio

El Carmen children
Children of El Carmen in
the province of
Chincha, Perú

Wedding Party
From left to right: César Ballumbrosio,
Bill Smith (that's me),
Maribel Ballumbrosio,
and Ronal Illescas

El Carmen block party

During my first trip to Perú, I started developing rapport with members of the community very quickly. I didn’t have to go anywhere for entertainment. It was all right there in the community

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Upon my arrival, I was greeted warmly and taken in by a black, musical family known throughout Perú as La Familia Ballumbrosio (the Ballumbrosio Family). I'm standing in the back (middle).

 At taste of Peruvian "Soul Food" at Mamaine Restaurant



Related Posts on Black Perú



Thursday, February 10, 2011

Lifetime Friendships Through Travel--Quito, Ecuador

Afro-Ecuadorian Connections


















Quito, Ecuador

As a traveler, not a tourist, I prefer to stay away from tourist attractions and be among the everyday people of the places I visit. This, in my opinion, is the best way to experience the real culture; particularly if you want to master the language. In my case, Spanish.

Years ago, I was astonished to learn from an article I read that there are more black Latinos in the Americas than there are black gringos. What surprises me to the point of frustration is that too many Latinos I meet, from New York to California, do not know about the blacks in their own communities who speak Spanish as their first language. What a shame as they, of all people, should know better.

Freddy Cevallos (2)

It was through Facebook where I met Freddy and Martha individually, not knowing they were boyfriend and girlfriend (novios). They and I have been corresponding for almost a year before my second trip to Quito, Ecuador. That's when I met them at Freddy's office on the campus of Universidad Andina de Simón Bolívar where Freddy works as a consultant of Afro-Ecuadorian Studies. He is originally from Ecuador's predominately black province of Esmeraldas, where escaped slaves originally settled and defeated Spanish forces to earn their freedom. Martha, who works nearby, came over to the office and the three of us had lunch in the university cafeteria.

Martha is an Afro-Colombian immigrant originally from Barranquilla. She moved to Ecuador to seek better opportunities, which she says are not available to blacks in Colombia. This surprised me because I was just in Colombia (Cartagena) before traveling to Ecuador where I saw a large black presence working at the airport, in shops, driving taxi cabs, driving buses; much more than I saw in Ecuador. Martha explained to me that Colombia has a much larger black population than Ecuador, so obviously I will see a greater black presence; especially on the Caribbean coast of Cartagena.

What Freddy and I have in common is our interest in Black Studies. His focus is on Afro-Ecuadorian studies, and my focus initially was on African-American studies until I learned to converse in Spanish. That's when I developed an interest in Afro-Latino studies. During my time in Ecuador, I too had an interest in Afro-Ecuadorian studies. Freddy even hooked me up with the wife of Nelson Estumpiñan Bass, the man whom I consider to be the Langston Hughes of Ecuador. For those who know nothing about Langston Hughes, he was an African-American writer and poet who wrote about the black experience in the U.S. as Nelson Estumpiñan Bass wrote about the black experience in Ecuador.




Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Lifetime Friendships Through Travel: Part I

An Afro-Peruvian Connection


Lima, Perú

As a traveler, not a tourist, but as a traveler, I prefer to stay away from tourist attractions and be among the everyday people of the places I visit. This, in my opinion, is the best way to experience the real culture; particularly if you want to master the language. In my case, the language is Spanish.

Years ago, I was astonished to learn from an article I read that there are more black Latinos in the Americas than there are black gringos. What surprises me to the point of frustration is that too many Latinos I meet, from New York to California, do not know about the blacks in their own communities who speak Spanish as their first language. What a shame as they, of all people, should know better.

Mariela in Lima
L-R: I (Bill), Mariela, and Alberto
at Starbucks in Lima

This blog is about the friends I made during my travels. Since my focus is on Latin-America, I want to quickly acknowledge my non-Latin American lifetime friends that made from my travel experience: Gilda and the Kai Alpha Christian Fellowship in Manila, The Philippines, Eddie Ang and his family in Singapore, and Phelps and Christina in Hong Kong, China.

I met Mariela, a Lima, Perú law student on Facebook shortly before making my second trip to Perú. I found Facebook to be a wonderful tool in meeting folks in parts of the world where you intend to travel. Unfortunately when I made the trip to Perú, I didn't feel we knew each other well enough to ask her to meet Mariela in person. I “assumed” that she would have preferred more Facebook correspondence first. Another reason I didn't ask to meet her in person was the fact that I was spending most of my time in a town two and one-half hours south of where she lives.


National Afro-Peruvian Museum
National Afro-Peruvian Museum

However, upon my return to the U.S., Mariela and I continued our Facebook correspondence. By the time I made my subsequent trip to Perú the following year, we had the rapport that made me feel comfortable in asking to meet in person, in fact, our meeting was a given. She and I finally met in the beautiful Parque Kennedy (Kennedy Park) and she suggested that we head for Starbucks Café, yes Starbucks! In this section of Lima, there is all the familiar cafes and fast-food joints we are accustomed to in the U.S.; even KFC where the chicken tastes like wood.


Parque Kennedy (Park) in Lima, Perú

Later Alberto, an off-duty Lima police officer joined us. Both he an Mariela are members of Makongo Del Desarrollo, a Peruvian civil rights organization of which I am also an honorary member. I felt honored when they invited me to attend a major event sponsored by Makongo. Alberto was also good enough to take me to the National Afro-Peruvian Museum in another section of town. He and I now are now Facebook friends.

Lifetime Friendships Through Travel--Lima

An Afro-Peruvian Connection













Lima, Perú


As a traveler I prefer to stay away from tourist attractions and be among the everyday people. This, in my opinion, is the best way to experience the real culture; particularly if you want to master the language. In my case, Spanish.

Years ago, I was astonished to learn from an article I read that there are more black Latinos in the Americas than there are black gringos. What surprises me to the point of frustration is that too many Latinos I meet, from New York to California, do not know about the blacks in their own communities who speak Spanish as their first language. What a shame as they, of all people, should know better.

To learn more about black history and the black experience in Latin America, I took it upon myself not to just read about it, but to travel, and as much as possible, experience it.

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My dear friend, Deisy, of Lima, Perú

It was through a Peruvian friend I met on Facebook who now lives in Toronto, Canada who introduced to her family before making my second trip to Perú.. One of the family members is Deisy, of Lima, Perú. Deisy and her family was at my bedside almost every day when I was inadvertently hospitalized with an intestinal infection. I met her mother and her daughter as a result of Deisy's visits. Deisy's daughter and I were Facebook friends for almost one year before she and I met.