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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Representin'

Black American Traveling
to Black Latino America



FancyPanamaHat

During my first trips to Perú, Ecuador, Panamá and Colombia, and as I was passing through El Salvador and Mexico, I wanted to show off my ethnic pride and immediately be marked by the people around me as a black-American. In each Latin-American country I visit, I try to seek out black communities so I can get a taste of black Latino cultures. I wore t-shirts with pictures and names of Muhammed Ali, Tupac Shakur, Luther Vandross, and Barack Obama, all of which collected quite a bit of attention. Before leaving to return to Oakland, CA, where I have been living throughout my adult life, I cleaned and gave all of those t-shirts to anyone who wanted a souvenir from an African-American traveler.


Untitled-7
Wearing my Barack Obama shirt while visiting Ecuador
and buying my first my first panama hat.

Upon my return to Oakland from places like Perú, Ecuador, Colombia, and even Cuba, from years back, I wanted to show off my language and cultural exposure by wearing t-shirts of one of Perú's largest black communities, Chincha; my sentimental favorite international (predominately black) soccer team Ecuador, and the t-shirt representing the University of Havana where I spent an early summer studying Spanish. I even wear clothes that were handwoven in Ecuador, like my panama hats and alpaca knit sweaters. When my Peruvian-American friend María told me that I come across as a foreign black person, I took it as a compliment.


El Sol instructor

Sporting a t-shirt representing a large,
culturally rich, Afro-Peruvian community.

Each of those shirts, worn here and abroad, served as conversation pieces. In Latin-America, I easily attracted curious new friends. Here in the states, I not only get curious looks from American citizens, but I attract curious new friends from the countries I represent with what I'm wearing.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Black Baseball Player Calls Afro-Latino Players Imposters


According to a USA today article, black Latinos now make up 38% of Major League Baseball players vs only 8% of African-American baseball players.

African-American center fielder, Torii Hunter made a comment during a USA Today's round table on the state of baseball, that MLB uses dark-skinned players (he won't even refer to them as black) from countries like the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Venezuela to give an appearance that it has more African-Americans playing the game than it really does. He refers to these black Latino ball players as impostors.



To make black Latinos scapegoats as part of a big conspiracy is not the answer to the problem of getting more African-Americans back into the sport of baseball.

Tori's Hunter's exact words were:
As African-American players, we have a theory that baseball can go get an imitator and pass them off as us. It's like they had to get some kind of dark faces, so they can get them cheaper. It's like, 'Why should I get this kid from the South Side of Chicago and have Scott Boras represent him and pay him $5 million when I can get a Dominican guy for a bag of chips?' ... I'm telling you, it's sad.
Just because a black person speaks another language and comes from another country doesn't disqualify him as a member of the African diaspora.
What's sad is not the theory of why MLB would want to pay less for an Afro-Latino player than a home-grown African-American player; I think he is making a good point here. What is sad is his obvious lack of knowledge of black history. The black race does not start and end in the United States. Just because a black person speaks another language and comes from another country doesn't disqualify him as a member of the African diaspora.

What is sad is his obvious lack of knowledge of black history. The black race does not start and end in the United States.

I certainly agree and respect Hunter's advocacy of an increased number of African-American participation in baseball, but let's call a spade a spade (no pun intended). I agree with Tori Hunter's critics that this was a terrible and illogical way to advance that struggle. To make black Latinos scapegoats as part of a big conspiracy is not the answer to the problem of getting more African-Americans back into the sport of baseball.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

She Is So Special

My Afro-Peruvian Godchild

R1-14A
Daniela and I at the main square in Chincha, Perú
.

It was during my first trip to the District of El Carmen in Chincha, Perú, the hub of black Peruvian culture, when one evening, while sitting alone working on my laptop, a toddler wandered in from next door; a common practice in this community. I gave her a piece of candy that I brought from the U.S. As she struggled to open the wrapper, I felt a very strong connection; it was as though she was a long-lost loved one from a past life. Later that evening, she returned and I asked her name. She sweetly told me Daniela. I picked her up, hugged her, and gave her another piece of candy.

Untitled-3
Daniela, her family, neighbors and I getting ready
to chow down on some grilled chicken.

Those feelings of closeness to Daniela stuck with me for four years before I saw her again. In the meantime, I used to call on occasions just to say hello and to hear her voice. Each time she would ask, ¿Cuándo viene (when are you coming)? One time she asked if she could be my daughter. Her mother happened to be standing right there. Obviously embarrassed, she had Daniela say cuídate (take care) before hanging up the phone. I don't know where her real father is, but I felt really good inside to learn that Daniela felt this way about me. From that point on, I started addressing her as mija (my daughter) or mi niña (my little girl).

Daniela new bike
I promised Daniela a brand new bicycle
if she does well in school
.

When I finally returned to Chincha, Perú members of the Ballumbrosio family who hosted my stay, sat me down to chat when suddenly, I hopped up out of my chair saying that I wanted to see my daughter. Everyone knew I was referring to Daniela for I have no children of my own. I went next door, and was greeted by Daniela and her family with hugs, and I showered Daniela with gifts that I brought from the U.S.

R1- 8A

Daniela, second from the left is performing an Afro-Peruvian dance on a popular TV show Corazón Perú.

Later that evening, I met Daniela's mother Karina for the first time in person. She asked me if I had any children. No just Daniela, was my response as Daniela gave me a very pleased look. Karina was so surprised and touched as Daniela and I gave each other a nice, big hug after I read her a story out of one of the many story books I brought from the U.S.

Pollo Brasa
After spending an afternoon at the beach
we all had dinner on me (Daniela, far right)
.

During my second trip to Perú, I took full advantage of the time for Daniela and I to bond. I took her to church, walked her to school, and even took her, her friends, and family out to playgrounds, the beach, and had dinner at local restaurants; all on me. We also played games together. The day before I left Perú, Daniela and her Afro-Peruvian dance class rode a chartered bus to Lima, the nation's capital for their performance in a popular TV show Corazón Perú ( Peruvian Heart).

R1-15A
Daniela and I hanging out in the main square in
the District of El Carmen in Chincha, Perú.

Even between my trips to Perú, I call Daniela and her family to say hello and wire money like I did for Father's Day. Daniela is not my natural daughter but she is so special.


Fathers Day, June 19, 2010

Friday, June 17, 2011

Blacks Stereotyping Blacks

Black Americans Who Are Oblivious
to Black Latinos (Afro-Latinos)

In other parts of this blog, I talked about the ignorance of many Latinos who feel that only brown or olive skinned people can speak Spanish and enjoy Latin music and are totally oblivious to the black Latinos/Afro-Latinos in their own communities. This post is addressing the ignorance of many African-Americans who feel that black people are only limited to English, Ebonics, and hip hop. It's bad enough when Latinos stereotype blacks; it's appalling when blacks stereotype blacks.

When I was working as a security officer in a downtown-Oakland office building, I had to laugh when I learned that my African-American co-workers were clowning me behind my back as they stamped their feet, snapped their fingers in the air making the sound of castanets, and referring to me as Merengue Man. It was hell-a-funny in one sense and hell-a-sad in another.

A question an African-American supervisor asked my co-workers, referring to me was, “does he know he's black?”

My co-workers often heard me speaking Spanish on the job and listening to salsa music while on break. A question an African-American supervisor asked my co-workers, referring to me was, does he know he's black? On another occasion, some African-American youth referred their classmate, a black, Spanish-speaking girl from Panamá, as a confused niggah. That says a lot about their knowledge of black history. More slave ships went to Spanish-speaking countries than those that came to the U.S. Furthermore, when the Spanish conquistadors, like Cortez and Pizzaro, first invaded what we today know of as Latin-America, there were black slaves marching in their ranks. Spain had African slaves more than 100 years before the before the U.S.

What is it about so many black Americans who think we are the only legitimate blacks on the planet?

I always get a thrill and a chuckle when an African-American (and members of other ethnic groups, as well) react in shock when they hear me speaking Spanish. What is it about so many black Americans who think we are the only legitimate blacks on the planet? I've often heard black Americans infer that blacks of other cultures were non-black. In fact, I've been asked myself if I were black. Black people come in many nationalities and cultures, and speak many different languages.

Some African-American youth referred to their classmate, a black, Spanish-speaking girl from Panamá, as a confused niggah.

Yes, I know that I'm black. I'm also proud and knowledgeable of black history; not just in the United States, but around the world. In addition to Latin music, I like R&B, jazz, classical, new age, and world beat. Spanish is my second language, but I also know a tiny bit of Russian, Amharic, Tigrinya, Arabic, and Mandarin, and my skin color will never, ever change because of it.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Black Cuban Revolutionary General


General Antonio Maceo, Cuba
June 14, 1845 – December 7, 1896

José Antonio Maceo y Grajales was born in Santiago de Cuba, the son of
an Afro-Cuban woman and a Venezuelan father. His father taught him how to use weapons, manage small properties, and develop leadership qualities. His mother instilled in him order and organizational skills, all of which contributed to his prowess as a military leader and a decorated general. When Maceo, the oldest of the children turned 16, he began working for his father as a delivery boy. 

Due to his physical strength and repeated successes in recovering from more than 25 battle wounds in about 500 battles, he became known as the Bronze Titan.

In 1868, a revolt against Spain known as El Grito de Yara (The Cry of Yara) erupted and Antonio Maceo, along with his father and brother, joined the revolution. Antonio, who enlisted as a private, quickly rose through the ranks as a Major, then Lieutenant Colonel, Colonel, and Brigadier General all because of his bravery and skill in military tactics against the Spanish Army.
Because of class and racism, Maceo was forced to wait longer than he should have to be promoted to Major General.Author and historian Philip Foner had this to say in his book about the Bronze Titan Antonio Maceo, who was known by the Spanish press as the Lion: Maceo delighted in outsmarting the Spanish generals; again and again, he decoyed them into situations that were disastrous.  

Antonio, who enlisted as a private, quickly rose through the ranks as a Major, then Lieutenant Colonel, Colonel, and Brigadier General.

Due to his physical strength and his repeated successes in recovering from more than 25 battle wounds in about 500 battles, he became known as the Bronze Titan.


Maceo, a mason, was also an influential political strategist as well as a military planner. José Martí, the father of Cuba was among the Cuban leaders who were inspired by Maceo and who was quoted as having his primary duties to his country and to his own political convictions as above all human effort. He was determined to reach the pedestal of freedom or die fighting. José Martí says that Antonio Maceo has as much strength in his mind as in his arm.
Like his father and brothers, Maceo died fighting for Cuban independence. His final moment came in the battle of Punta Brava, in Western Cuba where he and his men were outnumbered by Spanish troops. Maceo was hit by two bullets, one in the chest and another in his skull.

Today, there is a municipality named after Antonio Maceo
y Grajales in Santiago de Cuba. The airport in Santiago de Cuba is named after Antonio Maceo y Grajales, and a monument in Santiago de Cuba was built in his honor.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A Naive Trip to Havana

The purpose of this trip was to immerse myself in the Spanish language and to familiarize myself with the black Cuban/Afro-Cuban experience.

























When my plane touched ground in Havana, Cuba, my whole body was filled with joy as I had a few things in mind... language, cultural immersion, and salsa dancing. I met a fine woman named Luisa who begged me to bring her back to the US. I told Luisa that I'd rather stay in Cuba and support the revolution. I repeated those exact words to another Cuban family and they chuckled as if to say, dude, if you only knew! Luisa was not chuckling. She was crushed by my naiveté. People like Luisa and her two children, are hungry in an economy where there is simply not enough basic necessities to go around. Everything is rationed. My primary reason for approaching Luisa in the first place was to practice my Spanish and be immersed into the culture by interacting with her family, friends, and members of her community.

In order for decent people to make ends meet, many hustled tourists on the side serving as private guides, as entertainers, or as prostitutes.


I also met Denalys, whom I felt could help me to improve my salsa dancing skills. After having dinner at a nice Italian restaurant, she and I went dancing at El Palacio de la Salsa (The Salsa Palace) in Havana's famous Hotel Riviera. Denalys was someone I would have been proud to bring home to mom and pop. She is highly intelligent and is made of sweet, dark chocolate. I seriously thought about it.

When I came back to Oakland, I just couldn't stop talking about my Cuban experience because I felt so uplifted and refreshed. My Spanish zoomed to a higher level and there was a marked improvement in my salsa dancing skills.

If I wanted to pay for sex, I would have stayed in Oakland and saved myself the airfare.


As I kept talking about my trip, I inadvertently came upon many Cuban refugees in the US who were very upset with me. First of all, they thought that I was supporting a regime that is oppressing their loved ones on the island. They also thought I was going for sexual tourism. Little did I know that Cuba was a sex-haven for tourist. I had blinders on looking to dive into salsa, son-montuno, charanga, danzón, and timba music. Hell if I wanted to pay for sex, I could have stayed in Oakland and saved myself the airfare. I later learned that the economy in Cuba is so bad that in order for many decent people with good hearts to make ends meet, they have to hustle tourists on the side serving as guides, entertainers, or as prostitutes.

One evening, I was invited to a party where there were a large number of folks, like me, who are foreigners. Feeling the music, I asked a young Cuban woman to dance, and she quickly glanced over toward a male on the other side of the room, standing against the wall. She was seeking his approval. He shook head to indicate no, not me. That was her pimp and they were not there to party. To them, I appeared “too Cuban,” i.e., not foreign or wealthy enough to meet their needs. In fact, almost every Cuban stranger I met took it for granted that I too was Cuban until my accent inevitably revealed otherwise. For me to even try to fake a Cuban accent was way over my head.

I had blinders on looking to dive into salsa, son-montuno, charanga, danzón and timba music.

Many of these resentful Cuban refugees simply didn't understood my true motive for going to Cuba. They did not believe I went for language and cultural immersion because they've seen too many North Americans, Europeans, and Australians traveling to their homeland for sexual pleasures.

And Fidel, oh how I admired Fidel Castro because he is the only Latin-American leader who vehemently spoke out and took action against racism in his country. Since he took office there has been a surge of black engineers, black neurosurgeons, and other black professionals. Many Americans think the first black astronaut is Guion Stewart Bluford from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. No. The first black astronaut is Arnaldo Tamayo Méndez of Guantánamo, Cuba who went into space with the Russians three years before Bluford. Castro also developed what is boasted as a 100% literacy rate in Cuba, and free health care for all Cubanos (Cuban citizens).

No wonder people chuckled when I said I wanted to stay support the revolution. 
 
Today, the racism that Castro tried to stamp out has resurfaced with a vengeance. As we speak, an Afro-Cuban civil rights leader is serving a 25-year sentence for doing the work of Martin Luther King, a violation of Cuba's revolutionary policies. Why isn't sexual tourism, which infiltrated the island, a violation of Cuba's revolutionary policies? No wonder people chuckled when I said I wanted to stay and support the revolution. No wonder Luisa looked at me with sad eyes when I told her that I wanted to stay and support the revolution. A young Marielito, one of the many Cubans who flocked to the U.S. in the 1980s, someone who was fed this revolutionary doctrine since the day he was born, asked me, what revolution? As he grew up he only saw things get progressively worse with nothing to show from this revolution of which the Castro government claims is eternal. Of course, the U.S. trade embargo that has been going on for more than 50 years against Cuba is also hurting innocent people, including children. I saw this with my own eyes.

Yes, I had a fun trip to Havana. I had a culturally rewarding trip to Havana, but it was a naive trip to Havana.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Is It Shameful to be Latino?







Why do so many 
Americans 
downplay their roots?










Ever since I was a child growing up near Spanish Harlem in New York City, I've met my share of Latinos who are in-your-face proud of their language and cultural heritage, but I've also met my share of Latinos who seemed ashamed. They avoid speaking Spanish, and get irritated when spoken to in Spanish. Recently, I read a blog by a Latina who happens to be fluent in English and Spanish; she was bitching and moaning because she receives business mail in Spanish. Here I am knocking myself out to increase my level of Spanish fluency and I meet native speakers who feel a need to rise above it. I know people of Latin-American ancestry whose parents restricted them to English only. Somebody, please tell me what is so wrong with speaking two, four, or six languages? 

I read a blog by a Latina fluent in both English and Spanish who was bitching and moaning because she receives business mail in Spanish.

Then I meet others who get annoyed when I pronounce their Spanish names “correctly” versus giving their names the “Anglo” sound. They've actually instructed me to mispronounce their names so it won't sound Spanish. Is something is wrong with the Spanish language and Latin-American culture that I need to know about? Why do so many “Americans” downplay their cultural heritage? The indigenous people are the only real Americans. The rest of us are nothing but gringos..

Here I am knocking myself out to improve my Spanish and I meet native speakers who want to rise above it.

Then I've met other Latinos who are annoyed by my interest in Latino cultures, and even questioned my loyalty to being African-American. It's as if I should stick to fried chicken with collard greens and abstain from arroz con pollo. Why shouldn't I enjoy both? What these people don't realize is that the more black history I read, the more I learn about Latinos who share my African heritage. The more I travel, the more I meet Latinos who share my African heritage.

I've met other Latinos who are annoyed with my interest in Latino cultures, and even questioned my loyalty to being African-American.

With all this said, I love Latin-American music, especially those with African influence, like bachata from the Dominican Republic, zamacueca from Perú, son-montuno from Cuba, tambor from Venezuela, and some cumbia and vallenato from Colombia. And jarocho music from Mexico? WOW, I CAN FEEL IT!!!

Now, the million dollar question: If you are of Latin-American ancestry and are ashamed of it and want to camouflage it, why? Is it internalized racism, or what? Please use the comment section below and enlighten me.

Ecuador's Black Slave Revolutionary

Black Ecuador

Alonso de Illescas (1528-1585)

In 1997, the National Congress of Ecuador declared October 2, the national day of Black Ecuadorians giving formal recognition to Alonso de Illescas (pronounced O-lone-zo Day EE-yes-cahs) born in Cape Verde Islands, off the coast of Senegal, West Africa. Around the age of 10, Illescas was captured by slave hunters and brought to Spain. He was then brought to Ecuador on a slave ship around the age of 25 and grew up to be a strategist skilled in guerrilla warfare. Behind a fortress built by by an alliance of escaped African slaves and Indigenous people, Illescas and his men fought and turned back many expeditions of Spanish forces.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Africa in Colombia

Does This Village of Black Colombians
Have Money-Making Potential?




















The people of this traditional Africa-like village, founded centuries ago by runaway slaves in the jungle of northern Colombia, about 40 kilometers south of Cartagena, live off the land, just like they did on the African continent. Their homes are made of straw, mud and cow dung. Electricity arrived in the 1970s as a government gift in recognition of the former world boxing champion Antonio Cervantes, better known as Kid Pambelé who was born here. Radio and television came soon after electricity. There is also a schoolhouse, named in honor of of the liberator of this village name Benko Biohó, which even has an Internet connection.





Benko Bioho Square, containing the statue of the legendary liberator Benko Bioho.





The village is called San Basilio de Palenque. Their ancestors survived capture in Africa, the passage by ship to Cartagena, and were strong enough to escape and live on their own for centuries. The Colombian government takes some pride in this village because the people here were the first to free themselves from Spanish rule long before the nation we now know as Colombia did. I say “some pride” because the Colombian government is not doing much else for this town.






The African village of San Basilio de Palenque lies about 40 kilometers south of Cartagena




I entered the village on the back of a motorbike and was dropped off at a restaurant across the street from Benko Bioho Square, containing the statue of the legendary liberator Benko Bioho. I had the traditional village meal of fish, rice, and plantains before my tour guide Carlos arrived . As Carlos escorted me around the village explaining its history and today's lifestyle, I kept wondering to myself, why don't these people capitalize on the growing interest in this village? The place is pretty, the weather is wonderful,and the village is peaceful with a lot to learn about the culture. I know, for myself, I would have loved to have taken home some souvenirs, like CDs of local artists, village post cards, or artifacts. I asked Carlos about this and he didn't give me much of an answer.





















When I left the village and boarded a bus headed back to Cartagena, I saw two white women (I don't know if they were Americans or from another continent), hopping on the back of a motorbike, like I did, heading for San Basilio de Palenque. I was sure that this little African village in Colombia has money making potential to become a tourist attraction.




Chocó, in Western Colombia, holds the largest number of Afro-Colombians, which unlike San Basilio de Palenque are descendants of emancipated slaves.