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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

So, I'm a Sellout--A Wannabe Latino?


When Donna, a woman I was dating, telephoned my home for the first time, she heard my answering machine's outgoing message in English and Spanish with some salsa music in the background. In my mind, I was just trying to be unique and cutesy like so many others with answering machines. 

Donna later told me that my outgoing message gave her the impression that I was trying to get away from being Black. I was somewhat flabbergasted, considering my experience with the Black Student Alliance in school, and my love for the Black theater, music, art, literature, and history.

However, I'm also a big fan of the opera and the symphony, which I attend every chance I get. During my junior high school years, I aspired to play with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra as a classical clarinetist, and got accepted into what is now known as the La Guardia School of the Performing Arts in New York's Lincoln Center. 

So, it's not that I'm trying to get away from being Black, I'm just an individual with diverse taste and interests. 

When I decided to adopt Spanish as my second language due to my love for Latin music, and due to my direct childhood connection with the Puerto Rican community, I was encouraged to dig deeper and learn more about Latin American culture as well. This provoked Donna into sarcastically reminding me that nothing has changed; I'm still “Black!” .

Donna's articulated judgment of me was not new. I've been hearing similar comments from other African-Americans and some Latinos; calling me a sellout and a wannabe Latino. 

An African-American co-worker who overheard me in a Spanish-speaking conversation asked, “you wish you were Mexican, don't you? 

A Dominican-American woman apparently annoyed and disgusted by my extensive knowledge and love for Latin music once challenged me to name some “Black” artists that I like, which gave me a good laugh because along with the artists that I mentioned to her; McCoy Tyner (jazz pianist), Pattie Labelle (R&B singer), and Michael Morgan (conductor of the Oakland Symphony), I also named some “Black” artists from her home country, the Dominican Republic such as Cuco Valoy (salsa), Johnny Ventura (merengue), and Anthony Santos (bachata), LOL!

What Donna, and my other critics cannot seem to grasp is that I'm an African diaspora enthusiast. As a high school teen, I only lived one block from the Schomburg Center for Research and Black Culture in Harlem, NY. This library/museum named after a Black Puerto Rican, carries over 6,000,000 items covering Black people from all over the world. 

I put a lot of emphasis on the Afro-Latino cultures because of my desire to perfect my Spanish. When traveling, I generally seek out Black communities in the countries that I visit. Today, I can hold intelligent conversations with most Latin-Americans about their home countries as I myself continue to listen and learn about the culture.