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Monday, September 21, 2015

Black Latin America Honors the Black American Struggle

Rinaldo Campos, inspired by the U.S. black pride movement of the 1960s, started Perú Negro, an Afro Peruvian dance troupe that performs throughout the world.

In my first trip to Perú back in October of 2005, I had just gotten off the plane at the Jorge Chávez Airport in Lima, and in the midst of my haggling with cab drivers, I heard someone from behind me shout, “Martin Luther King!” When I turned around, I saw a smiling black security officer who misread the back of my t-shirt—“Luther,” referring to the late R&B singer Luther Vandross. Happy to see a black face, I smiled and acknowledged him, before continuing my haggling.



 
Every February and March, black Peruvians celebrate 
their African heritage with food, music, and dance.

As a black American, I often hear about the negative perceptions that many, not all, black Latinos in the U.S. have towards U.S. blacks, especially some of the black Puerto Ricans, black Cubans, and god forbid, so many Dominicans. 

When I was in Cuba, however, blacks were much friendlier, open, and extremely helpful to me as a visitor. A black woman whom I met on the campus of the University of Havana invited me to her home for dinner. When I met her son, the first words out of his mouth were, “¿conoce usted Tupac (do you know Tupac Shakur)?

 Celebrating black heritage - Peruvian style

Young blacks in Cuba have been embracing the black American hip-hop culture (minus the stupid-ass violence, drugs, and disrespect for women) as they pick up rap music from radio stations in and around Miami only 90 miles away. And as expected, these young Afro-Cubans incorporate black American hip hop culture into Cuban life and issues; naturally in Cuban street-Spanish.


Somos Ebano (We are Ebony people) is a community center serving youth in the El Carmen District of Chincha, Perú, the hub of Afro-Peruvian culture.

From my travels to Cuba, Colombia, Ecuador, Perú, and Venezuela, and from my contacts in Argentina, Uruguay, and Chile; countries on my list to visit, the perception of Black Americans among blacks in those respective countries is honorable. They make the black experience in the U.S. applicable to their own struggles. When Barack Obama first got elected into the U.S. presidency, an Afro-Peruvian friend sent me a message saying, ¡Viva Obama (Long Live Obama)!

In Chile, South America, the city of Arica is a historically black city stemming from slavery. However, through centuries of interracial marriages, the visible black population just about disappeared, yet the people still openly celebrate black heritage. 


Mónica Carrillo, head of Lundú, a black Peruvian civil rights organization engages herself throughout the African diaspora in the western world.

I recently referred one of my blog readers to a family in Arica, Chile, and she pointed out that, unlike many black Latinos living in the U.S. who are obviously black but deny being black, the people of Arica, who are not so black are very proud and outspoken about their African roots. It would be very interesting to see how they would mix with U.S. Latinos be they black, brown, or white if they were to ever migrate here in large numbers.

Makungu Para El Desarrollo, meaning Developing the Souls of our Ancestors, is an organization whose purpose is to strengthen the identity of young Afro-Peruvians

Even Mexico historically aided black American runaway slaves who crossed the Rio Grande. After Texas gained independence from Mexico, the number of runaways across the border mushroomed. When Mexico's Afro-Mexican president Vicente Guerrero took office in 1829, he immediately abolished slavery in his country, and with the help of Mexicans and Mexican Americans, Mexico became the underground railroad South of the Border.

Black people in Latin America, for the longest, have been following the black struggle in the U.S., and have been inspired to start their own black civil rights and black pride organizations, which have been popping up all over to address the racism that plagues blacks; even in countries like Argentina, Bolivia, and Honduras. I have friends in Puerto Rico, Central America, and South America who have Afrocentric Facebook names like Afrodesciente (African descendant), Black Panther, Martin Luther, and Malcolm. 



Afro Peruvian drummers jamming to African rhythms

Perú, a country I visited six times, has four or more organizations dedicated to the black Peruvian struggle. I had the opportunity to spend a day with members of two of such organizations, and am certainly honored to be connected with Mónica Carrillo, an Afro-Peruvian civil rights leader who was featured on the PBS program, “Black in Latin America,” hosted by Harvard University professor Dr. Louis Gates.