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Saturday, November 28, 2015

My New York Afro-Latino Connection


A country in South America celebrates African Heritage Month

As expected, since my return to New York City, and after teaching myself Spanish and traveling to nine Spanish-speaking countries being totally immersed in the language, I have a much better command of Spanish, which is not perfect, but adequate, and I'm loving my developing Afro-Latino connections. 

In California where I was living most of my adult life, people thought I was Cuban assuming if you are black and speak Spanish you must be Cuban. Even while in Perú and Ecuador, people thought I was either Cuban or Puerto Rican, in addition to Panamanian or Brazilian; again, people were looking at the color of my skin.

Just yesterday in the Bronx, however; I was in engaged in a Spanish-speaking conversation with a Boricua (Puerto Rican), a Garífuna (descendant of escaped slaves in Honduras who fought the British for their freedom and won), and a Dominican. All three, including the Dominican, thought my roots were in the Dominican Republic. Amazing!

Surprisingly, I still run into Spanish speakers who seem to feel that if you are black that there is no way in the world that you could speak Spanish. That too is amazing, especially in a city with such a large Afro-Latino population. 

Pedro, an Afro-Venezuelan friend living in Washington DC reminded me that many of these Latinos who come to the US stereotyping blacks do not even have a high school education, and can easily be brainwashed. He says that as a black man he gets the same reaction from non-black Latinos and really feels sorry for a lot of them because, obviously, the school systems are failing them.
   

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Black Latino Among Tuskegee Airmen


2nd Lieutenant Esteban, Tuskegee Airman
United States Army Air Corps
 

 An ex­hib­it that opened at the City Col­lege of New York (CUNY) paid trib­ute to immigrants from the Domin­ic­an Republic who served in the U.S. armed forces dur­ing World War II. Among the honorees will be Esteban Hotesse, a Domin­ic­an Republic nat­ive who im­mig­rated to the coun­try as a child with his mother and little sister. They came through the fam­ous port of El­lis Is­land.

A de­term­ined re­search as­so­ci­ate, Ed­ward De Je­sus, at the Domin­ic­an Stud­ies In­sti­tute at CUNY, made the dis­cov­ery dur­ing a three-year re­search mis­sion in­to the role of Domin­ic­an ser­vice­men and wo­men who made sig­ni­fic­ant con­tri­bu­tions to the war ef­fort or to so­ci­ety.

Hotesse, who en­lis­ted in Feb­ru­ary 1942, was among a group of 101 Tuskegee Air­men of­ficers ar­res­ted for re­fus­ing to fol­low Jim Crow or­ders from a white com­mand­ing of­ficer at a base near Sey­mour, In­di­ana where the KKK had a strong pres­ence. This act of dis­obedi­ence later be­came known as the Free­man Field Mutiny. 

  He made second lieu­ten­ant before joining the Tuskegee Air­men, the first all-black group of mil­it­ary pi­lots in the U.S. Armed Forces who made their presence known against the Germans during the war with 1578 combat missions, winning at least one Silver Star, 96 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 14 Bronze Stars, 744 Air Medals, and 8 Purple Heart.

This post should serve as more than a history lesson to black people in the Dominican Republic who, despite their actual skin color, refuse to believe that they are black. Here in the U.S., Dominican Immigrants have been noted for commenting that they are not black, but Dominican. They confuse their race with their nationality.

If Lieutenant Esteban Hotesse were anything other than black, he would have never been subject to Jim Crow laws in KKK territory, let alone having been considered for such a fine unit as the Tuskegee Airmen.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

New York City - Home Sweet Home

 This photo is from the album cover of the salsa group Africando out of Senegal, West Africa whose mission is to bring salsa music back to its African roots.


"New York City, I don't know why I love you;
could be you remind me of myself!"
- Gil Scott-Heron
Yesterday, I off boarded the subway train at East Tremont in the South Bronx, a community primarily of black Americans and Latinos. As I walked down Grand Concourse to my scheduled appointment, I felt very uplifted hearing salsa and bachata music blaring from people's apartments. This was blunt reminder that I finally arrived back at my home sweet home of New York City after spending most of my adult life in Oakland, California.

 New York City residents asked me why would I want to leave California, as though California were some type of utopia, to return to New York. The rational answer that I gave is that my brother inherited a luxury living space in Midtown Manhattan, just blocks from Central Park, and invited me to come back home and be with family. 

What I left out of my response was that I am a New Yorker at heart. While going to school in upstate New York, and all during my stay in Oakland, known on the streets as Oak-Town, I could not stop talking about New York, NY. I am surprised that no one suggested that I go back. I've done quite a bit of traveling in my life, and there is no city that matches the rich, cultural, and literary depth and diversity as New York City. Besides, I love the straight-forward communication style of native New Yorkers.

My special attraction to New York is its heavy Afro-Latino population. As a young kid growing up just walking distance from Spanish Harlem, I started feeling a strong attraction to the Spanish language and Latin-American culture, especially the music. 

It was in New York where I was introduced to the likes Eddie Palmieri, Ray Barretto, Willie Colon, Ralphi Pagan, Hector Rivera, and Pete Rodriguez, all whose music spilled over into the black American community way back in the day. Even black American radio stations like WWRL and WBLS featured these artists because of the heavy African influence in their music.

As I alluded to in my blog post, Coming Out as Trans (Trans-Cultural), there is a strong element of Latino culture in my soul that I feel from deep within even though I was born a black American, which has thus far inspired my travels to nine Spanish-speaking countries where I was totally immersed in the language and the culture. 

Even after flying into New York from Oakland, I found myself engaged in a Spanish-speaking conversation with my Dominican cab driver who appeared more comfortable speaking Spanish than English.

Here in New York, I will get to use, and thus, develop my Spanish more. The trick is learning who is bilingual and who isn't. As I was walking through the South Bronx, I overheard a couple of Afro-Latinos speaking Spanish, and when I stopped to ask for directions in Spanish, they, in a very friendly manner, gave me the directions I neededin English. However, once I resume my Latin-American travels, I will not have to worry about that type of response any more.

At least here in New York, I will be able to attend more Afro-Latino events, go to plays, and get access to libraries and museums about Afro-Latinos that California lacks.