All through my life, I heard stories about black Americans who try to pretend they are Native American, Latino, or anything other than black American, but never met them personally until I met Harold who goes by the name of Mialdo. With his impressive salsa dancing skills, he proceeds through life masquerading as a Puerto Rican, but speaks very little Spanish.
One Saturday evening, Harold and I went to a salsa music and dance club near San Francisco where he stated to a group of Latinos that both he and I are Puerto Rican. I didn't want to make a scene; I simply looked at Mialdo out of disgust for his apparent self-hatred and his propensity to live a lie. And when he included me in his lie, I made up my mind not to socialize with him again.
Visiting a black community in the Andes Mountains
of Ecuador, South America
Back in the day when answering machines were mainstream, I had an outgoing message to entertain callers waiting to leave a message. It was a bilingual English/Spanish message with salsa music in the background. My girlfriend at the time accused me of being like Mialdo, trying to be something other than black American. Of course, I knew better, but surprisingly, I have been called a sellout by a few other African Americans and criticized by even some Latinos for having such an ardent interest in Latino culture appearing to forsake my own.
Posing with Mamainé at her Peruvian soul food restaurant
in Guayabo, Perú
in Guayabo, Perú
My late Mexican-American friend, Yolanda, who noticed the progress I was making in learning to speak Spanish admonished me to learn the culture if I am going to speak the language. In my exuberance to follow her advice, I decided, as a black person, to make an effort to explore, and when possible, immerse myself in black Latin-American cultures while improving my Spanish.
When I travel through Latin America, I habitually wear t-shirts with pictures of Barak Obama, Luther Vandross, or Muhammad Ali proudly representing black U.S.A. At the same time, I try to blend, as much as possible, with black communities to learn more about black history and culture in those countries and blog about my experience.
I am inclined to believe that I am one of the very few black travelers to Latin America who engage the black communities in my visits. Most blacks, as do other tourists, opt for fancy hotels and major tourist attractions whereas I head straight for the barrio (the hood) where I can have more fun stretching my dollars.
When I visited a historic African village in Colombia, South America, a village that won its freedom from the Spanish almost 200 years before the rest of South America, I was served a scrumptious fish, rice, and plantain dinner. The bill was not even five dollars. Many of the residents, pleased to see a “black” visitor touring the town for a change, they marveled openly wondering who I was and where I come from.
No, I have no issues whatsoever with my black American heritage. Like Marcus Garvey and Malcolm X, I am a lover and respecter of the African diaspora in the western world where we members represent a diversity of cultures and speak a diversity of languages. Music such as salsa, samba, reggae, jazz, R&B, hip hop, and even the tango are nothing more than African legacies made in the Americas.