Saturday, April 27, 2019

African American-Latino World (MY STORY!)



 Wearing my Peruvian t-shirt at a Peruvian restaurant eating Peruvian 
"soul" food with the Peruvian national drink; pisco sour (brandy)


It all started for me at the age of 10 while living walking distance from New York's Spanish Harlem where I began noticing cultural exchanges between some African-Americans and Puerto Ricans in the community. Even African American R&B and jazz radio stations included crossover Latin music in their formats. 

This heavy Puerto Rican presence inspired me to dash over to my local public library and check out a "children's" book entitled, "Fun with Spanish," which I memorized cover to cover before befriending Puerto Rican classmates and neighbors to practice what I learned and to continue learning from them. 

During the Spring and Summer months, it was common to see African-American and Puerto Rican musicians jamming on their conga drums, bongos, flutes, and other percussion and wind instruments to American jazz and Latin jazz on the streets of East Harlem and in public parks. By my teenage years, I was so hooked on Latin music that an African-American classmate noticed a large collection of salsa and Latin jazz music in my room; he chuckled and remarked that I was turning into a Puerto Rican. 

 

Chilling out on Cuba's national drink, a mojito, in Havana, Cuba

Even people in the Spanish-speaking countries that I've visited assumed that I too am Latino. In Ecuador, a cab driver asked me if I am from Latin-American country in the Caribbean. Evidently, my Spanish sounded Puerto Rican, or in reality, Nuyorican (New York Puerto Rican). In Perú where I earned an Advanced Spanish certification, one of the instructors told me that she too thought I was Puerto Rican. When I lived in California, Mexicans and Mexican-Americans suspected that I might be Cuban or Puerto Rican.

It wasn't until late in my adulthood when I decided to adopt Spanish seriously as a second language. My late Mexican-American friend, Yolanda Gutierrez, encouraged me to learn the "culture" as well as the language. Taking her advice, I started reading about the Latin American cultures where African slaves influenced the music that I enjoy most, such as salsa, Afro-Cuban, and Peruvian festejo.

I began traveling to selected Latin American countries to explore their black experience. For example, in Colombia, I visited a landmark African village where their descendants freed themselves, Nat Turner style, from Spanish rule. A feat that was achieved 200 years before the rest of South America, including Colombia, won their independence.

 
I, second from the left, at a party in the hub of Afro-Peruvian culture

As of today, I've visited 32 Latin American cities, towns, and villages in the Caribbean, Central America, and South America seeking out black communities such as Valle de Chota (Ecuador), El Carmen de Chincha (Perú), and San Basilio de Palenque (Colombia). I want to include Miami, which I consider to be an honorary Latin-American city where the Cubans who are in-your-face proud of their culture and their language are always ready to roll with their Spanish "if" you can hang. 

I remember walking into Cuban restaurant where the cook asked me in broken English, “can I help you?” When I told her in Spanish that it was OK for her to speak to me in Spanish, she, her co-worker, and a even a customer were so cheered that they acted as though I were one of them. I've even had jobs, one with bilingual pay, where I used my Spanish daily. 

Surprisingly, I have not yet been to the island of Puerto Rico, but as of this writing, I am planning to take that trip and was so glad to learn that Puerto Rico is officially recognizing "Spanish" as their official language and relegating English as second. There is an area of Puerto Rico where descendants of African slaves produced bomba and plena music, a mixture of Spanish and West African music. Thus, my blog and Facebook page—"African American-Latino Word."

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