Thursday, July 29, 2010

Life on the Salsa Dance Floor

I'll never forget my first night at the Caribee Dance Center in Oakland, CA where everyone, from the patrons to the DJ to the barmaids, were welcoming and friendly. There was a relaxed, cultured vibe in the air. People of all races were trickling in as the night progressed. I did not observe any of the drama and defensive, uptight attitudes you find at your average night club. People here came to party. Everyone was jamming the dance floor and having a good time. By the end of the evening, I knew I had found a new home.

Roberto Borrell of Cuba, and founder of Orquesta La Moderna Tradición

I've loved salsa music since I was a kid growing up in the salsa capital------New York City. The problem was that I never learned to dance. As I watched the pros at the Caribe Dance Center, my mind was made up to become a salero, a die-hard salsa dancer. It was not as easy as I thought. I had a big job of learning the dance patterns, how to lead a woman with confidence, and at the same time, keep the rhythm. It was disappointing that the woman who, like me, were beginners, avoided me so they could learn from more experienced dancers. I promised myself that once I become a proficient, I will be compassionate with those trying to learn.

 Orquesta Avance, my number one salsa group in the Oakland area

Finally, I met Linda Arizona who taught classes at the La Peña Cultural Center in Berkeley. I used to get up early before work and practiced everything she taught me in slow motion. Once I felt I got the rhythm in my system, I turned on the music, and was satisfied with the results. I went back to the Caribee and noticed that the women who were apprehensive about dancing with me were pleasantly surprised that I-have-arrived! I became a smooth, fluid salsa dancer, getting a lot of compliments from the pros whom I used to watch and admire while sitting on the sidelines. This felt good.

As my salsa dancing skills developed, I began to meet more than my share of dance-floor snobs.

I got a kick out of women who ASSumed because I am a brother that I didn't know how to salsa. I'll never forget one woman whom I asked to dance and the way she looked at me with suspicion before declining. I noticed her watching me flowing through dance patterns with other women, only to appear sorry that she was so judgmental. I hope she learned her lesson, but I'll never know. My personal policy on the dance floor is to ask only once. If a woman turns me down and has a change-of-heart later, the burden will be on her to ask me to dance (not vice-versa). There were just too many down-to-earth woman who simply wanted to dance with a gentleman for me to worry about dance-floor snobs.

I've heard it said that salsa dancing is like having a relationship on the dance floor.

The beauty of salsa dancing, unlike ordinary night-club dancing, is that it forces the man and the woman to interact and engage one another. I've heard it said that salsa dancing is a relationship on the dance floor. I personally can tell a lot about a woman by the way she dances with me. I can tell if she is selfish or giving, stubborn or open-minded, friendly or stuck up, independent or clingy, shy, stuck-up, or out-going. A woman's attitudes inadvertently surfaces, and I am sure for the men as well.

Check out this hot tune by Maraca!

Afro-Ecuadorian Poetry

Black-American & Black Ecuadorian Contemporary Poets

Two poets, from two different cultures, who speak two different languages, but inspired by the same passion, which influenced world-class poetry on the same issues. They were the late Nelson Estumpiñan Bass of Ecuador and the late Langston Hughes of the USA.

Negro, negro renegrido... Black, black, blackened
Negro, hermano del carbón... black, brother of charcoal,
negro de negros nacido... black of blacks born
Negro ayer, mañana y hoy... Black yesterday, tomorrow, and today
Algunos creen insultarme... Some believe they insult me
gritándome mi color... mocking my color,
más lo mismo yo pregono... but I myself proclaim it
con orgullo frente al sol... with pride in the place of the sun

Negro he sido, negro soy... Black I was, black I am
negro vengo, negro voy... Black I come, black I go
negro bien negro nací... black, real black I was born,
negro negro he de vivir... black black I must live
y como negro morir... and as a black I must die

~~~Nelson Estumpiñán Bass

Nelson Estumpiñán Bass, like Langston Hughes (below), wrote about the black experience in his country Ecuador.

Langston Hughes, an African-American poet, novelist, playwright, short story writer, and columnist was a contemporary of Nelson Estumpiñán Bass. Like Estumpiñaán Bass, Hughes was proud his African heritage as he explored the black experience from many different angles.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

My Top 10 “BLACK” Latin Music Stars

Afro-Latino music is a result of a marriage between the Spanish guitar and the African drum. 
----Harry Belafonte


1. The late Ibrahim Ferrer (Santiago de Cuba): In 1998, he became famous in the film ”Buena Vista Social Club” but has been around singing for decades.

 2. Jairo Varela (Chocó, Colombia): The late director, producer, songwriter, and vocalist of the famous salsa band Grupo Niche.

3. Africando (Dakar, Senegal, West Africa): In their very first CD, they stated that their mission is to bring salsa music back to its African roots. Africando sings salsa in Spanish, French, and their native tongue

4. Lucresia (Barcelona, Spain): This jazzy Cuban-born singer was once dubbed as the young Celia Cruz, but has come into her own as a Latin jazz singer. She sings the hell out of the song, La Noche de la Iguana (The Night of the Iguana).


5. The Lebron Brothers (Brooklyn, NY): This Nuyorican (New York Puerto Rican) group made up of Angel, José, Carlos, Frankie, and Pablo is known for salsa, Latin Boogaloo, and Latin Soul music.

6. Susana Baca (Lima, Perú): A world traveling diva who improvised on Afro-Peruvian music, crossing it with jazz, salsa, blues, and Afro-Cuban music.

7. Wilmer Cartagena (Lima, Perú): He is singing the shadows of his brother, Antonio, and is the singer of my favorite salsa song Un Amor Como El Tuyo

8 Elio Revé, (Guantánamo, Cuba): Unfortunately, he is no longer with us, but his Changui music lives on.

9. Ricardo Lemvo (Los Angeles, CA by way of the Democratic Republic of the Congo).
10. Cuco Valoy, Dominican Republic

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Why I Travel Solo


I've been hearing a lot of talk about wanting to travel with friends. Others commented on those who have friends but those friends do not want to travel. Throughout my life I've had to learn the hard way that if you really want to do something worthwhile, be prepared to do it alone.

Today, I was supposed to go with a couple of friends to a Peruvian Food Festival in San Francisco. I left three messages today to confirm where we were going to meet and both were no call-no shows. Meanwhile, I met new people, enjoyed the music, ate some food, then went home.

This is my philosophy when it comes to travel: go alone; do your thing; meet interesting people, and have fun with your new learning environment.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The First Black (and Latino) Astronaut

Arnaldo Temayo Mendez, of Cuba.
The first man of African heritage in Outer Space

Even before African-American Guion Blueford was launched into space on August 30, 1983, a Cuban of African heritage was sent into space with the Russian Soyuz was launched into space aboard Soyuz 38 from Baikonur Cosmodrome on September 18, 1980.
His Résumé or Curricum Vitae includes the following:
  • Director of the Military Patriotic Educational Society
  • Brigadier General
  • Director of International Affairs in the Cuban Rrmed Forces.
  • Deputy in the Cuban National Assembly
He has been honored by the Cuban Government as "Hero of the Republic of Cuba."

Note: Guion Blueford, is the First African-American in Outer Space

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Being Self-Taught in Spanish

Had I known that being self-taught in Spanish would be such a long, arduous task, I doubt if I would have continued to learn on my own and set unrealistic goals.

I was hired at my current place of employment because of my ability to speak Spanish. Hardly a day goes by when I'm not greeting, conversing or counseling a Spanish-speaking client. Unlike your average bilingual professional, I'm not a native speaker, nor did I take years of classes at a university. I am self-taught, primarily out of a book entitled Practical Spanish Grammar by Marcial Prado (a self-teaching guide).

Even to this day, it is evident that the more Spanish I learn, the more Spanish I realize I “don't” know.

Had I known that being self-taught in Spanish would be such a long, arduous task, I doubt if I would have continued to learn on my own and set unrealistic goals. I was advised on more than one occasion to take classes, but I didn't have the time. I really thought that I could be fluent within my first year of self-learning (LOL). As time passed, even to this day, it is evident that the more Spanish I learn, the more Spanish I realize I “don't” know. However, it is now too late to stop, considering the progress that I've made so far.


Alberto, my private guide in Chincha Alta, Perú, accompanied me (three hours daily) about town as we conversed in Spanish.

In fact, I'm still learning the language and am still taking every opportunity to become more fluent through more self-study and travel to Spanish-speaking countries like Mexico, Cuba, El Salvador, Perú, and Ecuador. It was in Cuba and Perú where I took formal two-week crash courses to improve my Spanish while on vacation. In the Fall of 2010, I will include Chile and Colombia in my itinerary.

It was in the beautiful Miraflores section of Lima, Perú where I earned an advanced Spanish certificate at a Spanish-immersion school.

I was awarded an Advance Spanish Certificate
from El Sol-Escuela de Español, Lima, Perú

In addition, I practiced my Spanish by reading newspapers and storybooks, and by striking conversations randomly with those whom I perceived to be Spanish only. I created flash cards to memorize items from an English/Spanish phrasebook while waiting on line, waiting for a bus, or any situation where I might be bored. A fun way in which I practice my Spanish is by watching Spanish movies with English subtitles, and sometimes, English movies with Spanish subtitles. I even have a Spanish Facebook account, in addition to my English account, for making friends in Latin American countries and to develop contacts for my upcoming trips.

I spent my summer vacation taking an intensive Spanish course
at the University of Havana in Cuba

Sometimes, my Spanish really surprises me. There are times when my words flow like a native speaker, such as the time I was stopped by the Peruvian National Police for traveling-while-black, and there are times when I struggle to come up with words to express myself, such as conversing with a native Spanish-speaker who is fluent in English (bilinguals make me nervous). When I'm in a Spanish-speaking country where hardly anyone speaks English, my level of fluency rises by default. When I'm home in the USA where I'm speaking mostly English, my level of Spanish fluency takes a dive.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Growing up in Latin Manhattan

I was just a 10-year old kid living in a community near Spanish Harlem in New York City when I got my first taste of Latino culture. I was inspired to learn Spanish by my Puerto Rican neighbors and fell in love with salsa music as a teen. It never dawned on me until well into my adulthood that those percussion intruments carrying those hot rhythms and saucy call-and-response voice arrangements have their roots in Western Africa, just like the blues, jazz, and R&B.

This album by the Joe Cuba Sextet pushed me over the edge in my love for Latin Music

After a couple of years, I became discouraged trying to learn Spanish because so many of my Puerto Rican peers spoke good English and were quick to respond in English even though I may have spoken to them in Spanish. It wasn't until my adult years when my desire to speak Spanish resurfaced and began practicing with monolingual Spanish-speaking immigrants, and even started traveling to Spanish-speaking countries.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Gringolandia of Quito, Ecuador

My hotel (Hotel Otavalo) in the Mariscal District of Quito

I stayed in an area of Quito, Ecuador called Mariscal, better known as Gringolandia. So named because this is where most of the foreigners live and hang out. It is a very congested part of town, and on Friday nights, it's like a parking lot with the traffic being so heavy. People from all over the world come to La Mariscal. Fortunately for me, everyone I ran into spoke Spanish; my primary reason for my being in South America in the first place, to practice and get immersed in the Spanish language.

I'm just not used to women acting so attracted to me at first sight anyway, thus, I figured she might hustling or possibly setting me up to be robbed.

I arrived in Mariscal around 9:00 p.m. hungry and stopped in the first restaurant I saw. Upon leaving, I saw a black Ecuadorian male hanging out seemingly doing nothing. Thinking I might be turned on to Quito's black community, I tried to make conversation. He asked me to get him something to eat, which I did. But when I returned, I saw him down the block throwing a "pitch" at some white tourists. I said to myself, this “Negro” is hustling, and left him alone.

Avenida Colón in downtown Quito bordering La Mariscal.

Meanwhile, a black woman appeared with whom I immediately introduced myself. I can tell by the way she spoke that she was local, and figured she might turn me on to some Afro-Ecuadorian action in the community. But I got a little suspicious of her vague conversation coupled with the fact that she was hanging out in Gringolandia alone at night, seemingly doing nothing. She seemed overly elated that I even stopped to talk to her. As I gazed into her eyes, I did not get the impression that she was attracted to me other than what's in my wallet. I'm not used to women acting so attracted to me at first sight, anyway. Thus, I figured she might hustling or possibly setting me up for a robbery. I thought of Gloria whom I was supposed to meet the next day, and went back to my hotel----alone.