Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Joy of Giving

I earn a modest income, that is, on American standards. Yet, I enjoy giving to worthy causes, such as my church, my community, and to random individuals who really need a helping hand.

This morning, I was eating breakfast at a local café, and a woman came over to me spewing the same tired-ass words I hear often from creative panhandlers: pardon me sir, I mean no disrespect; I'm on my way to the welfare office and I just need $2.00 so I can get my kids something to eat

R1- 7A
My joy in giving includes Daniela and her neighbor and playmate Mariana at a play-center in Grocio Prado, Perú.

OK! Since we were already in a restaurant, I suggested that she order something for her, and especially the children who were with her, and I will pay the bill. I was expecting a bill for $10 or $15, which I didn't mind giving to what I thought was a worthy cause. When I actually saw the bill, I was astonished that it was only $4.00; she bought a little sandwich. This woman was not hungry, nor did she want to feed her kids. She was just another creative panhandler.

Javier, of Chincha, Perú works long hours doing odd jobs to eke out a living. He would be eternally grateful to programs here in the U.S., which help the poor help themselves instead of depending on handouts.

My mind immediately went back to my goddaughter Daniela, her family, and her neighbors in Perú whom I send money via Western Union on a monthly basis. Every time I call Western Union and am told that the money I sent has been cashed, I get that familiar joyful feeling. I feel joyful because I'm sending money to people who don't have the resources that this woman I met in the cafe has; nor do they have the opportunities and resources to advance their economic standards like this woman I met in the café does. In most countries in the world, there is no welfare, general assistance, or unemployment. If you don't work, you don't eat (period)!

R1- 4A
My joy of giving includes, clockwise, Daniela, Alma, Mariana, Yomira, Zenaida, Ruth, Javier, of El Carmen and Chincha, Perú.

Giving what I can afford to give to Daniela, her family, and her neighbors is not only a joy, but a worthy cause. I'm thankful to be in a position to give what I can afford to help those who really need the help.

Related Posts on Black Perú

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Latin Soul Music Era

(1960s to early 1970s)

This old classic attracted a large African-American audience and ran #1 on the chart of New York's African-American radio station WWRL for many weeks.

I was just in my bedroom doing a little homework when this song Bang Bang from the album Wanted Dead or Alive played on the local radio station WWRL. It certainly go my attention as it was one of the main pieces that converted me to Latin music.

Another big one by Joe Cuba was I'll never go back to Georgia. Joe wrote that song because he and members of his band went into Georgia during the time of racial segregation, because they were Puerto Rican, got a taste of racial segregation. Thus, in their song, they vowed they will never go back to Georgia.

The highly respected Latin pianist, composer, arranger, bandleader, and producer Hector Rivera of New York City (Manhattan) was featured on New York's top soul music station of the time WWRL.

The chief rocker Frankie Crocker (right) was a popular radio personality when Latin soul music was making the top 10 hits on African-American radio station WWRL in New York City.


Afro-Filipino Joe Bataán, born and raised in New York's Spanish Harlem, combined African-American doo-wop with Latin Rhythms producing my favorite songs, like Ordinary Guy, Aguanta La Lengua (watch your mouth), Gypsy Woman, and Unwed Mother.

Above is Ralphi Pagan, Bronx born Latin soul singer of Puerto Rican parentage mixed a lot of his albums with soul music and salsa singing in English and Spanish. In this song, Just One of Your Kisses, sung in English, he beautifully ends in Spanish, mi linda solo quiero besito (my pretty, I only want a little kiss).

One of the biggest popular hits in the African-American community was El Watusi by the late, great maestro Ray Barretto.

Ray Baretto's first and undying love was jazz. During World War II, while stationed in Germany, Ray used to join in on jam sessions with African-American soldiers. However, it was salsa and Latin soul that made him wealthy until he had enough. A few years before he passed away, he went back to his first love----jazz, and contemptously referred to salsa as the “s” word.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

A Question about Susana Baca

Afro-Peruvian Music

On September 22, 2010, I went to see Susana Baca perform live for the third time in my life. The first time was at the La Peña Cultural Center in Berkeley, CA back in the late 90s. I was on a natural high for six months. It was like listening to Billie Holiday or Bessie Smith in Spanish with a combination of African, Indigenous, and Spanish rhythms and melodies for accompaniment.

The second time was very recent; the spring of 2010, she performed at Yoshi's Jazz Club in Oakland, CA. This time, her rhythm sections along with the guitar and choral accompaniment were much more upbeat as she displayed her smooth dancing moves on stage. Although, I would have liked to have seen and heard more traditional Afro-Peruvian instruments like the quijada del burro (jawbone of a donkey) and the cajón (a wooden box slaves used as a substitute for the drum, which was forbidden by slave holders), I felt her music and that of her band deeply as she combined Afro-Peruvian, Afro-Cuban, Jazz, and modern music in her pieces.

Baca sings about Afro-Peruvians but there are no Afro-Peruvians in her band.

Finally, I went to see Susana Baca at the Palace of Fine Arts theater in San Francisco. Susana is always moving her body well to the heart felt music. I thought of her as one of the hardest working women in show business. From watching and listening to the talented musicians who were accompanying her, I noticed something disturbing, and I stand to be corrected on this if anyone reading this blog understand the music business.

Does Susana discriminate against Afro-Peruvian musicians or is such discrimination beyond her control?

This is the third time I've seen Susana Baca with a five or six-piece band. It was only when I saw her back in the late 90s did she have an Afro-Peruvian musician in her band. If she is going to be singing about Africans, the diaspora, and black people, she could at least include two or three Afro-Peruvians in her band, if not an all Afro-Peruvian band. There is too much job discrimination against blacks as it is. Why is she perpetuating it? Can she not find talented Afro-Peruvians for hire or is this beyond her control?

Related Posts on Black Perú

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

My Story Behind African American-Latino World

It was in East Harlem where I experienced a cultural exchange with primarily the Puerto Rican community.

A client was in my office discussing the matter at hand, when suddenly, our conversation drifted to a topic directed at me. “So you are Black,” this client commented. My response, “the last time I looked in the mirror I was, why?” She says because you got all this Latin stuff on your wall. I asked her, what about the pictures of John Coltrane, Muhammad Ali, and Miles Davis that were also on my wall? She pointed out that those pictures were overwhelmed by pictures from Perú, Colombia, Venezuela, and other places I've traveled. Well, I have to admit that I do have a passion for Latin culture, and many people from different ethnic groups, including Latinos have asked why.

The Lenox Terrace on New York's 5th Avenue in Harlem, where I lived as a child, was the dividing line between East and West Harlem.

It all started with my attraction to Latin music, namely salsa, as a child growing up on the borderline of East and West Harlem in New York City. East Harlem contains a large Spanish-speaking population, mostly Puerto Rican. As a child, I noticed a lot of cultural exchange between African-American and Puerto Rican communities being that we lived side by side. We went to the same schools and community centers. It was common during the spring and summer to see African-American and Puerto Rican musicians in Marcus Garvey Park, across the street from my old Middle School in East Harlem with their conga drums, bongos, flutes, and other percussion and wind instruments jamming to jazz and Latin jazz tunes. Walter, an African-American friend from Brooklyn, noticed my large collection of salsa and Latin jazz albums in my room. He told me that I was turning into a Puerto Rican.

My old elementary school, P.S. 197-Manhattan, also on 5th Avenue; dividing East and West Harlem.

Even people in the Spanish-speaking countries that I've visited have assumed that I too am Latino. In Ecuador, a cab driver asked me, “es usted caribeño?” In other words, am I Puerto Rican, Cuban, or Dominican. When I later crossed the border into Perú, I was stopped by the police three times because they thought I was an illegal alien from either Ecuador or Colombia. One cop thought my American passport was fake and asked me a lot of intense questions to make sure my answers were consistent with what was in my documents. I said to myself, dang, is my Spanish that good? Why is he tripping? When he first approached me I snapped at him in Peruvian slang, despacio, mi español es monse--slow down, my Spanish is whack! When the officer was finally done interrogating me, I said to him, gracias por la práctica en español (thanks for helping me practice my Spanish). The officer responded with, ¡Ya!, meaning  yeah, yeah, yeah. He really thought he himself a bribe or bust..


I learned about the African presence from Mexico and the Caribbean and all the way down through Argentina.

What my college friend who says I'm turning into a Puerto Ricn, did not realize, and neither did I at the time, was that this hot Latin music that was turning so many people on, has African roots.When I was younger, I spent a lot of time reading up on black history, which inadvertently led me to learn black Latino history, which involves a different language and different cultures, but the same roots. It was at the Arturo Alfonso Schomburg Center for Research and Black Culture on Lenox Avenue, now Malcolm X Boulevard, in Harlem, New York, which by the way is named after a Black Puerto Rican, where I learned about the African presence and influence on Latin-American cultures from Mexico and the Caribbean, all the way down through Argentina.

The Schomburg Center for Research & Black Culture, a branch of the New York Public Library

However, it wasn't until late into my adulthood, fueled by my love for salsa and Afro-Cuban music, when I wanted to adopt Spanish as my second language. My late Mexican-American friend, Yolanda Gutierrez, encouraged me to learn the culture as well as the language. As badly as I wanted to take Yolanda's advice, she confused me. There must be at least 15, 16, or 17 different Latin American cultures. Exactly where was I supposed to begin?

It was my love for salsa and Afro-Cuban music that reignited my desire to learn to speak Spanish.

Well, I took the easy way out. I started reading about the cultures of which I enjoyed the music; son-montuno from Cuba, bachata from the Dominican Republic, and Landó from Perú. Then, I expanded to other Latin-American musical genres, like tambor from Venezuela, punta from Honduras, and marimba from Ecuador. I began traveling to selected Latin American countries to explore their black experience. As of today, I've visited 22 cities and towns in 10 countries, including Miami, Florida, which I consider to be an honorary Latin-American town where people, especially Cubans, are in-your-face proud of their language and culture. I remember walking into Cuban restaurant, and the cook asked in broken English, “can I help you?” When I began to order in Spanish, she, her co-worker, and a even a customer were so happy that they made me feel right at home. I don't always get that reaction when I'm in New York where I grew up, San Francisco where I work, or Oakland, where I live.

My itinerary for 2012 includes Honduras and Guatemala in May, and Perú and Chile in December. The way it looks, I'm going to continue learning the Spanish language and various Latin-American cultures, particularly the black cultures until I'm on my deathbed. Until then, my blog, African American-Latino Word continues.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Perú's Racist Propaganda

Racism Against Afro-Peruvians

The Peruvian television show El Negro Mama

For years, I've met Latin American friends, classmates, and co-workers who tell me that their home countries are free of racism. I often think of Javier, a co-worker of mine who migrated to Oakland from Lima, Perú who told me after the Rodney King riots that people in his home country are not racist. As much as I loved Javier and respected him as a friend, I doubted his claim.

For a country that supposedly is free of racism, what is wrong with this picture?

I've been to Perú five times since the last time I've seen Javier, and my doubts about his country being free of racism were justified as I myself experienced several brushes of racism until people realized that I am a foreign tourist; presumably a foreign tourist with a pocket full of money. I saw a lack of Black, Asian, and Indigenous people working at the airport, in commerce, working in public transportation, or working as police officers. Even in heavily populated black areas like Chincha Alta and El Carmen, I would walk into a store or a bank and see no people of color, that is, with the exception of the security guard. For a country that is supposedly free of racism, something is wrong with this picture.

LUNDU, the Afro-Peruvian civil rights organization received numerous threats because of their protests.

Remember the Stepinfechit and Amos & Andy TV programs that re-enforced negative stereotypes of African-Americans? Just recently, I received a Facebook message from an Afro-Peruvian friend inviting me to view her notes on racist propaganda against Afro-Peruvians on television. Upon reading her notes, my mind went back to an article published in April 2010; an article that I've read and ignored because my focus was on the positive aspects of Afro-Peruvian culture.

Comedian Jorge Benavides plays the role of a mentally retarded Black man on the popular Peruvian TV show “El Negro Mamá.”

The article talks about Afro Peruvian activists receiving numerous verbal attacks and threats of violence because of their protests, which forced a racist, but popular TV show called “Negro Mama” off the air. The show is about a Black man depicted as mentally retarded, a thief, and a dingy person reinforcing stereotypes against Blacks. The offices of LUNDU, a Peruvian civil rights organization say that they were flooded with threatening messages.

African-American civil rights organizations fought to rid television of negative Black stereotypes like Amos N Andy (above) and Stepnfetchit (below)

So, what attracted me to Perú? As one who loves to explore the Black experience in Latin-American countries, while working to improve my Spanish; Perú was at the top of my list because of singers like Susana Baca and drummer/choreographer Rinaldo Campos who is the late founder of the internationally acclaimed dance troupe Perú Negro, Perú's answer to the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater of Harlem, not to mention the famous family of Amador Ballumbrosio, with whom I stayed on two of my trips.

It was Afro-Peruvian singers, poets, and writers like Nicomedes Santa Cruz) who inspired my first trip to Perú.

I'm in the back, second from the right in the home of Perú's famous Ballumbrosio family.
Related Posts on Black Perú