Sunday, July 31, 2011

Mexico's Third Root

The Presence of Afro-Mexicans
Blacks in Mexico  
Contrary to common knowledge, particularly among Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, is that Mexico, like other Latin-American nations, have African blood as well as indigenous and Spanish. Mexican people of indigenous ancestry, to this day, play ancient instruments, such as African hand pianos (or marimbas) in songs and dances of African influence (corridos), which tell stories of slave revolts and ancestral tributes.

Spanish forces were unable to defeat these “uppity negroes,” and a free black town called Yanga was established.

A Mexican-American woman asked me during a discussion as to where I am getting my information. Although there are many books on this topic, I told her to check out one by Mexico's renown, late anthropologist and professor at the University of Vera Cruz. His name is Gonzalo Aguirre Beltrán. The book is entitled, La Población Negra de México (The Black Population of Mexico), where he talks about more than 500,000 African slaves being brought in through Mexico's Port of Vera Cruz between the Cortez invasion in 1519 and Mexican independence in

Africans made up 71% of the non-indigenous population in Mexico during the early colonial periods.
During the 16th and 17th centuries, Mexico enslaved more Africans than any other country in the Western Hemisphere. African slaves worked in silver mines, on sugar plantations, in textile factories, and in households. Others worked in skilled trade or on cattle ranches. In addition, Afro-Mexican people made significant contributions in folktales, religion, medicinal practices, and of course, music and dance; the most notable example is the hit song La Bamba, first popularized by rock-n-roll star Richie Valens out of Pacoima, CA. This song was sung and danced to by black Mexican slaves as early as 1683. See more about this in... La Bamba: The Soul of Black Mexican Folks.


Mexico's first root is the native population before the Spanish invasion.

About one-tenth of Mexico's slaves escaped to remote, armed runaway settlements called palenques and were a total menace to slave holders. In Mexico's state of Vera Cruz, Spanish forces were unable to defeat these “uppity negros,” and a free black town called Yanga was established. See... African History in Vera Cruz, Mexico. Slavery in Mexico was finally abolished in 1829 by Mexico's Afro-Mexican president Vicente Guerrero. See... The Soul of Mexican Independence.

The Spanish represents Mexico's second root, who brought in African slaves making up Mexico's third root.

Beltrán further points out in his 1946 published work that Africans made up 71% of the non-indigenous population in Mexico during the early colonial periods, and the Spanish made up the remainder. After more than 500 years of interracial marriages and offspring, the African presence is no longer noticeable, except in Mexico's states of Veracruz, Guerrero, and Oaxaca.. Yet, Africans in Mexico left their cultural and genetic imprint everywhere they lived. 
After more than 500 years of interracial marriages and offspring, the African presence is no longer noticeable.
I would be remiss not to point out that Mexican history also includes 19th century African-American slaves and Seminole people (so-called Indians) who fled what is now known as the State of Florida to the Mexican border state of Coahuila where their descendants live there to this day.

Related Posts

Saturday, July 30, 2011

What is Sammy Sosa's Problem?

“It appears that Sosa is guilty of having a "colonial mentality.”
--Fela Kuti , Late Nigerian activist and musician

Many have been flabbergasted to see black Dominican retired major league baseball star Sammy Sosa with green contact lenses and bleached skin. It is so unfortunate that all over the African Diaspora, people have been so emotionally scarred by racism that they have learned to internalize it. Many of us bleach our skin, straighten our hair, and even deny our African ancestry. There was a time in the U.S. when we African-Americans would feel insulted to the point of physical combat to be referred to as African or black. Although, this attitude changed to a degree by the black-is-beautiful movement of the 1960s, many of us still have never recovered.


I'm not “black,” I'm “Do-min-i-CAN,” said actor/comedian Doug E Doug in the film “Hanging with the Homeboys.”

I have to respect the fact that people in Latin-American countries see themselves by their nationalities first and their race second. Marcus Garvey, whose United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) included branches in Latin-America, was told by a Cuban delegation that they were Cubans first and blacks second. Does this sense of staunch patriotism stop racial discrimination in these respective countries? Obviously not. From my personal travels to Cuba and other Latin-American countries, I've noticed a blatant absence of blacks, Asians, and indigenous people working in shops, as police officers, and in transportation, let alone those working in office and corporate settings. Just pick up a newspaper and you can count the people of color, if any, who are featured unless they are criminals, athletes, or entertainers.

In Sammy Sosa's home country, 90 percent of the people have African ancestry. Yet only 11 percent identify themselves as black. Despite this denial, black Dominicans, Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian ancestry still face discrimination, poverty, and lower education and health standards. Under the Dominican government's Hispanidad movement, white, Spanish, Catholic heritage was stressed, and the African and indigenous portion of the culture was neglected. I even heard a rumor that Sammy Sosa had Taino Indian on his passport to indicate his race. Many black Dominicans never realized they were black until they came to the United States.

Afrocentric citizens of the Dominican Republic tried to start a movement similar to the black is beautiful movement in the U.S. to embrace the African heritage prevalent throughout their country and found it to be a lost cause due to lack of interest.

Sammy Sosa's problem is that he is just another victim of his upbringing and culture where looking pretty means looking as less black as possible. The one-drop rule works opposite of what is practiced in the United States; with one drop of non-black blood, you are considered a member of a race other than black. Therefore, black Dominicans most often identify themselves as Indian, burned Indian, dirty Indian, washed Indian, dark Indian, cinnamon, moreno (colored/dark), or mulatto. The old adage, “if you are white--you're all right, if you're brown--stick around, if you're black--stay back certainly applies in Latin America, particularly in the Dominican Republic. Black Dominican feminist Sergia Galván points out that black is associated with dark, illegal, ugly, and clandestine.

I was talking to an African-American woman who speaks fluent Spanish and spent quite a bit of time in the Dominican Republic, and asked her, how would Dominicans react to me if I insist that I'm black or African-American. Her response was that educated, probably upper class Dominicans who also speak a bit of English and have family in New York City or Miaimi will understand, but it gets complicated when you are talking to the general population (spanish only) who may or may not be educated, have little knowledge of people outside of the country. She went on to explain that everyone will assume that I am Dominican until I convince them otherwise. Even if my Spanish isn't that good or I speak fluently with a foreign accent they will think that my parents are Dominican. Again, if I prove otherwise, they will think that, perhaps, I immigrated to the US from another country. 

She further stated that if I insist on calling myself black, they will think I'm Haitian and only Haitians are black. The preferred term is “moreno” a Latino way of saying “colored.” While she was there, she continued, she  just went with the flow as far as labels were concerned. Sometimes she was even referred to as Indian.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Black Bolivia

I plan my vacation to two or more Latin-American countries every year, and have been thinking about Bolivia. Since Perú, is always my main stop, I thought it might be a good idea to stop in neighboring Bolivia on my way home for a few days and explore its African heritage. Afro-Bolivans are found in all of Bolivia's major cities. In La Paz, the nation's capital, black Bolivians live on the outskirts of town.  

After some research, however, I learned that Bolivia is one of the few countries that require US citizens to get a visa. the cost is more than 100 dollars along with another fee adding up to a total of almost 200 dollars. This would not be worth the money if I'm only going to be staying a few days. All I can do is research now and visit later.

The history of Blacks in Bolivia dates to the 1600s, when Africans slaves were brought in to work in the silver mines, and under horrific and toxic conditions. Such conditions killed as many as eight million Africans and Natives (the Aymara people). Africans were also brought in to work coca-leaf plantations. The slaves were emancipated by legislation in 1827, but due to political debates, the emancipation was not enforced until more than 20 years later.

The African legacy in Bolivian culture is Saya music, which is gaining in popularity even though the music is very misunderstood. Only the black Bolivians can understand and explain the message in Saya music. It involves instruments of the Aymara people along with African percussion instruments. A very important aspect of Afro-Bolvian life is social activities, which involves music. Saya is the traditional music, which serves to maintain and communicate black Bolivian oral history. The greatest part of Afro-Bolivian music is singing.


Jorge Medina broadcasts Afro-Bolivian issues on his radio show before becoming the first black Bolivian senator.

Because Bolivian census figures do not include race, the exact black Bolivian population is debatable. For example, some sources argue that the Afro-Bolivians population is as low as 6,000, and if you count the one-drop rule, the population can be as high as 158,000 or better. Although black Bolivians speak mostly Spanish, the Spanish spoken by those living in rural areas includes a small vocabulary of African languages. Blacks in Bolivia take such pride in their history and culture that they are taking extensive measures to preserve it.

Black Bolivia

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Where Are the Black People?

The African Diaspora consists of peoples of African origin living outside the continent of Africa, irrespective of their citizenship and nationality.

Why aren't more African-Americans showing up at events dealing with the African diaspora?

I just returned from the San Francisco Museum of the African Diaspora where I work as a volunteer, and I am always bewildered by a relatively small African-American crowd. It seems every time I attend any event that involves Afro-Latinos, Afro-Europeans, Afro-Asians, and continental African cultures, there is only a handful of African-Americans who attend. The room is filled with mostly whites, non-black Latinos, and even Asians who are not only interested in African diasporic cultures, but seem articulate and knowledgeable of them.

Most of the lecture series I attend are related to African-American and Afro-Latino cultures because they are close to my life experience, but I also take interest in the others for an all-round understanding of how my roots are being manifested throughout the world.

Afro-Colombian Salsa Music Master

Director, songwriter, producer, and musician


My Sentimental Favorite

As a salsa music lover raised on New York-style salsa, it took me a while to get used to Colombian-style salsa, but when I did, Grupo Niche, co-founded by Jairo Varela, turned out to be my favorite. Alexis Lozano, who co-founded the group with Varela, started another group, which also became famous called Orquesta Guayacan. Because Grupo Niche is so consistent with their vigorous, up-tempo dance music, I reached the point where I would buy Grupo Niche recordings cold without ever first hearing any track samples. Unlike most other recordings I would buy, I was never disappointed.

Alexis Lozano who co-founded Grupo Niche
with Jairo Varela

From the time Varela was eight-years-old until he was twelve, he played with a band of children from his community in the Afro-Colombian Chocó state ( called a department in Colombia) on the Pacific coast. His group was called La Timba who raised funds for their pastimes playing African-based folk music on bongos, maracas, and guiros during festive events. At the age of 17, Jairo moved to the nation's capital of Bogota and continued his musical career. He started composing and, along with Alexis Lozano and formed Grupo Niche. Niche is a Colombian term that describes dark-skinned people. Because Bogota was not receptive to the African-oriented sounds he brought from Chocó, he move to Colombia's salsa music capital Cali, a city with a considerable Afro-Colombian population that gave Grupo Niche total support.

With the money Jairo made from his musical career, he ended up owning a modeling agency, a discotheque and a state-of-the-art recording console. He also gave generously to support aspiring Afro-Colombian politicians, something Varela thinks the powers that be did not like. Despite Jairo Varela's fame and fortune, he still found himself a victim of the same misfortune that put a disproportionate number of black men behind bars. He strongly feels that his wealth and influence caused resentment in a country he believes is not ready to accept a powerful black man.

Grupo Niche is based in Cali, the salsa music capital of Colombia.

Jairo Varela, was arrested and jailed for an alleged connection to a drug cartel for whom he and his band performed. It didn't matter that white musicians also performed on the same payroll. “Colombian racism was quite clear, “ he told the Miami Herald newspaper. However Jairo, the genius of a musician and businessman that he is continued to manage his band, compose and record during his three-year prison sentence and was released under the condition that he not travel outside of Colombia. Thus, Grupo Niche continued to tour the world and even recorded two albums under Varela's direction from back home. Jairo Varela still earned seven gold and four platinum records.

My Top 10 Favorites by Jairo Varela and Grupo Niche:

  1. La Carcel
  2. Micaela
  3. Lo Bonito y Lo Feo
  4. La Magia de Tus Besos
  5. Las Tres Son Caribe
  6. No Me Pides Perdon
  7. Busco
  8. Mechánico
  9. Prueba de Fuego
  10. Mujer de Novela

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Working with the Spanish Language

El Carmen block party
At a block party in (El Carmen) Chincha, Perú

Learning Spanish is a Lifetime Effort

For many years I've been using my Spanish on the job, and even received bilingual pay. Unlike your average bilingual person at work, I'm not a native Spanish-speaker, nor did I have years of classroom training. I am self-taught out of a book and flash cards. Today, as an educational-vocational specialist with a social service agency, I conduct counseling sessions in Spanish and even taught a couple of job search workshops.

I listen to a lot of Spanish music, mostly salsa and bachata, some Afro-Cuban, some Afro-Peruvian, and sing along when I can.

In prior job searches, I've been interviewed in both English and Spanish. I'll never forget the day, I was interviewed for a position with a prominent San Francisco vocational service. The department manager was impressed that my résumé mentioned my Spanish language experience. When I returned for a second interview, there were two (not one, but two) native Spanish-speakers waiting for me in the interview room. I told them, in Spanish, that I speak better Spanish with those who cannot speak English, and added that bilingual people make me so nervous to the point that I forget simple words. They were so pleased that my response had such a good accent with proper grammar that they let me off the hook and conducted the rest of the interview was in English.

When I returned for a second interview, there were two (not one, but two) native Spanish-speakers waiting for me in the interview room.

Each year, I spend my vacations (three weeks at a time) in one or more Latin-American countries; mostly in Perú, my home away from home. My primary reason for Latin-American travel, other than exposing myself to black culture, is to be totally immersed in the Spanish language so I can get better at it. Although I'm far from fluent. I'm still learning. In fact, the more Spanish I learn, the more I realize I don't know. I'm a subscriber to Transparent Language and where I get daily e-mails containing the word-of-the-day and have found them very helpful. In addition, I listen to a lot of Spanish music, mostly salsa and bachata, some Afro-Cuban, some Afro-Peruvian, and sing along when I can.

My related posts...

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Black Peruvian Rights Struggle

Members of Afro-Peruvian civil rights group, LUNDU, received threats because they succeeded in removing a racist television program stereotyping blacks as lazy, slow, and crooked.

It never ceases to amaze me when I meet Peruvians who tell me that there is no racism (see Racism, Latin-American Style) in Perú. If that were the case, why do they have so many civil rights organizations? It can't be paranoia. I read somewhere that internationally acclaimed Afro-Peruvian singer Susana Baca donates money to Peruvian civil rights organizations. Because of my frequent trips to Perú, it has been a heartfelt pleasure for me to connect with members of the International Network of Young Afro-Peruvians, better known as ASHANTI, and Makungu Para El Desarrollo which unites Afro-Peruvians in the city of Lima. I'm also interested in another organization called LUNDU, which has a branch in my goddaughter's province of Chincha, Perú.

The International Network of Young Afro-Peruvians, otherwise known as ASHANTI-Perú, strive towards civil rights for Peruvians of African descent.

When visiting any Latin American country, I try to learn as much as I can about the country's black history and try to get as close to the black experience of that country as possible. On two occasions, I myself had some racist run-ins with Peruvian cops (see Traveling While Black). I was stopped thrice in one hour in the border town of Tumbes because they thought I was an illegal alien from Colombia or Ecuador. Another cop in Lima wanted to brush me off when I tried to ask for directions, only to have a change of heart when he heard my foreign accent and realized I was a harmless tourist, and not the feared Afro-Peruvian native.

Civil rights leader Monica Carrillo, founder of LUNDU

On each of my trips to Perú, I see the same thing; an under-representation of blacks, browns, indigenous, and Asians in mainstream business and industry. Even in the heavily black populated Province of Chincha, blacks and indigenous people are literally invisible in commercial areas. When I do my banking, I never see any people of color, with the possible exception of the security guards.

R1- 1A
I met Karen, a member of ASHANTI,
at a dance performance in Lima.
Civil rights leader Monica Carrillo, founder of LUNDU, emphatically points out that she does not want another generation to go by with the kind of racism that has been historically practiced against Afro-Peruvians. From my personal observations, it is also practiced against Asians and indigenous people. Mónica Gisella Carrillo, a graduate of the University of San Marcos and Oxford University in London is also a poet, and singer. Lundu works with youth of Afro-Peruvian descent to help them overcome discrimination through arts, advocacy, education, civic engagement, and economic and educational opportunities. Grants have supported Lundu’s outreach to Afro-Peruvian youth and offers workshops that strengthen leadership and life skills.

Mariela in Lima
I'm hanging out with members of Makungu Para El Desarrollo,
Mariela (center) and Alberto (right) at Starbucks in Lima, Perú

Black Peruvians have preserved African music and other aspects of their heritage, and took a cue from the U.S. Civil rights movement and started movements of their own.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Traveling and Getting Close to Everyday People

Traveling Among Black Latinos in Black Latin America

Wedding Party
I am second from the left at a party
in the District of El Carmen, in Chincha, Perú.

As one who has traveled to more than 100 cities in 13 countries, I take pride in avoiding tourism and getting as close to the locals as possible. In my opinion, it is among the locals where you get a real sense of the country's culture. Juan, an Afro-Venezuelan friend said it so well, “the barrio is where the culture is.” However, I'm finding that Perú more than any other country I've visited, with the exception of the Philippines, there is a price to pay.

By living close to the locals, I endure a standard of living that will “annoy” the average tourist.

Although, I make only a modest income with a non-profit organization, people in many countries seem to feel that I'm in the same income bracket as Bill Gates or Donald Trump. As I get closer and more acquainted with the people, the more I find that I'm approached like an ATM machine. One lady with whom I have a very good rapport, showed me her gas and electric bill asking for help. Then came the big boo-boo, when as planned, I took a trip into neighboring Ecuador for six days and was telling everybody without taking into consideration that this type of travel is unheard of in this community. That really made me look wealthier than I really am and has caused some people to hustle me more.

My block in Cartagena
I felt very much at home in Cartagena, Colombia

A dance instructor asked me about my motive for hanging out in a poor, non-tourist area when most visitors from Europe and North America stay in major hotels and go to popular tourist attractions. My response to him was that this is the way I practice my Spanish (by immersion), and at the same time, explore the black Latino experience. You don't get these things living in five-star hotels and hanging around expensive tour guides. Speaking of tour guides, I found it more more rewarding and more economical to hire a struggling citizen who can use some extra cash and bring me closer to the real people of the land.

R1-25ACops in the all black town of Juncal, Ecuador wanted to know
what I was doing
so far off the beaten path.

To get around, I prefer as much as possible, to use the same type of public transportation as the locals. Of course, dressing down is important because you don't want to be marked as a tourist with fancy clothes and bling-bling; it invites robbers, cheats, and pickpockets. Most of my time was spent among the so-called lower class. On two occasions I ventured into one of Lima, Perú's roughest neighborhoods, La Victoria, where Perú's famous, historically black soccer team Alianza Lima have their stadium. I went into the area wearing an Alianza Lima team jersey. Thus instead of being harassed, I was cheered. People shook my hand. Others drove by honking their horns and giving me the thumbs up shouting "ALIANZA LIMA-A-A-A-A-A-A-A! I wonder if they thought I was one of the players. After all, I did fit the profile--black and athletic :-)

Untitled-13Dining with my Cuban dance partner in Havana

By living close to the locals, I endure a standard of living that will “annoy” the average tourist. As a result, I have more spending money to enjoy myself, and at the same time, help others who need the help in a way that I can afford. It was a total joy, a heartfelt pleasure, and worth every penny to see how they were enjoying my company and my treats as I achieved my goal of making lifetime friends, learning the cultures, but most importantly, improving my Spanish.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Puerto Rican Allies of the Black Panthers

Before Columbus, Puerto Ricans were called Boricuas, meaning Brave Lords. Young descendants of these Brave Lords living on the U.S. mainland came together to confront racist conditions in their communities. These young descendants of the Brave Lords became known as … “The Young Lords”

Afro-Puerto Rican Felipe Luciano, former member of The Last Poets (i.e. before the impending Black Revolution) was head of the New York Branch of the Young Lords Party. Today, he is a TV journalist, public speaker, and poet.

The Young Lords Party, founded by José “Cha-Cha” Jimenez, began as a street gang in Chicago's Lincoln Park district back in the 1960s. As a group, they started to see the light regarding deplorable conditions in their community and began restructuring themselves into a human rights organization seeing themselves as a People's Struggle. 

They established their headquarters in the Chicago People's Church. Jimenez later met Chicago Black Panther Party Chairman Fred Hampton and modeled the Young Lords after the Panthers. 

In 1969, the New York regional chapter of the Young Lords party was formed in Spanish Harlem led by Afro-Puerto Rican Felipe Luciano and quickly grew into national prominence making front page headlines. As the New York and Chicago chapters grew, new branches sprung up in other cities with large Puerto Rican populations.

The Young Lords Party (YLP) became one of the most influential Puerto Rican organizations of the 1960s. Like their allies, the Black Panthers and Mexican-American Brown Berets, the Young Lords organized community programs, but with Puerto Rican accents. There were children's breakfast programs, health clinics, TB testing, clothing drives, and cultural events. They even had classes on Puerto Rican history and culture, inspiring a Puerto Rican cultural renaissance. 

The song “Que Bonita Bandera (What a Beautiful Flag)” was written by Pepe y Flora in Puerto Rico and was adopted by Chicago's national office as the Young Lords anthem. Even Salsa music icons like Eddie Palmieri, Ray Barreto, and Willie Colón wrote and played songs related to the Puerto Rican experience. My favorite song was “Justicia” by Eddie Palmieri, which advocated justicia pa' Boricuas y Niches (justice for Puerto Ricans and African-Americans).

Like the Black Panther Party and the Mexican-American Brown Berets, the Young Lords were infiltrated by FBI's COINTELPRO, resulting in frame-ups, beatings, killings, jailing, smear campaigns, and other divide and conquer tactics.

In Chicago, the Young Lords resurfaced after two and a half years of being forced underground by repression from the Gang Intelligence Unit and COINTELPRO. In 1972, Jose“ Cha Cha” Jimenez had just finished running a Young Lords underground leadership training school when he turned himself in to the police and served a one year sentence. This was three years after the police murdered Fred Hampton and Mark Clark of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party while sleeping in their apartment.

In 1982, the Chicago Young Lords Party galvanized the Puerto Rican community to elect Chicago's first African American mayor, Harold Washington. Soon after the election, “Cha Cha” Jimenez introduced him to a crowd of 100,000 Puerto Ricans at an event sponsored by the Young Lords.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Mexican-American Allies of the Black Panther Party

The Brown Berets

I felt inspired to write this piece because of the many conflicts and polarization between black Americans and Mexican Americans. I cite ignorance in both communities, especially among the youth. There was a time when we knew better. As a black American, I will always remember and honor the Mexican-American Brown Berets as much as I remember and honor the Black Panther Party.


Bobby Seale (L), co-founder of the Black Panther Party, meets with El Tigre Reies Tijerina (R) and members of the Brown Berets at Defremery Park in Oakland, CA

The Brown Berets was a group of Mexican-American revolutionaries from the barrios of the Southwest that emerged during the Chicano movement of the 1960s. The Chicano movement, or El Movimiento, was an extension of the Mexican-American Civil Rights Movement of the 1940s. Like the Black Panther Party, the Brown Berets were involved in community projects in their struggle for self-determination and social justice.

 Black Panthers and Brown Berets in a show of force.

In 1966, as part of the Annual Chicano Student Conference in Los Angeles County, a group of high school students discussed different issues affecting Mexican-American communities, and subsequently formed the Young Citizens for Community Action, and later named Young Chicanos for Community Action (YCCA). The YCCA decided to wear brown berets to symbolize a united struggle with the Black Panthers against police harassment, inadequate public schools, poor job opportunities, inadequate political representation, and the Vietnam war.  Their newspaper was La Causa (the Cause).

 Young Brown Berets in training

The Brown Berets became a national organization having opened chapters in California, Arizona, Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illiniois, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Oregon, and Indiana. 

Like the Black Panthers, they also organized free medical clinics and breakfast programs. They also came to be known for their direct action against police brutality, protesting murders and abuse by law enforcement agencies. They supported César Chávez and the United Farm Workers movement, the Land Grant Movement in New Mexico, and even participated in the first Rainbow Coalition involving the Black Panther Party, Young Patriots (white anti-racist organization), and the Young Lords (Puerto Rican allies of the Black Panther Party), and were involved in the Poor
Peoples Campaign in Washington DC. 

As the story goes with the Black Panthers, the Brown Berets, the Young Lords, and the Young Patriots were weakened, diffused, and eventually disbanded through police and FBI infiltration.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Showdown between Black and Brown

Divided and Conquered

With more black Latinos in the western world than black Americans, “Black” is a bad choice of a word to address conflicts with Latinos. It is better to say that African-Americans and Latinos are divided and conquered. Both communities suffer from discrimination, prejudice, and police brutality. At the La Peña Cultural Center in Berkeley, CA, a Mexican-American woman pointed out in her presentation that in Texas, Mexicans were also lynched; not just African-Americans.

Both communities have destructive elements that are destroying more lives than the KKK and the police have ever done.

There are people in very high places who have no love for African-Americans or Latinos. What need do these bigots have for the Ku Klux Klan when there are gangs, drug dealers, and other terrorists doing all of their their dirty work. Both Latino and African-American communities have destructive elements that are destroying more lives than the KKK and the police have ever done.

I grew up in New York City where blacks and Latinos, mostly Puerto Ricans, lived side by side. We partied together. Some of us dated each other, and in college, blacks and Latinos formed alliances. At the State University of New York at Albany where I went to school, our Black Student Alliance ended up changing its name because so many Latinos joined us. There was a time when the Black Panther Party, Young Lords Party (Puerto Rican), and Brown Berets (Mexican-American) stood for a common cause.

I wonder how many of these hateful gang bangers, like the Mexican Mafia, know that Mexico's liberator and second president Vicente Guerrero was half black.

Now, I'm confused. I realize that you will find ignorance in every ethnic group, including mine, but when I meet Latinos who are prejudiced against blacks I can't help but wonder if it is the ghetto trash that they don't like or is it the upstanding, productive black citizens that they don't like, or is it simply the color of black skin that they don't like?

Recently, a Latin-American woman was in my office for employment consultation. Upon looking at the travel pictures hanging on my wall, she said to me that it is nice meeting an intelligent African-American. I'm thinking, what the hell--where has she been all of her life? If she were to hang out with me for one day or even visit my church, all she would see are intelligent, professional, business-oriented African-Americans.

When I used to work as a recruiter for a nation-wide job training program, a Spanish-speaking mother apparently thought I was different because I was able to communicate in Spanish. She asked me if a lot of blacks attended this institution because she was worried about her daughter. I discussed her concern with a Latino co-worker, and he confirmed that this is the reputation a lot of African-Americans have among Latinos.

Perhaps, this might explain why so many Latin-American immigrants are prejudiced against blacks in this country. They are prejudiced against blacks in their home countries.

Thoughts started coming to me about how these prejudiced Latinos might feel about their fellow Latinos of African heritage. “Oh they're different,” I've been told. They are not like us African-Americans. Then, there are other Latinos who say to me, “don't divide us--we are all Latinos and we are one.” But when I look at Spanish TV, I see hardly any black Latinos. When I pick up a Spanish newspaper, I hardly see any black Latinos unless they are criminals, athletes, or entertainers. When I travel to Latin-American countries with sizable black populations, the blacks are grossly underrepresented in government, business, and industry. Perhaps, this might explain why so many Latin-American immigrants are prejudiced against blacks in this country. They are prejudiced against blacks in their home countries.

I was appalled during the Rodney King riots when African-American thugs attacked Latinos who also get roughed up by the police.

However, none of this justifies the prejudice some African-Americans have towards Latinos. I was appalled during the Rodney King riots when African-American thugs attacked Latinos. What for? They didn't beat up Rodney King; in fact, many Latinos get roughed up by the police too. I'm not sure how or when this African American-Latino conflict started, but I see it as utter stupidity on both sides. Some say this conflict started with the prison gangs such as the Mexican Mafia, and spilled on into the streets among gang-bangers, especially in Los Angeles. I wonder how many of these hateful Mexicans realize the Mexico's second president Vicente Guerrero was half black, and the state of Guerrero where you will find the city of Acapulco was named in his honor.

Note: As of today, November 27, 2011, I've visited Perú, Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela, and  can´t help but notice how blacks and browns live together, get along, and even intermarry. I've seen more than my share of black people with brown babies and brown people with black babies. Although, I have a preference for dark women, more brown women took an interest in me.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Black Conquistador--16th Century

The first black man
in North America?

As a black American exploring black Latino cultures, I'm not at all proud of this man's role in American history. He was an oppressed person of color who represented a government oppressing other people of color. He was known as Estevánico the Moor, or Esteban, Little Steven, or Stephen the Black. He was born a Muslim in Morocco around the year 1500, and is said to be the first black man in North America.

While a teenager he was enslaved by the Portuguese and was later sold to a Spanish nobleman, and the two became close. They went on an expedition to colonize what the Spaniards referred to as the New World. Intending to check out the northern and western shores of the Gulf of Mexico, their ship was blown off course and landed in what is now known as Florida. They then traveled on to a territory that eventually became known as Texas.

“He is a large and powerful man,
blessed with a shrewd and quick mind
--- Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca

Because Estevánico was a talented man who learned five Native American languages and sign language, and because he is a self-made medicine man, the Spaniards used him as a scout and mediator with the natives. In March of 1539 Estevanico and a group of Spaniards went looking for the mythic Golden City and traveled on to what is now Arizona. He came upon the Zuni settlement where the people suspected that Estevánico was “Five-0”--a spy for the Spaniards, and killed him to protect their location. To prove that he was not the god many natives thought he was, they skinned him.