Friday, September 30, 2011

Maria Chiquiquirá of Ecuador

 The Museum of Nahim Isaias in Guayaquil, Ecuador features the portraitof Ecuador's first freed slave.

Maria Chiquiquirá Díaz was an Afro-Ecuadorian woman enslaved in Guayaquil, Ecuador in the 1700’s and was the first slave in Ecuador to win her freedom. She was enslaved by Presbyter Afonso Cepeda de Arizcum Elizondo. Maria Chiquinquira entered a legal battle for her and her daughter’s freedom in May 1794 and changed the course of her history and for thousands of black women in Ecuador.

Although she was a slave, she was aware of some of her rights and fought for her freedom based on that information. Maria (along with other female slaves in Latin America) won her freedom by accusing their masters of dishonorable acts including, siring children with slave women, requiring work on Sundays, withholding time for mass, and failing to provide instruction in the faith.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

National Afro-Ecuadorian People's Day

In the combative spirit of María Chiquinquirá, we advance together in the struggle for our rights. --Luzmila Bolaños

Today, the first Sunday in October, Black Ecuadorians honor their ancestors by celebrating the National Day of Afro-Ecuadorian People. The festivities include athletic competitions, concerts and an Afrocentric religious services. This day was established by Ecuador's National Congress for the purpose of improving human rights conditions of Afro-Ecuadorians. Various civil rights organizations, such as Corporación de Desarrollo Afroecuatoriano (Corporation of Afroecuatoriano Development) sprung up to preserve Afro-Ecuadorian culture and to pursue equal rights as members of Ecuadorian society.

R1- 9A
Afro-Ecuadorians in Valle de Chota (Chota Valley) of the Andes Mountains are descendants of emancipated slaves, unlike those in the western Province of Esmeraldas.

When 23 African men and women aboard a wrecked Spanish slave ship headed for Perú liberated themselves and created a free Black community, in October 1553, they set a standard of resistance and empowerment that would in spire their descendants hundreds of years later. Traditionally, as a country colonized by Spain, blacks were victims of racist conduct, social insults, and considered inferior. Today, employers advertise for job applicants with a "good appearance," a code-word for White or European characteristics. Landlords openly reject applications from Blacks looking for housing in middle-class areas. It wasn't until 1998 until Ecuador's constitution acknowledged Afro-Ecuadorians as a distinct group.

Most of Ecuador's blacks, descendants of runaways from an abandoned slave ship bound for Perú, live in the province of Esmeraldas on Ecuador's Pacific Coast.

Yet, Afro-Ecuadorians have many examples of the rich cultural heritage of black people that has been shown in all scopes of society, such as politics, sports, literature, music, etc. Their ancestors arrived from Africa and its contribution in music with traditional instruments like the marimba; colorful attires, their prolific dancers, their history, traditions, and their own customs. Government statistics say that the black population in the country constitutes on three percent, but in reality, more like nine percent. In Ecuador, there are black communities in provinces of Imbabura, Carchi, Loja, and Esmeraldas. Social activists say the stereotypes and lack of opportunity are slowly changing as the numbers of Afro-Ecuadorians finishing high school and going on to college have increased over the past decade.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Down These Mean Streets

by Piri Thomas
1928 – 2011
===========An Autobiography
of a Black Puerto Rican
from Spanish Harlem

“You are a goddamn Negro! You think being Puerto Rican lets you off the hook? That's the trouble. Too many of you damn black Puerto Ricans got your eyes closed. Too many goddamn Negroes all over this goddamn world feel like you do. Just because you can rattle off a different language doesn't change your skin one bit. Man, if there are any black people up on the moon talking that moon talk, they are still Negroes. Get it? Negroes!”

This paraphrased excerpt came from Piri Thomas' best-selling auto-biography Down These Mean Streets published in 1967. Piri was born in Harlem Hospital as Juan Pedro Tomás (before adopting the Anglicized version of his last name) to a dark-skinned Afro-Cuban father and a light-skinned Puerto Rican mother. He talks about his life of poverty, street gangs, drugs, crime, and racism that plagued him while growing up in Spanish Harlem in New York City.

Piri Thomas was born
in Harlem Hospital
as Juan Pedro Tomás

As a Harlem raised kid myself, where my father taught school (P.S. 170 Manhattan) just blocks away from where Piri lived and roamed the streets, I can understand why my father did his best to shelter my brother and me from the mean streets that hooked Piri Thomas.

Despite Piri's Cuban and Puerto Rican heritage, he was often viewed as African-American and not Afro-Latino. His father, an Afro-Cuban, hated his own black skin as well as others with black skin. Other members of his family disowned the African aspect of his culture and bloodline, causing Piri to spend much of his childhood and early adult life confused about his true racial and ethnic identity, until one night, he ventured in to the Italian section of Harlem, and was chased by a gang as one shouted, “we are going to get your black ass!” He then wondered, did they mean him?

One night, as he was being chased out of an Italian neighborhood by a gang, one shouted, “we are going to get your black ass!” He then wondered, did they meant him?

Finally, at the age of 17, as he was about to leave home for the Merchant Marines, he experienced a very painful revelation that he was not only Puerto Rican... he is “black.” He learned to embrace both his color and his culture, and became a successful writer and poet. When I finally met Piri Thomas for the first time, he was living in Berkeley, CA with his wife and did a presentation at the César Chávez Public Library in Oakland, CA. I felt honored to receive an autographed copy of his book so many years after reading his book as a sailor in the U.S. Navy.

Click here for the Official Piri Thomas web site

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Racial Prejudice of a Latino-American Immigrant

It never ceases to amaze me how people of color can consistently exhibit the same racial prejudice that has been historically practiced against themselves by non people of color. I have to admit, I've observed the same stupidity among some African-Americans. However, Emilio, a co-worker of dark-brown complexion from the South American country of Ecuador is obviously not too fond of African-Americans, despite the good working relationship he has with three of us in our office. It took an out-of-office company activity for his prejudice to show.

One Friday morning, he and I were sharing a ride with Samantha, a white-American co-worker driving to a company-sponsored event. We were riding through an African-American community in what is known as Deep East Oakland. This is when Emilio began making snide remarks about “the ghetto.“ Although, I felt uncomfortable with his racially charged comments, I kept quiet because I've heard similar sentiments from professional and working class African-Americans. Emilio even expressed surprise to see a public library--a library that I myself once patronized. Then as we passed another library, inside of a beautiful building, Emilio asked why this community has so many libraries when “these people don't read!”

Emilio asked why does this community have so many libraries when “these people don't read!”


Now, it was my time to vent, considering that I grew up in a black ghetto and spent more than my share of time in libraries; libraries filled with black patrons, I might add. I explained to him that not everyone in the black community are gangsters. It's the people who patronize libraries, especially as children, who generally end up leading productive lives; regardless of color.

I myself grew up in “the ghetto” and spent more than my share of time in libraries filled with black patrons.

I believe that Emilio felt because I speak some Spanish, travel to Latin-American countries, and like Latin music that, perhaps, I'm not black enough to be offended by his culturally insensitive remarks. Samantha, the white driver, immediately changed the subject to keep the discussion from escalating into heated argument. Although, I have no intentions of going into the black militant tirade that Samantha may have feared, I reported the incident to the management of our company under the conviction that, considering the communities our company serves, that sensitivity to race, culture, gender, or sexual orientation is paramount. In addition to reporting the incident, i suggested that we should all take sensitivity training to heighten our awareness.

He came into my office offering an apology, but could not explain why he would make the statements we made. Personally, I think he was just afraid for his job. Being that we both like our jobs, and management wanted to overlook the issue, I considered our discussion to be a truce, letting him know that I see him as prejudiced against African-Americans.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

How I Got Hooked On Salsa Growing Up in the Hood

The album that pushed me over the edge to be a salsa music lover

After all these years of listening to the late, great maestro Ray Barretto, I finally get to meet him personally when he visited the Caribbee Dance Center in Oakland, CA where I used to hang out and dance salsa. I had to walk over and shake his hand. I tried to tell him (before he brushed me off) that his album, La Moderna Llegó, pushed me over the edge to be a salsa music lover. Little did I know that he was literally sick of salsa. He even hated the name--calling it the “S-word.” In fact, some one quoted him as saying, I don't play salsa, I play son. Son is Cuban music that gave birth to what we know today as salsa. It's the “S” word that helped him to earned the millions of dollars over the years, not jazz--his true love.

Little did I know that Ray Barretto was so sick of salsa that he called it the “S-word.”

Barretto was born in New York City to Puerto Rican parents who moved to New York looking for a better life. Being raised in Spanish Harlem, he was influenced at a young age by his mother's love of music and by the jazz music of Duke Ellington and Count Basie. At the age of 17, Ray joined the Army, and while stationed in Germany, he got into jam sessions with African-American soldiers. Then he heard Dizzy Gillespie's "Manteca" with Afro-Cuban conga player, Chano Pozo, that was when he realized his true calling in life.

In 1961, Barretto recorded his first hit, "El Watusi.” Not only did this song hit number one on New York City African-American radio station WWRL but was the first Latin song to enter in April 1963 the Billboard charts.

After Ray Barretto returned home from the Army, he started to visit clubs and participated in jam sessions, where he perfected his own conga playing. On one occasion Charlie Parker heard Barretto play and invited him to play in his band, as well as Tito Puente, for whom he played for four years. Barretto developed a unique style of conga playing and soon was sought by other jazz band leaders. Barretto also played in recording sessions for the Rolling Stones and the Bee Gees. In 1975 he was nominated for a Grammy Award for the song "Barretto." In 1990, Barretto finally won a Grammy for the album Ritmo en el Corazon ("Rhythm in the Heart") featuring the vocals of Celia Cruz.

In my opinion, Guararé was the best song he produced; way better than the original Cuban version.

I heard him in an interview on KPFA Radio in Berkeley when he said it was time for him to move on. He made his money in salsa, now he wants to pursue his real love--jazz. On Febrary 17, 2006, Barreto passed away at New Jersey's Hackensack University Hospital of heart failure and multiple health complications. His body was flown to Puerto Rico, where Barretto was given formal honors by the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture; his remains were eventually cremated.

My other top Ray Barretto tunes:

Canto Abacua Indestructible (featuring Tito Allen) El Chisme (featuring Celia Cruz)

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Black, Proud, and Beautiful Colombian Activist

During my last trip to Colombia, I would have loved to have met, or at least, kissed the hand of Colombia's most prominent, political figures Piedad Esneda Córdoba Ruiz in a formal greeting, and chatted in a coffee shop; such wishful thinking! This gorgeous woman has a busy life filled with community and political and goals and some serious drama.

During my early research years of the Afro-Latino experience, I was pleased to learn that Colombia had a black female senator, but was also appalled to learn that she was caught up in all the kidnappings that were prevalent in Colombia during those years.
After several weeks she was freed and exiled with her family in Canada. Then after a little more than one year in exile,, she started receiving reports that Colombian security had improved. She, therefore,returned to resume her political duties. She has since been victim of two assassination attempts.

As senator, Pieadad Cordoba has been a strong legislative advocate against discrimination based on race, gender, and sexual orientation.

This outspoken liberal, who served four terms as a Colombian senator, was born January 25, 1955, in Medellín, Colombia to an Afro-Colombian father and a white Colombian mother. She is better known by her nom de guerre Teodora de Bolívar or Gaitán. Cordoba has a labor law degree from a major university in Medellín, and a degree in Public Opinion and Political Marketing at a major university in Bogotá, the nation's capital.

As senator, Pieadad Cordoba has been a strong legislative advocate against discrimination based on race, gender, and sexual orientation. Córdoba evolved into one of the most notorious figures of the Latin American feminist movement in Colombia. Through congress Córdoba gained national notoriety for taking controversial radical and radical positions, as she promoted debates focused on minorities and communitarian mothers groups, as well as the resolution of the Colombian armed conflict through peaceful negotiations.

She was finally elected to the Senate for the 1994-1998 period receiving most of her votes from the Departments of Antioquia and Chocó, a predominately black province in Colombia.

Cordoba began her political carrier in Medellín working as a community leader in many neighborhoods before being appointed to her first public office job, working as a municipal sub-controller. Then successfully ran for Deputy to the Antioquia Assembly, and finally elected to the Senate for the 1994-1998 period receiving most of her votes from the Departments of Antioquia and Chocó, a predominately black province in Colombia. As part of two separate and distinct investigations, she was striped from her seat in Congress in 2005 and again in 2006.However, not only did she regain her seat in the Colombian Congress, she continued to be re-elected.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

My Trips to Lima, Perú

This is a reprint from an e-mail I sent to one of my blog readers, a black woman, inquiring about my trips to Perú seeking my advice before taking her own trip.

 Visiting Perú for the first time? Here is a little advice. The locals are very welcoming of gringos. Just beware of the gringo tax, where you'll be charged higher prices for cab fares and other things because you don't know better. When catching a cab, bargain hard before you get in. In fact, it's a good idea to ask a locals for the normal price of anything you seek to pay. 

Forgive me if you heard all of this before. Wow, I can tell you stories about my first arrival at the airport and how cabbies did some far out things to try to hustle me. I guess now they can sense I'm a seasoned veteran so they don't bother me anymore.

My primary reason for traveling is to be immersed in the Spanish language. My second reason is the music. I like what they call in Perú, música criolla, a mixture of Spanish, indigenous, and African music. I don't know if you've heard of the Peruvian singer who travels the world, Susana Baca, but she sings música criolla. 

If you take the private lessons at a Spanish school to learn or improve your Spanish, like I did, you can use those sessions to talk about the things of interest, such as the libraries, theaters, and other things that local people do.

In terms of where to stay, I liked the District of Barranco because it's so artsy, especially around the Plaza De Armas (the main square). But I've also stayed in Central Lima and in La Victoria (a rough area, but I know people). 

However, one thing I liked about El Sol Spanish School is that before your arrival, the school will gauge your interests and objectives and put you with a family who lives in a neighborhood that best matches your interests and objectives. El Sol put me in Barranco because of my love for salsa and música criolla.

You ask, who I feel my experience is different from that of a white person? First of all, once I started roaming about town, I was generally not perceived as an American. Many think I'm Afro-Peruvian until they hear my Spanish, then they think I might be from Cuba, Panamá, or Brazil. They learn that I'm an American only after some conversation. 

The reason it might not be polite to ask about race relations is because many Peruvians really believe that there is no racism in Perú. However when I travel about and do not see any black, Asian, and indigenous faces working in government and commerce, I get a completely different picture. You walk into a bank and all the employees are as close to white as possible. Even in an area heavily populated by blacks and browns.

In order to get to Chincha, the hub of Afro-Peruvian culture, you will have to take the Soyuz bus or the Ormeño bus. Let me know if you want to visit; I can hook you up with a family.

It's a Latin American custom that whoever does the inviting pays! By the way, expect people to think that you are in the same income bracket as Bill Gates. Your money will go a long way in Perú. I've lived on as little as $10 per day, minus the splurging and souvenir purchases. Once I took 15 people out for chicken and fries and the bill was $45. That was a joy of my own doing. I was not coerced. LOL. However, you will have to put your foot down and do what you can afford.

In terms of friendships with the opposite sex, you can expect to find people who will want to hook up with you hoping you will take them home. This is not all people, but it happens more often than not. I've been asked by woman from nine different countries to marry them, and when I tell them I only marry for love, they back off. Just keep talking about your boyfriend and the future you two have. LOL.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

So Few Latinos of Color on Spanish TV

Many Latinos  tell me that they are all one regardless of color. You would never know it from watching Spanish TV. 

When I first made up my mind to develop my Spanish as a second language, I knew I had my work cut out for me, especially if I was going to teach myself in lieu of formal classroom training. I did pretty good over the years, considering I've had jobs demanding the use of Spanish, and even received bilingual pay. One of the methods I used in teaching myself Spanish was television, mainly Univisión and Telemundo. I used to spend 30 minutes to an hour daily watching telenovelas and their advertisements.

What I found very disappointing was the fact that all of the actors, newscasters, and performers are white, and there was a blatant absence of darker-skinned Latinos, especially black Latinos. Spanish TV, to me, does not reflect the real world of Latinos that I've seen from my Latin-American travels and from living in living in New York and California.

A black Cuban confirmed what was on my conscience. He does not watch Spanish TV because they exclude blacks..

From my personal exposure to the Latino community, I've met people of European, indigenous, African, Asian, and Middle Eastern ancestry, not to mention many of those who are of mixed races. The best Chinese food I ever had was in Lima, Perú. If I didn't speak Spanish (or Cantonese), I would have not been fed.

I casually brought up my newly found hobby of Spanish television to a black Cuban friend of mine who bluntly confirmed what my conscience has been telling me for months—racial discrimination. Thus, he does not watch Spanish TV. That's when I myself stopped watching Spanish television and started watching Spanish videos with some black representation.

Spanish TV does not reflect the real world of Latin Americans that I've seen from my travels, and from living in New York and California.

As of this writing, it dawned on me to ask some Afro-Latinos if they watch Spanish-TV. And if they do, has anything changed in terms of racial diversity. The responses I received were a bunch of expletives, especially against Univisión and Telemundo. One person did acknowledge that Univision has a one black newscaster, an Afro-Colombian named Ilia Calderon.

You who are reading this blog post, and are fans of Spanish-TV, how do you justify such discrimination? I've been told by many Latinos that they are all one, regardless of color. You would never know it from watching Spanish TV. If it's anything other than racism within the Latino community, I'm open to reading your comments in the section below.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Look Who's Teaching Me Spanish

At the dinner table with my goddaughter Daniela (left, in pink) with some family members in Chincha, Perú.

One of the reasons I was hired on my current job is because of my ability to speak Spanish. I've been teaching myself for a number years without the aid of schools or CDs like Rosetta Stone. That is with few exceptions like the University of Havana in Cuba and El Sol-Escuela de Español in Perú where I took classes and private instructions while on vacation under non-English-speaking instructors.

Local teens at a popular mom and pop hangout in El Carmen, Perú 

As I'm constantly working to improve my Spanish, I find that the children are more patient in their interactions with with me, and in exchange, I give them fun treats like ice cream, candies, dinners, trips to amusement parks and the beach.

Yomira, cousin of my my goddaughter Daniela

In Perú's District of El Carmen, I interacted with local teens, playing scrabble in Spanish and buying them ice cream and sodas. There were times I had to put my foot down because people, including children, think because I'm from the USA, I can afford to buy up the whole store for them. However, upon my return, I plan on spending more time with them. I'm going to be straight up this time and let them know that I'm trying to improve my Spanish and ask them to help me out. In this quiet community, they find me to be a fresh new experience as well.