Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Photos of Afro-Peruvian Dancing

While staying with Perú´s famous Ballumbrosio family in 
El Carmen (Chincha), Perú, I was treated to live Afro-Peruvian 
performances under my own vacation rooftop.

Amador Ballumbrosio
The late, great maestro Amador Ballumbrosio,
master of Afro-Peruvian music and dance.

Zapateo (Afro-Peruvian Tap Dance)
 Afro-Peruvian tap dancing known as “Zapateo”

Afro-Peruvian dance
 Afro-Peruvian dance

Mamá Adelina's birthday
Mamá Adelina, wife of Amador Ballumbrosio on her birthday

Ronal Ylleacas
R1- 2A
The Ballumbrosio Home in El Carmen de Chincha Perú

 The jawbone of a donkey is standard
in Afro-Peruvian Percussion

Roberto Ballumbrosio
César Ballumbrosio, 
Ronal Yllescas
Camilo Ballumbrosio


Where My Birthmark Dances

*The following is a guest post by writer Octavia McBride-Ahebee, whose poetry collection, Where My Birthmark Dances, was recently published by Finishing Line Press.

Sculpture by the African-Puerto Rican artist Samuel Lind

 I always thank my C- shaped spine for alerting me early to the fact that black folk existed in other parts of the world other than just Philadelphia and that they had other narratives, told in other languages of what we share and how we are distinct.   The idea, the possibility, the fact that we were everywhere, opened me to the whole of the world.
 As a child, I had scoliosis –curvature of the spine-and I received, for many years, medical treatment in the form of braces and physical therapy and finally a spinal fusion at Shriners’ Hospital for Children.  Children from all over the world came to  that strip of Roosevelt Blvd, in Northeast Philly,  to be treated and I was fortunate to have the foundations of my  little girl worldview shaken at its core while having my spine stretched and supported.   During the decade of the 1970s, when I was both an outpatient and inpatient at Shriners, I was one of very few African-Americans who received care there.  Seeing another kid of color was always a pleasure for me. On one visit, when I about 10, I was startled to see, what I thought to be, a US African-American girl.  She was younger than I, perhaps 5 or 6 years old, and she was unusually small and unable to walk.  She was in a mobile crib-like contraption.  She appeared to be without her parents and a nurse was escorting her to radiology, where we both were to have x-rays taken. She must have felt very alone, because she started to cry and then to babble.  But quickly, my ears were able to discern that there was a method and a purpose and lyricism to her outburst.  It was almost poetic.   My father, who had accompanied me that day to the hospital, said the girl was speaking Spanish. WOW, I thought, a black person, a child, speaking another language. 
I remember the care and precision with which my father proceeded to enumerate the seemingly endless possibilities of where that beautiful, black girl –immobile and all alone-might be from in the world-North Philly, Puerto Rico, Colombia, Spain, Peru, Dominican Republic, Equatorial Guinea…. She and her Spanish-speaking-self, though seemingly caged, unleashed my sense of wonder about the world.  She marked the beginning of my wanderlust.  That propitious meeting happened almost 40 years ago.  In honor of that girl and her lasting impression on me, I share with you the following African singers whose tell their stories in Spanish:  Concha Buika from Equatorial Guinea/Spain,   Choc Quib Town from Colombia and Susana Baca from Peru. 
1.       Concha Buika
      2.  ChocQuib Town

3.       Susana Baca

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

My First Travel Experience Using Couchsurfing International (

In the Barlovento Region of Venezuela

CouchSurfing International, today, has millions of members in over 246 countries and territories around the world. I myself joined Couchsurfing back in March 2010 while planning my vacation to Perú, Colombia, and Ecuador. Before I could join, however, Couchsurfing conducted an identity check and residence check: a standard practice to help ensure the safety of its members.

Rosa, my Lima, Peru Couchsurfing host

At first, I found the website to be so vast and overwhelming that I was not sure how to go about finding places to stay in the countries I was going to visit. Slowly, I began to explore and learn to navigate my way around, but not in time to meet the needs of my 2010 vacation to Perú, Colombia, and Ecuador. I decided when I get back, that I was going to commit to learning and getting more involved with in preparation for future trips. 

My first task was to make Couchsurfing friends and get references. Good references play a vital role in your ability to find people who are willing to host you, a total stranger, in their homes during your vacation. Especially if those references are people you hosted in your home, or people who hosted you in their home.

My next move was to get involved with Couchsurfing's message boards. I joined groups pertaining to my 2011 trip to Lima, Perú, and Caracas, Venezuela. This way, I can make myself known so that people would feel more comfortable hosting me. It worked. Even if I didn't find a place to stay; even if I was satisfied paying $400 per night at the Hilton Hotel, I found to a great site to get inside information on any place in the world from  people who actually live there. For example, I've been to Lima, Perú six times already, but I never been to Lima's Chinatown. I posted a message on the Lima board asking for recommendations for a good Chinese restaurant, and the unanimous choice was a restaurant called Wah Lok.

Felix, my Caracas, Venezuela Couchsurfing host

When I arrived in Lima, my Couchsurfing host, Rosa, gave me my own bedroom, a kitchen, and a computer in her home located in the ritzy part of town; all for free. Couchsurfing International prohibits hosts from charging surfers, and I was told that offering money to hosts can be insulting. There are other ways to compensate hosts like helping to buy groceries and household goods, or even taking them out to dinner. Rosa herself was excited about going to the Wah Lok restaurant in Lima's Chinatown.

When I got to Caracas, Venezuela, Felix, like Rosa, has been observing my posts on the Caracas message board. He granted me a bed in his cramped family home in the hood (or the barrio). He was good enough to not only pick me up at the airport, but show me the city as we came across a band playing live Venezuelan music. Many of you know how much I love salsa, but I was definitely feeling the newly exposed genres of music; tambor, parranda, and gaita. Like in every country, Venezuelan music is diverse. 

Then there was María who saw my post on the Venezuelan national board about my desire to visit the Region of Barlovento, the hub of Afro-Venezuelan culture where her family lives. She took it upon herself to accompany me on a two-hour bus ride from Caracas to the Region of Barlovento, where I spent the rest of my South American vacation.

Maria, my Caracas and Higuerote, Venezuela couchsurfing host

As a couchsurfing rookie, I was deeply touched by what I experienced from Rosa, Felix, and María. I felt inspired to follow their examples in carrying out the mission of Couchsurfing International, which is not all about getting your personal needs met during your vacation. Couchsurfing International is not meant for people who just want a free place to stay. You are expected to interact with your host for a cross-cultural exchange. Every country has their culture and customs, and we grow as human beings by familiarizing ourselves with those cultures and customs.

In the fall of 2009, I  remember walking into a store in Southern Perú, and couldn't understand why the store owner was getting an attitude. You would think that she would be delighted that I'm spending money in her store versus the other store down the street. But when I finished my transaction and left, someone from the community who has been observing me, stopped me. In Spanish, and in his own Peruvian manner, he said to me, “señor, let me holler at you for a minute. When you go into a place of business you greet people with buenos días, buenas tardes, or buenas noches first, then you discuss whatever business you want to handle. And when you're done, you say permiso (a formal way of saying, “excuse me, gotta run”).

I never forgot those words of advice. In my 2010 trip to Mexico City, I tried what this Peruvian man told me on a group of Mexican nationals at the airport. Lo and behold, I had trouble  convincing them that I'm American, and not Cuban, because I put into practice a Latin American custom I had just learned.

When a savvy  couchsurfing host looks at your profile on to screen you, a total stranger, as a potential couchsurfer in their home, they want to see that you too are doing your part to help fulfill Couchsurfing International's mission by building meaningful connections across cultures. 

If enough of us have these kinds of experiences, we begin to see a world where people feel a greater sense of connection, in spite of differences.  CouchSurfing International's goal is for the people of the world to respond to diversity with curiosity, appreciation, and respect while creating a global community one couch at a time.

See my Couchsurfing profile by clicking here Bill Smith Jr

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Miami--A Latin-American City

 The Spanish-speaking Mecca of the U.S.

The first time I was visiting Miami, more than eight years ago, an Afro-Puerto Rican friend showed me around Little Havana, then showed me Little Haiti, and Overton, a historic African-American community. This time, as I passed through Miami before flying out to San José, Costa Rica, I lost my friends contact information after being out of communication for so many years, thus, I was on my own.

When I address people in Spanish, without hesitation, they respond in kind, unlike the Spanish speakers I meet in New York, San Francisco, and other parts of the country.  
The major thing that stood out for me about Miami is the feeling that I was already in a Latin-American country where people are very comfortable with their language and their cultural heritage. Spanish seems to be the predominate language of the city. Of course, with my constant work on developing Spanish fluency, I felt very much at home. When I address people in Spanish, without hesitation, they respond in kind, unlike the Spanish speakers I meet in New York, San Francisco, and other parts of the country.  Elena, a former co-worker, from Nicaraugua was telling me that in Los Angeles, Latinos would often say to her, “I´m an American - I don´t speak Spanish.” What is so wrong with an American speaking Spanish or four or five other languages, for that matter? Who says it´s un-American to speak more than one language? Elena would have never experienced this in Miami where Latinos, mainly Cubans, are in your face proud of who they are.

I felt good about another opportunity to practice my Spanish as if I already were in a Spanish-speaking country.
I myself decided to walk into a Cuban-run cafeteria, and the cashier immediately asked me in in broken English if she could help me. Sensing her struggle with the English language, I told her (in Spanish) that she is welcome to speak to me in Spanish like everyone else in the restaurant. This made her, her co-workers, and even customer feel good about my presence, and I felt good about another opportunity to practice my Spanish as if I already were in a Spanish-speaking country.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Afro-Peruvian Salsa Music Star--Antonio Cartagena

I first learned about Antonio Cartagena when his hit song Niña aired on KIQI Radio in San Francisco. What I didn't know was that he was a black man from Perú until I saw his picture posted on a billboard advertising his local performance. After his show, he stopped by the Salsa club 650 Howard (Boppers), where I used to hang out, to relax with members of his entourage. Being the Afrocentric Latin music lover that I am (see my post My Top 10 “Black” Latin Music Stars), I had to go over and shake his hand. Unlike most artists who make it big, he was very personable with the fans who took the time to greet him. At that time, my Spanish was not at the level it is now, so the producer, Pepe, who happened to be standing by was serving as our interpreter. There were other Afro-Peruvian members of his band who were curiously watching me dancing salsa and merengue and I only wished that my Spanish was better so I could engage them.

Antonio CartagenaAntonio Cartagena was born in a poor Afro-Peruvian family in Callao, Perú and having attended the Peruvian National Police Academy and the University of San Martín (a school named in honor of an Afro-Peruvian priest canonized as a Saint by the Catholic Church,  before focusing on his music and producing his first hit song "Sin Ti" 

His romantic-style salsa hits, some of which were mixed with traditional Peruvian-style music, resulted his being contracted for tours in South America, North America, and Europ.before being signed onto a prestigious record label RMM headed by Ralph Mercado, one of the world's greatest salsa producers where he recorded his first international CD Díme Que Sí.