Thursday, June 21, 2012

Spanish Movies for Spanish Practice


My Spanish is currently at a level where I can converse, do my job at work, conduct some business, and even go on dates, as I've done it in Cuba, Perú, and Ecuador. One afternoon, I took a Brazilian client who speaks Spanish and Portuguese to lunch, and as always, our conversations was only in Spanish, as her English was limited. The catch is this, my Spanish is far from fluent, and fluency is what I desire. Dating, flirting, traveling, and having jobs where I interact with Spanish speakers has always been a fun way to develop my Spanish. I make it a goal to do some traveling to Spanish-speaking countries every year. However, when I'm at home in Oakland, I resort to watching movies, musicals, and documentaries directly from Latin-American countries; with English subtitles, of course.

Each time I watch a movie, I grade myself on how many statements and phrases I “understand” during the course of the whole movie. And when I watch that same film months later, I expect my comprehension score to be higher, which of course is a sign of improvement.

I try to watch movies, documentaries, or musicals that at least have some black cast members, such as Sanky Panky (Dominican Republic) and Balseros (Cuba), although such films are few and far between.

Below are the top 10 Spanish films I enjoy most.
  1. Sanky Panky (Dominican Republic)
  2. Nueva Yol III (Dominican Republic)
  3. Sangre de Mi Sangre (Mexico)
  4. Buena Vista Social Club (Cuba)
  5. Fresas y Chocolates (Cuba)
  6. María Full of Grace (Colombia)
  7. Tinta Roja (Perú)
  8. El Norte (Guatemala)
  9. Ratanes, Ratas, Rateros (Ecuador)
  10. Danzón (México)

* I'm always open to more suggestions!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Latin Americans Don't See Color?

My first open discussion about race with a Latin-American person came about when I was 17 years old with a classmate directly from Puerto Rico. Out of the blue, he told me that there are no racial problems on the island, and that everyone gets along. I believed him. I heard those exact same words from many other Latin-Americans, most recently, from a woman who responded to my blog post entitled Semantics: Black and Latino with these words:

When you grow up in one of the islands, like Cuba or Puerto Rico, race is very much secondary. We don't even think about it. We are all Puerto Rican, Cuban or whatever else we might be. It is not until we get to the US that all of a sudden people are trying to put us into a racial category. Most families from the Caribbean islands, at least the ones that once were a part of Spain, are mixed. So how can we define ourselves as being part of a race when our brothers, sisters, cousins, parents, grandparents, or other close relatives may have a completely different color combination than we do? We don't choose to isolate ourselves that way. Is there racism in the islands? I'm sure there is, although I didn't see any growing up there nor did my husband who grew up in a different island.

I know many Latin-Americans of all colors who believe as this woman does. However, not one has been able answer this question. Why is it that when I pick up a newspaper, magazine, the only blacks I see are entertainers, athletes, and criminals? If color is so secondary, why are there so few black politicians, managers, police officers? Why is it that in every Latin-American country that I've visited (nine of them), the racial discrimination in terms of jobs and educational opportunities are worse than the U.S.A for black people? An old friend from Venezuela, was the only black in his graduating class of journalism. He could not get a job in Venezuela. Fortunately, he speaks very good English and had to migrate to the U.S. to find work in his field. 

I have a goddaughter in Perú whom I see almost every year. She is the only “black” in her family. She is loved by her family, and gets along very well with members of her community, regardless of color. Yet, I'm concerned about the job discrimination that she is going to face when she grows up that other members of her family will not face because of the color of her skin. My goddaughter lives in an area of Perú where there is a relatively large black population. But when you go into the business district of this area, there are hardly any blacks working in shops, banks, and offices. Even the shops that sell Afro-Peruvian cultural paraphernalia do not employ blacks. There is something wrong with that picture!
To you who are reading this, and feel that Latin-Americans don't see color, I humbly ask that you educate me as to why out of nine Latin-American countries that I visited, blacks are hardly visible in business districts, government, airports, law enforcement, and politics?
To date, I've been to the following Latin-American countries: Cuba, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, *El Salvador, **Mexico (yes, there are blacks in Mexico and they are marginalized), Panama, Peru, and Venezuela.

*El Salvador does not count for obvious reasons.
**Yes, Mexico has a black population, which is very marginalized.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Where Afro-Ecuadorian Stars are Made

Dreamtown, Ecuador, generally known as Juncal, 
in the region of Valle de Chota (Chota Valley)

Have you seen the film Hoop Dreams about African-American basketball talent being created in the hood, aspiring to be stars in the NBA? Well, similar dreams are occurring communities around the world, such as Juncal in Ecuador's Valle de Chota (or Chota Valley) region where international soccer stars are made. After Ecuador's impressive performance in the 2002 and 2006 World Cup games, tourists from around the world, including I, wanted to visit the very town that gave Ecuador a respectable name in international soccer. However, my motives were somewhat different.

As a hobby, I get hands on experience developing my Spanish by traveling, primarily to black communities. in Latin-America. Juncal, in Ecuador's Chota Valley joined my list of places to visit, and I finally arrived in December of 2009. I saw the soccer field where these young aspiring stars are trained and was given the full scoop on the community and their stars by three teens who were fascinated by the presence of an African-American wanting to learn about their community. I left Juncal feeling exhilarated after having met and chatted with several members of the community. Even police officers who questioned my presence in their town were flattered and pleased. I gave everyone I met a post card of my home city, Oakland, and post card of the Obama family. A gesture very much appreciated in my travels.

Augustin Delgado, all-time top scorer for the Ecuadorian National Team, 
who played professionally in Ecuador, Mexico and England.

As of this writing , the dreams of soccer stardom and wealth by young men in this town are being made into a documentary called Dreamtown--the HOOP DREAMS of Ecuadorian Soccer. The producer Betty Bastidas puts it this way, it is an underdog story with a universal theme that will move and inspire every person to keep striving for their dreams no matter the odds or the obstacles! DreamTown is about the thrilling victories and tragic challenges that three young athletes face to secure their dreams as they start out playing barefoot in their impoverished town, and eventually to wealth and stardom in international stadiums. Betty goes on to explain how these players' hunger and passion about soccer, a source of Ecuador's greatest pride, and the great sacrifices they make for themselves, their families, and their community! 

Excited young boys on the very soccer field that produced 
international soccer legend Augustín Delgado

It's been estimated that only 5% of Ecuador is of African descent and the racism is rampant and glaring from my own observation during my visits to this country on the Pacific coast. Yet over half of Ecuador's national team that scored impressive victories in World Cup competitions were Afro-Ecuadorians straight out of Chota Valley. One of these players who rose from the impoverished dirt fields of Chota Valley to the ranks of world class stardom was Ulises De La Cruz who donated much of his earnings to promote land development of his hometown, which had been neglected by the Ecuadorian government. Today, his donations and promotional campaigns has resulted in new schools, hospitals, running water, and paved roads. He is inspiring others who come behind him to do the same.

R1- 8A
Young men who gave me the lowdown on 
their community and their soccer stars.

Ecuadorian-American filmmaker and photographer Betty Bastidas holds a Master of Arts Degree from University of California at Berkeley's School of Journalism, and a degree in Documentary Photography from Salt Institute of Documentary Studies in Maine.  Her work has been exhibited internationally and she herself has been the recipient of numerous awards including the 2010 NALIP/HBO Documentary Award for DreamTown, 2008 NALAC Fund for the Arts, the 2006 NYFA Photography Fellowship, among others. Betty was recently selected to attend the 2011 NALIP Producer’s Academy with the DreamTown documentary.

 If you want to host a screening or get involved, e-mail Betty...

The Voices of Dreamtown--Trailer

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The World's Salsa Music Capital


After having grown up in New York City where salsa music was born right after the beginning of U.S. trade embargo against Cuba, Puerto Rican New Yorkers like Tito Puente, Willie Colón, and Ray Barretto  continued the legacy of Cuban music, called “Latin” by many, and improvised using Puerto Rican bomba and plena music, jazz, and even some R&B to create what we know today as salsa music.

Salsa is Spanish for “sauce,” and the improvisations by Puerto Rican musicians was like putting sauce on an original dish. Of course, New York City has been the capital of salsa music for decades. 

Then other genres of Latin music gained in popularity in New York, such as merengue and bachata with the influx of immigrants from the Dominica Republic, and of course, reggaetón; very popular among young Latinos. 

New York City has been described by a friend as a melting pot for musical styles. In the film Cantante, meaning singer, which is about the late salsa music megastar Hector Lavoe, there was a scene when Lavoe was told by maestro Willie Colón that he needs to show the world that salsa music still rules, despite the influx of other Latin music genres, and it turned out that his concerts were not filled to capacity as before. 

I've heard people claim Los Angeles and Miami as salsa music capitals. Even several publications like Latin Beat Magazine was published in Los Angeles. 

When I went to Havana, Cuba, I was in salsa music heaven, but timba music reigned supreme. I was so surprised that Havana didn't even have a salsa music radio station. Recently, I was reading an article in a black Colombian magazine called Ébano, Spanish for Ebony, stating that Cali is the salsa music capital, and it makes perfect sense. 

My former supervisor at work, who is Colombian, knew that I was planning a trip to Colombia and that I love salsa, highly recommended that I visit Cali. Considering that three of my favorite salsa bands, Grupo Niche, Grupo Caneo, and Sonora Carruseles are from Cali, my supervisor hit a hot button with me.

In Cali, these days, people assert that salsa music moves millions as it is Cali's greatest tourist product and is an integral part of the city’s cultural fabric.  A New York journalist visiting Cali says salsa music is a way of life, a day hardly went by without her hearing it. The owner of one of the most reputable dance schools in the city, Rucafé, has been involved in 33 international salsa congresses, and has seen Cali evolve into a world power of salsa music. 

Below, salsa music megastar Oscar De Leon, of Venezuela, sung one of his biggest hits... Yo “Me Voy Pa' Cali (I'M GOING TO CALI).”

Sunday, June 3, 2012

How Color and Race are Viewed in Latin America

Filmed by Dash Harris
Creative Director, Journalist, Multi-Media Artist at In.A.Dash.Media
Color and African descendant identity is examined in Latin America. How are color and 'race' viewed in Latin America? What connections do African-descendants and in Latin America share with African-descendants in the U.S.? Latinos and Afro-Americans share their stories.