Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Poor Black and Brown, Crime-Free Communities

 At police station in an all-Black town in Ecuador

Often people blame poverty for a lot of our crime problems, and the focus is usually on Black and Brown communities. However, I had the wonderful opportunity to visit two impoverished Black communities and one impoverished Black and Brown community in South America where I never heard of any crimes taking place, and not one cross word of conflict among their residents. What is their secret to their getting along so well without the drama that goes on in so many other impoverished communities? This doesn't mean that there are no crimes taking place, it just means that whatever is going on is undercover and does not involve victims. I won't name these towns because I don't want criminals reading this and going there to spread their trouble and spoiling a good thing.

A tranquil police station in a Peruvian town consisting of Blacks and Browns

The police department in these towns in Ecuador and Perú seem to live a peaceful existence.And the town I visited in Colombia does not have a police station at all. In Ecuador, the cops were visibly delighted when I explained my reason for visiting as a sentimental fan of Ecuador's international soccer team and that many of the team members and stars are from this town. In Perú, the police instantly recognize me as a visitor and always greet me warmly. The night I first arrived in this town, I was stranded because I arrived by taxi at 4AM in the morning, and the family that was supposed to host me were asleep. The police and the cab driver arranged for me to spend the night at a cheap hotel for half the price. I've been invited to all-night block parties where people were drinking, but no one got drunk, and not one fight broke out. They all got along.


An African village in Colombia

When I arrived at a village in Colombia consisting of descendants of slave rebels who won their independence from Spanish rule more than 200 years before the rest Colombia, I found the people to be so poor that their restaurant and beverage stores could not even afford a refrigerator. I had to drink my beer al clima (room temperature) in hot weather. People were delighted to see a Black gringo like me exploring their community as I was being shown around by a guide. The only crimes this community experience was when Colombian guerrilla rebels came around to harass the residents as they did in other parts of the country.

From my travels through these towns, I was deeply touched by the fact that I, a relatively rich gringo, was not hustled by slickers or robbed by thugs. In Ecuador, people were somewhat fearful of me until they learned my motive for passing through - to connect with members of the African diaspora. People were nice to each other and they were nice to me. What is their secret to be at such peace with themselves in the midst of poverty?

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Bloggers and Cowards

One of the things that inspired me to blog African-American-Latino World was to get feedback and exchange of ideas with readers regarding my thoughts in reference to the Latino world, particularly the Black Latino world. My late Mexican-American friend, Yolanda, urged me to learn Latino culture(s) if I'm going to speak the language (Spanish). Needless to say, there are an infinite number of things I need to learn be they from Latin American people themselves, or from cultural explorers, travelers, and language learners like me.

Although an overwhelming number of reader-correspondence that I receive are positive, complimentary, and helpful, I sometimes get hostile or critical comments, which I also  welcome because they too help to broaden my awareness. Often times, I take opposing views as learning experiences, which to me, makes blogging more interesting and rewarding.

All I ask is that you haters out there not be so cowardly and narrow minded, but open for questioning regarding your rants, and that you not run away with your tail between your legs after making your opposing comments. If you log onto anyone's blog and share an opinion, be man or woman enough to show the same courtesy you were given when you expressed your views so freely.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Paraguay's African Heritage

Paraguay was the last port of arrival of African slaves in Americas, and they, mostly of Angolan origin, first arrived in 1556. According the Afro Paraguayan Association Kamba Cuá, in 1782, the black population represented 11.2 percent of the total population. In 1811 half of the Paraguayan population was of African descent. Also, curiously, people of ethnic Kamba Cuá, a Kenyan ethnic group out of Uruguay, who settled in Paraguay in the1820s arrived in a regiment of 250 spearmen, men and women, who accompanied General Jose Gervasio Artigas, the revolutionary leader of Uruguay, in his exile in Paraguay.  

There are three Black communities in Paraguay;: the Kamba Cuá, Kamba Kokue (meaning "chacra de negros"- black farm in Guarani language), and Emboscada. These three communities are in the eastern region of the country.
In this context, Paraguay has been developing the tour of a show called "Negritud de colores" (Black Colors) that runs in different cities. It is a show of Afro-Latin American music and dance scenes, songs, chants, and dances with rescued African roots of this continent. The Paraguayan singer Mariví Vargas and his team of musicians, drummers, and dancer from Kamba Cuá led by Lazaro Medina and offer a show that aims to make Afro-Paraguayan culture a visible part of the collective African descent.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

My Panama, Ecuador, Panador Hats

Someone referred to me as a connoisseur of hats. Wrong! I'm a connoisseur of Panama Hats. With all the compliment's I've been receiving:
  • Sharp as a #2 pencil 
  • You're so sharp you can cut somebody
or as some women friends put it...
  •  You give off the impression of being a Mac (a man with an unusual power over women)
 This is primarily because of my collection of Panama Hats, and my most recent purchase, the Precendente Panama Pat from Panador based in Cuenca, Ecuador. This hat is woven with the traditional toquilla straw that gives the panama hat its uniqueness, and is treated with a custom finish to ensure weather and stain resistance.

The Precendente Panamá Hat

I never cared for the wearing of hats until I made my first trip to Ecuador. I hung out with a lady-friend who resides in the capital city of Quito whom I met through Facebook. She took me shopping and encouraged me to by my first Panama Hat. I never realized what I was wearing until I got back to the US. As far as I was concerned, it was just a souvenir to show folks, that I'm a traveling man. Then surprisingly, I started getting compliments from friends as well as strangers. This inspired me to develop a collection of varying styles on my following trip to Ecuador.

Through my blog, I inadvertently met the owner of Panador Panama Hats, which specializes in the Black Panama Hat, which I later bought. Panador has a host of other styles as well. And they are the ones I turn to when I want to add another Panama Hat to my collection without my having to fly to Ecuador. They offer free delivery in the US. Panador got it's name from the fact that the Panama Hat is originally, and still is, an Ecuadorian product, but was highly promoted and sold in Panama, thus the name Panador, a partial spelling of Panama and Ecuador.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Peruvian Black Arts Festival

San Luis (de Cañete) in Perú is predominately Black, and like El Carmen is overwhelmed with Black culture. However, unlike El Carmen, this place is not visited by passerby tourists. I first of San Luis in an Afro-Peruvian classic song years before my first trip to Perú. It was about a Black man who ventured into an area of Perú where there are no Blacks, and people were wondering where he was from and why he was there. In the song, they kept trying to guess his hometown, and finally decided on San Luis.

In every one of my trips to Perú, I always pass by the Province of Cañete where San Luis is located, and always tell myself that I need to stop by and visit on the way down or on the way back. Just recently, I made a new Facebook friend from San Luis who gave me the low down. I've always liked traveling to places where there a few or no tourist and San Luis is one of the places.  As of this writing the people of San Luis are celebrating their Black Arts Festival for 2013. I promised some friends that I would drop by on my next visit to Perú where I normally visit the better known hub of Black culture, El Carmen, which is an hour away in the Peruvian Province of Chincha.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Dominican Republic & The Blues

One day while visiting Miami, I was invited into the home of a couple of Puerto Rican friends who moved there from my hometown of New York City, There, I was introduced to Bachata dancing and learned the basic steps to the tune of a popular group out of The Bronx in New York called Aventura (or Adventure). I was surprised to learn that they loved Bachata music more than Salsa. I myself was a diehard Salsero (Salsa dancer), and still have love of the music. Today, behind Son-Montuno and Charanga (of Cuba) and Salsa, Bachata is my favorite form of Latin American music as it beautifully expresses and celebrates the creativity of hard-working peasants and the African roots of the Dominican Republic.

Bachata was born in the poorest of Dominican neighborhoods, and emerged in the mid-20th century as a slow, romantic style of music played on the Spanish guitar. In Bachata's early years, like African-American blues, it was considered crude and base, and looked down upon by upper class Dominicans who had the music barred from mainstream musical venues, and was seldom ever heard outside of the Dominican Republic. It wasn't even considered a genre of music in those days. Bachata was often related to rowdy parties, and like the blues, the lyrics were about hard drinking, women troubles, manhood.
It wasn't until the 1980s that this music began to be tolerated, if not loved. Then the 90s came when a popular merengue musician, Juan Luis Guerra, won a grammy for his album entitled Bachata Rosa, making the way for other Dominicans to bring Bachata to a mainstream audience. Today, bachata can be heard throughout the Dominican Republic and other Latin American communities, especially in Washington Heights, directly North of Harlem, New York City, where I grew up. Today, I call the area Dominica Harlem. The Dominicans call it Quisqueya Heights. Quisqueya was the old name of the Domincan Republic until the invasion of the Spanish.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

African Flamenco Singer of Spain

When I first began blogging about my exposure to the Latino world, particularly the Afro-Latino world, I didn't have Spain in mind because it had very little to do with Black Latinos; so I thought. Because of my musical appreciation for the Spanish guitar, I started taking a personal interest in flamenco, and even attended some flamenco shows and thoroughly, and I do mean thoroughly, enjoyed them. One of my blog readers turned me onto Concha Buika, a Black singer and a Spaniard.

Buika's family is originally from Equatorial Guinea, a West African country where Spanish is spoken. She was born and raised in Mallorca among Gitanos (or Gypsies) in Spain who heavily influenced her with traditional flamenco. Today, Buika is a singer who handles and fuses many musical styles with flamenco, such as copla (another form of popular music of Southern Spain), jazz, rumba, and R&B. Her album Niña de Fuego (little girl of fire),  was nominated for the 2008 Latin Grammy Award for Album-of-the-Year.

Back in 2000 and 2001, she sang at The Luxor, Harrah's, Gold Coast casinos in Las Vegas as a Tina Turner impersonator, and also performed as a guest singer in the Blue Note festival with Rachelle Ferrell. Today, she is noted as one of the most lively and spontaneous artists in the current Spanish musical scene. I was encourage by my blog reader to check her out when she makes her next US tour, and I will!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Missing Travel in 2012

In The District of El Carmen in Chincha, Perú, December 2011

I don't believe in New Years' resolutions because if I feel I need to make significant changes in my life, I prefer to do it in the moment, and not wait until January. It's been years since I made a New Years' resolution and that resolution was to acquire a better command of the Spanish language. It worked out to the point where I not only developed a better command, I had bilingual jobs, one of which I received bilingual pay. My Spanish played a large role in my being hired by my last company as I worked with many Spanish-speaking immigrants. In the last few years, I've traveled to Spanish-speaking countries as part of my language training, and when visiting those countries, I make it a point to go places where gringos generally don't go.

It just so happened that I missed out on my annual trip to Perú, my home away from home, and other Latin American countries that I usually include with my trip to Perú where I have have strong family-like connections. Usually, when I fly to Perú, I take advantage of long layovers on the way down or on the way back, and include even another country nearby, like Ecuador, Colombia, or Panama.

However, this year I did not get to travel because I lost my job in February 2012, just two months after my last South American trip to Perú and Venezuela. Fortunately, I got picked up by a résumé-writing company, but it doesn't offer 30 days vacation like my last job. Yet, I made it a plan to take a trip before the end of 2013, and this is not a New Years' resolution. Simply an ongoing plan for language and cultural exposure for this is a big part of my life.