Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Afro-Latinas Underrepresented in Latino Film

Celebrating Afro-Latina Documentarians for Black History Month

Reposted from SydneysBuzz 

by Vanessa Erazo
February 20, 2013 1:00 PM

Actors of color contend with stereotypes and typecasting on a daily basis. In Hollywood, even in the ‘post-racial era’ an actor’s ethnicity can severely limit the types of roles they are considered for. A Latino actor often has no choice but to audition for roles as a gardener, maid, or janitor and be asked to fake an accent. It’s not much better for blacks.

Despite the success of black actors in mainstream blockbusters and African-Americans having won Oscars in all the major acting categories, it is still rare to have an all-black cast or to see a black actor in a leading role in Hollywood. Most of the roles offered in mainstream movies to a person of color are that of the token minority. Either that or you play a criminal, thug, gangbanger, or sometimes a reformed criminal trying to change your life around.

What if you happen to be Latino and black? Well, things get even more complicated. Early last year mun2, an English-language television network targeting U.S.-born Latinos, took on this very issue in a short web documentary called Black and Latino. Actors, musicians, and journalists like Christina Milian, Tatyana Ali, and Judy Reyes take on the question, “What does it mean to be black and Latino in the U.S.?”
Watch the full doc here.

Black and Latino features interviews with Latino actors Laz Alonso (Avatar, Jumping the Broom), Tatyana Ali (Fresh Prince of Bel Air), Gina Torres (Suits, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys) and Judy Reyes (Scrubs), musicians Christina Milian ("Dip it Low") and Kat DeLuna ("Whine Up"), and journalist Soledad O'Brien (CNN), among many others.

Afro-Latino actors are a conundrum for casting directors who are looking for a more ‘typical’ Latino look (read as light-skinned and Mexican). They end up booking more African-American roles because they don’t fit the stereotype of what Latinos look like. In Black and Latino actress Gina Torres explains, “When I became an actress I quickly realized that the world liked their Latinas to look Italian, not like me. So I wasn't going up for Latina parts. I was going up for African-American parts.”

Beyond the acting world Afro-Latinos contend with a host of issues. They have to fight for acceptance within the Latino community and sometimes even within their own family (lighter skin is often considered more desirable amongst Latinos). And to further complicate things many Latinos are unaware of or even deny their African roots. But outside of the Hollywood system, in the indie film world, there are Latinos who have embraced their African heritage and focused their cameras on Afro-Latinos. LatinoBuzz talked to some Afro-Latina filmmakers who have decided to tell their own stories. Who needs Hollywood anyway? Here are three documentaries that are currently in production.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

My Favorite Genres of Latin Music

Anthony Santos of the Dominican Republic

When I first heard the expression of Latin Music or simply Latin as a youth, it was always in reference to Afro-Cuban music and Salsa. Growing up right in the midst of Puerto Rican communities in New York City, Salsa, Latin Soul, and Afro-Cuban music along with Bomba and Plena music (Puerto Rican music with strong African roots) were the predominate genres I heard in the streets and on the airwaves. However, as an adult constantly working to improve my Spanish, and exploring different Latin-American cultures, I've learned there are hundreds more to Latin music than that to which I've been exposed..

In most of the countries I've visited, like Perú and Cuba, or countries I plan to visit, like Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, I am inspired to visit through music appreciation. Here are my Top 10 genres of Latin Music:

1. Salsa (born in New York City)
2. Son Montuno (Cuba - gave birth to Salsa music)
3. Charanga (Cuba)
4. Timba (Cuba)
5. Bachata (Dominican Republic)
6. Danzón (Cuba)
7. Llanero (Venezuela)
8. Champeta (Colombia)
9. Jarocho (México)
10. Landó (Perú)

Honorable Mention: Merengue Típica (Dominican Republic) and Huaylas (Perú)

P.S.  Reggaetón sucks!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

What's It Like to be Black AND Latino

Dubbed as the “Father of Salsa Music” by many experts

One evening at a concert in New York City, the late Afro-Cuban singer and guitarist Aresenio Rodriguez shouted to the audience his pride in his African heritage. Today, I'm meeting more and more Afro-Latinos, in person and on Facebook, who are speaking out on their ethnic pride. Then there are other Afro-Latinos who are in denial about their ethnicity, and don't even consider themselves Black. Still there are others who are a bit confused as to which part of their identity they should embrace.

In the brief clip below, Tore, one of the interviewees says, and I've heard it a few times from other Afro-Latinos that the fair-skinned and White Latinos don't always accept Afro-Latinos as fellow Latinos. Tore states that he feels like a low man on the totem pole from his fellow Puerto Ricans. This comment was an eye-opener for me because I grew up with Puerto Ricans in New York City, and noticed a lot of social and political interaction between African American and Puerto Rican communities. Juan, an Afro-Venezuelan friend also surprised me when he told me that most Latinos in the US will not respond to him in Spanish because they equate him with being a Black American even though Spanish is his first language.

I liked what Guzman said about identifying not as just Black, but more specifically Afro-Colombian. However, I was somewhat taken aback when he talked about an African-American women he was dating who told him that this is the first time that she went out with a non-Black guy. This reminded me of what a Black Cuban friend, Jesus, told me long ago when an African-American bank teller noticed his name had a Spanish ring to it, and said to Jesus, Oh, I thought you were Black! A lot of African-American people, not all, but many, seem to think that African-Americans are the only legitimate Blacks on the planet, and the rest are just imitators. The Afro-Colomnian Guzman added that one of his African-African classmates told him that he looks Black but he really isn't.

The female interviewee in this clip, Raquel, addressed the internalized racism that is prevalent among many members of the African diaspora when her father, who is a Black Dominican, told her to never bring home anyone Black, not even as a friend. Tore commented on how he has seen many Afro-Latinos struggling trying to decided if they should embrace being Black or Latino. Guzman, the Afro-Colombian, stated so eloquently that they should see both being Black and Latino as equal.

Friday, February 15, 2013

I'm So Glad I Didn't Stereotype Her

I just came out of a job interview, which consisted of a panel of four. One of the interview panelist fits the stereotypical profile of a Latina and has a Spanish first and last name. I already knew that the ability to speak Spanish was a plus, so before I left the interview, I wanted to, as rapper Kid Frost would say, “bust some Spanish” to show off my Spanish-speaking skills, and that Latina woman appeared to be the perfect person with whom to exchange a few words to help me impress the panel. Yes, that's stereotyping, I know, because I've personally met too many Americans of Latin American heritage who speak little or no Spanish.

Finally, a question came up during the interview, which I thought would be a perfect sedge-way for “busting” my Spanish. Without looking directly at this Latina panelist, I asked, does anyone here speak Spanish? I once posted a blog post, What Do Spanish-speakers look like, about how you cannot look at people and determine what language they speak. No one raised their hands; not even the Latina panelist. So, I was so glad that I did single her out because that would have been embarrassing to me and frustrating to her because no one likes being stereotyped.

I went on and answered the question and described how I've traveled to nine Spanish-speaking countries and was totally immersed in the Spanish language, and even talked about how I gave a Venezuelan and a Peruvian feedback on their curriculum vitaes. The smiles of delight were evident on everyone's face, and at the end of the interview, every one of the panelist came over to shake my hand personally as I exited the room.

I left with a good feeling, about the how the whole interview went. However, we never know who we are competing with for an open position., therefore regardless of their decision, I already have a job, and for that  am thankful!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Bolivia's First Black Elected Representative

Jorge Medina, Bolivia's first Black political representative

In Jorge Medina's office, the first Afro-Bolivian to hold political office in Bolivia's Parliament, are four pictures hanging from his walls; Bob Marley, Kunta Kinte from Alex Haley's novel “Roots,” Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King. 

He states that drums connect African descendants from all over Latin America and the Caribbean with our roots in Senegal, Congo, Guinea, and Angola as he often says in his radio show, African Roots. 

Every Friday, Mr. Medina uses his radio program to speak about issues affecting the Afro-Bolivian community. "There is still discrimination, there is still racism, there is still xenophobia here in Bolivia, he asserts. But if Barack Obama can be president of the United States, why should an Afro not be able to be in the parliament here in Bolivia?" he asks. "But let it be clear, we are not here in Bolivia only to make people dance to black music. We are here to make people think, believe, and consider the black people. “This is 'our' awakening!"

Sunday, February 10, 2013

My Peruvian Family Connection

My goddaughter, 10 (second from the right), with members 
of her family in El Carmen of Chincha Perú

My goddaughter, Daniela, has been on my heart lately, especially because I didn't get a chance to visit Perú in 2012. I decided to call her uncle Jesús (man in the back wearing the blue tank shirt) and wired him the money to not only to buy Daniela a bicycle, but paid Jesús handsomely for the favor. There is nothing like traveling to a foreign country and having strong family-like connections with families. The Ormeño-Alamas family, pictured above, is only one of them. The others are the famous Ballumbrosio family, the Cotito family, and there is the Uculmana family in Lima, the nations's capital.

 Daniela (in pink) with other members of her family

When I spoke to Daniela's grandmother over the phone, she told me that Daniela is telling everybody that I'm her father living in the US. That made me feel good because I feel the same love for Daniela. Daniela's real father, I know very little about. I only hear some rumors that he is supposed be some kind of mac daddy with a lot of girlfriends and is not in her life.

As you can see, this is a mixed Black and Brown family. There are other Black members who are not pictured here. I've noticed quite a bit of interracial marriages and relationships between Blacks and Browns in Perú. As in other Latin American counties, I've seen Blacks with Brown babies and Browns with Black babies..

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Argentina's Black Awareness and Civil Rights Movements

 María Elena Lamadrid

When Maria Lamadrid went to the immigration counter with her new Argentine passport in preparation for her trip to Panamá, the immigration officer began to screaming that her passport was fake, and María was detained. The only reason they could give, they said, is that there are no blacks in Argentina. Argentina has been a country that not only denies having an Afro-descended community, but has done everything to erase Africa from its past. The Afro-Argentine community currently faces issues of high unemployment racist immigration policies, as well as denial about their existence. However, there seems to be some hope for Afro-Argentines.

In the late, 1990s, María founded a group called Africa Vive (Africa Lives), which emerged on a mission to fight discrimination, and raise awareness of their place in Argentina’s history. She struggled in her youth to receive an education since she was both black and poor. For this reason, she ended up cleaning other people’s houses to make a living. Although Maria encounters racism and discrimination on a daily basis, it has done nothing but inspire her and her Africa Vive foundation to push forward towards equality. In 1999, Africa Vive organized a very well publicized conference at the University of Buenos Aires, and was invited to attend the Durban UN Conference on Racism. where they made a presentation about the socio-economic situation of the Afro-Argentines.

Recently, there has been a growing interest into Argentina’s African heritage. In 2001, Afro-descended groups like “Grupo Cultural Afro”, "SOS Racismo", and of course "Africa Vive" came together to convince a national deputy to organize a ceremony in memory of the black soldiers who died fighting for Argentina’s independence. In this ceremony, the national deputy spoke in honor of the great fallen soldiers. For Argentina to have an event that not only acknowledges the African contributions to the country, but also puts the Afro-Argentines in the spotlight, is truly a very remarkable thing. This event was certainly a huge step for Afro-Argentines toward reaching their goal for equality, however needless to say, they still have many more miles to walk.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Black Heritage Month & the Latino World

The late Afro-Colombian salsa music mega-star Jairo Varela featured in Colombia's version of Ebony Magazine (Ébano). 

A few African-Americans and Latinos, including those in the Spanish-speaking countries that I've visited, assume that I'm Latino. However, I've been criticized openly by just a few African-Americans for being a sell-out to my own race, and have been criticized by just a few Latinos as being self-loathing wanna-be, bored with my own culture. Of course, I know better than this because I spent most of my high school and college years reading up on black history, making me prouder of my own heritage and more knowledgeable of my history than many those who point fingers at me.

My celebration of Black heritage is year round and global, which is why I'm an admirer of the Black Puerto Rican historian Arturo Alfonso Schomburg of whom a large New York City public library was named in Harlem, NY. During his school years, a teacher told him that Blacks have no history and has never accomplished anything of note. That ugly comment inspired him to make a lifetime commitment to prove his teacher wrong through international research on Black history. I celebrate Mansa Musa, leader of the great African Empire of Mali. as much as I celebrate the Nobel Prize winning author Toni Morrison. I celebrate Mexico's liberator and first Black president Vicente Guerrero as much as I celebrate Barack Obama.

However, I've been putting a lot of focus on Latin America because I grew up in a mixed African-American and Latino community, primarily Puerto Rican, in New York City. In addition, I want to supplement my development of speaking the Spanish language by learning Latino cultures. My Latin-American interest, although diverse, primarily lies in its Black communities. I have a separate Spanish-speaking Facebook account where I have over 300 friends scattered throughout Latin-America. A large portion are of African ancestry, and many of them have Afrocentric names and represent themselves with pictures of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King as well as Black Latin-American historical heroes, such as Biohó who freed African slaves in Colombia and established one of the first free Black towns in the Western world. In Ecuador, the Blacks celebrate their heritage in October; in Perú, it's February. Even in Argentina, Uruguay, and Chile, People of African heritage are standing up and asserting pride in Black Heritage.