Sunday, April 28, 2013

Part II: Latina Magazine Criticized for Celebrating Black Heritage

In my April 12, 2013 blog post entitled Latin Magazine Criticized for Celebrating Black Heritage, I pointed out how I could not understand why would spread rhetoric that Latinos are all one and unified regardless of color when I observed the contrary from my personal travels and from watching Spanish television. There are Black organizations springing up all over Latin-America trying to address the racism that they experience in their respective countries. I brought this up in Latin-American forum of which I am a member and received some enlightening feedback that helped to broaden my perspectives. 

A member pointed out that in Latin American countries, there is no such word as Latino. In Latin America, you are identified by your country first, then your region, followed by your town, and finally, your color (not necessarily race.) He went on to explain that the united Latino movement is more passionately addressed here in the US where there is little racism between Latinos whereas in Latin American countries , racism and classicism are more prevalent.

I then asked him to explain why Spanish television here in the USA, like Telemundo and Univisión, does not feature Latinos of color, and why so many Afro-Latino actors forced to play African-American roles and not accepted into the Latino TV and film industry? His only response is that the media is one thing and the general population is another. From his personal experience as a Latin-American living on the East Coast of the USA, he hasn't observed or experienced racism (sometimes nationalism, but not racism) between Latinos in the US. He has observed Black Dominicans, light skinned El Salvadoreans, and Indigenous Peruvians shopping in the same places, dancing at the same clubs, and intermarrying.

This raised another question, which he was able to intelligently clear up; considering that racism is so hard to break; how is it that people can be racist in his or her home country and suddenly turn over a new leaf when they arrive in the USA? Another member of the forum said that the answer to that is simple; in their home countries, many non Black and non-Indigenous Latin-Americans were treated as White, but not so in the US where they are all lumped together as minorities; people of color. The other member stated that many of the Latin-Americans who come to the US are poor, and got along very well back home regardless of race, and when they come to the US, they get negative reception from so many Americans that they are forced to band together. I myself, during my travels, witnessed impoverished Latin Americans, particularly Black, Mestizo, and Indigenous people living together in harmony and even intermarrying.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Upcoming TV Documentary on Afrolatinos: The Untaught Story

Guest Post 
by Kayla Lattimore 
Social Media Manager for Creador Pictures LLC

Did you know that in Latin American there is an estimated number of 150 million people of African descent? Of that populations 92% live in extreme poverty and 70% of that number are women and children. Did you also know that 80% of Afro-Colombians live in extreme poverty, 79% of Afro-Nicaraguans do not have access to potable water and Afro-Mexicans are not included in the census? 

Afrolatinos The Untaught Story is a documentary television series independently produced by Creador Pictures, LLC. This is the story of the estimated 150 million invisible afrodescendants currently living in Latin America. Afrolatinos is a seven part series in English and Spanish, that shows the rich culture and shares the contributions of the enslaved Africans who arrived to the Caribbean, Central and South America. This history is seldom told or often omitted when talking about these regions of the world.

Our producers have traveled to over 18 different countries throughout Latin America and the Caribbean and conducted of 200 interviews in order to explore the full story of Afrolatinos. The program aims to better understand religious connections and distinctions between the Catholic Church and Yoruba and Voodoo traditions within Afrolatino Culture. We examine the significant influence of Afrolatinos in music. The drum is a very significant instrument used in Latin music but how many people know its history? We also have a segment on Afro-Latino gastronomy, which will show the many dishes with African influence seen in every day life. Identity and racial discrimination are just a few of the many social issues effecting Afrolatinos. We interviewed people from the U.S to Argentina about issues such as self-hate, the idea of good hair, bad hair, interracial marriages, oppression, and exploitation.

We have been working on the Afrolatinos documentary for over five years, traveled to more than 18 countries and have well over 200 interviews documenting all that is Afro culture throughout Latin America. This is an ambitious project. In January, unfortunately we had to stop production due to lack of funding. This is a self funded project and a labor of love. We have received no grants or financial assistance and have funded the project ourselves. We are inviting you to Un Llamado y Respuesta! A Call and Response! To you, our community, nuestra comunidad, for help to cross the finish line and bring these stories, nuestra historia, to the world!

This month we have started our Afrolatinos: The Untaught Story Un Llamado 60k in 60days Indiegogo campaign! We need your help to reach our funding goal and bring Afrolatinos to the world! With your help we can cross the finish line in production and go to major networks to distribute the series. The world needs to know that there is more to the history and culture of Latin America and that our story cannot be forgotten! We’ve gone as far as we can go by ourselves and we need your support to make this project a reality! Even a $1 brings us closer to sharing our rich story and culture with the world. 

Along with our Indiegogo campaign we’ve also started an Afrolatinos: The Untaught Story petition to get 100,000 signatures to show major networks that people want and NEED to hear this story. This is more than a campaign. This is movement and a call to our community and to the world that the voices of Afrolatinos will be heard! 

Hyperlinks to indiegogo campaign
hyperlinks to petition

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Mexico's African Legacy

 Vicente Riva Palacios
 Grandson of Mexico's First President of African heritage

In the late 1860s, more than a half century after Mexico won her independence from Spain, the diligent work of an influential writer, historian, army general, and mayor of Mexico City, Vicente Riva Palacio, retrieved dusty Inquisition archived accounts of the African slave Yanga and his revolutionary valor against the Spanish, establishing a free Black town in Veracruz, Mexico, and brought this story to the public in an anthology in 1870. Riva Palacio, is also the grandson of Mexico's liberator and first Black president (if you count the one-drop rule) Vicente Guerrero who is the son of an African slave mother and a Mestizo father.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

So, I'm a Sellout--A Wannabe Latino?

When Donna, a woman I was dating, telephoned my home for the first time, she heard my answering machine's outgoing message in English and Spanish with some salsa music in the background. In my mind, I was just trying to be unique and cutesy like so many others with answering machines. 

Donna later told me that my outgoing message gave her the impression that I was trying to get away from being Black. I was somewhat flabbergasted, considering my experience with the Black Student Alliance in school, and my love for the Black theater, music, art, literature, and history.

However, I'm also a big fan of the opera and the symphony, which I attend every chance I get. During my junior high school years, I aspired to play with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra as a classical clarinetist, and got accepted into what is now known as the La Guardia School of the Performing Arts in New York's Lincoln Center. 

So, it's not that I'm trying to get away from being Black, I'm just an individual with diverse taste and interests. 

When I decided to adopt Spanish as my second language due to my love for Latin music, and due to my direct childhood connection with the Puerto Rican community, I was encouraged to dig deeper and learn more about Latin American culture as well. This provoked Donna into sarcastically reminding me that nothing has changed; I'm still “Black!” .

Donna's articulated judgment of me was not new. I've been hearing similar comments from other African-Americans and some Latinos; calling me a sellout and a wannabe Latino. 

An African-American co-worker who overheard me in a Spanish-speaking conversation asked, “you wish you were Mexican, don't you? 

A Dominican-American woman apparently annoyed and disgusted by my extensive knowledge and love for Latin music once challenged me to name some “Black” artists that I like, which gave me a good laugh because along with the artists that I mentioned to her; McCoy Tyner (jazz pianist), Pattie Labelle (R&B singer), and Michael Morgan (conductor of the Oakland Symphony), I also named some “Black” artists from her home country, the Dominican Republic such as Cuco Valoy (salsa), Johnny Ventura (merengue), and Anthony Santos (bachata), LOL!

What Donna, and my other critics cannot seem to grasp is that I'm an African diaspora enthusiast. As a high school teen, I only lived one block from the Schomburg Center for Research and Black Culture in Harlem, NY. This library/museum named after a Black Puerto Rican, carries over 6,000,000 items covering Black people from all over the world. 

I put a lot of emphasis on the Afro-Latino cultures because of my desire to perfect my Spanish. When traveling, I generally seek out Black communities in the countries that I visit. Today, I can hold intelligent conversations with most Latin-Americans about their home countries as I myself continue to listen and learn about the culture.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Latina Magazine Criticized for Celebrating Black Heritage

Latina Magazine recently celebrated Black Heritage with a focus on “Afro” Latinas. Among the overwhelmingly positive comments from readers, there was one dissenter who expressed what I hear occasionally from other Latinos; a point that I don't understand. I copied and pasted what she wrote verbatim:

Why are you trying to separate us? It used to be that we were all Latinos. Now, not so much. Now it's "Afro-Latinos" Thank you so much Latina Magazine for making things much harder but pointing out why don't belong in your eyes. I expect this from the African American community because they don't understand how we don't apply the one drop rule but I would expect more from you. DIVIDE, DIVIDE, DIVIDE....THE SAME TO BE THE IN THING TO DO. NOW WE DON'T FIT IN ANYWHERE. THANKS FOR ADDING TO THE BULLSHIT.

This is where I am confused--I remember when Latina Magazine neglected Latinas of color all together. In my travels to nine Latin American countries, I've observed blatant discrimination against Asian, Indigenous, and Black Latinos. Who is doing the dividing here? In Latin America, you generally do not see Latinos of color working in hospitals, office buildings, banks or at the airport unless they are cleaning floors or maybe working as security guards. Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez are the only two Latin American leaders I know of who stood up and addressed the racial divide in their countries.

¡En Cuba, no hay negros ni blancos; solo Cubanos!
In Cuba, there are no Blacks or Whites, only Cubans!
José Martí, the Father of Cuba
Here in the USA, I used to watch Spanish television like Telemundo and Univisión to practice my Spanish, and felt disheartened to notice that the actors and newscasters do not reflect the diversity of the Latin-American community I've grown accustomed to seeing in my own community and during my travels. This really burst my bubble, because at one time, I too believed that Latinos were all one regardless of color. I'm not White, I'm Puerto Rican one would say; I'm not Black, I'm Dominican, another would say. Yet,  Afro-Latino actors and actress have been traditionally playing African-American roles because they cannot get roles in the Latino TV or film industries like their White counterparts..

I truly understand the writer's concern for Latinos Unidos (United Latinos), however, it seems to me that Latina Magazine should not be blamed for the division in the Latin American community. This division has been prevalent since the arrival of the conquistadors.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Spanish is as American as Cherry Pie

Estevánico - Spanish explorer of African descent entered what is now known as Florida, Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico long before the arrival of English speakers. The Spanish language is still with us today, thriving in modern American times.

Why is the Spanish language considered a foreign language when it has been spoken in what we know today as the USA over 100 years before the Declaration of Independence. The first European settlers who came to this country were Spanish speakers. In March of 1539, a man by the name of Estevanico and a group of Spaniards went looking for the mythic Golden City and traveled on to what is now Arizona. They also went on an expedition to colonize the northern and western shores of the Gulf of Mexico, and their ship was blown off course and landed in what is now known as Florida. They then traveled onto a territory that eventually became known as Texas. Because Estevánico was a talented man who learned five Native American languages and sign language, and because he is a self-made medicine man, the Spaniards used him as a scout and mediator with the natives.

The Spanish language, like cherry pie, is very American!
Many other Spanish explorers have been coming to this country since the 16th and 17th centuries in areas that would later become the states of Florida, Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and California. Also west of Louisiana Territory was Spanish between 1763 - 1800 after the French and Indian War.

Puerto Ricans are already naturalized Americans with many moving to New York City and  Chicago. Mexicans began moving to United States as refugees in the turmoil of Mexican Revolution from 1910 - 1917, populating the Southwest. Cuban immigrants came because of Cuba's political instability upon achieving independence. In the city of Miami today, Spanish is the first language. With the migration of Nicaraguans, El Salvadoreans, Venezuelans, and Colombians, and others, the Spanish language is the second most used language in the United States. Therefore, historically speaking, Spanish is as American as cherry pie. 

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Bashing Black Stereotypes ... "in Spanish”

I was riding a San Francisco Municipal bus into the heavily populated Latino area known as the Mission District to check out a Peruvian restaurant that was highly recommended by a Peruvian acquaintance. A Black guy boarded and sat next to me, and I assumed that he was African-American until he asked me a question in Spanish. I said to him that his accent sounds Cuban, and he joyfully affirmed that he is indeed Cuban. 

Because I had an unforgettable time in Cuba myself, this made a great conversation piece between us until I reached my stop. I then started noticing others on the bus, mostly Latino, looking curiously at us; two black guys conversing effortlessly in Spanish. This is far from the first time that I’ve observed such reactions as some even appeared entertained by such a perceived spectacle.

It never ceases to amaze me how so many Latinos could be so oblivious to the racial diversity in their own Latin-American communities, which not only consist of black folks, but whites, Asians, and Jews. When I was in Venezuela, I shopped at a meat market owned and operated by Middle Easterners. Although, Latinos should really know better, the Spanish-language media contributes greatly to such lack of awareness.

I get similar reactions from African Americans. I was at a doctor's appointment when I found myself interpreting for a Spanish-speaking patient. Later, a nursing assistant approached me marveling at my Spanish. Annoyed,  I said to her, “you seem surprised” as I was ready to let her have it with a lecture on Latin America's black history, but she denied being surprised.

One day after work, I was riding a commuter train with an Afro-Cuban and an Afro-Colombian. Because the Afro-Colombian could not speak much English, we kept our conversation in Spanish and was amused noticing blacks, whites, and brown-skinned Latinos appearing  astonished hearing three "brothas" conversing in Spanish. I'm thinking that this should help wake folks up.

There was a Mexican-American woman at work who happens to be one of the few U.S. Latinos aware of the existence of black Spanish speakers as she assumed that I was one because she observed me speaking Spanish to members of the public. 

When I shared my excitement about my upcoming trip to Perú. She responded, "oh, is that where you are from?" When I told her that I am from New York, she frowned in utter disbelief and brushed me off without bothering to ask how come a black "American" can speak Spanish. I would have told her if she has asked!

I belong to a group on Facebook for blacks who are bilingual; not only in Spanish, but in a host of other languages. The group, as of this writing, is 353 members strong and growing, and are mostly African American. It is so nice to know that there are so many other black Americans around the U.S. who are not limited to speaking the stereotypical English and/or Ebonics. I myself enjoy meeting and greeting people in French, Haitian Creole, Russian, Portuguese, Amharic, Tigrinya, Arabic, and Tagalog (Filipino).