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).

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