Tuesday, December 17, 2013

My New Revelations on Black Perú

Until today, the focus of my Afro-Peruvian experience and observations has been on the province of Chincha in Southern Perú, dubbed as the hub of Afro-Peruvian culture. It is here, where every February, people from all over Perú, and different parts of the world, come in droves to party in celebration of black heritage, and it’s here where I myself have family-like connections and visit every chance I get. 

However, on a couple of occasions, I started receiving comments on my blog from Afro-Peruvians informing me that Chincha is not really the hub of black culture; that most of the black people live in Northern Perú. Most recently, an African-American currently living with his Afro-Peruvian wife in the northern town of Zaña confirmed this to be true. He explains that due to Chincha’s heavy influx of migrants from the Andes and resulting interracial marriages, the African presence is not as strong as before. And this is further exacerbated by the fact that many of Chincha’s blacks moved to major cities, like Lima, seeking better job opportunities. I have to admit that when I first arrived in Chincha, I hardly saw any black people. It wasn’t until I arrived in the District of El Carmen where I saw a heavy black population, and even El Carmen itself has a large population of Mestizos from the Andes.

The greatest Afro-Peruvian populations of the north coast are found mainly in the regions of Piura and Lambayeque where there are large rice fields and mango plantations. The colonial city of Zaña in Lambayeque, once the Peruvian capital, is famous for being the second most important Afro-Peruvian city in the north. It is here where you will find the Afro-Peruvian museum, not to be confused with the National Afro-Peruvian Museum in Lima.

Recently it has been verified that the community with the greatest concentration of Afro-Peruvians is Yapatera in Morropón (Piura), made up of around 7,000 farmers who are largely descended from African slaves of "Malagasy" (Madagascar) origin. They are referred to as "malgaches" or "mangaches".- See more at: http://travelerspress.com/visit-northern-peru/#sthash.mAlgItGq.dpuf

With my new African-American friend living in Zaña with his wife, and my love for Afro-Peruvian culture, Piura and Lambayeque are in Northern Perú are now on my itinerary the next time I enter Perú

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Some Unspoken Truths about Afro-Latinos

Statue of Venezuela's Pedro Camejo, one SimónBolívar's 
Lieutenants in the war of independence from Spain

My younger brother, a true world traveler, and I got into a disagreement about discussing race with Afro-Latinos. I myself am very reserved around Afro-Latinos on this subject because too many of them are unaware that they are indeed black. However, my brother is bold and dives head on into the subject. He told me of a conversation he had in Mexico with a black woman who denies having any African roots. She seriously claimed that her lineage goes back as far as Spain. Then there are those of mixed African heritage who insist on referring to themselves as Indio (Taino Indian), which to me, has more to do with internalized racism . They completely overlook the fact that the Tainos were exterminated by the Spaniards either by disease, violence, and overwork. This is why African people were imported; to replace of the dying Tainos in the physically demanding business of slavery. 

As for those blacks and browns who take such pride in their Spanish ancestry, they might want to keep in mind that it was the result of brutal rape of African women by Spanish slave masters, and not romantic love. African-American comedian George Mooney, in one of his monologues, alluded to the fact that just because he speaks English that does not make him look like Queen Elizabeth of England. The same principle applies to Latinos. Just because one speaks Spanish does not make her look like Queen Isabela of Spain.

Many Latinos, including Afro-Latinos, who come to this country and turn their noses up at African-Americans are simply clueless to the history of the civil rights movement, and how black (and white) Americans sacrificed their lives and were jailed so all people, regardless of color or national origin would have better lives in a country that preaches liberty and justice for all. I wonder how many of these Afro-Latino baseball players realize that were it not for an African American by the name of Jackie Robinson who broke the color line and endured humiliation by teammates and fans that they would not be enjoying the opportunity to play major league baseball today. Where would the likes of Dominicans like Sammy Sosa, who bleached his skin beyond recognition, and who allegedly claims “Taino” heritage, be today were it not for Jackie Robinson and star members of the segregated Negro baseball league.

Fortunately,  throughout my travels and online interactions with Afro-Latinos throughout Latin-America, I’m meeting more and more blacks from places like Bolivia, Ecuador, Perú, Uruguay, and heck, even Argentina who recognize and celebrate their black heritage. I recently met a friend who was surprised that I was surprised that a black pride movement has begun to spring up in the Dominican Republic.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Being Sneaky with Spanish Contraband

   Countee Cullin in Library in Harlem, NY, where I began my self-taught Spanish 101.

When I was in elementary school, my father began to notice an undesirable trait in me, and was determined to nip it in the bud. I was sneaky; very sneaky. My strict, ass-whipping father, a single parent, punished me severely whenever he caught me trying to be slick. He felt that if he let me get away with the little things as a child, I would graduate to bigger things, and eventually wind up in a place like Rikers Island; a jail facility in the middle of New York City's East River.

 The University of Havana, Cuba where I attended a two-week
Spanish Language Intensive

Living in Harlem, NY at that time made my father, a Missouri transplant, very paranoid and afraid that one day I might get hooked on drugs, be involved in a street gang, or engage in some other type of criminal activity. Therefore, he kept a very close eye on my younger brother and me, He did his very best to shelter us from the the New York street life.

I didn't know it at the time, but my father did let me get away with one thing, presumably behind his back. There were items that I used to sneak into the house for self-indulgence; books. At the age of 10, I started teaching myself how to speak Spanish. The reason I was so surreptitious about it was because of my father's straight-laced academic outlook on language learning.

In the all-black region of Valle de Chota, Ecuador, residents who spoke only
Spanish to me gave me a rundown on their soccer stars

One day, I was browsing the children's shelves of Harlem's Countee Cullens Library near my home and ran across a book entitled Fun With Spanish. Exhilarated, I dashed to the house and immediately began to study the book in the living room while my younger brother watched TV, and my father preoccupied himself with the New York Times.

Every time I learned a new word from that children’s book, I recited it to my father who himself learned French, and some German, while being stationed in France as a sergeant in the U.S. Army. He even taught me a few words in both languages, which gave me the false impression that he would be so pleased with my learning Spanish.

  In Cartagena, Colombia, I came across the 
South American version of Ebony Magazine

Instead, he burst my bubble insisting that I learn English first, which didn't make any sense to me at all. English was the only language I knew; so I thought (with my Ebonics speaking self). Today, as an adult, I can see his point of view. If you get a good grasp on English grammar, learning other languages comes much easier because so many language books use English grammar as a reference point to queue you in on the grammar of your new language.

However, I was just too overwhelmed by my Puerto Rican neighbors and schoolmates who spoke Spanish around me. As a child, I thought it was so cool to be able to speak a second language, and Spanish was my choice. I was determine not to let my father stop me. Remember, I'm slick! In my exuberance, I would approach every child who appeared to be Puerto Rican, even strangers, and practice the Spanish I was teaching myself with them.

My second Spanish language intensive took place at El Sol, Escuela de Español
in the ritzy Miraflores district of Lima, Perú.

In the sixth grade, I befriended Carlos, a Puerto Rican classmate. I went to his house every day after school where Spanish was spoken with his family. Carlos later suggested that I start a pen pal relationship with a female cousin of his in Puerto Rico. His mother used to invite me to her church in nearby Spanish Harlem so I could be totally immersed in the language. 

It was this experience that makes so many Latin-American people I meet today, even as far away as Perú and Ecuador where I visited on multiple occasions, suspect that I too might be Puerto Rican. It was my accent. A co-worker who comes directly from the island of Puerto Rico told me that I sound more like a Nuyorican (a New York Puerto Rican).

Finally, the day came when my younger brother struck up a conversation with my father about his foreign language skills. I don’t remember how this topic brought me into the conversation, but my father told my brother, emphatically, that Billy (referring to me) studies Spanish! I began to wonder how in hell does he know? 

 I am following the advice of my late Mexican-American friend, Yolanda (R.I.P.).
If I am going to speak the language, learn the culture!

  I was not as slick as I thought. My father did what every responsible, attentive parent does; inspect my room when I was not around looking for contraband like weapons, drugs, or cigarettes. The only thing that he found was the Spanish-learning contraband that I was sneaking into the house.

Surprisingly, he never made a big deal out of it. The only reason why he told me to learn English first was to stop me from interrupting his reading to practice my Spanish on him. He felt so much better when I told him that I was practicing on the Puerto Ricans.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Dominican Republic’s Persecution of Haitians

Demonstrators outside Dominican consulate in New York City protesting 
the persecution of Haitians in the Dominican Republic.
The hatred of Haitians in the Dominican Republic reaches back decades, if not centuries to the point of death and deportation. Recently, the Dominican government issued a court order that may force tens and thousands of Haitians to be deported even if they were born in the Dominican Republic. Hundreds have already returned to Haiti amidst anit-Haitian violence whom police officers have escorted about 600 across the border for protection, per their request. Many of these Haitians who were born and or raised in the Dominican Republic speak only Spanish and not Haitian creole. They may not have any family in Haiti, and in addition, face extreme economic hardships. This ruling has led Caribbean leaders to defer an application from the Dominican Republic for membership in Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the region's largest trade and cooperation bloc.

Due to the deep-seated racism against blacks in the Dominican Republic, even the average black Dominican will state, I’m not black, I’m Dominican. They refuse to identify as black because they do not want to be identified and persecuted as Haitian. Most black Dominicans, such as Sammy Sosa (allegedly) have gone as far as declaring Taino heritage. The Tainos are the indigenous people who were enslaved by the Spanish after Columbus' arrival and perished through overwork and disease before African slaves were brought in to replace them.

Haiti and the Dominican Republic share the island of Hispaniola, where Christopher Columbus established the first European settlement in 1492. Despite their shared history of colonialism and slavery, dictatorship and oppression, a physical and emotional border has long separated the two countries. By 1801 the famous ex-slave, Toussaint L'ouverture, had freed all the slaves on the island of Hispaniola and united it under his governorship. In 1808, five years after L'ouverture' death, a group of rebels started a war to return the eastern part the island to what is now the Dominican Republic– the west by this point was the republic of Haiti. By 1822,  Haiti had established control of the whole island once more. Indeed, the Dominican Republic gained its independence from Haiti, and not Spain, in 1844.

Modern times have demonstrated no less hostility. In 1937, Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo ordered the massacre of 10,000 to 25,000 Haitians in border areas where many worked cultivating sugar.  Recently, there has been talk of African-American travelers boycotting the Dominican Republic, and there has even been demonstrations, such as the one in New York in front of the Dominican Republic embassy to pressure the Dominican government to stop the persecution. 
What really needs to be addressed here, in my opinion, is the reason why so many Haitians flee their homeland in the first place for places like the Dominican Republic, the USA, France, and Cuba. I even met Haitians during my trip to Venezuela. While CARICOM and so many others are damning the Dominican government, what about the corrupt  Haitian government that has a long history of persecuting its own people? If Toussaint ‘L Overture were alive today, he’d be absolutely appalled with what is going on in the country he risked his life to liberate from France, and become the first black independent nation in the western world.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Afro-Ecuadorian Outsmarts Her Slave Masters

María Chinquiquirá (pronounced Cheen-kee-kee-RAH), a former black slave in what is now Ecuador's largest city, Guayaquil, is today an important symbol in Ecuador, particularly among Afro-Ecuadorians whom from my observations during my two visits, and from my correspondence with Afro-Ecuadorian Facebook friends, are raising their consciousness and pride in their heritage. Someone in an Afro-Ecuadorian forum referred to Ecuador's black movement as being in the spirit of María Chinquiquirá.

María, born in Guayaquil had a history of being mistreated by men. She lived during the 16th century, a time when being black meant being a slave in Ecuador. Her intelligence, knowledge, and determination along with a thorough understanding of her rights according to Ecuadorian law, changed the course of her history and those of thousands of women in Ecuador as she became the first slave in Ecuador to win her freedom and that of her daughter through a legal battle in May 1794. She won her freedom by accusing her masters of dishonorable acts including, siring children with slave women, requiring work on Sundays, withholding time for mass, and failing to provide instruction in the faith. Her portrait hangs in the Museum of Nahim Isaias in Guayaquil.