Sunday, March 30, 2014

Why I Celebrate Cesar Chavez

César Chávez

We in the Community Must Continue to Work Together!

When I first started blogging African American-Latino World, my primary goal was to explore and celebrate the Spanish-speaking portion of the African diaspora; its history, culture, and present-day challenges. However, with March 31 being the birthday of César Chávez, I'm bluntly reminded that, despite cultural differences between the African-American and Latino communities in the U.S,, we have more in common than, sadly, many members of both communities realize. 

On 19 September 1966, Martin Luther King Jr. sent the following telegram to César Chávez: 
 “As brothers in the fight for equality, I extend the hand of fellowship and good will and wish continuing success to you and your members. You and your valiant fellow workers have demonstrated your commitment to righting grievous wrongs forced upon exploited people. We are together with you in spirit and in determination that our dreams for a better tomorrow will be realized.”
After King’s death, Cesar Chavez became friends over the years with Coretta Scott King, Ralph Abernathy, Andrew Young, and other major figures of the black civil rights movement.

I was a college freshman, when I first heard of César Chávez and joined a demonstration in front of a major supermarket in Albany, New York advocating the boycott of grapes in support of the largest farm worker strike in U.S. history. A strike led by Chávez himself to protest low wages and deplorable working conditions that Mexican, Mexican-American, Caucasian American, African American, and Filipino farm workers were enduring. His public-relations approach to unionism and aggressive, but nonviolent tactics, made the farm workers' struggle a moral cause gaining nationwide support. 

I never met César Chávez personally, but I met his union co-founder Dolores Huerta at the Latin-American Library here in Oakland where I used to practice my Spanish by reading Latin-American literature. She and I attended a formal ceremony of the Latin-American Library’s name change to the César Chávez Library. 

Later that year, I had a good laugh as I read in a local newspaper that a high school here in Oakland was talking about changing its name to César Chávez High School, and how black students got upset because they confused this civil rights leader with the reigning world's lightweight boxing champion from Mexico—“Julio” César Chávez; an entirely different person from an entirely different generation. 

When César was ten years old, his family’s home in Arizona was taken away because they did not have enough money. César’s family moved to California to find work on a farm. They worked very long hours with few bathrooms and little clean water to drink, not to mention the little money they earned. Everyone in the family had to work, even the children, and they were not treated with respect or dignity. To make things worse, the men in charge of the farm workers would sometime cheat and steal money from the workers, including César’s family. 

Life changed for César when he met a man named Fred Ross who believed that if people worked together they could improve their community. César worked in many communities to help people gain the respect they deserved. Eventually, César started the National Farm Worker Association to help improve the working conditions of farm workers of different races and cultures. And as the saying goes;  the rest is history.

However, the struggle for many of us is far from over. We in the community must continue to work together.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Romance With an Illegal Alien?

I met Veronica, an attractive young woman from El Salvador who works next door to my place of employment. What was so special about Veronica was her relaxed outgoing attitude towards me, a total stranger. I was not flirting or trying to score a pick-up; only being friendly as I enjoy interacting with monolingual Spanish speakers. She seemed to have greatly appreciated the gesture and was pleasantly surprised at my ability to hold a sustained Spanish-speaking conversation.

Veronica reminds me of the women I met in Venezuela who were open, relaxed, friendly, and conversational; even to strangers. Almost every time I'd smile at a woman, I'd get a happy, enthusiastic smile in return. Each time Veronica and I met, our conversations got longer and we learned more about each other. I told her about my visit to El Salvador a few years ago while on my way to Perú and this gave us more to talk about.

More recently, I asked about her weekend and her family and learned that she is single with no children. She immediately asked about my marital/parental status and appeared elated that my status was the same, and wanted to talk more. It was as though she was waiting for me to suggest that we move our acquaintance to another level. That's when an alarm went off in my head about her motive.

As a single man, I've been approached by women from Africa, Asia, and Latin-America who wanted to marry me or have a friend or relative marry me to obtain legal status in the U.S. I then asked her how she herself got into the country. She explained that she entered the US with the aid of a coyote, one who makes a living smuggling undocumented immigrants across the U.S. border for a fee that can be as high as $5,000.

Although I will not snitch and hope to enjoy a friendship with the very nice, and seemingly down-to-earth woman that she appears to be, romance is out of the question. I'm certainly open to a relationship with an immigrant, but not with legal baggage. You never know if a real attraction is involved or if it is just a scheme, a means to an end. The divorce rate among Americans is high enough, yet the divorce rate among Americans married to illegal aliens is much higher. After three years when the illegal alien becomes a legal resident, the American spouse generally gets dumped if there is no mutual agreement to part ways.

I learned my lesson from being once romantically involved with a Nigerian woman who treated me like the proverbial king with her cooking and everything else you can imagine. Then one day, she sat on my lap telling me that she inadvertently overstayed her student visa, and is now in the country illegally. She offered me a measly $6,000 to marry her so she can get her papers, then sponsor her—“real husband” and “three children” to enter the US. Naturally, I eased myself out of this relationship and told her to never call me again. Of course, I proceeded expeditiously to “lose” all of her contact information.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Your Spanish—Either Use it or Lose it!

 Jorge Medina, Bolivia's first black elected official.

One day, my supervisor, Kim, called me into her office for one of our weekly meetings. Towards the end, she asked me a favor which shocked the bejesus out of me. Kim wanted me to help her with her Spanish. I had been working with Kim for about two years, and learned that she minored in Spanish in college, and over all, had at least eight years of it in school. I myself am self-taught out of a book, studying it in my spare time. Sure, I too had some classes in school, but the classroom, like anything in life, is no match for the real world. The major difference between the progress Kim made in school, and the progress I made on my own was that I seized every opportunity, big and small, to mix with monolingual Spanish speakers.

One day, I overheard Kim trying to speak Spanish as she was ordering food from a nearby El Salvadorean restaurant over the phone. However, once Kim decides to immerse herself in the language, she would do a lot better than I ever will do. All that knowledge she gained over the years will resurface from her subconscious, and before she knows it, she will be as fluent as ever. Of course, this applies to any foreign language. I’ve met many who had several years of foreign language in school, but cannot speak it without constantly stumbling because they’ve never been immersed.

Havana, *Cuba was my first language immersion experience in a Spanish-speaking country, other than Mexico where I had to pass through and spend the night before catching my flight to Havana. I was in a situation where I could not fall back on my English if I got stuck for translation, and was pleasantly surprised at how my Spanish flowed so effortlessly as I made it my business to socialize in the community. I even went out on dates, and I particularly had fun playing with the minds of Havana city slickers who seemed to have felt that just because I’m an American that I must be a black relative of Bill Gates or Donald Trump.LOL. I'm sure that my former supervisor, Kim, can do a lot better because her studies were much more in depth.

I worked at another job four years where I used my Spanish almost daily because so many of our clients were recent immigrants from various Latin American countries, and speak little or no English. This was all in addition to my annual vacations to seven other Spanish speaking countries where I was totally immersed, and couldn't fall back on my English even if I wanted to. It's been two years since I've worked this position due to company restructuring, and I can feel my Spanish faltering considerably because I haven't been using it much as a result of that departure. I'm overdue for another Latin-American vacation.

*For those who want to know, I went to Havana through Global Exchange, Inc. which had a license to send people to Cuba for cultural and educational purposes.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Afro-Peruvian Ghost Town and Museum

  Zaña, Lambayeque, Perú

Lambayeque District seeks to be recognized as a site of memory of slavery and African cultural heritage in Perú.as.Luis Roca, director of Cultural Heritage of Afro-Peruvian Museum of Zana said in August that the document presented to the people and then to the Ministry of Culture and the international organization concerned. "The record will be presented as part of the 450 years of Spanish foundation of Zana, the inauguration of the memorial of the freedom of slaves in Gallows Hill will develop, This initiative will place Zaña on the world map," Roca said.

Zana is the oldest city of Lambayeque, the minutes of Spanish foundation dates from 1563, a time when the first African slaves arrived; own cultural heritage as the Czech musical instrument and old churches.

Afro-Peruvian Museum, not to be confused 
with the one in Lima, the nation's capital

The town of Zaña in Peru’s province of Lambayeque, which I've heard in songs by Afro-Peruvian songstress Susana Baca, was once the nation’s capital. It used to be a thriving city with Spanish cathedrals, African slaves, estates, mansions, hulking chuches, and lots of gold. After being pillaged by British pirates in 1866, scaring away some of the wealthiest Spanish settlers and Mestizos, and then wiped out by a hurricane, the town has never been the same the same. 

The church and colonial officials blamed the slaves, whom they accused of bringing down the wrath of God with their African dancing and traditional religious practices. Today in this heterogenous village of about 1000 people has maintained its beauty. It is a town where you can climb over Spanish ruins feel a still-beating pulse that is distinctly an Afro-Peruvian rhythm. You can enjoy the music and dancing by locals at the Afro Peruvian museum, which is not to be confused with the National Afro-Peruvian museum in Lima that I personally visited in 2010, which focused solely on slavery. 

Camilo Ballumbrosio, master percussionist and dancer
explains the history of Afro-Peruvian music and dance

The museum also tells the story of the African cultures that live-on in Latin America today. Of particular interest is a room devoted to the musical instruments of Latin America‘s black population. Today, Zaña’s African descendants know their black heritage as it is passed down from generation to generation. Even the ones who may not look so African are quick to affirm that they are.

Zaña has also preserved its culinary legacy. The star dish is arroz con chancho (rice and roasted pork). The region has also adapted many Chinese dishes, due to the arrival of Chinese laborers in the late-nineteenth century. Zaña also enjoys local fame for its candies.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Long Time Prejudices Between Latinos and African-Americans


Personally, I and other African-Americans have had good relations with members of the Latino community, but then again, this was back in New York State. However, even today, living in California, I generally get along well with Spanish speakers presumably because i speak to them in Spanish and show a genuine interest in Latin American culture. However, lately, I've been meeting more and more who seem to only tolerate my presence or simply want very little to do with me even though I can speak Spanish.

I once got into a discussion with an African-American on who said to me the only reason the Latinos are cool with me here in the San Francisco Bay Area where I live (Oakland) is because there are more of us African-Americans here. He insisted that I try someplace where Latinos are the majority and I will see an entirely different picture. Maybe the man has a point. I don't know.

Below is a reprint from an article published by Tanya K. Hernandez,  a professor of law at Rutgers University Law School. January 7, 2007 about long time prejudice between Latinos and African-Americans. I'm glad that the writer emphasized African-Americans and not “blacks” because in the Americas, there are many more black Latinos than there are black Americans.
THE ACRIMONIOUS relationship between Latinos and African Americans in Los Angeles is growing hard to ignore. Although last weekend's black-versus-Latino race riot at Chino state prison is unfortunately not an aberration, the Dec. 15 murder in the Harbor Gateway neighborhood of Cheryl Green, a 14-year-old African American, allegedly by members of a Latino gang, was shocking.

Yet there was nothing really new about it. Rather, the murder was a manifestation of an increasingly common trend: Latino ethnic cleansing of African Americans from multiracial neighborhoods. Just last August, federal prosecutors convicted four Latino gang members of engaging in a six-year conspiracy to assault and murder African Americans in Highland Park. During the trial, prosecutors demonstrated that African American residents (with no gang ties at all) were being terrorized in an effort to force them out of a neighborhood now perceived as Latino.

For example, one African American resident was murdered by Latino gang members as he looked for a parking space near his Highland Park home. In another case, a woman was knocked off her bicycle and her husband was threatened with a box cutter by one of the defendants, who said, "You niggers have been here long enough."

At first blush, it may be mystifying why such animosity exists between two ethnic groups that share so many of the same socioeconomic deprivations. Over the years, the hostility has been explained as a natural reaction to competition for blue-collar jobs in a tight labor market, or as the result of turf battles and cultural disputes in changing neighborhoods. Others have suggested that perhaps Latinos have simply been adept at learning the U.S. lesson of anti-black racism, or that perhaps black Americans are resentful at having the benefits of the civil rights movement extended to Latinos.

Although there may be a degree of truth to some or all of these explanations, they are insufficient to explain the extremity of the ethnic violence.

Over the years, there's also been a tendency on the part of observers to blame the conflict more on African Americans (who are often portrayed as the aggressors) than on Latinos. But although it's certainly true that there's plenty of blame to go around, it's important not to ignore the effect of Latino culture and history in fueling the rift.

The fact is that racism — and anti-black racism in particular — is a pervasive and historically entrenched reality of life in Latin America and the Caribbean. More than 90% of the approximately 10 million enslaved Africans brought to the Americas were taken to Latin America and the Caribbean (by the French, Spanish and British, primarily), whereas only 4.6% were brought to the United States. By 1793, colonial Mexico had a population of 370,000 Africans (and descendants of Africans) — the largest concentration in all of Spanish America.

The legacy of the slave period in Latin America and the Caribbean is similar to that in the United States: Having lighter skin and European features increases the chances of socioeconomic opportunity, while having darker skin and African features severely limits social mobility.

White supremacy is deeply ingrained in Latin America and continues into the present. In Mexico, for instance, citizens of African descent (who are estimated to make up 1% of the population) report that they regularly experience racial harassment at the hands of local and state police, according to recent studies by Antonieta Gimeno, then of Mount Holyoke College, and Sagrario Cruz-Carretero of the University of Veracruz.

Mexican public discourse reflects the hostility toward blackness; consider such common phrases as "getting black" to denote getting angry, and "a supper of blacks" to describe a riotous gathering of people. Similarly, the word "black" is often used to mean "ugly." It is not surprising that Mexicans who have been surveyed indicate a disinclination to marry darker-skinned partners, as reported in a 2001 study by Bobby Vaughn, an anthropology professor at Notre Dame de Namur University.

Anti-black sentiment also manifests itself in Mexican politics. During the 2001 elections, for instance, Lazaro Cardenas, a candidate for governor of the state of Michoacan, is believed to have lost substantial support among voters for having an Afro Cuban wife. Even though Cardenas had great name recognition (as the grandson of Mexico's most popular president), he only won by 5 percentage points — largely because of the anti-black platform of his opponent, Alfredo Anaya, who said that "there is a great feeling that we want to be governed by our own race, by our own people."

Given this, it should not be surprising that migrants from Mexico and other areas of Latin America and the Caribbean arrive in the U.S. carrying the baggage of racism. Nor that this facet of Latino culture is in turn transmitted, to some degree, to younger generations along with all other manifestations of the culture.

The sociological concept of "social distance" measures the unease one ethnic or racial group has for interacting with another. Social science studies of Latino racial attitudes often indicate a preference for maintaining social distance from African Americans. And although the social distance level is largest for recent immigrants, more established communities of Latinos in the United States also show a marked social distance from African Americans.

For instance, in University of Houston sociologist Tatcho Mindiola's 2002 survey of 600 Latinos in Houston (two-thirds of whom were Mexican, the remainder Salvadoran and Colombian) and 600 African Americans, the African Americans had substantially more positive views of Latinos than Latinos had of African Americans. Although a slim majority of the U.S.-born Latinos used positive identifiers when describing African Americans, only a minority of the foreign-born Latinos did so. One typical foreign-born Latino respondent stated: "I just don't trust them…. The men, especially, all use drugs, and they all carry guns."

This same study found that 46% of Latino immigrants who lived in residential neighborhoods with African Americans reported almost no interaction with them.

The social distance of Latinos from African Americans is consistently reflected in Latino responses to survey questions. In a 2000 study of residential segregation, Camille Zubrinsky Charles, a sociology professor at the University of Pennsylvania, found that Latinos were more likely to reject African Americans as neighbors than they were to reject members of other racial groups. In addition, in the 1999-2000 Lilly Survey of American Attitudes and Friendships, Latinos identified African Americans as their least desirable marriage partners, whereas African Americans proved to be more accepting of intermarriage with Latinos.

Ironically, African Americans, who are often depicted as being averse to coalition-building with Latinos, have repeatedly demonstrated in their survey responses that they feel less hostility toward Latinos than Latinos feel toward them.

Although some commentators have attributed the Latino hostility to African Americans to the stress of competition in the job market, a 1996 sociological study of racial group competition suggests otherwise. In a study of 477 Latinos from the 1992 Los Angeles County Social Survey, professors Lawrence Bobo, then of Harvard, and Vincent Hutchings of the University of Michigan found that underlying prejudices and existing animosities contribute to the perception that African Americans pose an economic threat — not the other way around.

It is certainly true that the acrimony between African Americans and Latinos cannot be resolved until both sides address their own unconscious biases about one another. But it would be a mistake to ignore the Latino side of the equation as some observers have done — particularly now, when the recent violence in Los Angeles has involved Latinos targeting peaceful African American citizens.

This conflict cannot be sloughed off as simply another generation of ethnic group competition in the United States (like the familiar rivalries between Irish, Italians and Jews in the early part of the last century). Rather, as the violence grows, the "diasporic" origins of the anti-black sentiment — the entrenched anti-black prejudice among Latinos that exists not just in the United States but across the Americas — will need to be directly confronted.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Women's History Month: URUGUAY

Women's History Month is an annual declared month celebrated during March in the United States, corresponding with International Women's Day on March 8.

 Dr. Cristina Rodriguez-Cabral

Cristina Rodriguez-Cabral is the first Afro-Uruguayan to achieve a Doctoral degree. [2004]. Cabral earned a B.A. in Sociology and Nursing, a Master degree in Teaching English as a Second Language, and a Doctoral degree in Romance Languages. Her field of expertise is Afro/African-Hispanic literature. She  published a book of poetry “From my Trench” (1993), and the anthology “Memory & Resistance” (2004).

Her poetic work has been analyzed by several scholars and included in a number of Latin American courses. Her work also is included in collections like Alberto Britos's “Anthology of Black Uruguayan Poets” (1990), Myriam DeCosta-Willis' “Daughters of the Diaspora” (2003), Lucia Ortiz's “Hijas del Muntu” (2011), among others. Cabral has participated in a NEH Summer Institute on Equatorial Guinea, and published a number of articles on the literature and culture of that country.

Along the year Dr. Cabral receives several invitations from universities in the state and abroad to present her creative work as well as to visit classes dealing with African/Afro-Hispanic issues and Women studies.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Women's History: Colombia's Black Female Polititian and Olympic Champion

Maria Isabel Urrutia is an Afro-Colombian Olympic gold medal winner in weightlifting and member of the Colombia's Chamber (House) of R. She spent more than 10 years as an Olympic athlete and won Colombia's first and only gold medal in history with the women's 75kg. As a politician, Urrutia has advocated against government corruption and worked to advance poor and working-class Colombians.

Initially, Urrutia competed in shot put and discus throw in the 1988 Summer Olympics. She switched to weightlifting in 1989, and won two gold medals, two silvers, and one bronze, and another the bronze at the 1998 World Weightlifting Championships.

Upon retirement from athletics, she became a politician is currently holding a seat in the Chamber (House) of Representatives of Colombia. A position she held since 2002; re-elected in 2006).

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Women's History: African Flamenco Singer from Spain

Concha Buiki
Poet, Composer, Music Producer
Maria Concepción Balboa Buika, known by her stage name is “Buika” is famous for her flamenko singing mixed with jazz and funk. Concha (short for Concepción) was born in the Balearic Islands of Spain and is the daughter of political refugees from the only Spanish-speaking West African nation of Equatorial Guinea (formerly the colony of Spanish Guinea). Buika ‘s family was the only black family in the Spanish island of Mallorca where she grew up in a gypsy neighborhood. She started singing in a hotel bar as a teenager because the pay was good, and did a stint as a Tina Turner impersonator in Las Vegas, and was voted one of the World's Best 50 Voices by NPR wining a Latin Grammy in 2010.

It has been said that Buika combines all the musical styles along with her emotionally charged lyrics and such broken sensuality in her voice, making her an unparalleled artist. Her audience spans the world. Concha has never found language an obstacle, and has no limitations when interpreting the different genres of music in her collaborations with musicians and singers whether in Spanish, Catalán, English, French, or Portuguese. Buika has even collaborated on the sound tracks of several films.

In 2000, Buika began in the music industry with her first album Mestizuo, a presentation in the form of piano and vocals. Later, this was followed by Buika, and the trilogy produced by music producer Javier Limón, Mi niña Lola (My Baby Girl Lola), Niña de Fuego (Girl of Fire,), which included her first book of poems, and El Último Trago (The Last Drink).

Buika, who now lives in Miami, Florida, considers the role of "mother" her paramount priority. She credits nature and her life’s experiences for her most profound lessons.

This clip of Buika had over 5 million views