Saturday, December 27, 2014

Unconditional Love for a Peruvian Child

I live in Oakland, CA; Daniela lives in El Carmen, Perú. We met when she was three. At the age of five, Daniela asked me if she could be my daughter. When she was seven, I told her mother, out of pure affection, that Daniela is my only child. Despite subtle attempts by members of her family to influence Daniela to use me as a source of extra income, my love for Daniela is unconditional.

It was October 2005, in the sleepy, folkloric town of El Carmen, known as the hub of Afro-Peruvian culture where one warm evening, while alone in the living room working on my laptop, a three-year-old girl wandered in from next door. As she so eagerly accepted some sugarless candy I offered her, and as she so sweetly told me her name, Daniela, I felt a strong sense of connection with a little girl who seemed to simply wanted to be loved by a father figure. From that moment, Daniela held a very special place in my heart. 

Daniela at age 7 and me

After returning to the USA and relaxing after such a wonderful vacation, like a video screen; precious memories of Daniela as I last saw her sitting in front of her home in her bright, rose-colored dress on my last day in El Carmen vividly appeared. I made periodic calls to Daniela's family, and one day over the phone, Daniela asked me if she could be my daughter. 

It was so easy for me to slip into Daniela's shoes who doesn't have her father around because I know the feeling of not having my mother around when I was her age.  What a divine delight for me to refer to Daniela as mija (my daughter). I don't know where her real father is, but I felt really good inside to learn that Daniela felt this way about me.  

Daniela new bike
I promised Daniela (age 8) a brand new bicycle if she does well in school.

Upon my return to Perú, it was bonding time for Daniela and me. I even brought gifts, but they were no match for the vital gift of a father/daughter relationship. I had a taste of joy reading storybooks to Daniela, teaching her to tell time, taking her and her friends out for ice cream and chicken dinners and to parks and playgrounds. And it was a taste of joy hearing them scream with excitement. 

With Daniela's older sister, Ruth (17), being some sort of a chaperon making sure that I'm not one of those—weirdos— who prey on children, I always try to find creative ways to educate and enrich Daniela's life. I teach her a little English and basic computer skills. I have even drilled her on her math, and taught her to play Scrabble, Monopoly, and Chess.

Daniela celebrating her 11th birthday

Even between my trips to Perú, I generally wire money to her family to benefit Daniela. She was always excited and uplifted when would call. I've even wired money to a van driver so Daniela and her family and friends can be taken to the beach.  

I really feel that Daniela's family is fond of me, but I also feel that they see me as a source of American income. A Peruvian American who himself gets the gringo treatment when he is in Perú once told me that the reason so many Peruvians show me a lot of love is for the money. “It's about the benjamens, moron,” he would insist out of frustration. 

Sometimes the family would have Daniela lie about her personal needs to get me to send money. There were times I'd wire money just because, and at other times, I'd decline with an excuse of my own. I also got disgusted by the fact that all the gifts I've bought for Daniela, like bicycles, were sold to bring revenue to the family. 

Daniela graduating from primary 
school at the age of 12

Today, the rapport that I have with Daniela is not as close as before. On my last trip, the excitement I used to experience from her was no longer there, although I could still see such excitement in her eyes. I don't know if she is just getting older and more reserved like her older sister, or is her family planting seeds reminding her that I am not family, only a gringo with a pocket full of money. I simply do not know for sure.

Meanwhile, I still feel unconditional love for Daniela. When I return, I want to teach her pre-algebra and some more English. When she turns 15, I want to sponsor her Quiceañera (equivalent to a sweet 16 party). I'm very happy and honored to be that male figure to fill the void that Daniela needs in her life. I love her as though she were my own daughter, and I often tell her yo te amo, mija (my daughter, I love you).

Daniela (far left in pink), and her family members and 

I are getting ready to chow down on some grilled chicken.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Call Her Neither Black nor Latina

There was a discussion among a group of Afro Latinos about a published article entitled, Don't Just Call Them Afro Latino. The article was about a woman from Honduras, Central America named Sulma Arzu-Brown who was tired of her African-American friends referring to her as “black,” and her Latina friends referring to her as “Latina.” Sulma decided to “enlighten” her friends explaining that she is neither black nor Latina—she is Garífuna (pronounced Gar-REE-Foo-Nah).

The Garífuna (Garinagu in the plural) are dark-skinned .African descendents, mostly Spanish speaking, mixed with indigenous groups of Central America, such as the Arawak and the Caribs. The Garífuna people can be found in Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Their first language, Garífuna, has its roots among the indigenous, the French, the Spanish, and a smattering of African languages. 

After slave ships were wrecked on the island of St. Vincent in the 1600s, Africans found refuge with the indigenous populations forming a whole new ethnic group, the Garinagu (plural of Garífuna). 

The Bronx, in New York City holds the largest community 
 of Garífuna people in the US.

There were Afro-Latinos in the forum who agreed with Sulma Arzu-Brown stressing the fact that the Garingau speak a different language and eat different kinds of food from other blacks and Latin-American people. In fact, a woman from Guatemala stated to me personally that the Garífuna people in her country are not real Guatemalans; they have their own culture.
What I gathered from the article, the discussion, and from my own interaction with Garinagu friends is the pride in their unique history and culture and fear of the loss of their identity and being absorbed into more dominant groups like African Americans, Puerto Ricans, or Dominicans. 

Certainly, the Garífuna (or Garinagu) people are “black.” After all, it was Sulma's mother who decided to leave Honduras because she was denied a promotion at her banking job because of her skin color. The Garinagu are indeed Latino because they are citizens of Spanish-speaking countries. As one Garífuna man puts it, we are a very proud people who maintained our language, culture, and customs. Garífuna, Black, and Latino are all the same and we are proud of all three.