Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Perú Reacts Strongly to Anti-Black Racism

For the first time in history, a Peruvian court fined two company officials $1,560 and sentenced them to prison for blatant acts of racism against an Afro-Peruvian employee. 

Perú's minister of culture stated that this action against the two defendants is an important vindication for the historically discriminated black community, and could set a precedent for more racially sensitive cases. 

The general manager abused his black employee with hurtful words and derogatory gestures regarding her skin color. The black employee complained to the company's human resource manager. Even witnesses stepped forward to verify the employee's complaint, and still no action was taken against the perpetrator. The woman then filed charges in court.

After the Rodney King incident years back, a Peruvian co-worker told me there was no such racism in Perú against their black community.

In the first of my several visits to Perú, I was somewhat impressed after off-boarding my plane and saw a large welcoming sign containing a photo of an Asian, a white, an indigenous, and a black person over the words printed, “Welcome to Perú” as if to boasts of the country's racial diversity. I was also pleased to see a black woman working at the desk to greet us before we were cleared by immigration.

Outside of these minor examples, I observed an overwhelming amount of racial discrimination against, blacks, Asians, and the indigenous. Even in heavily populated black areas, I saw only a handful of blacks working in the business community, public transportation, or in government buildings. In fact, blacks, and other people of color are limited to the types of careers they can enter.

However, a black American friend who purchased a home in Perú with his Afro-Peruvian wife prefers Perú's  institutional racism over the hate crimes, racial profiling, and police brutality and murders that consistently occurs against black and brown people in the U.S. He has a son, and feels strongly that his son will be much safer in Perú than in the U.S. Now, I understand what my Peruvian co-worker he was trying to tell me when he said there was no racism in Perú.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Mexico Finally Recognizes Its Own Black Community

Statue of Gaspar Yanga who who freed his black Mexican town of runaway slaves from Spanish rule 200 years before Mexico gained national independence.

Afro Mexicans fighting for recognition from their government now have a reason to celebrate. For the first time in Mexican history, the national census includes the "Afro" category. Until December 8 2015, Mexico was one of only two Latin American countries (the other being Chile) that did not recognize its 1.3 million of its Black citizens.  

This new inclusion by the Mexican government came after years of hard work by Afro-Mexican community activists who consistently petitioned national leaders. In addition, Mexico's Human Rights Commission organized a forum to address and fight racial discrimination against its black citizens.

Half black/half mestizo Vicente Guerrero led Mexico to her independence in 1810 as a general, and became Mexico's president in 1829.

Back in 2006, the Chicago’s National Museum of Mexican Art opened a groundbreaking exhibition that black Americans as well as Mexican people need to know,  “the African Presence in Mexico.” I am always astonished at the majority of Mexican nationals I meet who are totally oblivious to Mexico's black community. 

And Mexican Americans—forget it! I've met too many, barring those who are better educated, who think only African Americans are black, never mind the Afro-Mexicans, Afro-Nicaraguans, or Afro-Peruvians. I was on an Oakland city bus when I found myself lecturing a group of Mexican Americans high school students, in Spanish, who seemed to have felt that it was comical to hear a black man speak Spanish. I informed them about black history throughout Latin America, including Mexico's third root—the African.

 Mexican cuisine; African roots
I recently engaged in a conversation with an immigrant from Mexico’s State of Guerrero, where the resort city of Acapulco is located. She was so surprised when I told her that her state is named after her country’s liberator General Vicente Guerrero. 

I didn't share the fact that this liberator happens to be the son of an African slave mother and a Mestizo peasant father, and became the Mexico’s first black president in 1829. She seemed overwhelmed just with hearing how her state got its name. 

In Guanajuato, Mexico, which at one time had a substantial black population, blackeyed peas, closely associated with African cooking, is still a culinary legacy.

Another Mexican couple I met in my office was equally surprised when I told them that in their home state of Vera Cruz, where 200 years before Mexico became independent, an African slave rebel named Gaspar Yanga joined forces with another rebel slave leader named Francisco de Matosa to establish Mexico’s first free town, a free Black town independent of Spanish rule.  

In 1946, the late anthropologist and professor at Mexico’s University of Vera Cruz, Gonzalo Aguirre Beltrán, published in in his book, La Población Negra de México (the Black Population of Mexico) that more than 500,000 African slaves were brought in through Mexico’s Port of Vera Cruz from 1519, the time of the Cortez invasion, until the day of Mexican independence in 1810.


In Mexico’s state of Veracruz Africans have profoundly influenced people, music, and food, such as this pumpkin soup.

The black population during colonial Mexico history was much larger until they began intermarrying with the Spanish and the Indigenous over a period of 500 years. Afro Mexicans played major roles In Mexico’s war of Independence from Spain as full blooded black men such as such as Juan Bautista, Francisco Gomez, and José María Alegre held leadership positions in the revolution.

Most Afro Mexicans, can be found in Mexico's states of Guerrero and Oaxaca on the west coast, and in Vera Cruz on the east coast where you can find the following towns with African names: Mandinga, Matamba, Mozambique, Mozomboa, Chacalapa, Coyolillo, Yanga, and Tamiahua.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Dominican Hatred of Black Folks?

Where is all the Dominican hate that I heard so much about? Word is, Dominicans, even the black ones, don't like black folks. It's only been a month since my return to New York City after spending most of my adult life in Oakland, CA where there are very few immigrants from the Dominican Republic

Since my arrival, my interactions with Dominicans in Manhattan's Washington Heights and in the Bronx, so far, has been 100% positive. Some thought that I too was Dominican because of my Spanish, and others could tell that I am American, but were still cool. Am I missing something here? Do tell!

I shared my experience with a black Latino who was quick to tell me, from his personal experience, that I need to remember that a lot of African Americans are very hostile towards Latinos, even the black Latinos, and he does not know why? I've heard similar comments from other black immigrants to this country that as soon as black Americans realize they are immigrants they experience animosity. As a result, my friend continues, you have ignorant Latinos acting hostile towards black Americans.
Another friend who is half Dominican and half Cuban reminded me bluntly of another point of view that I've certainly known for many years. The Dominican Republic has a very long, complicated, and difficult history. It is very present with racism along with all the light-skinned/dark-skinned color-ism among the Afro-Dominicans.

The Dominican Republic's historical conflicts with Afro-centric Haiti played a large role in their anti-black sentiments. The former racist dictator of the Dominican Republic, Rafael Trujillo, had many black Dominicans accused of being Haitians slaughtered, and the black Dominicans who were not harmed were convinced by this dictator that if they have one drop of Indigenous blood, they were not black, but Indio (Indian). The former baseball star, Sammy Sosa, was said to have “Indio” listed as his race on his passport.

As much as I like being around Afro Latinos, I don't discuss race unless they bring it up and acknowledge their own blackness. Especially Dominicans! Depending on the context of our discussion, I may bring it up by talking about areas of their home country that I know are predominately black or have a large black presence, and how their music influenced the rest of the country, without ever mentioning the word “black.”

Friday, December 11, 2015

Message to Spanish-Speaking Servers and Wait Staff

I tipped this amiable server quite handsomely while visiting the Pino Suarez District of Mexico City even though she had no choice but to address me in Spanish.

If you are a Spanish speaker and have a job where tips are a big portion of your income, there is something I would like for you to consider.

One evening in New York City, as I was about to leave a restaurant owned and staffed by immigrants from the Dominican Republic, the waitress expressed deep emotional gratitude for the tip that I leftwell over 20% of the bill.

Besides the food being very good along with great jazz, salsa, and bachata music in the background, and not to mention the high-end customer service; everybody, including my waitress, spoke to me in Spanish! As a customer constantly seizing every opportunity to improve my Spanish, that was a real treat.

However, at a Mexican restaurant in San Francisco, California, I placed my order in Spanish, and the waitress immediately displayed her annoyance, and asked me in loud, perfect English, “WITH RICE and BEANS?” Surprised by her response, I continued placing my order in English. I don't remember the tip that I left, or if I left anything at all, but it was nothing like the tip I left in that Dominican restaurant in New York.

A lot of Spanish speakers seem to have issues with speaking Spanish to those whom they “perceive” to be non-native speakers. I don't know if it is shame of their heritage in our racist society, or if they simply don't want to be stereotyped, or perhaps, they are more comfortable with English from being born and raised in the U.S., but any of those negative attitudes can potentially affect their tips if they are in a service industry.

As I pointed out in my blog post, “What Do Spanish-Speakers Look Like?,“ I've personally met native Spanish speakers who are Asian, black, Indigenous, Jewish, Middle Eastern, white, and of course, a mixture of some of the aforementioned in my travels through nine Spanish-speaking countries, and from living in New York and California.

In a town near El Paso, Texas, a black woman went out to lunch at a Mexican restaurant with several other woman who fit the stereotypical profile of “Latinas.” Although the black woman demonstrated her fluency in Spanish while ordering, the waitress continued to speak to this woman in English and the other women in Spanish. Had I been in that black woman's place, I would have spoken to the management in Spanish about the blatant prejudice of that waitress, and explained why I left no tip.

There are a lot of customers who, like I, enjoy speaking Spanish as a second language, and it's just good, plain, professional courtesy for someone in customer service to respond likewise, and not get defensive. If the customers have any class, they are likely to leave bigger tips. So, my advice is to go for it.

Finally, let me clear something up just in case you didn't know; there is nothing wrong with the Spanish language. It was spoken in the United States of America almost 100 years before English. It survived and thrived during centuries of persecution, and is now the second most widely spoken language out of over 100 spoken in this country. So, please chill out, stand up, and be proud!

Monday, December 7, 2015

Blacks and Latinos: Cultural Difference; Common Causes

Disclaimer: The title “Blacks and Latinos is just that, a title. Realistically, Black people come in many different cultures, including Latino, and Latinos come in many different races, including black.

Last night, I was so deeply touched watching a movie about César Chávez that I wanted to jump through the screen and hug the actor who played the role of this great civil rights leader, and how he so eloquently handled the same rednecks who oppress black folks. It was like watching a film documentary of the black civil rights movement.

For me, it is plain and simple that despite the cultural differences between black and brown people in this country, we inadvertently are being confronted by critical issues based on race and ethnicity, and it would behoove both communities to put their illogical and ludicrous animosities aside and align to confront these issues. 

Now, before any black or Latino haters start articulating venom against each other, I would implore you to read the rest of this blog post because it is filled with historical facts that you should know. 

As I pointed out in my post, Why I Celebrate César Chávez,”Martin Luther King himself sent the following telegram to Chávez:
As brothers in the fight for equality, I extend the hand of fellowship and good will and wish you continuing success to you and your members. You and your valiant fellow workers have demonstrated your commitment to writing 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.

The Mexican-American allies of the Black Panther Party, the Brown Berets, was formed in the barrios of California and the U.S. Southwest with similar struggles for self determination and social justice.

 At the State University of New York at Albany where I was a member of the Black Student Alliance, we were so successful in increasing the enrollment of Latinos as well as blacks, among other accomplishments, that we had to drop the Black Student Alliance name in exchange for one that included all people of color.

Meanwhile, in New York City, black students from varying ethnic groups, and Puerto Ricans of all colors came together in one united front to make positive changes at the City University of New York.

Sadly, gone are the days when the Black Panthers were allies with the Puerto Rican Young Lords Party and the Mexican-American Brown Berets as they were all infiltrated and crushed by the FBI's Counter-Intelligence Program.

Afro-Puerto Rican Felipe Luciano headed the New York Branch of the Young Lords Party applying the same work as the Black Panthers in the Puerto Rican community. Luciano was the original member of the Last Poets, a trio of revolutionary poets and drummer addressing political and social issues in the black community.

In 1982, Cha Cha Jimenez, leader of the Chicago Young Lords Party galvanized the Puerto Rican community to help elect Harold Washington as Chicago's first black mayor. After the election, Jimenez introduced Washington to over 100,000 Puerto Ricans at a celebratory event sponsored by the Young Lords.

Also, gone are the days when the black Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) allied with Movimiento Estudiantil de Atzlan (MEChA), a Mexican-American student organization on college campuses. I cite narrow-mindedness on both sides.

Some years back, I attended a lecture at the La Peña Cultural Center in Berkeley, CA where the Mexican-American presenter spoke of Mexicans being lynched during the same time period when black Americans were regularly lynched. Although, this was the first I heard of such a horror happening to Latinos, I was not one bit surprised.

After the death of Martin Luther King, César Chávez became friends with Coretta Scott King and other leaders of the black civil rights movement in recognition of a common struggle.

Mexican Americans, like African Americans, were not only lynched for being “uppity,” taking jobs away from whites, and accused of making advances toward white women, but were also lynched for acting too “Mexican,” i.e., speaking Spanish too loudly and proudly showing off aspects of Mexican culture.

During slavery, Mexican Americans took great risks and invested in enormous resources to facilitate the escape of enslaved blacks creating the little-known underground railroad south of the border. , the In my post Mexico's Historic Aid to the Black American Freedom Struggle, I added that that the half black, half mestizo president of Mexico Vicente Guerrero, who abolished slavery in his country, steadfastly refused to comply with the demands of American slave holders to return runaway slaves who escaped to Mexico.

In the events of perpetual police misconduct in the U.S. where blacks and Latinos are targets, I strongly believe that protesters from both communities need to make their presence known simultaneously, such as what occurred in San Francisco when blacks were protesting the murder of a black youth while Latinos came out in protest of police murdering Latino members of their community. As the saying goes, “there is strength in numbers.” 

It is my utmost conviction that, despite cultural differences, black and brown people need to come together under one umbrella confronting common causes as we so often have done in the past.


Tuesday, December 1, 2015

African-American Dis-ownership of Afro-Latinos

Slave revolt leader Alonso de Illescas was perceived as the single most powerful person in the predominately black Esmeraldas region of Ecuador, South America in the 16th century.

The interesting thing about the African diaspora is that there has always been a few, like Malcolm X (USA), Marcus Garvey (Jamaica), and Kwame Nkrumah (Ghana), who are culturally aware enough to recognize and respect those who are fellow members of the diaspora, regardless of language or cultural differences. In most instances; however, too many blacks in varying cultures, including black Americans, cannot see past their own culture, and understand that a black person from another culture shares the same roots, history, and the effects of racism.

In some of my other blog posts, I've addressed attitudes that some Afro-Latinos have towards black Americans even to the degree of denying their own blackness to avoid being identified with us. This is primarily due to the lack of awareness of their own history as well as ours. And I have to say that the same holds true for many black Americans and their attitudes towards other members of the African diaspora.

I once had a good laugh in my office when a black American woman asked me if I were black. I am thinking to myself, what else could I possibly be? My response to her was, “when I looked in the mirror this morning, I was black as always; why do you ask?” Her blunt response; “because you got all this Latin sh... (expletive!) on your wall!” She was referring to pictures reflecting my trips through “Black” Latin America. 

Living in California where there is a small Afro-Latino population, I could partially understand this woman's naivete; as hilarious as it was, but in a city like New York with a large representation of Afro-Latinos, it is totally baffling, if not disappointing, to hear that there are black American New Yorkers who also do not seem to know any better.

A tri-lingual (Spanish, English, and Garífuna) friend, Mariana, from Honduras, Central America whom I admire and respect, tells me her story:  
Puerto Ricans and Dominicans always assume I'm African American because of my New York/American accent, but once they realize that I am Latina, I am accepted right away.

African-Americans, however; have always denied me my Blackness saying Black people don't speak Spanish. They, too, have been denied the education of the transatlantic slave trade.
Mariana happens to be a descendant of African people who successfully fought off the British trying to enslave them before taking refuge among the indigenous population; mainly in Honduras, but also in Belize, Guatemala, and Nicaragua, and developed a distinctive language called Garífuna in addition to Spanish.
Mariana adds...
Growing up in a black (American) neighborhood in Brooklyn, the confusion among my friends didn't come until my mother yelled at me in Spanish because I stayed out so late. Instead of my black American friends making fun of me, they questioned me with "I thought you were Black?" 
The interesting thing I learned from my travels through “Black” Latin America is that they know much more about us black Americans than we, as a whole, know about them. They know about hip hop, jazz, R&B, and gospel. In fact, it was an Afro-Peruvian woman who turned me on to a black American folksinger whom I never heard. Yet, hardly any of us black Americans know about punta (Honduras), rumba (Cuba), marimba (Ecuador), or festejo (Perú)—all “black” music.

What the American history books does not teach us is that slave ships began docking in Latin-American countries in the 1500s, almost a full century before before they started docking in the U.S. For this reason, Spanish-speaking black folks in the Americas far outnumber us English-speaking black folks. 

I have personally met Central Americans, Cubans, Puerto Ricans, and heck, even Peruvians (yes, Peruvians!) who are closer to their African roots than most African Americans. So, who are we to judge Afro-Latinos as being anything other than black?

Furthermore, what American slave rebels like Nat Turner and Denmark Vessey attempted to do before being ratted out by house negroes, Gaspar Yanga of Mexico, Benko Biohó of Colombia, and Alonso Illescas of Ecuador, and so many others, were successful in terms of winning their freedom and creating palenques (fortresses) for protection. A black woman in Ecuador won her freedom by taking her slave master to court.

Although I am a proud black American considering our history, struggles, and accomplishments, too many of us feel that we are the only legitimate black folks on the planet, when in essence, we are just a mere minority. A black Venezuelan living in Washington DC made that point very clear out of frustration in one of our recent discussions.

We, as a community, as well as blacks around the world, need to learn to recognize and respect other members of the African diaspora, especially those who are also descendants of slaves in the Western world. Collectively, we speak Creole, Dutch, English, French, Garífuna, Gullah, Patois, Portuguese, and Spanish.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

My New York Afro-Latino Connection

A country in South America celebrates African Heritage Month

As expected, since my return to New York City, and after teaching myself Spanish and traveling to nine Spanish-speaking countries being totally immersed in the language, I have a much better command of Spanish, which is not perfect, but adequate, and I'm loving my developing Afro-Latino connections. 

In California where I was living most of my adult life, people thought I was Cuban assuming if you are black and speak Spanish you must be Cuban. Even while in Perú and Ecuador, people thought I was either Cuban or Puerto Rican, in addition to Panamanian or Brazilian; again, people were looking at the color of my skin.

Just yesterday in the Bronx, however; I was in engaged in a Spanish-speaking conversation with a Boricua (Puerto Rican), a Garífuna (descendant of escaped slaves in Honduras who fought the British for their freedom and won), and a Dominican. All three, including the Dominican, thought my roots were in the Dominican Republic. Amazing!

Surprisingly, I still run into Spanish speakers who seem to feel that if you are black that there is no way in the world that you could speak Spanish. That too is amazing, especially in a city with such a large Afro-Latino population. 

Pedro, an Afro-Venezuelan friend living in Washington DC reminded me that many of these Latinos who come to the US stereotyping blacks do not even have a high school education, and can easily be brainwashed. He says that as a black man he gets the same reaction from non-black Latinos and really feels sorry for a lot of them because, obviously, the school systems are failing them.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Black Latino Among Tuskegee Airmen

2nd Lieutenant Esteban Hostese, Tuskegee Airman
United States Army Air Corps

 An ex­hib­it that opened at the City Col­lege of New York (CUNY) paid trib­ute to immigrants from the Domin­ic­an Republic who served in the U.S. armed forces dur­ing World War II. Among the honorees will be Esteban Hotesse, a Domin­ic­an Republic nat­ive who im­mig­rated to the coun­try as a child with his mother and little sister. They came through the fam­ous port of El­lis Is­land.

A de­term­ined re­search as­so­ci­ate, Ed­ward De Je­sus, at the Domin­ic­an Stud­ies In­sti­tute at CUNY, made the dis­cov­ery dur­ing a three-year re­search mis­sion in­to the role of Domin­ic­an ser­vice­men and wo­men who made sig­ni­fic­ant con­tri­bu­tions to the war ef­fort or to so­ci­ety.

Hotesse, who en­lis­ted in Feb­ru­ary 1942, was among a group of 101 Tuskegee Air­men of­ficers ar­res­ted for re­fus­ing to fol­low Jim Crow or­ders from a white com­mand­ing of­ficer at a base near Sey­mour, In­di­ana where the KKK had a strong pres­ence. This act of dis­obedi­ence later be­came known as the Free­man Field Mutiny. 

  He made second lieu­ten­ant before joining the Tuskegee Air­men, the first all-black group of mil­it­ary pi­lots in the U.S. Armed Forces who made their presence known against the Germans during the war with 1578 combat missions, winning at least one Silver Star, 96 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 14 Bronze Stars, 744 Air Medals, and 8 Purple Heart.

This post should serve as more than a history lesson to black people in the Dominican Republic who, despite their actual skin color, refuse to believe that they are black. Here in the U.S., Dominican Immigrants have been noted for commenting that they are not black, but Dominican. They confuse their race with their nationality.

If Lieutenant Esteban Hotesse were anything other than black, he would have never been subject to Jim Crow laws in KKK territory, let alone having been considered for such a fine unit as the Tuskegee Airmen.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

New York City - Home Sweet Home

 This photo is from the album cover of the salsa group Africando out of Senegal, West Africa whose mission is to bring salsa music back to its African roots.

"New York City, I don't know why I love you;
could be you remind me of myself!"
- Gil Scott-Heron
Yesterday, I off boarded the subway train at East Tremont in the South Bronx, a community primarily of black Americans and Latinos. As I walked down Grand Concourse to my scheduled appointment, I felt very uplifted hearing salsa and bachata music blaring from people's apartments. This was blunt reminder that I finally arrived back at my home sweet home of New York City after spending most of my adult life in Oakland, California.

 New York City residents asked me why would I want to leave California, as though California were some type of utopia, to return to New York. The rational answer that I gave is that my brother inherited a luxury living space in Midtown Manhattan, just blocks from Central Park, and invited me to come back home and be with family. 

What I left out of my response was that I am a New Yorker at heart. While going to school in upstate New York, and all during my stay in Oakland, known on the streets as Oak-Town, I could not stop talking about New York, NY. I am surprised that no one suggested that I go back. I've done quite a bit of traveling in my life, and there is no city that matches the rich, cultural, and literary depth and diversity as New York City. Besides, I love the straight-forward communication style of native New Yorkers.

My special attraction to New York is its heavy Afro-Latino population. As a young kid growing up just walking distance from Spanish Harlem, I started feeling a strong attraction to the Spanish language and Latin-American culture, especially the music. 

It was in New York where I was introduced to the likes Eddie Palmieri, Ray Barretto, Willie Colon, Ralphi Pagan, Hector Rivera, and Pete Rodriguez, all whose music spilled over into the black American community way back in the day. Even black American radio stations like WWRL and WBLS featured these artists because of the heavy African influence in their music.

As I alluded to in my blog post, Coming Out as Trans (Trans-Cultural), there is a strong element of Latino culture in my soul that I feel from deep within even though I was born a black American, which has thus far inspired my travels to nine Spanish-speaking countries where I was totally immersed in the language and the culture. 

Even after flying into New York from Oakland, I found myself engaged in a Spanish-speaking conversation with my Dominican cab driver who appeared more comfortable speaking Spanish than English.

Here in New York, I will get to use, and thus, develop my Spanish more. The trick is learning who is bilingual and who isn't. As I was walking through the South Bronx, I overheard a couple of Afro-Latinos speaking Spanish, and when I stopped to ask for directions in Spanish, they, in a very friendly manner, gave me the directions I neededin English. However, once I resume my Latin-American travels, I will not have to worry about that type of response any more.

At least here in New York, I will be able to attend more Afro-Latino events, go to plays, and get access to libraries and museums about Afro-Latinos that California lacks.