Monday, September 21, 2015

Black Latin America Honors the Black American Struggle

Rinaldo Campos, inspired by the U.S. black pride movement of the 1960s, started Perú Negro, an Afro Peruvian dance troupe that performs throughout the world.

In my first trip to Perú back in October of 2005, I had just gotten off the plane at the Jorge Chávez Airport in Lima, and in the midst of my haggling with cab drivers, I heard someone from behind me shout, “Martin Luther King!” When I turned around, I saw a smiling black security officer who misread the back of my t-shirt—“Luther,” referring to the late R&B singer Luther Vandross. Happy to see a black face, I smiled and acknowledged him, before continuing my haggling.

Every February and March, black Peruvians celebrate 
their African heritage with food, music, and dance.

As a black American, I often hear about the negative perceptions that many, not all, black Latinos in the U.S. have towards U.S. blacks, especially some of the black Puerto Ricans, black Cubans, and god forbid, so many Dominicans. 

When I was in Cuba, however, blacks were much friendlier, open, and extremely helpful to me as a visitor. A black woman whom I met on the campus of the University of Havana invited me to her home for dinner. When I met her son, the first words out of his mouth were, “¿conoce usted Tupac (do you know Tupac Shakur)?

 Celebrating black heritage - Peruvian style

Young blacks in Cuba have been embracing the black American hip-hop culture (minus the stupid-ass violence, drugs, and disrespect for women) as they pick up rap music from radio stations in and around Miami only 90 miles away. And as expected, these young Afro-Cubans incorporate black American hip hop culture into Cuban life and issues; naturally in Cuban street-Spanish.

Somos Ebano (We are Ebony people) is a community center serving youth in the El Carmen District of Chincha, Perú, the hub of Afro-Peruvian culture.

From my travels to Cuba, Colombia, Ecuador, Perú, and Venezuela, and from my contacts in Argentina, Uruguay, and Chile; countries on my list to visit, the perception of Black Americans among blacks in those respective countries is honorable. They make the black experience in the U.S. applicable to their own struggles. When Barack Obama first got elected into the U.S. presidency, an Afro-Peruvian friend sent me a message saying, ¡Viva Obama (Long Live Obama)!

In Chile, South America, the city of Arica is a historically black city stemming from slavery. However, through centuries of interracial marriages, the visible black population just about disappeared, yet the people still openly celebrate black heritage. 

Mónica Carrillo, head of Lundú, a black Peruvian civil rights organization engages herself throughout the African diaspora in the western world.

I recently referred one of my blog readers to a family in Arica, Chile, and she pointed out that, unlike many black Latinos living in the U.S. who are obviously black but deny being black, the people of Arica, who are not so black are very proud and outspoken about their African roots. It would be very interesting to see how they would mix with U.S. Latinos be they black, brown, or white if they were to ever migrate here in large numbers.

Makungu Para El Desarrollo, meaning Developing the Souls of our Ancestors, is an organization whose purpose is to strengthen the identity of young Afro-Peruvians

Even Mexico historically aided black American runaway slaves who crossed the Rio Grande. After Texas gained independence from Mexico, the number of runaways across the border mushroomed. When Mexico's Afro-Mexican president Vicente Guerrero took office in 1829, he immediately abolished slavery in his country, and with the help of Mexicans and Mexican Americans, Mexico became the underground railroad South of the Border.

Black people in Latin America, for the longest, have been following the black struggle in the U.S., and have been inspired to start their own black civil rights and black pride organizations, which have been popping up all over to address the racism that plagues blacks; even in countries like Argentina, Bolivia, and Honduras. I have friends in Puerto Rico, Central America, and South America who have Afrocentric Facebook names like Afrodesciente (African descendant), Black Panther, Martin Luther, and Malcolm. 

Afro Peruvian drummers jamming to African rhythms

Perú, a country I visited six times, has four or more organizations dedicated to the black Peruvian struggle. I had the opportunity to spend a day with members of two of such organizations, and am certainly honored to be connected with Mónica Carrillo, an Afro-Peruvian civil rights leader who was featured on the PBS program, “Black in Latin America,” hosted by Harvard University professor Dr. Louis Gates.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

A Black Man's Guide to Mexican Independence—September 16

 Vicente Ramón Guerrero Saldaña
Mexico's Liberator and First Black President

If I were vacationing in Mexico today while people are celebrating Mexican Independence, I'd be celebrating this son of an African slave mother and a Mestizo father who guided Mexico to her independence on this day of September 16 in the year of 1810. His name is Vicente Guerrero.

He was not very well educated, formally, but he was very intelligent and extremely tough. Before Mexico went to war with Spain to fight for their independence, Vicente Guerrero earned his living as a mule driver. When war broke out, he joined the revolution,  distinguished himself in major battles, and gained rank rapidly until he finally was awarded the rank of general.

As a general, he took a rag-tag gang of men and built them into a powerful brigade of over 1000 soldiers. Of all the major rebel leaders who died or were captured, or accepted the King of Spain's pardon, Vicente Guerrero was the only rebel leader still at large, and at Midnight, September 16, he declared Mexico free from Spanish rule.

In the year 1829, Vicente Guerrero became Mexico's first Black President. That same year, he abolished slavery in Mexico, which at that time, included what is now known as the state of Texas. Guerrero's abolition of slavery in Texas was one of the major reasons why Texas rebelled, became a lone-star state, and later joined the U.S.A.

As president, Vicente Guerrero was treated far worse than Barack Obama. Guerrero's term in office did not last six months before he was thrown out of office and later killed over some trumped up charges.

I am always amazed when I meet people in U.S. who come from Mexico's state of Guerrero, named after Vicente Guerrero, and are clueless as to who this man was and what he contributed to Mexico. I would venture to say, half of those marching, waiving Mexican flags, singing songs in commemoration Mexican independence  know little or nothing of Vicente Ramón Guerrero Saldaña; a black man who guided Mexico to independence.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Black People Dancing to Spanish Music

Nicaragua's black community has its own Spanish music of African roots

One evening at a salsa club in San Francisco, California, I asked a olived-skinned Latin-American woman to dance. I can tell by the look on her face that she wanted to dance with me, but doubted that I (this black guy) know how to dance to this type of music. To avoid any embarrassment or frustration, she played it safe and declined my invitation. She later appeared pleasantly surprised when she saw me dancing smoothly and joyfully with other women, and seemed to be hoping that I would ask her to dance one more time. I felt no need to bother because there were too many women willing to dance without question or concern about race or even dancing ability.

In Paraguay, South America there is a renown 
black dance troupe known as Kamba Kue

It was during my high school years in New York City when I first  saw black people dancing to Spanish music. One day after school, my black-American classmates, Lucious and Deborah, were dancing to a popular song called “Mozambique” by the Latin music icon Eddie Palmieri. In those days, Palmieri had a lot of black-American fans in the New York City area as did other Latin music giants like Ray Barretto, Willie Colón, and Joe Cuba.

Puerto Rico's world famous salsa group, El Gran Combo, is directed 
by it's founder, a black man by the name of Ithier Nadal

Years later, at an Oakland, California salsa dance club, I told a black American women, who happened to be attracted to Latin-American men, that if it were not for black people, there would be no salsa. She asked, naively, how do I figure. I didn't have the time nor the inclination to lecture her on the dance floor, but as I myself got better educated and more culturally aware, I learned that people of African ancestry played major roles in the creation of the most popular Spanish music genres throughout Latin America, and that includes the tango of Argentina, and cumbia of Colombia, which made its way through Central America and Mexico. 

Black Peruvian women dancing to the Afro-Peruvian festejo music

More than 100 years before slaves ships began docking in the USA, slave ships have been transporting African people all throughout Latin America. And just as the blacks in the USA created blues and gospel music based on their immediate cultural environment; bomba and plena music was created by blacks in Puerto Rico; candombé music by blacks in Uruguay, and jarocho music by blacks in Mexico. Every country in the Western hemisphere has a history of slavery, and thus, have their own music and dance based on their African roots.

Concha Buika, West African born singer, grew up in Spain 
where she gave flamenco an African flavor.

Most of us in the U.S. do not know that there are more black people scattered throughout Latin America who speak Spanish and dance to Spanish music than there are black people in the U.S. who speak English and dance to R&B and hip hop. As the Latin-American woman who declined to dance with me because of my color, many of us here in the U.S. are living in a bubble thinking you have to look like Ricky Martin and Jennifer López to know how to dance to any type of Spanish music. That is pure bull!

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Message to My Dissenting Blog Readers


It has been almost six years since starting this blog, and I received a lot of wonderful feedback. I even developed a following of 235 members, plus an additional 135 Google connections.

One of the things that makes blogging so interesting is when people express disagreement with my views. I welcome such opposing comments because they do give me broader perspectives on things, and who knows, I just might learn something. 

My only request is that you woman up or man up; have the moral fiber, the intestinal fortitude to back your points. Don't just attack my writing and run away before I can respond with a thought that might be different from yours.. That is just plain cowardly! I love a good debate because it subliminally enlightens and sharpens all parties involves.