Monday, December 19, 2016

Blacks and Browns in Harlem Celebrate the Legacy of the Puerto Rican Ally of the Black Panther Party

 Schomburg Center for Research and Black Culture on Malcolm X Boulevard in Harlem, NYC

Recently, I attended a celebration of the Puerto Rican contribution to the black and brown liberation struggles of the 1960s, which was hosted by the Schomburg Center for Research and Black Culture. The center was named after Arturo Alfonso Schomburg, a black Puerto Rican historian who as a young pupil was told by his school teacher in San Juan, Puerto Rico that black people have no history and have never accomplished anything of note.

Arturo Alfonso spent the rest of his life not only proving his teacher wrong but educated the world, especially during the Harlem Renaissance, with an ever-growing collection of books, artifacts, recordings, films, and hordes of other materials exemplifying the accomplishments of black people worldwide.

The Young Lords Party

Felipe Luciano, Afro-Puerto Rican leader of the New York Branch of the Young Lords Party

Residents of Spanish Harlem, which included Puerto Ricans (black, brown, and white), African-Americans, and Dominican Americans marching the streets for social justice.

Panel members of men and women from the Young Lords Party received a standing ovation after addressing a full house of African-Africans, Latinos of all colors, and whites.

Young African-American millennial
addresses her question to the panel 

 Celebrating the 50th Anniversary 
of the birth of the Young Lords Party

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Thinking of Stepping Away From my Beloved Afro-Peruvian Godchild

The main square of El Carmen, Perú

I am among the few heterosexual, black males who made it well into adulthood without birthing any children. I don't know about the minuses of this experience, but I am certainly aware of the plusses; no hefty child support payments, no “baby-momma” drama, and none of the stresses that comes with raising children as my father, a single parent himself, frequently lamented during my own childhood.

My trip to El Carmen, Perú, one of the areas of the country where former slaves settled after emancipation, was only my second trip to an Afro-Latino community behind Havana, Cuba

There, a three-year-old wandered into the living room from next door. She sweetly told me that her name is Daniela. Immediately, I felt a deep, strong, paternal connection with a girl who appeared to be the daughter I never had. Her mother was deeply touched to see the ecstasy in my eyes when Daniela, then age 7, and I hugged each other so tightly that we both seemed to melt into each other's arms.

Daniela and I chilling out in Chincha Alta, Perú

Words cannot express how honored and loving I felt when Daniela asked me if she could be my daughter. In fact, Daniela was highly pleased to hear me tell her mother who happens to be married to a second husband that she is my only child. Every time I am in Perú that is exactly how I treat her. I take her and her family and friends to parks, recreation centers, the beach, and for dinners and ice cream. 

Although Daniela declined to let me teach her English, I read children's stories to her in Spanish, taught her to tell time, and play chess, Scrabble, and Monopoly. I even bought her a bicycle, per her request. While here in the USA, I would call her once or twice a month and wire money to her mother and grandmother.

Finally, I began to notice a marked change in Daniela's demeanor over the phone. The closeness I once felt seemed faded. I told myself that I will see what this is all about when I return to Perú on vacation

Sure enough, upon my return, her demeanor was consistent with that which she displayed over the phone—one of polite distance. Obviously, somebody pulled her aside for a heart-to-heart talk making her understand that I am “not” family, only a gringo with money to give away, and that she needed to withdraw from the bond that she and I developed.

A popular soul food (comida criolla) restaurant in El Carmen, Perú

The only exception to her withdrawal was when she surprisingly began hustling me, probably motivated by her mother, to take her and her sister to an expensive market to buy the best poultry and fish for the family. She then proceeded to talk me into buying certain gifts for her and other members of her family presumably for her mother to sell just as she sold the bicycle, games, picture books, the clock used to teach her to tell time, and so many other nice things that I bought for Daniela's childhood enjoyment and intellectual stimulation. 

Having grown up in New York City, and traveled to more than 150 cities on three continents, I know a hustle when I see one and was caught off guard to experience it from a nine-year-old with whom I had supposedly bonded. Because of the soft spot I have for her, which her family knows all too well, I complied with most of her requests.

Today, Daniela, now 14, her mother, and other family members friended me on Facebook as they subtly and not so subtly ask for money. I've grown to the point where I stopped responding to their Facebook inbox messages, and yes, even Daniela's.

Despite the spoiling that Daniela received from adult members of her family, I will always keep the fond, joyous memories of our beautiful father-daughter relationship we had in the beginning. That is the Daniela that I know and will always love.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Afro-Latino Successor to Marcus Garvey

 Carlos Cooks of the Dominican Republic

Marcus Garvey was a Jamaican political leader, publisher, journalist, entrepreneur, and orator who was a staunch proponent of unity and self-help among members of the African diaspora to which end he founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). The (UNIA) claimed 418 branches throughout the United States, the Caribbean, Central America, and parts of South America, West Africa, and South Africa. 

He also founded the Black Star Line, which promoted the return of the African diaspora to their ancestral lands. Garvey's philosophy would eventually inspire others, ranging from the Nation of Islam to the Rastafari movement, which proclaims Garvey as a prophet.

Carlos Cook of the Dominican Republic met Marcus Garvey and was highly transformed by his fiery messages. Carlos was determined to dedicate his life to disseminating these teachings in his native Dominican Republic. Unfortunately, his country's anti-black dictator gave Cooks an ultimatum: “either go into exile immediately or face the consequences." 

 Marcus Garvey

Carlos and his family relocated to Harlem, New York City, and never returned. Thus, the heavily black populated Dominican Republic missed the opportunity to learn of and apply the teachings of Marcus Garvey for the rest of the 20th century.

During Cook's lifetime, however, he never received his proper recognition due to being denied national coverage by the press, black and white, and was bound by an oath (the sacri monti) not to seek publicity for himself. Malcolm X himself expressed his respects to Mr. Cook because he is real Garveyite. Below are some of Carlos Cook's leading accomplishments:
  • Administered the Advance Division of the UNIA after Garvey's deportation. 
  • Coined the phrase "BUY BLACK" as an economic solvency in black communities 
  • Founded the first so-titled African Nationalist organization.
  •  Kept Garvey's UNIA Red, Black, and Green tri-colors displayed daily and nightly. 
  • Advocated armed retaliation against lynchings in the South.
  • Designated August 17th -- the birthday of Marcus Garvey -- as the first Black holiday, official or unofficial.
  • Perfected an oratorical art of street speaking from his step-ladder, all over Harlem in New York City, especially on 125th Street and 7th Avenue.
  • Organized the Universal African Relief to send tons of clothes and medical supplies to southern and western Africa.
  • Initiated the concept of natural hair as an issue of racial pride.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

A Language Learning Program That is Way Better than Rosetta Stone

Receiving my Advanced Spanish certification 
from El Sol language school in Lima, Perú

I had several jobs where hardly a day went by when I did not engage Spanish speakers or serve as an interpreter. One company gave me bi-lingual pay. Many people, especially native Spanish speakers, believed that I too was from a Spanish-speaking country, and were often surprised to the point of disbelief (and disappointment) to learn otherwise.

I am not a native Spanish speaker nor did I have an abundance of Spanish classes in school. The bulk of my Spanish learning came from self-teaching out of books and the use of self-made flash cards. However, I did have the opportunity to spend my vacations in two different Spanish-language intensive training programs in Cuba (legally) and in Perú where the instructors, tutors, and the families I stayed with speak Spanish only!

Arriving in Havana, Cuba (legally) to attend Spanish language intensive training through Global Exchange, Inc. based in San Francisco, California.

 I once had a supervisor who was so impressed with my Spanish that she asked me to help improve hers. The irony of her request was that she minored in Spanish in college. Why did she need “my” help of all people? The difference between her progress and mine was my constant attempts at immersion. I seized every opportunity available to engage monolingual Spanish speakers in conversation. Even if I only exchanged two words, every little bit helped to build my confidence and level of fluency.

  With one of my instructors at the El Sol 
Spanish School in Lima, Perú

Immersing oneself in a new language will result in much better results than any classroom. In fact, it is way better than the rave being advertised in the mediaRosetta Stone. For example, once I am in a Spanish-speaking country for more than two or three days, my Spanish flows like a river. I even had dreams in Spanish.

This is not to say one should abandon the classroom, Rosetta Stone, or any other mode of study as they all serve as solid foundations for learning a new language. However, I have found from personal experience traveling through nine different countries that the real learning comes through being so immersed in your new that language that you cannot fall back on your English because no one speaks it.

In just about every country, there are immersion schools that are relatively very inexpensive, where you can spend one, two, and three weeks or more with instructors, tutors, and families with whom you will be lodging and dining. They speak no English and will be interacting with you in their own language. This is a powerful way to develop foreign language skills.

Campus of the University of Havana, Cuba where I attended 
Spanish language intensive classes for foreigners

In one of my trips, I crossed the border from Ecuador to Perú by cab where within minutes I was stopped by the Peruvian National Police who seemed to have felt that I was either an illegal alien or was up to no good. Because the officer spoke no English, I was forced to answer his questions in Spanish, which inadvertently boosted my confidence in the language.

As the police officer walked dejectedly back to his patrol car seemingly because he didn't make a bust (or collect a bribe), I shouted to him Spanish, “THANK YOU FOR HELPING ME PRACTICE MY SPANISH!” My cab driver bubbled over in laughter as he watched the officer brush me off in disgust.

Friday, October 14, 2016

A Puerto Rican Finds Her Black Identity

Real Latinos come in all colors, including black. However, there are many Latinos of African ancestry who, despite being descendants of African slaves and experiencing home-grown racism in their respective countries, deny their black skin, and some their African heritage. 

They confuse their race with their nationalities. For example, a Puerto Rican woman of my complexion stated to me bluntly, “African Americans are black—I'm not black, I'm Puerto Rican.” She got very upset and began hurling insults at me when I pointed out that her nationality is Puerto Rican, but her skin is black.

In the video below, Rosa Clemente, a self-identified black Puerto Rican activist and Ph.D candidate in Black Studies, explains the confusion among so many Afro-Latinos, and discusses the black awakening that she herself achieved through education. She is being interviewed by Afro-Panamanian filmmaker Dash Harris who produced multiple documentaries on the Afro-Latino identity and experience.


Monday, October 10, 2016

Ecuador Celebrates Black Heritage Month in October

Each year more Latin-American countries are following the example of Carter G. Woodson, the father of Black History in the U.S.—Perú, Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia, Panamá, Argentina, Uruguay, and Venezuela has joined the Black Heritage Month club, and more will be coming.

Poetry by Nelson Estumpiñan Bass
Afro-Ecuadorian contemporary 
of African-American writer Langston Hughes
Negro, negro renegrido       Black, black, blackened
Negro, hermano del carbón       black, brother of charcoal,
negro de negros nacido      
born black                   
Negro ayer, mañana y hoy       Black yesterday, tomorrow, and today
Algunos creen insultarme       Some believe they insult me
gritándome mi color       mocking my color,
más lo mismo yo pregono       but I myself proclaim it
con orgullo frente al sol       with pride in the place of the sun

Negro he sido, negro soy        Black I was, black I am
negro vengo, negro voy       Black I come, black I go
negro bien negro nací               black, real black I was born,
negro negro he de vivir       black black I must live
y como negro morir       and as a black I must die

 Alonso de Illescas, liberator of black and indigenous 
Ecuadorians against Spanish rule and slavery.

Ecuador has a black population of 1.1 million. While 70% of Afro-Ecuadorians live in the northwest province of Esmeraldas—the black capital of Ecuador, the others will be mainly found in Guayaquil, the nation's largest city, Quito, the nation's capital, and up in the Andes Mountains in an area known as Valle de Chota.

 Portrait María Chinquinquirá exhibited in a museum in Ecuador's largest 
city, Guayaquil, took her slave master to court to win her freedom.

In 1997, Ecuaor's national congress declared the first Sunday in October as Afro-Ecuadorian Day giving recognition to black national heroes like Alonso de Illescas who led the black and indigenous people in defense of their liberty against Spanish colonial forces. Black Ecuadorian civil rights organizations throughout the country decided on the whole month of October as Afro-Ecuadorian Heritage Month to promote awareness of cultural, political, and economic issues. 

Agustín Delgado, Ecuador's retired all-time
 leading scorer and world cup soccer star

After years of constant struggle, Ecuador's Ministry of Education agreed to include Black Ecuadorian History in textbooks. The historic move comes as Afro-Ecuadorans across the country celebrated their heritage to honor the historic achievements blacks have made while highlighting the challenges of racism and discrimination they continue to face today. 

 Afro-Ecuadorian Cultural Center in Quito Ecuador

Throughout the month, Afro-Ecuadorians turn the public spotlight on the importance of their lives, historical legacy, and culture through an array of parades, musical performances, marches, and academic panels. 

Freddy Cevallos, an Afro-Ecuadorian studies consultant 
whom I treated to lunch with his girlfriend in 2010

Gloria Chalá of Quito, Ecuador took me in 
like family during my visit to Ecuador
I truly miss you, Gloria!