Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Pelo Bueno y Pelo Malo (Good Hair & Bad Hair)

Sulma Arzu-Brown
Author of the book:  ¡Pelo Malo No Existe!
 (Bad Hair Does Not Exist!)

Throughout the African diaspora you will find varying degrees of self hate and internalized racism. On the African continent, the sale of bleaching cream to lighten one's skin is at an all-time high. Here in the U.S., I grew up at a time when it was highly fashionable for black men to straighten their to imitate those of white men through what was known as a “process” or a “doo.”

In those days, we referred to ourselves as “colored” or “negro.” I remember as a child when I got angry with people, I would insult them by calling them a black African making reference to Hollywood's stereotypical view of African people being portrayed as spear-chucking savages. Those were fighting words.

In Latin America, calling many blacks such names may not start a fight, but they will certainly be offended to the point of absolute denial of their skin color and African heritage. An Afro-Peruvian woman once told me that I was not black, but “moreno (colored).

One thing that black Americans and black Latinos have in common is the use of the term, “good hair“ or in Spanish, “pelo bueno.” After the black American consciousness movement during the 1960s, I am always astonished to hear black Americans refer to hair on black people resembling those of white people as good hair. Afro-Latinos go further than that by making reference to “pelo malo” or bad (kinky) hair.

Sulma Arzu-Brown is a proud black Latina of Garifuna heritage, a descendant of Africans who escaped slavery from the British, and assimilated with an indigenous community in Honduras, Central America. Mrs. Arzu-Brown, a graduate of Lehman College of the City University of New York City, and Director of Operations with the city's Hispanic Chamber of Commerce grew tired of hearing people criticize her daughter’s hair, and published a book entitled ¡Pelo Malo No Existe! (Bad Hair Does Not Exist!); a bilingual picture book that sends the message that every woman’s hair is beautiful. 

In an interview with NBC News she pointed out emphatically that the term ‘bad hair’ or ‘pelo malo’ is divisive to both community and family and can contribute to low self-esteem. She refers to her book as a tool of cultural solidarity. 

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Traveling for Culture or “Sex?”

I met Luisa, a voluptuous, chocolate skinned sistah who lived across the street from where I was staying in the El Vedado District of Havana, Cuba. She was all smiles and full of excitement when I approached her and her two children. My motive? Certainly not for sex like so many Canadians, Europeans, and more and more Americans are doing these days. 

And why was Luisa so friendly? In hopes I would relieve her of her economic hardships, and most importantly, bring her back to the U.S. She made several attempts to get me to do so.

Today with the aid of the Internet, many men are taking advantage of the poverty women suffer in third-world countries. These are women who could care less about a man's looks or gut size. They only want what's in his pants (wallet)!

Upon my return from Cuba, I met Cuban-Americans who resented me for taking the trip because they assumed I was only there to “get some.” A local Afro-Cuban percussionist and friend, Jesus Diaz, whom I knew for many years on the Oakland/San Francisco salsa music circuit, asked me sarcastically, “did you have a 'good time?” 

He was relieved to learn that I was attending the University of Havana to work on my Spanish, getting acclimated to Afro-Cuban culture by mixing with community members, and reading up on the famed Afro-Cuban writer/poet Nicolás Guillén, a friend of the African-American writer/poet Langston Hughes.

In my younger years, as a sailor in the U.S. Navy, I was just as guilty with impoverished women when my ship docked in third-world Asian countries. Truly, I was one ugly-ass American—and horny!

Today, with my level of maturity, understanding, and compassion, I behave differently with the knowledge that these women are doing what they have to do to avoid going hungry, and would make reasonable efforts to help relieve them of economic hardships without expecting anything in return.

This is exactly what I do in my Latin American travels, especially in Black Latin America where my primary purpose is to immerse myself in the Spanish language and the Blacktino (Black Latino) lifestyle and culture. 

In exchange for such a tremendous personal growth experience, I was generous in buying dinners and staple items for families, and buying ice cream and other goodies and gifts for children. I still came out ahead financially because I avoided the fancy hotels and tourist traps by staying in the barrio (the hood), and only hanging out with local people.

In Cartagena, Colombia, for example, I saw an elderly black women selling homemade cookies in the public square; I walked by, gave her a cheerful smile, and dropped a few dollars in Colombian currency on her table, and kept stepping. She followed me trying to give me some cookies, but I was not at all interested. All I wanted was to help a struggling sister out, which is what I explained to Jesus Diaz when I told him about Luisa in Cuba.

Down in El Carmen, Perú, three hours south of the nations capital Lima, I had the perfect opportunity to score sexually. A young, hot, sexy Afro-Peruvian dancer appeared seriously interested in me as she had trouble taking her eyes off me in her grandmother's home where I had happened to be staying. 

I passed up the opportunity for three reasons: 1) she was young enough to be my daughter, 2) I'm leery of woman who want me for no other reason than my being a gringo with a perceived pocket full of money when she can find local man for real love, and 3) I am a culture vulture, not a booty bandit.

If sex is all I need, I can save myself the airfare and head to a local brothel in my own community. And if I should hook up with a woman for a long-term relationship, I would prefer it to be for real love right here in the USA. I am not against being with a woman from a foreign country, I just prefer to meet her legally on American soil.