Monday, April 25, 2016

Where Blacks and Browns Live in Harmony

A block party in my home away from home; El Carmen, Perú

While sailing on the South China sea years back on the aircraft carrier U.S.S Ranger, a Puerto Rican shipmate out of Chicago asked me if blacks and Puerto Ricans get along in my hometown of New York City. I gave him a resounding yes!

I grew up in a mixed Puerto Rican and African-American community, and in many instances, saw and experienced interaction and cultural exchanges between blacks and browns. Even in college, there was unity among black Americans and Puerto Ricans in getting our student needs met in addition to the establishment of African-American and Puerto Rican Studies programs

Fast forward to today, decades later, I do not notice as much interaction between blacks and browns as I did in my childhood and college years, that is, with the exception of a few political alliances.

I  am sitting center with a group outside of a home 
where I was staying in El Carmen, Perú

However, I have had the fortunate opportunity to travel to several Latin-American countries, mainly Perú, where I have made repeated visits due to my family-like connections there. I could not help but notice how blacks and browns live in harmony, and even intermarry. 

I've seen more than my share of black people with brown babies and brown people with black babies. In fact, my goddaughter Danielita was born out of wedlock to an Afro-Peruvian male and a mestizo female. And while I had my eyes on the black women, the brown and half-black women had their eyes on me.

In El Carmen, a small sleepy town in Southern Perú dubbed as the hub of Afro-Peruvian culture, I never heard one cross word among any of the residents .Everyone lives in harmony. 

At a block party El Carmen

Here in the U.S., there are many parts of the country where black Americans and Latinos are either at odds with each other or there is simply a chilly tolerance. 

In Oakland, California where I spent most of my adult life, I ran across many Latinos who wanted very little to do with blacks.  Many of them, not all, warmed up to me because of my ability to speak Spanish, and because I have a relatively better understanding of Latin-American culture as a result of my travels.

A black woman in Baltimore, Maryland, who also happens to be Latina, posted a personal ad for a date in an online romance forum. She insisted on meeting Latinos only, and added that she did not care if black men called her racist. The fact of the matter is that she is not racist at all; just confused.

 A mixed black and mestizo family in Perú

Latino is a culture made up of different races and ethnic groups; black, white, brown, indigenous, Asian, Jewish, and Middle Eastern. I've seen this with my own eyes from traveling. And this woman's personal ad stated a firm preference for someone of her own culture. 

This explains why there is so much polarization between black and brown people in the U.S. where there is more harmony between blacks and browns in Latin-American countries as they are bound by the same culture. 

Here in the U.S., black and brown people, who in many instances, live in the same communities or nearby communities, need to be open-minded enough to learn to understand and accept each others' cultures as we did back in the day in New York City. 

Speaking for myself, I was only 10 years old when I started taking an interest in the Spanish language and Latin-American music. This made it easier for me to mix Latin-American people be they black, brown, or white, especially when I'm in a Latin-American country.


Monday, April 18, 2016

Pride and Shame in the Spanish Language

I found Miami's Cuban community to be very proud of their Spanish language, unlike many of those I meet of other Spanish-speaking nationalities.

Judge Mathis, in one of his TV shows, berated a  couple of Latinos; one a plaintiff, the other a defendant, for trying to be undercover with their Latin-American heritage. He, like I, could not understand why so many Latinos seem to lack the “say it loud,  I'm proud of my language and culture” attitude.

A Nicaraguan immigrant complained to me that when she lived in Los Angeles, she would approach Latinos speaking Spanish, and they would respond to her in English asserting they are “Americans,” and don't speak Spanish. I'm thinking, uhhhhhhh!... who says Americans should only speak one language in this small multicultural world?

I once read a blog of a Latin-American woman in Arizona expressing her displeasure for receiving business mail in Spanish even though she she reads and speaks it fluently. I had to post a comment on her blog stating that you have people all over the country, including I, who are knocking themselves out to reach her level of proficiency, and here she is, blessed with two languages, and she has a problem with people addressing her in one; Spanish.

Having grown up, lived, and worked in multicultural cities like New York, Oakland, and San Francisco, respectively; I enjoyed engaging with so many people of different languages and cultures that I lost count of how many.

I can meet, greet, and trip people out in about 10 or 11 different languages and dialects. And since recently returning to New York to live, I came in contact with a large French West African community,  and have started addressing them in French.

The first time I greeted French speaking people in their language, they, unlike so many Spanish speakers I meet got very excited and delighted that I, at least, try. The Spanish speakers, on the other hand, unless they are monolingual, take offense and answer me in English.  I can’t wait to resume my travels to Latin America so I can be totally immersed in Spanish again.

What I love about the Miami Cuban population is that they, like the French, are very proud of their language, and prefer that we speak to them in Spanish over English. 

One time I walked into a Cuban restaurant where they knew I was not Cuban, and struggled to ask, “can I help you?” When I began ordering in Spanish, they and the customers suddenly reacted as though I were one of them even though I don't speak Spanish with a Cuban accent.

An Afro Cuban business owner could not believe his ears as he was pleasantly surprised to meet a black American who can converse in Spanish.  He was telling me that he "wished" more black Americans would try to learn the language. He expressed a desire to hire a black American for his business, but he must have the ability to speak Spanish and serve his predominately Latin-American customers.

However, even in Miami, I can tell 95% of the time when a Spanish speaker is not Cuban because once they realize I'm American, they switch to the conversation to English. Cubans, on the other hand, are always ready to roll with their Spanish if I can keep up.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Black Heritage Tours in Miami's Little Havana

Little Havana in Miami, Florida

When I first visited Little Havana escorted by an Afro-Puerto Rican friend from Miami who has a pleasant rapport with the community, I never knew that it even addressed black heritage. Originally, Little Havana, to my knowledge, consisted of white wealthy Cubans who escaped the Castro regime. In fact, my friend took me by a park where old Cuban refugees just sit around playing chess, dominoes, and checkers venting about Fidel Castro.


The name "Little Havana" emerged in the 1960s as the concentration of Cubans in the area west of downtown Miami becoming famous as the cultural and political capital of Cuban Americans. The neighborhood is known for it festivals, including the Calle Ocho (8th Street) Festival and others that have been televised to millions of people every year on different continents. 

Little Havana is characterized by its street life, restaurants, music and cultural activities, mom and pop enterprises, political passion, and great warmth among its residents.

However, tour guide Corinna Moebius www.LittleHavanaGuide will be including Black Heritage tours of the community on an ongoing basis. She wants to set up these tours to include dinner with an important Afro-Cuban descendant figure from Little Havana/Cuban/Latin American/Caribbean history.

She will also be launching tours focused on Afro-Cuban Culture and Religion followed by a dance performance. All of her walking tours of Little Havana incorporate and emphasize the historic and present-day contributions of people of African descent. 

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Anti Blackness in the Latino Community

While banking in a predominately black and brown city of Cartagena, Colombia, I felt as though I needed sunglasses in the bank because it was so white inside. There were no black or brown employees.

A young black woman attended an event for a black fraternity wearing her hair short and natural.  Her mother calls in the middle of dinner, and others at the entire table stopped breathing in utter astonishment because she was speaking Spanish. When the phone conversation ended, several people  commented , “I thought you were a sister!” “A Dominican-American one!” was her  abrupt reply while taking advantage of a much needed teaching moment.

As a black American, I myself  had more than my share of teaching moments first learning that slave ships headed towards Latin-America more than a century before heading to the U.S. From my personal travels through Latin America it was quite evident that black people experience racism in their own countries as well. So why shouldn't this sister from the Dominican Republic, a descendant of slaves, be considered a sister?

Latinos here told me more than once that there is no racism in their home countries, which is so untrue. They just don't have the hate crimes and police brutality (with the exception of Colombia) like we do here. I myself experienced some of the racism that Latin Americans claim not to have, such as being racially profiled in stores, being addressed rudely at airports, or having difficulty catching cabs.

Although, I historically made good, friendly connections with Latinos in this country and abroad, most of whom are not anti black, I have met many non-black Latinos in this country who enjoy or inspire to enjoy the “white privilege,” like presidential candidates Senator Ted Cruz  (Texas) and Marco Rubio (Florida) while living in the USA. 

Other Latinos, including some black ones,told me that they are all united regardless of color. That too is a myth. Look at the major Latino TV stations like Telemundo and Univisión with its perpetual discrimination against Latinos of color . 

The Latin-American media projects false impressions that all Latinos look alike. I've also observed the same discrimination in Spanish-speaking countries with large black populations like in shops,  in office buildings, public transportation, and government offices. In the predominately black community where my Afro-Peruvian goddaughter lives, there are no black medical personnel, school teachers, or police officers.

 These white Latino supremacist, and brown Latinos claiming to be white dishonor the legacy of their ancestors consisting of black and indigenous people’s struggles throughout Latin-America. They also dishonor the rhythms that they enjoy listening and dancing to, such as merengue (Dominican Republic), bomba y plena (Puerto Rico) , tambor (Venezuela), cumbia (Colombia), festejo (Perú), jarocha (Mexico), and son montuno (Cuba), all of which have African roots like the American blues, not to mention the foods that they eat, such as mangú, which came from the influence of African slaves.