Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Afro-Cuban Twin Sisters Profit from Cuban Cigars

So many people are taken aback to learn that a increasingly popular Cuban cigar brand is owned by two young Afro-Cuban woman in an industry dominated by older white Cuban males.

Although fluent in Spanish as well as English growing up in a Miami community heavily populated by white Cubans, they were taught to be black and proud by their grandmother, and became bi-cultural as they embraced African-American culture as well as their own Cuban culture interacting and weaving comfortably well in both Latino and African-American communities.  

An ongoing surprise to me is the number of Latinos who seem to be so unaware that there are black folks in their community who, like they themselves, have Spanish-speaking roots. Cubans, of all Latinos, should know better considering that their home country  has an overwhelmingly black population.

Original article:

MIAMI, FL -- When Afro-Cuban-American twin sisters Yvette and Yvonne Rodriguez launched their Tres Lindas Cubanas cigar line last year, they wanted it to represent some of the diverse Cuban races as well as honor their grandmother, who inculcated them with pride in their African roots.
On a recent afternoon in a Coral Gables cigar shop, the twins point out their three signature cigars: "La clarita" - which means fair-skinned - and is light-medium bodied; "la mulata," which means mixed black/white as is medium-full, much like their grandmother; and "la negrita" means black which is their strongest, full-bodied cigar.

Coming from a mixed race family, the twins were somewhat confused when they were growing up in Miami, where the Cuban population is predominantly white. Their mother, a Cuban mulata, and father, a black Cuban, settled in the Miami suburb of Cutler Ridge, which had a mix of races.
"We were Cuban, we were black, and the kids did not understand that," Yvonne said. When their light-skinned grandmother would pick up the twins and their brother from school, students were puzzled to see her fair complexion. "Kids would ask 'who's that?' This light-skinned woman picking up three little black kids," Yvonne said. They recall bus rides home from middle school telling students about their ancestry.

The witty and lighthearted twins speak with adoration of their maternal grandmother and admit they were also confused growing up. "She was a mulata of mixed race but she came out very light skinned," Yevette explained.

Their grandmother emphasized the importance of being proud of being black. When people complimented her for being elegant, she would respond 'an elegant mulata.' Yvette explained "it was weird for us because for me she was just a white woman … she was a white woman saying 'nosotros las negras'[us black women]," they said laughing.

Although their complexion was confusing for them when they were 10 years or 12 years old, when they were a bit older they realized they were comfortable around Latinos as much as they were among African-Americans and weaved comfortably in and out of both communities.
"We could jam out to hip hop or R&B and speak Spanish a few seconds later. We are very in tune with both cultures," Yvonne said.

It was through classic music, food, and stories that Yvette and Yvonne learned about their Cuban culture. "Back then the embargo was real and there was no Internet," Yvonne explained. Their parents were traditional, conservative, and Republican. But growing up in the U.S. they embraced African-American culture in addition to their Cuban culture and found their own identity.
"We don't fit the mold people are accustomed to seeing," Yvonne said.
These variations are the essence of the cigar line, which they say has created a dialogue for those who are confused like they once were.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Mexican Territories Named After Black Men

Mexico's State of Morelos near Mexico City was named after 
a half-black, half indigenous hero of the Mexican revolution

If you drive through the countryside of Vera Cruz Mexico, you will pass through cities and towns with African names such as Mozambique, Matamba, Mocambo, Matamba, Mozomboa, Mozambique, and Mandinga. Yet, I meet an astounding number of Mexicans (and Mexican Americans) who are clueless about their own black heritage. 

Even Mexicans coming from areas with a relatively large population of African descendants were surprised to even learn from me, of all people, that Mexico imported African slaves through the Port of Vera Cruz, and that the resort city of Acapulco is in a state named after a half-black/half-mestizo former president and liberator of Mexico. 

This statue is posted outside the Mexican city of Yanga in honor of the African
 warrior who established the first free black town in the western hemisphere

Then, there is the town of Yanga, named after Gaspar Yanga, originally from what is now the nation of Gabon, West Africa, who organized a slave revolt, and won their freedom from Spanish slave owners, and established the first free black town in the western world. 

With Mexico's rich black history stemming from her involvement in the notorious slave trade, why are so many Mexicans and Mexican Americans not privy to Mexico's African influence, and think it is such a joke if you even hint that they too might have a great grandfather or mother who happens to be black? 

More than one black citizen, born and raised in Mexico and knowing no other country, were seized and deported because the Mexican police did not believe that black folks could be Mexican. One black Mexican was deported to Honduras and another to Haiti despite having Mexican ID. With the help of the Mexican consulates they were able to return but were offered no apology or compensation. Other blacks racially profiled by the police were forced to sing the Mexican National Anthem to prove they were Mexicans. 

The resort city of Acapulco is in the Mexican state of Guerrero named after a half black, half mestizo who was former president of Mexico and liberator from Spanish colonial rule

The story of Mexico's black population has been ignored and erased from history. Mexico's state of Morelos, named after the former Mexican revolutionary José María Morelos of African and indigenous heritage, according to a Afro-Mexican heritage organization, had his photos altered by Mexican authorities to erase Mexico's heavy African presence from the slave trade, and gave his appearance more of a white presence in Mexican schoolbooks.

The efforts of the black Mexican activists' have born some fruit. The 2015 interim census for the first time gave respondents the option to identify themselves as black (in Spanish, “negro”), though this is not a term used by all Afro-Mexicans, many of whom call themselves moreno (dark), or use other, local terms to describe themselves.


Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Do Black Latinos Really Belong?

Young Black women of Cuernavaca, Mexico

This article is amazing: Afro Latinos: Do We Really Belong? I've heard black, brown, and white Latinos declare that they are ALL one regardless of color. Of course, I know better because I'm on the outside looking in and can see Latin-American racism more clearly.
In many cases, as alluded to in the article, Afro-Latinos have been prejudged by their fellow Latinos as being non Spanish-speaking African Americans, which would never happen in their home countries. Even I, an African American, have been presumed Latin American in a Spanish-speaking country until people started talking to me and noticing my foreign accent or passport. 

One Afro Latina expressed her frustration of going out among people of her own culture sharing the same language, and even the same national roots, but found herself pandering for acceptance. She eventually got tired of being treated as though she is invisible and became dismissive and more outspoken about being Black, Latina, and Proud!

I vividly remember one morning riding a bus in Oakland, California. There were two women standing over me conversing in Spanish. After offering my seat to one of the ladies in Spanish, they both laughed hysterically because they could not believe a black guy was speaking them in Spanish. It was like a freak show. 

I went off on both of them in loud Spanish explaining there are more black people scattered throughout Spanish-speaking countries than there are English-speaking black folks in the U.S., and that they, of all people should know better. After all, I continued, I just might be one of those Spanish-speaking black folks.

The two quieted down after my little lecture because they knew I was making sense. However, I got just a little taste of what black, white, and Asian Latinos must go through. A black friend of mind from the Dominican Republic, Francisco, told me that he would often rattle off a long series of Spanish sentences to convince non-black Latinos that he indeed is Latino, especially when they respond to him in English. Considering that real Latinos come in ALL colors, why does he have to prove himself?