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!

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Afro Latinos React to “Blacks in Latin America” PBS Series

I have fought many years as a youngster growing up in the U.S., and not being accepted by blacks because they say I was “different,” and not accepted by Latinos because I did not look like Ricky Martin.”
Marcus Edwin, son of a black Cuban mother
and a black Panamanian father

In one sense, I can feel Marcus' pain, and I am African American. Having grown up in New York City where the black community is much more diverse in terms of lifestyles, attitudes, and cultural interests than a city like Oakland, California where I spent most of my adult life; a city where the black community overwhelmingly considered me to be “different” and reacted to me accordingly.

 As a defense mechanism, I punctuated my “difference” by keeping my New York accent as well as my direct, straight-forward style of communication. I even came out of my proverbial closet as a lover of the Afro-Latino culture embracing the music, re-learning the language, and taking vacations to Spanish-speaking countries. As a result, some of the Oakland black folks were shallow enough to ask me if I am “black.”

When the PBS series, Black in Latin America hosted by Dr. Henry Louis Gates aired; it not only triggered a sharp increase in my blog readership but awakened more African Americans outside of New York to the existence of a Spanish-speaking black community. 

In response to the aired series, Tomáas Fernández Robaina of the National Library of Cuba, wrote in his essay of black struggles erupting in Latin-American countries, and how they should be recognized by all members of the African diaspora living in the Americas so our collective demands will gain more social and political strength, and become more internationally visible.

Marcus himself expressed delight that black Latinos are finally being noticed. His mother being black and Cuban, and his father, black and Panamanian, raised him and his siblings to be proud of their blackness, but as a kid growing up in the U.S., he was not accepted by blacks because he was perceived as “different,” and not accepted by Latinos because he lacked the stereotypical look of a Ricky Martin.

Elicia, an African American was enlighted by the series had no idea that African slaves were brought to Latin America. As a matter of fact, slave ships made their way through the Spanish-speaking countries over 100 years before coming to the U.S.

Murphy Brown of Guyana, South America, says that it is way past time that the presence of Africans in Latin America acknowledged. She herself freaked out when she met a black Portuguese-speaking Brazilian for the first time. It finally dawned on her that black folks in the Americas speak a diversity of languages.

Miticia, whose family is from Costa Rica, Central America, is shocked that so many people are unaware of the fact that one could be both black and Latino. People would ask her how long it took her to learn Spanish, And when she tells them of her family roots, they respond with a look of surprise and a frown. She firmly reminds them that black people are everywhere.

Mark, a black man of Dominican and Puerto Rican heritage, lives in San Antonio, Texas with a large Mexican population. He finds that people are shocked when they hear him speak Spanish; however, he is still given the second-class treatment in a city that caters to white and brown people.
From my personal travel experience in Latin America, I noticed the same thing that Mark experienced in San Antonio where white and brown people are treated much better than black and indigenous people. 

There were instances when non-blacks didn't realize that I was a foreign visitor, and treated me with less respect than they would have if I were a white person. Of course, when they realized that I am American, presumably with a pocket full of money, their attitudes instantly change for the better. In Latin America, money whitens black skin.