Saturday, January 28, 2017

Black and Female from the Dominican Republic

Vanity Duran was accepted into Florida A&M University not knowing it was a Historically Black College & University. Once on campus, she was pleased to see a predominately black student body and felt that being black herself she would fit right in. Wrong! Her Dominican (Latina) culture became a barrier because the general student body never met an Afro-Latina let alone been exposed to the culture.  

Disgusted, Vanity considered transferring to another institution, but instead decided to directly confront this problem by simultaneously embracing her black skin as well as her Latin-American heritage, and most importantly, educating others.

The article, linked below, contains a series of  accounts of black women who migrated from the Dominican Republic to the U.S. and the cultural and racial clashes they have with themselves, members of the black-American community who assume because they are Latina they are not black, and members of the Latino community who assume because they are black they are not Latina. 


Sunday, January 15, 2017

During Trump's Inauguration, I Will Be in a Latino World

At a block party while visiting El Carmen, Perú
 I am second from the right attending a party in El Carmen, Perú

On Friday, January 20, many TV channels will be airing Donald Trump's inauguration. A host of people across the country, including politicians, will be boycotting this inauguration. I too will be among the boycotters by keeping my TV on, but on a station not airing the inauguration like a Spanish station where I can practice my Spanish. Such a TV boycott that so many are talking about will lower Trump's TV ratings. Donald Trump's ego cannot stand to be ignored.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Surge in Latinos Embracing Black Heritage

Black Bolivians parading their black pride

A young, African-American girl used to tell a good friend of hers at the Harriet Beecher Stowe Intermediate School here in New York that she is black, and not Latina. That comment infuriated Marta Orozco so much that she blurted out Spanish expletives in heated protests. She shared her concern with her mother who assured her that indeed she is Boricua (Puerto Rican), and not black.

What Marta, her school friend, and her mother failed to realize is that you can be both black and Latina as Marta's parents were born and raised in the predominately black city of Loiza in Puerto Rico. They, as so many others, overlook the fact that black is a color, and Puerto Rican, Dominican, and Mexican are nationalities; nationalities that come in all colors, not just what you see on Univisión or Telemundo.

At home, Marta comfortably spoke Spanish with the family, and listened to salsa, bomba, and plena music while gulping down their favorite Puerto Rican dish, asopao, a hearty gumbo made with either chicken or shellfish, or when the budget ran low, with gandules (pigeon peas).

Mónica Carillo, Afro-Peruvian civil rights leader, is Pan Africanist
Outside the home, things were frustratingly different for Marta as many of her Spanish-speaking neighbors and schoolmates would not acknowledge Marta in her native tongue, Spanish, solely because of her skin color, and her black American friends astonished that she even speaks Spanish, often told her that she does not even look Latina.

Well, here is an indisputable fact; real Latinos are of African, Asian, European, Indigenous, Jewish and Middle Eastern ancestries, not to mention many more of mixed races. Such a fact became very much alive during my travels through nine Spanish-speaking countries where I had direct encounters with racial and ethnic diversity.

In Venezuela, I entered a meat market owned by Middle Easterners who were pleasantly surprised when I greeted them in my basic Arabic. At a Chinese restaurant in Perú, I had to order in Spanish (or Cantonese) if I was going to be fed. At the same time, I enjoyed black music of festejo in Perú, marimba in Ecuador, and champeta of Colombia. I appreciate saya music of Bolivia and candomble of Uruguay; both black music as well.

 The cover of Colombia, South America's version of Ebony Magazine

As Marta grew into maturity and got better educated, she saw the term Afro-Latina as a perfect fit for her identity. Marta’s bigger challenge was enlightening her friends and members of her family and community to the fact that her skin color does not make her any less Latina, and her native Spanish does not make her any less black.

Marta is not alone in this great revelation as there has been an ever-growing surge in the number of Latinos throughout the Americas embracing their African heritage; many of whom I met during my travels. 

I also met Afro-Latinos in Cuba, Peru, Panama, and Colombia who have been deeply in touch with their African roots for centuries. I felt proud of my Afro-Peruvian goddaughter while teaching her to play chess. I told her that I will take the black pieces because I am black. She immediately tapped her arm stating that she is black too. 

English Translation:
I am a black Mexican
Recognition of (Mexico's) black community
Equal rights in Mexico City
 As a member of Facebook's Afro-Latino forum of nearly 6,000 members where we celebrate Latinos of African ancestry, I am wishing for greater mesh between the members who are English speakers only and the members who are Spanish speakers only. I generally give the Spanish-speaking members who posts their messages in Spanish my acknowledgment such as Freddy Cevallos of Ecuador whom I met personally during my visit to his country for our black on black cultural exchange.

 I have Facebook friends in some of the most unlikely places where black pride could be recognized as being so strong, and are on my list of places to visit and explore; Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, and Uruguay where more and more black folks are saying it “loud;” they are black and they are proud!

Monday, January 2, 2017

PRESUMED CUBAN: African American Visitors Mistaken for Afro Cuban

Arriving at the José Martí Airport in Havana, 
Cuba to be processed by immigration 

Since my trip to Cuba years back, I heard accounts from other African Americans who visited the island who had a different experience than I when it came to experiencing Cuban racism, and I truly believe that it had more to do with my own intentions and perceptions.

For example, there are heavily populated tourist areas in Cuba, such as Varadero Beach with all of its fancy hotels, where black Cubans are not allowed without having the proper identification. Black American and black Canadian tourists who are often presumed Cuban have been stopped by the police having to present their passports before entering when their white American and Canadian counterparts strut right through unnoticed.

 At my homestay in Havana's El Vedado District

At the popular Varadero Beach, for example, an undercover cop snatched a well-traveled African-American female tourist thinking she was a prostitute and started screaming in her face. When the officer saw her hotel bracelet, he suddenly became overly apologetic. This woman has traveled all over the island, Holguín, Trinidad, Santiago de Cuba, and each time, she was prejudged and stopped; once even in the company of her parents.

During my trip, I made it a point to separate myself from my American. Canadian, and European classmates who were undergoing Spanish language intensive training at the University of Havana to immerse myself into the Afro-Cuban community. I wanted as much as possible to live Cuba's black experience, including the racism, as part of my language and cultural immersion. 

Interestingly enough, once Cubans who very quickly realized that I was not Cuban, whatever racism they initially wanted to exhibit was kept in check as I was suddenly perceived differently. And the black Cubans immediately saw me as a well-to-do American first and a fellow black man second.

Chilling in July heat over a mojito (pronounced 
“moe-hee-toe”), Cuba's national rum-based drink 

However, Global Exchange, Inc., the agency that sponsored my trip legally in partnership with the University of Havana  assigned me to a non-black Cuban family for my home stay.
Although the family was very cordial, I noticed how they kept their social and family circles free of black people. My white roommate was given special treatment that was not given to me. Yet, I was not the least bit offended because my purpose for being in Cuba, besides improving my Spanish, was to connect with the Afro-Cuban.

Thus, I found it very flattering when I was presumed Cuban on sight by local citizens consistently mistook me for being one of them. Vladimir, a black Cuban neighbor of mine when I lived in Oakland, California, chuckled when he told me that when I arrive in Cuba, everyone will think that I am Cuban until . . . I open my mouth. Although I can speak the language, my accent is hopelessly non-Cuban.

My new friends, Ariana and Nairobi, at the Revolutionary 
Plaza where Fidel Castro gave live speeches

As I passed through a housing project, a black woman was in utter shock when she overheard me speaking Spanish with my thick foreign accent. Even though I acknowledged her with a smile and friendly eye contact, her stunned reaction remained intact. It never occurred to her that I was a visitor from another country. She thought that I was a fellow Cuban acting a damn fool. There were many others; however, who were open minded enough to ask me where I am from, then shake my hand saying, “nice to meet you” when I tell them that I am from the U.S.

The Marianao District of Havana where I 
saw a live Afro-Cuban dance performance

It was interesting how another African-American visitor to Cuba pointed out that because of his color, he could easily blend into the crowd while his fellow white exchange students are targeted on the street by tourist traps and hustlers.  

In contrast, I experienced my share of being targeted during my first three days in Havana because I made the mistake of wearing designer shorts, designer sunglasses, and a battery-powered plastic fan around my neck. Finally, an Afro-Cuban friend pulled my coattail and advised me to dress normally, i.e., as a local would dress, and it will not be assumed that I am a wealthy visitor from a foreign land on vacation.

Ronaldo, a black bicycle-taxi driver who taught me Cuban ghetto-slang, conspired with his friends to capitalize on my exuberant black-on-black connections by having me spend money on booze and food at a bogus birthday party for a supposed niece. Earlier that day, Ronaldo introduced me to one of his friends who, in retrospect, gave me such a bright smile appearing highly pleased they got themselves a real mark, a "brotha" to boot.

Fortunately, I met a woman and chose to run with her instead, not realizing how much trouble I inadvertently avoided. Ronaldo was visibly upset when he came by my home stay with his carload of friends to pick me up. Some neighbors, very much concerned for my welfare, pulled me aside explaining that those guys are jineteros (pronounced “hee-nay-tay-doze”) who specialize in taking advantage of tourists, and warned me to be careful of the friends that I make.

Dancing with my date, Denalys Fuentes, at
the Hotel Riviera's Salsa Palace

Overall I met far more good, respectable, and down-to-earth people than bad. Having traveled to over 150 cities in three continents, Havana, by far, will always be my most heartfelt, memorable travel experience. 

It was pure joy walking the streets of Havana hearing the musical sounds of son-montuno, charanga, and timba blaring from cars, homes, and businesses. A Cuban woman and I could not resist grabbing each other to dance openly as we passed through a busy public square in Central Havana to the sounds of salsa music.

I loved the Cuban people with their high-volume cultural energy so much that I fought back heavy tears on my way to the airport to return to the U.S. I felt there was a lot more to Havana, and Cuba at large, that I was missing and needed to experience. All I can do now is sing the chorus of a song by the salsa music icon Willie Colón: “Pa' La Habana, voy a volver algún día; volveré—To Havana, I Shall Return Someday!