Monday, June 12, 2017

Colombia, South America “Dissed” Their First and Last Black President

A portrait if Colombia's first black president was doctored to make him look whiter.

A Colombian woman once wrote on my blog that we Americans are too preoccupied with race, but when I pointed out all the racism I observed when I visited the hometown of her country's former black president, she had nothing to say. A lot of Latin-American people deny racism even exist in their respective countries as they traditionally sweep it under the rug, and get annoyed when you call them out with the facts.
Juan José Nieto Gil (June 24, 1805 – July 16, 1866) was a Colombian politician, army general, and writer who held several political offices before becoming the first Afro-Colombian to rise to the office of president at the end of the 19th century. Yet you will not find him in a single history book. 

While many Americans, with their own racial issues, are proud to let the world know they've elected their first black president, the Colombians kept theirs hidden for over a century. He was finally rediscovered in the late 1970s by a Colombian historian and sociologist who spent his entire life trying to do justice to the forgotten politician, it was not until his death that the Colombian media recognized their first black president.

The red portion of the map of Colombia, South America is the prdominiately black province of Chocó were former president Nieto was born.

When his portrait was painted just before he became president, it was immediately sent to France where it was whitened and altered to make Nieto Gil appear more "worthy" for the elite of his home town of Cartagena who were racially very closed. The painting was then "re-darkened" in 1974, when the Colombian historian and sociologist found it. But it was only recently that it was displayed in a Cartagena museum.

It was not only because of the color of Jose Nieto Gil’s skin that his legacy was disrespected, but because he came from Colombia’s Caribbean coastal province of Chocó, which is largely populated by people of African descent and has always been considered marginal by the central power in Bogota, the nation’s capital. 

Thursday, June 1, 2017

A Funny Ecuadorian Memory

 Juncal (Valle de Chota), Ecuador

While riding a long-distance bus into the Andes Mountains in Ecuador to visit a small black community that produces many of Ecuador's best soccer players, I struck up a conversation with a young black teen wearing a New York baseball cap. I asked him in Spanish if he knew what he is wearing. 

 Retired Afro-Ecuadorian World Cup soccer star 
Augustín Delgado

I found that in many of the foreign countries I have visited (14 to date), people like to wear American garments with English writing across as a fashion statement not knowing what is written. Wisely, this young man pronounced “New York” very well versus the Spanish name Nueva York. I continued the conversation in Spanish telling him that i grew up in New York City. 

Afro-Ecuadorian Cultural Center

That got the attention of other Afro-Ecuadorians riding the bus as they looked at me astonished that a black American was riding among them. A mestizo woman who also overheard me asked me a question in English. When I answered her in English, there was a roar of laughter so loud and hard that I thought my eardrums were going to pop.

My dear, late friend Gloria Chalá who showed me
 the ropes while visiting her country (RIP)

What was so funny? These young Afro-Ecuadorians never heard a black man speak any other language than Spanish, let alone English. For me this was just another indication that we members of the African diaspora throughout the western hemisphere have a lot to learn from and about each other.

My place of residence in Ecuador's capital, Quito

In Oakland, CA where I have been living for many years, I received similar reactions from African Americans (and Mexican Americans) who are not used to hearing a black man speak Spanish. People would look me right in the face and ask me if I am black. Duhhhhhh! What else could I be? A Mexican woman told one of my black co-workers that I was not black.

Freddy Cevallos, a university Afro-Ecuadorian Studies Consultant who met with me on my second trip to Ecuador

We black folks in the western world, from Canada all the way down to Argentina speak English, Spanish, French, Dutch, Portuguese, Creole, Patois, Geechee/Gullah, and Garífuna. We have a lot to learn about how our African roots evolved in our respective environments since the slave trade.

The soccer field where young black youth train to become Ecuadorian superstars.