Friday, September 27, 2019

Hey, A Gringo is Paying!

While on vacation in Ecuador, I made an appointment to meet with an Afro-Ecuadorian Studies Consultant at the Simón Bolívar University of the Andes in Quito, the nation's capital. I offered to take him to lunch to show my appreciation for the black on black cultural exchange. 

Well, his girlfriend popped in about 15 minutes before our scheduled lunch. Not a problem! We hugged and continued to chat. A nutritious, filling lunch in Ecuador is as little as $2.00. When I told the couple that I’m paying, they both chuckled as though this was expected. After all, I’m the “gringo” here.

In addition to Ecuador, I've been to eight other Latin American countries. If there is one attitude that so many people throughout Latin American have in common is that they view every North American and European as always having their pockets bulging with money. 

A retired police officer living in Ecuador explains that over many years, he and his wife would have a night out with a group whom they have invited. Word got around that a gringo is paying, and invite other friends to join them. 

They normally don’t show up at the beginning of the night, but straggle in without having any qualms about joining the party. It would have been considered bad manners to turn them down; thus, he and his wife felt put on the spot, and wound up spending considerably more money than initially planned.

With my repeated trips to Perú, and as people got to know me better, they felt bolder in treating me like a walking ATM. When I first arrived in Chincha, the hub of Afro-Peruvian culture, I approached a black guy working in one of the shops to get some directions. When he heard my foreign accent, he became gleeful as it was evident that I am a gringo. He immediately stopped what he was doing, took a self-appointed break from his job, and said, ¡Vamos, un moreno tiene que ayudar un moreno (come on, man; a brotha gotta help a brotha out)!

He took about 30 minutes of his time to show me around. Out of appreciation for his hospitality, I invited him for a delicious seafood lunch, and towards the end of our little tour, he asked me for some money. I reached in my pocket and handed him 10 nueva soles (Peruvian dollars), and we parted ways.

On another occasion, I invited my nine-year-old Afro-Peruvian goddaughter and her older sister out to a local restaurant. Her uncle instinctively tagged along for a free meal, so I had to (reluctantly) include him in the dining bill. The older sister mysteriously disappeared and returned with four more of her family members. 

Like the retired police officer, I felt put on the spot. If I had more cash on my person at the time, or if this particular restaurant accepted Visa or Mastercard, or at least had an ATM; I too would have fallen for that blatant manipulation. 


Instead, the four other family members simply had to be left hanging. My goddaughter felt hurt and disappointed. The older sister was absolutely appalled. I later pulled her aside and explained to her that I am not one of those rich Americans; I live on a budget, and unfortunately, I don’t have the money to be spending on everyone in Perú on her whim or mine.

I thoroughly enjoy interacting with Spanish-speaking members of the African diaspora, and have even established family-like relationships with free room and board, such as the occasion when I got very sick on one of my trips, and two different families looked after me and nursed me back to health so I can continue my travels. 

As a general rule, however, no matter how well I connect with the people,  the indisputable fact still stands… I’m a gringo with a pocket full of money first, and a “brotha” second.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

What's It Like for a Black Man in Perú?

 Late Afro-Peruvian singer Pepe Vazquez
I received the following message in an e-mail from Sean, one of my blog readers, with the following inquiry:

 Good afternoon, Sir:

Are you still in Lima? I saw your blogs about being a black man in Lima where I am about to visit for a week. I wanted to get a perspective of how things are for a black man there.

Afro-Peruvian drumming on the cajon. This popular percussion instrument was invented by Black slaves.

My e-mail response:
 As a black man in Lima, and Perú in general, it has been my personal observation that there is not much visibility of black people working in shops, office buildings, in transportation, on the police force, or in restaurants. 

In the heavily black populated province of Chincha where I did considerable amount of banking, the staff is lily white with the exception of maybe the security guard. Black people are restricted to  certain types of jobs like security guards, pall beaters, nannies, factory workers, and entertainers.

The good news is that racially motivated police brutality and hate crimes are non-existent compared to the U.S.A. I personally know a Black American family who chose to live in Perú because their black male child would be safer than he would be in the U.S.

With the owner of a tourist popular soul food restaurant in Guayabo, Perú

As a visitor with a U.S. passport, you will be treated as an upper-class white person. Even the black people you meet will see you as a brother from another culture, or in the Afro-Peruvian vernacular, "familia" with a pocket full of money.

If you do as I did and try to blend in with the black community speaking only Spanish, then you will notice some racial disrespect. 

 At an El Carmen, Perú resort

In a music store in Lima, I was serruptitiously followed by a white employee. In a high-end shirt shop, the store clerks didn't want to serve me because they thought I didn't make enough money. When I approached the store owner who noticed my Muhammad Ali t-shirt and the heavy foreign accent in my Spanish, he treated me as though I were a fellow businessman.

At a bus station where I was hanging with a local Afro-Peruvian, I approached a ticket agent inquiring about a bus ticket to Ecuador. In a demeaning tone, he blurted a price that he was so sure I could not afford. In each of these cases, had I flashed my passport and burst some English, their whole attitude, like the shirt store owner, would have taken an about face.

 At a block party in El Carmen, Perú

As far as the black community is concerned, I got way too close where people felt comfortable hitting on me for money. That won't happen to you if they meet you briefly knowing that you are only there for a week or two. It was I who made multiple visits trying to immerse myself in the language, including their Spanish Ebonics, and their culture.

With all that said, expect to have a rewarding, learning, uplifting experience in Perú! If you have any more questions, my number is listed in my e-mail signature.

Monday, April 29, 2019

South America's Own Ebony Magazine

 Revista Ébano/Ebony Magazine

When I was in Cartagena, Colombia, I could not resist bringing back this souvenir I accidentally found in a black business: South America's EBONY MAGAZINE. Colombia has the largest Spanish-speaking black population in Colombia. 

The same West African music that gave birth to the blues and gospel music in the U.S.A; music that merged with White American music, gave birth to Cumbia music in Colombia. Cumbia is a mixture of West African, Spanish, and indigenous music. 

What's weird, a Colombian woman whose race is unknown, wrote on one of my blog posts that we Americas make too big of a deal about race. 

However, she gave me a deafening silence to something that I pointed out about her country. In a predominately black and brown city like Cartagena, why are there little or no black employees working in businesses, banks, office buildings, and on the police force? Is it racial discrimination? 

Colombia, like most Latin American countries deny racism in their country. It is indeed there, they just try to sweep it under the rug.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

African American-Latino World (MY STORY!)

 Wearing my Peruvian t-shirt at a Peruvian restaurant eating Peruvian 
"soul" food with the Peruvian national drink; pisco sour (brandy)

It all started for me at the age of 10 while living walking distance from New York's Spanish Harlem where I began noticing cultural exchanges between some African-Americans and Puerto Ricans in the community. Even African American R&B and jazz radio stations included crossover Latin music in their formats. 

This heavy Puerto Rican presence inspired me to dash over to my local public library and check out a "children's" book entitled, "Fun with Spanish," which I memorized cover to cover before befriending Puerto Rican classmates and neighbors to practice what I learned and to continue learning from them. 

During the Spring and Summer months, it was common to see African-American and Puerto Rican musicians jamming on their conga drums, bongos, flutes, and other percussion and wind instruments to American jazz and Latin jazz on the streets of East Harlem and in public parks. By my teenage years, I was so hooked on Latin music that an African-American classmate noticed a large collection of salsa and Latin jazz music in my room; he chuckled and remarked that I was turning into a Puerto Rican. 


Chilling out on Cuba's national drink, a mojito, in Havana, Cuba

Even people in the Spanish-speaking countries that I've visited assumed that I too am Latino. In Ecuador, a cab driver asked me if I am from Latin-American country in the Caribbean. Evidently, my Spanish sounded Puerto Rican, or in reality, Nuyorican (New York Puerto Rican). In Perú where I earned an Advanced Spanish certification, one of the instructors told me that she too thought I was Puerto Rican. When I lived in California, Mexicans and Mexican-Americans suspected that I might be Cuban or Puerto Rican.

It wasn't until late in my adulthood when I decided to adopt Spanish seriously as a second language. My late Mexican-American friend, Yolanda Gutierrez, encouraged me to learn the "culture" as well as the language. Taking her advice, I started reading about the Latin American cultures where African slaves influenced the music that I enjoy most, such as salsa, Afro-Cuban, and Peruvian festejo.

I began traveling to selected Latin American countries to explore their black experience. For example, in Colombia, I visited a landmark African village where their ancestors freed themselves, Nat Turner style, from Spanish rule. A feat that was achieved 200 years before the rest of South America, including Colombia, won their independence.

I, second from the left, at a party in the hub of Afro-Peruvian culture

As of today, I've visited 32 Latin American cities, towns, and villages in the Caribbean, Central America, and South America seeking out black communities such as Valle de Chota (Ecuador), El Carmen de Chincha (Perú), and San Basilio de Palenque (Colombia). I want to include Miami, which I consider to be an honorary Latin-American city where the Cubans who are in-your-face proud of their culture and their language are always ready to roll with their Spanish "if" you can hang. 

I remember walking into Cuban restaurant where the cook asked me in broken English, “can I help you?” When I told her in Spanish that it was OK for her to speak to me in Spanish, she, her co-worker, and even a customer were so cheered that they acted as though I were one of them. I've even had jobs, one with bilingual pay, where I used my Spanish daily. 

Surprisingly, I have not yet been to the island of Puerto Rico, but as of this writing, I am planning to take that trip and was so glad to learn that Puerto Rico is officially recognizing "Spanish" as their official language and relegating English as a second language. There is an area of Puerto Rico where descendants of African slaves produced bomba and plena music, a mixture of Spanish and West African music. Thus, my blog and Facebook page—"African American-Latino Word."