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Thursday, February 11, 2016

People of Chile, South America Celebrate Their African Roots


Oro Negro (Black Gold), an Afro-Descendants Foundation in Chile, operates in the city of Arica carrying out cultural courses and workshops, and working to solve social problems of Chile's African descendants.

It was a black Peruvian woman I met in her nation's capital of Lima who enlightened me to the black history in Northern Chile's city of Arica, not far south of the Peruvian border. And today, although I have not yet visited Arica, I have friends there with whom I correspond through social media, and who will show me the ropes when I finally arrive for a visit.

The city of Arica, Chile was founded in 1541 and was part of Perú in 1880 when it was taken by Chilean forces during the War of the Pacific. At the beginning of the Colonial era, Perú was one of the frequent destinations for blacks that had settled at the coast to work in rural and domestic occupations. Most of the blacks that came to this area had roots from the regions of the Congo and Angola.

The black majority made itself felt since the beginning of 1620, when a free black man was elected as mayor of Arica. The response came six months later when an order by Peru's viceroy declared this elections void.



The Chilean national dance, the cueca, had black elements originating from the Afro-Peruvian zamacueca dance. It has been also documented that 13% of the Spanish explorers that came to Chile long before the slave trade were black.

A specific group of blacks in Chilean history were members of the 8th Regiment of The Liberation Army that fought the Spaniards for Chilean independence. This Army was organized in Argentinian territory. Black slaves were desired because of their fighting ability, and of course, were freed thereafter. Naturally, they were exposed to higher risks during the battle. 


 Although today, as a result of centuries of interracial marriage, the visible black population has been dissolved, but the people of Arica, Chile work daily to promote and celebrate their African history, traditions, and culture.


Monday, January 25, 2016

Peruvian Slave Plantation Turns Tourist Attraction



This former Afro-Peruvian slave plantation is now a tourist attraction in Perú's District of El Carmen, dubbed as the hub of black Peruvian culture.

 
 
By 1635, as a result of the slave trade, Perú had a black majority, which started to decline around the year of 1700 due to interracial relationships and marriages with the Spanish and indigenous populations.

During the 1540s slave revolts occurred and were immediately put down. One of the successful slave revolts was on a sugar plantation in Southern Peru called Hacienda San José; built in 1868 in Perú's District of El Carmen, and lasted until a rebellion of more than 300 African slaves took place in 1879

On Sundays, there a dinner buffet (S70) accompanied by Afro-Peruvian dancing. A spectacularly ruined cotton factory, dating from 1913, sits next door. 
 

The plantation owner was hacked down like sugar cane by machete wielding slave rebels on the principal stair entrance. Descendants of these slaves still populate the District of El Carmen where my goddaughter lives and where I visit every chance I get.

Today, this plantation (or hacienda) has been converted into a tourist attraction where people spend the night. Guided tours are in Spanish packed with 300 years’ black history. They serve an extraordinary Sunday lunch buffet featuring full range comida criolla (Peruvian soul food), and an Afro-Peruvian music and dance performances.
 
I am second from the left hanging out at 
a party in Perú's District of El Carmen.


The Hacienda San Jose is essentially a huge house that withstood two huge earthquakes, one in 1974 and the other in 2007. It is surrounded by luscious green gardens, a beautiful pool, an old cotton mill, and dusty cobbled streets.




Monday, January 18, 2016

Cuban Celebration of Martin Luther King



Centro Memorial Martin Luther King, Jr. in Havana, Cuba

During my visit to Havana, Cuba years back, I was pleasantly surprised to learn about the MLK Center in the city's Mariano District. During the civil rights movement on which Martin Luther King, Jr., was at center focus, Cuban church leaders, especially those who led congregations with members of African descent, were inspired as the desire for justice, equality and reconciliation was sweeping the world.


In 1984, under the leadership of the Rev. Raul Suarez, the Cuban Council of Churches invited delegations of leaders from African American churches and Historic Peace Churches to visit Cuban denominations. This delegation was successful in opening up dialogue between church and state. The Rev. Jesse Jackson, who led one of the delegations, arranged for a meeting with President Fidel Castro who determined that these church leaders support the social goals of the Cuban Revolution, but on moral grounds, and promised to work for new religious freedoms and opportunities for the churches of Cuba.



Members try to contribute to community development and, which dares to transform itself and the world and which reaffirms love, compassion, respect for diversity, justice, gender equality and the integrity of all human beings. It has helped people in low-income areas to build housing. The center also has helped to build bridges between people in Cuba and the United States, whose governments broke off relations more than 50 years ago.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Slave Mentality in the Afro-Latino Community

 
First, my people must be taught the knowledge of self. Then and only then will they be able to understand others and that which surrounds them.
—The Honorable Elijah Muhammad
Founder of the Black Nation of Islam


The other day I had to call out an Afro-Latina who made a comment about a mixed black and mestizo couple and how they are going to have “beautiful” babies; a comment I often hear among black Americans as well. 

I reminded her that babies look beautiful regardless of color. Why does a baby have to look less than black to be a beautiful baby? I strongly feel that this mentality is a carryover from the slave plantation of which a large number of blacks in the western world, regardless of language or culture, possess.

In the Afro-Latino community, there is a pervasive mejorar la raza (improve the race) syndrome where many blacks, not all, feel that marrying a fairer complexion man or woman is upgrading one's status in life. Black parents in Latin America have been known to tell their children coming of age not to bring home a black man or woman; “I don't want no black grand babies,” they would say.


As a single black male, I have seen attractive women ranging from jet black to lily white. I have dated women in Asia and Latin America. Although, my top preference is for a black women, that does not mean I'm not open to a woman of a different color. And should I happen to get involved with one, it will be for reasons having nothing to do with skin color, but how well we click.

Throughout the African diaspora, be they black American, Afro Latino, Caribbean folk, and even on the African continent where the sale of bleaching creme to lighten one's skin is at a all-time high, there is a high degree of internalized racism that is practiced on a regular basis.

Although I have an ardent interest in black Latino cultures and history, I don't discuss race with Afro Latinos until I know where their heads are. Many of them do not consider themselves to be black, although a Ku Klux Klansman would beg to differ. A black Mexican woman told my younger brother that her roots are in Spain, not Africa. A black Peruvian woman told me to my face, “tú no eres negro, eres moreno (you are not black, you are 'colored')!” As it is among many black Americans who feel that blacks with straight hair have “good hair,” many Afro Latinos refer to kinky hair as pelo malo (bad hair).

In the living room of an Afro-Peruvian home, I noticed how the family was enjoying a sitcom starring a mestizo comedian with black makeup playing the role of black man living up to all of the negative stereotypes of black Peruvians. LUNDU, one of the nation's black civil rights organizations, has been trying to get that program off the air for years. There is another sitcom, played by the same actor, portraying he negative stereotypes of Peru's indigenous community.

The good news is that no where in Latin America are blacks shooting each other like we are doing in the USA. I have been noticing a positive trend among young Afro-Latinos, especially in South America where I have visited and have made Facebook friends who are very Afrocentric. 

Last night in a Dominican restaurant, I noticed how the Afro-Dominicans gathered around the TV in support of Barack Obama's state of the union address, and one shouted a comment about his black pride. There is hope!


Friday, January 8, 2016

THE BLACK CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT: Ecuador, South America

 Youth jamming to Afro-Ecuadorian music 
in Ecuador's  black region Valle de Chota


I made successful attempts to connect with Black Latin America during my travels to experience for myself how they live, to embody their culture, and to learn some black history in the respective countries that I have visited. In fact, there were occasions when I fit in so well with the respective black communities that instead of my being perceived as a rich gringo from the U.S., I got a good taste of some of the racism that local blacks experience.

In Quito, Ecuador, one taxi cab after another passed me by despite my obvious flagging. Another sped by me to pick up a white couple 25 yards from where I was standing. When I approached a taxi letting out a couple of white passengers at a busy intersection, the driver wagged his finger making it clear that he did not want me in his cab. To make light of the situation, I waved some bills as he was about to drive off.laughed at him when he stopped to reconsider. He appeared very relieved to learn that I was an African-American gringo, and not a homegrown Afro Ecuadorian stereotyped to be robbers and thieves.


The abundance of Ecuador's black international soccer stars like Agustín Delgado is helping to improve Ecuador's relationship with the black community.

In 1997, Ecuador's black community organized the Afro-Ecuadorian Cultural Week to promote awareness cultural, political and economic issues. That same year, the Ecuadorian National Congress declared October 2 to be the National Day of Black Ecuadorians during which black leaders introduced a proposal to improve the economic, political and cultural status of Ecuador's Black communities.

As recently as November 19, 2015, an anti-racial discrimination decision was handed down on behalf of an Afro-Ecuadorian who entered Ecuador’s Escuela Superior Militar (The “West Point” of Ecuador) in hopes of becoming Ecuador’s first Black army officer. He was one of 200 selected out of 5,000 applicants after passing a battery of academic, psychological, and physical tests.


Afro-Ecuadorian Cultural Center in Quito, the nation's capital

Yet, the young cadet found himself brutalized and psychologically tormented by the commanding officer. He complained that the lieutenant pitted him against his fellow cadets to such an extent that at one point he was forced to defend himself in a boxing ring against four other cadets. 

The lieutenant forced him to crawl through mud while totally nude, and fellow cadets testified that the officer regularly deprived him of food or would make him eat the food he did receive while on the floor. The black cadet was even denied sleep at some points and was ordered to stand guard all night, all because the lieutenant did not like having a young black man under his command.

Avenida Colón (Columbus Avenue) near my place of residence in Quito, Ecuador

This lieutenant has been sentenced to five months and four days in prison for racial hatred and has been ordered to pay the cadet’s legal fees. The military academy itself has been ordered to make a public apology to the cadet during an official military ceremony. And Ecuador’s armed forces has been ordered to publish details about the case on its website and in official publications.

Ecuador first passed penal laws against racial hatred in February of 1979, but this case is the first time anyone has been convicted of the crime. 

 

This black community in the Andes Mountains first reacted to me like I was Five-O 
(undercover cop) until they realized I am just an African American visitor trying to connect with the diaspora.

The attorney of the black cadet explained there is still a long road ahead in terms of making it easy for other Afro-Ecuadorians to bring racial discrimination cases to court. There will certainly be more cases, but litigating them remains a challenge. 

Because there aren't enough lawyers with the experience necessary to fight racial discrimination, attempts have been made to provide more training in conjunction with the work that Ecuador is doing in support the United Nations’ declared International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024).

Slave woman María Chiquinquirá won a stunning victory in court to win freedom for herself and other slaves.

Both the Afro-Ecuadorian cadet and the lieutenant have been ordered to undergo psychological counseling in regard to this case.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Black Colombians the First to Win Freedom from Spanish Rule

 

Anyone visiting the city of Cartagena on the Caribbean coast of Colombia, South America should check out the historical African village about two hours south known as San Basilio de Palenque (or simply Palenque). It is a village that won their freedom from Spanish rule Nat Turner style. 

Upon arrival, you will have the opportunity treat yourself to a scrumptious, fresh fish dinner with rice and plantains and a tour by one of the locals. There is one catch; the tour is in Spanish. The only other language spoken in this crime-free village is Palenquero, a mixture of Spanish and various West African languages. 


The people are friendly and curious about visitors, especially if you are black. When they saw me, they marveled as though they had never seen a black gringo before.

Even if you speak a little of Spanish, it will go a long way in helping you connect with the people, and if you don't, you will still have a worthwhile experience.


San Basilio de Palenque is a town of about 3,500 residents  established by slave revolt leader named Benko Biohó from Senegal, West Africa. He set a precedent, not only for the nation of Colombia, but for all of South America more than 200 years before the renown liberator Simón Bolívar was born.

Of the many palenques (fortresses of escaped slaves) that existed during slavery in the western world, San Basilio de Palenque is the only one, other than the town of Yanga in Mexico, that survived. Many of the oral and musical traditions have roots in Palenque's African past.

In 2005, the village of San Basilio de Palenque was declared Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).  

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Perú Reacts Strongly to Anti-Black Racism




For the first time in history, a Peruvian court fined two company officials $1,560 and sentenced them to prison for blatant acts of racism against an Afro-Peruvian employee. 

Perú's minister of culture stated that this action against the two defendants is an important vindication for the historically discriminated black community, and could set a precedent for more racially sensitive cases. 

The general manager abused his black employee with hurtful words and derogatory gestures regarding her skin color. The black employee complained to the company's human resource manager. Even witnesses stepped forward to verify the employee's complaint, and still no action was taken against the perpetrator. The woman then filed charges in court.

After the Rodney King incident years back, a Peruvian co-worker told me there was no such racism in Perú against their black community.

In the first of my several visits to Perú, I was somewhat impressed after off-boarding my plane and saw a large welcoming sign containing a photo of an Asian, a white, an indigenous, and a black person over the words printed, “Welcome to Perú” as if to boasts of the country's racial diversity. I was also pleased to see a black woman working at the desk to greet us before we were cleared by immigration.

Outside of these minor examples, I observed an overwhelming amount of racial discrimination against, blacks, Asians, and the indigenous. Even in heavily populated black areas, I saw only a handful of blacks working in the business community, public transportation, or in government buildings. In fact, blacks, and other people of color are limited to the types of careers they can enter.

However, a black American friend who purchased a home in Perú with his Afro-Peruvian wife prefers Perú's  institutional racism over the hate crimes, racial profiling, and police brutality and murders that consistently occurs against black and brown people in the U.S. He has a son, and feels strongly that his son will be much safer in Perú than in the U.S. Now, I understand what my Peruvian co-worker he was trying to tell me when he said there was no racism in Perú.