Sitemeter

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Professionalism and the Lack Thereof in the Afro-Latino Community

 
I am posing with a true professional in El Carmen, Perú;
the owner of Mamainé—Peruvian soul food restaurant 

I don't know if it's a spoiled American attitude or what, but anytime, I'm parting with my hard-earned cash, I “expect” to be treated with some warmth and respect just as I would equally treat others who are putting money into my own pockets. I don't think that is an unfair trade-off.

When traveling through Latin America, I make it my business to connect with Afro-Latinos as much as possible because I want to learn more about the black experience in those countries. And if a black is running a business, or at least trying to, I want to patronize that business.

In the predominately black Region of Barlovento, Venezuela. I had an empenada that was so tasty I wanted to scream. The problem was that the vendor who served me had no personality, and none of the customer service etiquette that you would expect from someone taking your money in a business exchange. There was no  greeting, no “thank you,” nada! 

Putting myself in her place, I imagined how much money I could make with her superior product, and how I would accompany such a product with a smile, a greeting, small talk, and a “thank you” to each person giving me business.  There is an old saying in the sales profession: “people buy 'you!'” In other words, if you want to make the money, make an effort to connect with people, and that will motivate them to want to patronize you.

Truthfully, I was hoping to establish some kind of rapport in our little business transaction letting her know that I'm visiting from the U.S. and would like to learn more about her community. I thought that such a rapport and small talk would result in my getting some leads on where I could go and who I might meet to help me with my cultural exploration. Tipping her nicely would have been my greatest pleasure had she even attempted to show a little professionalism.


The late Afro-Peruvian singer, Pepe Vazquez, was highly 
engaging when I attended his event in San Francisco, CA

In El Carmen, Perú, labeled the hub of Afro-Peruvian culture, I approached a black woman inquiring about her food service as she moonlights as a cook. She had tables set up inside and outside of her house serving chicken dinners. Again, no personality. You would think she'd appreciate and welcome a potential customer ready to put money into her pocketbook. 

Intending to still patronize her business, I stopped by my goddaughter's house and offered to treat her and members of her family to a meal. But my goddaughter's uncle suggested another spot owned by mestizos where the food tasted much better, and the customer service was much more pleasant and welcoming.


I am standing with Maribel, of Guayabo, Perú. She was nice, her service was nice, and I tipped her
nicely. That is the way it supposed be!

Of course, this is not unique to Afro-Latinos. Many black-American owned businesses, especially hole-in-the-wall, mom and pop stores, historically have terrible customer service. However, over the years, I've found many black-American businesses improved their customer service skills exponentially.

Recently, I wrote a letter to the owner of a black barbecue joint  addressing their level of customer service. The cashier would not even greet me, let alone look at me. And when my meal was finally served, I received a nasty frown instead of a “thank you.” The owner not only telephoned me to apologize and tell me what action she was taking to correct the matter, but she offered my Toastmasters club and me free barbecue dinners. She told me how she has been telling her employees how important good customer service is for her and her business.
 
In Cartagena, Colombia, a black street vendor seemed so nice that, even though I didn't purchase anything, I paid her something just to be supportive, and she thanked me humbly. I approached some other black vendors with the purpose of patronizing them, and with the exception of a couple who were very warm, their attitudes appeared to be what we black Americans call “ghetto.” However, just to be fair, it's not always the black ones. I've seen some mestizos, indigenous, and whites take their customers for granted as well.

A common argument I hear, which I find bogus, is that you have to consider the culture. Such an argument would make sense in countries like Cuba or North Korea, where the profit you make is not necessarily yours, but in a capitalist society, regardless of the culture, money is money. Showing some class and customer-service skills without kissing ass, I might add, goes a long way in attracting and retaining customers, which inadvertently leads to more money.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Black Cubans Relive Alex Haley's “Roots”


One day, I was talking to a girlfriend on the phone who happened to be of the Edo tribe in Nigeria. I played some Afro-Cuban music (rumba) over the phone, and asked her to guess which type of music it is. She responded, Yoruba! Nope, but she was close because many Afro Cubans still have connections with the Yoruba culture, including the religion, the music, and the language. Another Nigerian I spoke to who has been to Cuba told me that the Yoruba tongue spoken by Afro Cubans is the ancient version, and not the Yoruba spoken in Nigeria today.

When I arrived in Cuba, I felt like a long, lost member of the community who had finally come home. I had direct exposure to rumba music and dancing, not to mention salsa, son-montuno, charanga, and timba music, all with West African roots. Many words used among the common people of Cuba mix their Spanish with West African derived words such as wanikiki or fula (money), qué bolá, asere (what's up, bruh), chacumbele (personality). 


During more than three centuries of transatlantic trade, just short of a million slaves were shipped to Cuba. The vast majority were trafficked in the 19th Century as forced labor for the island's vast sugar plantations. 


Like Alex Haley, four black Cubans found their ancestral homeland in Sierra Leone, West Africa, and made their voyage. The article below tells the story of these Afro Cubans' journey to uncover their own roots. 


Cubans Trace Roots to Remote Sierra Leone Village


For decades the Ganga-Longoba of Perico have been singing the same chants, a tradition passed down the generations. But until recently this Afro-Cuban community knew little of the origin of the songs, or of their own ancestors. Now, thanks to the work of an Australian academic, Cuba's Ganga believe their roots lie in a remote village in Sierra Leone from where it is thought their relatives were sold into slavery more than 170 years ago.

"When I first filmed the Ganga-Longoba, I believed their ceremonies were a mixture of many different ethnic groups," says historian Emma Christopher, of Sydney University. "I had no idea that a large number of Ganga songs would come from just one village. I think that's extremely unusual," she says. The initial breakthrough came when a group in Liberia saw her footage of a Cuban ceremony and recognized part of a local ritual.
Spurred on to seek the songs' exact origins, the academic spent two years showing the film across the region until she confirmed that the Cubans were singing in the almost extinct language of an ethnic group decimated by the slave trade.

Her inquiries finally led her to Mokpangumba, where villagers not only identified the Banta language but recognized songs and dances from the initiation ceremony for their own secret society, devoted to healing.
"That's the moment when they said: 'They are we'," Dr Christopher recalls, describing how the incredulous Africans began singing and dancing along with the Cubans on screen. They identified nine of the songs in total, despite lyrics twisted over the decades and distance. For the villagers it was compelling proof that the people of Perico were family.

Safeguarding tradition

During more than three centuries of transatlantic trade, just short of a million slaves were shipped to Cuba. The vast majority were trafficked in the 19th Century as forced labor for the island's vast sugar plantations.

Dr Christopher has singled out a woman known by her slave-name "Josefa" as the likely link between Perico and Sierra Leone. It's thought she arrived in the 1830s when the Gallinas slaving port was most active.
The local plantation owner includes a Josefa Ganga among the property in his will: below his real estate, and just above livestock.

Remarkably, Josefa survived to see the 1886 abolition of slavery in Cuba - far exceeding the average seven-year life expectancy for slaves here, where conditions were brutal - and she managed to safeguard the songs and traditions of home.

Divided 'family'

"Someone once said we originated from the Congo, but I always had doubts," says Alfredo Duquesne, an artist whose work has long been inspired by African themes but who has never known where his own roots lay.



"It bothered me. I wanted to know where I came from," he explains in his single-story home crowded with woodcarvings, near where his ancestors would once have labored in the cane fields. The Santa Elena plantation has long gone. But many descendants of its former slaves still remain in the small town of Perico, including the group labelled "Ganga" by those who trafficked them. 


Every December they meet to pray to Yebbe, as the Ganga call San Lazaro (St Lazarus), in a night-long ceremony of dance, drumming and song that has remained intact through the decades.
San Lazaro is a saint known for curing the sick, and is revered by Roman Catholic and syncretic faiths in Cuba. It was Florinda Diago, thought to be Josefa's great-granddaughter, who preserved their heritage in Cuba; she then entrusted that task to the current "grande dame" of the Ganga community, a frail but feisty woman in her 80s known as Piyuya.

The healing secrets have been lost, but Piyuya can still sing every chant: songs of lament and joy for the dead and in celebration. In the 1980s she wrote out their lyrics for the first time, alongside hand-drawn flowers in a now yellowed and tattered notebook. Organizing a reunion for the divided "family" wasn't easy given restrictions on traveling from Cuba at the time, and limited resources. But eventually, four Cubans did make their ancestors' voyage in reverse - to Sierra Leone.

"When I opened my mouth to sing, they just stood there staring," Elvira Fumero recalls of her arrival in Mokpangumba. "Then it was like an explosion. They started to sing the responses, and dance with me. And I knew then that this was where the Ganga came from," she says, smiling. The Cubans' journey - to Africa, and uncovering their own roots - is captured in a documentary by the Australian academic that shows the two groups singing and celebrating together as well as sharing more modern traditions like baseball.
It's still a rare experience for most Afro-Cubans. "Cuba was cut off at a time when other nations in the Americas were going through black pride and fighting for some justice for what happened to their ancestors," says Dr Christopher, who points out that the island's 1959 revolution declared racism "solved".

"That left a lot of Afro-Cubans adrift, not knowing how to celebrate where they came from and be proud of it," she says. Whilst many Cubans of Spanish descent have rushed to seek out their ancestry - and passports - Afro-Cubans have been far less anxious to do the same. But for Alfredo Duquesne, visiting Sierra Leone changed everything. "It was as if I'd just left the previous weekend. I touched the soil and thought: 'This is it. I've come back,'" he says, describing himself now as "at peace"."At last I know where I come from," Alfredo says. "I'm not a stranger any more."



Thursday, August 13, 2015

Soulful Cali (Colombia)

 Cali, Colombia—the salsa music capital of the world

While on the way home, I was listening to a popular song by the salsa music icon from Venezuela, Oscar De Leon, entitled “Cali.” For you hip-hop fans, he was not singing about California, LOL! He was singing about Cali, Colombia, the salsa music capital of the world, and how he and others are heading there and party to the music. 

I thought how sorry I was that I didn't listen to my supervisor at work who happens to be Colombian of mestizo heritage when he advised me to visit Cali because I am a salsa music lover. I was clueless in those days and thought that Cali didn't have enough black folks for me to bothered.

After making a choice between Colombian cities like Buenaventura, Quibdo, and Cartagena; places I knew that have a strong black presence, I chose Cartagena the hometown of one of my favorite boxers, the former middleweight champion Rodrigo Valdez. From there, I visited an African village about two hours south of Cartagena called San Basillo de Palenque. A town that won its freedom from Spanish rule over 200 years before the rest of South America. 

Next time, “yo me voy pa' Cali” (I'm going to Cali),  a city I later learned is the Afro-Colombian capital. Yeah, I heard that Caleños (i.e. people of Cali,) live and breath salsa. A Colombian contact says to me, “imagine the whole city dancing on the streets to free concerts from major salsa groups.”

My favorite salsa groups from Colombia are all based in Cali; Grupo Niche, Grupo Caneo, and Sonora Carruseles.

Afro Venezuelan salsa star Oscar De Leon 
sings his big hit “Cali”


 
 

Friday, July 17, 2015

Black on Black Racism in the Dominican Republic


Haitians and dark-skinned Dominicans 
confront racism on a daily basis.

Here in California, I don't meet too many people from the Domincan Republic as most of them are on the east coast of the USA. However, I did recently meet a couple of light-skinned Dominican woman at a bus stop where we got into a brief conversation. Both were fine looking and rather friendly compared to what I hear about Dominicans and their attitudes towards black people.

One thing that stood out about them is that their hair looked as though they were fresh from a beauty parlor. This is a big deal in the Dominican Republic, making your hair look as straight and Eurocentric as possible. Although, these two women were of color, I thought they would have looked just as good with curly or frizzy hair. However, anything making reference to an Afro-centric or Haitian look is beneath the average Dominican.

In a country where 90% of the citizens have African ancestry, the self hatred among Dominicans of color is unfathomable. Black Dominicans have gone as far as lynching black Haitian-Dominicans trying to drive the Haitians, even though they were born in the Dominican Republic, back into Haiti. 

The African-American woman who wrote the article below is black and proud, and describes a conflicting experience living in the Dominican Republic. 

My only question to her would be why did she choose the Dominican Republic to live and teach English versus other Latin-American countries where racism and internalized racism is not nearly as steep? She says, going to the Dominica Republic would give her a break from the racism that she experiences in the US. Wow was she mistaken.

Below is the link to the article followed by a copy of the actual article itself.




When I lived in the Dominican Republic, there was a point when the jeers from the streets, shouts of “Arréglate ese pelo!” (Fix that hair!) and mocking gestures about my prominent pajón (afro) became too much to deal with. In a country of complex racial dynamics, where straightened hair is a social currency and billboards depict curly-haired women with the headline Your hair deserves better,” natural or curly hair, colloquially referred to as pelo malo (bad hair—also a term used in the black American community), is sometimes viewed as a marker of Haitian identity. While many Dominicans vehemently deny the role of race in the current controversy over the deportation of Dominicans of Haitian descent and Haitian migrants, the treatment I received while living in the Dominican Republic (and often being mistaken as Haitian) suggests the contrary.

As a black American from the South, I initially (and perhaps naively) thought I’d catch a break from the daily racism I experienced in the U.S. As with black Americans, there are Dominicans (and Haitians) of every shade. I welcomed the idea of living in a country where most people looked like my family members and me, as 90 percent of the Dominican population has black ancestry.
However, it wasn’t long before I encountered a familiar, yet foreign, racism. While I realize that experiences vary and my story is one of many, it is certainly not the exception. Whether in the form of racial slurs or extreme violence, both Haitians and dark-skinned Dominicans alike confront racism on a daily basis. After continuously feeling like a walking target with my sizable pajón, I decided to carry hair ties for the days that the taunts became unbearable.

I arrived in Santiago, Dominican Republic as an English professor one month before Sentencia 168/13, a Supreme Court ruling that revoked the citizenship of Dominican residents whose parents were born outside of the country as far back as 1929, unless they could regularize their status. In the months that followed, lynchings of Haitians became more frequent, according to media reports. Black American friends that had come to study abroad were harassed and interrogated by police about their nationality. After my friends explained that they were Americans studying abroad, the officers scoffed at them, laughing that “esa se cree americana pero es haitiana” (this one thinks she’s American, but she’s Haitian). Even my Dominican host sister, whose surname was French in origin, encountered complications with government agencies that questioned her Dominican identity. I began to realize that the recurring treatment my colleagues and I were receiving was probably a result of intensified anti-haitianismo following the Supreme Court ruling.
Most of my fellow U.S. English professors condemned the ruling, though others viewed it as the Dominican Republic exercising its sovereign right to regulate immigration within its borders. Some of my Dominican and Haitian students criticized the ruling as discriminatory, while others adamantly defended the court’s decision. However, few dared to denounce it as racist.

I was no stranger to discrimination in the Dominican Republic, having endured taunts, repeatedly been denied entry to clubs, and received regular slights during my time there. With both the history of Hispaniola and my own experience in mind, I know the court’s ruling was founded upon anti-haitianismo that the country has yet to reconcile. In the words of Junot Díaz, “if we do not begin to practice the muscles of having a possessive investment in each other’s oppressions, then we are in some serious trouble.”

Saturday, July 11, 2015

To Havana I Shall Return Someday


My travel group and I entering the José Martí terminal 
of Havana, Cuba after off-boarding our plane

 Global Exchange, Inc., based in San Francisco, had a legal partnership with the University of Havana where people like me can improve our Spanish-speaking skills through an immersion program where the instructors, tutors, and host families speak only Spanish. And being the salsa music lover that I am, which is an offspring of Cuban music, this program with Global Exchange was right on time. 

Upon arrival in Havana, I was deeply touched by the culture and the vibes of the people, which made me feel like a long, lost member of the community who finally came home. It was pure joy to just walk the streets hearing the music of son-montuno, charanga, and timba blaring from cars, homes, and businesses. 

 
I had the pleasure of dancing with a smooth salsa 
dancer in the Callo Hueso District of Havana

In a city of over two million people, I found the Habaneros (Havana residents) to be very neighborly and down to earth. You don't feel that sense of paranoia and fear among the people like we are so accustomed to here in the US. Havana is much, much safer than any US city mainly because the crimes that can get you a slap on the wrist in the US can easily get you 10-20 years in a Cuban jail—first offense.

One day in downtown Havana, a street hustler, who saw me as a mark, aggressively approached me, and my not being in the mood, I snapped, ¡ya, no me moleste! He immediately backed off, not because he was afraid of me, he was afraid of those who were watching me. In Cuba there are hordes of undercover agents on the street known in as Seguridad del Estado (security of the state), making sure, among many other things, that visitors like me, were safely circulating their money into the Cuban economy. Castro did not want any of us messed with!

Although, Fidel Castro is no angel, I have to give the man credit for being the only Latin American leader to openly address racism in his country versus sweeping it under the rug. Since he took office there has been a surge of black professionals in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields. Castro developed a 100% literacy rate in Cuba.  And in addition to free healthcare for all citizens, he sponsored a free medical school for anyone in the world who is willing to practice medicine in poor communities, and that includes the US. 

I attended the University of Havana through a cultural 
exchange program to improve my Spanish

When the time came for me to leave Cuba, I was acutely heartbroken and homesick for an island that I only visited for two weeks. I felt there was much more to the island that I wanted to experience, but missed. This leads me to a bad side of Cuba that I want to address.

I’ve met many Cuban Americans who bitterly resented me for going to their country having the time of my life, when people are suffering under an oppressive government. Cuban citizens are working their tails off for an average of $20 per month. To make ends meet, people have to hustle after work by selling goods, driving cabs, and practicing vice with tourists as the government looks the other way because that too is income that eventually gets into government hands.

Vladimir a Cuban neighbor of mine, who among thousands of others, risked his life on a rickety raft sailing through shark invested waters where unknown numbers of people perished to escape Cuba. And when he saw the glow of joy on my face upon my return, all he could do was shake his head and laugh because he knew all the distasteful things that I missed out on because I was only a visitor and not a citizen.

In the late 1960s a thug who turned Black Panther by the name of Tony Bryant, hijacked a plane to Havana in solidarity with the Cuban revolution. And in doing so, his thug instincts kicked in as he and a couple of his fellow panthers robbed the passengers, which included a seguridad del estado, a security of the state personnel. Once he arrived in Havana preaching the revolution, Cuban authorities, who had the utmost respect for the Black Panther Party, sent him directly to jail.

In Tony Bryant’s book, Hijack, he wrote how the Cuban prison makes San Quentin, Soledad, and Folsom State Prison, where he also did some time, appear to be luxury hotels. Tony learned so much about the harshness of Cuban life that by the time he returned the USA, he was no longer the leftist revolutionary, but a right wing, anti-Castro Republican. Tony Bryant, after 12 years saw more than I could ever see in my two weeks in Havana.

 
An Afro-Cuban dance class in the El Vedado District of Havana

But my love is not for the Cuban government, but for the people whom I connected with. Despite all that I didn’t see, I saw  first hand the effects of this US trade embargo against Cuba that has been going on for more than 50 years. A lot of the little things that we take for granted like cooking oil, meat, and bread, are hard to come by for the average Cuban citizen. I remember a family serving me spaghetti, which had no meatballs, but chopped up frankfurters because they had no access to beef.

 
Relaxing on a hot summer day in Havana

This embargo is not hurting the Castro government nearly as much as it is hurting innocent, everyday people, especially children. On my last day in Havana, I gave a 7-year old kid a set of ink pens and a ream of writing paper. The way that boy high-fived me with so much excitement and exhilaration you would thought that I had given him a $100 bill.

I truly appreciate Obama for taking the steps that he is taking to restore relationships with Cuba, as did the US with Communist China back in 1971. I just hope that when this is all over that Cuban people do not veer too far from their wonderful, seductive culture to embrace ours.  

I say this because when I was in Havana, I noticed an insatiable hunger among the people for anything American; t-shirts, CDs, old clothing, whatever. A dance instructor gave me an hour’s worth of private lessons in exchange for an oldie, but goodie jazz CD. And to return to see a Mc Donalds restaurant on every corner will be a painful eyesore.

When will I return to Havana? Well, I love the way it is put in a song recorded by the salsa music icon Eddie Palmieri:  ¡Pa la Habana, voy a volver algun dia volvere —To Havana, I shall return one day!i

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Cheap Travels Through Latin America



Here I was working with a non-profit organization earning a modest income. And the day before my 30-day vacation was to begin, I received a surprise e-mail from my company's executive director wanting to know where I was going “this time.” Excited, I responded with my list of travel destinations. She quickly responded back with a border-line, snide comment about my ability to do all of this traveling on my salary. Well, let me tell you my story!

This particular vacation included trips to México, Perú, Panamá, Colombia, and Ecuador. From Ecuador, I flew to New York to visit family. Finally from New York, I made it back to Oakland just in time to return to work the following day. How much did all of this cost me? $1,422! How did I swing this?

Airfares have been known to drop on certain days

First of all, I began planning my vacation about four to six months ahead of time. I went on line to check the travel booking sites such as cheaptickets.com, tripadvisor.com, and kayak.com, among others. I found that when you schedule your flights to leave on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, and return on any day except Sundays, prices drop even more. And when you are flying out on a holiday, you are just asking for it! 


My cabbie and I on a beach on the Sun Coast of El Salvador

One Thanksgiving day, my round trip ticket from San Francisco to Lima, Perú cost me $537, and that included a 7-hour layover in El Salvador where my cab driver and I spent that time hanging out at the beach gulping down fresh coconut juice and chomping on a scrumptious seafood lunch. We then cruised the Sun Coast of El Savador before  making it back to the airport to catch my next flight.


 Beach on the Sun Coast of El Salvador

Once I reach any of my travel destinations, I make it a point to bypass tourist areas and head straight for a local community where I can rent a nice clean room, eat good food, and buy items of interest at a much cheaper cost.


The Ballumbrosio family of El Carmen, Perú.
I'm standing in the back with the fellas, second from the right. 

I try to stay with families, such as that of the late, great maestro Amador Ballumbrosio, the godfather of Afro-Peruvian music and dance. This family showed me so much love that they influenced to adopt their home as my home away from home whenever I'm in Perú. On my second trip, I tried to pay the mother like I did on my first trip, but this time, she simply laughed at me and brushed me off. That old Spanish saying, mi casa es tu casa (my house is your house) certainly applied here.



My god-daughter Daniela (wearing pink)
and members of her family (Perú)

 
My god-daughter Daniela (front right)
and members of her family

Thus, with all of this frugality going on in my travels, I was left with enough money to thoroughly enjoy the country that I'm visiting, and at the same time, reach out to local citizens so they can enjoy themselves with me.


 Popular Travel Guides

The master key to master savings in your travels is doing your homework. These are some excellent travel guides: Lonely Planet, Moons Guide, Rough Guide, and Go Girl. Although Go Girl was written by a black woman for black women, I found that a good 80% of the information contained therein will benefit anyone, including me. 

The $18 - $22 that you invest in any one of these books will pay for itself many times over as you learn sophisticated techniques to stay out of trouble, stay safe, and get the best bang for your buck in the midst of your enjoyment.


 
 Gloria of Quito, Ecuador whom I met through Facebook

Facebook is a method I use for travel networking. Because my Spanish is at a level where I can fairly take care of myself in a Spanish-speaking country, I created a separate Spanish Facebook account from my English account, and made over 300 friends in the countries that I want to visit, so when I arrive, I will at the very least, have some warm contacts. My late, dear friend Gloria, of Ecuador, was an example. She took me in like family, and showed me the ropes of her hometown of Quito, the nations capital and surrounding areas. RIP Gloria María Chalá Ananganó!



Felix of Caracas, Venezuela whom I met through Couchsuring.com

Couchsurfing.com is a must for all budget travelers. It is an international network of more than 10 million people in 230 countries around the world. Felix of Caracas, Venezuela and María of Barlovento, Venezuela were couchsurfing hosts from heaven. They not only gave me free places to stay and showed me around per couchsurfing guidelines, they went above and beyond by making sure all of my personal needs were met while in their country.

To show my appreciation, as I did with Gloria in Ecuador, I paid for all of their meals, public transportation, and drinks while we were out and about. And before my departure, I bought them all gifts. To date, I stay in touch especially on their birthdays. Such show of appreciation was a small price to pay considering how much I saved in travel expenses.


María of Barlovento, Venezuela whom I met through couchsurfing.com

I could have explained all of this to my executive director if she had only asked. All you need is an ardent desire to engage in such a gratifying adventure we call travel, which broadens the mind and nurtures the soul. Travel is more than just seeing of sights. It's a journey within igniting deep and permanent changes in the ideas of living. Regardless of your income, you can indeed enjoy travel.


 You can indeed enjoy travel!



Friday, June 26, 2015

Coming Out as “TRANS...!”


I was in my favorite El Salvadorean restaurant called Los Cocos on Fruitvale Avenue here in Oakland, and ordered my favorite dish, pescado frito—fried fish with rice and a salad, and tortillas. While waiting for my meal, I heard some heart-warming, romantic, Spanish music over the radio that was so touching, I had to ask the waiter what station it is because I intended to start tuning in myself when I got home. 

This was during the time when Bruce Jenner just completed his operation coming out as transgender; asserting the fact that he feels more like a woman than that of a man, and that she will go by the name of Katelyn.


As I felt the beautiful music encompassing my whole being, it influenced me to get in touch with my own feelings as it dawned on me that, for years, I have been coming out as trans in a cultural sense. 

My co-worker was surprised at my love for old-school soul music.

One day at a company party, someone threw on an old-school song by a group known as the OJays, and I started rocking to the beat and grooving to the melody. An African-American co-worker asked me, “Bill, you like this music?” She asked because she knows about my deep love for Latin music, especially salsa and Afro-Cuban, and of course, the fact that I was getting bilingual pay to communicate with monolingual Spanish speakers. This gave her, and so many others, the impression that I might have some Latin-American blood in my system.

By birth I'm African-American, and grew up jamming to the likes of the Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson, and James Brown. However, I told this co-worker that if R&B music had not changed from the days of the Motown Sound, which produced the likes of the Temptations, and Stax Records, which produced the likes of Isaac Hayes, I would never have crossed over to Spanish music as heavily as I did.

I'm primarily self-taught in Spanish inspired by my Puerto Rican neighbors and classmates.

In the fifth grade, I started teaching myself Spanish out of a children's library book, and began practicing on my Puerto Rican neighbors and school mates, who by their very presence influenced me to want to learn Spanish in the first place. 

During my teen years while listening to the popular African-American radio station, WWRL in New York City, I noticed how the DJs gave airtime to Puerto Rican musicians playing Latin jazz and Latin soul music. This planted a seed in my heart, and from there my tastes in Latin-American music expanded to music from countries like Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Perú, Colombia, Venezuela, and Bolivia.

My Spanish and my hobby of exploring the black Latin American experience made me Trans-cultural without my realizing it.

It was well into my adulthood when my interest in the Spanish language resurfaced from my childhood. And my late Mexican-American friend, Yolanda, who noticed the progress that I was making, admonished me to learn the culture if I'm going to speak the language!

I took that advice and ran with it. As years passed, I developed a brand new hobby of exploring black cultures in Latin-American countries through travel and research, thus the primary motive behind this blog, African-American - Latino World, which is about my exposure to the Spanish language and various Latin-American cultures with an emphasis on the Afro-Latino.

So far, of the nine Spanish-speaking countries that I've visited, the two that had the greatest emotional impact on me were Cuba and Perú. In Cuba, I felt like a long lost member of the community who finally came home. And upon my return to the U.S., a part of me felt exhilarated for having taken the trip, and another part of me was heartbroken for having to return. And Perú, which I visited several times, I had the honor of staying with the family of the late, great maestro, Amador Ballumbrosio, the godfather of Afro-Peruvian music and dance.

As an African American, my name is “Bill;” and I speak English. However, when I'm in Spanish-speaking country, my name is Guillermo where I speak only Spanish, and if anyone approaches me speaking English, I'm always quick respond in Spanish just to drive the point home that I, Guillermo, has come out as bi-cultural.