Friday, April 18, 2014

A Young Generation of Afro-Latinos Tackle Their Race & Ethnicity

Born on one island and raised on another, Kelvin Rojas grew up with a racial identity that he is still learning to define as a college senior at Columbia University. Moving to Harlem in New York City when he was 4 from the Dominican Republic, Rojas became bilingual and grew up in both cultures, visiting the island country every summer. “I consider myself an Afro-Latino of mixed background… Most Dominicans are Afro-Latino,” Rojas told Fox News Latino last week. "They just don't want to see it.” In the United States, Latino youth are developing a consciousness of their Afro-Latino identity as unique and separate from the strictly black, white and Latino labels that traditionally have defined American racial attitudes.

The racial thinking that has been engrained in older generations of Latinos is not as pronounced in younger generations, who are pushing to recognize, learn about and define what it means to be Afro-Latino.
“I wasn’t conscious until I started listening to a rapper called Immortal Technique. In an interview he said, ‘Dominicans are black.’ Hearing him say that opened my eyes,” Rojas told Fox News Latino. It pointed out to him the tendency of many Latinos to shy away from their African roots and deny being black.
“Because my skin is very light I am considered ‘Trigueño,’” Rojas said, “That's someone that is mixed but on the lighter side.” That kind of categorization of different racial mixtures and skin tones is rooted in Latin America’s colonial history. Guesnerth Josué Perea, the communications coordinator of the Afro Latin@ Forum, explained that, “the supremacy that happened produced a process we call pigment-ocracy: Splitting people up socio-economically by skin tone.”

This historical process of separation by skin tone has caused a denial of African roots for many Latinos.
“There is a big difference between the U.S. and Latin America, and this goes back to the one-drop rule," said Edward Morales, professor at Columbia University's Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity. "If you have one grandparent who is black, you’re black. In Latin America it is the opposite. If you have any white, you are not black.”

The slave trade lasted longer in Latin America than it did in North America, so more Africans were brought to the region. Morales pointed out three key distinctions that contributed to the development of Afro-Latino identity: Greater opportunities to buy one’s way out of slavery, the development of a large number of towns full of freed slaves that served as de facto centers of African culture and, finally, the lack of laws banning interracial relations.

“In the U.S., Afro-Latinos have the dual problem of not being accepted into either community [black or Latino],” Morales said. The marginalization of African roots in the U.S. may reflect an attempt to fit in with the dominant white racial category.

“Some Latinos lean towards the white side of society … to become the model minority,” said Perea. “They say they are trying to ‘better’ the race or ‘improve’ the race, but really they are just saying they want to pull away from blackness. And I think that is tied to a lot of self-hatred." Groups like the Afro Latin@ Forum are trying to promote the visibility of black Latinos in the U.S. and raise awareness about the issues that the community faces.

One of the places in which Afro-Latinos find receptive audiences are college campuses. The Afro Latin@ Forum responded to the news that "Hispanic and/or Latino" would be available as a racial category on the 2020 U.S. Census with a campaign to exhort Afro-Latinos to "check both" black and Latino so that a more accurate count of Afro-Latinos can be made and issues facing that specific community can be better addressed. “We have to do better in terms of self-educating about the diversity within the Latino community,” Perea said.

Rojas pointed out that many groups on and around campus at Columbia that are now promoting education and awareness of "Afro-Latinidad," which is for him a welcome change. “In a lot of conversations with my family about it, they would firmly reject that they were black,” Rojas said. “I asked my older brother why he thought this way and he said in school he was taught that Haitians were inferior to Dominicans because Haitians were of African blood and Dominicans were of Spanish and Taíno blood. It’s very taboo to acknowledge you have African roots.” Those sorts of attitudes toward race will continue to be challenged as Afro-Latino youth continue to explore, and establish, what it means to be mixed race. Rojas remains optimistic about things improving, but cautiously so. “I feel with the generations it gets better," he said. "The youth are not so adamant against [African roots] – but they aren't so proud of it either."

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A Young Latina's Introduction to the African Diaspora

It was during my first trip to El Carmen, Perú when I met thee-year-old Daniela. My heart automatically connected with her. Although, I'm generally a very logical person, I have no explanation as to why I developed such an immediate fondness.

After returning to the US, I called Daniela's family. When I got Daniela on the phone, I told her that she is my “niece.” She immediately asked me if she could be my “daughter.” I was so touched by that request that  I now refer to as “mi hija (my daughter)” to members of her community, and Daniela refers to me as “mi papi en Estados Unidos (my daddy in the United States).” 

Daniela at age 7 and me during my second trip to Perú

I always try to find creative ways to educate and enrich Daniela's life during my limited contact with her by phone and vacations. I teach her a little English and basic computer skills. I have even drilled her on her math, and taught her to play Scrabble, Monopoly, and Chess.

When people contact me through my blog or on my Facebook and Couchsurfing accounts expressing a desire to connect with Peruvian members of the African Diaspora, I always connect with them Perú's famous black musical family, the Ballumbrosios; Daniela's next door neighbors. This is the family I stay with when I make my my visits to El Carmen, Perú. Each of the visitors that I refer to the Ballumbrosios are encouraged to meet Daniela and show her some love; even buy her favorite ice cream. These visitors, primarily are blacks from the United States, England, and Nigeria.

Daniela at age 8 with Danielle of Great Britain

I want Daniela, in particular, to connect with African-Americans and get a good feeling about my community here in the US. So many people around the world, including blacks, are fed a lot of negative stereotypes about black Americans. Blacks from foreign countries have told me that the reason why so many of them keep African-Americans at a distance when they come to this country is because they believe what they see and hear through the media and through personal messages.

Kumbi (R) of Nigeria with Daniela's next 
door neighbor Maribel Ballumbrosio (L)

Fortunately Afro-Peruvians, from my experience, have positive views African-Americans. Many, like Rinaldo Campos, the late founder of the world famous dance troupe Perú Negro (Perú's version of Alvin Ailey's Dance Theater of Harlem) was inspired by the black pride movement of the 1960s. And there is Monica Carrillo, leader of Lundú—one of Peru's civil rights organizations, who was inspired by the US's civil rights movement..

As Daniela grows into maturity, I want her to have the same positive views of the African Diaspora outside of Perú, and above all, the African-American community. I want her to remember the love that she received from cultured, African-American people who visited her, and if she ever hears any of the negative stereotypes, she will know better from personal experience.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Spain and the Latin-American Slave Trade

What a lot of Americans, particularly many African-Americans, do not know is that Spain started bringing Africans  across the Atlantic to countries, now known as Mexico and all the way down to Argentina, almost 200 years before the United States. In 1442, Pope Eugene IV gave the Portuguese sailors the right to explore the African continent,  and attempted to protect their findings from the Spanish, who were beginning to explore the continent as well. Spain was then occupied by a Muslim power and the Catholic Church felt threatened. Thus, in 1452, in an attempt to protect the church, Pope Nicholas V issued a Dum Diversas, giving the Spanish the right to enslave anyone not practicing Christianity. This bull, or ruling, was used by the Spanish and Portuguese Christians to enslave Africans.

Mexican of African descent working as a cobbler

In an attempt to settle disputes during the invasion of the western world, the Pope created the Treaty of Tordesillas and the line of demarcation, giving the Portuguese ownership of everything to the east of the line and the Spanish ownership of everything to the west, which is why Brazil today is a Portuguese speaking nation and other nations to the west of Brazil are Spanish speaking.. The line also gave the African continent to the Portuguese and stopped the Spanish slave trade in Africa, forcing them to find a new way to access slaves. 

The Spanish government then created the Asiento system, which functioned between 1543 and 1834. By the 16th century, the Asiento allowed other countries to sell people, mostly of African descent, to the Spanish as slaves. Thus, black African people have an ancient presence in both Spain and Portugal.

Monday, April 7, 2014

I Aroused Suspicion at a Peruvian Party

It was almost one year after my first trip to Perú, and was exhilarated to learn about a Peruvian event in San Francisco, across the bay from where I live in Oakland. The party was at the Fina Estampa Restaurant featuring, directly from Perú, popular singer Pepe Vazquez.

I arrived at the front window early to get a good seat, and paid my $35.00 entry fee to a heavy-set Peruvian gentleman who seemed to be either the manager or owner. Upon entering, I immediately set my bag and over coat down in the chair where I wanted to sit, then ran up to the second level to order a meal—arroz con pollo (chicken and rice). Having eaten Peruvian food at other venues in the US and in Perú, I was not impressed with my meal, but it was enough to energize me for a full night of partying.

 Fina Estampa Restauran, San Francisco, CA

After eating, I went back downstairs and ordered something from the bar that I had not had since visiting Perú—a pisco sour (a cocktail made from Peruvian brandy). As I went back to my table, I noticed that the heavy set Peruvian manager/owner was eying me suspiciously with that familiar look of fear and concern. Perhaps, he was wondering what interest would a black American have in a Peruvian environment. Did he think I was casing the place planning a robbery?. There were other blacks in the place, but they are Afro-Peruvian. In fact, the lead singer Pepe Vazquez and one of his band members whom I met a week prior to this event at a pollada (chicken dinner-party) are also Afro-Peruvian. I also had the opportunity to introduce myself and chat with singer Pepe Vazquex while dining in the upper level.

I brushed off this man's reaction to me because, with a picso sour in my hand, I was filled with fond memories of Perú. Other than Cuba, Perú was my most memorable and heart-warming experience out of the nine Spanish-speaking countries that I've visited.

 Singer Pepe Vazquez

When I think about it, I would have happily and gregariously explained my interest in Peruvian culture if that manager/owner had the intestinal fortitude to simply “ask!” He was totally unaware of the time I spent in Lima, the Peruvian capital, where I took a Spanish-language intensive course, and  hung out in various parts of the city, This gentleman was clueless to the fact that I spent weekends with Peru's famous black musical family, the Ballumbrosios. This suspicious gentlemen did not know that I would be taking many more trips to Perú on my vacations because I fell in love with the country, the culture, and the people.

However, despite the judgement of this poor, frightened individual, I had a wonderful time. When Pepe Vazque to came out to sing, he gave me some “dap“ (a type of greeting when two men knock their fists together in lieu of a handshake). In between sets, the dj played salsa music, which gave me a chance to go on the dance floor and show off what I can do. Yes, this black American can definitely “throw down” on some salsa. That gentleman did not know that I grew up in what used to be the salsa music capital, New York City (now, it's Cali, Colombia). He didn't know anything about me . He certainly wanted to know, but lacked the moral fiber to simply “ask ” Meanwhile, I partied hearty until 3 AM.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Latino Successor to Marcus Garvey

Marcus Garvey was a Jamaican political leader, publisher, journalist, entrepreneur, and orator who was a staunch proponent of unity and self-help among members of the African diaspora to which end he founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). At the height of its popularity (1919-1921), the (UNIA) claimed 418 divisions. While most were in the United States, these divisions were spread throughout the Caribbean, Central America, and parts of South America, West Africa, and South Africa. He also founded the Black Star Line, which promoted the return of the African diaspora to their ancestral lands. Garvey's philosophy would eventually inspire others, ranging from the Nation of Islam to the Rastafari movement (which proclaims Garvey as a prophet).

Carlos Cook of the Dominican Republic met Marcus Garvey and was highly transformed by his fiery messages. Carlos was determined to dedicate his life to disseminating these teachings in his native Dominican Republic. Unfortunately, his country's anti-black dictator gave Cooks an ultimatum: either “go into exile, immediately! or face the consequences." Carlos and his family relocated to Harlem, New York City, and never returned. Thus, the heavily black populated Dominican Republic missed the opportunity to learn of and apply the teachings of Marcus Garvey for the rest of the 20th century.

During Cook's life time, however, he never received his proper recognition due to being denied national coverage by the press, black and white,. and was bound by an oath (the sacri monti) not to seek publicity for himself. Malcolm X himself expressed his respects Mr. Cooks because he is real Garveyite. Below are some of Carlos Cook's leading accomplishments:

  • Administered the Advance Division of the UNIA after Garvey's deportation. 
  • Coined the phrase "BUY BLACK" as an economic solvency in black communities 
  • Founded the first so-titled African Nationalist organization.
  •  Kept Garvey's UNIA Red, Black, and Green tri-colors displayed daily and nightly. 
  • Advocated armed retaliation against lynchings in the South.
  • Designated August 17th -- the birthday of Marcus Garvey -- as the first Black holiday, official or unofficial.
  • Perfected an oratorical art of street speaking from his step-ladder, all over Harlem in New York City, especially on 125th Street and 7th Avenue.
  • Organized the Universal African Relief to send tons of clothes and medical supplies to southern and western Africa.
  • Initiated the concept of natural hair as an issue of racial pride.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Why I Celebrate Cesar Chavez

César Chávez

We in the Community Must Continue to Work Together!

When I first started blogging African American-Latino World, my primary goal was to explore and celebrate the Spanish-speaking portion of the African diaspora; its history, culture, and present-day challenges. However, with March 31 being the birthday of César Chávez, I'm bluntly reminded that, despite cultural differences between the African-American and Latino communities in the US, we have more in common than, sadly, many members of both communities realize. 

On 19 September 1966, Martin Luther King Jr. sent the following telegram to César Chávez: 
 “As brothers in the fight for equality, I extend the hand of fellowship and good will and wish continuing success to you and your members. You and your valiant fellow workers have demonstrated your commitment to righting grievous wrongs forced upon exploited people. We are together with you in spirit and in determination that our dreams for a better tomorrow will be realized.”
After King’s death, Cesar Chavez became friends over the years with Coretta Scott King, Ralph Abernathy, Andrew Young, and other major figures of the civil rights movement.

I was a college freshman, when I first heard of César Chávez and joined a demonstration in front of a major supermarket in Albany, New York advocating the boycott of grapes in support of the largest farm worker strike in US history. A strike led by Chávez himself to protest low wages and deplorable working conditions that Mexican, Mexican-American, Caucasian American, African American, and Filipino farm workers were enduring. His public-relations approach to unionism and aggressive, but nonviolent tactics, made the farm workers' struggle a moral cause gaining nationwide support. 

I never met César Chávez personally, but I met his union co-founder Dolores Huerta at the Latin-American Library here in Oakland where I used to practice my Spanish by reading Latin-American literature. She and I attended a formal ceremony of the Latin-American Library’s name change to the César Chávez Library. 

Later that year, I had a good laugh as I read in a local newspaper that a high school here in Oakland was talking about changing its name to César Chávez High School, and how black students got upset because they confused this civil rights leader with the reigning world's lightweight boxing champion from Mexico—“Julio” César Chávez; an entirely different person from an entirely different generation. 

When César was ten years old, his family’s home in Arizona was taken away because they did not have enough money. César’s family moved to California to find work on a farm. They worked very long hours with few bathrooms and little clean water to drink, not to mention the little money they earned. Everyone in the family had to work, even the children, and they were not treated with respect or dignity. To make things worse, the men in charge of the farm workers would sometime cheat and steal money from the workers, including César’s family. 

Life changed for César when he met a man named Fred Ross who believed that if people worked together they could improve their community. César worked in many communities to help people gain the respect they deserved. Eventually, César started the National Farm Worker Association to help improve the working conditions of farm workers of different races and cultures. And as the saying goes;  the rest is history.

However, the struggle for many of us is far from over. We in the community must continue to work together.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Romance With an Illegal Alien?

I met Veronica, an attractive young women from El Salvador who works next door to my place of employment. What was so special about Veronica was her relaxed outgoing attitude towards me, a total stranger. I was not flirting or trying to score a pick-up; only being friendly as I enjoy interacting with monolingual Spanish speakers. She seemed to have greatly appreciated the gesture and was pleasantly surprised at my ability to hold a sustained Spanish-speaking conversation.

Veronica reminds me of the women I met in Venezuela who were open, relaxed, friendly, and conversational; even to strangers. Almost every time I'd smile at at a woman, I'd get a happy, enthusiastic smile in return. Each time Veronica and I met, our conversations got longer and we learned more about each other. I told her about my visit to El Salvador a few years ago while on my way to Perú, and this gave us even more to talk about.

More recently, I asked about her weekend and her family, and learned that she is single with no children. She immediately asked about my marital/parental status, and appeared elated that my status was the same, and wanted to talk more. It was as though she was waiting for me to suggest that we move our acquaintance to another level. That's when an alarm went off in my head about her motive.

As a single man, I've been approached by women from Africa, Asia, and Latin-America who wanted to marry me or have a friend or relative marry me to obtain legal status in the U.S. I then asked her how she herself got into the country. She stated the same way everyone else does. I asked, what way was that? She explained that from El Salvador, she traveled through Guatemala and Mexico, and finally entered the US with the aid of a coyote - one who makes a living smuggling undocumented immigrants across the border for a fee that can be as high as $5,000.

Although I will not snitch, and hope to enjoy a friendship with the very nice, and seemingly down-to-earth woman that she appears to be, romance is out of the question. I'm certainly open to a relationship with an immigrant, but not with legal baggage. You never know if a real attraction is involved or if it is just scheme as a means to an end. The divorce rate among Americans is high enough, yet the divorce rate among Americans married to illegal aliens is much higher. After three years, the illegal alien becomes a legal resident, and the American spouse generally gets dumped or there is a mutual agreement to part ways.

I was once romantically involved with a Nigerian woman who treated me like a proverbial king with her cooking and everything else you can imagine. Then one day, she sat on my lap telling me that she inadvertently overstayed her student visa, and is now in the country illegally. She offered me a measly $6,000 to marry her so she can get her papers, then sponsor her—“real husband” and three children to enter the US. Naturally, I eased myself out of this relationship and told her to never call me again. Of course, I proceeded expeditiously to “lose” all of her contact information.