Saturday, November 28, 2015

My New York Afro-Latino Connection

A country in South America celebrates African Heritage Month

As expected, since my return to New York City, and after teaching myself Spanish and traveling to nine Spanish-speaking countries being totally immersed in the language, I have a much better command of Spanish, which is not perfect, but adequate, and I'm loving my developing Afro-Latino connections. 

In California where I was living most of my adult life, people thought I was Cuban assuming if you are black and speak Spanish you must be Cuban. Even while in Perú and Ecuador, people thought I was either Cuban or Puerto Rican, in addition to Panamanian or Brazilian; again, people were looking at the color of my skin.

Just yesterday in the Bronx, however; I was in engaged in a Spanish-speaking conversation with a Boricua (Puerto Rican), a Garífuna (descendant of escaped slaves in Honduras who fought the British for their freedom and won), and a Dominican. All three, including the Dominican, thought my roots were in the Dominican Republic. Amazing!

Surprisingly, I still run into Spanish speakers who seem to feel that if you are black that there is no way in the world that you could speak Spanish. That too is amazing, especially in a city with such a large Afro-Latino population. 

Pedro, an Afro-Venezuelan friend living in Washington DC reminded me that many of these Latinos who come to the US stereotyping blacks do not even have a high school education, and can easily be brainwashed. He says that as a black man he gets the same reaction from non-black Latinos and really feels sorry for a lot of them because, obviously, the school systems are failing them.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Black Latino Among Tuskegee Airmen

An ex­hib­it that opened at the City Col­lege of New York (CUNY) paid trib­ute to immigrants from the Domin­ic­an Republic who served in the U.S. armed forces dur­ing World War II. Among the honorees will be Esteban Hotesse, a Domin­ic­an Republic nat­ive who im­mig­rated to the coun­try as a child with his mother and little sister. They came through the fam­ous port of El­lis Is­land.

A de­term­ined re­search as­so­ci­ate, Ed­ward De Je­sus, at the Domin­ic­an Stud­ies In­sti­tute at CUNY, made the dis­cov­ery dur­ing a three-year re­search mis­sion in­to the role of Domin­ic­an ser­vice­men and wo­men who made sig­ni­fic­ant con­tri­bu­tions to the war ef­fort or to so­ci­ety.

Hotesse, who en­lis­ted in Feb­ru­ary 1942, was among a group of 101 Tuskegee Air­men of­ficers ar­res­ted for re­fus­ing to fol­low Jim Crow or­ders from a white com­mand­ing of­ficer at a base near Sey­mour, In­di­ana where the KKK had a strong pres­ence. This act of dis­obedi­ence later be­came known as the Free­man Field Mutiny. 

He made second lieu­ten­ant before joining the Tuskegee Air­men, the first all-black group of mil­it­ary pi­lots in the U.S. Armed Forces who made their presence known against the Germans during the war with 1578 combat missions, winning at least one Silver Star, 96 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 14 Bronze Stars, 744 Air Medals, and 8 Purple Heart.

This post should serve as more than a history lesson to black people in the Dominican Republic who, despite their actual skin color, refuse to believe that they are black. Here in the U.S., Dominican Immigrants have been noted for commenting that they are not black, but Dominican. They confuse their race with their nationality.

If Lieutenant Esteban Hotesse were anything other than black, he would have never been subject to Jim Crow laws in KKK territory, let alone having been considered for such a fine unit as the Tuskegee Airmen.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

New York City - Home Sweet Home

 This photo is from the album cover of the salsa group Africando out of Senegal, West Africa whose mission is to bring salsa music back to its African roots.

"New York City, I don't know why I love you;
could be you remind me of myself!"
- Gil Scott-Heron
Yesterday, I off boarded the subway train at East Tremont in the South Bronx, a community primarily of black Americans and Latinos. As I walked down Grand Concourse to my scheduled appointment, I felt very uplifted hearing salsa and bachata music blaring from people's apartments. This was blunt reminder that I finally arrived back at my home sweet home of New York City after spending most of my adult life in Oakland, California.

 New York City residents asked me why would I want to leave California, as though California were some type of utopia, to return to New York. The rational answer that I gave is that my brother inherited a luxury living space in Midtown Manhattan, just blocks from Central Park, and invited me to come back home and be with family. 

What I left out of my response was that I am a New Yorker at heart. While going to school in upstate New York, and all during my stay in Oakland, known on the streets as Oak-Town, I could not stop talking about New York, NY. I am surprised that no one suggested that I go back. I've done quite a bit of traveling in my life, and there is no city that matches the rich, cultural, and literary depth and diversity as New York City. Besides, I love the straight-forward communication style of native New Yorkers.

My special attraction to New York is its heavy Afro-Latino population. As a young kid growing up just walking distance from Spanish Harlem, I started feeling a strong attraction to the Spanish language and Latin-American culture, especially the music. 

It was in New York where I was introduced to the likes Eddie Palmieri, Ray Barretto, Willie Colon, Ralphi Pagan, Hector Rivera, and Pete Rodriguez, all whose music spilled over into the black American community way back in the day. Even black American radio stations like WWRL and WBLS featured these artists because of the heavy African influence in their music.

As I alluded to in my blog post, Coming Out as Trans (Trans-Cultural), there is a strong element of Latino culture in my soul that I feel from deep within even though I was born a black American, which has thus far inspired my travels to nine Spanish-speaking countries where I was totally immersed in the language and the culture. 

Even after flying into New York from Oakland, I found myself engaged in a Spanish-speaking conversation with my Dominican cab driver who appeared more comfortable speaking Spanish than English.

Here in New York, I will get to use, and thus, develop my Spanish more. The trick is learning who is bilingual and who isn't. As I was walking through the South Bronx, I overheard a couple of Afro-Latinos speaking Spanish, and when I stopped to ask for directions in Spanish, they, in a very friendly manner, gave me the directions I needed in English. However, once I resume my Latin-American travels, I will not have to worry about that type of response any more.

At least here in New York, I will be able to attend more Afro-Latino events, go to plays, and get access to libraries and museums about Afro-Latinos that California lacks.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Ecuador to Include Black History in Textbooks

When I first crossed the border from Perú into Ecuador, my intentions were to connect with Ecuador's black community like I did in Perú; get a feel for their black experience, and learn more of Ecuador's black history. Thus obviously not knowing anyone, I headed towards a black community up in the Andes cold and unannounced. As it took an hour or too for me to overcome their initial suspicion, I was eventually invited to a party. However, my greatest Afro-Ecuadorean connection was with my late lady friend, Gloria, and her family whom I met through Facebook.

Alonso de Illescas was a successful slave rebel in Ecuador's 
predominately black province of Esmeraldas

Black Ecuador has relatively made significant gains in their country, but like the rest of us in the African diaspora, they still have a long way to go. Quito, Ecuador's capital, reminded me so much of home as I was often racially profiled by cab drivers. One evening while trying to get to a friend's house on the other side of town, taxi cab after taxi cab zoomed past me ignoring my signals to stop. It came as no surprise when one cab driver stopped 25 feet from where I was signaling to pick up a white couple.

 Afro-Ecuadorean Cultural Center in Quito, Ecuador

Finally, I noticed a taxi that had just stopped as passengers stepped out. When I tried to enter, the driver wagged his finger in utter defiance. Facetiously, I waved my American dollars at him. I don't know if this would have worked in the U.S., but this cabby had me laughing with his sudden change of heart. Once in his cab, however; he became even more relaxed and cordial when he learned that I am American, and not Afro-Ecuadorian. This sounds so familiar as to how foreign blacks living in the U.S. are perceived as less of a threat to White America than we home-grown black folks.

 The black region of Valle de Chota, which produces Ecuador's major soccer stars, such as Agustín Delgado (below), the Shaquille O'Neil of Ecuadorian soccer.

A week ago, Ecuador had just celebrated National Day of Afro-Ecuadorean People. This celebration lasted a whole week. And with the historical struggle and incremental gains blacks in Ecuador made, one more victory was scored. The article below describes this gain in greater detail. 

Former slave María Chinquiquirá took her master to court and won her freedom. 
This photo is in a museum in Guayaquil, Ecuador's largest city.

On Sunday, October 4, 2015, Afro-Ecuadoreans celebrated what they have gained, but also recognized there are still challenges. To mark “National Day of the Afro-Ecuadorean People,” Ecuador’s National Congress passed a resolution Saturday that ensures the history of the country’s racial minority will be included in school textbooks starting next year. “After various years of constant struggle, it has been agreed together with the Ministry of Education to include in textbooks the history of Black people in Ecuador, its importance and participation in the main historical events of the nation,”
Assembly Member Zobeida Gudiño told state news agency El Telegrafo. The historic move comes as Afro-Ecuadoreans across the country celebrated their heritage Sunday to honor the historic achievements the racial minority has made, while highlighting the challenges of racism and discrimination they continue to face today. In the upcoming days, Afro-Ecuadoreans turn the public spotlight on the importance of their lives, historical legacy and culture through an array of parades, musical performances, marches and academic panels to mark the 11th year of the “National Day of the Afro-Ecuadorean People.”

Every first Sunday of October, Ecuador’s Afro-Ecuadorean community celebrate this day after it became a hallmark in 1997 following a national mobilization that pushed Congress to declare the “National Day of the Black Ecuadorean,” the recognition of Alonso Illescas as national hero, and the inclusion of Afro-Ecuadoreans into national history.

For Victor Zambrano, an Afro-Ecuadorean student and activist from the coastal province of Esmeraldas, this day is bitter-sweet; a reason to celebrate what Afro-Ecuaodoreans have gained, but also to remember the challenges ahead for the 604,000-strong racial minority. The National Day of the Afro-Ecuadorean People is an achievement because through this decree of Congress we have been recognized and made visibile, recognizing our struggles and contributions to Ecuadorean society,” Zembrano told teleSUR English. RELATED:

Piedad Cordoba Says Afro-Latinos are ‘Totally Invisible’ “On this day we have to remember all the contributions we have made as a people and bring it, together with our history, to the rest of the people because many don’t know it, which enables a lot of forms of discrimination,” he added. Zembrano sees this discrimination manifested in everyday life, but also in the labor market. “When walking through the streets at night you become ‘suspicious.’ People change streets and prefer to walk very fast to avoid getting robbed.

The same work opportunities don’t exist because they prefer people ‘that are presentable,’ that is to say, that they sell a stereotyped mestizo image. A lot of us don’t fit that image,” the 24-year-old activist for Afro-Ecuadorean and LGBTI rights said. This content was originally published by teleSUR at the following address: "". If you intend to use it, please cite the source and provide a link to the original article.

Black Bolivians Jam to their Own Form of Rhythm & Blues

Black Boliva has been on my list of places to visit for quite a few years. The closest I came to entering Bolivia was during my trips to Ecuador and Perú where all I had to do was cross the border. As a budget traveler, I find ways to visit nearby countries of the countries I'm visiting, usually for a few days. 

However, Bolivia is a challenge because of their high visa fees. Why pay nearly $200 to cross the border and only stay a few days? However, thanks to my Afro-Bolivian Facebook friends, I will find a way, and once I do, I will have some friendly contacts who can show me the ropes.

The black music of Bolivia is known as Saya. It is inspiring how the Afro-Bolivian community uses their traditional music, their own cultural form of rhythm and blues, as a manner of resistance and empowerment in a racist society. 

There is a film coming out that explores what is rarely told in history books of how black Bolivia's African ancestors came to the colonial region as slaves, and goes on to explore the resilience of Bolivia's black community today, and their culture and their tradition of Saya music and dance. It is their movement for recognition in the world.

The Saya music of Afro-Bolivians comes from the word, “nsaya.” It is from the Kikongo (Kongo) language in the are of the African continent now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Angola. It is an art form of traditional Andean and Afro-Bolivian music and dance which originated in the jungles of the predominately black Yungas areas of Bolivia's Department (State) of La Paz.

Today, Afro-Bolivians have use Saya music and dance in their struggle to reclaim their rights within Bolivian society. In this movement, the Saya has functioned both as a way of expressing and solidifying black Bolivians, and as a way to express their identity in the context of national social movements based on ethnic identities.

Solidarity in Saya: An Afro-Bolivian Music Movement - TrailerHD

Monday, September 21, 2015

Black Latin America Honors the Black American Struggle

Rinaldo Campos, inspired by the U.S. black pride movement of the 1960s, started Perú Negro, an Afro Peruvian dance troupe that performs throughout the world.

In my first trip to Perú back in October of 2005, I had just gotten off the plane at the Jorge Chávez Airport in Lima, and in the midst of my haggling with cab drivers, I heard someone from behind me shout, “Martin Luther King!” When I turned around, I saw a smiling black security officer who misread the back of my t-shirt—“Luther,” referring to the late R&B singer Luther Vandross. Happy to see a black face, I smiled and acknowledged him, before continuing my haggling.

Every February and March, black Peruvians celebrate 
their African heritage with food, music, and dance.

As a black American, I often hear about the negative perceptions that many, not all, black Latinos in the U.S. have towards U.S. blacks, especially some of the black Puerto Ricans, black Cubans, and god forbid, so many Dominicans. 

When I was in Cuba, however, blacks were much friendlier, open, and extremely helpful to me as a visitor. One woman whom I met on the campus of the University of Havana invited me to her home for dinner. When I met her son, the first words out of his mouth were, “¿conoce usted Tupac (do you know Tupac Shakur)?

 Celebrating black heritage - Peruvian style

Young blacks in Cuba have been embracing the black American hip-hop culture (minus the stupid-ass violence, drugs, and disrespect for women). They pick up rap music from radio stations in and around Miami, which is only 90 miles away. And as expected, these young Afro-Cubans incorporate black American hip hop culture into Cuban life and issues; naturally in Cuban street-Spanish.

Somos Ebano (We are Ebony people) is a community center serving youth in the El Carmen District of Chincha, Perú, the hub of Afro-Peruvian culture.

From my travels to Cuba, Colombia, Ecuador, Perú, and Venezuela, and from my contacts in Argentina, Uruguay, and Chile; countries on my list to visit, the perception of Black Americans among blacks in those respective countries is honorable. They make the black experience in the U.S. applicable to their own struggles. When Barack Obama first got elected into the U.S. presidency, an Afro-Peruvian friend sent me a message saying, ¡Viva Obama (Long Live Obama)!

In Chile, South America, the city of Arica is a historically black city stemming from slavery. However, through centuries of interracial marriages, the visible black population just about disappeared, yet the people still openly celebrate black heritage. 

Mónica Carrillo, head of Lundú, a black Peruvian civil rights organization engages herself throughout the African diaspora in the western world.

I recently referred one of my blog readers to a family in Arica, Chile. She pointed out to me that, unlike many black Latinos living in the U.S. who are obviously black but deny being black, the people of Arica, who are not so black are very proud and outspoken about their African roots. It would be very interesting to see how they would mix with U.S. Latinos be they black, brown, or white if they were to ever migrate here in large numbers.

Makungu Para El Desarrollo, meaning Developing the Souls of our Ancestors, is an organization whose purpose is to strengthen the identity of young Afro-Peruvians

Even Mexico historically aided black American runaway slaves who crossed the Rio Grande. After Texas gained independence from Mexico, the number of runaways across the border mushroomed. When Mexico's Afro-Mexican president, Vicente Guerrero, took office in 1829, he immediately abolished slavery in his country, and with the help of Mexicans and Mexican Americans, Mexico became the underground railroad South of the Border.

Black people in Latin America, for the longest, have been following the black struggle in the U.S., and have been inspired to start their own black civil rights and black pride organizations, which have been popping up all over to address the racism that plagues blacks; even in countries like Argentina, Bolivia, and Honduras. I have friends in Puerto Rico, Central America, and South America who have Afrocentric Facebook names like Afrodesciente, Black Panther, Martin Luther, and Malcolm. 

Afro Peruvian drummers jamming to African rhythms

Perú, a country I visited six times, has four or more organizations dedicated to the black Peruvian struggle. I had the opportunity to spend a day with members of two of such organizations, and am certainly honored to be connected with Mónica Carrillo, an Afro-Peruvian civil rights leader who was featured on the PBS program, “Black in Latin America,” hosted by Harvard University professor Dr. Louis Gates.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

A Black Man's Guide to Mexican Independence—September 16

 Vicente Ramón Guerrero Saldaña
Mexico's Liberator and First Black President

If I were vacationing in Mexico today while people are celebrating Mexican Independence Day, I'd be celebrating this son of an African slave mother and a Mestizo father who guided Mexico to her independence on this day of September 16 in the year of 1810. His name is Vicente Guerrero.

He was not very well educated, formally, but he was very intelligent and extremely tough. Before Mexico went to war with Spain to fight for their independence, Vicente Guerrero earned his living as a mule driver. When war broke out, he joined the revolution,  distinguished himself in major battles, and gained rank rapidly until he finally was awarded the rank of general.

As a general, he took a rag-tag gang of men and built them into a powerful brigade of over 1000 soldiers. Of all the major rebel leaders who died or were captured, Guerrero was the only rebel leader still at large, and at Midnight, September 16, Mexico declared herself free from Spanish rule.

In the year 1829, Vicente Guerrero became Mexico's First Black President. That same year, he abolished slavery in Mexico, which at that time, included what is now known as the state of Texas. Guerrero's abolition of slavery in Texas was one of the major reasons why Texas rebelled, became a lone-star state, and later joined the U.S.A.

As president, Vicente Guerrero was treated far worse than Barack Obama. Guerrero's term in office did not last six months before he was thrown out of office and later killed over some trumped up charges.

I am always amazed when I meet people in U.S. who come from Mexico's state of Guerrero, named after Vicente Guerrero, and are clueless as to who this man was and what he contributed to Mexico. I would venture to say, half of those marching, waiving Mexican flags, singing songs in commemoraition Mexican independence  know little or nothing of Vicente Ramón Guerrero Saldaña; a black man who guided Mexico to independence.