Monday, December 24, 2007

"BLACKTINO" Identity and Affirmations of Black Puerto Rican Pride

I was soooo pissed. I spent an HOUR preparing a blog post about the connections between Afro-latinos and South American Ciganos/Gitanos, and, in an instant, it was gone. Completely unretrievable just as I was putting the final touches on it. I wanted to scream. I hated Blogger at that point, I really did, so I had no choice but to let a few days pass before I attempted another blog post. So here it is. Maybe one day I'll remember everything I wrote in my last attempted post. It was really all that, if I must say so myself, so I'll try to post it at some later date.

Despite my tragedy, life did go on, and as I undertook my daily task of scouring the internet for Afro-Latino information, I came across a new word to describe Afro-Latino people: "BLACKTINO". I LOVE IT...completely. I also love the term Black Rican. I discovered these terms when I went to the Blacktino e-news network website. Once there, I came across the article posted below. The article was written by Rosa Clemente, an Afro-Latina or Blacktina of Puerto Rican heritage. She recounts the reasons why she boldly identifies herself as Black and the questions her choice arouses among Anglo-Blacks and other Latinos.

I was always curious about why Puerto Ricans would so eagerly run from any association with Black identity when Afro culture is so visible in the community: in the people, the foods, the dance, the music, etc. Growing up in Philadelphia, there was a large Puerto Rican community, and a large Anglo Black community all within the North Philadelphia section of the city, but the gulf between the two groups was, and sadly still is, very huge. I've witnessed, from a safe distance, Anglo Blacks being chased out of Hispanic neighborhoods and I've witnessed Hispanics teased mercilessly by Anglo Blacks for their poor English language skills and "immigrant" status. The Black Puerto-Ricans were, however, invisible in all this animosity laden activity. We did, however, have an elementary school called Roberto Clemente and both Anglo-Blacks and Puerto Ricans attended the school.

In the Philadelphia of that time period, to have any public facility named after a Black person, Anglo or Latino or otherwise, was a BIG deal. So, even as a child I understood the importance that Roberto had in the city as a visible symbol for people of color. The the Anglo Black community, of which I am also a part, largely viewed him as a member of the perhiphery. Yes, he was undeniably Black, but the establishment of the school was seen largely as a coup for the emerging Puerto Rican community; a victory viewed as coming at the expense of some project supported by the Anglo Blacks. Roberto received the "Obama treatment" before Obama was even old enough to know what he would be in for, you know"...he (Roberto) did not grow up the way that we did so he's not one of us, he doesn't represent us" kind of negrononsense.

Not having been raised in a Jim Crow environment, Roberto possesed the pride and poise that was rarely seen in a Black man of his era. With the exception of Paul Robeson, Malcolm X, Sidney Poitier, Marcus Garvey, few pre-70s era Black men, other than Roberto commanded respect just by their carriage, and presence of being. The Black diaspora would be far better off if we had followed their lead and learned from their examples. These Black men did not see themselves as second class citizens and did not tap dance for anyone. They were psychologically strong and as such were shining symbols of Black male leadership. Of course they all paid a dear price for their strength, but they stood strong, nonetheless. Not only was Roberto a leading baseball player, he had deep concern for Latin America and gave his life trying to help the poor Latinos.

I love that Afro-Latino look he possessed, chocolate skin,ebony eyes, you know what I mean (lol). In recent years the new "Roberto" is Reuben Sierra. Another Afro-Latin baseball man of my dreams. These Puerto Rican men are also Black men, but unfortunately, they are often forced to choose sides, Black or Latino. Roberto explains this dilemma in a biography written about him that was published last year. If you want to understand the "not quite Latin but not quite Black" challenge faced by many Afro-Latinos, I suggest that you buy/read the book about Roberto.

Anyway, here is Rosa's excellent article. Enjoy.

By the way, Merry CHRISTmas!

A Puerto Rican woman claims her place in the African Diaspora Tag it:African Diaspora
Written by Rosa Clemente -Guest Columnist FinalCall
Wednesday, 18 July 2007
Who is Black?
Yesterday, an interesting thing happened to me. I was told I am not Black.

The kicker for me was when my friend stated that the island of Puerto Rico was not a part of the African Diaspora. I wanted to go back to the old skool playground days and yell: “You said what about my momma?!” But after speaking to several friends, I found out that many Black Americans and Latinos agree with him. The miseducation of the Negro is still in effect!

I am so tired of having to prove to others that I am Black, that my peoples are from the Motherland, that Puerto Rico, along with Cuba, Panama and the Dominican Republic, are part of the African Diaspora. Do we forget that the slave ships dropped off our people all over the world, hence the word Diaspora?

The Atlantic slave trade brought Africans to Puerto Rico in the early 1500s. Some of the first slave rebellions took place on the island of Puerto Rico. Until 1846, Africanos on the island had to carry a libreta to move around the island, like the passbook system in apartheid South Africa. In Puerto Rico, you will find large communities of descendants of the Yoruba, Bambara, Wolof and Mandingo people. Puerto Rican culture is inherently African culture.

There are hundreds of books that will inform you, but I do not need to read book after book to legitimize this thesis. All I need to do is go to Puerto Rico and look all around me. Damn, all I really have to do is look in the mirror every day.

I am often asked what I am—usually by Blacks who are lighter than me and by Latinos/as who are darker than me. To answer the $64,000 question, I am a Black Boricua, Black Rican, PuertoriqueÃ’a! Almost always I am questioned about why I choose to call myself Black over Latina, Spanish, Hispanic. Let me break it down.

I am not Spanish. Spanish is just another language I speak. I am not a Hispanic. My ancestors are not descendants of Spain, but descendants of Africa. I define my existence by race and land. (Borinken is the indigenous name of the island of Puerto Rico.)

Being Latino is not a cultural identity but rather a political one. Being Puerto Rican is not a racial identity, but rather a cultural and national one. Being Black is my racial identity. Why do I have to consistently explain this to those who are so-called conscious? Is it because they have a problem with their identity? Why is it so bad to assert who I am, for me to big-up my Africanness?

My Blackness is one of the greatest powers I have. We live in a society that devalues Blackness all the time. I will not be devalued as a human being, as a child of the Supreme Creator.

Although many of us in activist circles are enlightened, many of us have baggage that we must deal with. So many times I am asked why many Boricuas refuse to affirm their Blackness. I attribute this denial to the ever-rampant anti-Black sentiment in America and throughout the world, but I will not use this as an excuse. Often Puerto Ricans who assert our Blackness are not only outcast by Latinos who identify more with their Spanish Conqueror than their African ancestors, but we are also shunned by Black Americans who do not see us as Black.

Nelly Fuller, a great Black sociologist, stated: “Until one understands the system of White supremacy, anything and everything else will confuse you.” Divide and conquer still applies.

Listen people: Being Black is not just skin color, nor is it synonymous with Black Americans. To assert who I am is the most liberating and revolutionary thing I can ever do. Being a Black Puerto Rican encompasses me racially, ethically and most importantly, gives me a homeland to refer to.

So I have come to this conclusion: I am whatever I say I am! (Thank you, Rakim.)

(Rosa Clemente is the youth organizer for the F.R.E.E. Youth Empowerment Program of Central Brooklyn Partnership. She is also an organizer with Malcolm X Grassroots Movement and the co-host of WBAI’s “Where We Live” public affairs program.)

Monday, December 10, 2007

Dr. Watson and the Myth of "Pure" Whiteness

Well, well, well. It appears that many "pure White" people are not as "pure" as they believe. Dr. James Watson, the Nobel laureate who discovered the double helix structure of DNA,( along with Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins), made headlines several months ago by proclaiming that individuals of African descent are inherently less intelligent than Whites, ( a fact that he claimed was plainly observable to anyone who interacts with Black employees), is, in fact, an Afro-descendente. In the United States, many will now view Dr. Watson as Black. In Latin America, however, this revelation will have little impact on Watson's public racial identity.

Dr. Watson, who likely did not know about his African lineage at the time his anti-Black statements were made, also claimed that the prospects for Africa's future as a relevant player on the world stage are dim and that Western nations make a mistake in presuming that Whites and Blacks can interact as partners of equal intelligence. It now appears that the one making the mistake was dear old Dr. Watson. A cavalcade of secrets regarding his family's racial make up have come tumbling out of Dr. Watson's closet, no doubt to his huge chagrin.

Scientists who have evaluated Dr. Watson's DNA genome have discovered that Mr. Watson has 16 times the level of Black ancestry than does the average White person. Not only that, Dr. Watson also has significant East Asian ancestry as well. To break down the numbers, Dr. Watson was found to have a genome in which 73% of his genes reflected European ancestry. Further, 16% of the genes reflected African ancestry and 9% of the genes reflected Asian ancestry. The scientists who conducted this analysis of Dr. Watson's ancestry indicate that he most likely has a Black great-grand parent. Extrapolating that analysis, we can safely assume that he also has an Asian or Native American great-great grandparent. Does this mean that Dr. Watson should be deemed to be 25% less intelligent than the average White person? (lol) Needless to say, Dr. Watson has not yet responded to the release of information about his African and Asian heritage.
This is all very interesting, but what does this have to do with Afro-latinas you might ask? I decided to blog about this topic because I've been involved in a blog debate, on another site, with a Brasilian about the extent to which Blacks and Afro-descendentes are represented in the Brasilian population. He, like many other Brasilians, are quick to assert that only 6% of the Brasilian population is Black and that, at most, only 34% of the Brasilian population is Black or Mulatto. Using this logic, unless a person is classified as Black or Mulatto, these people attempt to wipe the genetic slate clean and thus, with a waive of their hands, any and all African ancestry in the population magically disappears. Hence the discussion of Dr. Watson's racial identity. Not withstanding Dr. Watson's relatively large degree of African ancestry, these people would deny that Dr. Watson is of African descent.

Contrary to the assertions of these deniers, DNA research reveals that at least 50% of Brasilians have Black ancestry. While it certainly is true that not every person with Black ancestry is considered to be Black in Brasil, it is certainly not true that the only people who have Black ancestry in Brasil are those who "look" Black or Mulatto. This same debate is had regarding the African ancestry of Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, Argentinians, Peruvians, Panamanians, Colombians, Nicaraguans, Venezuelans, Cubans, etc. Like good old Dr. Watson, many people in these countries claim to be, or believe themselves to be "pure" White, but they are not as White as they believe themselves to be or as White as their appearance would suggest.

Though on the one hand, this whole racial discussion is silly, tired and demeaning, on the other hand, we must talk about these issues because of the serious life consequences that race and racial dominance have on the quality of life of many Afro-Latinos. We are being discriminated against because we are Black by people who, more likely than not, are also of Black ancestry. Just as Dr. Watson aggressively espoused theories about the alleged inherent inferiority of people with African ancestry, not realising that he, himself, is of African ancestry, many of the "White" Latin Americans who discriminate against Afro-Latinos because they believe Afro-Latinos are inferior because of their African heritage. They discriminate unaware of (or intentionally choosing to disregard) the African genes coursing through their DNA.

Due to his public exposure as an Afro-Descendente, Dr. Watson will likely recant his racist theories, if only to prevent his being viewed as less intelligent than other Whites. Its amazing how quickly public exposure can force a hateful liar to come clean. Unfortunately, the Dr. Watsons of Latin America will continue their aggressive efforts to suppress Afro-Latinos and deny our existence, not withstanding their own African heritage, simply because they don't "look African" and thus, presume themselves to be "pure White". 90% of the discrimination, and persecution facing Afro-Latinos could be wiped away in an instant if everyone in Latin America was forced to take a DNA test. Until then, the charade continues.

What a crazy mess.


To read more about Dr. Watson's African ancestry check

Monday, December 3, 2007

Venezuela: The People have Spoken

Hugo Chavez recevied some very unwelcome news today. The Venezuelan people have rejected his bid to amend the Venezuelan constitution so as to grant to himself extraordinary presidential powers. What were these powers he sought? Well, had his constitutional changes been approved, Chavez, as president of Venezuela, would have been able to run for president for an unlimited number of terms in office. Also, the length of a term in office for president would have been increased from 6 years to 7; he would have been able to declare, unilaterally,a state of emergency and end it when he deemed appropriate; allow the president to select local leaders; etc. The changes would have also created a social security type system for laborers and would have also reduced the length of the work day from 8 hours to 6.

Chavez has stated that the election results were close, and has now conceded defeat. Fortunately, no tyrannical acts on the part of the Venezuelan government, such as declaring the election void, etc., have been reported in the wake of Chavez's electorial defeat. Chavez, for his part, was very conciliatory and stated his willingness to respect the results of the election, saying that his acceptance of defeat stand as proof of his commitment to democratic ideals. He was quoted as saying: "There is no dictatorship here."

Chavez, of whom it is said claims both Afro-Latino and Indigenous descent, was elected as President of Venezuela due to overwhelming support among the poor, among whom large numbers of Afro-Venezuelans are included. Chavez had been a member of the military before he emerged as a political leader, following a coup that dislodged the former regime. Election promises offered by Chavez during his two presidential bids included a commitment to improve the quality of life for the poor of Venezuela through the redistribution of oil revenues to the people.

Though the poor, the Brown and the Black swept Chavez into office, it appears that many of them could not bring themselves to support his initiatives this time around. Chavez is reported to have acknowledged that his supporters did not turn out in the numbers he needed to win today's election. Why did the Afro-descendentes of Venezuela, and other Chavez supporters, sit out this election and leave Chavez high and dry?

Depending upon your political perspective, you probably either believe that Chavez fully intends to follow through on his election promises, albiet slowly, or, you likely believe that he is a total fraud. What is clear is that its hard to find anyone who has a neutral opinion of Hugo Chavez. For me, the jury is still out. I can totally support a politician who has risen from humble origins, promises to use his power to combat corruption, discrimination and poverty, and who is embraced by the people as one of their own. I also totally support the efforts of Afro-descendentes to serve as leaders in their countries. I don't understand, however, how the President of Venezuela can justify spending so much time traveling around the world picking fights with other world leaders, when he seemingly spends so little time doing the work that his people elected him to do such as cleaning up the crime in Venezuela.

Unfortunetly, this is a pattern that is often repeated when Black/Afro-descendentes are elected to high office, this seems to be especially true when they emerge from military backgrounds. They seem to be blinded by the glare of the spotlight of celebrity and the attention that goes along with the power they've attained. As their notoriety grows, the plight of their people often gets shunted to the back burner. They devote fewer and fewer hours to the work that has to be done to solve their domestic problems. The work they promised to do when they were campaigning for office.

There are so few Black and Afro-descendente heads of state that I hate to be critical. There is unquestionable value to having leaders who can use their positions to speak out on important issues and enhance Afro-latino visibility.. Having said that, however, the hard work that needs to be done to advance the cause can't be done in front of the tv cameras. Life is not a perpertual party nor is it a continual photo op, not if Chavez is really committed to building a better society for the disadvantaged of Venezuela. Hugo, sometimes you have to leave the party behind, go home, clean your room, eat your spinach and deal with the serious issues of life. It appears that President Chavez hasn't yet learned this lesson. hopefully the spanking that he received in today's election will be the wake-up call he needs.

While planning my trip to South America earlier this year, I had intended to include a brief stop in Caracas because I wanted to see the city with my son since we have family who emigrated from there to the US. I had to cancel my plans to visit Caracas, however, due to reports, from a variety of credible sources, of the extremely high crime rates and danger to tourists. Although I would be willing to risk the chance of going there if I were going alone, I could not justify endangering my son in that way. It is absolute insanity that in Chavez hasn't found a workable solution to this problem yet. There is no reason that people should be hijacked traveling from the airport into Caracas as apparently happens every day. What's the use of having power if the power is not going to be used to serve the people? I am very well aware that Hugo Chavez can't solve all of Venezuela's problems alone, but he's had power for nearly a decade now. If not now, WHEN can the Venezuelan people expect to see some real and practical results from president Chavez?

Well, some say Chavez has secured the interests of the disadvantaged in Venezuela by embracing socialism. I honestly can't name one socialist country where Blacks and Afro-descendentes are thriving. While things aren't perfect for Blacks in the US, we at least have political power. For this reason, I don't think that socialism is a wise choice for Afro-descendentes, irrespective upon which continent we find ourselves. Life has shown me that any political structure that consolidates power in the hands of a few elites who are given power to act in the "best interests of all" will eventually become corrupt and that such systems invariably keep Blacks at the bottom of the society.

Even Cuba, the socialist's model country, is pervasively racist. While it may be true that Black Cubans have more rights today than they had under the Batista regime (an Afro-descendente, by the way), they don't have a visible presence, other than in sports, and are relatively poweress in Cuba... 50 years after the revolution.

During my recent trip to Salvador, Bahia, Brasil this summer for a conference, I met Carlos Moore, an Afro-Cuban of Jamaican origin, who relayed to me a harrowing tale of his life as a Black man in Cuba who sought to claim his rights he was told the revolution secured for himself and other Afro-Cubans. As I recall the conversation, Carlos asserted that he and several other Blacks requested a meeting with Castro to discuss the plight of Blacks in their neighborhood. They believed that they were entitled to a better quality of life and more of a say in how they were governed. According to Carlos, the Cuban authorities were very offended that Black people dared to question the failure of the "revolution" to live up to its promises of equality. He says that he faced much persecution. He says that he had to flee the country in secrecy, and spent numerous years living in limbo in France. All the while, Moore claims that the Cuban government continued its efforts to silence him through the revocation of his passport, the imposition of diplomatic pressure on France to deport him, plots to kidnap him, assassination attempts and the like.

While I fully support the right of the Cuban people to select any form of government they choose, I've always found it interesting that in Castro's Cuba, the public face of the government is nearly always a White one. Black Cubans are reportedly not permitted to work at tourist hotels because the European tourists don't want to have to deal with them. I was shocked to learn recently that Cuba had a level of Jim Crow like racial segregation inits history that rivaled our own.

So, should Afro-Venezuelans support Chavez's movement toward Socialism? Only they can decide. Somehow I think, however, that by today's vote, the people have spoken loudly and clearly.

To Read More about the Venezuelan Elections visit USA Today

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Afrolatinas: From Periphery to Power and Possibility

History is written by the victors, the saying goes. Sad but true. How will history record the contributions of Afrolatinas? Though we paint a very visible and physical presence wherever we happen to be, our legacy has rarely been recorded in our own words. Traditionally, others have defined us in their own image, based upon their own world view. One major consequence of this situation has been the marginalization of Afrolatinas. Often the glue that has held the Black family together during times of crisis, often willing to sacrifice our own dreams and goals to give opportunities to those we love, often neglecting ourselves so that those around us can have a little more. Sometimes by choice, sometimes because we failed to value ourselves, sometimes out of a sense of obligation, we have taken a seat in the corner. Sadly, we've often been the ones left behind when those we've supported and uplifted have moved on, no longer appreciative or grateful of the assistance we've provided. How long will we continue to be the universal beast of burden?

Though we, ranging in skin tones from the deepest ebony and mahogany to mid cocoa and cinnamon, to tan, to red, to yellow, to white, and possessing all possible facial features and hair types, are distinctive in appearance, we are, nonetheless, rarely represented as being participants in the decision making that affects our lives and shapes our communities. There are no self identified Afrolatinas serving as heads of state in Latin America, there are few Afrolatinas placed in integral governmental positions in Latin America, few Afrolatinas serve as judges in our courts, few Afrolatinas are at the helm in science, industry or business nor do they hold many decision making positions in journalism or media. Even in the entertainment industry, the one arena in which Afrolatinas have some degree of recognition and should have some semblance of power, few Afrolatina entertainers control their own destinies. We don't own the production companies that produce the programs in which we star, we don't control the proceeds of the mega sell out concerts at which we perform, and we don't control the downstream income producing avenues that are brought about by our intellectual property. If all were as it should be, Celia Cruz would have ruled the world. (lol)

The modern world runs on money, power, and image. Yet we, in general, have little money, little power and increasingly diminished control over our public image, at least to the extent that our images are projected in the media. The popular image has us gyrating to a pulsating beat or receiving the public assistance needed to feed our 5 fatherless children. Powerful Black women are mocked. To some, Condolezza Rice, irrespective of all her accomplishments is inherently unqualified to be Secretary of State because she is a Black woman, lampooned as a monkey and Aunt Jemima around the world.

How do we influence the world in which we live in this type of environment? Do we start from scratch and build upon each success, do we rely upon government to carve out a special space for us and mandate that we have a seat at the decision making table, do we do nothing and let the doctrine of survival of the fittest work its magic, do we groom designated leaders and rely upon them to advance our interests, do we each work within our respective spheres of influence to be more visible and vocal as intelligent Afrolatinas, is the answer to be found in some combination of these options, or is there some other option?

The other issue is, unity. Are we unified enough to consolidate our resources, knowledge and energy to build a powerful platform from which to advance? Are we better off casting our lot with the existing power structure? Should we create a new power structure uniquely tailored to advance our interests? Do we have enough faith in each other to make a difference? While discusted at the disrespect leveled at the Secretary of State, few Black women have spoken out on Condolezza's behalf. This must change if we are to receive the respect we believe should be ours.

What is the answer, I don't honestly know. Only time will tell. As I tend to view the glass as half full rather than half empty, I am the eternal optimist. Rather than seeing the range of available options as too daunting to contemplate, I see the available options as providing a welcomed wide range of solutions. With so many options available, finding "the" answer is only a matter of time. Actually, there is no one answer. We each must examine our own circumstances and be proactive about selecting those solutions that best meet our needs. Given our reputation for being resourceful and resilient, we're generally better suited to a "go with the flow" approach to problem solving rather than to rely on a cookie cutter approach.

The most important factor in our future success is to understand clearly where we have been and why we don't want to stay there. We have seen the problems of the past and understand that stagnation will continue to render us invisible. It is for these reasons, that I believe in our promise of our future and have no doubt that the fog of invisibility will continue to evaporate.

Clearly, the tide has begun to turn. We have shaken the stifling legacies of the past. Afrolatinas are becoming increasingly more visible and vocal. In the United States, Black women, both Anglo and Latina, receive the highest levels of education in our communities, and can command competitive salaries. In Latin America, some nations, like Brasil, are starting to offer educational opportunities to historically excluded groups, like Afrolatinas. The blogosphere is brimming with Afrolatina voices. While others will continue to portray us as they deem appropriate, we now have the tools to counter lies with truth... at least the truth as WE see it. That's no small feat. We are victorious.

Brian Williams of NBC News is set to air a week long series of news casts on the state of the Black woman in the United States during the week of November 26. The series will cover, political, educational, economic and social advancements made by Black women. We're the guests of honor, so be sure to tune in. They're starting to take notice of our existence and are seeking our participation at center stage.

The future is full of bright possibilities. It is our job to seek them and grasp them when they arise, and with laser like focus, chart a new course AND to reach out to help other Afrolatinas.

Step back while I hammer the last nail in the coffin of the myth that Afrolatinas must be relegated to the periphery of life.


Saturday, November 17, 2007

Pelo Malo, Big Butts, Black Skin And All: Are Afro-Latina Women Beautiful?

The Miami Herald ran a series of articles over the summer on the emerging Afro-Latino population in the United States. The article that I found to be most enlightening was the one that was titled: "Black Denial". Focusing on the Dominican Republic, the article was refreshingly real, depressingly sad and shockingly uncomfortable, all at the same time. The piece addressed the gamut of racial issues in the Dominican Republic, from the myth of "pelo malo" (bad hair which was also described as "barrio looking" hair), to elegant hair(straight hair), to skin tone, etc. Catherine de la Rosa, a US born student of Dominican ancestry studying in the Dominican Republic, was quoted in the article as saying: " I always associated black with ugly. I was too dark and didn't have nice hair...with time passing, I see I'm not black. I'm Latina". Wow, what a shame that she doesn't know that the terms "Black" and "Latina" aren't mutually exclusive. But wait, there's more.

Dominicans interviewed for the article said that people shout insults at women who dare to wear natural hairstyles in public. Xiomara Fortuna said: "I can not take the bus because people pull my hair and stick combs in it... they ask me if just got out of prison. People just don't want that image to be seen." Dawn Stinchcomb, a Black researcher from the US, reported that people would shout insults at her in the street and that waiters at restaurants refused to serve her. She was quoted as saying:"I had people on the streets...yell at me to get out of the sun because I was already Black enough...I don't have a problem when people who don't look like me say hurtful things, but when its people who looked just like me?" Unbelievable. Maria Elena Polanca went on to add: "Look we have bad hair, bad. Nobody says 'curly'. It's bad... You can't go out like that. People will say 'Look at that nest! Someone light a match.'"

The efforts of Dominicans to rid their society of the blight of "bad hair" pervading the country is justified, some say, as a "necessary" step toward defending Dominican nationalism. Ginetta Candelario, a student at Smith College in Massachusetts was quoted as having said, in defending the cultural mandate that Dominican women possessing African spiraled hair alter their hair to make it "straight": "It's not self hate...Going through that is to love yourself a lot. That's someone saying, 'I am going to take care of me.' It's nationalist, it's affirmative and celebrating self." The article says that Ms. Candelario studies "the compexities of Dominican race and beauty." Apparently, Ms. Candelario has more studying to do, as she is clearly oblivious to the fact that if one has to alter who one is naturally to become more "acceptable" to others, one is too preoccupied with pleasing other people to be really focused on loving one's self. Are these Dominicans really comfortable with themselves? Or, are they in denial? It's interesting that Ms. Candelario believes that having African spiraled hair is an indication that Afro-Dominican women don't care for themselves. Now THAT is news.

Given the historical fact of Haitian rule of the Dominican side of the island of Hispanola in prior generations, it is somewhat understandable that some residue of Dominican animosity toward Haitians for abuses that may have occurred during Haitian rule remains in Dominican society. A smart and highly educated woman like Ms. Candelario should understand, however, the absurdity of attempting to cast anti-Black
racism in the Dominican Republic as necessary for the expression of "nationalistic" pride, all the while denying that self hate is at the root of the movement for Dominican nationalism. The Miami Herald did not buy it, and neither do I.

Why is it that the English and the French, who have a long history of national rivalry, never used their mutual whiteness as grounds for hating the other so as to prove their respective national pride? Similarly, why is it that the Japanese didn't justify attacks on the Chinese because the Chinese had the same eye lid folds that the Japanese themselves possessed, so as to assert national pride? And why is it that the neither the Indians nor the Pakistanis justified attacks on each other based on the Brown skin and straight black hair that they each possess? Frankly, I can't think of any ethnic group, other than those of African descent, that encourages its members to mock physical characteristics that they share with their enemies, when those enemies are also Black, as a way of showing "pride".

Other groups would never think to employ such ridiculous and non-sensical "logic" precisely because they DO have self pride. Moreover, they, as autonomous people, understand that by cannibalizing the physical characteristics inherent in their ethnic identity, they reveal a mental weakness that can be exploited by their enemies. Such weaknesses are easily identified by those who possess a great deal of self pride and will, utlimately, result in the defeat of the weak. Until this point is understood and embraced, the Black world will continue to sit at the feet of those who have and continue to exploit us. Is it really any surprise that the Chinese have descended upon Africa in the past decade? They are there because they have observed that much of Africa is weak and rutterless and therefore Africa's resources are ripe for their taking and exploitation. In my opinion the weakness sensed by the Chinese stems from the lack of self pride that resides in the being of many African leaders due to their having drunk the kool-aid filtered through the prism of colonial propaganda. Africa will only benefit from the bounty of the continent when its leaders learn this lesson. Afro-Latinos and Afro-descendants must learn this same lesson. We will only advance and prosper when we act out of pride rather than self hate and shame.

Obviously, Dominicans could, just as other nationalities have, find other grounds upon which to distinguish themselves from Haitians as a means of showing national pride, other than their mutual Blackness, IF they really wanted to. They haven't done so precisely because of anti-Black self hate among many Dominicans. I'm sorry Ms. Candelario, this is the reality, no matter how vehemently you deny it.
The calendar says 2007, but maybe its really only 1807.

Ok, strike one for any thought that Afro-Latinas can be beautiful, as we, according to the apparent consensus of the Dominican people, have "bad" hair.

The next allegation against the possibility of Afro-Latina beauty is that we, allegedly, ALL have big asses. According to a Dominican New Yorker named Ramona Hernandez, a big ass renders Afro-Latinas inherently "ugly". When asked by the Miami Herald if Black Dominican women are considered beautiful in Dominican culture, Ms. Hernandez is reported to have mocked the way Black Dominican women allegedly walk, by shuffling her feet accross her office floor, with her bent arms extended behind her back, in an attempt to mock Black women with large rear ends. She then is quoted in the article as having said: "You should see how they come in here with their big asses! They come in here thinking they are all that, and I think,'doesn't she know she's not really pretty?'"

Amazingly, Ms. Hernandez, pictured above (courtesy of the New York Times), continues to serve as the Director of the Dominican Studies Institute at City College of New York, despite numerous calls for her ouster following the publication of her comments, as alleged in the Miami Herald series. Ms. Hernandez, for her part, denies the charge that she is an anti-Black racist and claims that she was quoted out of context. Maybe she was quoted out of context, or maybe the Miami Herald got it right, I don't know, but I think her admission in the article that she would "never, never, never" attend a meeting at City College without first blow drying her naturally curly hair straight because she's "... a woman trying to look cute", speaks volumes. Upon observing Ms. Hernandez's picture, it is abundantly clear that she has absolutely NO African ancestry and does NOT "suffer" from pelo malo. I'm also sure that if we had a full length picture of her, she absolutely would NOT have a big ass.

Curiously, though, Jennifer Lopez, widely noted for having a large rear end, has not been deemed "ugly" because of the size of her posterior. As a matter of fact, irrespective of her big butt, Ms. Lopez is frequently noted for her beauty, both in the mainstream press and by the general public. I wonder if Ms. Hernandez considers Jennifer Lopez to be ugly? I Doubt it. Further, many rich and famous women flock to plastic surgeons to get butt implants. Apparently it's socially acceptable and beautiful for women to have big butts ONLY if they buy them AND ONLY if they are not Black. Once again, Black women are mocked for naturally possessing a physical characteristic that other women are willing to spend money to obtain. The Black woman's natural characteristic is "ugly", but the artificial imitation of that very characteristic, when co-opted by non-Blacks, is deemed beautiful in the non Black body. It's not just butts though, it's lips too. Full lips in Black women are ugly, but collagen injected lips on non-Black women are all the rage. Hairbraiding on Black women is "ghettoish", but on Bo Derek it magically morphed into beauty. Do you get it now Ms. Candelario?

Ok, strike two. Afro-Latinas can't be beautiful because we have big asses.

The next accusation against the idea of Afro-Latina beauty is that we have Black skin. According to Dominican Sergia Galvan, who was interviewed by the Miami Herald for the article: "There's tremendous resistance to blackness--black is something bad....Black is associated with dark, illegal, ugly, clandestine things. There is a prototype of beauty here and a lot of social pressure. There are schools where braids and natural hair are prohibited."

In the Miami Herald article, Ms. Galvan went on to note that though there were more Black complected Dominican women entering beauty contests, they never win. More and more Afro-Latinas are participating in beauty contests and not just in the Dominican Republic. Irrespective of whether you support the idea of women participating in beauty contests or not, the reality is that we do. In the past 30 years, several Latin American countries have even crowned Black complected women as their national representatives in international beauty pagents. In 1986 Deise Nunes was crowned Miss Brasil; in 1996, Monica Chala was crowned Miss Ecuador; in 1998, Carolina Indriago was crowned Miss Venezuela; in 2002, Vanessa Alexander Mendoza was crowned as Miss Colombia. 2002 also saw Black women crowned as Miss Puerto Rico, Miss Mexico, and that year, Erika Lizet Ramirez was crowned as Miss Honduras. In 1997, Italy named Dominican-Italian Denny Mendez as Miss Italy. Unfortunately, none of these women won the Miss Universe title, BUT they were visible as Black women from the Latin world. Apparently, the slander that Afro-Latinas aren't beautiful hasn't been embraced by all.

So, I guess, for some, that's strike three, Afro-Latinas can't be beautiful because we have Black skin. According to the Black haters, we as Afro-Latinas have completely struck out. They think we're beyond redemption.

All kidding aside, those who chose to believe the slander that Afro-Latinas are ugly, will never view us as beautiful, under any circumstance. Their ignorance does not, however, require that we, as Afro-Latinas, have to accept the lowly position they've designated for us at the back of the line, full of shame about our hair, our bodies and our skin color. We are beautiful because we value who we are. We are beautiful because we don't allow ourselves to be defined by those who despise us. And, we are beautiful because we walk with pride, with our backs straight and our heads held high. Too bad that many Afro-Dominicans,other Afro-Latinos, and many in the general public still haven't figured it out yet. Well, that's their loss.


Friday, November 16, 2007

Join the Afro-Latino Network

Why Afrolatina Alive?

Many people who define themselves as "Black", "African-American","Latino",Spanish" or "Hispanic" often question the use of the term Afro-Latino(a) by individuals who are both of African and Latino descent. Their demand is - CHOOSE. Essentially they are saying, "You can be with us or against us but you can't identify with BOTH of us." This is a strange demand, especially from those who live in the United States, the land where one is, allegedly, free to express one's self in whatever manner one chooses. Nonetheless, the Black and Latino advocates are usually adamant in their belief that our existence threatens their pursuit of "unity". Sadly, they've bought into the maniacal "them v. us" mentality that is all too common in the world today. The political/financial windfall available to the winner of the "biggest minority" label lottery is huge, so the stakes are high. In such an environment, there is no room for the ambiguity brought about by our advancement of the "hybrid" Afro-Latino(a) identity. This brewing Anglo-Black-Latino battle notwithstanding, if the amalgam of nations in the Americas are truly a melting pot, surely there has to be space in the pot for an Afro-Latino identity.

This "them vs. us" mentality did not evolve out of thin air. In the United States, the "one drop rule" required that anyone with any known and/or visible African ancestry be designated as Black. The goal was to isolate and oppress Africans. Brave battles were fought against this discrimination and, as a result, anyone with Black ancestry who attempts to identify as anything other than exclusively Black is accused of being "ashamed" of being Black. I always laugh when I encounter this "logic" because, central to the Afro-Latin identity is the term "Afro". How much more African focused can an identity be than one that incorporates the term "Afro"? If one is essentially identifying as "Afro", isn't one embracing the African aspect of one's identity?

The troubling aspect of what I'll call the "Black only" identity is that it creates a hierarchy of power where those who have the most power attempt to intimidate those with less power into denying certain aspects of their identity so that the identity of the powerful group reigns supreme. That minority groups allow themselves to fall into this trap even though they, themselves, have been victimized by it, is too sad for words. Stated differently, Blacks who identify solely as Black and demand that others do so as well make, the unilateral decision that the Latin connections of Afro-Latinos be hidden for the sake of "unity". Whatever hardships are experienced by those of whom the demand is made are ignored and/or dismissed as irrelevant to the "struggle".

What hardships are we talking about? Many Afro-Latinos speak limited English. Huge numbers of Afro-Latinos speak only Portuguese or Spanish. The Black unity movement, on the other hand, is largely conducted in English and led by English speakers in the US, Caribbean and Africa. How can those who don't speak English be included or even be heard if the important cultural reality of language is subsumed to the demands of the powerful, solely for the sake of "unity"? Similarly there are obvious cultural differences between Anglo-Blacks and Afro-Latinos. The two groups have historically had different religious practices, political views, and cultural practices. These views and practices are as dear to Afro-Latinos as they are to Anglo-Blacks. Anyone who believes that Afro-Latinos will, en masse, drop these aspects of their lives for the sake of being accepted by Anglo-Blacks is sadly mistaken. Frankly, such a demand should never be made as it smacks of haughty disrespect/hubris.

In contrast, ethnic identity in Latin America often demands the denial of one's African lineage. As a consequence, Hispanic/Latin unity advocates demand that Afro-Latinos get on board, without rocking the boat (ie by emphasizing the African aspect of their identity). A further consequence of the Hispanic/Latin "unity" model is that if Afro-Latinos agree to these demands we, invariably, will find ourselves literally in the margins as the "Euro" Latinos grasp all the power available to Latinos as the most populous minority group in the United States. Generally speaking, Euro Latinos (and those who identify as Euro Latinos) are the most visible, educated, and vocal segment of the Latino population. Can they be depended upon to speak up for Afro-Latinos, history tells us that the answer is a resounding NO. Control of the Latino community by Euros is the norm in the US and is replicated uniformly throughout Latin America. For example, Afro identity in Argentina is so hidden that the myth that there are no people of African descent in Argentina is widely held. The Argentinian government does little to dispel this myth. Similarly, people in the Dominican Republic who are of African descent have been convinced by those that govern them that they have no connection to Blacks or Africa even though their mirrors reveal the undeniable truth to them every day. All in an effort to promote pro-Dominican nationalism against the Black Haitian "hordes". Further, people of Black descent in Brasil willingly discriminate against other people of Black descent in Brasil simply because the former group has a fraction more of the colonizer's blood flowing through their veins than does the latter.

Latin America has practically driven itself schizophrenic in its frantic attempt to deny and ignore its African connections. The marginalization of Afro-Latinos throughout Latin America has enabled and empowered the Black deniers. If we have any hope of remaining relevant, viable and visible we must remain vigilant and vocal about identifying as Afro-Latinos. Irrespective of how badly those of us in the US have it, most Afro-Latinos in Latin America have it worse. We have a responsibility to use our education and access to the media to speak out against the abuses that are being levelled against Afro-Latinos as well as attempts to keep us marginalized and excluded.

Those who speak out against the assertion of an Afro-Latino identity do so at great cost to Afro-Latinos in the Caribbean, the US and Latin America. It is precisely because of the incessant denial of the Afro-Latino reality that the descendants of Africans in Latin America and the Caribbean have not attained the same political and social advancements of Anglo-Blacks in the US. Jim Crow laws created an unintended consequence, the discrimination faced by Anglo-Blacks was written in black and white and was undeniable. This gave US Blacks an avenue through which to challenge the discrimination we encountered. Generally speaking and with few exceptions, Latin American countries did not enact such laws. The lack of such legalized discrimination has hampered the advancement of Afro-Latinos because official entities can more easily deny that any problem exists. Inasmuch as nothing was written in black and white, these governments can claim that any discrimination is limited to individuals and does not have the stamp of government approval. Without such laws and the inevitable intermarriage of Euro and Afro and Indigenous Latinos, the presence of Afro-Latinos becomes easier to deny and the value/contributions of Afro-Latinos become easier to de-emphasize and to ultimately, ignore, such that those who are most visibly African become isolated, excluded and marginalized.

Clearly, the tensions that exist between Blacks and Latinos in the US are palpable and without careful treading, will become exacerbated as their relative population percentages shift. Unless Afro-Latinos become vocal and visible about our unique concerns and issues, we run the risk of becoming a casualty of the battle, ultimately required to assimilate and to choose, "them v. us". Inasmuch as we are not exclusively Black, nor exclusively Latino, we must be allowed to embrace both aspects of who we are without apology, rebuke or shame. If allowed to embrace the entirety of our identity, we are uniquely positioned to bridge the widening gap between the Black and Latino communities in the US.

So, I return to the original question, why call this blog Afro-Latina Alive? It is necessary to do so to prevent our marginalization. People who are alive have voices. Autonomous people with voices give expression to those voices so as to protect their interests and identity. Calling this blog Afro-Latina Alive underscores the point that we are alive, have a voice, are autonomous and have interests that need to be expressed and protected.

It is my hope that this Blog will be a positive step toward the improved awareness of the Afro-Latino(a) reality, and a channel through with the Afro-Latina voice can gain expression.