Protect & Serve? I Have Some Answers.

10599415_10101795369337306_5780719047339870187_nI wrote an article for the Huffington Post asking some questions about Police Brutality in this country. After looking at the events in Ferguson last night. I might have some answers to my own questions.

Are we at war? Yes we are. It is very apparent that the lives of Black people are not valued. We have become targets, actually we always were.

Although the real question is what kind of war is it? Are we talking about the war on guns? Are we talking about the war on crime? Or are we talking about the war on drugs? None of the above. We are talking about a war on Black people. A war on the oppressed. There has been a lot of rhetoric over the past year about people wanting to take back their country. There is no other way to express this and don’t think for a second that because we have a Black President that it changes the status quo in the country. The Civil Rights causes in the 1950/60s never went away.

Did we somehow get transported to District 11? Are we now giving up our youth as tribute so that the rest of the country can feel safe? I was being sarcastic when I asked this but it certainly does not seem far from the truth. I’m tired of seeing lists of all the black people that die unnecessarily in the country. I’m tired of seeing police (or people who think they are above the law) get away with atrocities. I’m tired of our people getting criminalized.

Is it normal for law enforcement in Los Angeles to beat a Black woman on the side of the road? The definition of normal is conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected. The sad thing is that none of what we are seeing is all that surprising. It is shocking but almost expected because we are used it.

Are we being dehumanized? Absolutely. It’s like an older version of cops and robbers where you don’t really care about the criminal. As long as we’re viewed as animals then we will subjected to this kind of brutal and unrelenting behavior from police officers who are heavily militarized. There is no way this happens in the streets of Apple Valley or The Hamptons. We are seen as less human which makes us easier to kill.

The motto of many police departments across the United States is “Serve and Protect” right? Who is being served and who is being protected? Someone commented on my article saying: Police are not here to protect you. There is no legal obligation for the police to protect you. Isn’t that the damn truth. I knew this already because we will never see these scenes in suburbia. A man can shoot up a theater in Colorado and be given the chance to live his life in jail where he gets three meals a day and be deemed as having mental issues. I can tell you right now, the police are not here to serve or protect us, or as another commenter would put it: Protect the 1% and their possessions and keep the 99% in line, very simple.

Mike Brown. John Crawford. Eric Garner. Marlene Pinnock. Ezell Ford. Dante Parker. Rosan Miller. Denise Stewart.

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Latino Heritage Month: A History of Citizenship & Education

la-times_february-19-1946_400x450This may be the first time in about 10 years that I am not directly involved with planning some type of Latino Heritage Month activity on a campus I am employed in. While that may sound like a tragedy in some way given my past involvement, It really isn’t. Perhaps because I reside in New York City, where there are literally millions of Latinos, maybe I don’t have that same sense of urgency as I did as Syracuse. I noticed that Barnard College and Columbia University already has established programming for students to take part and that is what makes me smile.

This is not say that the work is done and I am over it but I think that I need to have a different, more personal, approach to Latino Heritage Month. Many times we call for action without reflection. We get angry over things that occur and we tweet about it and post Facebook statuses but then everything sorta dies down after a few days. I do contemplate if that is because we never really take to reflect on what is really happening in the world. We become more reactionary to much of what happens.

Those reactions distracts us from doing what is going on. So I would like to offer a history lesson on how Latinos had to fight for the education we enjoy today. This is part of a graduate paper I wrote last year. Warning – this is lengthy but I do think it’s worth it:

With California and Texas becoming states in the mid-1800s, there was a need for the United States to determine what it was going to do with the Mexican and Native American populations that it acquired with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. The Mexican population quickly became racialized by the standard of the United States, which meant that light skinned Mexicans were considered Caucasian and darker individuals (such as Native American and Afro-Mexicans) were considered Black.

This is important to recognize because this is where many Mexicans drew the line in the fight for equal opportunity. They felt that they did not fall within the racialized context of black and white. In general, most of the separation from the majority was cultural like many of the other immigrants that came before them. Immigrants from Europe that came to the U.S. earlier the century (Germans, Irish, and Italians) went through a similar plight of dealing with culture and language.  However, European Immigrants never had to fight that hard to become assimilated into the American culture and as a result lost many customs and cultural traditions that Latinos fight hard to maintain.

After the Spanish American War in 1898 resulted in the Treaty of Paris (in which Puerto Rico was acquired along with Guam and the Philippines), the United States maintained the attitude that the Latino population needed to become more Americanized by getting a better education and thus learning English. Mexicans in the west were struggling with equal rights in terms of land ownership, while Puerto Ricans and Cubans were dealing with Americanization in the north east. American politicians felt that Puerto Rico, in particular, would benefit from a better education as long as they learned English first. Cuba also fell within the protection of the United States before Fidel Castro assumed power.

The Mexican Revolutionary War from 1910 to 1920 forced many Mexicans to cross the border into the United States to escape the fighting and the bloodshed. This meant a cheaper workforce with the influx of people, but it also meant an educational challenge for school districts. Many districts in California created spaces in schools just to hold separate Mexican classes to address the needs of this new population. The focus was to Americanize Mexican children while teaching them vocational skills needed to make them a part of the workforce. Despite initial protest from parents, the Santa Ana Board of Education was the first to open a Mexican only school in 1919. The rationale being that this separate facility was in the best interest of the children.

In 1917, the Jones Act was passed that allowed Puerto Ricans to be American Citizens, which led to a large influx of Puerto Ricans into the United States. This declaration of citizenship came after years of political struggle over what exactly Puerto Rico was. While statehood was not granted, Puerto Ricans could still enjoy the status of being an American Citizen even though they are often not treated as such. Here is where many of the political issues for Puerto Ricans and Mexicans differ. Mexicans were fighting hard to cross the boarders to be naturalized to escape a war of revolution while Puerto Ricans slowly losing their ability to self-govern.

When thinking about segregation, cases like Brown v. Board of Education in Topeka Kansas in 1954 were critical. However, in 1946 Mendez v. Westminster in California is a landmark court case that changed the landscape for Latinos in Education and set the stage for the latter court case. The most import part of the fight for social inclusion is that most of the struggles for equality in school are mostly invisible. African Americans struggles for desegregation are well documented and well discussed in the history of the United States; however, Mexican Americans have been fighting the legality of segregation since the 1930s. History largely acknowledges the plight of African Americans making it difficult to really see and understand the roles that Latinos, particularly Mexicans played during the segregation era.

Cases like the Independent School District v. Salvatierra in Texas (1930) showed that segregation of Mexicans was indeed happening because of race. However, school districts could get away with this if the basis of the separation was based on lack of English language proficiency. The issue was that the Texas State constitution, which was ratified in 1876, stated that segregation of Whites and colored children was allowed. However, the term “colored” was only meant for “Negros.” Since Mexicans are not mentioned in the Constitution, the court ruled that Mexicans were considered white and thus segregation against them was illegal. The significance of this case was that the lawyers who defended Salvatierra were from the newly established League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). This case provided them with crucial experience they would need in the upcoming years.

In 1931, the Alvarez v. Lemon Grove School District was held in court in California. This can be argued as being the first real victory against segregation. The Lemon Grove District sought to build a separate school for Mexicans due to overcrowding. The District never informed the parents of this, thus never gained support from the Mexican community. In turn the parents protested and refused to have their children attend this new school that was called La Caballeriza (the stable) by much of the community. These parents wanted to maintain their right to send their children to same schools that Whites sent their children to.

The judge ruled in favor of Alvarez on the basis that the separate school for Mexican children would not be conducive to their Americanization. It was believed that this new school would severely retard their comprehension of the English Language because they would have no one to speak proper English to. He also believed that allowing Spanish speaking children to learn English and mingle with other English speaking students would allow them the best way to be Americanized. In addition, it was also found that California law had no such provisions that allowed for the district to make such a decision.

For years, California was deeply rooted in the idea of segregation. As the Mexican population increased, so was the increased demand of Anglos to create a residential and educational segregation. In 1927 the California Attorney General pushed for Mexicans to be considered as Native Americans whereby placing them under the mandate of de jure segregation. The notion that Mexicans were “colored” and should not have the same equalities as White people seemed to go against the ruling cited in Lemon Grove Case. However, when California Legislature passed a law to segregate Mexicans because they were considered Native Americans, the 1935 School code did not specifically mention them by name:

The governing board of the School district shall have all power to establish separate schools for Indian [sic] children, excepting children who are the wards of the U.S. government and the children of all other Indians who are the descendants of the original American Indians of the U.S, and for the children of Chinese, Japanese, or Mongolian parentage.

Because Mexicans were not mentioned specially, as was the case with other races, school districts in California found it difficult to legally segregate them. Mexicans did not consider themselves Native American, which created a loophole within the legislation.

loc-sticks
A picture of the Zoot Suit Riots

Despite the inequities within the school system and the labor market, World War II was a time in which many Latinos went overseas. It was estimated that over 65,000 Puerto Ricans served in a segregated military. Due to their citizenship, Puerto Rican men were required to register and serve.  Most of them served from the 65th Infantry Regiment. World War II gave many Mexicans pride in their US citizenship. The general number of Mexican Americans that served is unknown because many were counted as White soldiers. However, despite their participation in the war, Mexicans were constantly being linked to issues of crime as much as African Americans were. The zoot suit riots in 1943, where American sailors would drive the streets of Los Angeles looking to strip Mexican youth of their clothing, marked a time of racial tension in California. The battle in the courtroom for equality became even more crucial as racial tensions were mounting outside the classroom.

In 1943, the parents of Silvia Mendez tried to enroll her into Westminster Elementary School in Santa Ana, California, where she was denied enrollment based on her skin color and Spanish surname.  It was lawful at the time for California school districts to segregate all students of color and thus deny them access into schools that were considered all white.  This prompted her father, Gonzalo, to join with other families and file a class action lawsuit against the Orange County School District. LULA took the lead on the case and represented five fathers: Thomas Estrada, Chapo Guzman, Mayo Zambada, Rosame Elcacho, and Gonzalo Mendez.

The basis of the argument was that the school district had violated the 14th Amendment. This is a similar argument made in Brown v. Board of Education that took place seven years later by Thurgood Marshall on behalf of the NAACP.  The Equal Protection Clause within the 14th Amendment states:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States;

What led Judge Paul J. McCormick’s ruling in favor of Mendez was not just the violation of the 14th Amendment, but the ratification of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo that guaranteed Mexicans equal rights in the United States. However, this case would be fought again in the appellate court, where the connection of the two historic court cases is made.

For years, the NAACP has been trying to win the battle of segregation in schools using the 14th Amendment as reason for the law’s is unconstitutionality. Until the Mendez v. Westminster, the standard for segregation in schools was the Plessy v. Ferguson case in 1896 that upheld that States had the right to separate, provided that they granted equal facilities. The Mendez ruling was the first successful ruling toward segregation in terms of skin color.  For the most part, segregation for Mexicans was based on cultural reasons. These segregation cases really did not change much for African Americans because there was always a loophole regarding that citizenry and language issues of Mexicans in particular.

When it came time to fight the case in the appellate courts, LULAC and the NAACP (along with American Civil Liberties Union, American Jewish Congress, and Japanese American Citizens League) came together to successfully argue the case.  Ninth Circuit Judge, Justice Albert Lee Stephens, upheld the ruling April 14, 1947.  The court stated:

By enforcing the segregation of school children of Mexican Decent against their will and contrary to the laws of California, the respondents have violated the federal law as provided in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Federal Constitution by depriving them the equal protections of the laws.

Thurgood Marshall collaborated with David Marcus, who was representing LULAC on this appeal case that provided some of the framework that Marshall would use in the Brown case in 1954.

Two months after the ruling was passed down, Governor Earl Warren signed a bill repealing segregation in California schools, which lead to the closing of Mexican schools across the State.  This marked a second connection to the Brown case. In 1953, President Eisenhower appointed Earl Warren as Chief Justice to the Supreme Court. It was Chief Justice Warren that wrote the final decision in the Brown case that ended segregation in schools across the United States.

What made this ruling so important was that it broke away from the Plessy ruling of the “separate but equal “doctrine.  While African Americans had continued to suffer under segregation in terms of physical and social equality, Mexican Americans were able to fight successfully against the issues because they were routinely seen as more than Black. However, despite the positive ruling from the Mendez case that was supposed to end de jure segregation, evidence indicated that not only did segregation not end, but that it worsened.

In 1947 Minerva Delgado was denied admission to a school in Texas on the sole basis that she was Mexican. Her grandfather sued the Bastrop Independent School District that was later filed as a class action suit on behalf of all Mexican children within the school district. Delgado v. Bastrop was another pre-Brown case that demonstrated that segregation was more customary than law. Many people in Texas had hope that this case would do for Texas what Mendez did for California.

While the judge ruled in favor of the plaintiff in 1948, segregation of first graders was allowed if there was a lack of proficiency in English. This lack of proficiency made segregation justifiable in terms of separate classes, or maybe even separate schooling altogether.

Despite the various victories against segregation in various school districts in California and Texas, Mexicans were still dealing with isolation within segregated schools well into the 1950s. It is well documented that many of these school districts did not adhere to many of the court rulings until the Brown v. Board of Education ruling in 1954. However, desegregation was becoming law across the country; segregation based on language became more of the practiced custom.

Sources:

  1. Donato, Rubén. The other struggle for equal schools: Mexican Americans during the Civil Rights era. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1997. Print.
  2. MacDonald, Victoria. Latino education in the United States: a narrated history from 1513-2000. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. Print.
  3. Navarro, Sharon Ann, and Armando Xavier Mejia. Latino Americans and political participation: a reference handbook. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO, 2004. Print.
  4. Pedraza, Pedro, and Melissa Rivera. Latino education: an agenda for community action research. Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2005. Print.
  5. Santiago, Isaura. “Aspira v. Board of Education Revisited.” American Journal of Education 95.1 (1986): 149-199. Print.
  6. Valencia, Richard R.. Chicano school failure and success: past, present, and future. 2nd ed. London: Routledge/Falmer, 2002. Print.

Michonne: The Ultimate Black Heroine?

Let me tell you what I am grateful for. The woman called Michonne. Even if you do not watch The Walking Dead, you should recognize what is going on here. We are seeing the birth of the most unorthodox and most unlikely of heroines on Cable Television. A sword wielding Black Woman that kicks ass and takes names.

We live in a time where we see plenty of White women play a that hero role which breaks all kinds of barriers and gender roles. I can name countless movies like Aliens, Prometheus, The Hunger Games, and the Underworld movies just to name a few, yet can you name a real movie when that same person was a Black Woman? While my thoughts go to Pam Greer in Foxy Brown back in the seventies…  most roles for African American women, in particular, are usually neatly carved out as maids, hoes, and single parent mothers trying to make it (and that is just in Tyler Perry films).

But, seemingly, out of now where comes this dark skinned woman in a world where you “fight the dead, and fear the living.” Most people seemed to taken by surprise how good this all looks. Can you imagine if a Black Woman was allowed to take out her “post racial” frustration on the living dead? What would that look like? I can tell you that reading the comic book, she is a survivor that takes no chances and trusts few people and that translation has worked well on screen down to her long dreads.

Which brings me to my next point. She is in a comic book! Can anyone tell me the last time a black woman was a major character in a comic book (that is not Storm from X-Men)? I immediately think about Captain Marvel from the Avengers books in the 1980s. But perhaps Milestone Comics had the most recent Black woman character with “Rocket” from the Icon series which came out in the nineties. I will just just answer my own question and just say that Amanda Waller in DC comics Suicide Squad is the only other MAJOR character in a comic book that I know of currently.

This raises a lot of questions for me. Is there some sort of thought that perhaps Black Woman are not seen as the hero types? I know plenty of strong Black Women that do not need a sword or the power of the Gods to fight crime. This is why seeing Michonne on The Walking Dead is refreshing. I knew about her for a long time by just reading the book (in which she is still alive). Her recent fame is only the tip of the ice berg when it come to her character and over all development in the psyche of the United States when it come to Black Women. She is a well developed character that is no laughing matter unlike Hally Berry’s Catwoman that might have set back African American woman back a few decades.

I challenge anyone who can find me an African American comic/movie/television hero that may have a stronger impact than Michonne. I think anyone will have trouble finding this fictitious person. Please do not include Storm in your searches because she is African. I wish you good luck and read The Walking Dead.

Word Ninja

People will read and hear what they want to. I have come to the conclusion that many people take the things that I do either too personally or too literal. In either case, that is fine. Last Year, I talked about the slow death of critical thought because I believe that people take everything at face value without thinking about anything deeper. Two Years ago, I wrote about how Everything is about Race and how there is this assumption that I point things out because I want to divide people.Why do these 2 things matter? Let me take you back about 20+ years.

I was walking with a friend of mine from school to the Bx 39 bus stop on White Plains Road in the Bronx. On the way there we were stopped but 4 guys who pretty much ignore me and focus on him. I had always been very good at being aware of my surroundings, but for some reason these particular guys came out of no where. He told me to run but I stood frozen in fear. They jumped him in front of me and amazingly, he took punches and never dropped. The entire incident was less than a minute and I believe they ran way after taking his Walkman (at least I think they did). I cant recall what happened after that but I do remember never being able to apologize enough for not helping or taking some of the beating.

This is something that I have often thought about. Would I let that happen again? How would I feel if I saw other people getting beat up. Fear has away of stopping you in your tracks (yet another topic I have written about). As I’ve gotten older and have come to discover myself through education and other life events, I have come to realize the type of person I am.

Hold that story in your mind and think about the majority of things I write on this blog. Most of which have chronicled my journey from a failed marriage to where I am right now. If you follow me on any of the Social Media outlets then you have a pretty good idea that I do have opinions about the world we live in. I do not consider them radical by any means. I feel that I generally have the same feelings as many people of color in this country when it comes to racism and oppression. I do not talk about how the “man” has me down. In fact, I talk about being able to succeed despite numerous issues that I have created for myself.

I do talk about race a lot. Ask any person of color how they think of themselves. The vast majority will say Black, Asian, Latino, etc. I am also guaranteeing that they are looking at the world and this country through the lens of their color/culture. Why wouldn’t we be? Racial incidences happen all the time but it becomes our fault for pointing it out. We are considered to be complainers when we point out that even though President Obama is getting slammed on the issues…we all know many people in the government and in this country cannot stand him because he is Black. Shit, people still wonder if he is even American! So when I say that everything has to do with race it is because it DOES.

This would also include Black people beating up on white people for no reason. See, the friend of mine that was walking with me was White and the kids who jumped him were Black. I’m not sure why they chose him over me and it could have very well been because he was a white boy. Does this make this correct, not at all. I have often criticized on THIS blog as well as other outlets how dumb Latinos and African Americans can be. We all have our issues because this country is not perfect despite what many people believe.

Which brings me to a video I posted about a show written by fellow SU alum Aaron Sorkin called The Newsroom (see video below). Jeff Daniels goes on this rant about how America is not the greatest country in the world and thus states specific reasons why. I agreed with this assessment because of all the issues that were stated about education, infant mortality rate, and incarceration. I have a right to my opinion, right? I mean, lets look at the Tea Party all the way on the right and how they say incredulous things all time but, they have a right to their opinion no matter how shitty it is.

But apparently, opinions are like assholes everyone has one and thus that old friend of mine insists that I am a bitter person that has been held down by the man. While I am not going to recount the argument that we had on my Facebook wall, I will pull out some things that have made me think about myself and what I do. I am not sure where some people think that my opinions on based on fiction or out of thin air when I read more than most people on my Facebook timeline. I will gladly post a bibliography of everything I have written to prove this. The notion that I speak about race too much is pure absurdity. White people generally do not talk about being white because they do not generally need to, unless they feel they are either being attacked or perhaps feel guilty because of their whiteness.

I love this country plain and simple. I am as American as my dad can raise me. I once had argument with my ex-wife because I would not let her raise a Puerto Rican flag on our lawn without an American Flag next to it. I understand that this friend of mine defended this country and I thank him for it…yet I wonder if he had to go through the racism my father did when he was in the Navy…oh that is right…everything is not about race. However, being called a coward because of something that happened 20 years is probably what hit me the hardest. Sure, I do not go to protests in Arizona or Florida. I have protested here in Syracuse in unison with my students…but I guess that doesn’t count. I guess the fact that I have given money to organizations who need it to fight policies does not count either.

I had to take a hard look at myself and see if I was this “coward.” No, I am not. Not mentally and not physically. Listing instances where I have jumped into situations that could have gotten me killed or seriously hurt is self absorbing because I have nothing to prove to anyone. I will however take one thing to heart and make it my own. I was called a word ninja. I have never heard of this and after talking to someone he came up with a definition. “He meant word-ninja to mean someone who hides in the shadows and fights only with words, I suspect. But I see it as a skilled wordsmith so smooth you can’t even see how he did it” (Thank you, Chris)

I am a Word Ninja.

Black History X: The Bird Cage

I laugh. I laugh at the ignorance of others and realize that at some point the American Education System has failed so many. I laugh because my sarcasm just does not cover the range of things that I could say to people who just do not know their history nor do they know what goes on around them. This is not limited to the young people in this country either.

What am I talking about? Is Black History Month the issue? Maybe it is and maybe it isn’t but my issue is that ignorance is not constrained to just one month. It becomes prevalent as we get close to and into months like this. This really is a month of reflection on where we have been and where we are going. Instead, I feel we live in a world where people actually believe that racism is not an issue anymore. I am not even talking about white people.

I understand that most white people do not understand the intricate system of oppression. I get that they do not see white privilege. I see why they do not understand the black and white paradigm or why the color blind ideology is negative. I expect the responses from them because they are raised in a world that is made for them. But what about our people? What about Black and Latinos who have been white washed to believe that racism is a distant memory that they see in black and white news reels where they see black people being hosed by firefighters in the south?

I have often talked about the color blind Latinos. This is nothing new. The whole idea being lighter skinned in the Caribbean and South America is to obtain a high social standing. We have pretty much the same thing here in the United States when it comes to how black women are viewed. The concept of beauty is to be as light as possible (and as skinny as possible). African Americans should not feel that because Obama is President that we have gone through great strides in “solving” Racism.

On the contrary, racism is at the heart of the issue in the GOP political debates. While it is not being directly said, let’s think about the tone of things being said and what we are willing to let people get away with. Newt Gingrich, who is known to say bigoted things, can come out and say that “Spanish is the language of the Ghetto” and where is the uproar? Sure, Newt will say that Mitt Romney fabricated such a statement which begs the question, even if Mitt did, how is this ok to even lie about?

I can use tons of examples of how Newt views the working poor (who are seen as black), but the one thing that is my absolute favorite is how Mitt Romney is now considered Latino. We as proud Latinos are so eager to claim anyone and of course we should because most Latinos are just as prejudiced against African Americans as white people.

What gets me is that most people don’t see the things that are blatantly in front of them, which brings me the the Birdcage Analogy.  A few years ago I read an article by Marilyn Frye called “Oppression.” In this article she talks about the oppression that women endure by the hands of men. I have often believed that if one group of people are oppressed then we all are. Even though she focuses primarily on women her Birdcage Analogy fits racial oppression very well:

Consider a birdcage. If you look very closely at just one wire in the cage, you cannot see the other wires. If your conception of what is before you is determined by this myopic focus, you could look at that one wire, up and down the length of it, and be unable to see why a bird would not just fly around the wire any time it wanted to go somewhere. Furthermore, even if, one day at a time, you myopically inspected each wire, you still could not see why a bird would have trouble going past the wires to get anywhere. There is no physical property of any one wire, nothing that the closest scrutiny could discover, that will reveal how a bird could be inhibited or harmed by it except in the most accidental way. It is only when you step back, stop looking at the wires one by one, microscopically, and take a macroscopic view of the whole cage, that you can see why the bird does not go anywhere; and then you will see it in a moment. It will require no great subtlety of mental powers. It is perfectly obvious that the bird is surrounded by a network of systematically related barriers, none one of which would be the least hindrance to its flight, but which, by their relations to each other, are as confining as the solid walls of a dungeon.

Grasp the power of this analogy and realize who the bird in the cage is. There needs to be a general understanding of the system of oppression in this country that is not limited to just people of color. When you do not see the wires of the cage then you do not realize that you are trapped. Like the bird, people think everything is ok in their world and automatically resist the urge to step away from it. Kinda sounds like The Matrix, huh?

It is only when you can step back and see the cage or the system as whole do you realize the grand scheme of it all. The only way to see the entire birdcage is to educate ourselves to these things. Let’s not forget the people who own the birdcage are apart of that system. They may not see it that way because the system has been that way for years and they are just doing and benefiting from such a system for centuries that they have no idea that it even is a cage.

I get tired of the unwillingness to understand the need for Black History Month by hearing such a question like, “Why is there no White History Month?” Very simple. Every month is White History Month. The fact we even have to be given a mere month to keep the masses aware that Black people did contribute to this country is just another part of the wire in the cage. Just like when the Tea party wants to ban any mention of the founding fathers having slaves from History Books because it gives a negative view on them. Perhaps the fact that Arizona can ban Mexican Studies should suggest that many people wish to have a color blind education. The funny thing about being color blind is that you see no color but we are are Black and you cannot hide that.

No More Excuses.

LHM: Black in Latin America – Dominicans/Haitians

Out of all the four documentaries in this series, I knew this one would be the most popular. In this series, this place called Hispaniola or Quisqueya is the only place that two cultures are compared in such a way. Black in Latin America: Haiti and the Dominican Republic is billed as the story of one culture in denial and the other in love with its independence.

I was so excited about this workshop, which was last Saturday, that I invited a very special guest, Dr. Silvio Torres-Saillant. He is the intellectual that appears in the 13th minute of the episode. Dr. Torres-Saillant is a professor at Syracuse University that always amazes me with his intellect. The other person with this particular subject was fellow blogger and SU Alum, Jose Vilson who lives in both worlds being Haitian and Dominican. I figured I had my bases covered. Little did I know that Dr. Torres-Saillant was about to bring it.

First the highlights:

  • The people of Hispaniola have shared the island for over Five Thousand Years
  • Hispaniola was the first place to import African as Slaves.
  • Dominicans are proud to a mixed raced society and Haitians are proud to be black.
  • Santo Domingo was founded in 1496 by Bartholomew Columbus.
  • Most Dominicans consider themselves Inido.
  • The motherland for Dominican Republic is considered Spain
  • Sambos represent what being black means.
  • One of the first sugar plantations was in the Americas was in Nagua.
  • Sugar production did not last long in Santo Domingo within Century the production was centered around Brasil. Cattle Ranching became means to survival
  • Cattle Ranching plantation worked differently than other plantations due to the nature of the work. The master/slave dynamic was different. There was almost an equal footing.
  • The collapse of the Sugar Industry lead many whites to leave Santo Domingo. This left people of color to basically fend for themselves. They maintained loyalty to Spain.
  • There are some musical customs that contain African Roots and have been around for 500 years.
  • Haiti occupied Santo Domingo in 1822
  • The Haitian government had a profound effect on the Dominicans such as trying to change the language from Spanish to French and making changes to religious practices.
  • The Dominican Republic gained independence on February 27, 1844
  • Dominicans reject everything that was considered Haitian, including, in many ways, their skin color.
  • Dominican elite tended to “whitetify” historical figures if they were too black.
  • Years later, Haitians become migrant workers who did jobs that Dominicans would not do. This gave many Dominicans the notion that they were in a higher class than the Haitians. The imported tens of thousands of Haitians.
  • Blackness became a Haitian trait and a negative term in the D.R.
  • Rafael Leonidas Trujillo was a dictator who did more to harm relations between the people on the island than any propaganda or slanted education did. He declared Santo Domingo to be a white nation and hid his own dark features. 

At this point the documentary begins to focus on the Massacre River and how over 15 thousand Haitians were slaughtered there. So to expand on this point I simply looked it up. Dr. Gates mention this happening in October of 1937, which is true, but the event itself was across the island and lasted a week.

Trujillo did order what is known as the Parsley Massacre or, in the Dominican Republic, as El Corte (The Cutting), in which the Dominican Army killed Haitians living on the Dominican side of the border. They massacred 17,000 − 35,000 Haitians between October 2 and October 8 of 1937. To avoid leaving evidence of the Army’s involvement, the soldiers used machetes rather than bullets. The soldiers of Trujillo were said to have interrogated anyone with dark skin, using the shibboleth perejil (parsley) to tell Haitians from Dominicans when necessary; the ‘r’ of perejil was of difficult pronunciation for Haitians. (I got this from Wikipedia)

This fact alone was not thoroughly explained in this episode and becomes a unique point with Dr. Silvio Torres-Saillant. He explained that although he enjoyed this episode and being a part of it, there is only so much history of a country that can be explain within an hour (24 minutes for the Dominican Republic to be exact). He goes on to explain that he Dr. Gates had a story to tell which slants this view of Dominicans not wanting to be black thus making Haiti this proud race of people. Dr. Torres-Saillant makes evidence of this when he points out that Dr. Gates refers to the Haitians in having a “extraordinary rich and noble history.”

Before I continue, I need to mention that we did watch the entire episode. Due to time constraints and the point I want to make here I wont go into the Haitian side of the story because quite frankly, it was not discussed largely because we talk more about the racial views of the Dominican Republic. Of course I talk about being amazed by this episode and how it shows racial views as how we know it. Jose Vilson comments about his own struggle of racial identity before being comfortable with the term Afro Latino. However, it was Dr. Torres-Saillant that made everyone in the room what to read more about the extraordinary rich and noble history of Santo Domingo.

Now where in the documentary does it state about the numerous rebellions of the Dominicans Slaves. He begin to explain about the first major slave revolt in the Americas occurred in Santo Domingo during 1522. He talked about how many of the slaves managed to escape to the mountains where they formed independent maroon communities. This was something that I did not know. I was floored by this. Dr. Torres-Saillant said he mentioned this to Dr. Gates, but this was not included in the episode.

It comes down to this, and this is a summarization, it is not whether or not Dominicans say they are black or not. They know that come from Africa. It is in the culture. It is in the religion. It is in the music. There is a part about about voodoo being practiced in Haiti, but many of those same things are also practiced by Dominicans in very similar ways like we saw in Cuba. Dr. Torres-Saillant points out that he is not interested in what people say but rather he is interested in what people do. Dominicans do black things. However, it is a type of “black” they are rejecting. They are rejecting the negative types of black that has been instilled in them.

When I had a chance to talk to Dr. Torres-Saillant afterward, I mentioned to him that although I am not Dominican, it seems that my family rejects this notion of blackness too. I told him how my grandmother once told me I should not date a black woman. He is response was eerily similar to my fathers. He said to me that it is not an issue of weather your family is racist, it is more the fact that image of blacks in this country is so bad, she doesn’t view you in the negative way that black people are being portrayed.

He then gets technical and says that in reality we are all the same. Skin color is based on the human body’s need to adapt to different conditions around the world. Culture is what people really fight about but they connect culture with skin color in America. Black is not viewed in the Dominican Republic or even in the Caribbean the same way it is viewed in the United States. It is only when you are forced to identify yourself do you reject or accept the choice given to you. That made me realize something else, this episode never talks about American influence in Santo Domingo. Trujillo was an American backed dictator… again, very similar story to Cuba.

Yes, Haiti was the first black independent commonwealth in the Americas and it is very inspiring to many black people, but this idea that Dominicans just accepted the assimilation of the European ways is completely false. More importantly, the 22 year rule of Santo Domingo by Haiti give many Dominicans this notions that the two people were completely different. In realty, two sides of the same country split in half by two different ruling countries sparked divides that exist today.

Is She Really Black?/De verdad es morena?

The issue of skin color has become so personal to me. It isnt just a indication of beauty. I am attracted to a diverse pool of women and I know I am attracted to one type of woman over another. However, I feel the measure of a woman always comes down to attitude and personality. When it comes to skin tone, I believe it is all connected to ancestry.

Keeping that in mind, I read this article on Clutch. I will need you to read this before you can go past this particular paragraph. I have written about skin color in the past before and I feel that this will be the perfect prelude to Latino Heritage Month that starts next week.

Let’s look at the issue here. There seems to a growing need for actresses (and actors too,most likely) of color to choose if they are Black or Latino as if there was some notion that they cannot be both. I am fully aware of my color when I look into the mirror. If I were to get stopped by the cops they are not going to have a debate on whether I am Black or Latino. They will see me for the color I am. The shame in all this is that people in this country (and Latin America too) refuse to see how homogeneous we are all slowly becoming. The more we seem to merge into one color the more that there is a call for distinctiveness.

I am always amazed by the amount of ignorance that is in our culture. Now, let me me identify “our culture.” For the purpose of this argument I will just assume that Latino and Black are one in both the same considering that in most places, like New York City, we all go to the same schools and live in the same neighborhoods. Couple that with the fact that both Latinos and Black come in all shades. I would like think that my readers are all familiar with the “one drop rule“.

Both share many things in common and one of those is a dislike for darker complexions. I wont sugar coat this because it is true. If someone is too dark there are jokes about how hard it would be to see such a person with the lights on…and this is both cultures I am talking about here. I will just mention that my cousins called me “tarbaby” as a kid. So, how can I ignore my skin color?

On the same notion, How can any Black person seriously ask about Zoe Saldana, “Is she even Black?” Really? This type of ignorance is why I have tried my best to talk about Afro Latinos. This not about if I choose to call myself to be Black or Latino. It is about knowing your history. It is knowing about why there are dark people who speak better Spanish than any light skinned Puerto Rican you know. It is about realizing that slaves replaced the Taíno Indians as the workforce because they were slaughtered by the Spaniards, who then mated with the salve thus the birth of Afro Latinos. So do we really need to choose?

But, often times we are left to read very little about Afro Latinos and their place in the world. One would think that Afro Latinos are only suited for Baseball. I do not see anyone asking David Ortiz to choose if he is Black or Latino. At the end of the article the question was asked: In a so-called “post-racial America,” why are we still caught up in the often insignificant nuances of Blackness? Very simple answer…self hate.

We see the what America considers beautiful. The skinny Meghan Fox or Lady Gaga (just using these women as examples) grace the covers of magazines and young girls of any color want to look like them. The images we see of beauty tell many women that being light skinned is the best. It is perfect to have the complexion of a Christina Aguilera and the ass of Jennifer Lopez. Beauty and the definition of it has all been based on a color scale. Some people do not buy into it, but a lot of people don’t.

Self hate also breeds haters. Let’s be real, there are some real haters in this world that will think that Afro-Latinas are trying to replace African American women on this scale. It is bad enough that Black women have to deal with white women and light skinned Latinas in the competition for Black men…how do you think they will feel about Afro Latinas? Truth be told…Afro Latinas suffer from the same issues that African American women have. The pendulum of what is considered beauty in this society hardly swings their way.

I know I have made this mostly about women, but I have often said that I have had problems considering myself as a good looking man based on my dark complexion and no matter how much a women would tell me how cute I am… I simply had trouble believing it.

This it a subject that maybe tiresome to bring up and talk about but, people need to be aware that Afro Latinos should not have to make a choice between two cultures when we simply exist in both.

Grassroots Project: LatiNegr@s

February is upon us and most people are taking the time to celebrate Black History Month. This month is so important to explore the contributions that black people have made in this country and perhaps across the world. In taking time to really look at this month, we normally focus on African Americans as they should. However, I would like to see that we expand the realm of this exploration to encompass Afro Latinos.

I have said so many times before that most Latinos don’t consider themselves black in anyway shape or form. They seem to refuse to believe the evidence that is out there that indeed a part of our history can be traced to Africa. So the connection is there. Then there is the one drop rules that has existed during the times of slavery that if anyone had one drop of black blood in there system…then they were black.

So, in the spirit of exploration, I have been working on a project with fellow bloggers, La Bianca and Prof. Susurro on something that we are passionate about. It is called LatiNegr@s. This is a collaborative effort that allows a bit of community blogging from anyone interested in adding to this effort of our exploration. We are encouraging people to submit blogs, pictures, videos, poems…really anything in this effort to really celebrate Black History Month in the way it should always be celebrated: together.

The link below is to the submission page in which all of this will be post on via Tumblr. I will post this link on the side bar and have it there for the entire month. It is my hope that you will try to contribute to the cause. The fact of the matter is that Afro Latinos are not well recognized in their place in society. I am personally working on a few surprises that I hope come together for this project.

Consider this to be a call of action that is being made not only on this blog, but on twitter and on facebook. The submission page is: http://lati-negros.tumblr.com/submit

Latinos Are Black!

I have had something on my mind for the last few days and it feels like it falls in line with somethings that I have written about over the last several weeks. I know that I have talked about Black Latinos and how we fit into the world and one of the things that really bothers me is the ignorance of other Latinos to the fact that we are indeed Black. Not exactly of another way to put it. But it is true we are. Not just Afro-Latinos, all Latinos.

Where was this sparked off? Well, I was told by one of my students that in a meeting, of an Student Organization that I advise, one of our members made comment about why should we help an African American Organization since we are not Black. I wasn’t there. So I would only assume that she would not have made that comment if I had been there. But, then again, maybe she would have. This girl is a typical looking Latina. Long strait black hair and, is of course light skinned. I don’t consider that light, but she would fail the Brown Bag Test.

So here, again, is my issue…why the denial? The last time that I spoke about this issues, I used history as an example. This time I will use Musica Latina. Salsa & Merengue both heavily use drums to supplement any song. Some of the best song are have heavy drum beats. I would suggest that you listen to Hector Lavoe’s “Aguanile“. The introduction to this song alone is African based. The beat is very African and I could imagine any African Dance Troupe getting down to this song. I believe this song, as well as Hector Lavoe, was ahead of the times.

Again, as I mentioned before, my father has a substantial music collection when it comes to Salsa. Every time I go and visit him in Florida, I make sure that I swipe some music. On my last visit, I copied the CD collection that I am still rocking, Salsa: Fania All Stars. What impressed me the most about this album is the informative interludes which talk about the history of Salsa. On interlude entitled Slave Ship this is what the narrator says:

“The first roots of Salsa were African; across the ocean on slave ships filled with misery and human degradation, the hard driving tribal sound of African music had somehow survived. But shortly after it reached here, in the Caribbean, it started to evolve into something different. It was still African in flavor but the music had become unique.”

I was floored when I heard this. Not because I didn’t know, only because it was said on a this CD. Many old school Latinos don’t want to admit they have some African blood. I would assume they thought that they were either strictly indigenous or Spanish. However, the music is a dead giveaway.

Music is a link to our past, all you have to do is listen.

What do I look like?

Once a week I facilitate a group on race relations with students. We talk about different issues that face people of all races. While that conversation is completely confidential, I will tell you that there was an exercise that makes me think about my own place in this world.

In this exercise we are to list 3 stereotypes that are identified with your own racial group. So for me, I need to list the stereotypes that are most common for Latinos. After a discussion on that, list we are to think about which stereotype, if it was ever possible, would we want to get rid. So in basic terms, I would pick the one that hurts the most and if I could make disappear from human vocabulary then I would.

The 3 I listed were, lazy, oversexed, and gang banger (not in the good way). For me picking the stereotype of lazy is a no brainer. I think that there is clear thought in the minds of many that Latinos are lazy and always late. The funny thing is that in the same breath, one would make jokes about Mexicans outside of Home Depot. The oversexed stereotype was something I have heard about Latinos being like the “Latino Lover”. I equate this to movies when you see the “tall dark and hansom” Latino man that sweeps the white woman offer her feet with his flowing jet black hair and his accent. Then there is the Gang Banger. This is the typical representation of the Latino Male that we see in a lot of movies with the bandanna, the long sleeve shirt that is only buttoned at the top, with a plethora of tattoos.

The sterotype that I chose to do away with is the lazyness. I look at how hard my father worked and how hard my mother worked and they are far from lazy. I could span the entire length of my family and maybe come up with 1 person that was lazy. But even then that is such a stretch. I also find interesting that people of color (Latino and African Amercian in particular) can be considered lazy when most of us have spent years in bondage building up cities.

What I have been ever fascinated with is what the American view of Latinos are. If you look at movies alone, then you do not have a great view of what Latinos are. You may think that we are all Mexican for one. Clearly nothing wrong with being Mexican but it is hard to shake that when the white majority sees you all in the same light. But, then we get into the discussion of what does Latino look like?

Yesterday, I did the 25 random things that have spread through Facebook like a virus. One of my old friend’s participated in this and I found one of his noted to be very interesting.”Nobody thinks I’m Puerto Rican so I don’t know what a Puerto Rican is supposed to look like.” That just floored me because in many of my ways he is my opposite. We even joke about one of my previous blogs about Dark Latinos that he understood the whole notion of not looking Latino. In a seriousness, is there a measuring stick? But he did joke and said we were the Puerto Rican Ebony and Ivory!

Sure, I can give a history lesson on how the Spanish Colonizers, who were white, “discovered” Latin American and killed off 90% of the native population and replaced them with African Slaves. I could also talk about the remain native population intermixing with the Africans and while some were raped or worse by the Spanish. Sure I could go there and say that is why Latinos are all different colors…but why do that? Because if that was the case then…we would be considered part Native American…or worse…BLACK!!!!!!!!

Look, I love my black skin. Nothing wrong with being black clearly! But sometimes being black gets this bad wrap. Like there is something wrong with it. I don’t get it. But you know what… I saw some thing the other day that will prove to you that Black is not bad…

Black is in baby! Have a good weeked (although I will be here tomorrow)