Color Blind Latinos

I am thinking that I am justified in my thinking that some people just don’t get it. I know that I am not an expert nor am I a historian but I do read, which means that I have knowledge in several areas. When I can sit here and write blogs about being Afro Latino I am only a reflection of things that I have read, seen, or experienced. I know that in my style of writing there is quite a bit of emotion as well. That is just me, take it or leave it.

Naturally, I will feel obligated to give my opinion when needed about Afro Latinos and it is not a surprise that I always feel like I am teaching someone something  new. So today was no exception by having a disagreement about Afro Latinos on the Being Latino Facebook page.

Being Latino is a blog that celebrates…well being Latino. There is a team of blog writers that post material everyday about various topics. One of today’s topics was about Afrolatinos: “The Untaught Story” (video below). It was a very good post by Eric Cortes which can be found here. Of course, on the Facebook page you can make your comments and click “like” if you did indeed like the post. I was a bit intrigued to see any of the feedback, not because of the nature of the blog content, but just to see what people have to say about the topic itself. So, to save time you can view the discussion here.

There were some thing said by a few people that I found interesting. There was the suggestion that the social issues in Latin America was more of a class issue rather than a race issue. That perhaps articles and documentaries like this were promoting division rather than unity. I have heard arguments like this before, on this blog in fact, that pointing out racism creates more divisions. I personally do not beleive this is the case. The fact is that Latinos as a body of people are not unified at all. The color of skin complicates things even further.

As I argued on that site, I think that suggesting that classism is the real issue instead of racism is misdiagnosing the problem. Sure, in most countries like Colombia and Mexico, most Afro Latinos are poor. That is not because of some caste system that was created by the elite like in India. This simply the fact that people are oppressed because of the color of their skin. Unity does not help this because most privileged Latinos simply do not care enough to unify.

Such thoughts about unity and the “let’s all get along” mentality simply means to me that many people are color blind. While that sounds ideal on surface because no one sees color because we are all human beings, the fact is no ones sees color! I want you to see my color. I want you to see my culture. I want you to acknowledge that there is a blackness within our culture. Once you get people to acknowledge this, then there is a possibility to unify.

Then there was a comment that Afro Latino blood was not all that prevalent within Latin America with the exception of Colombia, Brazil, and “tiny” islands in the carribean. This was something that set something off in my intellect considering that the same person said the Black Mexicans barely exist in Mexico since they are less than 1% of the population.

I am totally not sure about that speculation of the 1% in Mexico but I doubt that is true. There are whole cities like Vera Cruz and Oaxaca that are in Mexico where a large numbers of Black Mexicans. However, are they recognized as citizens? Afro Latinos live in every country within Latin America and the fact that this person cannot recognized that is just lack of education on his part.

Conversations like this is why I press on. There are people that refuse to really see the African side of their heritage. I mentioned that we can all move our hips to salsa with the congas and the zulu beat but there is no way in hell that most privledged Latinos will admit their roots back to Africa. I think it is time for a history lesson…

Latinegr@s 2011: Laz Alonso

Yet another person that I cannot believe that I did not highlight last year was Laz Alonso. While, I certainly wrote a blog about Zoe Saldana (and they were in the same movie), I clearly missed that opportunity last year. Now, I follow this gentleman on Twitter and I kinda put it out there to see if he would be down for an interview but that was not meant to be. So, like a true blogger, I will write about him anyway…lol

I first saw Laz in a movie called Miracle at St. Anna. This was was Spike Lee joint that came out in 2008 in which Alonso actually played a Afro Latino. The story is about four Black American soldiers who are trapped in a small Italian village in 1944 during the heart of WWII. This move was done very well and I am surprised it did not get more acclaim.

At that point I figured he was bound for something good. Laz Alonso is Afro Cuban and was born on March 25, 1974 (a great year). He is an alum of Howard University that graduated with a degree in Marketing. After working at Merrill Lynch for a little bit, he went after his heart’s desire: acting. Laz has been in a number of movies in his career that started in 2000. However, the role that has made him famous comes from the blockbuster move, Avatar, where he played the character, Tsu’tey.

I have to admit, I should have known who he was in this movie and I was just astonished to know it was him. I hadn’t seem many movies that he has been in nor much of his television roles. What I do find amazing is that Alonso seems to do his best to play Latino characters in many of the roles he plays. Perhaps not all roles are meant to be Latino, but some is good for me. Like playing Detective Gil Puente in Southland or Detective Ray Di Santos in Captivity. These are the type of characters that are not often seen on television.

When I talk about the fluid identity of Afro Latinos, I am reffering to the ability to go between the worlds of African American and Latinos. It is totally understandable how Laz Alonso becomes valuable in the diversity of roles he could be offered. It is important to note that he is one of very few Afro Latinos in Hollywood.

I think Laz Alonso is an up and coming actor that has not reached his pique and it will be very interesting to see how his career unfolds

Celia Cruz: The Queen of Salsa

It has been such a long week for me and yet the days keep flying by. After the last post, I started searching for pictures of Afro Latinos and I came across the one above. I cannot believe with all the posting that I did last February that I did not write anything about the great Celia Cruz.

Growing up in my house would have never been the same without hearing music from Celia Cruz. It seemed like every family cookout we were serenaded by her various albums. I feel like she had a greatest hits album when I was just a kid. There were so many songs that I could sing when I was kid that I had to search for them when I was adult. I could remember my father making tapes from vinyl and her music was always on heavy rotation.

When I think about the golden age of salsa, which is clearly before I was born, one of the people I think about was Celia. What struck me the most about her music was seeing her perform on tv. I was not used to seeing someone who looked like they could be a member of my family performing salsa on television. I was awe struck almost expecting someone who looked completely different. After all, from what I saw from on Univision, Telemundo, and any album covers were light skinned Latino men with light skinned Latinas.

While I am not too educated on her entire life I do know that she was born on October 21, 1924 in Havana, Cuba. She spent most of her life performing and has earned 23 gold albums. She has won 7 Grammys and while that is impressive in itself, I can only imagine how many she would have one if they recognized her contributions to music early on. I counted over 60 albums to her name and in my research I hear that number could be as high as 80. In any case, she a woman that loved music deeply.

I think about that. Over 60 albums! I personally have 45 of her songs. That is a mere fraction of her collection. That can be so hard to fathom when I think about all the other artists I follow in which I have all their albums. Not to mention that I have none of her recent songs because most of what I have is from what I remember hearing as a kid.

Celia died of a brain cancer New Jersey on July 16, 2003. Her title has not been and will never be revoked. She is the Queen of Salsa.

Black History Month or African American Month?

Once again we are here. The start of Black History Month where we get to learn about the past and be hopeful for the future. Last year, I dedicated this blog the Latinegr@s project that, in my opinion, was a great success. Now we turn the page to a new year and the project is still intact. While I will be participating in this project, I will not do it in the same way as I did last year. I will be weighing in more using my own opinions on this month as well as highlighting things and individuals that I did not get to last year.

A few days ago, I was talking to a friend of mine and we were speaking about how her son had to pick a black person to do a report on for Black History Month. This is not that easy of a task if you think about it. There are so many historical figures to choose from that can be quite cliché. However, the choice that her son made (mostly likely with the help of his mother) was Roberto Clemente. Of course, I am all in favor for this choice. Here you have a hero who excelled in baseball as well in his community. I have documented his legacy last year.

He was told that Roberto Clemente cannot be chosen because he is not African American. Really? How much sense does that make? Do not get me wrong, this month is all about celebrating African Americans but I was also under the impression we were celebrating being black. Skin color is something that you cannot change (although Sammy Sosa and Vybz Kartel would disagree with me on this). So my question, is Black History Month strictly about being African American?

Sure I am Latino, but the color of my skin automatically puts me in a group that other poeple consider to be Black. So, I am forced to identify with this group. My skin is very much a part of me as my culture is. So does that mean that Afro Latinos should not be recognized even a little bit? What about Caribbean people in general? Some to the darkest people I know are from the islands. Of course, if we are making it exclusively for African Americans then you are excluding Africans. Is that really the point here?

I am not disputing the validity of this month. I think it is needed, but if any one person or institution is going to put limits on such things then they need to be aware that Black is very encompassing. If it is that hard to understand then make it African American Month. However, I consider this month to be very much like Latino Heritage Month in which explores all different aspect of being Latino. Black History Month should conceivably do the same thing.

I would hate to think that the word black is strictly reserved for a certain people because the Black experience does not have such limits.

Latinegr@s Project: Thank You!

Last day of Black History Month. It has been a great ride. I have taken myself to a different place with all the readings and research. However, the project will continue. While it will not be everyday on this blog, will always highlight Afro-Latinos in a positive light!

I want to thank a few people. First, I want to say that the hits on this blog has gone up which means people have been reading and I appreciate that. So thanks to all you for showing support. I think I have learned more by posting all the bios than I have from taking classes in History.

I want to also thank Bianca. I did not post as many blogs as she did. She did all her homework on this subject and truly carried me through this project. She also moderated the tumblr page. This project came to life on twitter in January when we both had a very open discussion about the lack of Latino representation in Black History Month. I had no idea about what type of involvement we would get and I am surprised by the end result.

Thanks also goes out to Professor Surro. I am always impressed by someone of such intelligence. Her passion for sharing knowledge is unmatched. Her blog is incredible. I would encourage people to frequent her site as well.

For those who participated, you are another reason we started this project. While we wanted to educate people on Latinegr@s, we also want to get back what we put in. I know that I have spoken to many people in person and via the internet about this project and the feedback has always been a good one.

There are the haters as well. I want to thank you too. Without your ignorance this project would not exist. So keep sending the hate mail. We love it. Someone of you thought this was not going to amount to much and that is ok. I thinking we all proved the naysayers wrong.

I anticipate that we will still do profiles every now and then and hit up everyone again in time for Latino Heritage Month. So, please do not think that because this month is over that you cannot submit something or that you cannot contribute. The tumblr site is always open for submissions or you can guest blog here.

Thanks again! I will be returning to my regular blogging tomorrow!

Latinegr@s Project: Did You Know?

I didn’t realize that we are currently in the last week of Black History Month. It wasn’t until I read Latino Sexuality (shameless plug of my interview…lol), that I noticed that I only have days left to get all the things I wanted to get done with project. I have done much research and not all of the things I found were long enough to sustain a single post. However, I figured I would compile some of the things I found interesting so I can share with you all.

Afro-Latino Fraternity

I found this bit of information to be a surprise. Many people in the Greek community knew that there was a Afro-Latino Fraternity called Beta Sigma Kappa. Founded in 1998 at the the University at Buffalo, Beta Sigma Kappa Fraternity Incorporated set out to “promote African and Latino culture throughout society.”

Being that Beta Sigma Kappa is almost twelve years old, there isn’t much information out there for me to document any philanthropies or the number of men through out the entire organization. The only thing that I do know is that there is a chapter at the University of Buffalo. I have made attempts to contact a few brother of that organization so I will wait to see how that pans out.

Afro Latino Festival

There is a festival in Bree (Belgium) where Afro Latinos celebrate culture. This was something that I was practically drooling over. I am still doing some research, but this is something that happens every year. I posted a following video from last year’s festival on There is a facebook fan page as well.

Nicomedes Santa Cruz

Nicomedes Santa Cruz was a Peruvian poet, journalist, and folklorist. He was born on June 4, 1925 in Lima, Peru. He was best known for raising public awareness of Afro-Peruvian culture.

As a child, his mother, Victoria Gamarra Ramirez would recite décimas to him. A décima is a style of poetry that is octosyllabic and has 10 lines. This artistic form of poetry is often found in Latin America. In 1945 he met Don Porfirio Vasquez who was a decimista and folklorist. He was one of the pioneers to regain cultural identity of Afro-Peruvians. Vasquez became a major factor in Nicomedes development as a decimero.

Nicomedes began his professional life as a blacksmith. He opened his own store called Herrira Y Cerrajeria Santa Cruz” in 1954. However, in 1956, he abandoned his shop to fulfill his destiny. Santa Cruz decided to travel throughout Peru and Latin America, composing and reciting his décimas. After his travels he became an a radio announcer and a commentator for various playhouses throughout Peru. He made his theater debut in 1957 at the Teatro Municipal de Chile, with the company Pancho Fierro, in a show called Black Rhythms of Peru. Through his radio broadcasts, and collaborations in the daily newspapers like “Expreso” and “El Comercio”, him along with his sister Victoria began to revive Afro-Peruvian folklore through a theater company they formed. They wrote several playwrights together from 1959 to 1961.

He recorded 4 notable albums in his career. The first was in 1959, after his mother’s death with his group Conjunto Cumanana titled Kumanana. The next two came out in 1960 titled Ingá and Décimas y poemas Afroperuanos. The final was a four-album set called Cumanana which came out in 1964. He also wrote a series of books filled with poetry. All listings of books and recordings can be found here.

In the 1970s, he continued promoting Afro-Peruvian folklore. Nicomedes presented the first Black Arts Festival, held in Cañete, in August 1971. He then went to Africa in 1974, where he participated in the symposium “Négritude et Amérique Latine” in Sengal. That same year he traveled to Cuba and México, participating in a series of television programs.

In 1980 he moved to Madrid to work as a journalist at Radio Exterior de España. During this time he does some traveling including a trip to Brasil in 1985, where he participates in the Consultation on Black Culture and Theology in Latin America, by giving a lecture entitled “Aportes del Negro al Cristianismo en America”. In 1989 he taught a seminar on African culture in Santo Domingo. He did manage to travel back to Peru several times always promoting his culture through his books and teachings. Nicomedes Santa Cruz died on February 5, 1992 from lung cancer in Madrid, Spain.

While I did not highlight everything he did, I consider him to be a very prominent Afro-Latino that not many people may have heard of. I know up until this project, I have never heard of him. If you wish to learn more about him and Afro-Peruvian culture, please check out:


Latinegr@s Project: Buena Vista Social Club

I have to admit when I first thought about highlighting this amazing group I thought it would be an easy thing. However, like most things as significant as they are, the history is very deep. My love for music is well known and when I heard these band of musicians play, I was hooked. So let’s stick to the facts.

Buena Vista Social Club is the name of the album by a group titled “Buena Vista Social Club”. This was a compilation of sorts led by a Cuban musician Juan de Marcos González and an American guitarist Ry Cooder. They brought together some of the finest veteran Cuban musicians such as such Ibrahim Ferrer, Rubén González, and Compay Segundo, whose careers were stunted by the revolution of 1959.

The album itself was inspired the actual Buena Vista Social Club. This members-only club was located in the Marianao neighborhood of Havana. The members of this club was the social elite that dates back to the Spanish colonization of Cuba. As in most clubs through the island, membership was determined by ethnicity which started during the time when Afro Cubans were discriminated against during and after slavery. However, Havana had a social black elite called Sociedades de Negros (Black Societies) made up of doctors and engineers. Buena Vista Social Club was the place they came together.

Many prominent musicians and bands performed there during the 1930’s and 40’s. This musical era saw the birth of mambo, the charanga, and development of traditional Afro-Cuban music. Most of that music of the time as made a strong impact on current Latin Music today.

In 1959 the Cuban Revolution gave birth to communism. Led by President Manuel Urrutia Lleó, the government closed all gambling spots, nightclubs, and any other establishments associated with Havana’s luxurious lifestyle. This included any organization in which membership was exclusionary. The Cuban government made an effort to build a “classless and colorblind society”, but it struggled to define policy toward cultural expression in the Afro-Cuban community. Ultimately, these measures led to the closing of the Buena Vista Social Club.

These closures put some the greatest Afro-Cuban musicians out of work for more than 40 years. This style of music was sharply in decline until the Buena Vista Social Club collaboration resurrected it.

In 1996, Ry Cooder was invited to music producer Nick Gold of World Circuit Records to record a session two musicians from Mali and a collaboration of various Cuban artists. The African musicians could not obtain their visa which made Cooder and Gold changed their plans and record an album of Cuban music with local musicians. Some of these local musicans, like Ibrahim Ferrer, were the same artists that played in the actual clubs of Havana in the 1950’s. The album was recorded in just six days and contained fourteen tracks. Most of the communication was conducted via an interpreter, but anyone will say that music was the universal language spoken during that week.

Buena Vista Social Club earned a nomerous amount of praise and accolades from several music writers and publications. In 2003, the album was ranked number 260 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.

I personally have this album and I feel it makes me connect to my roots. This is a must buy for any music lover.

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Latinegr@s Project: Afro-Colombians

As this project continues I wanted to make sure that profiles and education was not just our main focus. I want us to also think about awareness of what is really happening in the world around us. Since so many of us think that racism and oppression may not be as prevalent this world, but indeed it is, particularly, for Afro Latinos in Latin America. 45% of the Latin American Population is Afro Latino.

Today I will put the spotlight on Colombia. 21% of the 44 million people live in this country are Afro-Latino. Most of them live through severe poverty despite being recognized in 1993 as citizens under law 70 (yes you read that correctly). This law was highly celebrated as a step in the right directions for Black Colombians, who are direct descendants of slaves. However, not much progress has been made since this law was passed. Afro-Colombians continue to be displaced due to economic interests

Even though slavery was abolished in 1851, Black Colombians were forced to live in the jungles as a form of protection and begin to share the territories with the ingenious population. After the abolition of slavery, the Colombian government came up with this idea of mestizaje, or miscegenation. They wanted to eliminate or at least minimize the African population by “whitening” them. This caused both minority population in further into the jungles. Afro-Colombians and indigenous people were, and continue to be, displaced them in order to take their lands for sugar cane, coffee, and banana plantations; as well as for mining and wood exploitation.

As of today, this came across the AP Wire:

BOGOTÁ(15 February 2010) – The UN Independent Expert on minority issues, Ms. Gay McDougall, called on the Colombian government to concentrate efforts in improving the situation of those communities identified as Afro-Colombian, Black, Raizal and Palenquero, especially in key issues related to displacement, dispossession, poverty and violence against individuals and communities, in both rural and urban environments.

I have come across some very interesting site on this topic. I gave brief history because there is just some much to know about the black struggle in Colombia. I wanted to mention this sight: Afrodes. This site has commentary and photos (like the one above) documenting the current situation in Colombia. I also found Afro-Colombian News to be very helpful in regards to information on Law 70.

This project has allowed me to learn about all these issues as I share them with you. I still feel very priveledged to share it.

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Latinegr@s Project: Being Afro Latino

The various concepts of Latino can be debated as a racialized identity, a political identity, or a cultural identity. In thinking about Latinos as a body of people, there has to be a thought revolving countries of origin. Just the mention of the words Latino or Hispanic brings out a broad spectrum of cultures and lands that are with the Latin American Diaspora. . The term Hispanic is problematic for many reasons and although it is widely used throughout the Southwest, Latino is a word that can have an assigned gender like most words in the Spanish vocabulary.

Latino is also a racialized identity that presents a series of social issues that I will focus on. Many Latinos are fighting for the right to not be categorized as “non white” for fear that being considered less than that would forfeit their perceived privileged. Theses would be the groups of people that would be identified as “White Hispanics”. This is a struggle that many White Hispanics fight for to maintain their social status. These are also the Latinos that popular culture identifies with.

Latino is also a political identity that many sub origins identify with. Chicanos may be used more by those Mexican Americans who refuse to be racialized by the vast majority. They deal with many issues of assimilation and immigration. Militant Puerto Ricans choose to use their origin as a political identity when dealing with issues of colonization of Puerto Rico by the United States. Political organizations like the Young Lords popped up in New York City in the late 1960’s during same time as the Black Power movement.

Afro-Latinos can be identified as dark skinned Latinos. Often times they will be referred to as Black Latinos. In the various Latino cultures throughout the Caribbean and Latin America, they represent the bottom of the social ladder. They are normally the poor and uneducated. I call myself Latinegro because it is something I feel best represents what I am in relation to other Latinos.

The social status of Afro-Latinos really depends on the country. In the United States, they are simply seen as part of the black minority, even though their ethnicity is Hispanic. However, when focusing on countries such as Mexico and Cuba the social standings are a little different. Mexico treats their Afro-Latinos as if they do not exist. They are not considered to be citizens. Cuba, on the other hand is 90% black. When Castro took power, many of Cuba’s white elite fled to the United States.

When I was a kid, my identity was clear; I was Puerto Rican and Ecuadorian. I was raised as such by my parents. We would listen to Spanish music and eat Latino food. Everything we did revolved around something that had to do with Latino culture. Yet, the in the public realm, I was felt there was something a little different about me. My father looks like a typical light skinned Latino. He enters the Navy and a young age and is proud to be American. My mother is a Afro-Latina and I get my dark complexion from her. She, like my father, was born and raised in the Bronx. Much of what I think being Latino is revolves around my parents. I never had much of an issue when I went out in public with my mother. However, I always felt that I got looks when I was out with my father. In school functions, I felt I had to say to people that, “yes, this is indeed my father”; after all, there was no other kind in the entire school who had parents that were two different shades of color.

The idea of considering myself black never entered my mind. It was quite obvious to me that I was Latino. My mother’s side of the family, including my brother, is just as dark as I am. There are a just few cousins here and there that are light skinned. However, on my father’s side of my family, I was the darkest. Everyone is fair skinned. In most Latino families this could be a very big issue. However, I can honestly say that I was not treated differently from my family because of the color of my skin. This doesn’t mean there weren’t any prejudices. I can recall on several occasions, being told that I should not marry a black girl. It was never explained why. The unwillingness to accept African roots into Latino Culture is nothing new to Latinos. This type of false sense of “whiteness” has been indoctrinated in too many Latinos since birth.

As, I grew older my parents separated and later divorced. My father and I became very close. He would tell me many stories about how his mother (who represents the Ecuadorian side of the equation) asked him not to date my mother because she was too dark. I almost get the feeling he may have done it out of spite. There was a fear from my grandmother to not darken the family. After, lighter skinned Latinos have made their place in society. When she babysat me, she would obsessively watch Novelas (Spanish soap operas) on Univision. Since I never really knew Spanish, I would watch them with her and try counting how many Latinos looks like me. I never saw one. My father once mentioned to me that he was always welcomed in my mother’s house because my maternal grandmother was proud that her daughter took a step up in marrying him. I always found it ironic that I am just as dark as my grandmother.

I never paid attention to Latino relations in the community. When living in such a melting pot of New York City, I didn’t think about those types of relations. I was taught to be more aware of people who may not look like me, such as Italians or immigrants. It wasn’t until college that I began to really see how Latinos are indoctrinated into the white binary. Trying to complete an undergrad degree at Syracuse University is not an easy thing for a person who doesn’t fit in. Due, to my skin color I found myself not having the ability to be comfortable in any one group. White people automatically assumed I was African American. The idea of me being Latino was incomprehensible.

In certain classes I found myself speaking for the wrong ethnic group. I also realized that I could not find any comfort in being with Latinos because I was just way too dark for them. There were clicks that I did not fit into; I was always felt to be the odd ball. African Americans, was the closest group to accept me, however, I never truly fit with them either. My culture is vastly different and I could not relate too many of the black experiences I was being told about at the time. My identity felt fluid. I could fit in when I needed to. Dating seemed impossible. My father would always ask me about why I was always alone or not hanging out with more Latinos. I would try to explain it to him, but deep down I knew he didn’t understand. I was called a late bloomer.

However, I did notice a change. When I started dating a light skinned Colombian in my junior year, I felt differently in the Latino student community. It was almost as if I was welcomed into the fold because I was now truly a Latino with a good looking Latina. I remember asking her about the prejudice of dark Latinos in her family, since I didn’t see any all the times I have met them. I was told by her that she didn’t think it existed in her family or her country for that matter since there was so many blacks in Colombia. Which I think was just her opinion.

As I have grown older I have become to understand the fluid nature of my identity. In college, I never fully understood that being fluid meant being able to identify with more than one type of culture. Within my current work at Syracuse University’s Division of Student Affairs, I am able to understand and mentor both African American and Latino males while having mutual respect from both. I have also had time to think about my place in the Latino community due to my volunteer work. I have yet to find a place, in large part because I still feel that the Latino identity with the city of Syracuse is in question.

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