Sunset to Sunrise: We’re connected

IMG_0667I have a basic belief. This belief has come to shape me as a person, as a professional, and as a writer. I believe we are all connected. Despite our issues that revolve and evolve around social constructs such as race, gender, and sexuality, I believe we’re all connected at the basic levels of humanity. Perhaps we may not see it so profoundly but it’s there. History tells us that it’s there.

Maybe it was the close proximity to the water from the San Francisco Bay, or the sand from the beach looking out into the Pacific Ocean, or if it crisp air swirling around AT&T park, but I realized that I must travel more in order to become a better writer. The knowledge that instead of seeing the the sunrise from the Atlantic Ocean, I’m seeing it set from the Pacific just gave me the sense that we are not alone and they we experience and perceive the same things differently.

This sense of connectivity was brought home when I read The New Yorker Article about the Cascadia subduction zone. The richly dense article goes into horrifying detail about a earthquake that is likely to happen in the Pacific Northwest. The whole article goes into detail about how this will happen and how scientists were able to discover the history behind the subduction zone. It’s this history that makes this entire thing so very interesting.

The Cascadia fault line was discovered only 50 years ago, which was news to everyone there considering that no earthquakes were ever reported in that area. I wont go into specifics about the Ring of Fire, but I will say that massive research has been done to show that two plates (the Juan de Fuca oceanic plate and the North American tectonic plate) have been stuck together for far too long and it’s only a matter of time before it snaps like a rubber band. How is the connectivity? The history of how this was discovered.

image01It all starts with scientist trying to figure out what happened to the Ghost Forest in Washington. Here are a bunch of dead trees that look really creepy but how did they get they way? In short, they discovered a massive earthquake took place here before America was born. They figure roughly around 1700 this massive quake cause the land around the trees to drop thus killing all them at the same time, which is pretty spooky. But it gets even spookier when they figured out the this date coincides with something called the “orphan tsunami” in Japan.

The article beautifully explains that the Japanese have records of earthquakes and tsunamis for centuries. They understood the correlation between the two so when this random tsunami hit one year without an earthquake, it caused a bit of alarm. This orphan was one of a kind until scientists were able to connect where it came from:

At approximately nine o’ clock at night on January 26, 1700, a magnitude-9.0 earthquake struck the Pacific Northwest, causing sudden land subsidence, drowning coastal forests, and, out in the ocean, lifting up a wave half the length of a continent. It took roughly fifteen minutes for the Eastern half of that wave to strike the Northwest coast. It took ten hours for the other half to cross the ocean. It reached Japan on January 27, 1700.

That’s some shit right? Well it gets stranger than that and before I get into how, I want to point out that we, as a society, seem to put so little faith into oral histories of other cultures. I think historians tend to be judgmental about people who don’t have a written account of their history. Welp, oral history has a place in this:

In 1964, Chief Louis Nookmis, of the Huu-ay-aht First Nation, in British Columbia, told a story, passed down through seven generations, about the eradication of Vancouver Island’s Pachena Bay people. “I think it was at nighttime that the land shook,” Nookmis recalled. According to another tribal history, “They sank at once, were all drowned; not one survived.” A hundred years earlier, Billy Balch, a leader of the Makah tribe, recounted a similar story. Before his own time, he said, all the water had receded from Washington State’s Neah Bay, then suddenly poured back in, inundating the entire region. Those who survived later found canoes hanging from the trees. In a 2005 study, Ruth Ludwin, then a seismologist at the University of Washington, together with nine colleagues, collected and analyzed Native American reports of earthquakes and saltwater floods. Some of those reports contained enough information to estimate a date range for the events they described. On average, the midpoint of that range was 1701.

Damn son, are we not connected? Does this not tell a global history about a cataclysmic event that literally spans the world? Two different types of recorded history from two different civilizations help piece together a modern mystery of the Cascadia subduction zone. A horrible event that shows the destructive force of our planet while at the same times showing that what happens on one side of the world effects the other.

When I was sitting the beach last week out in California, all I could think about is why are we so cruel to other people when the world is so beautiful? I don’t have all the answers but I do know that search for the meaning of everything that happens maybe beyond our horizon.

I think we should all take time to enjoy the beauty of this world and realize that our sunset is someone’s sunrise and that is a blessing.

Latinegr@s Project: Zoe Saldana

Zoe Saldaña smiles while answering a question

The last two profiles that I submitted for this project were of people who passed and while that is ok, I would like to show some Afro Latinos that are alive and well. I mentioned previously that media plays a pivotal role on how Latinos are portrayed. So, I decided to highlight one of the few Afro Latina making some waves in Hollywood at that would be Zoe Saldana.

Zoe Saldana was originally born as Zoe Yadira Zaldaña Nazario and is Puerto Rican and Dominican. After living in Queens for 10 years, her parents to decided to move the Dominican Republic where Zoe resided for seven years. During her time there, she was enrolled in to the ECOS Espacio de Danza Dance Academy, which a very prestigious dance school. She learned various forms of dance but specialized in Ballet.

Her family moved back to New York when she was 17. Her dancing skills caught her much attention when she became apart of the Faces theater troupe. Zoe was recruited by a talent agency that helped her land her first movie role in the film Centerstage (2000), where she played a head strong dancer Eva Rodriguez.

Since then she has landed a few roles in tv shows like Law and Order and starred in movies such as: Drumline, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, The Terminal, and Vantage Point (to name a few). However, her popularity skyrocketed when she starred in Star Trek as Nyota Uhura. This particular role landed her in the mainstream of Hollywood. The role that she is currently famous is Neytiri in the film Avatar, which is now the largest grossing film of all time.

I am impressed with her because she has not forgotten where she comes from. Looking back at some of her roles, she does play a Latina. It will be interesting to see what turns her career will make. She is fluent in both English and Spanish and I while I am quite certain you may never see her in a Novela, I would in fact like to see if she can incorporate her Puerto Rican/Dominican heritage in any of her future films.

As of this blog post she has 3 films in post production that are set to come out in 2010 and will soon be filming a sequal to Star Trek set to come out in 2012. Currently, Zoe is spending her efforts in raising money for the victims of the earthquake in Haiti.

Please remember to visit: http://lati-negros.tumblr.com/

Latinegr@s Project: Dr. José Celso Barbosa

Today’s Project highlight was actually a suggestion from one of my followers that I have met on Twitter. She had suggested that I look up the name: Dr. José Barbosa. What made me happy about today’s highlight is that this is the true nature of the project. I do invite more communal involvement because I am not sure we will get to everyone we want to this month.

Dr. José Barbosa (1857-1921) was a citizen of Bayamón, Puerto Rico who moved to the United States in search for a better education. Notably he graduated with a medical degree from the University of Michigan and was the valedictorian of the class of 1880. Taking the knowledge that he learned, he moved back to Bayamón and opened his own practice.

Dr. Barbosa was the first native born Puerto Rican to have a medical degree from the United States and that was not an easy thing to deal with. The Spanish government did not recognize his medical degree because it was not acquired through a university in Europe. It took the intervention of the American Consul for Barbosa to be recognized as a legitimate physician.

Barbosa’s work in the medical field became well known across the island. He became a proponent of employee based health benefits, which at the time was not really hard of. This was a very early start to health insurance in Puerto Rico

After the Spanish American war, Dr. Barbosa formed the Puerto Rican Republican Party. This was a political party the was for idea that Puerto Rico should become the next state of America. In 1900 he was appointed to The Executive Cabinet of the United States by President William McKinley. Finally in 1907, he created the first bilingual publication on the island called El Tiempo.

Dr. José Barbosa died on September 21, 1921. Since then Puerto Rico has declared July 27 an official holiday. His residence has been converted into a Museum as well. One thing that I did notice in my research of Dr. Barbosa is the fact that many Republicans are proud to consider him a conservative, which he indeed was. Many also refer to him as the father of the Pro Statehood movement that still exists today.

Please remember to visit: http://lati-negros.tumblr.com/

Latinegr@s Project: A Fluid Identity

I am pleased with the responses that we are getting for the Latinegr@s project. I think that it is a good start to something I know I have wanted to do personally. However, I feel that we are the tip of the iceberg here. The posts that we are receiving are amazing indeed but even I begin to struggle a bit on what or whom to highlight.

It is not the lack of trying or the lack of influential people, it is the simple fact that there is so much information and it is very hard to know where to begin. I would hope that the images are long lasting that we never forget those who are considered to be invisible. Many Afro-Latinos are indeed invisible in today’s world and that is part of the reason why this project has life. Our identities as Latinos are a fluid one. We can fall into many different racial and ethnic categories and yet still identify as Latino or Hispanic.

As children, in the United States, we are indoctrinated with the belief that there is a black and white binary. While we never fully understand it until we are adults, there is an underlying sense that it is better to have a lighter skin tone. American history often demonstrates the superiority of one racial group over another within the white and black context. What is not taught in school, but is often learned, is the inequality within people of color. African Americans face this issue when dealing with different shades of black and the distinction of bi-racial and multi-racial categories. Many African American scholars point to the creation of such categories as “not wanting to be white”. However, this kind of problem goes unsaid within the Latino culture.

Latinos face a very real crisis of identity in the United States of America. The Black and White Binary paradigm in this country places everyone based on skin color into those two categories. Because this paradigm is indoctrinated into all of us, we are forced to describe people of all racial groups within the terms of black and white. This widespread thinking almost puts Latinos on the outside of that binary. This unnatural marginalization of people of color outside of the paradigm forces many to choose what part of the binary they fall into. More often than not the, choice is made for them.

Latinos can be described as a “hybrid category” within the black and white binary, specifically because white and black simply do not apply. Much like my family, Latinos represent every shade of skin color possible. Having another category would assume that were a third race and thus a paradigm shift. However, a large segment of Latinos would rather consider themselves to be white and completely deny their African heritage.

The idea of Latinos thinking of themselves to be anything less than white would mean they are closer to the oppression their ancestors felt. Simply put the darker the Latino the closer to Africa they are. The question is why is the black side of the binary so hard for Latinos to deal with? The answer lies with the Spanish colonization of the Caribbean and Latin America. The hierarchy of the dominant culture was quickly established that placed white Europeans at the top with African slaves at the very bottom and in the middle was the indigenous people. The ruling class was made up of white Europeans from Spain.

The media plays a huge role in Latino identity. The Latino Identity is typically defined as a light skinned, dark haired individual that is often made to look exotic. Afro-Latinos are rarely seen in areas of television media with the exception of sports. Despite what the media may consider to be Latino, the darker skinned people still remain fairly invisible. Print media, more importantly, magazines have the same issues.

I know I just got real educational right now, but there is a reason why I do have the slave trade map at the top. More often then not we tend to forget our history or just simply avoid it all together. That is why this project is so important to me. We should never think that we are all not connected because according to history we are.

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

Know Your History/ Conocer Su Historia


If you know you me well enough then you will know that when I first entered Syracuse University as a freshmen, my major was History. It was one of the few things that I was really good at in high school. I loved it and understood it. History was not just about dates but more about the events and how things occurred in the past that might effect our present day.

So when I really started getting into history when I was in college, I was shocked by a very disturbing fact, I was learning about His Story. History is always written by the winner in most cases. What bothered me the most was what I did not learn in high school. The thing that comes to mind the most was the Transatlantic Slave Trade. While, I knew about it in high school, it was never presented in the same way as it was in college. That always stuck with me, so I decided to talk courses in African American history.

Once I got a different perspective on history, I dropped the major and switched to English. However, I still wanted to know more about my history. At that time, there wasn’t a Latin American Studies program but you could navigate certain classes to learn about the Caribbean and South America and I made sure that I did that.

I bring this up for 2 reasons. The first being that I was speaking to one of my students, who is Latina, about know her history. I have no problem explaining how the slave trade impacted the Caribbean. I have no problem explaining how Europeans killed most of the indigenous population, raped the survivors, and then replaced the workforce with African slaves. Most of this information cannot be found in history books at the high school level. What I do have an issue with is people not knowing icons. The second reason is really simple. February is coming soon and that means Black History Month will be upon us. As usual, most Latinos think they they have no contributions to this month and that is the farthest from the truth.

I have a Wheaties Box in office. Yes it is there, unopened. The person on that box is Roberto Clemente. Maybe it is just me, but I feel that all Puerto Ricans should know who he is. What bothers me is the ignorance. I have been asked, “why haven’t you eaten the cereal?” I like how certain people scoff as if it is disgusting to have an old box of cereal. I always have this puzzled look as I think to myself that all they see is a box of cereal and not the person who is on the box. Why is that? Because they do not know their history.

Conservatives in Texas do not care if you never know your history. Clearly they believe that they can remove people like Cesar Chavez from the history books because he lacks “lacks the stature…and contributions.” Which basically tells me that they are just looking at the Wheaties box and not understanding that history cannot just be rewritten by the “winner”. It very much like how the MTA in New York City wants to remove free transportation for students. The less people who know their history, the more control the powers that be have. Make no mistake that racism is still alive.

So, my question to you. Do you know your history? Or are you faking the funk? The way to understand everything that is going on in this world, from Islamic Extremists to Gay Marriages, is to know the history behind them. Perhaps more perspective will be gained by everyone.