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.

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.