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Yolanda Arroyo Pizarro: Afro-Puerto Rican, gay and out to change the world.

If Los Afro-Latinos had a bucket list, Afro-Puerto Rican, writer Yolanda Arroyo Pizarro would be on it. We have been interested in interviewing her for nearly a year. Ms. Arroyo Pizarro has become one of the island’s most prolific writers. Some describe her as controversial because her writings often focus on topics many consider provocative such as homosexuality and race.

Reading her biography, it seems as though she were born to write. As a young student in school, she won numerous prizes for her literary skills.

In 2004, she published her first book of short stories, Origami de Letras (Origami Letters). A year later, in 2005, she published Los Documentados (The Documented) which centers on migration within the Caribbean Islands. Another one of her most recent novels, Negras (Black Women) released in 2011, is a fictionalized account of enslavement among black women in Puerto Rico; a topic she says is rarely included in the island’s literature.

Yolanda’s literary career has been as varied and diverse as the multiple genres she writes in including novels, short stories and poetry.

Now, Los Afro-Latinos brings you the first part of our interview conducted by Nanette Hernandez. Here Yolanda discusses her beloved homeland, Puerto Rico and her experiences coming out as a lesbian.  Los-Afro-Latinos found Yolanda to be courageous, truthful and spirited.

In the next interview, she explains the African role in Puerto Rico and the lack of representation of black women in Puerto Rican literature.

To read more about Yolanda, please visit her blog, Boreales.

 


Los Afro-Latinos: What does it means to you to be Puerto Rican?

Yolanda: To me, being Puerto Rican is……ay! Breathing. It is everything that leads my daily actions. It’s coming home, sticking my head out of the window and seeing the mountain behind me. It’s driving my car to the west, where my in-laws live, or going to the beach in the area of “El Dorado” where my parents live. It’s that wonderful place where I gave birth to my daughter, Aurora. And it’s where I’ve spent my whole life…..I fight for a better country, for better education. I fight to make progress and to achieve rights for all people, from marginalized people and immigrants to people who want equal rights, in the community.

Los Afro-Latinos: What was your experience coming out as gay to your family and friends?

Yolanda: I realized my preference from an early age. I didn’t know what it was, but I always felt attracted to either boys or girls. I suspected there was some sort of censorship in regards to the (liking) girls issue through things I used to hear at home. People in my family usually commented: “those two women…” I didn’t think I liked boys over girls. I even thought that every body liked both boys and girls. I was intelligent and always was on the ‘Honor Roll’. I was respectful and behaved according to what was expected from me. I never saw it like something abnormal happening to me. Of course, when you grow older you realize that you are allowed only to have a girlfriend or a boyfriend.…society’s rules.

As a teenage/young adult

Yolanda: When I was fifteen years old, I met the person whom I had one of the most important relationships. I fell in love with this girl in my class. We were both in a catholic school and we had a romance that later on developed into a steady relationship. There was a period during which she was married and we stopped seeing each other. She had a child with her husband, then they divorced and we got back together again to raise the baby. That relationship lasted from my 15th to my 24th years. It was a long relationship.

Nobody asked questions, nobody said anything. My family knew her.   Since I was raised by my grand parents, sometimes they might frown…..and I felt something but nobody brought the subject up. Time went by and we broke up.

I fell in love with this man, whom I married and gave birth to my daughter, Aurora. Fourteen years later we got divorced. When this happened it didn’t cross my mind that I was going to have a relationship with a woman again, but it was meant to be. It was the right time. I met her after one year of my divorce. At that time Aurora was 10 years old.

Coming out

Yolanda: I decided on my own will…because I felt it was too hard to keep up any kind of lie or masquerade trying to hide the truth. At the beginning there were some inconsistencies and people were confused, but it can be done. I decided that I was going to come out to the world. I didn’t want to live a lie, that wasn’t an option for me.

Telling Aurora

Yolanda: In regards to my daughter, I sat down and told her,“Mommy is going to have a girlfriend.” She asked all kind of questions and I answered them all.

Telling co-workers

Yolanda: So, I decided to tell my co-workers. They already knew I was married to my husband and we had a girl. One year after my divorce I told them: ‘this is whats happening with my life and I’m dating a woman’ and their reaction was: What? How? Finally they got used to it. Its a matter of getting used to it.

Loving family

Yolanda: My ex-husband got married again with this woman, mother of two daughters, and everybody is involved now. My mother in law calls me to meet and make ‘chorizo con jamonilla (sausage with ham) His new family and ours get along really well…my daughter’s grandparents –my ex-husband parents know Zulma (partner). Zulma’s parents are very loving. We’ve all gone out together. They call me to ask, when are you going to bring the child (Aurora) over? I suffer from asthma. My father calls Zulma to find out how I’m doing. We all get along well.

Maybe it’s a utopian dream, maybe it is a fantasy to try to make this world a better place and I try to do it every day.

It can be achieved.

 

Yolanda Arroyo Pizarro and partner, Zulma

Yolanda Arroyo Pizarro and partner, Zulma

Martina Arroyo: An Opera Legend by Cheryl Wills

 

Martina Arroyo: Opera Legend

Inspires New Generation of Singers

Martina Arroyo gracefully used her powerful voice to help break down barriers in the opera world during the 1960s. Now, the operatic soprano is using her influence to mentor and inspire the next generation of singers.

Marking its tenth anniversary, The Martina Arroyo Foundation’s “Prelude to Performance” program proudly presented its young and talented artists in two glorious, contrasting masterpieces: Verdi’s, La Traviata and Rossini’s, Il Barbiere di Siviglia at Hunter College’s Kaye Playhouse in mid-July, 2014.

Martina Arroyo’s guidance and instruction is the foundation for students who performed in traditionally staged and costumed productions with orchestra and chorus. The operas were sung in Italian with supertitles flashed above the stage.

The Foundation provides an opportunity that eluded Arroyo during her childhood on the tough streets in Harlem, New York (USA). Born to a Puerto Rican father and an African-American mother in 1937, the only exposure the wide-eyed curious girl had to opera was via the radio. Her parents regularly tuned into the Metropolitan Opera’s musical programming. The sounds and rhythms mesmerized little Martina as she tried singing along.

The Arroyos initially frowned upon a career in opera, pushing their daughter with her rich soprano voice to get a “stable” career, as a teacher. Adhering to her parents’ career direction, Martina obtained her teaching degree when she was 19. Her heart led to her pursuing her operatic dream. By the time she was 28, 1965, she found herself on the hallowed stage of the world renowned Metropolitan Opera in the role of Verdi’s Aida. She connected with audiences who grew to revere Martina’s artistry. Her performances took her around the globe, making her an international icon.

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Ever the teacher, Martina Arroyo, along with other professionals in the field, work with selected students for six weeks, supporting them as they continue striving to reach their operatic potential. Best of all, the students do not pay a dime to be in the program. Martina’s alma mater, Hunter College receives hundreds of applications for the program from which Arroyo personally selects 35 lucky students to participate. Although she took her final bow in 1991, Arroyo, now 76, pours her heart and soul into the young artists, who demonstrate their appreciation by exceeding her high expectations for each of them.

Martina called the greatest honor of her life was when she was bestowed The Kennedy Center Honor, December 2013. She was hailed by President Obama and a host of dignitaries as one of the finest opera singers of her generation. But don’t look for a diva because you won’t find it in this Harlem girl. Martina Arroyo rolls up her sleeves and gets “down and dirty” with her students, teaching them the behaviors and activities of the trade, encouraging them to hit the high note. The students’ challenging work culminates with Hunter College Kaye Playhouse’s extravaganza, considered by many operatic professionals to be an almost Met-worthy performance.

Many of Arroyo’s students have graduated to opera stages across the United States, including The Met as well as international opera houses. They readily admit they could not have reached their prominence without Martina Arroyo and her Foundation’s guiding program… proving that Martina Arroyo is a legendary singer with the beautiful voice – and a beautiful heart to match.

Our newest contributor: Cheryl Wills of NY1

Los Afro-Latinos is excited to announce we have a new contributor: Cheryl Wills of New York 1. Cheryl Wills is an award-winning journalist and has been with New York 1 since its launch in 1992. Cheryl is also an author of a familial biography, Die Free: A Heroic Family Tale. This is a retrospective o the life of Sandy Wills, Cheryl’s great-great-great grandfather, and the courageous journey he made after he fled his former slave master from Haywood County, Tennessee in the 1850s to New York City in the 20th century. Die Free is an American story that deserves to be told and read.

Join us in welcoming Cheryl to the Los Afro-Latinos Blog community, and read her first contribution — the story of Martina Arroyo, an Afro-Puerto Rican Opera Legend.

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Dahlma Llanos-Figueroa: Woman of Endurance – Yemayá (Chapter One)

We are honored to share Yemayá with you. Yemayá is the first chapter of Afro-Puerto Rican author, Dahlma Llanos -Figueroa’s new book, Woman of Endurance.

This first chapter is an amazingly engaging and suspenseful opening to Llanos – Figueroa’s latest work.

Let us know your thoughts.

Sincerely,

Kim

Puerto Rico 1886 Map

Carolina, Puerto Rico–1848

Pola waited until there was people silence. The other women in her cabin snored or lay motionless after a sixteen-hour day in the heat and sun. The men’s cabin across the way was dark and still. There wasn’t even the squeak, squeak of the hammock ties. The overseer of Hacienda Paraíso (hijo de la gran puta, may he rot in whatever hell he believed in), even he, was a man of habit. He had surely put his whips away for the night and was sleeping off his latest raid on the women’s quarters. La familia, well fed and comfortable, was lulled to sleep by the ever-present song of the coquís, which filled the unusually cool night air. The smell of the patrón’s last cigar of the night had long ago dissipated. The patrona, groomed and prepared for bed, had already dismissed the house slave with a flick of her hand. Now, she probably burrowed into her pillow abandoning herself to dreams. Pola could almost see them tossing in their bedroom finery, content in their white people dreams. Snores floated out of open windows all over the plantation. Lanterns were long ago blown out.

No moon tonight. Clouds hung low in the sky, blocking out starlight and reflections. Pola looked around the batey. Her eyes strained, searching out every shadow, every movement in the back yard. The chickens sat silently, safe in their coops. The stables were still. There were low snorts from the pigsty but soon those too quieted down. The herbs she’d sprinkled in their trough kept the dogs drowsy, disoriented and quiet. The night had settled into its rhythm. This time, she would make it all the way. This time, she wouldn’t be back.

Everything was in order. The time was now.

She looked around one more time, then took a deep breath and started out, brushing aside the painful images that trailed her. A rustling in the bushes stopped her mid-step. Frozen in place, she sent out her senses, making sure, taking no chances. She waited. The few moments of apprehensive stillness seemed interminable and in the space of that time, the painful memories rushed in on her. A girlchild, oval mouth closing over swollen nipples, a held breath, the faint sounds of sucking, her daughter. The sound in the underbrush brought her back. A pair of pitirres flew up into the trees and disappeared from sight. Relieved, Pola brushed away the memories and screwed her intent. She knew she couldn’t afford distractions. She continued her journey.

Her steps were slow and sure and soon she had cleared the open space of the batey. Pola stayed on the far side of the chozas, slipping from one hut to the next, hugging the tied palm fronds that formed the walls of the slave quarters, hoping that even if there was an unsuspected eye, she was just one more shadow in the night. Hoping she left no trace of her ever having been there.

The road was dark and empty. Few people wandered around on a night like this, dark and cool. Most folks sought the warmth and softness of their beds and bedfellows—something she had never known. Passing scattered farm houses, she crouched and listened for noises. And in those moments, the child came back into her mind a stray lock tightly curling into itself, tiny fists lying still against her black breast; a faint cry for food, a warm trickle in her hand.

Then she felt it, the sticky, slippery sliding between her thighs. She didn’t have to see the red to know she was bleeding again. She knew she would be leaving a trail that could be easily followed. By morning it would be a clear map to her movements in the night. It wouldn’t matter by then. By then she would be far beyond them.

She stretched to relieve the cramping in her limbs and began moving again. Calves still burning, she made her way, crossing one field after another until she reached the outskirts of the little town. The most direct path was diagonally across the plaza. But that was too dangerous, too much open ground. And you never knew about the priests at the church. They might be up all night praying for some hacendado whose soul was already damned to his eternal hell. No, she couldn’t risk that. So, her shadow crawled across the back walls of the village houses. She had to be especially careful not to get too close. Her scent would drive town dogs wild and that would be the end. She prayed that these people kept their pets indoors, like the patrones. ¡Salvajes! They treated their pets better than the ever treated me. No, can’t get distracted, breathe, Pola, breathe. She sent out all her senses, heard nothing, saw no one.

One more house before the beginning of the woods. She started out across the last of the yards when suddenly a back door opened and a large woman stood there holding a lantern and squinting into the night. She was trying to make out the movement in the darkness. Just then, the clouds shifted and Pola stood out clearly, caught in a stray shaft of star light. She froze watching the woman watching her. She held her breath, waiting for the call of alarm once again. But this woman didn’t call out an alert. This woman lifted her lantern, her round, black face showed her taking in all the details, and then registering something like understanding. Her face shifted and Pola could see the almost imperceptible smile. The woman peered to the right and left, making sure they were alone. Satisfied, she nodded her head, once, and made a swift sweeping motion with her hand. Then slowly, carefully, she puckered her toothless mouth and blew out the light. Then she turned back into the darkness of the kitchen disappearing as quietly as she had appeared.

Shaken, Pola stood rooted to the spot. She had been betrayed before by people who looked just like her. It took a moment for her to understand what had just occurred. When she realized there would be no footsteps following her, she was galvanized into action, quickly crossing the distance to the wooded area up ahead. Mercifully, the clouds shifted, once again blocking the light.  As soon as she had cleared the houses and slid into the forest, she broke into a full out run.

Photo Credit: Rachel Eliza Griffiths

Photo Credit: Rachel Eliza Griffiths

Just when she began running, the cramping started. Her hand automatically went to her belly. No, not now! She couldn’t, she wouldn’t let it stop her. She had to push on. She had to get into some sort of cover. Finally she reached the forest that led to the ocean. And still she ran. She barely felt the branches slapping at her as she entered the woods, pumping her legs and arms until she thought her lungs would burst. She drove herself, pushing beyond the pain in her legs, beyond the burn in her chest, beyond thinking. The cramping now cut across her belly and finally brought her down on her knees. She breathed heavily through her mouth, taking in great gulps of air, hoping to contain the pain that was twisting in her gut. It took a long time for the aching to subside enough for her to get up and continue her run. If she didn’t get up now, she never would and then it really would be all over.

Then she heard it, the swishhhh of leaves in the night.

Refocused, she looked up ahead, passed the denser branches to the palmera with its tall and elegant trees framing the beach. Swishhhh, swishhhh, a thousand palm leaves filled the air and soothed her spirit.   When she finally got her breathing under control, she sniffed the briny in the air, perfume; motherscent intoxicated her, pulling her onward. Long before she heard it the sound of the surf drew her to her destination.

Once on the beach, she forgot everything but the welcoming song of the waves. This was the realm of her sacred Mother Yemayá, the place of all forgiveness and all safety. Enveloped in the salty air, her body moved, almost in a trance, this time towards her destiny. Her legs took over. She barely felt the water as she continued her journey. The waves caress higher and higher on her body. Her arms out-stretched in supplication, she began her plea, Eternal Mother, Giver of Life, Granter of Dreams, Mother of all Mothers. The water rose steadily, over her knees, caressing her thighs. Far off, a small glowing curve in the darkness, San Juan lights twinkling in the night. But Pola only knew the sound of the voice, living in her head, flying out of her mouth like released butterflies. Have you forgotten me, your loving and devoted child? The dark water now saturated her bodice to just below her breast. You must know my anguish, my grief and my despair. Her steps were strong and steady even as the water rose to her shoulders. Bathe me in your loving waters, wash away my pain and relieve me of this torment. With the sea finally splashing her face, Pola came to awareness. She looked out at the open sea, smelled the salt in the air and listened for the song of the waves. In one swift moment, she considered it all, the danger, the pain, the darkness, the fear, and then she abandoned herself to the pull of the current.

Below the surface, the water was cool on her legs, her pubis and her arms. And she welcomed what was to come, relinquishing all will, blocking out all knowledge, turning deaf ears to the fear screaming in her chest. She allowed the dark waters to take her where they might. Do with me as you wish but remove me from this world of most unnatural people.

Slowly, the waters began to swirl, pulling her into an ever-widening dance. She yielded to Yemayá’s wisdom. The waters pulled her down, down, down, into the depths. And Pola rejoiced in the Mother’s benediction. There would be no more doubts, no struggles, no terror. There was no more resistance, no sight, no sound, only the warm embrace of the Mother, the going home. Her last thought was of the joy of surrender. She released her body and her mind and allowed herself to be taken, sinking gracefully. She was almost there.

And then they came, the pictures that wouldn’t let her drift into release. They followed her even into this holiest of places. El Caballo, a wild stallion, taking her from behind, delighting in breaking her will, mounting her roughly and ramming himself into her ever opening. El Puerco, grunting and snorting like the pig that he was. He smelled of the sty and of putrefaction, digging his snout into every part of her, grinning like a demented idiot. El Lobo bit her to bleeding and slapped her until she begged for it. All of them performing animals for the patron, an audience of one or perhaps more, if he was in a sharing mood. And then there was Luisito, a man-boy really, who wouldn’t or couldn’t. Another toy for their amusement. He lay on top of her, tears staining his lovely black face as the lash bit into his back and the others jeered at him. “I thought you bucks were so macho.” And “that the best you can do?” And “poor showing for a strong, strapping man like you.” Finally, he passed out, his weight pinning her down. She kissed his unresponsive face before he was taken away. He was never sent for again, his poor performance had wasted the patron’s time and offered no entertainment.

Mercifully, those images faded and in the gentlest whirlpool, they came to her, finally, the babies. They came in silhouette, faceless, nameless, as they had been in life. Each floated up, arms extended, seeking her out, the woman who hadn’t protected them, the mother who had never been there. But no, they didn’t come in recrimination. They knew. They floated up, not accusing, but welcoming her, finally, guiding her home. They floated around her, touching her, releasing a warmth that surrounded her and lulled her into a place of calm, love and absolute forgiveness. The brought her redemption. She would gladly let herself be taken into the depths.

But somewhere there was a shift. She felt the swell, the waters surged, squeezed, pushed her, abating for a moment before pushing again, push, push, again and again, pushing, pushing her up, pushing her out. She was finally expelled into the air. And there were the rough hands waiting, grabbing and pulling at her. She gasped, her lungs sucking in one breath then another. The intake burned, as the air rushed into her lungs, bruising, burning her chest. The hands kept pulling and then she felt her cold body dripping wet, sticky wet. Exhausted and half naked, she was dragged across the sand.

She felt the hands clamped around her arms. When she found thought, she knew she had failed once again. She knew her prayers had dissipated in the wind. There was nothing else, nowhere else to go. Then she knew Yemayá had abandoned her forever. The Mother that brought her here had turned her back on her for the last time. Faith turned to an overwhelming sense of betrayal. Betrayal turned to anger, anger to fury and the fury that filled her spirit hardened into iron right there on the sand. There was no hope, no escape, no place to go but within. It had all been for nothing.

She made herself slack under those brutal hands, releasing the full weight of her body and soul, making herself heavy with her disappointment and her sense of betrayal. They tied her up and hoisted her onto a horse.

Pola closed her eyes and shut out the voices, knowing full well that from now on, there would be no way out. Ever.

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Pelé: Why Soccer Matters, Part 2

by Kim Haas
After months of speculation regarding Brazil’s readiness to host the 2014 World Cup, the games are now in full swing in venues across the South American nation. The World Cup, one of the biggest sporting events in the world, captivates billions of fans across the globe every four years.

And one person, Pelé, arguably soccer’s biggest star, engaged audiences for decades, beginning as a young phenom playing for a professional team in Santos, Brazil.

Pelé: Why Soccer Matters

Pelé: Why Soccer Matters

Connecting to the big game, los afro-latinos spotlights one of the game’s most popular and prolific players – Pelé (Edson Arantes do Nascimento).  Pelé began playing professional soccer at the age of 15 and joined the Brazilian national soccer team a year later. He’s an Afro-Brazilian who grew up in economic poverty in Bauru, Brazil.

His career spanned 2 decades.  During that time, he won three FIFA World Cups, 1958, 1962 and 1970 and is the only player with that distinction. Pelé’s  honors are too many to cite here.  Two of them are:

  1.  he was declared a National Treasure by Brazil and
  2.  he was designated the best FIFA scorer, scoring 1281 goals in 1363 games.  Rumor has it that during the 1960’s 2 warring Nigerian factions agreed to a cease fire so they could watch Pelé  play in Lagos.

Pelé was magic in the air, flying vertically and horizontally, dazzling fans with his athleticism, quick thinking, field vision, power and passion for the game.  He’s credited with coining the term “o jogo bonito” (the beautiful game) when referring to soccer.

In Part 1, los-afrolatinos spoke with writer Brian Winter, co-author with Pelé of the recently published book, “Pelé,“Why Soccer Matters” Now, we bring you Part 2, as we continue our conversation with Brian delving deeper into Pelé’s relationship with his father, his thoughts about race, and his global  appeal.


 

LAL: What role did Pelé’s father play in his life?

BW: I thought the relationship between Pelé and his father was one of my favorite aspects of this book.  Whenever Pelé was discussing his father, you could really tell that he was sincere and emotional.  Even after 60 years, he was thinking about how he first learned to play soccer from his dad, João Ramos, (nicknamed Dondinho)

Listening to him talk about his dad was like listening to an 8 year old. You could really see flashes of happiness and gratitude in his eyes, all these years later.  A lot of that has to do with the fact that his dad was kind of a “what-might-have-been.”  His dad was bigger, 5 or 6 inches taller than Pelé. Physically, he was more of an athlete. And, he was an exceptionally talented soccer player. His career got derailed by a knee injury when he was in his early 20s. He was never the same after that. So I think Pelé not only learned his love for the game from his dad, but he also saw it as a way of living out the life his dad would have had if he hadn’t been  injured.

LAL: From a young age, Pelé seems to truly enjoy playing soccer. It didn’t seem like he was forced to play soccer or live out someone else’s dream as has been suggested in the case of Tiger Woods and his father. 

BW: I think that’s right…He didn’t see it (relationship with father) as a…Tiger and Earl Woods relationship where the father was really kind of forcing his will upon the son. Without wanting to pass judgment on Tiger, I can testify that Pelé enthusiasm for soccer is sincere and deeply rooted.  There’s a phrase at the end of one of the early chapters where he speaks glowingly saying, “All these years later I still can’t separate my love for soccer from my love for my dad.” The game nourished their close relationship.

LAL:  It did not occur to me until mentioned in the book that there were no television recordings of Pelé’s early games.

BW: There were none. One of the things we really tried to focus on in the book was the technological differences between now and the first World Cup (1950).  It was the first one Brazil hosted.  There is a big difference not just in terms of technology but the money that has come into soccer. The gap is really striking. Even though we appreciate Pelé as having a sort of a hallowed place in the public’s imagination, at least half of the truly awesome goals that he scored we’ll never get to see.  We only got to see half of his body of work.  Yet, we still regard him as the best footballer ever.  Well, that is a testimony of how good he actually was.

LAL: Did Pelé coin the Portuguese term, “o jogo bonito?”

BW: He allegedly coined the phrase “ o jogo bonito” (the beautiful game). That is not something that I could verify. It’s sort of been an accepted part of the soccer cannon that he did.  Yes that is a phrase that is traditionally credited to him.

Pelé in 1970 World Cup

Pelé in 1970 World Cup

LAL: On page 8 of the book, Pelé discusses the economic climate in Brazil during the 1950’s, the first year the country hosted the World Cup. He says , “… roughly half of Brazilians usually didn’t get enough to eat. Just one in three knew how to read properly. My brother and sister and I were among the half of the population who usually went barefoot. This inequality was rooted in our politics, our culture, and our history – I was a member of just the third generation of my family born free.” How does Pelé view race and being an Afro-Brazilian?

BW: Race in Brazil is complicated and so is Pelé’s race in Brazil. 

Those are interesting issues the book does try to explore a bit. As you know there has been this myth of racial democracy that was propagated historically over the years here in Brazil. You don’t hear as much of it anymore like in the ‘50s and ‘60s. There was never any formal segregation of the races in Brazil in the way that you saw in the United States. But it was also a long way from being a racially equal place. This is a country with tremendous income inequalities and those tend to, generally speaking, be reflected along racial lines; it’s not even so much racial lines here, it’s a racial spectrum.

And as far as Pelé goes, he does talk movingly about his experience as an Afro Brazilian. Some people in Brazil say Pelé did not talk enough about his race over the years.  Historically that’s been something that has come up for him. And it’s hard for me as an outsider, and also frankly as a white American, to really speak to that. I can say when I asked him about it he said very clearly that he’s proud of being Black, not only an Afro Brazilian but as part of the global African community. He’s certainly shown that on his trips to the United States, Africa and elsewhere.

He did say, “[I] rarely or never had issues regarding my race, in part because I was so famous.”  I think that people tended to see him as famous first, maybe Brazilian second and Black third. So he was afforded the rock star treatment everywhere he went from the age 17 onward, that was in 1958.  So it does make some sense that he might not have ever seen and certainly did not receive the worse that both Brazil and the United States had to offer because of who he was. He lived a different life.

LAL: What is Pelé’s relationship with Brazil’s current World Cup team?

BW: I think he’s still seen as a kind of touchstone for Brazilian soccer. Certainly the press has been actively seeking his commentary on every possible issue related to the team whether Neymar has a chance to be the best player or what the other potential challengers might be.  I don’t think they’re consulting him on tactics or anything like that. But he’s kind of a mascot for Brazil and Brazilian soccer. He’s still quite important.

LAL: At one point in the book you question whether Pelé should he have been more political, more out spoken about social issues. 

BW: You know you may have noticed that he got in hot water on the other side of this issue last year when he made comments about the protests that broke out.  He made a video where he encouraged Brazilians to put the protests aside during the games and let the players play. And if you read this book that we did, it actually makes perfect sense why he did that.

Politics has always intruded on the soccer field in Brazil. Whether it was 1950 when Brazil was going through issues and coming out of a dictatorship or the turmoil of the early 1960s. Pelé as a player always resented the politics.   So when he filmed that message it’s not that he was encouraging people not to protest, in fact it was just the opposite. He was just saying, “Look, please, for the sake of the players once the whistle blows let’s just hear it for Brazil. Let’s just let them do their thing.”

LAL: You describe Pelé as an ambassador. Please talk about that part of his life. 

BW: I think it’s really important because Pelé’s real gift was his soccer talent, and his ability to make people happy.  His faith is rock solid. That sounds kind of hokey but it’s totally true. To his credit he realized that that’s what he was put here to do. He’s been able to do that just as much after his playing career as he was during. He played his last professional soccer game in the year I was born, in 1977, half a lifetime ago for him (because he’s 73). And he talks movingly about how he believes God gave him this talent in order to please people and to bring joy to literally billions of people. He’s great at it.

He does not have a lot of formal education—although he did work pretty hard to make up for his shortcomings as an adult—but his emotional intelligence is off the charts. And he has this amazing ability to sit across from people of all nationalities and walks of life and figure out quite quickly and quite astutely what it is that makes them tick. And that is his legacy. He takes time to see and talk to people, going beyond what is necessary for athletes to do.  In that sense he’s really quite remarkable.

LAL: You mention in the book that Pelé was one of the first global icons. What did you mean by that?

BW: I have spent time around several current and former presidents, mostly in Latin America, and that commands a certain respect and sometimes level of awe from people. Pelé, I have seen him make people crazy. Normal people lose their composure when they’re around him. Their eyes get big. He has stories about grown men just collapsing in tears. I’ve never personally seen people react that way to anyone the way they do to him. He’s in a category all by himself.

LAL: Why does soccer matter?

BW: I think there are lots of reasons why soccer matters. But I think Pelé’s story shows how sport more broadly, and soccer specifically, can be used as a force for good and for improving people’s lives. Look, not everybody is going to have the dramatic rise from poverty to super stardom that Pelé had, and he says that. His story is exceptional. Soccer’s ability to improve young players’ self-esteem, and as an escape from their day-to-day issues whether that’s poverty or other problems at home is pretty amazing. You know that’s true of all sports in some ways but as Pelé notes soccer’s unique because it’s really a sport that you can either play by yourself with a ball or with 10 people or 20 people. And you don’t need fancy equipment and you don’t need a specially designed field. And particularly among people who start from humble roots as Pelé  did, that resonates and is really important. And more specifically to Pelé’s life, he’s been able to use his fame as a vehicle for charity, making public appearances in hospitals, war zones or when he visited the site of the earthquake in Japan. He’s been able to bring happiness into a lot of people’s lives and that’s Why soccer matters.

 

Pelé: Why Soccer Matters, Part 1

by Kim Haas

We are hours away from the beginning of the 2014 FIFA World Cup. With 32 nations participating, the World Cup is the most popular sporting event on the planet.  World Cup attendance is expected to reach 3.7 million people with an estimated 3.6 billion viewers.  Held every four years, Brazil plays host to this year’s games in 12 cities across the nation including: São Paulo, Salvador and Rio de Janeiro.

Brazil Host Cities

Brazil Host Cities

Connecting to the big game, los afro-latinos presents information about the game’s most popular and prolific player – Pelé (Edson Arantes do Nascimento).  Pelé began playing professional soccer at the age of 15 and joined the Brazilian national soccer team a year later. He’s an Afro-Brazilian who grew up in economic poverty in Bauru, Brazil.

His career spanned 2 decades. During that time, he won three FIFA World Cups, 1958, 1962 and 1970 and is the only player with that distinction. Pele’s honors are too many to cite here.  Two of them are: (1) he was declared a National Treasure by Brazil and (2) he was designated the best FIFA scorer, scoring 1281 goals in 1363 games.  Rumor has it that during the 1960’s 2 warring Nigerian factions agreed to a cease fire so they could watch Pele play in Lagos.

Pelé was magic in the air, flying vertically and horizontally, dazzling fans with his athleticism, quick thinking, field vision, power and passion for the game.  He’s credited with coining the term “o jogo bonito” (the beautiful game) when referring to soccer.

In this 2 part series, los afro-latinos spoke with writer Brian Winter, co-author with Pelé of the recently published book, “Pelé,“Why Soccer Matters.” Our conversation explores Pelé’s deep admiration for his father, his love for soccer and Pelé’s position as a global icon and role model.

Pelé: Why Soccer Matters

Pelé: Why Soccer Matters


LAL: There are lots of media reports here in the United States about Brazil not being ready for this year’s World Cup. You’re in Brazil. Please share your thoughts. Is Brazil ready?

BW: Well they’re not ready. The stadiums, it appears, are going to be mostly done. I mean mostly. If you took all 12 stadiums and assigned a percentage it looks like we’re going to be 97, 98%. That’s just a guess. The important work (stadiums built) is done. Areas around the stadiums look like construction sites; not only in São Paulo but in Cuiabá, Curitiba, Natal and some of the other cities. I was at the São Paulo stadium yesterday before the last test match, before things opened up, and there were still missing chairs and the first game is in 10 days. As far as the various festivities, I suspect fans will be able to get in and see the game.

LAL: You’ve been in São Paulo, Brazil for a little more than 4 years. Brazil had 7 years to prepare for the World Cup. What are some of the reasons Brazil is not 100% ready?

BW: Part of the problem is what Brazil promised FIFA, the world and most importantly its own citizens, it would do, 7 years ago, when it first won the right to host this tournament. They (government) talked about using the World Cup as an opportunity to do a broad overhaul of dilapidated infrastructures. That was a general promise and then as recently as 2010 the government outlined all these building projects and airport improvements and other things. Some of those projects are going great but about half of them will not get finished in time for the Cup. So that’s a pretty high percentage of failing to deliver.

Brazil is not a country that has historically done big planning. It’s a country that relied on throwing a bunch of people at a problem, when it can’t quite finish the logistical planning and construction aspects. This is a problem in construction in general. And not just in sporting events. This was the case at the stadium I entered yesterday where there were all these issues with unfinished construction. And, there were literally hundreds of people, police, FIFA volunteers, other sort of groups set up by the local government standing around waiting to help. That’s historically the way things are kind of handled here and it looks like it’s probably going be the case with this event as well.

LAL: Where does Pelé stand in terms of how money is being spent for the World Cup?

BW: I can sort of describe what he’s said publicly. He’s been very critical (of the amount of money spent). And he was critical long before it was fashionable to be so here. Back in early 2011 he warned publicly that Brazil ran a risk of embarrassing itself during the Cup because of all these logistical problems. And at the time people kind of rolled their eyes at him and said, oh come on everything’s going to get sorted out. And here we are on the eve of the Cup and it’s not sorted out. It’s obvious that Brazil’s preparations are going to fall significantly short of what they were supposed to be.

LAL: For months, thousands of Brazilians have protested the government’s over spending on the World Cup and lack of investment in public services and infrastructure. Pelé has asked Brazilians not to protest during the Cup. Do you think that’s going to happen?

BW: No. The issues are too serious. There are groups of people (and labor unions) that are determined to go out and try to wreck this tournament. If that’s the mission, I don’t think they’ll succeed but they will disrupt. I have no doubt about that.

LAL: Have the police force and other security groups been trained to effectively deal with protest?

BW: I guess they have been trained. By Latin American standards certain police forces in Brazil can be quite disciplined. I mean that in a good way as a compliment to the police—but the spotlight here is going to be awfully bright and there’s going to be a lot of quite disturbing protesters. For that reason I fear that at least a few games are going to get pretty ugly.

LAL: Where will you be on June 12th ?

BW: I’m going to go as a civilian to at least one game and apart from that I’m going to be covering it as a reporter. And on the 12th I’m sure I’ll be in the writer’s office watching not so much the game, unfortunately to my distress as a soccer fan. I’ll be watching more from a news perspective looking at the protests and some of the things that are going on beyond the white lines (soccer field).

LAL: Do you have any predictions on what to expect during the games?

BW: I think there will be some significant logistical problems and the protests are going to get pretty ugly. I think most visiting fans will have a good time.

Pelé interview

Pelé and Brian Winter

Jacmel, Haiti’s Unshakable Carnaval

Several months ago, I announced that Los-Afrolatinos would “expand the tent” and cover not just Afro-Latinos but the larger African Diaspora as often as possible. Our current post focuses on Haiti; a country that captivates me. I’m inspired by its past, the first black republic in modern history, the resiliency, creativity and ingenuity of its people and its profound culture. With this post, I wanted to bring you another perspective of the island nation, beyond the doom and gloom so often reported. But rather, a look at how Haitians, despite seemingly endless challenges make room to create, celebrate and honor. I’m consistently inspired by how much Haitians accomplish despite a history which has been less than favorable. We can all gain strength by their sheer determination to persevere.

Jacmel’s 2014 Carnaval was covered for Los-Afrolatinos by freelance reporter, Amy Bracken. You can hear Amy’s work on Public Radio International, “The World,”  one of my favorite radio programs because of its’ in depth coverage of global issues, particularly those relating to Africa and Latin America.

Although we are publishing this post in May, Amy was in Jacmel in March for the town’s carnaval festivities. While this post is a bit behind schedule, I believe it’s right on time.

Enjoy Jacmel’s Carnaval!

Kim Haas, Founder

 

Read more

Dulce de Leche Brownie Recipe

Last week, we introduced you to Chef Leticia Moreinos Schwartz, in our post, The Best of Latin Baking. If after seeing the post, you were craving for one of those sweet treats, we have just the cure for you. Chef Leticia provided us with the scrumptious Dulce De Leche Brownie recipe, originally created by Pastry Chef David Lebowitz.  Enjoy!

Dulce de Leche Brownies

Yield: Serves 12

Ingredients
8 Tablespoons (120g) unsalted butter, cut into pieces, plus more for the pan
6 ounces (170g)  bittersweet chocolate
1/4 cup (30g) unsweetened cocoa powder
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup (120g) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup (140g) flour
1 cup (250ml) dulce de leche

Pre-heat the oven to 350F. Grease an 8-inch square pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.

1. Melt the butter in a saucepan. Add the chocolate and stir constantly over low heat until melted. Remove from heat and whisk in the cocoa powder until smooth. Read more

Listen to Los Afro-Latinos on the Speaking to Harmony Radio Show

Did you miss the Speaking to Harmony Radio Show? Our founder Kim Haas was a part of a panel to discuss “The Other America – The Legacy and Struggle of Afro-Latin America” with the goal of widening the notion of the African Diaspora, and to discuss the cultural heritage of the Latin American region.

Don’t worry, the show has been archived and is available for you to listen to here.

The Panel
Melissa Valle- Columbia University
Kim Haas- LosAfrolatinos.com
Maconya – Florida International University
Zarena Leblanc- Florida International University
Denika Mays- Florida International University

 

 

Los Afro-Latinos on the Speaking to Harmony Radio Show

We are very excited to announce that our founder, Kim Haas, will be a part of a panel on the Speaking to Harmony Radio Show, which is organized by the Sisters in Harmony. Kim will be joining four other panelists, hosted by Sister Calhoun and Dr. Walls, to discuss “The Other America – The Legacy and Struggle of Afro-Latin America” with the goal of widening the notion of the African Diaspora, and to discuss the cultural heritage of the Latin American region.

We hope you will be able to listen in to the discussion. Feel free to call in with any questions or comments you have.

The Panel
Melissa Valle- Columbia University
Kim Haas- LosAfrolatinos.com
Maconya – Florida International University
Zarena Leblanc- Florida International University
Denika Mays- Florida International University

Date: Sunday February 16, 7-9 PM Eastern Standard Time
Bogota, and Cartagena, Colombia 7-9 PM
San Jose, Costa Rica 6-8 PM

Call-in Number:  917-889-7765

Find out more info on the Facebook event page and feel free to invite your friends. 

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