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Posts from the ‘Articles’ Category

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


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Hispanic Heritage Month: The African Contribution

by Kim Haas

One of my greatest pleasures is the study of Afro-Latino culture. In September, I had a wonderful opportunity to write about the African contribution to Hispanic Heritage for one of the oldest black newspapers in the United States, New York Amsterdam News. The newspaper, which was founded on a $10 investment more than a century ago, has a distinguished history of being at the forefront of covering major issues and events involving people of African descent.

What an honor to share the article with you!

Vicente Guerrero

Vicente Guerrero

Hispanic Heritage Month, Sept. 15 – Oct. 15, offers an opportunity to illuminate what is too often overlooked—the African influence and tradition in Hispanic culture. Today, approximately 150 million Latin Americans have some African ancestry.

For more than 500 years, Africans and their descendents richly contributed to the fabric of Latin American society. During the Middle Passage, an estimated 12 million enslaved Africans were shipped to the Americas. Of this group, less than 10 percent were brought to the United States. The overwhelming majority were transported to the Caribbean and Latin America, where they provided free labor under exceptionally brutal conditions. They worked on cattle ranches in Brazil, in mines in Colombia, on sugar plantations in Ecuador and in other areas throughout the region.

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Secret Stash Records’ Quest for Afro-Peruvian Music

by Kim Haas 

Cory Wong and Eric Foss are long-time friends and fellow musicians from small town Fridley, Minnesota. They first met when they were six years old. Cory plays the guitar and Eric enjoys drums and percussion. Growing up, the duo’s musical tastes would not suggest an eventual interest in Afro-Peruvian music. Eric recalled, “We grew up (listening to)….whatever you’d expect white kids from Minnesota to listen to…Metallica, Rage Against The Machine and other hard rock bands.” 

As adults, the two friends formed the Secret Stash Record Label in 2009, releasing funk, jazz, and world music. To some degree, Secret Stash, was formed out of  the many frustrations Eric experienced, working at several large record labels, “….I found myself disgusted with the industry; the way (large) retailers and distributors …. treat artists. ….walk into a retail store and you see a new album advertised (taking up lots of space)…like a whole wall (of the store).  The retailer did not put it there because they love the artist.  It is there because the distributor paid the retailer hundreds of thousands of dollars… It’s called Co-Op Advertising.”

Not only does Secret Stash approach the business of music differently but its sounds and recordings are decidedly unique for the 21st century. Nearly all of Secret Stash’s releases are on vinyl (accompanied by mp3s). Cory said, vinyl records offered the most accurate, recreated sound compared to CDs and other musical recording formats. The two music aficionados are focused and selective about tracks released under their label. “We …operate outside normal record business (models). Anything we put out, (we) are in love with it… I always feel that Secret Stash… offers a service. We are a filter……We can’t let things sift through that filter that don’t fit the criteria…” 

Now that the days of working for large labels and distributors is over for Eric, he finds great satisfaction in Secret Stash’s business model. He described their approach to collaborating with other businesses as an important aspect of the company’s brand, “In Minneapolis, Tree House Records and Electric Fetus will play your record because it’s about loving music (not) how to squeeze money out of labels.” Read more

Afro-Uruguay: Forward Together

Our March article for Being Latino focuses on Afro-Uruguay: Forward Together, a documentary film dedicated to capturing the Afro-Uruguayan experience.

Through the lens of the video camera, two U.S. filmmakers immerse themselves and their family in Uruguay, capturing history as a small country tackles a big issue.

I have a deep fascination and profound interest in Afro-Uruguayan culture. Perhaps, this desire to know more is because I know so little about the country many call South America’s best kept secret – Uruguay.

Through pure serendipity, I stumbled across a beautifully written blog entry, “Uruguay, Mon Amor” by Carolina de Robertis. As a Californian of white Uruguayan parents, Carolina expressed her sorrow about the recent beating of an Afro-Uruguayan activist Tania Ramirez by a white Uruguayan. The violent exchange has sparked a national discussion in Uruguay regarding race.

Carolina, author of two critically acclaimed books and her spouse, African American filmmaker Pamela Harris, have relocated their family to Montevideo, Uruguay. The couple is dedicating 2013 to chronicling through the film the wide-ranging Afro-Uruguayan experience. The genesis of the film, Afro-Uruguay: Forward Together was sparked by the California couple’s 2004 honeymoon to Uruguay and an introduction to Candombe during a Llamada (The Call). Candombe is a musical experience originating from the Bantu people of Africa who were enslaved in Uruguay. Percussionists play three large curved, barrel shape drums (repique, chico and piano).

During a Llamada, percussionists, artists, dancers and people from the community drum rhythmically moving from one neighborhood to another, responding to “The Call.”

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Exploring Venezuela’s African History with Evelyne Laurent-Perrault

by Nicolle Morales Kern

Evelyne Laurent-Perrault was born to Haitian and Venezuelan parents in Caracas, Venezuela, a city she loves for its beauty and the warmth of its people. Evelyne’s father was an engineer and her stepmother was a pharmacist. She grew up in an area of Caracas where few people looked like her family, and her peers perceived her as a minority. Evelyne described the experience as “a double-edged sword, an illusion of inclusion, but the inclusion had its limits.”

While growing up, she didn’t have the language to describe her situation nor was she able to express the range of emotions she felt in a world where being black was not appreciated. Yet, something changed when her Licenciatura degree in Biology, from the Universidad Central de Venezuela, led her to an internship at the New York Zoological Society. As part of the internship, she lived in South West Cameroon working in wild life conservation. During her African sojourn Evelyne witnessed many cultural similarities between Africans and Venezuelans.

For example, in Venezuela, when someone asks you where something is, you don’t point with your finger to show them, you signal with your lips; a custom also common in some parts of Africa. Another example can be found in expressions used. While engaged in conversation with a friend from Angola, Evelyne used the phrase en fua, describing when something comes to an end. Her African friend understood the term, defining it in his language, Kikongo, as meaning dead.

It was this and other experiences that helped her realize that African contributions in Venezuela were deeper than she initially thought. These contributions aren’t taught in Venezuelan schools. For instance Venezuelan schools recognize September as the month devoted to celebrating both Columbus Day and Spain as Venezuela’s mother country.

With the weight of those experiences, Evelyne hasn’t stopped questioning what and how the story of Africa is told. Her dissertation, as a PhD candidate at New York University’s History Department- African Diaspora program, explores the intellectual contribution of Afro-descendants in Caracas-Venezuela, during the end of the colonial period, 1770-1810. A topic she chose “because this was the last stretch of the colonial period, a lot of changes took place at that time, but I thought that this moment represented also the zenith of people of African descent’s demands.” Read more

Christina Mendez Rocks the Runway

Our February article for Being Latino focuses on Christina Mendez, model, advocate for Autism Speaks, and granddaughter of Joseito Mateo.

Christina Mendez loves to perform. She’s bubbly and warm. And when your grandfather is the greatest merenguero in Dominican Republic history, it might be safe to say that performing runs deep in your blood.

Christina was an aspiring singer as a teenager, performing in the school choir. Interestingly, merengue was never part of her repertoire. Perhaps, because she’s lived her entire life on New York City’s Upper West Side, in a neighborhood where the name Joseito Matteo probably would not have carried much weight.

However, she is quick to point out that if she had grown up just a few blocks north in Washington Heights, the epicenter of Dominican culture, she almost certainly would have been inundated with “free cake, free everything.” At age 92, no other Dominican singer is more revered than Joseito Matteo.

While Christina is exceptionally honored by her family’s musical legacy, “I’m always proud of his (her grandfather’s) success,” she never wanted to ride the coattails of her famous grandfather. She is charting her own course but her journey to the ascendency of Plus Size modeling has taken a few detours.

When I was in school, I had a problem with cutting class. They couldn’t keep me in school. I was a hot mess. It was hard to control me,” says Christina. It took a clever Spanish teacher, Jose Melendez, to keep her in the Humanities High School building. He tempted her with opportunities to model in after school fashion shows in an effort to keep her and her friends from being truant. Christina describes Mr. Melendez’s approach to the catwalk, “He hit the runway like he was Naomi Campbell; he taught us how to walk the runway.” Christina was hooked and continued to model. Inspired, she graduated from high school and enrolled at Atlanta’s Morris Brown College, one of the United States’ historically black colleges.

As she recounts, Christina selected Morris Brown for two main reasons: First, “I love black people…. I consider myself a Black Latina. I don’t fit the standard look  (Latinas in the media). My grandfather is very dark and my mother is very dark. My mother had a lot of issues about being black. She has said statements like, ‘You are light. You are going to get more opportunities.’ And I would say, I love your color. I tan to be your color. You are crazy. You look great.” Second, Christina wanted to live as far away from home as possible, spread her wings and be independent.

Read the full article on Being Latino.

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Black Latina: The Play (A Life and Work by Crystal Roman)

by Kim Haas

A few weeks ago,  I spoke with actress and playwright Crystal Roman. Days after our interview, I sat in the audience viewing her theatrical production Black Latina: The Play.

The feeling of being “Too black for Latinos and too Latino for blacks” is a sentiment not lost on Crystal. In a case of art imitating life, she penned her experiences as a Black Latina in a play that addresses many of her struggles and triumphs. Read more

Ynanna Djehuty’s Path to Identifying as an Afro-Latina

by Nicolle Morales Kern

The journey to self-discovery can be a long one, often involves exploring outside of the boundaries provided by family, and can lead to a new identity.

Such is the case for Afro-Dominican poet, writer, and birth doula Ynanna Djehuty (born Carmen Mojica). Born and raised in the Bronx, New York, Djehuty didn’t start referring to herself as Afro-Dominican until she started researching her heritage at the State University of New York at New Paltz, where she studied Black Studies and Television/Radio Productions. On this journey, she realized that there was a part of herself that she hated.

“The community in U.S. doesn’t like to recognize African heritage. I can only guess that in the Dominican Republic it might be the same. In the U.S., there is a clear black and white line; our society doesn’t understand there is a mix of things and you have to define if you’re black or white, and when I was growing up I didn’t realize that was happening, and always saw white as better.”

During her last semester in college, Djehuty took a class on Women in the Caribbean, which not only focused the racial aspects, but on the entire experience of women and how colonization has impacted their lives. After reading the article Latinegras: Desired Women – Undesirable Mothers, Daughters, Sisters and Wives by Marta Cruz-Janzen, she recognized who she is and how she feels about herself. As a result, Djehuty wrote a 20-page paper on the Afro-Latina identity. One thing she discovered during her research is that there are not many voices contributing to the subject.

“I decided I wanted to add to the voices of Afro-Latinas, to share information with other Afro-Latinas who don’t have words for their experiences,” says Djehuty on her decision to write her first book Hija De Mi Madre (My Mother’s Daughter), published in October 2009. The book is “a combination of memoirs, poems and research material that explains the effects of race on identity from an academic standpoint. She shares her personal story as a metaphor to place a common cultural experience into context.” Read more

Exploring Mexico’s African Heritage with Dr. Marco Polo Hernández

by Nicolle Morales Kern

“We need to look deeper into our Africanness to understand ourselves,” says Dr. Marco Polo Hernández, a professor of Spanish and Afro-Hispanic studies at North Carolina Central University, in a recent phone interview. Mexico’s African heritage is not normally discussed or highlighted in conversation, or even education. But, Dr. Hernández, who holds a Ph.D. in Hispanic and Italian Studies from the University of British Columbia, a M.A. in Spanish Language and Peninsular and Latin American literatures, and a B.A. in General Studies & Spanish language and literatures from Portland State University, says that is slowly starting to change. Read more

Pelotero takes a look inside Dominican baseball

Pelotero is a 77 minute documentary, filmed in 2009 in San Pedro de Macorís. The documentary is a highly entertaining, intimate, inside look at the training and showcasing of these teenage ballplayers.

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