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Sepia Memories – Part I

By Dahlma Llanos Figueroa

Dahlma Llanos-Figueroa is an Afro-Puerto Rican writer and author of the book Daughters of the Stone. Sepia Memories is a short story.  Check out Part II of Sepia Memories this Friday, July 14, 2017.

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So many of my sepia memories are captured in the musty box that was our railroad apartment of the South Bronx in the fifties. I remember how the late afternoon sunlight filtered in through the windows and fell on the linoleum floors where I sat for hours, in front of our brand new Motorola television.

I remember my mother’s mermaid party dresses—tight, tight, all the way down, hugging her high breast, her tiny waist, marking her round hips and long thighs below, finally flaring out at the knees. She was a caramel coated Jayne Mansfield, hair brushed smoothly to one side, anchored by rhinestone combs, sending curls cascading over her right shoulder. I remember her dancing intense boleros and sensuous merengues with my father at family parties. Sometimes, when the party was in full swing, my father would let me ride his feet.

Young Dahlma

A young Dahlma. Photo courtesy of Llanos-Figueroa.

I’d face him, planting each of my buckled shoes on each of his cordovans and he’d dance me around the living room furniture. He taught me what to do with my feet and my mother took care of the hips and shoulders. I learned to dance intimately through the bodies of my parents.

Our parties were always the best times for me. The guests came in twos or threes, loaded down with cakes and flans and pans of steaming food. My mother would protest that it was unnecessary, but add the offerings to the laden dining room table nonetheless. And in they came, my aunts and uncles and Don Salvador, the bodeguero and Doña Sara, the seamstress and unwed Margarita and lonely Felipe and all the others. They’d pat my head and pile their moist, snow-dusted, wool coats on my bed and later, when I tired of eating and dancing and playing with my cousins, we children would climb on the bed and snuggle into the mountain of coats. I remember falling asleep amidst the blend of Titi Sico’s Old Spice and Titi Celia’s Chantilly and Titi Coni’s April in Paris.

There were other scents too–the strong smell or roast pork and the faint whiff of Pine Sol in the air. The images float before me now as I look back on the big pitcher of Kool Aid that sat on the kitchen table, painted fruit trapped in the glass. I can see the sweaty surface of the glass and almost feel the cool of those drops on my tongue as I licked the roundness of the jug.

I remember Don Moncho’s bunched up face confronting his wife Elisa for dancing too long and too close to Enrique, the unlicensed dentist. The men pulled him away before the rum in his gut propelled the fist he held over her head. The women pushed Elisa into the back room and gave her advice in hushed voices, brows arched knowingly in silent condemnation. Later, I heard my aunt whisper how disgraceful the woman had behaved and my mother swore she’d never invite them back, but she always did.

I remember leaning out the front window, the only window, to watch life roll by on the streets below. Double Dutch, Skelsies and Stickball out front. Handball in the back courtyard. Teenagers flirting openly on the front stoop and sweating secretly in the darkness under the stairs. I’d tie my mother’s curtains into big knots so I could sit more comfortably for hours. And then Mom would catch me and yell about how hard it was to iron those polyester panels. And I’d have to leave my window, tiny round indentations on my forearms from the pebbles in the cement sill.

I remember in cold, cold winters, nibbling on crunchy home fried chicken wings and maduros in the darkness of the Freeman Theater. We’d lay in wait for my father’s return from work on Friday nights, shivering just beside the El stairway. Then we’d whisk him away, him hanging on to his wool hat as we rushed to make the beginning of the movie. Concealed in the bottom of my mother’s tote lay a dozen aluminum bundles. Unwrapping that foil without drawing the attention of the ushers made us conspirators in the dark. I felt sorry for the others who were reduced to dinners of half cooked hot dogs from the concession stand. I remember how the light lit our faces as we watched Cantiflas lose his pants and Miguel Angel Aguilar fight and win the Mexican Revolution, single-handedly, once again.

In the summer, we spent endless days at Orchard Beach and made countless trips to Johnny’s Reef on City Island. Johnny’s sat out on the water’s edge, an indoor cafeteria style seafood joint with a big outdoor seating area where poor Bronx families would fill up on fried shrimp and fries or calamares fritos. Fathers washed it all down with Ballantine Ale. I made trip after trip to the soda stand spilling Coke on my skinny, sand coated legs, as I raced back to the table.

I remember my father taking us down to the big Chevrolet dealership on Southern Boulevard and showing us his baby. It was a white, 1965 Chevy Impala with red trim. It had rounded fins that grew from the center of the trunk lid out to the sides, a lovely upward swell ending in a graceful downward slope. He had been saving for it all year and would buy it in October when the 66’s came out and he could get a deal on the previous model.

Pop promised us visits to friends and relatives in a far-off place called New Jersey. It was during those trips that we saw lawns and dogs running freely and flowers growing just outside bay windows. Out there, there were no roaches or overflowing garbage cans and no mysterious person urinated behind the staircase near the mailboxes. In those neighborhoods there were no projects or sneakers hanging from electric wires that sagged across the street.

Pop dreamed of having a garage for a car we didn’t yet own. Mom dreamed of moving where you could call your home your own and there would be no nosey landlords or lazy supers or children playing in fire hydrants that produced disease carrying rivers of garbage. As we drove through those neighborhoods she pointed to schools sitting in the middle of inviting sports fields, the building itself, dignified and dressed in carefully tended shrubbery. She’d sit in other women’s kitchens, pouring through the Sears Catalogues, dreaming of fluttering new drapes, self-cleaning ovens and frost-free refrigerators.

All of that would come to us through the purchase of the Chevy. It would be our magic carpet. We knew because we saw it all in our new television, “See the USA in your Chevrolet”. The jingle followed us into our dreams long after Father Knows Best or The Donna Reed Show had gone off the air.

Every payday, Pop would go down to the bank to put their ‘little something’ into his savings account. Late one night, I overheard him and Mom discussing a long ago problem translated to ‘no credit’ being stamped on the financing application he had handed in. So they were saving for the day when he could walk in with a check for the full amount, and drive out with his new car. One day, when we met him near the bank, we watched him walk by the Chevy dealer on Southern Boulevard where he stopped and gazed longingly at the shiny new cars. He must have been doing this for some time because the men who worked in the showroom waved at him and smiled through the window as he stood there. I looked down because it felt like I was watching him standing there naked or something.

Memories of the South Bronx come to me, mostly round and soft and safe. But that was all before the incident with THE MAN. I barely remember the strangely pale face. Nobody in the building had ever seen him before. He was the man who was found dead, in a pool of blood in our lobby. I came home from school and there he was the red congealing around his head. It soaked into the tiny white tile of the floor and making them look like injured teeth at the dentist.

I remember stepping very carefully around him so I could run up to our fifth floor apartment without getting the blood on my new shoes. I was shaking when I turned the top lock and then the police lock that slid over the bar that ran from the door to the hole in the linoleum floor. I fumbled with the keys, dropped them twice and had trouble with the knob. It took forever, it seemed to me. I threw my books down on the kitchen table, ripped off my jacket and ran into the bathroom where I threw up the standard school lunch—French fries, pizza and chocolate milk. When my knees stopped shaking and I had swallowed a tablespoon of sugar to chase away the taste in my mouth, I called my mother at work.

“ Hey Mom, there’s a dead guy by the hallway and I’m scared to death.”

Check out next Friday, July 14, 2017 for Part II, the conclusion of Sepia Memories.

Dahlma 2 bkportrait1-1

Photo courtesy of Llanos-Figueroa

Dahlma Llanos -Figueroa, Afro-Puerto Rican author (Q&A with author). Her books include Woman of Endurance (Woman of Endurance Chapter 1) and Daughters of the Stone. Again, check out Friday, July 14, 2017 for Part II, the conclusion of Sepia Memories.

Dr. Nelson Colon – Anthropologist, Philanthropist and Thought Leader

By Kim Haas

Dr. Nelson Colon 2 cut

Dr. Nelson Colon

On May 12, 2017, Kim Haas, founder of, interviewed by phone, Dr. Nelson Colon, President and CEO of the Puerto Rico Community Foundation based in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Dr. Colon is an anthropologist and educator. He has an MA in Cultural Anthropology from the State University of New York and a Doctorate in Education from Harvard University.

Under his leadership, the Foundation has initiated the following programs: the Middle Schools Renewal Initiative; the Community Housing Development Organizations Program; the Institute for the Development of Philanthropy, the Economic Development Consortium, and Educational Transformation 2014.  The Foundation’s mission is to develop the capabilities of poor communities in Puerto Rico so they are able to socially transform themselves and achieve sufficiency. ( 2017)

Why is it important to tell the story of Afro-Latinos, particularly Afro-Puerto Ricans?
Several reasons, one is the history of Afro Latinos. The story that has been told about that history is about slavery. That’s a story about limitations of Afro Latinos and Afro descendants throughout the Caribbean.

So, I figure it’s important to develop a new narrative about what is our (Afro Latinos) contribution to developing this country into what it is now. There needs to be a description about the contribution of Afro Latinos to the total culture in Puerto Rico and the development of the country, right now. It circles back to promoting an America based on ethics.

Do you know how many people identify themselves as Afro Puerto Rican or acknowledge some African heritage?
I do not have a sense of numbers, just by visual observation. It easy to say Puerto Rico is a brown country. Puerto Rico’s population is deeply of African descent. Very few people would be considered as white. The African descendant lineage is very present, and more importantly, we are basically an Afro descendant group. We are a Caribbean country, and we claim that as one of our distinguishing features.

As an anthropologist, what did you learn about Puerto Rico and its African Roots?
I have a take away. We (Afro Puerto Ricans) are a key component of the fabric of Puerto Rican culture. Puerto Rico would not be the same if the African component had not been present. We are nylon in the culture precisely because of our African heritage.

Basically, it’s (Africa) our fundamental thread of connection. You can see the significance of that when you see white people, black people dancing Bomba and Plena (two of Puerto Rico’s traditional dances, both with African influences.)

Our African roots in many ways, are the heart of what Puerto Rico is. We have our African descendant roots which connect usand that makes us a Caribbean country. This makes us who we are. The African component connects us to the rest of the Caribbean.

Where in Puerto Rico were you born? What did you learn as a young boy about the being of African descent in Puerto Rico?
I am from Ponce, the southern part of the island (Puerto Rico). So, growing up,  I had a sense of pride as a black person in Puerto Rico. I also had a sort of protective behavior against discrimination and the race system. You (as a person of African descent) need to have a clear understanding where you’ll be discriminated, the places, school, social interactions, and with people, everything and everywhere. My mother really taught us to have protective behavior. You need to protect yourself against discrimination, interactions with police forces, in school, in corporate and in public places.

Ponce Puerto Rico

In hindsight, as a person of African descent, what are your thoughts about the advice you received?
As a man in anthropology, I can tell you that it circled back to the basic parental role. You (as a parent) need to secure the physical survival of your offspring. You need to secure your social survival and psychological survival. So those protective behaviors really are focusing on making you an able person to function effectively in a society that has racist systems which create barriers and other sorts of discrimination.

As an African American, I recognize that many people are unaware of the Afro-Latino presence throughout the Americas. What kind of reactions do you receive when people learn you are from Puerto Rico?
I can describe it with a few examples. First, “Naw, you’re not (Afro-Latino). Second, “Where did you get that funny accent?” The problem is many people don’t think of Puerto Ricans as having African descendants. It’s difficult. Most people don’t realize or understand that. The same thing happens throughout Latin America, in Colombia, in Nicaragua and other places. My experience is Afro Latinos need more experiences in leadership.  Leadership is vital. It’s important for Afro Latinos to enlarge our leadership skills.

Are there barriers to realizing this?
First, the lack of recognizing, understanding and appreciating that there are Afro Latinos. Second, there is a concept about pigmentation or color cast system. Essentially, this means the lighter your pigment, the more acceptable you’re going be within the structure of society. My sense is that these become increasingly complicated. That’s what I call another barrier.

On leadership, it’s very clear. It’s for building equity. You can develop leadership skills. I called those soft leadership skills such as a vision, a plan, and so on. The hard ones are leadership for making “it” happen, building equity. The questions are: How do you lead the charge for equity for communities? How do you lead the charge for building environmental equity? How do you lead the charge for gender equity?

Those are a whole different set of skills that need to be developed. I welcome the opportunity to work with African descendants in any place, in the world, so we can expand and construct our notion of leadership and make equity a reality.

In the US, it is said, “When there is an economic decline or depression, African Americans suffer the most.” What are you seeing now as Puerto Rico is going through major economic challenges?
When you look at municipalities where the Afro descendant population is more present, those are too often tied to the municipalities that don’t have resources. They are the poorer municipalities. When you look at the inequity continuum, those are the places where inequity’s impact is the most severe. Not only in financial terms and land titles, but also in terms of access to justice and access to health services, that’s where you see the more dramatic differences between one segment of the population and the other segment of the population.

Help our readers identify which communities you are referring to?
Looking at the east coast mostly Carolina going on to Loíza, to Pámpanos then you connect with Rio Grande I would say the eastern half moon of Puerto Rico.

The Movement
Are you working on any projects regarding leadership and the African Diaspora?
Yes, we are working to connect leaders, Afro American leaders and leaders from the African Diaspora with Afro Puerto Rican leaders, building equity in Loíza.  So if we want to test equity-building strategies, if we want to test new approaches and follow the results, small places (Loíza) provide an opportunity to do that.


From Left to Right at Alana Faldman, Judge Berthaida Seijo, Mayra Santos Febres, Dr. Nelson Colon, and Dr. Marta Moreno Vega at Afro-Latino Community Forum, April 14, 2017

Who’s involved in creating equity building?
Corporate, Non-Profit, Foundations, Educational leaders all those who share the hope that we have the potential and the right for self-development and equity building. We’re creating a space for conversation to develop a new narrative around building equity. That’s the uniqueness of this approach.

Tell us more about what’s happening in Loíza.
Basically we (the Foundation) are working with the community in Loíza and we’re looking for Equity Development, Environmental, Land Title, Education, and Economic Security and Affordable House. We are looking at those five areas for Voices of Men of Color as well. We want to accomplish the vision in every single young person going to high school or equivalent. We’ll be able to have a clear path regarding their equity building strategies in these five areas. We’re in the beginning stages. We have a strong community engagement. The basic strategy is to create a strong network of institutions, non-profits organization from Loíza, from NY and other places that will serve as a safe place for young people in Loíza. Walking through your life’s path, you’ll always have a platform to rely on to move forward. The notion is every single young person, in Loíza connects with somebody, an institution, a community college, a non-profit organization to rely on, in order for them to move forward.

What was the catalyst connecting your organization with My Brother’s Keeper?
I followed the incarnation to My Brother’s Keeper, which was launched and led by Bob (Robert) Ross, President, The California Endowment. He was the led person for the framework of Alliance for Boys and Men of Color and My Brother’s Keeper Inc. We invited him to Puerto Rico in 2015 and he helped us to think about Alliance for Boys and Men of Color in Puerto Rico. That was the catalyst for this venture.

The Puerto Rico Community Foundation hosted an Afro-Latino Forum earlier this year. What was the outcome?
We had a meeting with the American Black Foundation Executives from the US and Hispanics in Philanthropy. Basically, the common connective thread is building equity for African descendants. These are segments of the population that have been robbed of their equity. We need to develop a common agenda about equity building strategies. That’s what came out of that meeting.

Also, we were successful in terms of engaging our Afro American brothers and sisters, concretely seeing the connection, in specific places like Loíza. That was the beginning of our conversation, understanding that we are connected through our African roots. That was a very powerful learning experience, at that meeting, Blacks in the United States and Afro descendants in Puerto Rico.

Was this the first time these groups came together?
Yes, it was the first time that Afro Americans and Afro Puerto Ricans came together to look through the same lens of equity building.

Will you have a forum next year?
NELSON: Not sure but possibly every two years. We haven’t decided yet. Every year people continue to re-engage. We’re not there, yet.

Anything you want to add about Afro Puerto Ricans?
I want to reemphasize this whole notion of developing a common agenda between Afro American and Afro Caribbean people. That is the common thread and it is one of our major efforts. We need to develop that to its full potential. It’s very difficult because that is an agenda that is challenged by many fronts but I think there is an opportunity to look for that common thread (Africa) for equity building strategies for African Americans and Afro Caribbeans.

Moving Forward
Where would you like the “movement” to be five years from now?
People in Loíza will have moved forward for land title meaning building your family’s equity. Every single child in Loíza will have received an academic curriculum. That means when every single child that graduates from high school will have a clear path regarding their future life. There will be a path for those young people, whether its self-employment, college, community college, vocational school, but there will be a safe path for those young people. When you look at Los Pámpanos, their environment will be cared for, protected and they will become an economic asset for the people in Loíza. In those four or five areas I would like to see major changes, supporting equality.

What motivates you to continue moving forward on this mission with the challenges you confront?
I think that we need to be conscious of the context that we have and live in. We live in part of a territory and one of the most unequal countries in the world. Within that context, Puerto Rico has the highest index of inequality within the US economy. For me it is very clear. The most immediate and effective way to fix that inequality is to start working very, very rapidly on building equity in several fronts. For me, it is a matter of who is paying attention and on which issues are we working and the importance of sticking together.


From Left to Right at Alana Faldman, Judge Berthaida Seijo, Mayra Santos Febres, Dr. Nelson Colon, and Dr. Marta Moreno Vega at Afro-Latino Community Forum, April 14, 2017

For more information about the Puerto Rico Community Foundation, please visit the website:



Military Police Theater Group of Bahia

By Tina Machele Brown

Courtesy of Silvana Magda, CEO and Founder of Brazil Week and Brazilian Day Newark (Brazilian Day Newark).  Check out Los Afro Latinos on Facebook for a Video of the Military Police Theater Group of Bahia (Grupo de Teatro da Policia Militar da Bahia).

Grupo de Teatro da Policia Militar da Bahia

Video on FaceBook Courtesy of Silvana Magda, CEO and Founder of Brazil Week and Brazilian Day Newark




Cuba Comes to San Diego at the WorldBeat Cultural Center

By Tina Machele Brown

Audience DancingWhen you walk into the WorldBeat Cultural Center (WBCC) in San Diego, California, there is a feeling of community. High in the ceiling are flags from around the world, wall-to-wall paintings, pictures of familiar performers, graphic artwork, African masks, a ten-foot tall metallic statue of kids playing, and an art gallery.  In addition to all the visual stimulation, you will always hear music. It is truly a cultural oasis with people from all ethnic backgrounds dancing to the beat of the same drum. Prior to attending Noche Cubana on March 25, I had the opportunity to meet with performers Juan Carlos Blanco, Angelica Cardona, and to my great surprise El Cubanísimo Edy, from Havana, Cuba, arrived in town early.

Juan, a Cuba native, now lives in San Diego. He is an Afro-Cuban dance teacher, percussionist, and performer. Angelica was a student of Juan’s at UCLA and now they have an Afro-Cuban infused hip-hop group called In-Flow. El Cubanísimo Edy is a professional dancer and singer, from Cuba.

Edy Angelica and Juan

El Cubanísimo Edy, Angelica Cardona, and Juan Carlos Blanco

As I approached the dance floor at Noche Cubana, a five-year old, dressed in a white button down dress shirt, dress slacks, dress shoes, and a grey Fedora hat, stole my attention as he danced with his friends to Cuban rhythms. Not far from him, a young boy, who could barely walk, held on to his sippy cup with one hand and pulled his mother on the dance floor with the other hand and began to teeter back and forth. He smiled, giggled, and danced to the music.

Are you ready for Noche Cubana?

Juan:   There’s a lot to get ready for this show each and every time because we do something different at each show. We make it new again with new performers and new music. This is Edy’s first time performing at Noche Cubana and his first time in the United States. I rap and she (Angelica) sings.

In Flow -Noche

Angelica gave me some background on how the duo came to be.

Angelica: I came from a gospel background singing in church. The music I grew up listening to was very much the African-American style of singing. It encapsulated everything I felt musically, everything that resonated with me. After I met Juan and he heard me sing in church, he asked me if I wanted to sing in the band. I said, I don’t sign in Spanish. He told me if you can speak in Spanish you can sing in Spanish. However, to me singing in another language was another feeling and I didn’t feel that I had that. Juan believed I could do it and he kept handing me music. Before long I was singing it naturally, then studying it more. I stepped out and tried it. Organically, in return, I thought Juan could rap. When he would speak, I could hear a certain timbre in his voice that would be great for rapping. So I gave him some artists to listen to. We pushed each other artistically. I also respect him because he’s my teacher too. The group In-Flow grew from us encouraging each other to try something new.

Edy 1 - Noche

Edy, how does it feel to be in the United States for the first time?

Juan’s translation of Edy: It feels like a dream to be here. When I was a child I loved the music, the Dominican music that comes from the black influence from America. It is a dream come true.

Juan came to the United States over twenty years ago. He says he couldn’t find a place to call home where he could hear the music and dance. He started teaching at the WordBeat Center in 1998. He offered Rumba classes every Sunday as a method of bringing Cuban people and San Diego people together.

Do you think your goal of bring people together is working?

Juan: Right now it seems slow. It’s growing little by little, and it’s growing consistently.

How many people are lined up to perform at Noche Cubana?

Juan: We have a drum class that meets every Sunday at the WBC. The drum class is going to perform. They have a piece they’re going to show. We also have a Cuban Salsa Class. We do that with everyone that comes. So we’ll have everyone dance. We’ll have two parts. First half will have drum performance and lots of popular music, Soul and Timba, etc. The second half will be all performance, with In-Flow, a Latin dance group (Divas Dance Company) that performs around the city, and El Cubanísimo Edy.

Drum Class-Noche

Angelica: Juan told me I could play drums. I never thought I could drum. It happened naturally. I was moving to the drum as a dancer and I said, “Ah I get it. Let me touch that. Let me play that.” Then it’s started to feel really good and I said, “I like this. I can do this some more.”

What will people walk away with after Noche Cubana?

Juan: They will learn a little bit about my country. They’re going to understand a little bit more about us. People from the United States have many ideas about Cuban people but most of the ideas are wrong. They don’t know us. They’ve been talking about us for 15-20 years and they don’t really know who we are as a people. Part of my goal is for Noche Cubana to show the people who we are. We also have a program every year where we take people to Cuba to learn more about the culture, music, and dance. They learn about Cubans. We participate in one of the big folklore festival, Wemilére (Festival de Raices Africanas). We live with people 24-hours a day and we go to (Afro Cuban) ceremonies.

Edy Pointing 2

Edy, how long have you been performing?

I’ve been performing for 25-30 years.

How has your performing changed over the years? How has it grown?

Edy: Now I sing and I rap.  I do a mixture of salsa, Cha Cha, Merengue. I was known for dancing in Cuba.  I’ve been working  hard at what I do.  I started to find all these things I could do. I didn’t even think about it before. It was a natural outgrowth. I discovered I had the ability to do more than the same genre.

Juan: As I said, I started off as a dancer, that was my thing. I said, I’m going to be dancing all my life. But then, very quickly, I started playing drums. Then I started teaching, choreographing, and now I also do theater. You never know you’re going to do that much until you get here. Then you say, I wanna to do that too or I can try to do that.

How can we shed light on the Afro-Latino and Afro-Cuban culture?

Juan:  I would say there is not enough information. Knowledge is information. When you don’t have the knowledge you don’t really know what you’re seeing. We need to give more information about who we are. These two ladies in my class mentioned that they come to my because their ancestors were from Nigeria. The tradition was the Yoruba tradition. Their family doesn’t practice anymore. These two girls tell me the come because they want to learn their religion because they don’t have access to it anymore. It made me feel proud that they come to me. The same thing happens with other students. They will say, you made me remember this or that. This guy from Curaçao, said he heard me say a familiar word. He heard me say “Awe (au – way).” 

-He says, “Hey, we say that word in my country, what does that mean to you?”

I told him that “Awe” means “Today” in the Congo language.

-He says, “Yeah, that means the same in my language. I never knew there was a Congo language.”

So people can learn information here. We talk about the time before all the Colonial people brought Africans to America. We talk about what the religion was like before and how things were different. A different history. Many of our stories didn’t make it to America. They took the stories out of our history in America but in Cuba we save that information for over 500 years. Nobody can take this from us, Never.

You teach classes, at what ages can students start it?

Juan: We teach elementary students. Angelica met me in undergrad classes. We teach adults too. If you can walk and talk, you can learn.

I read something about food being available at Noche Cubana. What is on the menu?

Noche Food plate

Yucca, Azzoz Moro, and Cuban Chicken

Juan: Authentic Cuban Food! Azzoz Moro, which is rice with beans cooked together. We will have Yucca, which is like a potato, and Cuban chicken. Not everyone knows how to cook it but it will be authentic on Saturday.

At Noche Cubana, the food line wrapped around to the dance floor as the senses were tempted with the seasoned Cuban spices.

How do you keep a part of Cuba with you?

Juan: To keep a piece of Cuba with you, we need to be together. It’s the only way. (Angelica chimes in with, “Seek Community. “) It’s the only way. I can’t reach every Cuban in San Diego because it’s too big but we will try with WorldBeat Cultural Center and annual events like Noche Cubana. That’s why I started at WBCC.  It’s grown since I started in 1998. In the beginning, we would go to someone’s house, play, sing, and dance. Then on Mother’s Day we go Mission Bay, Father’s Day we do the same thing, play music, sing, dance, and bar-b-cue. Now Noche Cuba is here. It’s a good start.

There is no doubt that Noche Cubana was a cultural awakening, as a young lady celebrated her 18th birthday by singing a song on stage, her friends filled the room and the DJ’s mix of music kept people dancing all night.  There were people, young and seasoned, from many different ethnic backgrounds dancing to Cuban rhythms.  The electric sounds of El Cubanísimo Edy and In-Flow, along the Divas Dance Company topped off the evening as the audience danced from wall-to-wall, making it hard to leave the building.


The next Noche Cubana will be this Saturday, June 10, WorldBeat Center in San Diego, California.  For more information visit

A Columbian Adventure

by Kim Haas


Bogotá, Columbia

I’m just back from an amazing trip to Columbia. During the 6 days, I visited Bogotá, Cartagena, Palenque San Basilio (Palenque) and Islas Rosario with the Travel Professionals of Color. The visit was designed to introduce travel agents to Columbia and highlight the country’s Afro-Columbian communities. Researchers estimate that between 10-25% of Columbia’s nearly 50 million residents are of African descent.

Columbia is a country at the northern tip of South America. It’s one of the most bio-diverse regions in the world counting the greatest number of bird species on the planet, whale watching along its Pacific Coast, rainforests, Andes mountains, portions of the Amazon River and coffee plantations among its borders.
In the center of the country, Bogotá, the country’s high altitude capital, is home to 8 million people. Cartagena, on the Caribbean coast, has a walled colonial Old Town, a 16th-century castle and coral reefs. And Palenque, about an hour’s drive southeast of Cartagena, was settled by Benkos Bioho, a runaway enslaved African, in the 16th Century. In 2005, Palenque, a town of 3,000 residents, with its own distinct language called Palenquero and customs, was declared a  Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.
 Final Map

A heartfelt thank you to the sponsors, hosts and everyone who contributed their time, talent and hours to make this trip possible.


Cartagena, Columbia

Food in colombia

Tasty delights at Hotel Charleston in Cartagena and savory empanadas at a Bogotá pub.

Hotel Intercontinental

InterContinental Hotel (Cartagena)

 Estelar Windsor House Hotel (Bogotá) – Fernando
Hotel Estelar

Estelar Windsor House Hotel (Bogotá) – Ricardo


Crystal clear waters of Islas Rosario, an hour boat ride from Cartagena.



Each year, Columbia observes AfroColombian Day on May 21. The annual commemoration celebrates the contributions of Afro-Columbians and the official abolition of slavery in the country in 1851. Kim and Miriam Padilla of M Travel and Events, Yahaira Lopez and Luciana Cherques; Travel Professionals of Color and residents of Palenque.


New friends in Bogotá (Mariela Palacios, Maria Jose Gomez and husband, Antonio Posada); resident of Palenque; and guide, Marelvy Peña-Hall in Cartagena.  (Photo of mural courtesy of Kim Haas, Jan. 2015)

Kim Haas (VHB headshot)

Kim Haas, Founder, Los Afro- Latinos

Reflections on Afro-Colombian culture from The Bogota Post

May 21 - Afro Colombian Day

Gina Echeverry: Afro-Columbian Artist Transforming Pain into Freedom

By: Donte Kirby

Art can be a window into the soul and a pressure valve, releasing life’s traumas. As an artist, Gina Echeverry uses painting as gateway to self-love and healing from traumatic violence.

Choco, Colombia

Echeverry grew up in the Chocó region of Columbia. In this area of the country, 82% of the population according to a 2005 census, is of African descent. The Chocó region borders both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans and is a place filled with beautiful beaches, including the   the black sand beach of Playa Guachalito and the two weeklong festival of San Pacho in Chocó’s capital, Quibdó. Chocó is also home to the Bojayá Massacre, where 119 people (including 45 children)  died in a clash between guerrilla and illegal paramilitary groups at the town’s church in 2002. The more than five decade long internal war in Columbia claimed the lives of at least 220,000 people since 1958.



“My mission is to show what’s happening in the world and in my places” said Echeverry. This could mean violent paintings that draw on her experiences in Columbia or vibrant portraits that capture the beauty of her Afro-Columbian heritage. “I paint Afrolatina women and children, their reality and time, right now. We were surrounded by music and paradox.”

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Photos courtesy of Gina Echeverry

Echeverry has been in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for 17 years. She uses her experience with trauma and art to help children deal with their traumatic experiences through art therapy.

“I was not in violence but I was affected by the environment of violence,” said Echeverry.

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Photos courtesy of Gina Echeverry

She recognizes that Columbia may no longer be the violent place she grew up in but the fear stayed with her. Painting was her path to healing, and time in the United States fostered belief in hope. Echeverry’s mission in life is to get brown and black children who grew up in an environment seeped in violence to transition from fear to hope through art.

gina art

Photos courtesy of Gina Echeverry

“I lead them to express themselves, open up and express their trauma,” said Echeverry. “To liberate their souls and transform their pain into freedom.” According to Echeverry, the method is irrelevant. Some express themselves through painting others through poetry.

Echeverry has worked in summer programs and with youth on an individual basis at Northeast Community Mental Health center in the Fairhill section of Philadelphia, an area known as a center of the Hispanic community. She now works at Cognitive Behavioral Services which services the same area of the city.

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Photos courtesy of Gina Echeverry

In Echeverry’s experience learning a new skill heals trauma. “You learn that life is not a repeated pattern.” That things can change.

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Photos courtesy of Gina Echeverry

“My purpose is to continue painting hope, peace and people struggling” said Echeverry. “Because we struggle again and again. We must continue showing that life is something else. Life is also love. Life is also peace.”

Lakou Mizik: Bringing joy straight from Haiti

By Donte Kirby

Lakou Mizik is taking the traditional rhythms and spirit of Haiti across the United States to show the world Haiti’s resiliency and shed a positive light on the country. Los Afro-Latino’s journalist, Donte Kirby, caught up with the group on Sunday, April 23, 2017, before a performance in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Lakou Mizik 2

The multi-generational collective of musicians formed after the 2010 earthquake, by Steve Valcourt, Jonas Attis and Zach Niles. Lakou Mizik began when Attis and Valcourt went to displacement camps with a guitar and congo to bring joy to the residents through music. Upon meeting Zach Niles, the trio broadened their vision.

Niles’ documentary work with Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars set the stage for what Lakou Mizik would become.

“I saw the ways that music could connect people in positive ways to places that only get negative news,” said Niles. Showing the culture of Haiti allows the country to persevere despite natural disasters and corrupt politicians.

The band re-imagines traditional Haitian folk or racine (roots) music.

Lakou Mizik 1

“We started working with old songs and giving them new life,” said Niles.

Lakou Mizik’s debut album Wa Di Yo encompasses all the multitudes of rhythms and cultures that intertwine to make Haiti. Poly-rhythms originating from Africa, vodou spiritualism and folk song, coupled with the French accordion all mix together to create a sound rooted in the melting pot of Haiti.

“Everyone of us comes from different backgrounds and that gives a little pepper to what we do,” said Valcourt. “Which is bring the Haitian culture all around the world where we go.”

As a nine-piece ensemble, Lakou Mizik spans generations. There’s the father and son, Sanba Zao and Woulele who bring the traditional racine (roots) music. There’s Nadine Remy that comes from a Christian background and brings powerful feminine vocals to the predominantly male band. Accompanied by the joyous festival rhythms of Rara Cornet players Peterson “Ti Piti” Joseph and James Carrier.

The lyrics and vocals are in creole and the energy and rhythms of the band are universal. Lakou Mizik is about building cultural and generational bridges through music. In Haitian Creole, lakou has multiple meanings. It can mean “home,” or “backyard” or gathering place where people meet to sing and dance. Lakou can also be defined as  “where you are from” and is filled with the spirit of ancestors born of the locale.

“It’s the soul, the positivity and vibe that goes through the songs,” said Valcourt. “Lakou Mizik is going to give you some joy straight from Haiti.”


As the band takes its second tour through the states, its members are excited to get back to Haiti and start production on their sophomore album. It will incorporate the rhythms and lessons they’ve learned traveling the world.

The band has begun melding racine music with EDM (Electronic Dance Music) in recent songs like Gaya with Michael Brun and J. Perry. The track takes the joy of a Caribbean festival and packs it inside a strobe light filled nightclub. Lakou Mizik is blending genres to bring racine to modern audiences.

“It’s one big thing,” said Valcourt about the popular music of the past, present and future. A young musician whose grown into the wisdom of an old soul, recognizing there’s nothing new under the sun. “You cannot separate the old tradition from the new generation.”

Visit for more information about future events.


Balé Folclórico da Bahia: Honoring Heritage through Dance

By Donte Kirby

galeria14-artur IkishimaPhoto courtesy of Balé Folclórico da Bahia

Brazil’s only professional folk dance company Balé Folclórico da Bahia just completed their North America tour celebrating nearly 30 years of dance. This year’s performance displayed never before seen sacred rituals of Candomblé.  Walson Botelho, founder of Balé Folclórico da Bahia, talked about the oldest black professional folk dance company in Brazil, prior to the their February 17, 2017 performance at the Merriam Theater in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Brazil is home to the largest black population outside of Africa with 97 million people who define themselves as black according to the most recent census by The Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE). Balé Folclórico da Bahia showcases the culture and tradition of the state of Bahia in Northeastern Brazil, near the Atlantic coast, where 80% of the population is of African descent.brazilproperty

For Botelho, showcasing the culture, inherited 500 years ago from ancestors that survived the voyage through the middle passage from Africa to the Americas during the transatlantic slave trade, is the show’s main purpose. Each section of Balé Folclórico da Bahia’s performance is crafted to highlight a different section of the legacy of Bahia’s ancestors.  “Dance is a universal language,” said Botelho.  “It’s different from plays and music where you have to understand the words, in dance you use just the movement, so it’s very easy to understand, even for those not linked with African culture.”

With dance, Botelho believes he can explain how the Candomblé religion was kept alive and used during the slavery period.  Through singing, percussion, classical ballet, and Afro-Brazilian dance forms, he can show how the folkloric practices passed down for generations are still sung on the beaches of Bahia before fisherman head out to sea. Botelho seeks to culturally exchange with the world through this art form. “The goal is not just to preserve, but show the world that Brazil is not just about samba, football and coffee,” said José Carlos Arandiba, Balé Folclórico da Bahia’s Artistic Director.

“This is a very important legacy left to us,” said Botelho. “The heritage they left to us are responsible for the Brazilian culture for the whole country. Everything we have in Brazil was made by the mix of the Indigenous, Portuguese and especially from the African people.”

galeria19- marisa vianaPhoto courtesy of Balé Folclórico da Bahia

Arandiba, whose stage name is Zebrinha, trains the next generation of Balé Folclórico da Bahia dancers and for 24 years has made sure dancers from the company achieve a world-class standard. One of the main tenets Arandiba teaches his students, who normally train with the company for two years, is “that we open doors for the other kids that are coming behind us.” He understands that his students act as ambassadors of art and dance for not just the company but all of Brazil.

“This show is a class in art and anthropology,” said Arandiba about this year’s tour. The show for those of the African Diaspora is a chance to recognize the connective tissue in the shared history.

galeria20-marisa vianaPhoto courtesy of Balé Folclórico da Bahia

For more information about  Balé Folclórico da Bahia and future shows, visit and follow Balé Folclórico da Bahia on

Afro-Latino Teacher Sharing Roots with Student-Centered Trip to Cuba

By Kim Haas

     This interview was conducted on Saturday, April 1, 2017.

Two years ago, in 2015, Daniel Morales-Armstrong began working as a college counselor at Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School (WHEELS). Washington Heights is a predominately Dominican neighborhood in New York City. A month after arriving at the school, Morales-Armstrong asked the principal,

What do you think about taking some kids on a trip, maybe to Puerto Rico or Cuba?

The principal responded, “If you can put it together,… that would be cool.”

Daniel Morales-Armstrong Begins “Putting It Together”

With support from colleagues, Critical Theory and Social Justice Club, was established. Its primary purpose was to encourage, support, promote and guide students as they deepen their thinking, through study and travel. The Club was popular, especially among senior high school students who made up about a third of the group. Members of the Club began analyzing messages in the media, especially visuals and what the images represented and the language used. Soon after the formation of the Club, the members began focusing on racial justice.

Daniel Morales-Armstrong (Cuba Trip)

 The Critical Theory and Social Justice Club

Daniel Morales-Armstrong: We were learning about how activism happens and what’s happening in our community, regarding gentrification. And, one of the things that kept coming up was racial dynamics in Latino communities, particularly anti-blackness. So, that developed as the theme for our first trip (to Cuba) in April 2016.

                     Morales-Armstrong Connects with Afro Latino Travel & Develops Afro-Cuban Curriculum

Daniel Morales-Armstrong: Afro-Latino Travel ( is excellent. One of its founders, Dash Harris put together a mini documentary series called, “Negro” about being black in Latin America. I met her a few years before and, she helped us put together an excellent itinerary to learn about Afro-Cuban Culture. So with Afro Latino Travel, we developed an unapologetically black learning experience for our students.  

I wanted to demystify Cuba as a country and see it as an opportunity for deep, reflective, and consequential conversations about what it means to be Latin American, what it means to be Latino, and how Afro-Latinos play a role in Latinos’ history. I really wanted it to be a chance for students to learn histories beyond the white washed narratives about Latin American and Latinos. Because when we see pictures, when we think of Cubans most often we think of (white) Cubans in the US.

Many of the people we meet with are black. They celebrate their blackness through their work— musicians, artists, dance, food. So, they’re modeling how to acknowledge who they are.

New York public schools are very Eurocentric in their presentation of history. Traveling makes an impression.

Every once in awhile, I’ll get a text from a student (from the 2016 Cuba Trip) Here’s one,

“Hey in my African Civilization class we talked about the area where the Yoruba people come from. And I was like, oh, I learned this when I was in Cuba.”

And they light up and so do I.

Travel Expands Students’ Experiences

Daniel Morales-Armstrong:  I’ve seen many positive effects travel has had on students. It’s given them a different set of tools to analyze their experiences, using multiple perspectives. We talked about how it’s not just race but what it’s like to be an Afro-Cuban, what it’s like to be a woman in Cuba and what’ it’s like to be poor.

Goals for the Trip

Daniel Morales-Armstrong: My goal is that students contextualize what we’ve been learning, for the last couple of months. That they recognize that the research we’ve done prepares us for what they will experience on the island (Cuba), especially how we can combat anti -blackness and historiography.

Daniel Morales-Armstrong: Students are having conversations around it (anti-blackness) with their peers and families. Last year, some educators at our school and group of people from our community heard one of the juniors, who is now a senior say:

“I am realizing how often our stories get left out of history, but I’m only 16. Teachers are older and have many more opportunities to learn about this stuff, and you’ve heard about it. It’s your responsibility, when you’re teaching in a school that has brown and black bodies, to include our perspective in your teaching.”

Daniel Morales-Armstrong: Her comment struck me. From that, one of the teachers that was there became engaged in critical conversations around race. Its impact is already shaping some changes in our school curriculum, just from her comment. My goal for the kids is for them to pick up those things and come to “aha moments.” I want them to come away with a greater understanding of what it means to acknowledge blackness within the Latino context and what does it look like when people embrace it unapologetically.

Morales-Armstrong Explains the Importance of Community Support

Daniel Morales-Armstrong: We were the first public high school to go (to Cuba) since the relations between Cuba and the US changed. We are funding 65% of the students’ trip. The chaperones pay significantly more. The realities of our communities made it easy to not ask students to pay everything. I’m pretty sure we’re the only school going to Cuba that is doing that. Students pay $300 and that’s it. Everything else is up to us and our community to fund raise.

Please consider supporting the wonderful work of Daniel Morales- Armstrong and the students at WHEELS on their April 6, 2017 trip to Havana, Cuba:

Daniel Morales-Armstrong Adult

Daniel Morales-Armstrong
Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School (WHEELS)
UAlbany, 2010: Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice and Psychology
Harvard University, 2011: Master of Education in Prevention Science and Practice