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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.”

Dreamgirls II GE

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.

Lady Liberty GE

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.

Jibaritos GE

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.

Earthkeepers GE

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

For Afro-Chileans, First Step Is Getting Counted

How Chile’s Afro-descendant rights groups are pushing for inclusion in the national census.

Seventeen years ago, a group of Latin American and Caribbean NGOs, government agencies and regional bodies officially adopted the term “Afro-descendant” to refer to the region’s approximately 150 million citizens of African origin. The occasion was the Latin American Regional Conference Against Racism in Santiago, and the host was the government of Chile.

Ironically, nearly two decades later and Chile is one of just a handful of countries in Latin America that do not explicitly include an Afro-descendant category on their official census forms. Despite a push from Chile’s Afro-descendant community, that absence will continue in a condensed census set to take place on April 19.

“Afro-descendant people’s fight for inclusion in Chile’s national statistics started in 2005 … There is a vicious cycle of the state denying the existence of Afro-descendants,” said Cristian Báez, director of the Afro-Chilean NGO Lumbanga.

The National Institute of Statistics’ (INE) decision not to incorporate the category “Afro-descendant/Black” in a question about inclusion in indigenous and ethnic groups in this year’s census came as a surprise to some activists. They say that a 2013 regional pilot project by the INE, which identified approximately 8,415 Afro-descendant people in Arica and Parinacota in northern Chile, was supposed to be a precursor to a reference in future censuses.

Read entire article at Americas Quarterly:

Philadelphia’s Afro Latino Compilations by Sandra Andino, Ph.D

By Donte Kirby

Along the walls of the Du Bois College house, a dormitory at The University of Pennsylvania, a photo gallery created by Sandra Andino, Ph.D., illustrates through audio storytelling and black and white portraits experiences of Afro Latinos living in Philadelphia. Highlighting the importance and beauty of being Afro Latino is a focus and personal mission of Andino.

Andino’s gallery at the University of Pennsylvania showcased ten individuals.  For those who missed the exhibit (November 11, 2016 to December 12, 2016), the interviews can be heard and portraits viewed at Andino’s Negraluz site. It is a blog dedicated to showcasing visuals of Latinos of African descent, their heritage, and positive aspects of their ancestry as well as their contributions as change agents throughout the world.

Last December, the University of Pennsylvania was the third stop for the photo exhibit, “The Afro-Latinx Experience: Philadelphia Stories,” curated at North Philadelphia’s Taller Puertorriqueño and South Philadelphia’s Samuel S. Fleisher Art Memorial. Attendees walked through and listened to the audio interviews through their phones hosted at Andino’s Negraluz site. As portrait subjects speak their stories, attendees gaze at snapshots, possibly imagining the thoughts and experiences of each subject.


The project was originally inspired by a conversation with Andino’s good friend, who is also a subject in the exhibit, Evelyne Laurent-Perrault.   As the two shared their experiences as Afro Latinas, Andino realized her story wasn’t unique. From that seed, she interviewed more of her friends about their experiences as Afro Latinos in an effort to highlight the similarities and complexities among Afro Latinos in Philadelphia.

According to Pew research a quarter of Hispanics in the U.S. identify as Afro Latino. Of the 1.5 million people living in Philadelphia 14% are Hispanic according to the U.S. Census. That means there are close to 53 thousand Afro Latinos experiences, providing Andino with a vast pool of untold stories to showcase, which are likely not to be told elsewhere.

By claiming and highlighting being Afro Latino, Andino hopes to break some of the stereotypes and people’s preconceived notions about not only Afro Latinos but also of the humanity of the entire African Diaspora, especially in the Americas (a number totaling 165 million with Latin America, North America and the Caribbean according to the World Bank projections.)

_dsc0488Andino speaks with optimism and authority,

When people see the exhibit she wants them to appreciate and understand the breath of the Afro Latino experience. “There are so many different aspects about being Afro Latino. Each one of these stories has something different to say about culture, about being identified as black in the U.S, and also identifying as Latino. I think that’s a great feeling when you feel like part of what you’ve gone through in your life is validated because you see there are others that think or feel the same way.

“I felt like [The Afro-Latinx Experience: Philadelphia Stories] was important because it also validated my story and the story of being Afro Latina in Latin America, the Caribbean, and also here in the U.S. It’s about trying to find the commonality, through the exhibit. In this case the commonality is our African heritage, ancestry and claiming that ancestry.”


Want to be a part of an important research study involving Latinos/as’ social experiences?

By: Andrew Guzman, M.A.

Want to be a part of an important research study involving Latinos/as’ social experiences?

  • Are you 18 or older?
  • Are you Afro-Latino/a? Afro-Latin American? Afro-Boricua? Afro-Dominican? Afro Cuban? Or member of another Afro-Latino/a group?
  • Are you a Latino/a of color?

If you answered yes to these questions, you may be able to participate in a study involving Afro-Latinos/as and other Latinos/as of color. Your participation may help future generations of Latinos/as navigate social experiences and may also help identify potential factors that may reduce the harm of negative social experiences.

If you wish to participate, you will be asked to read and sign an informed consent form and then complete a series of questionnaires that should take approximately 20 to 25 minutes to complete. Participants who complete the study will have the opportunity to be entered for a chance to win 1 of 4 Visa gift cards ($30.00 each).

All participation is confidential and voluntary, and you have the right to withdraw at any time, without penalty, if you choose. This study is being conducted by Andrew Guzman, M.A. under the direction of Dr. Diana Montague, of La Salle University.

If you would like to participate, you may complete the questionnaires online in English or Spanish! Please go to the following website:



If you have any questions, please contact the principal investigator: Andrew Guzman, M.A. ( 609-214-4428 . Or the faculty advisor: Dr. Diana Montague ( Department of Psychology

La Salle University 1900 W. Olney Avenue, Philadelphia, PA


The Institutional Review Board (IRB) of La Salle University has reviewed and approved this study, IRB # 16-06-030, on 9-14-16



¿Quiere formar parte de un estudio de investigación en relación a las experiencias sociales de latinos/as?

By: Andrew Guzman

¿Quiere formar parte de un estudio de investigación en relación a las experiencias sociales de latinos/as?

  • ¿Es usted mayor de 18 años?
  • ¿Es usted afrolatino/a? ¿afrolatinoamericano/a? ¿afroaboricua? ¿afrodominicano/a? ¿afrocubano/a? ¿O miembro de otro grupo afrolatino/a?
  • ¿Es usted un latino/a de color?

Si ha respondido «sí» a estas preguntas, ¡es posible que pueda participar en un estudio sobre personas afrolatinos/as o personas latinos/as de color!

Puede que su participación ayude a futuras generaciones latinas a navegar las experiencias sociales y también a identificar los posibles factores que reduzcan el daño que causa experiencias sociales negativas.

Si desea participar, se le pedirá que lea y firme un formulario de consentimiento informado y luego, que conteste una serie de cuestionarios que deberían tomar de 20 a 25 minutos.  Los participantes que terminen el estudio tendrán la oportunidad de ganar una de cuatro tarjetas de regalo Visa valoradas en $30 dólares.

La participación es confidencial y voluntaria, y tiene el derecho de retirarse en cualquier momento si así lo desea sin que haya consecuencias.  Este estudio lo realiza Andrew Guzman, M.A. bajo la guía de la Dra. Diana Montague de la Universidad de La Salle.

Si  usted quiere participar, puede contestar los cuestionarios en línea, en inglés o español.  Visite el siguiente sitio web:



Si tiene alguna pregunta, comuníquese con el investigador principal: Andrew Guzman, M.A. ( 609-214-4428 o la

Dra. Diana Montague ( of Psychology

La Salle University 1900 W. Olney Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19141.

La Junta de Revisión Institucional de La Salle University ha evaluado y aprobado esta investigación, IRB# # 16-06-030, on 9-14-16