Hispanic Heritage Month
September 15 – October 15
Hispanic Heritage Month
September 15 – October 15
For English (Let’s talk about Quibdó), Click here.
By: Mariela Palacios, Consultora para Desarrollo Socioeconómico
Estamos orgullosos de presentarles el primer post del blog en español “Hablemos de Quibdó”; escrito por mi amiga Mariela Palacios quien aceptó mi invitación a dar conocer a los lectores de este blog Quibdó su tierra natal en Colombia; es más, me place decirles que “Hablemos de Quibdó”, es el primero de muchos post que escribirá Mariela.
Si usted leyó la versión en inglés (“Let’s talk about Quibdó”) el viernes pasado por favor déjenos saber su opinión. Y si es nuevo en losafrolatinos, bienvenido! Que este sea el comienzo de un viaje maravilloso.
Un abrazo y muchas gracias!!
Cuando mi amiga Kim Haas me invitó a participar de este blog me sentí feliz por tener un espacio donde hablar con el mundo sobre Quibdó, mi pintoresca Villa de Asís, nombre que se le da por su devoción a su Santo Patrón San Francisco de Asís.
Quibdó ciudad de contrastes, de risas, de desilusiones, de encontradas pasiones, de impetuosas lluvias con sofocantes calores, con innumerables problemáticas sociales, pero con gente feliz y optimista, perseguidores de sueños; de mujeres desparpajadas, coquetas, vanidosas pero guerreras, capaces de entregar su vida por la felicidad de sus hijos. Quibdó, lugar que exacerba todos los sentidos con los arreboles de sus atardeceres a orillas del río Atrato, con sus embriagantes olores a selva, a madera fresca; con la cadencia de su música y la picardía de las historias contadas por los mayores; con los suculentos platillos amorosamente preparados por las matronas a base de hierbas frescas cultivadas en el patio de la casa; con las sensuales e indiscretas caricias hechas por el recorrido de las gotas de sudor que expele nuestra piel para contrarrestar las altas temperaturas que siempre nos acompañan.
¡Así se siente Quibdó!
Quibdó es la capital de departamento del Chocó en Colombia, está situado en la margen derecha del río Atrato; el Chocó se encuentra ubicado en el Noroccidente de país, siendo la verdadera esquina, la entrada a Sur América, ya que el territorio tiene costas tanto en el mar Caribe como en el océano Pacífico haciendo frontera con Panamá. Quibdó, voz indígena que significa “lugar entre ríos”, tiene una temperatura promedio de 28°C (82°F). y una altitud de 43 metros sobre el nivel del mar; además de una precipitación promedio de 8.000 milímetros por año, que la convierte en una de las zonas con más alta pluviosidad del mundo.
Sus características geográficas y su ubicación en las postrimerías de la cordillera occidental proporcionan a Quibdó una abundancia en recursos hídricos, minerales, una inmensa riqueza de flora y fauna que brinda a sus habitantes un entorno biodiverso que puede ser disfrutado desde dimensiones ambientales, económica, de interacción social, y principalmente desde la dimensión económica.
Actualmente, se puede llegar a Quibdó por vía aérea desde Bogotá, Medellín, Cali y Pereira. También cuenta con vías de penetración terrestre desde el departamento de Antioquia (123 km) y desde departamento de Risaralda, vía de 251 km.
Desde el punto de vista étnico y cultural Quibdó es un territorio muy rico, pues su población está conformada por comunidades negras, indígenas y mestizas: los afrodescendientes constituyen el 91,63% de la población, el 1,38% es indígena y el resto de la población es mestiza. Como producto de la presencia de estas etnias, la ciudad es una amalgama sociocultural en todas sus perspectivas, la comida, la música, los bailes, las creencias religiosas, el cuidado de la salud, la forma como se administra, etc.
Indiscutiblemente, recorrer las calles de Quibdó es toda una aventura, fácilmente puede encontrarse hombres y mujeres educados con modales finos, muy a la usanza española, igualmente se consigue el escandaloso, dicharachero, feliz de ser el centro de atención independientemente del motivo. En general son personas que cuidan mucho su imagen, tanto para hombres como mujeres la visita a las peluquerías y centros estéticos son de mucha relevancia en el diario vivir, cada quien, de acuerdo a su percepción de belleza, se mantiene impecable y agradable a la vista de los demás.
Académicamente los quibdoseños y los chocoanos en general, son personas preparadas con un gran porcentaje de universitarios con especializaciones, maestrías y doctorados; muchos de ellos egresados del Alma Mater: Universidad Tecnológica del Chocó “Diego Luis Córdoba”. La juventud que constituye cerca del 38% de su población, es ávida de conocimiento que abren sus caminos de acuerdo con sus capacidades y talentos, como es el caso de reconocidos deportistas y artistas que han cambiado sus realidades y han brindado satisfacciones al territorio.
Hay muchas cosas por saber de la Villa de Asís, si están de acuerdo para mí sería un gran placer contarles sobre sus diferentes dinámicas, su cultura, su gastronomía, su religiosidad, sobre su gente, la oralidad, su economía, su riqueza natural, en fin todo lo que sepa, huela, suene, luzca y se sienta como Quibdó.
Foto a la izquierda, cortesía de Mariela Palacios
Foto a la derecha, cortesía de Maruja Uribe
By Mariela Palacio, Economic Development Consultant
When my friend Kim Haas invited me to participate in this blog I was very happy for the opportunity to talk about Quibdó, my pintoresque Villa de Asis, named after the town’s devotion Patron Saint Francis of Assisi.
Quibdó is a city of contrasts, a place of laughter and sorrows; of intense passions, of impetuous rainstorms along with sweltering heats; with endless social challenges, but with happy and positive people in the pursuit of a dream. It’s a city of flamboyant and flirtatious women capable of sacrificing their lives for the happiness of their children. Quibdó is a place that exacerbates the senses by its beautiful flushed sunsets along the Atrato river banks; by the stimulating smell of rain forest and fresh wood; by the cadency of music and mischievous stories told by the elders; by the luscious dishes made with love by matrons using fresh herbs from their patios; by the sensual caressing of incautious sweat drops running through the skin to compensate the high temperatures throughout the year.
This is how Quibdó feels!
Where is Quibdó?
Quibdó is the capital of the Department of Choco in Colombia; it is located on the East bank of the Atrato River. Choco is situated Northwest of Colombia and, since the territory has both the Caribbean and the Pacific coasts bordering Panama, it is considered the “real corner” and the gate to South America. Quibdó means “the place between rivers” In the local indigenous language. Its annual average temperature is 28°C (82°F). Its altitude is 43 meters above sea level and its annual rainfall index is 8.000 millimeters, one of the highest in the world
Its geographical features and its location, towards the end of the western mountains of South America, provide an abundance of water and geological resources, as well as an immense wealth of flora and fauna. This offers its population a bio diverse environment that can be enjoyed from an ecological, economic and social interaction perspective, primarily from the economic dimension.
Currently Quibdó is accessible by plane from Bogota, Medellin, Cali and Pereira. It is also reachable by terrestrial transportation from the Department of Antioquia (123 km) and from the Department of Risaralda (251 km).
Who are the people of Quibdó?
From an ethnic and cultural perspective Quibdó is a territory full of wealth. Its population is made up of African, indigenous and mestizo communities. Its afro-descendants constitute 91.63% of the population; meanwhile indigenous make up 1.38% and the rest of the population is mestizo. As a result of this melting pot, the city is a sociocultural amalgam from all cultural perspectives including food, music, dance, religious beliefs, health care and city administration.
Certainly walking around the streets of Quibdó has its own adventure, where you can easily spot men and women educated in fine old fashion Spanish manners, as well as scandalous and loud people, who enjoy being the center of attention regardless of the subject at hand. Generally self-image is very important for these people. Both, men and women visit the hairdresser and beauty spas that are very relevant to daily life activity. Everyone, based on their own perception of beauty, must always look impeccable and pleasant to the view of others.
Generally the people from Quibdó and Choco are individuals well prepared academically. A large percentage of them have achieved studies with technical specialties, master and doctorate degrees; many of those accreditations are received from the Universidad Tecnologica del Choco “Luis Diego Cordoba”. About 38% of the population is made up of youngsters eager to learn and explore new knowledge and opportunities in order to develop their own skills, while looking up to local renowned professional athletes and artists who have achieved success and brought pride to this land.
Is there anything else that can be learned about Quibdó?
There are still plenty of things to be learned about the Villa de Asis. Therefore, if you are interested I would be happy to tell you more about topics such as its dynamics, culture, cuisine, religiosity, population, orality and economy. In a few words, I would be delighted to share with you everything that tastes, smells, sounds, looks and feels like Quibdó.
Photo Courtesy of Maruja Uribe
By Kim Haas
Edited by Tina Machele Brown
Thursday evening, July 20, was a magical night. My parents and I had the good fortune of hosting an amazing group of musicians in a home concert. Joined by our friends and family, we welcomed Afro-Venezuelan singer Betsayda Machado and La Parranda El Clavo, a soulful group of performers who sing the histories of their Venezuelan town, its culture and the joy and pain of everyday life.
Without any electrical amplification, Betsayda Machado and La Parranda El Clavo, icons of Afro-Venezuelan music, gave a pure, warm, emotional and inspiring performance. From the heartache of losing a friend to gun violence to the glory of a Christmas Parranda (serenading neighbors house to house), the concert provided an intimate setting for sharing the rhythms and dances of Venezuela’s African descendant communities. (Click here to see Betsayda Machado in action.)
In between songs, during an informal “Question and Answer” period, Betsayda and the musicians provided additional historical and cultural context to the music.
When one of the guests asked how the drums were made, the group explained, through Juan Souki, their manager and translator, that one of the drums was made only on a full moon.
Another fascinating insight was that the tight, close movements made by the dancers with their feet is attributable to the steps of the enslaved Venezuelans, forebearers of the musicians.
Hailing from El Clavo in the Venezuelan region of Barlovento, Betsayda and the group’s roots run deeper than music, there are familial ties as well. Betsayda’s sister, Nereida Machado, sings in the chorus and Blanca Castillo, furruca player, is the mother of Youse Cardozo, songwriter and head percussionist.
The group of musicians have been performing together for more than 30 years. In Barlovento, music and performing is an integral part of the community. It binds and connects, strengthening the Afro-Venezuelan traditions from one generation to the next.
Often referred to as “The Voice of Venezuela”, Betsayda is charming and personable. She sings with joy and conviction. And, Betsayda has big goals for growing the group’s audience and sound beyond the borders of Venezuela. She cites musicians like Latin Grammy award winning singer Susana Baca, as a performer she admires. As an Afro-Peruvian, Susana Baca has elevated Afro-Peruvian music to international acclaim.
Betsayda Machado y La Parranda El Clavo began their United States tour in Montana in July 2017 and continue through August 2017. The musicians will return to the United States this fall for an additional tour. If you haven’t had the pleasure of seeing them in concert, please do so. They are kind, gracious, charming and hospitable.
A special thanks to Juan Souki, the group’s manager extraordinaire who makes everything seems so easy and photographer Conrad Louis-Charles whose photos and video marvelously captured the spirit of the evening. http://www.conradlouischarles.com
This unforgettable night would not have been possible without the support and love of my parents, Rosa and Spencer Lewis. My gratitude to them for opening their hearts and home for a memorable summer evening.
By Dahlma Llanos Figueroa
* * *
That night, I awoke to the sounds of my parents’ voices being thrown back and forth in the darkness.
“Pedro, we can’t wait anymore. The neighborhood is getting worse and worse.”
“You’re overreacting,” Pop tried to calm her down.
“Carisa found him in the hall…”
“It won’t happen again. This is the first time…”
“And it’s going to be the last,” Mom shot back.
“You sound like you’re giving me an order. Who’s the man around here?” Pop was wounded and dangerously close to ending the conversation.
“Pedro, I’m not trying to take your place but…” Mom modulated her voice.
“But nothing. I can see where you’re headed. The answer is no. I’ve been saving for that car for years and…”
“It’s my money too…” she pointed out, beginning to lose her temper.
“Oh, now you’re going to throw that in my face…”
“Pedro, listen to me…” still trying to reason with him.
“If we don’t have the credit to buy a car, how we going to buy a house. Besides, I’ve made plans…commitments. What do I tell my panitas…”
That did it. “Tus panitas! Que se jodan tus panitas! I don’t give a good Goddamn about your guys. Where are they when we need help? My children come first. I’m getting her out of here one way or the other and if that means you can’t buy your car right now, then you can’t buy your car right now.”
“Elena, don’t you take that tone with me…”
“What’s more important, our daughter or el jodío carro.”
SLAM! That did end the conversation on her part.
I remember my mother on the phone yelling at the landlord. The body was removed that first evening but, Harry the Super, had been drunk and useless all week and the blood had turned into a black pond at the foot of the stairs. There were countless, smudged, now-caked, footprints making a trail to the stair. After countless complaints to him and the landlord, Mom called the Health Department. When Harry finally sobered up, he was MAD and then he would spit every time one of us walked by and Mom and Pop’s fight got louder and longer.
The arguments must have gone on for weeks because I remember my mother turning away from Pop mid-sentence and slamming the double doors of the living room so hard that the glass panes rattled. I remember heavy silences and knife-edged glares. I remember Pop’s dinner plate crusty and abandoned on the plastic tablecloth with the roosters on it. There were more fights and more slammed doors and Pop’s favorite shirt hung on the closet door, the black mark of the iron burned onto it. There was Mom walking out of the room when he walked in and me getting up to go to school and finding Pop sleeping on the couch.
I especially remember heavy silences on Sunday mornings, instead of Recuerdos del Ayer, the music of World War II that usually sent my parents down Spanish Memory Lane. Sometimes they would even dance, right there in the living room, all by themselves. But that was before THE MAN.
When I got my report card and I took it to Mom and she said, “Give it to your father to sign.” And then Pop got mad and said, “Take it to your mother.” I felt like a spinning top going back and forth and not wanting to make either one of them mad at me. It was real bad for a while.
Finally, Mom found a way. A special program, a co-signing relative. One night she came home with papers that she put at Pop’s place on the table. I was doing my homework in the living room when he came home. He went to the table and sat down heavily. He read the papers while she stood in the doorway. The lines in her face were chiseled in. It took a long time before he finally looked up.
“You did it without me, didn’t you?” The words came out dangerously red.
“No, Pedro. I want to do it with you. I want us to do this thing together. I want you to sign.”
I could hear the stiffness in her words. She was ready for a fight and ready to win. Pop must have heard it too because the color of his voice changed. The red turned dark, heavy, tired, the danger subsided to pain.
“Don’t you think I want what’s best for her too?” His voice was thick with emotion.
Surprised at his tone, the lines in Mom’s face shifted, smoothed out a little. “Then I don’t understand.”
“Do I have to say it? Can’t you see? I am the man. I should be the one.”
“You are the one. You and me together.” Her voice was rounder, less sharp, warmer than I had heard it in a long time.
“If I can’t get the car, how can I get you a house? How can I watch them stamp my dignity away with their red ink on an application? How can I face you, a failure once again? I thought the car—that, I can do. It would take a long time, years maybe, but I could save the money and buy our dreams. But a house? How can I buy you a house? My mind can’t stretch that far. I don’t want to go, hat in hand asking your family for help. I am the man. It should be me.”
The last words were squeezed out, as though he had run out of breath and could say no more. Mom took his face in her hands and kissed away the tear on his right cheek. She hugged him as she stood before his chair, his face resting on her chest.
“We are a family. It never has to be just you. It should always be us.”
Pop took a deep breath and let it out slowly.
“All right.” So tired. “You win.” He swallowed hard. “I’ll sign the papers…for Carisa.”
I left the room. This was not my place to be.
In my memory, it seems only days, but it actually must have been many months later that the moving vans pulled up out front and four men in blue overalls packed up every piece of furniture in our apartment onto the longest trucks I had ever seen. Mom must have packed all our other stuff because I remember clothes and kitchen stuff and curtains and everything in boxes. They put all our belongings in those big trucks and deposited them in our new home–a tiny single family attached house that smelled like a new car.
I remember my father complaining and grumbling the whole time. He told the men how to move the couch, how to drive and swore they’d steal our stuff and we’d never see them again. He complained about the weather and the time it took to get everything over there. He grumbled about how far away it was from ‘everything’. Finally, he disappeared from the apartment before the last piece went into the truck. I jumped into the front seat with the driver and stared out the window as we left our old neighborhood behind. Mrs. Jackson stood on the corner in her Sunday best. Mrs. Goldberg stood by her, cane in hand. They waved until I couldn’t see them anymore. As we turned onto Southern Boulevard, I thought I caught sight of Pop standing in front of the Chevy dealership, shoulders slumped, forehead resting on the glass.
Pop carried on the whole time Mom unpacked boxes and made the beds. When I finally fell asleep, exhausted from the move, the last words I heard after he snapped off the hall light, was Pop complaining about the huge ConEd bills we would now have to pay.
I walked into the kitchen the next morning and caught him running his hands over the sleek counters. When he saw me, he cleared his throat, put on his hat and left for work, closing the door quietly.
The following day was Pop’s day off. Mom and I left early, while he was still in bed. He had been home alone all day. When Mom and I walked in the door that evening, every light in the house was on. The warmth of the kitchen greeted us as we walked in. The utensils, dishes, crockery, everything, had been unpacked, washed and now sat gleaming in the open kitchen cabinets.
We looked at each other in amazement. Mom called out for Pop and got no answer. We walked through the living room and around to the dining room. The china closet stood empty. The table was set with our holiday-only linen and Mom’s good china. In the middle of the table stood a huge vase full of yellow flowers. The smell of pernil and the sounds of old Spanish love songs filled the air.
Next to the laden table stood Pop, struggling to remove Mom’s apron from his waist and finally, ripping it off and stashing it away as we walked in. There he was, his face sweaty, shifting his weight from foot to foot, pride shining on his face as he prepared to serve his family their first fancy meal in his new home.
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.
* * *
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.
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 Losafrolatinos.com next Friday, July 14, 2017 for Part II, the conclusion of Sepia Memories.
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 Losafrolatinos.com Friday, July 14, 2017 for Part II, the conclusion of Sepia Memories.
By Kim Haas
On May 12, 2017, Kim Haas, founder of losafrolatinos.com, 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. (Guidestar.org. 2017)
Why is it important to tell the story of Afro-Latinos, particularly Afro-Puerto Ricans?
DR. COLON: 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?
DR. COLON: 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?
DR. COLON: 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?
DR. COLON: 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.
In hindsight, as a person of African descent, what are your thoughts about the advice you received?
DR. COLON: 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?
DR. COLON: 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?
DR. COLON: 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?
DR. COLON: 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?
DR. COLON: 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.
Are you working on any projects regarding leadership and the African Diaspora?
DR. COLON: 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.
Who’s involved in creating equity building?
DR. COLON: 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.
DR. COLON: 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?
DR. COLON: 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?
DR. COLON: 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?
DR. COLON: 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?
DR. COLON: 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.
Where would you like the “movement” to be five years from now?
DR. COLON: 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?
DR. COLON: 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.
For more information about the Puerto Rico Community Foundation, please visit the website: https://www.fcpr.org/.
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).
By Tina Machele Brown
When 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.
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.
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, 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.
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, 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?
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 http://events.worldbeatcenter.org/?event=noche-cubana-8.
by Kim Haas
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.
A heartfelt thank you to the sponsors, hosts and everyone who contributed their time, talent and hours to make this trip possible.
Each year, Columbia observes Afro–Colombian 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.