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Soup Joumou: Historic Haitian Dish Flavors the New Year

By Tina Machele Brown

A Soup with a Strong Symbol

As 2017 quickly approaches, many people are preparing for lavish parties, family gatherings, and setting new goals. Yet if you know your Haitian history like Chef Elle Philippe, you are shopping for fresh ingredients for Soup Joumou, a Haitian tradition. Kim Haas, founder of Los Afro-Latinos, had the honor of observing this culinary artist prepare a soup with a strong symbol.


Greeted with a smile from Chef Philippe, Kim’s senses were immediately aroused.  This food connoisseur had already seasoned the meat and the aroma filled the room. Kim was honored to be in the elegant New Jersey home of Chef Philippe as she created this soup with knives, spoons, pots, pans, and passion. Seamlessly moving from station to station, cutting vegetables, tossing them here and there, Kim was eager to discuss the history of the soup which consists of a striking array of colorful vegetables including the main ingredient – pumpkin.

Roots from the garden are very robust and the natural ingredients in Soup Joumou aid in its symbol of strength among Haitians. Joumou is a delicious, sweet-smelling pumpkin that was a delicacy for white French masters. As slaves, Haitians were not allowed to drink Soup Joumou. However, on January 1, 1804, Haitians regained their freedom from the French after a twelve-year battle and the soup symbolized liberation and the world’s first and only successful slave revolt resulting in an independent nation. The celebration of preparing, sharing, and eating Soup Joumou, became an annual tradition. Now, every year, on New Year’s Day (Haitian Independence Day), Haitians celebrate with this tasty soup.

haiti-mapBorn in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Chef Philippe knows first-hand the Haitian history of Soup Joumou. While slicing onions, potatoes, leeks and other vegetables, she spoke of partaking in this once forbidden treat as a child.  Though far away, Chef Philippe is forever connected to Haiti. Sharing the history of this soup ensures that the roots will continue to stay grounded in the people and the New Year’s tradition will carry on. Chef Philippe is passionate about cooking and as a master chef, she has a natural instinct for paring the perfect seasonings and ingredients for flavor, color, smell, and taste.


As the pumpkin was cooking, Chef Philippe mixed the other ingredients such as garlic, celery, parsley, and the bouquet of smells filled the air. She mixed in the cooked vegetables and other ingredients to perfection, she then ladled up a scoop for a taste-test. Kim’s taste buds began to tingle with excitement.

After more than 200 years, Haitians continue to celebrate their freedom every year on New Year’s day with Soup Joumou. A soup that is made with many ingredients from the earth, rooted in the knowledge that together we are stronger.

Chef Philippe’s Soup Joumou

Start With: 2 lbs of pumpkin squash–kaboucha, substitute: butternut squash and lots more good stuff Preparation time: marinate meat overnight, 45 minutes-prep time, cooking time-1 hr 30 minutes.

Marinate the meat the Night before
2 lbs of beef marinated overnight with
3 cloves of crushed garlic, 1 tsp of thyme
1 tsp of fresh black pepper
1 medium shallot
1/4 tsp scotch bonnet
3 scallions
juice of 2 lime
1 tbsp of kosher salt
1 tbsp chopped parsley

Ahead of Time:
Soup Stock:
beef leg bones: 2-3 lbs, cut into 2” pieces
1 onion
2 carrots
2 stalks of celery
parsley, salt, and pepper to taste
Boil for 1 hour, add enough water for 12 cups of stock or substitute store-bought, sodium-free stock.

2 lbs of pumpkin squash–kaboucha, substitute: butternut squash
4 big carrots, medium slices
3 celery stalks, cut in medium cubes
2 medium leeks, cut lengthwise, in 2 pieces, half or third the length
2 medium turnips, peel, cut in medium cubes
3 medium Yukon gold potatoes, peeled, cut in medium cubes
1 lb cabbage, sliced & cut in med. sizes
12 cups of beef stock or store-bought sodium-free stock
2 tbsp of olive oil

  1. Prepare your mise-en-place, clean, and peel all your vegetables.
  2. In a large pot, add marinated beef with the olive oil,
    add 2 cups of cold water, cook over medium heat for 30 minutes.
  3. Cut squash into 3-4” wedges. While the meat is cooking in a medium pot in 6 cups of slightly salted cold water. Cook pumpkin for about 30 minutes on medium heat, covered. Drain, remove pumpkin from peel, puree and set aside.
  4. Add pumpkin puree, simmer for 15 minutes.
  5. Note: The soup broth should not be thick, after adding the Joumou puree you can always add more beef stock.
  6. Adjust seasoning, salt and fresh black pepper to taste.


We hope you season your new year with a taste of history. Enjoy!


Meet Odin/Udini, the Rapper

udini-1By Donte Kirby


Odin Palacio better known as “ Udini La Voz,” the bilingual (English/Spanish) rapper represents Panama everywhere he goes, using his music to bridge the cultural divide between those who speak Spanish and English. Before there was an 808 (drum machine, associated with hip hop) and a mic, there was a ball and a court.


Basketball brought Palacio from San Miguel, in the heart of Panama, to Homestead, Florida, when he was 16. In 2000, Palacio,(sharing the same name as his father), an only child, left La Magnolia, housing development area , where he lived with his mother, Graciela Arancibia , the woman who shaped him into the person he is today. His mother was scared for her son, after the murder of his best friend. Palacio’s pain brought him to the point where, in front of his mother, he screamed, “I’m going to kill whoever did that to my best friend.”

udini-2“The night before I left Panama it was really hard to sleep. I couldn’t believe that I’m 16 years’ old and I’m going to leave it all behind to start a new life by myself.”


In Florida, Berkshire High School was a melting pot of cultures, overflowing with international students. Palacio had to navigate not only the cultural barriers but also the language barrier.

“It was very uncomfortable not being able to speak the language. I would feel left out a lot of times. When people were laughing and I didn’t understand what they were laughing for, I would feel like they were laughing at me, even though they weren’t.”

Palacio’s life revolved around basketball for years, hopping from high school to high school trying to find the right program, then junior colleges to finally a few four-year universities. A big change came when, Palacio was in a car accident that left him with three fractures in his neck and skull. This experience distanced him from his beloved basketball. Yet, basketball still guided Palacio to his next passion that drives his life today – music and rapping.

One day, a teammate who would often freestyle and wrote down rhymes in a notebook sat Palacio down and explained the process of writing down lyrics and bars on paper.


Years later, Palacio’s goal for his first album, “Me and My Musika,” was to break down cultural barriers. Palacio and his producers Anis Taylor (AT Soundz) and Travis Ruscil (Dappolis) together create a sound that thematically and rhythmically incorporates their diversity.

“No matter whose under one roof they’re all going to move to the same sound. They’re not going to feel left out.”

“…. I used to download instrumentals and just practice over that. I used to write in all Spanish because I couldn’t rap in English back then.”


Working together on tracks for, “Me and My Musika” was the birth of the label and production house, Higher Than 7. Palacio, Taylor and Ruscil vowed to never release a track they all didn’t agree rated higher than seven.

“Our thing is, if we’re going to do something why not keep everything in house,” said Taylor about why they decided to build a label and production company with Higher Than 7. “We can create our own opportunities.”


In order to create more opportunities Palacio became more active in the tri-state, Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, Latino community. He became a host for PhillyCAM’s Atrévete, a board member of the Panama International Tri-State Alliance, and a frequent public speaker at high schools in the tri-state area. As board member, Palacio, along with Judy Winter, President of the Alliance, they supported the Panamanian flag being raised at Philadelphia’s City Hall, Nov 4, 2016.

Winter had this to say about Palacio, “He is more in touch with the people. So he can help the Alliance find more Panamanians and direct them to the Alliance.”

As an artist, Palacio’s music is a bridge he uses to connect with others. As an independent musician, his connection to his audience and community is paramount to his success.

udini-3The Journey

“I’ve been knocking on doors. I’ve been asking people for opportunities. I don’t do that anymore.

“I just work hard and those doors I knocked on before, today they’re opening on their own.”

Omar Sosa’s Quarteto AfroCubano Playing at the Blue Note Jazz Club NYC


The Blue Note Jazz Club in NYC is proud to present the music of Omar Sosa’s Quarteto AfroCubano from March 31st until April 3rd each night beginning at 8pm.  Be sure to buy tickets to this wonderful event by clicking here.

Valentine’s Day Giveaway!

We’re giving away two tickets to Havana Rakatan; Thursday February 19th at 7:30pm at the Manhattan Theatre Club. All you have to do to win is name a popular dance inspired by Afro-Latinos – You can send us the answer on our Facebook Page (inbox us) or Twitter DM us @losafrolatinos. You’ll be notified Tuesday if you’re the winner; if you win we just ask that you send us a selfie from the show. Good luck all!

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For more details visit NY City Center:

Scholar, Historian, Activist and Collector Arturo Alfonzo Schomburg

Los-Afro Latinos


Scholar, Historian, Activist and Collector

Arturo Alfonzo Schomburg

Lorena Ramirez

During January Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is celebrated in the United States. It’s a time set aside to commemorate his life, and most importantly, to remember his contributions to the African-American Civil Rights Movement (1960s). King, in a civil disobedient manner, fought hard to demonstrate that the rights of African-Americans mattered, just as much as those of white people.

One of the individuals who labored, enhancing the commentary and activism upon which Dr. King pursued his life’s mission was Arturo A. Schomburg (1874-1938), Father of Black History. While Schomburg’s endeavors took place more than 120 years ago, they were instrumental and created a legacy for the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement.


BEFORE Martin Luther King …Arturo A. Schomburg

Born in Santurce, Puerto Rico, January 24, 1874, Schomburg’s mother was a black woman originally from St. Croix, and his father was a Puerto Rican of German heritage. He attended San Juan’s Instituto Popular, where he learned commercial printing, and St. Thomas College in the Virgin Islands, where he studied Negro Literature.

Schomburg was a self-proclaimed Afro-Borinqueño (black Puerto Rican) whose fervent pursuit of African history was attributed to a teacher who told him, “Negroes have no history, no heroes, or great moments.” That auspicious moment set Schomburg on a path to invalidate those comments. He deliberately dedicated his life to the black liberation movement, collecting, documents and artifacts as well as speaking about the absent yet rich history of the African Diaspora.

From Puerto Rico to New York

In 1891 Schomburg migrated to New York City, specifically Harlem, where he became involved in the Harlem Renaissance, the independence movements for Cuba and Puerto Rica. He was a member of the Revolutionary Committee of Puerto Rico, a group of Cubans and Puerto Ricans, who sought independence from Spain. He was secretary of Las Dos Antillas, an organization that worked for the independence of both Cuba and Puerto Rico. A year later he became a Mason with El Sol de Cuba #38, a Spanish-speaking lodge comprised of Cuban and Puerto Rican immigrants and there are conflicting dates regarding when he become the Master of El Sol de Cuba #38 (1911/1918/1922). Disillusion by the lack of progress towards and independent Cuba and Puerto Rico, Schomburg changed the Masonic group’s name to Prince Hall Lodge, honoring the first US black freemason (Prince Hall).

Schomburg took on a variety of jobs, while living in New York. In 1896 he began teaching Spanish (1901 to 1906) and continued his interest in studying the role blacks played in Spanish history; he also served as a messenger and clerk for Pryor, Mellis and Harris (law firm) and in 1906 he worked for the Bankers Trust Company.


He married Elizabeth Hatcher of Staunton, Virginia, June 30, 1895, with whom he had three sons, Maximo Gomez, Arthur Alfonso Jr. and Kingsley Guarionex. Hatcher died in 1900 and Schomburg married Elizabeth Morrow Taylor of Williamsburg, North Carolina, Mar. 17, 1902, with whom he had two children, Reginald Stanton and Nathaniel Jose Schomburg.

Scholar, Historian and Activist

During 1904 Schomburg’s first known article, ‘Is Hayti Decadent?’ was published in The Unique Advertiser. In 1912 he co-edited (Daniel A. Payne Murray) “Encyclopedia of the Colored Race. A year later, 1913, speaking to a group of black educators at Cheyney University, Schomburg promoted the inclusion of black history throughout the U.S.’s educational system. He was a contributing writer for Crisis Magazine (official publication of National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), co-founded the Negro Society for Historical Research with John Edward Bruce and was president of the American Negro Academy.

In 1924 the African American registry described Schomburg as dedicated to revealing and reinterpreting the African Diaspora. He studied the history of Africans in the Indies (Caribbean Islands). While in Europe, he researched the priceless treasures of African history,   meticulously collecting data about enslaved Africans (Negro Brotherhood) in Seville, Spain.


Schomburg had a vast collection of African history that totaled more than 10,000 documents. His collection included more than 5,000 books; 3,000 manuscripts; 2,000 etchings, paintings, play bills and several thousand pamphlets. The Carnegie Corporation purchased Schomburg’s extensive collection for $10,000 and it was added to the New York Public Library (NYPL) – 135th Street branch in 1926. With the money he received, he traveled around the world in search of more information. His collection was added to the Division of Negro Literature, History and Prints, where he became curator of the special division from 1932 until his death on June 8, 1938. In 1940, the division was renamed to the Schomburg Collection of Negro Literature, History and Prints.


His documents can be found at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture at the New York Public Library, which “is recognized as one of the leading institutions focusing exclusively on African-American, African Diaspora, and African experiences,” says the NYPL website.

Schomburg is one of the world’s most renowned scholars of African history. He worked tirelessly to restore Africa’s presence in the human commentary, replacing what slavery (enslavement) took away.

Born 141 years ago, Arturo A. Schomburg …amazingly courageous, dedicated advanced the equality of persons of Africans descent. His legacy lives on…



Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month

We wanted to take this time, just about halfway through Hispanic Heritage Month, and send a thank you to all our contributors, fans, friends and family. We are so thankful for the support and contributions we’ve received — YOU are the reason our culture stays strong.


Los Afro Latino_HHM_v4-01

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

As a teenage/young adult

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

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

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

Coming out

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

Telling Aurora

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

Telling co-workers

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

Loving family

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

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

It can be achieved.


Yolanda Arroyo Pizarro and partner, Zulma

Yolanda Arroyo Pizarro and partner, Zulma

Martina Arroyo: An Opera Legend by Cheryl Wills


Martina Arroyo: Opera Legend

Inspires New Generation of Singers

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Our newest contributor: Cheryl Wills of NY1

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

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


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

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

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

Let us know your thoughts.



Puerto Rico 1886 Map

Carolina, Puerto Rico–1848

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

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

Everything was in order. The time was now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Credit: Rachel Eliza Griffiths

Photo Credit: Rachel Eliza Griffiths

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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