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Posts tagged ‘Afro Latino’

A Lesson In Love & Locks

Los Afro-Latinos is pleased to feature Marshalla S. Ramos, author, educator and mother. This interview will also appear in the Los Afro-Latinos Children’s Supplement which will be published later this year.

Marshalla’s extensive teaching background, kindergartners to adults, taught her a valuable lesson. Humanity shares similar life experiences; differences occur on an individual basis. That’s why for Marshalla it is essential to focus on the fact that “we are all one.” Elaborating on this theme, Marshalla explained the importance of embracing others for who they are.  According to Marshalla, this point of view serves as an essential ingredient for wellbeing.

Three years ago, around the time she began writing, Isabella’s Hair and How She Learned To Love It, Marshalla, who grew up in Brooklyn, New York, made her first visit to her family’s homes in Santurce, San Juan and Ponce, Puerto Rico.

Her debut book, tells the story of Isabella, an Afro-Boricuan, who lives in Carolina, Puerto Rico. With loving support from her abuela (grandmother), Isabella learns self-love and self-acceptance.

isabellashairbookWhy did you decide to write this book? Skin color and hair texture constantly come up in the classroom. As an educator it was important to create a narrative from a child’s perspective. The voice of the protagonist (Isabella) was more than that of a child speaking. It included the expressions of a female who is of Afro-Latino heritage. During the editing process, a lot of memories resurfaced. Through family stories, I had the impression that my grandmothers, both with dark complexions, were strongly persuaded to marry  to “better the race.”  This book is my attempt to offer a debt of gratitude to my grandmothers and to honor the lives they lived.

Do you consider the book autobiographical or semi autobiographical? I think every book a writer writes is based on something they’ve experienced.

Describe the main character Isabella? She’s a beautiful 7-year-old growing up in Carolina. She likes to color each day and draws her family, and wonders why she looks a certain way. She enjoys the view of her yard and playing. People in the community say (negative) things about her color and hair.

What role does Isabella’s grandmother play in the story? Abuelita comes to visit one day and overhears how Isabella is upset that her mother made her a brown dress that matches her hair and skin. She’s sitting under the coconut tree and wondering why everyone thinks brown is beautiful. Abuelita asks Isabella questions about the things in Puerto Rico that are brown like cocoa beans, soil etc and what they do. These natural things enrich us and so does Isabella’s presence.

Isabellas Hair

An illustration by Michael Murphy from Isabella’s Hair.

What messages did you learn about your hair growing up? In my immediate family, my mom embraced me and taught me I was beautiful. But, my sister has typical Puerto Rican/ Spanish hair, and comments were made by other relatives that I wasn’t as beautiful, or Nuyorican as my sister. I would get teased. It was painful.

As an adult, do you accept your hair? If so, how did you arrive at that point of acceptance? I have locks now. I love them, I love my hair. Around 2007, I stopped relaxing my hair, and felt it was time to embrace my hair texture and who I was, and embracing the term Afro-Latina. I decided it was necessary to understand my African heritage, not to deny this part of me. I wanted people to see the real me. It’s very empowering to feel your own hair texture. It’s much healthier.

Is it important for children of color, particularly Afro-Latino children, to have books that feature Afro-Latino children? If so, why? I belong to the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). Every month, a magazine is published. One article was about protagonists in children’s books. Less than one percent represent children of color. Even when I was teaching kindergarten and you asked Scholastic (world’s largest publisher and distributor of children’s books), they don’t have these books. If you look at a child of color, they need to see characters that represent a similar experience to them. Children pick up books that interest them or they can relate to. If they don’t find them, they don’t gravitate to literature as much. Why not have books like this available? It’s important – not just for numbers, but for children’s self-esteem.

What kind of response/reaction are you receiving from the book? I’ve participated in a couple of book fairs and was at La Casa Azul (New York City Bookstore) for Book Day.  My book always sells out and people love it. It was picked up by People enjoy the story, and wish they had it when they were young. A young lady bought my book for a friend who adopted a black baby. The book is especially valuable for adopted children and girls.

What projects are you working on? A story about an Afro-Latino boy, titled Leon’s Courage. I’m still figuring out the setting, but it will deal with being smart and the implications of being smart in a neighborhood where kids don’t celebrate that. Leon learns to change negatives into positives with the help of his cousin, Isabella.

Marshalla dreams of returning to Puerto Rico to read her book at schools and bookstores throughout the island.

Isabella’s Hair and How She Learned to Love It was published by Create Space and illustrated by Michael Murphy.

Connect with Marshalla on Twitter and the Facebook page for Isabella’s Hair.

From Loíza, Puerto Rico: A lovingly curated children’s book selection

By Kim Haas

I’m so pleased to present this guest post. It was thoughtfully written by one of our favorite librarians, Daniel Pizarro. Daniel is the consummate gentleman. Plus, he’s smart and cares deeply about Loíza and the library’s patrons.

I met Daniel three years ago at Loíza Public Library in Puerto Rico. Our meeting represented a wonderful culmination of a series of emails and an eventual conference call solidifying a sister library collaboration between Loíza library and the Jersey City Free Public Library; which is my local library.

So, Daniel is my go-to-guy when I’m in need of a little inspiration and great recommendations for Afro-Latino and Afro-centered children’s books.

Los Afro-Latinos is currently working on an Afro-Latino Children’s Book Supplement. Until every “ i is dotted and t is crossed” and we publish the collection, we thought we would share with you Daniel’s contribution to the Supplement. And September is a great month to post Daniel’s selections as we shepherd our children back to school for the new year. Read more

Rosa Clemente: 1st Afro-Latina U.S. Vice Presidential Candidate Talks Politics and Purpose

by Nicolle Morales Kern

It may be three years until the next presidential election, but it’s never too early to explore politics and the people who focus on making a difference through our political system. For those of us who aren’t active in the day-to-day aspects of politics, from lobbying to campaigning, it can be hard to understand how much dedication politics requires. To get an idea of what politics is like behind the scenes, we interviewed Rosa Clemente, the first Afro-Latina Green Party Vice Presidential Candidate. During this interview, Rosa discusses her identity as an Afro-Latina, her experience during the 2008 election campaign, and the importance of political engagement.

Rosa Clemente is a community organizer, journalist, Hip Hop and political activist.  Five years ago, as the Vice Presidential Candidate for the Green Party, she and Cynthia McKinney, Green Party Presidential Candidate, formed the first women of color ticket.

The daughter of a mother from Ponce, and a father from Rio Pierdas, Rosa Clemente was born and raised in the Bronx. She earned her undergraduate degree at the University of Albany and her Masters of Professional Studies at Cornell University. She is currently in her second year of a doctoral program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and her dissertation focuses on the Black Latino, Hip Hop culture. Read more

Director Carlos Diegues: Bringing Brazil’s Black Culture to the Silver Screen

By Kim Haas

So much of Brazil’s dazzling culture, its personality, traditions and tenor, have roots steeped in the country’s African heritage. Brazil has been greatly endowed with a culture that shines due in large part to the nearly four million enslaved Africans brought to the country, beginning around 1500–until slavery officially ending in Brazil in 1888.

Samba originated among the country’s Afro-Brazilian population. Pele revolutionized soccer. Capoeira continues to amaze with its athleticism, power and grace and no other country comes close to putting on an annual party as spectacular as Carnival. Orfeu Movie Photo

Despite these remarkable contributions to the soul of a nation, seeing Afro-Brazilians on the silver screen was a rarity until Brazilian Director Carlos Diegues began his filmmaking career in 1959. Mr. Diegues’ reputation was advanced because he was one of the filmmakers of Cinema Novo, a 1960s and 1970s Latin American film movement. Using a documentary filmmaking style, Cinema Nova promoted human rights, specifically advocating social justice and racial equality.


Alagoas, Brazil

Originally from Alagoas (northeastern Brazil), Diegues grew up completely infatuated by cinema. As a child he loved going to the movies. He was mesmerized by films. As he told a Cannes Festival Website, “The first time I went to the cinema, I was six. I looked at the screen, and I was totally hooked. In fact I was simply astonished and I thought, “Don’t touch the screen or you’ll get stuck. But I’m still stuck!”

During his early childhood, Carlos Diegues learned about the value and significance of Afro-Brazilian culture through fantastical stories.

His Afro-Brazilian nanny vividly narrated for him the story of Zumbi (The last leader of the Quilombo do Palmares located near Pernambuco, Brazil. Quilombos were settlements of escaped slaves in Brazil.) Diegues remembers, “She used to tell me that he (Zumbi) was still alive and could fly.” From childhood, Carlos Diegues strongly believed history and mythology could go together. As a filmmaker, he often fuses the two.

And as the son of an anthropologist, his father “…always told me that the African influence in Brazilian culture was very important.” Mr. Diegues adds, “Undoubtedly I’ve always been interested in Afro Brazilian culture but I think that even if the Afro descendent people were the social, poor people in Brazil, they were very strong in terms of the culture. African people were slaves until 19th century and they became the poorest people in the country but at the same time their culture represents the Brazilian culture…you know the Samba, soccer, the carnival. I was very much interested, intrigued by the fact that those people who suffered so much, that had a lot of pain during centuries, they made a culture that was stronger, stronger than the European culture in Brazil.”

Xicade Silva Poster

In a career spanning five decades, Mr. Diegues was honored with a film retrospective at The Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York City from April 12 – April 18, 2013. This groundbreaking director is credited with being one of the first Brazilian filmmakers to tell the stories of the Afro-Brazilian experience on the silver screen.

Perhaps one of his most celebrated films is the 1976 “Xica da Silva,” the screen adaptation of the João Felicio dos Santos book, Memórias do Distrito de Diamantina. The story centers around the real life of Xica da Silva, a former 18th century slave from Minas Gerais, Brazil who becomes the wealthy mistress of Portuguese mine owner in Brazil, João Fernandes de Oliveira. Mr. Diegues shares his experience in the filmmaking process, “I didn’t know particular things about her, so I could mix myth and history about her.” After the film’s release, it would become Brazil’s 1977 entry for the Academy Award in Best Foreign Language Film but the process of making and distributing the film was very challenging.

He was told by a film distributor, “Black people doesn’t make money in the cinema.”  In response Diegues explains, “I felt like this wasn’t true, the process was very difficult. I had a producer who understood what I wanted to make, people always saying that ZeZe Mota (Xica da Silva actress) couldn’t make it. I always make things that people say can’t work… I was absolutely sure that I had to make this film. I gotta make this. I made it with a very happy kind of spirit. I thought that we needed this kind of film, someone who was a slave and became sort of a queen, but only by her virtues. It was something I was fascinated by.”

QuilomboEight years after the release of Xica da Silva, Mr. Diegues directed the 1984 film Quilombo, the story of Brazilian slaves who fled a sugar plantation to settle in the Quilombo dos Palmares in Northeastern Brazil. The film recounts the tale of the real life Quilombo dos Palmares, a structurally complex community of mostly former slaves which also welcomed Jews, Muslims, Indians and poor whites. At its pinnacle, the Quilombo dos Palmares had a population of 10,000 – 20,000 residents. It existed for nearly 100 years from 1600 – 1694. Led by it’s last leader Zumbi, a fearless soldier and exceptional military strategist, he led the Quilombo in a battle against the Portuguese for control of the settlement. In preparation for the film, Diegues says, “I was helped by a lot of professors and teachers, specialists in that kind of history. I tried to be very, very close to reality. For Quilombo we had many documents. Quilombo is not only a film about the past but also about future, it’s a utopia, what Brazil could be if we had a Zumbi today.”

Orfeu, Carlos Diegues 1999 production, is based on the book Orfeu da Conceição and also inspired by the 1959 Brazilian film Black Orpheus; both based on the legendary Greek tragedy of Orpheus and Eurydice. Diegues’ version is set in Rio de Janeiro during Carnival.

Carlos Diegues’ work behind the camera as a director has created numerous roles for Afro-Brazilian actors in front of the camera.

When asked the state of opportunities for Afro-Brazilians in film and television, Mr. Diegues says things are changing. “It’s getting better. Brazilian cinema has a role in the progress of it. (Brazilian TV) finally understood that Afro-Brazilians could be good actors, not just the maids and butlers. It’s changed, really changed.”

As a young filmmaker, Carlos Diegues and the filmmakers of his generation had an expansive vision for moviemaking. We wanted to “change the history of cinema, change the history of Brazil, change the history of the planet.”

Carlos Diegues is a change maker whose imprint on film is helping to tell the Afro-Brazilian story.

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One-On-One with Afro-Rican Jazz Creator William Cepeda

Our April article for Being Latino features a Q&A with Afro-Rican Jazz Creator William Cepeda. This article was originally published on the Being Latino site

Since 1992, William Cepeda has been bringing Afro-Rican Jazz to the world. The music he shares with us is a combination of world music, progressive jazz, and traditional Afro-Puerto Rican roots and folk music and dance.

A Grammy-nominated artist and composer, and the protégé of John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespsie, William continuously advocates for research and documentation of Puerto Rico’s musical, dance, and cultural history. This dedication has won him numerous awards, grants, and recognition around the world, but is also a part of his family history. The Cepeda family was recently featured on an episode of CNN’s Inside Africa about Bomba dance.

Born and raised in Loiza, known as the heart of little Africa in Puerto Rico, he was always surrounded by music and dance. His love of music led him to seek formal education at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, the Conservatory of Music in Puerto Rico, and the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College. He holds two Bachelor of Arts degrees (one in jazz composition and arranging and one in music education) and a master’s degree in jazz performance.

In 1997, William created his own record label, Casabe Records.

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing him about his interest in music, why he decided to create his own label, and his latest project La Música de Puerto Rico: Raíces y Evolucíon (Races and Evolution). Read more

Afro-Uruguay: Forward Together

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more

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

by Kim Haas

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

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

Giveaway: ChocQuibTown DVDs!

choc quib town

After interviewing Goyo, lead singer of the Afro-Colombian band, ChocQuibTown (CQT) for a guest post on Being Latino, we thought a giveaway was in order.

The Latin Grammy winning band was kind enough to give us six  copies of ChocQuibTown: Live from Gurten. Here’s your chance to take CQT home!

Read more

Introducing Alejandro Fernández: Afro-Bolivian Activist

Imagine being just 17 years old when your mother dies. Your entire life transformed in 24 hours.

Before her death, she’d been raising you and your two siblings alone. You take her to a hospital to be treated. And the doctor denies her care, not because her condition was incurable but because you are unable to pay the cost of her treatment.

That’s exactly what happened to Alejandro Fernández Gutiérrez. At the hospital, before his mother could receive care, he was asked for $100 (approximately 700 Bolivianos). Unfortunately, he did not have the money to save his mother’s life. Nor did Alejandro’s family have health insurance which was unavailable to Afro-Bolivians. At this time in Bolivia’s history, Afro-Bolivians were not recognized in the country’s constitution.

We needed help from the system, but the system wouldn’t respond to us,” says Alejandro.

Alejandro bundled on his mom’s back, sister seated. Photo courtesy Alejandro Fernández.

So his mother, Elena, described as a kind and peaceful woman, who had been cleaning houses since she was nine years old died that fateful day.

That was the day when I decided to do something for my country and that was the day I changed my whole life and my whole perspective,” says Alejandro.

Since then, Alejandro has earned recognition from the United States Department of State and The Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs. He’s published works on HIV/AIDS prevention and graduated from the University of San Andres (Bolivia) with a degree in Social Sciences. At 26 years of age, nearly a decade after his mother’s death, Alejandro is a prominent voice advocating for Afro-Bolivians and a human rights activist.

Although his mother’s death inspired him with a new outlook, changes didn’t happen overnight. Alejandro was hesitant to join the Afro-Bolivian movement, along with his uncle.
I remember mentioning that I couldn’t join because I wasn’t Afro. I told him, ‘I’m not black enough to be in the group,’” says Alejandro, who saw himself as a mix of races because his father is Aymara Indian (one of Bolivia’s indigenous ethnic groups) “For me, to be black in a country where discrimination happens because of your color…I didn’t want to be a target.”

However, Alejandro was becoming increasingly interested in his mother’s culture – a culture she never knew.

He started by participating in workshops and festivals. He was 18 when he was featured on a Bolivian reality TV show. On the program, he was asked to dance, “Something like Saya, but stylized like Caporales, Tundiqui, Negritos or Sambos,” says Alejandro. “I said, ‘No, I will dance Saya even if it’s not commercial enough.’” (Saya is a folkloric dance and musical tradition performed by Afro-Bolivians. It fuses African percussions with Andean instruments.)

When the program was over many people associated me with Saya and the voice of Afro Bolivians because I mentioned cities of The Yungas,” says Alejandro. (The Afro-Bolivian population is concentrated in a region called Los Yungas, 55 miles north of Bolivia’s capital, La Paz.)

While gaining recognition as an advocate for Afro-Bolivians, Alejandro began university studies. He was the only Afro-Bolivian in his class. The only other Afro-Bolivian, at the college, was a female professor.

Alejandro with his mom after winning first scholarship. Photo courtesy Alejandro Fernández

She told me, ‘You are getting better education, you can lead the movement and be a model for your generation,’” Alejandro says of Professor Monica Rey. “Those words really touched me.”

Alejandro attended meetings and protests with the faculty. With Professor Rey, Alejandro was invited to meetings with The United Nations, Human Rights Commission and Bolivia’s Parliament.

I realized that those people did not have any idea of the needs we [Afro-Bolivians] had and they did not even know how many Afros there were in the whole country,” says Alejandro. “They needed to know and understand our needs. I had personal experiences and they could learn from that.”

He felt compelled to share the lack of treatment his mother was provided at the hospital as well as the discrimination she experienced in her daily life.

Alejandro describes his mother, Elena, as dark-skinned with short coarse, coily hair. She was so tall and her hair was so short that people on the street would sometimes call her a “señor.” They would also call her “El otro, (The other)” because they hadn’t seen a black person before. Alejandro’s mother suffered daily humiliation, even falling victim to the local discriminatory act of pinching.

When people see a black person, they pinch themselves because they believe it brings good luck, “ says Alejandro. The act stems from slavery. Indigenous people pinch themselves as a reminder that when Africans were brought to Bolivia as slaves, their presence alleviated some of the discrimination and hard labor that had been previously performed by the indigenous population.

That’s probably why we didn’t go out too often,” says Alejandro. Even going to a hotel or restaurant was a struggle. “They didn’t believe that a black woman or indigenous people could have money to pay for their meal in a restaurant.”

But this was the culture in Bolivia. When Alejandro was growing up, Bolivian children weren’t even taught about slavery in schools. It was almost as if Africans just showed up one day. The connotation was that being Afro meant being a slave, being “el otro.” The country had created an atmosphere in which Afro-Bolivians and indigenous people were not only inferior, but also invisible. They had no rights, no insurance and little access to education.

I knew what had happened to me wasn’t the only [incident]. I had friends who were Aymara and the same thing happened. Their mothers died because they didn’t have insurance,” says Alejandro who also knew stories of young boys and girls who died of Hepatitis B without access to a hospital because they did not have money for treatment. “What happened wasn’t an isolated case.”

Fueled by these struggles, Alejandro has worked to better the lives of Afro-Bolivians and Bolivia’s indigenous populations. He worked with The Bolivian Foundation for Multiparty Democracy, The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) whose mission is to promote the right of every individual to health and equal opportunity, and other organizations. He has also written articles and has become an advocate for HIV/AIDS prevention and education.

For five weeks, Alejandro interned with Peace and Culture in the American Embassy in Bolivia, working for Silvia Dáttoli. He developed two projects – “Juventud, Identidad e Integracion en la Diversidad (Youth, Identity and Integration in Diversity)” and “Manos para el Desarrolo (Hands for Development)” – that were widely successful and received tremendous amounts of attention.

Alejandro at Arcadia University. Photo Courtesy Alejandro Fernández

Alejandro is currently a graduate student and Fulbright Scholar at Arcadia University, Glenside, Pennsylvania. He is studying International Peace and Conflict Resolution. And when he’s not studying, Alejandro writes regularly for the “We of the Saya” blog with friend and filmmaker Sisa Bueno. (see Sisa’s Story)

Alejandro & Filmaker Sisa Bueno

In the ten years since his mother’s passing, Afro-Bolivians have helped to craft a new Bolivian Constitution, which includes the most basic of human needs – recognition. Alejandro agrees that Bolivia’s President Evo Morales has worked to change perceptions about Aymara Indians and Afro-Bolivians, particularly in the field of education. However, Alejandro notes that President Morales still has work to do in many fields to help improve the lives of both groups, including access to health care. And while there’s still a lot of work to be done, the benefit of having Alejandro as an advocate for the community cannot be overstated.

After graduation, Alejandro is weighing the possibility of working at UNFPA or the United Nations. Or, maybe even Bolivia’s Department of Justice. While he’s not certain where he’ll work next, Alejandro knows one thing for sure, “This world needs leaders and I am one of them.”


A Filmmaker’s Mission: Shining Light on Afro-Bolivian Invisibility

So, you want to make a documentary film. Should be pretty easy, right? Just grab your camera, shoot, edit and you’re done. Not so fast. The multi-layered processes associated with making a film tends to be a bit more complicated and peppered with lots of starts and stops, especially financing issues. Plus everything else imaginable and some things you just can’t imagine.

In the world of filmmaking, taking on the untold story, the unimaginable and the unthinkable are often what makes film projects so incredibly appealing. Capturing history — whether its life’s smallest moments or biggest events– is often the attraction.

New Yorker Sisa Bueno, an adventurous Latina of African descent and a self-described political junkie, is learning first hand about the starts and stops of filmmaking. As a graduate of the prestigious New York University Film School, Sisa admits, “I had the naïve thought that documentaries were much easier than traditional fiction films, which is completely untrue.” Read more