Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Where Have All the Ricans Gone?

I Miss the New York Puerto Rican (Nuyorican) Community

People often ask me why do I speak Spanish or when they hear me listening to Latin music, they wonder if I am Latino. The answer is that I was inspired by my Nuyorican neighbors at a young age while growing up near New York's Spanish Harlem. Because of my Puerto Rican influence, I also felt inspired to travel through nine Spanish-speaking countries to immerse myself in the language and the culture. 

I had a nice chuckle in Ecuador when a cab driver asked me if I was from a Spanish-speaking country in the Caribbean. In other words, he thought that my Spanish sounded Puerto Rican (or Nuyorican). I've heard similar comments from Mexicans and Central Americans while living in California.

Brooklyn, NY

After spending the bulk of my adult life living in Oakland, CA, I returned to New York where I feel more in my element because the city better meets my diverse, cultural tastes, which includes its large Afro-Latino community.

However, a few years before my return to New York, a Puerto Rican friend from college told me over the phone that a lot of Puerto Ricans are moving out of New York. I never grasped the magnitude of such a move until after I had been back for a couple of years.

Spanish Harlem, NY

Back in the day, nine out of 10 Latinos I would meet in New York were Puerto Rican. Today, nine out of 10 I meet are Dominican. No disrespect to the Dominicans because during my visits to New York while living in California, I sought to familiarize myself with Dominican culture, such as venturing into Washington Heights, known among Dominicans as Little Quisqueya. Quisqueya is the old name for the Dominican Republic before the Columbus invasion, a country that is on my list of places to visit.

Although, I love bachata music (Dominican), I miss hearing the Nuyorican sounds of Eddie Palmieri, Ray Barreto, and Pete Rodriguez, which I love even more, while walking the streets of Manhattan and the Bronx. It is obvious that when I returned to New York, I only returned to a memory missing the Nuyorican community.

Monday, October 23, 2017

The Rise and Fall of the Black Marvel of Uruguay, South America

José Leandro Andrade
“The Black Marvel”

During the 1920s and 1930s, José Leandro Andrade was highly regarded in his home country, Uruguay, as “Maravilla Negra (the Black Marvel)” whom enchanted soccer fans witnessed the effortless elegance in his movements on the field. He was a powerful, dynamic, and quick soccer player whose incredible abilities transformed him into an international celebrity at a time when ideas of white racial supremacy were rife across Europe.

Andrade had the courage to ignore white notions about how a black man should behave as he treated Paris, France as his own personal and professional playground, especially with the women who adored his suave, good looks as well as his athletic prowess. In this respect, there are parallels to be drawn with black American boxers Jack Johnson and Muhammad Ali.

José Andrade is dubbed 
as “the first Pele”

Born in Salto, a city in northwest Uruguay noted for its cattle, citrus fruit, and its soccer players, Andrade grew up in poverty sleeping on a dirt floor and spent little time at school. Prior to his introduction to professional soccer, he worked as a carnival musician playing the drums, the violin, and the tambourine. At various times he worked as a shoeshine and newspaper boy, and some said that he had also worked as a gigolo.

In the 1920s, when the Olympic Games was effectively viewed as a world championship of soccer, he was winning over European audiences by the hundreds of thousands they came to watch him play. José Leandro Andrade was considered responsible, more than anybody else, in the first third of the 20th century for putting soccer on the map of international sports.

An Uruguayan Postage Stamp 
in honor of Andrade

When Uruguay faced Yugoslavia in the Olympic games of 1924, Yugoslavia, having sent spies to watch a Uruguay training session, predicted an easy win. Uruguay beat Yugoslavia 7-0. The Uruguayan team learned of the presence of spies and deliberately misplaced their shots and passes in training. Three days later, Uruguay defeated the United States 3-0.

In 1928 José Andrade won his second Olympic gold medal in Amsterdam. A Spanish correspondent who has been watching soccer for 20 years said that he has never seen any team play with the mastery of this Uruguayan team. It was though they were playing chess with their feet, he added.

The Uruguayan soccer team of the 1920s

 After his retirement, José Andrade had trouble finding and keeping a job. While his former teammates became successful coaches, businessmen, Andrade suffered from poor health, a troubled marriage, and depression.

In 1956 a German reporter searched the Uruguayan capital of Montevideo and found him living in terrible conditions in a basement of a flat. Andrade was too intoxicated to understand the reporter’s questions. Within a year, Andrade died a penniless alcoholic in an asylum at the age of 56.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Black Cuban Women Smash White Cuban Male Business Barrier

Yvonne and Yvette Rodriguez, identical twin sisters, became the first Afro-Cuban women to break to into the old, white Cuban male dominated cigar industry with a boutique line called Tres Lindas Cubanas Cigars (Three Pretty Cuban Women’s Cigars) consisting of three different cigar blends — La Clarita, La Mulatta, and La Negrita.
 Ironically, the powerful truth about the world-famous authentic Cuban cigars made on the island of Cuba is that Afro-Cuban women are the ones doing the bulk of the cigar manufacturing by hand.

Yvette and Yvonne who grew up in South Miami Heights have been straddling African-American and Cuban culture since birth. They’d speak Spanish at home and dance to Spanish boleros as well as immerse themselves in R&B at Miami Southridge Senior High School. To this day, no one ever assumes that they’re Cuban until their rapid-fire “Spanglish” starts spilling from their mouths.
After high school, the two sisters went to Miami Dade College and then the University of Florida to pursue journalism degrees before parting ways as Yvette took a job reporting for Channel 7 and Yvonne began producing and editing programming for Spanish Telemundo television.

The concept of a cigar brand came to Yvonne in a daydream, which she shared with her sister Yvette. Soon after, she began consulting with her cigar-smoking boyfriend about the production side of the industry as well as with a Miami Cuban on vacation in Costa Rica who owned a tobacco farm in Nicaragua.
Soon, the twins were fast rolling on creating their own line of cigars using their Afro-Cuban culture as their distinct brand, which are now sold in shops from Chicago to Baltimore to Atlanta reaching more black consumers.

They’ve now partnered with other Afro-Cuban family businesses such as On Cuba Travel to host cigar and rum tours on the island of Cuba. They dream of one day owning a plot of land for a tobacco farm in their Cuban homeland..

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

I Seem Attractive to White and Mestiza Latinas

 As many of you know that with my explorations, research, and travels through Latin America, I try, as much as possible, to engage their black communities and be exposed to and immersed in black culture, which includes going out with black women. 

One thing I find baffling is that all the while I am admiring the “sistahs,” the white and mestizo women are admiring “me.” For example, while boarding planes in Mexico City and Panamá City (Panamá), wow; hot, sexy-looking women gave me such piercing eye-contact that I thought they were going to burn holes through me. At a popular night spot in the Lima, Perú, one of the female dancers (mestiza), came off the stage, bypassed several tables over to mine, and grabbed me by the wrist to dance with her and on stage.

I am often reminded that the reason the non-black women give me such attention is because of the black male sexual stereotypes. However, one of my blog readers, a black Panamanian women whom I will call “Katia,” gave me a more interesting take on the matter:
Black women, it seems, are more cautious because of personal experience and other issues that has been passed down for generations. There are wounds and scars that are being addressed and not being addressed, and wariness of men is one of them. From my own experience and observations of other women who have been hurt, we are guarded and observant.
Please do not take this personally because for every woman that does not admire or notice you, there are others who do.  The women who have been taught to focus on color are very superficial, and would not be good for any man. For every woman that does not admire you, there are 20 who do. They may not be as blatant about it as those who are obviously letting you know that they see you.
And because you are noticing those who are admiring you, you may be missing those who are inconspicuously noticing you in a more significant way. They are also watching your reactions to those very same women who appear to be admiring you.

Another Panamanian whom I will call  “Luisa” gave me an even more interesting perspective:

in my perspective also as a Afro Panamanian female. Is that African women on a hole no matter where we maybe be from, are subtle in our approach to men not necessarily because of negative experiences but because throughout history the cultural belief that a true lady never acts out aggressively.
In Panama specifically, most black females when encountered with a male that she may find to be attractive she may not ever directly stare at him you may notice that she creats eye contact only to then lower her eyes with a slightly smile, but she will never stare directly at you. 
She may glance at you but will not stare; ever. I have to say that I have noticed a more direct approach to men by African American, Dominican and Colombian women. I am not saying that this is a bad thing I am just pointing out characteristics in social behaviors.
Being a black woman or Latina is not a determinant in how she may approach or react. I would say that a more important influence would be the social behavior of the environment she was raised in. The black experience in Latin America was different to the experience in the USA. African-American women do have a very different demeanor and this also goes for women from the English West Indies. 
Don't get me wrong! Just because I tend to look at black women due to social conditioning growing up in the hood does not mean that I am not open to having a non-black woman in my life. What counts in the long run is how well we can get along, communicate, and understand one another. I have seen this simple formula work in relationships regardless of the color of the people involved.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Prejudice and the Spanish Language

Black Peruvian women dancing to Festejo music

During my travels in Latin America, I not only met black folks, but I met Asians, Middle Easterners, Jews, and Caucasions who are more "Latino" than many U.S. Latinos. I am too often baffled when I meet Latinos who are so unaware.

Yesterday, I went for my first appointment at a dental office in Harlem, NYC where there was a light-skinned African-American lady waiting ahead of me to check in. She asked the receptionist in perfect English, may I check in please? The Latina receptionist responded to her in Spanish. The lady retorted, NO SPANISH; thus, the Latina continued in English.

My turn came up with my darker-skinned self, and I told her in Spanish that I would like to register. She responded to me in English. I retorted NO INGLÉS (no English)! She knew I was pulling her leg and continued to speak English.

My million-dollar question is when will Latinos, of all people, get a revelation that you cannot determine a Spanish speaker by skin color? This receptionist herself is Afro-Dominican. You would think that she knew better.

As I have often said in many of my blog posts, during my travels, I met whites, blacks, Asians, and even Middle Easterners who are more Latino than most U.S. Latinos.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Afro Latina Reporter Confronts the KKK

Ilia Calderón, a black Colombian journalist with the Spanish language TV, Univisión, agreed to visit Chris Barker, the Loyal White Knights faction of the KKK on his wooded North Carolina property. She watched Mr. Barker lead a KKK meeting – carrying torches and wearing hooded robes before sitting down for an interview.

Ms. Calderón’s news team at Univisión warned her that she would be insulted, and she knew, but never imagined the level. She was threatened  so violently that she became concerned for her safety.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Thoughts of Defecting to Cuba!

Long before President Obama reopened diplomatic relations with Cuba, I arrived on the island legally by permission of the U.S. State Department to attend a Spanish language intensive training at the University of Havana. On my first day there, I had thoughts of defecting from the U.S. and becoming a Cuban citizen. I was so overwhelmed by the weather, the beautiful women, and the folksy, down-to-earth demeanor of the people; not to mention what I considered a heavenly world of salsa and Cuban music that passionately moved my soul. Being in a whole new Afrocentric world, I was rebellious and in love with Cuba.

However, I was recently listening to a song by singer Gloria Estéfan, Oye Mi Canto (Hear My Voice). The words alludes to her feelings about the current Cuban government and its effect on the people giving me a realistic, ambivalent reminder about the land I fell in love with.

Estéfan who herself is Cuban born knows the side of Cuba that we visitors who are having the time of our lives do not see or even care to see. People do not have the right to speak their minds as the Cuban government dictates what is right and what is wrong. They assert only one way—the Cuban way in the name of the revolution. And that revolution, they say, is eternal. Anyone who openly expresses their dislike of Castro the way the way so many Americans express their dislike of Donald Trump would be expeditiously imprisoned. Cuban nationals do not have the freedom to speak out orally or in writing or read literature not government approved.

Francisco, one of many black Cubans who happily left Cuba for the U.S. through the 1980 Mariel boatlift, told me that had I defected, Cubans on the island would have been surely hating on me. They would view me as a damn fool because so many Cubans long to be in my shoes to the point of risking their own lives on rickety rafts, sailing through shark infested waters, to escape Cuba for the U.S. He added, unless I was a revolutionary like Huey P. Newton or Assata Shakur escaping political vengeance, Cuban people would have never understood why I would make such a stupid-ass move.

Couch surfing in Havana
In the living room of my Havana homestay 

In the beginning, it was primarily wealthy, white Cubans and only a sprinkling of black Cubans who fled the island, which lead me to the one thing I admired about Fidel Castro. He is the only Latin-American leader that I know of who stood up and spoke out against racism in his country. Since he took office, there has been a surge in the number of black professionals, many in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and medicine. But as decades passed, and a new generation of blacks, such as Francisco, grew up seeing that this so-called “revolution” has gotten them nowhere; thus, more and more Cuban blacks began to flee the island.

Upon my arrival in Havana, I befriended, Luisa, a woman whom I thought would help me get immersed in the Spanish language and Afro-Cuban culture. However, it was no more than a minute after she and I were alone when she begged me to bring back to the U.S.A. I was so blinded by my exhilaration with this new Cuban experience, which was off limits to the average American, I never bothered to inquire as to why she would want to leave. Instead, I told her that I preferred to stay in Cuba and help support the revolution. She did not respond, but looked me seemingly wanting to tell me, geez, if you only knew, bruh; if you only knew!

Hot summer in Havana
Chilling in the hot Cuban sun over their national drink—
The Mojito

The poverty was evident as the average salary did not exceed $25 per month. Many professionals are forced to moonlight as cab drivers, entertainers, and hustlers to make ends meet. There were nights when I had nothing to do, and I would take Luisa to a local El Rápido restaurant, similar to Kentucky Fried Chicken in the U.S., where as far as I was concerned, we were just “kicking, it” in Spanish, but to Luisa, she was being well fed. With my American dollars, which at the time was exchangeable for 20 Cuban pesos per dollar, I was in the best of shape, and Cuban people treated me royally. But had I defected, run out of money, and had to survive on a Cuban economy, I too would have been very unhappy and ready to leave.

Upon my return to the U.S., many Cuban-Americans were highly upset with me for taking the trip and supporting the Fidel Castro regime. Lydia, a black Cuban woman pulled me aside and suggested that I read the book, “Hijack” by Anthony Bryant, a former Black Panther with a criminal record who hijacked a plane to Cuba in the name of the revolution and ended up spending 12 years in a Cuban prison for robbing the passengers, one of whom was an undercover, Cuban official.

Former Black Panther Anthony Bryant wrote about his Cuban experience in his book entitled “Hijack.”

In his book, Anthony describes a Cuba we visitors will never see or experience because the country wants the tourist dollars. He even described the Cuban prison system as one that would make U.S. prisons look like Five-Star hotels. However, when Bryant was finally able to return to the U.S., he was no longer a black revolutionary, but a right-wing republican.

Although, Castro made a gallant effort to crush racism in Cuba, racism persists to this day. In fact, a form of apartheid is practiced where black Cubans are required show IDs when entering popular tourist areas. Even black American and black Canadian tourists have been stopped and carded because they were thought to be Afro Cuban. Lydia also brought to my attention an Afro-Cuban civil rights leader, Oscar Elias Biscet, who was given a 25-year prison sentence for starting an organization similar to the NAACP in the U.S. He was eventually released under pressure from the UN and various international human rights organizations.

Rumba dancing
An Afro-Cuban (rumba) dance class on the porch of my homestay for American visitors.

Vladimir, an Afro-Cuban neighbor of mine who also escaped Cuba on a rickety raft connected me with his family back in Havana. However, when he saw the glow of joy on my face upon return, wearing my Cuban t-shirts and baseball cap and listening to Cuban music, all he could do was shake his head and laugh because he knew first-hand the despicable things I missed out on simply because I was only a visitor.

As I sit here writing this blog post years later, I declare that my love is for the Cuban people and not for the Cuban government. Thus, I trash all those wild thoughts of defecting to Cuba. Yes, the U.S.A. has issues, but here we can vote, protest, boycott, and write letters and other correspondence to make changes where such actions would not be tolerated in Cuba.

I truly believe that we who enjoy visiting Cuba should be thinking about what we could be doing to help every day Cuban people economically while we are there without breaking the bank. For example, when I gave Luisa's seven-year-old son a pad of writing paper and some ink pens, he was so thrilled that he high-fived me as though I gave him $50 bill. 

We Americans also need to be pushing strongly for the end of the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba, which I saw first-hand how it is hurting innocent men, women, and children much more than it is hurting the Cuban government. We are talking about people who feel no animosity towards Americans, yet they are the ones bearing the major brunt of the Washington-Havana conflict.

To the land of Cuba and it's lovely people, I can only say to you: 

¡Cuba, que lindo son tus paisajes, 
que lindo TU eres, 
que viva tu CULTURA para siempre!

Cuba, how beautiful are your countrysides, 
how beautiful YOU are, 
may your CULTURE live for ever and ever!