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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 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, grabbed me stage 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 suddle 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!

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Argentina’s Forgotten Black Hero, Dubbed as the Mother of Her Country



The first news of María Remedios del Valle on the battlefield goes back to her participation of her defense against the English invasions as she attended and kept the soldiers’ backpacks to lighten their march to battle wrote, the combat corps commander.

On July 6, 1810, María joined her husband and two children in the ranks of the auxiliary army and stood out in three other battles before falling into Spanish hands with six gunshot wounds to her body. She was whipped in public for nine days; survived the punishment, and escaped and rejoined the fight for Argentina again.



On September 23, 1812, on the eve of a major battle, she went before the general and begged him to let her help the wounded that were piling up on the front lines. The general refused stating that the battlefield was no place for women. Remedios del Valle defied the general’s orders and soon became legend among the troops, which began to refer to her as the mother of their country. The general finally gave up and admitted the only woman into his militia.

On 11 October 1827, the deputies of the Board of Representatives of the province of Buenos Aires called her a heroine, and were it not for her race, gender, and impoverished condition, she would have become nationally renowned. It was later recommended that her biography be written and a monument made in her honor, but that was too much for Argentina. They could not handle a poor, black female getting all the glory that should go to white men. 



However, a street in the city of Buenos Aires and one in two other cities were named after her. In addition, three schools and a woman’s house were named in honor of Maria Remedios del Valle as well.


She died alone and in misery begging in Buenos Aires on November 8, 1847. It should not be forgotten that the black population of Buenos Aires in 1810 was more than 20%. The Argentine blacks were a substantial and essential part of the independence struggle covering 65% of the battle stations for independence.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Diversity of Black America


When I speak of America, I speak of Canada, the USA, and countries all the way down to Argentina. When I speak of Black America, I speak of blacks in Canada, the USA, and countries all the way down to Argentina.
It was a Spanish-speaking member of an Afro-Latino forum of which I am a member who pointed out what I have been preaching throughout my seven years of blogging. Black Americans face the same struggles as black Latinos. He asserts what even I as an African American have witnessed is that many American blacks as well as many black Latinos have trouble accepting the fact that the black experience in the U.S. come in many cultural flavors; American, Cuban, Brazilian, Jamaican, Nigerian, Puerto Rican, Bajan, Panamanian, Ghanaian, Dominican, Belizean, Columbian, Canadian, British, Aboriginal, etc. 

He stressed to other Afro Latinos in the forum that they need to give us African-Americans time to catch up to this new reality. After all, we are all stronger together than we are apart, and we, collectively speaking, should not let the old divide-and-conquer ploy destroy our progress.



He, among many other foreign born blacks, feel that a large portion of the African-American population have a blind spot when it comes to members of the African diaspora. That is true in one sense, but historically, we have also been the most supportive. It is so ironic when members of the diaspora want to throw rocks at African Americans while standing on ground literally made fertile by the spilled blood of African Americans over centuries of struggle. Blacks like Marcus Garvey (Jamaica), Malcolm X (USA), and Kwame Nkrumah (Ghana) generally have been the most Pan-African among the diaspora.

I find it comical that my own blackness from time to time gets questioned by a few fellow African Americans because I speak Spanish and have a love for Spanish music (as I do R&B, jazz, folk, classical, and Haitian). I believe such confusion lies in our lack of knowledge of the black diversity in the western world. In the U.S., we African Americans were taught in school about slavery and Jim Crow, but what we were never taught that slavery of Africans started in Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South American over 100 years before that of the U.S. 

Collectively, there are far more Spanish-speaking black folks scattered throughout the Caribbean, Mexico, Central and South America than there are English-speaking black folks. We blacks in the western world also speak Portuguese, French, Creole, Gullah, Dutch, Garífuna, and Gullah as a first language.



As an admirer and explorer of Afro-Latino culture, I do not discuss race with Afro Latinos unless they either bring it up first, or until I realize how they define themselves. When a black Puerto Rican tells me he is not black, but Puerto Rican, they are saying that they do not know or do not want to know the difference between their race and their ethnicity. Black people in Latin America, even the ones who migrate to the U.S. view themselves by their nationalities first.

One Afro Latino with dual citizenship with Panama and the U.S.A. pointed out that no matter where he goes on this earth, his blackness is what people see before they hear his accent, his language, or his ideas. Interestingly, during my travels through Latin America, people of every race saw my skin color and assumed that I was just another black from their country until they heard my foreign accent and saw my passport. Then, my skin color faded and I was seen as nothing more than an American.

At the recent Dominican Day parade here in New York, a black man whose roots are in the Dominican Public asserted that he is black first and foremost because of the racism he experienced based on his skin color. When he orders his grocery items in fluent Spanish at the local bodega owned and staffed by light skinned Dominicans, he says that they do not see him as a fellow Dominican because of his color and always respond in English.

Just as many African Americans are not aware of the cultural diversity of the black race in America, many Latinos are not aware of the racial diversity among their fellow Latinos. During my travels, I met Latin-American people of African, Asian, Jewish, European, and Indigenous; all of whom speak Spanish as a first language.