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Black in Latin America in Review

 Black in Latin America is a four-part series on the influence of African descent on Latin America produced by Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr. He featured six Latin-American countries in the series: Haiti, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Brazil, Mexico, and Peru. Many people don’t know that only 450,000 Africans arrived in the United States. More than 10.5 million were taken to the Caribbean and Latin America. Brazil has the 2nd largest black population in the world.
After watching all four parts of the documentary I am proud of being black and it hurts me to see others have such disdain for their African heritage. But I understand it is the effects of slavery. The documentaries show how the world does not acknowledge certain parts of black history. France, Britain and the Americas refused to recognize Haiti as a free country. Thomas Jefferson referred to Haiti as “cannibals of the terrible republic”. Haitians have a rich history in being the 1stfree black republic. They were originally brought to the DR to work the jobs that Dominicans refused. As a result Dominicans saw themselves as better than Haitians. Growing up in Miami being called a Haitian was an insult.  I believe it is still the slavery mentality that people carry towards Haitians because they are simply Africans, undiluted, with the same blood and same features.
Many Latin Americans sense of self was Spanish, not black or white. They saw Spain as their motherland. The common theme among all the countries was the darkest people; the African-looking people were the poorest. Black Hispanics have encountered a noticeable degree of racial discrimination and prejudice, due to the sociocultural leftovers from colonial times. The black element had been repressed. Elitist set out to whiten their heroes if they were too black and outlaw black practices. President Rafael Trujillo of Dominican Republic, who led an Anti-Haitian regime, was said to have used make-up to whiten his face. He also ordered the killings of over 20,000 Haitians in 1937.  Despite the fact that more slaves went to Mexico and Peru than in the U.S it is very common for Mexicans to “hide their black grandmas in the closet” still to this day. Gates says “you can’t be great if you try to suppress a huge part of your history, your identity.”  There are still many black Latin Americans fighting for equality within government, media, education and public policy.
Ever heard someone say they want to date someone light skin with “good hair” just for the sake of having kids with them? Too many black Americans and Caribbean’s favor light skin, straight hair and light eyes. It seems straightening your hair makes one feel prettier. No one wants to be just black.  Your great-great-great grandmother was a Navajo Indian so you claim “I got some Indian in me” as if being black is negative.  Its almost expected that people are of mixed races. I appreciate all the inter-racial couples that lead to my existence but am I supposed to go around claiming every ethnic ancestor I have? I would be Scottish, French, Syrian Jew, Cuban, Indian, and Chinese Jamaican.  In Latin America the denial of being black is quiet, unspoken but in some places it is very loud and outright. People say “she’s pretty for a dark skin girl” as if being light skin makes one beautiful. But sadly that is how some people feel. Bleaching of the skin is becoming this huge epidemic among Caribbeans and even some Africans. I believe bleaching is a clear sign of self-hatred, the desire to erase how God made you in order to be something else. But can I really blame them? It has been shown that if your light skin or exotic looking you get more attention, respect. Social climbing is based on embracing a white identity. Most, if not all, high-ranking government officials in the Caribbean and Latin Americas have been light skin. Slavery was a powerful thing that worked, it stripped people of their roots, the thing that connects us all. It made us segregate each other instead of building with each other.
I recommend watching the Black in Latin America series and see for yourself. I believe the purposes of these documentaries are to expose the denial of African ancestry as well as showcase how integrated Africa is in Latin America. You will see the many Hispanics still holding on to African roots through food, music, and religion. You will learn of an ignored history. Watch and ask yourself if you still carry the traces of a slave mentality and how your life is influence by Africa?

Black in Latin America, PBS Video– All four parts


Writing saved my life…

I am a thought sought out by curious minds“…my favorite quote I wrote in 12th grade creative writing class. I always felt like I was born a writer, a poet but until recently I realized my passion and gift started somewhere. I have had this partial memory of being 8 years old alongside my older sister and being introduced to poetry. We were taken out of class to learn about rhyming and haikus not just for poetry sake but because it was counseling. I know now it was grief counseling through a creative outlet to deal with the death of my older brother. I suppressed the counseling part and held on to the poetry. But I was told to remember the good things about him and write that. So I wrote and haven’t stopped since.  I realized that we will never know the complete plans of God and all that he has in store for us and why things happen. I acknowledge that God gave me poetry, adjectives, verbs, prose and monologue, so I could cope. God saw my pain, my loss and gave me new life by breathing creativity into my heart.  Writing became my refuge, my world I lived in. I mourned through my paper and pen and was comforted with my words. I wrote poems, simple sentences and random thoughts. I was told to be a good writer you have to read and write a lot. I read sci-fiction, murder mystery, non-fiction, even trashy romance novels. In middle school I once read a book about how to skin animals.  Clearly I just wanted to read anything.

Growing up and making friends I rarely came across men that enjoyed reading as much as I did. And now I feel that people barely read or even write. Reading helps in mental development and is an activity that involves greater levels of concentration and adds to ones conversational skills.   We write Facebook statutes and tweets. We can’t spell if it wasn’t for spellcheck and I am guilty of depending on that too much myself. In college no one wants to read their class books much less a recreational book. Instead of reading a book people read The art of writing letters has even died. I can just expect a bill in the mail. I love to feel a pen to paper versus fingers to keys. I remember the Harlem Renaissance and the passion that was once felt for literature. African-American writers living in Paris and creating rhythm and beats to words are the inspirations that I cling to. The works of Sonia Sanchez, Claude McKay, Nikki Giovanni, James Baldwin, Zora Neale Hurston, Ralph Waldo Ellison, Langston Hughes and many others have fueled my passions and desire for knowledge.

It has famously been said “The best way to hide something from a black man is to put it in a book.” Maybe this quote makes sense to why the black men have the lowest high school graduation rate of any other group and their college enrollment is so low. I find it crazy how slaves risked beatings and death to learn to read and write and now you would have to beat someone to make them read and write. I choose to honor the memory of my brother and my ancestors by writing and reading. I use my words for positive upliftment and read to gain insight and education so that I may never be a slave to anyone nor dead to the world.