La Medicina

Jose Vilson Jose 5 Comments


Big props to everyone who visited my site yesterday. A link in the New York Magazine’s Daily Intelligencer and Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York, for a good 300 hits, (best day total) ever didn’t hurt either.

Anyways, I’m in Miami, FL, now, and so far it’s been interesting. I partied a little bit last night with my family and their friends at a star-studded party (Dwayne Wade, Shawn Marion, Cee-Lo, Clinton Portis, etc.). I wasn’t really interested in much of the fan-fare outside of giving a couple of these dudes dap. I was more into just having fun and laughing at how many girls really thought they were going to get close to the dudes mentioned.

Whenever I come to Miami, I always have these revelatory conversations with my brothers, sisters, and cousins on my father’s side. It’s interesting coming to a place with such a high density of both Dominicans and Haitians. On the one hand, we enjoy each other’s company, throwing barbs at each other endlessly and ranking who amongst us is the most cocky (not surprisingly, I come in next to last). On the other hand, I always wonder what my family members are saying in their fluent Creole, the language I don’t speak despite my Haitian background.

This probably came up because one of my cousins has a ringtone for “Zouk La,” a really popular Haitian song. It struck me as odd because I had been listening to this song for years under the name “La Medicina” by Wilfredo Vargas. Holy crap, it’s more evidence that Dominicans and Haitians aren’t that far apart from each other (if at all). I let my brother and cousin listen to it on the iPod and even they seemed impressed by this interesting instant research.

But even in those actions, I still find myself having to answer to statements and questions I thought I long resolved. My answers are usually:

  • No, I’m not prissy because I use big words.
  • I have a good 50% chance of learning Creole if I live in Haiti for a few months, but otherwise, it looks closer to 10%.
  • I don’t hold “the people” to a different standard than I do White people.
  • I’m not giving anyone any leeway if they’re arguing for Bill O’Reilly.
  • Just because I don’t care much for BET, Popeye’s Chicken, or Tyler Perry movies doesn’t make me any less Black than the rest of you.

Of course, those were just ideas that popped into my head. I would like to think that my actions as a teacher, poet, activist, and writer speak for themselves. The questions will continue to follow me so long as I live. There aren’t any books out there that detail my experience, or blogs I can turn to so I can discuss this dichotomy. Unfortunately, many of my AfroLatino brethren would rather choose a side than embrace their being as a whole.

And I understand that, because I couldn’t even come to terms with my Blackness because of my father’s past, but after the while, the truth seeps in. It reminds me of the first couple of chapters in Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, which I’m reading now. All it takes is a little simple deception and narrowing our frame of reference, thus dividing and conquering us, and pitting us against each other even within our families.

But as the merengue keeps playing in my iPod, I still find myself looking for la medicina that might cure us of our ills …

jose, who doesn’t normally post on friday …

About Jose Vilson

José Luis Vilson is a math educator, blogger, speaker, and activist. For more of my writing, buy my book This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education, on sale now.

Comments 5

  1. Frumteacher

    Dear Jose,

    Although it can be comforting to read blogs of people that experience the same, I don’t think you need such blogs. From what I have been reading, you know very well where you came from, and you are proud of your heritage. The days of choosing sides and belonging to only one group are over. We live in a global world and I believe that more and more, it’s our personalities that count. Our heritage defines who we are, but you can’t see one part without the other. The fact that not everybody sees it that way (yet) doesn’t mean you need to defend yourself.

  2. Post

    It’s not about that, Frum. I was more referring to books that discuss those experiences. As a youth, it’s disheartening to see (or not see) the amount of books written about you. When you’re young, you want that validation about your culture, which is why books are important. And while I understand your views about how personalities count, so do cultures, and increasingly so because of our mass exposure to more of them. When we see a lack of documentation about ourselves, while it’s not the end-all-be-all as far as validation, it serves its purpose and helps us understand ourselves. Fortunately for me, I learned to incorporate a little bit of everything, or I’d be lost.

  3. LD

    Just wanted to let you know I was reading, though a tad bit lazy to comment.

    And I like Tyler Perry movies and Popeye’s chicken, thanks.



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