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U Black, Maybe [AfroLatino, Part Two]

by Jose Vilson on September 19, 2011

in Jose

Mario Morales, AfroLatino

When we talk about black maybe
We talk about situations
Of people of color and because you are that color
You endure obstacles and opposition
And not all the time from … from other nationalities
Sometimes it comes from your own kind
Or maybe even your own mind
You get judged … you get laughed at…you get looked at wrong
You get sighted for not being strong
The struggle of just being you
The struggle of just being us…black maybe

- Common, “U Black, Maybe”

There’s something about being AfroLatino that people don’t quite understand. There’s an understanding of seeing race and culture as these malleable things that far too many people can’t always comprehend. Self-identity as a process complicates relationships, because whenever you think you have yourself figured out, others’ perceptions of you interfere with the mold you’ve already decided for yourself. They probe, poke, talk, whisper, yell, ask too many damn questions, and you’re asked to answer them as if you’re the representative of everyone in this self-identifying category. In general, people compromise on the intersection of race as a perception of self and a perception of someone else.

That’s why AfroLatinos get aggravated the most. People who consider themselves of one definite race never understand the emphasis of such a title. Many White people think it’s an intimidating title assuring the dominant culture that they won’t conform to their simplistic racial structures. Whether the reason they’re intimidated is because of the Afro or Latino remains to be seen. Many Black people, on the other hand, see the term AfroLatino as a way for people from Latin America to ostracize if not banish their African roots in favor of the Spaniard colonizers’ blood. Of course, I question whether people never noticed that the title “AfroLatino” puts Black first, and “Latino” isn’t the same as Spanish.

But it seems that, for many, speaking Spanish and being Spanish are exactly the same thing.

As we speak, people question whether such a title dilutes or disbands people of color in certain struggles for equity. To that end, I have four things to say. First, AfroLatino for almost everyone I know almost always means an inclusion and understanding of all the parts they represent and the histories that come with our origins. Secondly, we usually do this against the wishes and nudges of our last generation’s countries of origin (i.e. Dominican Republic, Mexico, Brazil), accentuating our Blackness as we grow. Third, we as a whole have to do better in finding characteristics of our race and culture without highlighting the negatives exclusively, because we’re allowed to smile against those odds and should continue to do so.

Fourth, one of the greatest African-American cultural researchers and scholars happened to be an AfroLatino: Arturo Schomburg. Not ironically, the public library and museum named after him are a few blocks away from Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and on Malcolm X Boulevard right in the middle of USA’s original Black Mecca: Harlem. During his time on this Earth, people of his own kind belittled the contributions he made to the cultural movement, but now people recognize what he’s done not just for people of color in this country, for an entire nation.

Afro-Latino is a term of unity, an umbrella under which we invite people to contribute the best of their culture and progress past the titles set for us under rules we didn’t create but perpetuate. I can be Latino and Black at the same time, because my contributions to both cultures may not be enumerated or listed.

It’s tough enough just being ourselves when people want us to conform to their order. While people may point to outside factors for their own identification, I assure you my revolution is much more personal.

Mr. Vilson, who will have more to say by mañana …

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Crazy Eights

by Jose Vilson on August 3, 2007

in Jose

Borrowed from J. Dakar:

The Rules:
1. We have to post these rules before we give you the facts.
2. Players start with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
3. People who are tagged write their own blog post about their eight things and include these rules.
4. At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names. Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged and that they should read your blog.
5. 8 is a magic number. Though three is the magic number. (I changed this line.)

Eight Obscure Things About Me:

Derek Jeter

1. Derek Jeter’s my favorite baseball player. I love the heart and determination he shows on and off the field. From baggin’ every chick most dudes want to to baggin’ awards and stats left and right, he’s the epitome of awesome. That and the media gives him a pass for everything he does. He’s one of NY’s true kings. Plus, I got his home and away jerseys.

AlexRodriguez2.jpg

2. Alex Rodriguez is now a close second, surpassing just about anyone I can think of. I think the fact that he’s been playing with a “chip on his shoulder” really endears me to him more than anything. Despite the little blond streaks and the cheating sprees, he’s still a fantastic player on both ends of the field, so give him his crown already people. If he stays in NY, give him his “true Yankee” label already. ::rolls eyes::

2. If something were to ever happen to my favorite city ever (NYC), I’d move to either D.C., Chicago, or San Francisco. Let’s not let that happen, though.

3. As a math teacher, I gotta say: I didn’t choose math; math chose me. When I filled out the application through the NYCTF process, I don’t even remember what I wrote in, but they figured since I have a computer science degree, I must be good at math. I’m good, but if I had a choice, I’d teach … everything. Math, ELA, and social studies. Then again, maybe not. Math it is.

4. I have a slew of books I haven’t read yet, and that are waiting to be read. By my estimates, it’s a good 25 of them. I’ll get to them eventually …

Common’s “Finding Forever”

5. I sing along to my favorite songs on my iPod (Common’s Finding Forever currently on rotation), no matter what song it is or time of day. I don’t care how people look at me; I’m going to sing and/or rap, f******.

6. I search for myself on Google just to see if my name is inappropriately associated with anything … and usually run into very interesting things. It’s mostly positive now, but wow.

7. I’m somewhere in between obscure and easily found. I have a MySpace, Facebook, Yahoo, AIM, MSN, GMail, my own site, an NYCDOE e-mail, CCNY, Syr, and a few other accounts out there I haven’t taken into account. I’ve had most of the social networking sites even before they became trendy. With that said, people always say how hard it is to reach me. Please …

Joe Budden

8. The five contemporary famous people I’d like to meet are: Common, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Jay-Z, and Joe Budden. There it goes. The Rock would be cool, and I’ve already met Talib, Rakim, and Chuck D, so I’m fine.

Tag. You’re it:

You, you, you, you, you, you, you, and you …

jose, going to New Orleans this weekend …

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U, Black Maybe

by Jose Vilson on August 2, 2007

in Jose

Common’s “Finding Forever”What I omitted about my latest Rock the Bells concert situation was when the same Canadian went up to my girl and said, “And you’re 1/2 White and 1/2 Black?”

“Why do you say that?” she replied in her usual inquisitive voice.

“Because of your nose.”

I let out a hearty laugh, because as it turns out, she’s Colombian and Ecuadorian, yet because of her mind state, she never gets offended by people confusing what she might or might not be.

I guess in his mind, though, there’s no doubt as to what I am. Suffice it to say, people immediately peg me as “Black.” That’s fine; there’s nothing wrong with that. What’s unfortunate, though, is how limiting these labels become. What does it mean to be Black in this country? And does it allow for people who don’t necessarily fit right in that slot?

After all, practically all my life, I never quite fit into the “Black experience” in America. As a Dominican-Haitian-American, I didn’t have the big family reunions in the park, the knowledge of Haitian Creole that I would have liked to, or even the pride in my country that these groups are respectively known for. For the most part, I’ve been waltzing through the four cultures (Dominican, Haitian, Black-American, American) just sampling each, and feeling rejection at various points from all. When people ask me for my background, I tell them “Dominican-Haitian, or Black will do” because that’s what the question entails, but sometimes I wish “Planet Earth” sufficed. (I sometimes wonder about that, too.)

So when I go to Santo Domingo, the capital of Dominican Republic, I see a sea of Africans who’ve made their homes there. I’ve seen very few people who were fair-skinned in the barrio I come from. Yet, when I go there, I’m outcast twice: for being Haitian and American. I tried to fit in, but eventually, the truth about my upbringing comes through.

The same dynamic happens when I’m with my Haitian relatives: while I can still hang with them, eat the foods, and read as much history about Haiti as humanly possible, I still feel that disconnect because I can’t communicate with them in Creole, so I can’t understand the jokes, the music, or what that particular thing is called that this person’s asking me to get for her. Even to this day, this has often brought people to question whether I’m even a real Vilson.

I attribute these sentiments to a father who wasn’t consistently there, a mother who loves me but didn’t teach me Dominican history, and a society so disturbed, it can map out what race is supposed to look like and deny the definitions in the same breadth. Not only until recently did I hear my grandaunt and my mother proclaim their African roots. That certainly would have helped the little boy I was to sift through this cultural clutter.

QuisqueyaI’m also critical of the categories those early social scientists and politicians constructed for humans. These divisions exist primarily to divide. How much easier was it for Rafael Trujillo to justify the genocide of and contempt for Haitians when Dominicans could fall under every other name but “Black” even when they looked so alike to them? How easy is it to insulate “desirable” communities in this country if people have to fill in the category they were taught to bubble in on the basis of race? How wonderful is it that people who are “mutts” can be shown disrespect for giving credence to the idea of race (“Race is just a social construct! You fit in just fine!”) AND on the same end, for not being “enough” of one race.

Then, I look at my experiences as a Dominican-Haitian-American, and realize that as many obstacles and tribulations I’ve had, they eventually made me who I am, and I love that person. I love my ability to switch between English and Spanish, to enjoy merengue, hip-hop, salsa, bachata, and rock with no qualms. I’ve been in executive boards of Black and Latino organizations, and held memberships in Haitian and Carribean organizations. I can write about these experiences from my own perspective. I love my brown skin, and how it only costs me a few dollars to get a haircut. (I love my ass, too, but mainly because of the positive reactions I get from women. I can’t help that.)

And I can finally tell the boy wrapped up in the confusion that he’ll find his own path , because it’s the path he’ll have to make for himself …

When we talk about black maybe
We talk about situations
Of people of color and because you are that color
You endure obstacles and opposition
And not all the time from….from other nationalities
Sometimes it comes from your own kind
Or maybe even your own mind
You get judged…you get laughed at…you get looked at wrong
You get sighted for not being strong
The struggle of just being you
The struggle of just being us…black maybe

Common – “U, Black Maybe”

jose

Ed. Note: For a little perspective, my colleague Andy A. sent me this excellent article yesterday about how Dominican women straightening out their hair is a direct reflection of their denial of their African heritage. It’s all part of the Miami Herald’s series of articles about Afro-Latin Americans. What’s funny about this series is that it confirms exactly what I uncovered about my own history: my Dominican ancestors continually deny their African heritage because that’s all they’ve ever known.

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