Tag: Blacks who Speak Spanish
Teaching My African American Brothers Spanish
“I think music is a good way to learn Spanish,” he said after he completed a lesson on Jeremih and Pitbull’s “Don’t Tell Em’/No le diga”. My youngest brother hit the nail on the head with that one. Music can take anyone’s language learning from 10 to 100 real quick. It was only after listening to “No Tengo Dinero” by Los Kumbia Kings that I understood the “yo” form of “tener”. Music and media are great ways to make a language come alive.
My younger brothers and my mom sit at the dining room table that doubles as a classroom desk and we learn together. We discuss colors, numbers, phrases and everyday terms. Terms that will not only help them to chat with neighbors down the street but learn about a new culture. I love to teach the language but it is our talks about Afro-Latinidad that inspire me the most.
The dominant narrative on Blackness may be African American but this is my little way to counter it. For one class project, I had my family research and present Latinegr@ figures to the class. My mother showed us singer Maxwell. One of my brothers presented actor Laz Alonso. I was stoked that they were recognizing that the Black diaspora is diverse.
When I was a teenager in Spanish class, I learned nothing of Latinegr@ histories. That is why my goal is for them to see how learning Spanish relates to them. In addition to talking about Latinegr@s, we talk about African Americans who travel. We recite phrases like “Yo soy inteligente” because they are Black excellence. Spanish class is a memory for the laughs, jokes and moments we share. But most importantly, it is something they can take with them. A skill that will lead to jobs in the future and cross-cultural connections.
A skill that will become a part of their being and experience.
A moment that we will cherish forever.
This was originally published on the LatiNegr@s Project.
SPOTLIGHT OF THE MONTH: Author Tony Polanco
Every month Black Girl, Latin World spotlights organizations, artists and other individuals whose work champions Afrolatinidad. April’s spotlight is Verses From the Diaspora author Tony Polanco, an artist I met while visiting New York City in 2014. He fills us in on his writing, passion for Blackness and why he believes ambition and dreams are so important for our Black youth.
What motivated you to create art that is centered around the diaspora?
When my father was deported in 2002, I realized that my family roots were essential to my identity as the son of a Afro Latino. I carry my family history and culture through my very existence
Why is it important for Afrolatinos and African Americans to dialogue?
It is important because both Afro Latinos and African Americans face discrimination. I’m involved in community organizing in Crown heights (little Panamá), Bk with an organization called “Black Alliance for Just Immigration” where we share our cultural differences as a way to learn from each and build solidarity. It is very important for us to learn of each other because we have shared experiences. Although there are cultural differences, we still share cultural similarities. Our Music, arts and culture are ways we all express ourselves. One example, hip hop, can be found in all parts of the Diaspora. Did you know the current capital of underground hip hop is in South America?
What inspires your writing?
My real life experiences. Traveling, dealing with issues of identity and just being affected by displacement.
What advice do you have for young writers?
My advice is to always remain true to yourself as a writer and to remember that the power of documenting is an important job.
What is your philosophy?
My philosophy is to document history that has been hidden or eliminated. Everything I do is for the African Diaspora. Throughout life, I have witnessed the pain of our people when they feel associated with blackness and African culture. I feel like it’s my responsibility to show the pride in our Africaness.
Everything I do is for the African Diaspora.
Why is following your dreams important to you?
Following your dreams is important because we all have a calling. I feel compelled whenever I feel determined and ambitious. Denying that is a betrayal to yourself. When writing my book, there were so many hurdles and challenges. However, the determination to publish kept me focused.
How can readers get a hold of your work?
Right now, the book is available through request online through facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
What are you working on now?
I am working on a mini web series entitled “Stanzas” about the highs and lows of poets in NYC.
Thank you Tony for sharing a piece of your creative story with us. We wish you the best of blessings in your projects and life. Keep up the great work.
If you or anyone you know would like to be featured in our monthly spotlight, email BGLW at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Afrolatinidad In Texas
A while ago, on the Afrolatinos facebook page, a member posted about her experience as an Afrolatina in the South. She pointed out that many people she comes in contact with don’t understand the concept of being both Black and Latina.
The conversation thread exploded. For two days, people commented with experiences, opinions and advice. Even I chimed in as an Afro-American Spanish speaking body in Texas. People are shocked when they find that I know Spanish. Where I am from a Black person speaking anything other than English is looked at as strange or interesting.
The main takeaways/experiences mentioned on the thread were:
—Frustrations around people not believing that they were Latin@
—People speak badly in Spanish about Black people around them not expecting them to understand
—Lack of Media attention for Afrolatin@ issues/figures
When someone doesn’t understand your identity, it can be easy to get upset. But I like to look at everything as a teaching moment. Telling them about your experience and identity might just be the seed that can help them grow into an ally.
Here is a list of fine folk whose work champions Afrolatinidad. And get this…they are all based (Although they are not all from) in the Lone Star State. You can share these with your students, teachers and families.
Toi Scott-Artist, Writer and Activist, More info about Toi’s work on: http://www.afrogenderqueer.com
Dr. Frank Guridy, Professor at University of Texas at Austin, Author of Forging Diaspora: Afro-Cubans and African Americans in a World of Empire and Jim Crow
Ishia Lynette AKA Afromexico, Writer for Real Brown Girls.
Dr. Juilet Hooker, Professor at the University of Texas at Austin, Faculty-Lead of Bluefields, Nicaragua Study Abroad Program.
Dr. Jossianna Arroyo-Martinez, Professor at the University of Texas at Austin, Teaches Afrolatino Culture and Afro-Carribean Diaspora courses.
Let’s add to the list of resources
Part of me believes that these experinces noted in the Afrolatinos facebook page post happen due to lack of education and media representation. Yes, even in Texas there are Latinegr@ spaces. It may not be as prevalant as New York City or Miami but these spaces exist. And it’s up to us to have more discussions on this topic in our southern arts orgs, elementary schools and culture centers.
I invite you to add to the list of Texas-based Latinegr@s scholars, artists, allies, resources etc. Share these with your family. Educate ourselves and our community. Knowledge is Power.
This was originally published on The Latinegr@s Project website.
“Adios Felicia”: the Spanish Speaking “African American” Part 2
A few months ago, I walked into a local Mexican restaurant. The waitress, named Felicia, asked for my friends Jorge and Juan’s order in Spanish. I was excited because when I go to Mexican restaurants, I usually get the opportunity to practice my second language. When Felicia gets to me, she asks in English “What can I get you?” I took no offense and gave her my order in Spanish. Her next words continued to be English.
I could feel my face getting hot. I was frustrated, embarrassed and if it weren’t for the fact that I didn’t drive there, I would have left then and there. Maybe that is me being over dramatic, but that is the way I felt at the time. What I wanted to say was “Adios Felicia”, but instead I ordered my torta. I get it. If you see a person that looks like me: Brown skinned, curly locs, it’s obvious that they only speak one language. English. Right? Jorge and Juan’s olive skin and straight Black hair read Spanish-speaking. This is Texas and the majority of folks who can rattle off at the mouth like Telenovela stars look nothing like me.
While I am not Afro-Latin@, I am aware that my experience with Felicia is very similar to many of my friends who identify as Latinegr@. The color of their skin and African features causes both non-Black Latin@s and African Americans to question their Latinidad. They are frequently responded to in English and asked “Why do you speak Spanish so well?” Many want to scream to the roof tops that they are Black and Latin@; both at once. Many people don’t know that Blackness, Latinidad and Africanness are important parts of Latin@ history, culture and experiences.
In the African American community, speaking Spanish results in questions that deal with essentializing Blackness. When I was working on a political campaign, there was another African American Spanish speaker and I overheard an African American colleague ask if he was a “real” Black person because he spoke Spanish so well. Since when does speaking Spanish make you less Black?
Let’s be honest, in Texas the amount of exposure to Afro-Latin@ history is low but steadily growing. Institutions like the University of Texas at Austin have been exploring Latinegr@ experiences through research, seminars and other forms of community engagement. Public figures like Houston Fox 26’s anchorman Jose Grinan and Houston-based poet Jasminne Mendez serve as great examples of people disrupting the narrative that Black always equals African American. There are also teachers like my colleague Olivia who taught a segment on Afro-Mexican history and my colleague Jorge, who informed his class about Celia Cruz. These experiences are needed in both our Black and Latin@ community based organizations, arts establishments and schools around Texas.
I am here for African Americans recognizing that this whole finding connections with diaspora, African American Spanish speaker thing is nothing new. African Americans have been using Spanish to connect, travel and survive since the 1900’s. Langston Hughes traveled to Cuba and Mexico and connected with Nicolás Guillén . Phylicia Rashad used her bilingual ability in her Cosby show audition. The man who inspired me to learn Spanish, my Dad, is an African American. It’s nothing new. It’s just not talked about.
As I write this piece with Tego Calderon playing in the background, I reflect on the conversations I have had with my Latinegr@ friends and recognize that ignorance of Afro-latinidad is rooted in the erasure of Afro-latinidad in our history books and imperial Blackness where the African American English speaking experience is held as the definition of Blackness. That’s why I love The Latinegr@s Project, Ain’t I Latina, Boriqua Chicks, African American Latino World and other spaces like these so much. They open our mind and allow us to see the stories of Blackness and Latinidad that we hardly see in the mainstream media.
We are a part of the diaspora. I hope we can continue to have more discussions on how Afro-American and Latinegr@ history is intertwined. I hope to see more Latinegr@s rising up and pushing for representation. More Afrodiaspora allies. More progress and roads to self-love. Let Spanish, Portuguese, English, Haitian Creole or any other language you speak roll off our tongue. Let our Blackness be what unites us.
The Spanish Speaking “African American” Part I
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This piece is also published on the LatiNegr@s Project Website that I write for.
GUEST POST: The Broken Spanish Speaker Radar in New York
Written by: Dallas Rico
I often wonder how Nuyoricans (a popular term for Puerto Ricans living in New York) and Dominicans determine whether or not someone speaks Spanish. Is it like a gaydar, but for Spanish-speakers. A year before I moved to New York, my cousin, who lived in Williamsburg at the time and who doesn’t speak a lick of Spanish, mentioned people would approach her almost every day and start speaking Spanish to her. It was so overbearing to the point where she’d avoid eye contact with anyone who looked Dominican or Puerto Rican, lest they strike a conversation. That’s one of the many things that got me excited about moving to the Big Apple. I’m a Spanish teacher and love to speak the language outside the classroom. The prospect of speaking Spanish every day was thrilling.
Unfortunately, when I got here I quickly learned that would not be the case. The moment I walk into an establishment, I’m immediately pegged as a non-Spanish speaker. For instance, I remember the look I got when I went to a Dominican barbershop last year. When I sat in an open chair, the barber asked one of his colleagues to translate for him. He didn’t even ask me if I spoke Spanish. He just assumed I didn’t. Even when he realized that I did he still tried to speak his broken English to me. What I don’t get is why the guy who was as black as midnight gets a pass, but I don’t. When he walked everyone greeted him in Spanish like they were homeboys. I just don’t understand. Is it my hair? The shape of my head? The way I walk? My breath? Can someone please explain this to me?!
Some people look entirely African American but they speak Spanish. It’s curious that the Nuyorican and Dominican communities feel so aggressively non-black. I believe they use language as a way to segregate themselves from the black community, as a way of saying, “you are not us,”despite our similar heritage. That’s right. Many Dominicans and Puerto Ricans are indeed black or mixed with black though they refuse to acknowledge it. They had slaves on those islands. Do your research. At any rate, language may serve as a comfortable barrier to deny blackness. Hey, I can’t be black. I speak Spanish. Black people don’t speak Spanish.
I miss the brotherhood I felt with my fellow Mexicans in Texas and California. Things were different there. The Mexican community felt so much more welcoming even though I definitely didn’t look like them. Though I’m black by blood, I also culturally identify as Mexican due to my intimacy with that community. It’s a part of who I am. It’s ironic because I can understand why they’d assume I don’t speak Spanish. Pretty much the majority of Spanish-speakers there are either Mexican or Salvadorian. So, it’s a shock when a person with African features speaks Spanish. Yet, when I spoke there people just went with it. I miss those days, man.
I had hoped the diversity of Latin American countries represented in New York would give people an open mind. We’ve got folks from places like Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and the Caribbean islands. (Did you know there are huge Afro-Latino communities all over South America? I watched a fascinating documentary on that subject) Spanish speakers come in all colors here. So, one shouldn’t assume someone’s linguistic ability. Alas, in a form of linguistic chauvinism, it seems I’ll forever be pegged as a non-Spanish speaker.
So, if you are a black Spanish speaker who plans to visit New York, curb you enthusiasm if you hope to practice Spanish. You may or may not get that opportunity. There’s really no way to tell. If you don’t happen to get accepted into the Spanish-Speakers Club, please hook me up with a recommendation.
Now, where will I get to speak Spanish if not NYC? Even when I visit Puerto Rico they speak to me in English. Also, many of my Latino friends here prefer to speak in English, so that’s a bust. I guess I’ll have to keep my Spanish in the classroom and during Skype sessions with friends abroad. I could always move to Mexico. ¡Qué lástima!
Dallas, who’s actually from Dallas, is a high school Spanish teacher and an aspriring novelist living in Brooklyn. Look for his name on the New York Times Best-Sellers list one day. Maybe. Hopefully. Follow his (mis)adventures at @scandallas.
Want to share your story as a guest post? Let BGLW know at email@example.com.
Guest Post for The 20 Something Latina: Music Monday: “Suavemente” by Elvis Crespo
I recently had the opportunity to script a piece on first love, Spanish and Elvis Crespo’s hit “Suavemente” for a wonderful blog called The 20 Something Latina. I love the 20 Something Latina because of the writer Anali Maritnez’s beautiful and honest posts that reflect experiences us 20 year olds are going through. Check out a bit of the post below!
When you are asked the question “what is one song that has changed your life?”, it is difficult to choose just one. I can easily name fifty tunes that have lifted my spirits or narrated important moments in my life. Whether it was the time that Ms. Gomez, my 9th grade Spanish teacher, sat down and translated “Te extrano” by Xtreme or the summer I discovered pride in my heritage through the rhythms of the Los Rakas tune “Africana”, it is music that takes me back to moments, mindsets, people and places.
“Suavemente” by Elvis Crespo was no different; it welcomed me into the world of Latin music with a warm abrazo. Watching the music video of a young passionate singer shake it Ricky Martin style, reminds me of the 90’s when most music videos looked like an episode of Reading Rainbow. I found “Suavemente” after the 90’s had passed. I was a middle school student in a college prep program.
One of my teachers had organized a Latin dance performance for the end of the summer awards ceremony so I asked her if I could dance with him.
For sake of this post, I’ll call him Miguel.
Click here to read the rest of the story.
5 ways to be like the guy from Bruno Mars’s video when practicing Spanish
If you’ve watched Bruno Mar’s “Uptown Funk” video, I’m sure you noticed more than Bruno Mars rocking that on point roller set. That guy dancing like there was no tomorrow was Phillip Lawrence, Bruno’s right-hand-man when it comes to scripting hits like “Nothing On You”. I was captivated by his performance and I laughed at 3:15 when he did a little dance of his own. Phillip’s performance got me to thinking, what if every language learner committed themselves to speaking the language with the commitment this dancer showed in the video? What if you committed yourself to being enthusiastic, into it and sin miedo? Imaginate how much better your speaking skills would be! What’s holding you back from evoking that Phillip-like flare? Is it the risk of sounding stupid? The fear that you won’t be accepted by native speakers if you try? Whatever your reservation, here are a few tips for you to use your second language with fierceness!
1. Remember why you started in the first place
I remember my first years learning the language as a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed 13 year old. I was eager to speak my new phrases to anyone who would listen. Fumbling over words, developing that ‘r’ roll and lacking sentence structure and conjugations, I went fearlessly into the unknown world of language and culture (different yet connected with my own). It’s those moments that keep me going when I’m faced with a new word that’s hard to pronounce.
2.You’ll never be perfect, but you will be AWESOME
After high school, something happened. That boldness left me and I barely spoke up in my Spanish courses and began answering bilinguals who addressed me in Spanish in my native tongue. I could understand what they were saying but I couldn’t respond. That frustrated me. I felt inadequate and I wanted to wait for my Spanish to be perfect. Newsflash chic@ it probably never will be. So just keep going, even if you make mistakes. Be a sponge and take in everything. You’re bound to get the hang of it.
3. Practice with anyone who will let you AND WELCOME THEIR CRITIQUES
In 2014, I made it my priority to practice speaking whenever I could.
To my Dad
To my more advanced bilingual and native speaker friends
To my mom’s family members she shows her “Bilingual Daughter” off to.
To the Spanish speaking customers at my old job
To the waitress who spoke Spanish to my two friends and responded to me in English
Even if I slip up and use Americano when describing myself or have to make up a word (‘slapiar’ is my favorite), I keep on talking because that is the only way you can get better. I used to be really scared of criticism. I have a Spanish Teacher/Native Speaker friend who hated speaking Spanish with me during my freshman year of college because I’d always get offended when he’d correct me. Now, I’ve learned to take it as a growing lesson.
4. Teach others what you learn
Who says you need a fancy degree to teach you new language? I taught a Spanish course at Upward Bound Program during my senior year of college and I give Spanish lessons to my family. Even if you are a new language learner, you can still teach. By teaching, you are reinforcing what you learned in your own mind. Did you learn a new word from a Celia Cruz tune? Share it. Don’t force it down your family’s throat but share it with folks that are genuinely interested. You never know. You may be the inspiration that they need to try something new.
5. Tell the naysayers (aka l@s haters) “Don’t believe me just watch”
When you are doing something to better yourself, you will always have those who try to deter you from your goal. For me, it was high school classmates telling me that by speaking Spanish I was denying my Blackness. And guess what? I believed them for a moment. I challenge you not to believe them at all. Watch your telenovelas. Jam Los Rakas. Go to Salsa class if you have to. Create an environment where you can achieve your goal.
While on your language learning journey, you will face many challenges but you will also receive many rewards. Being able to survive in a Spanish-speaking country, flirt with a prospective lover or have more job options because of your abilities are just a few. It opens up a new world of music, films, culture and friends that you can connect with. So channel your inner Uptown Funky Phillip and get to speaking!
Were you once scared to speak Spanish for fear of making mistakes? What are your tips for speaking boldly in your second language? Comment below or tweet me with the hashtag #MultilingualBlackPeople.
© Jelisa Jay Robinson and Black Girl, Latin World, 2015