Friday, March 19, 2010

Our Dominican Brothers and Sisters

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When I read about Los Angeles Angels baseball player, Torii Hunter’s comments regarding some Latinos posing as “black imposters” in the Major League Baseball association, I was not surprised and somewhat amused.

During a 5-day USA Today panel, formed to discuss how to improve professional baseball, Hunter said the MLB reaches out to Latino players from places such as the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, instead of giving more attention to African-American players in urban areas of the U.S.

“People see dark faces out there, and the perception is that they’re African American,” Hunter said at the USA Today event. “They’re not us. They’re impostors,” he said. “Even people I know come up and say, ‘Hey, what color is Vladimir Guerrero? Is he a black player?’ I say, ‘Come on, he’s Dominican. He’s not black.’ ”

Guerrero, a Texas Rangers right fielder, hails from the Dominican Republic. Take a look at Mr. Guerrero:


Is he black?

The whole discussion about whether some people from the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, Cuba, Colombia, and other “Latin American” countris are black, could and has prompted lively debates, scholarship, and investigation. The subject is complex. The African slave system brought Africans, not only to the shores of South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, and other places here, but also to lands such as, what is now known as Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Colombia, etc., and enslaved. Did the Africanness of those people somehow disappear? Of course not.

Isn’t it obvious by the very look of many African Americans and “Latinos” that we are multiracial? We were brought here and there, brutalized and oppressed, and eventually were mixed with the whites (by force or otherwise), and the indigenous people (American Indians in this country, Tainos in places like the Dominican Republic).

So when people like Hunter contend that people who obviously have African ancestry, are not “black,” you wonder where the disconnect comes from. For the most part, I think it comes from a lack of education about the history of slavery in this country, the Caribbean and other parts of the world. Sadly, the U.S. education system often fails to educate students about African-American and/or world history in an in-depth and insightful way.

Yesterday, assistant editor of the L.A. Watts Times, Nadra Kareem, wrote this about Hunter’s comments:

I don’t know how Guerrero racially identifies but to suggest that he’s not black simply because he hails from Latin America is ridiculous. Do black people solely exist in the United States or in Africa?

Hunter’s statement is even more preposterous when you consider that the Dominican Republic shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti. No one questions whether or not Haitians are black, but time and time again, it seems that Americans have difficulty grasping that one can be both black and Latino.

This becomes more perplexing considering that even the U.S. government designates Hispanics as a group that can be of any race — black, white, Native American, etc. Clearly, there are cultural differences between blacks from the United States and blacks from Latin American countries, but to suggest that the latter aren’t actually black presents a myopic view of blackness.

And given that many blacks in Latin America still practice customs directly tied to their pre-slave trade West African roots, while black Americans have lost many of these traditions, makes the suggestion that Afro-Latinos aren’t authentically black doubly offensive.

I asked my friend Ironelly Mora, a Nashville, Tenn. resident, who is from both Brooklyn and the Dominican Republic, to comment on Kareem’s article. Here’s what Ironelly had to say:

This article doesn't surprise me at all -- especially when many Latinos do separate themselves from the African American community. I guess being Latino and brown-skinned means being black for some people, but it doesn't serve a larger purpose because there are so many differences between the Latin American countries. Many times even the way we speak Spanish is different. So I think it is convenient to lump Latinos and blacks into the same minority group, but the issue is very complex. I disagree with Hunter saying black Latinos are imposters. I don't think Dominicans, especially the baseball players, describe themselves as blacks. We as Dominicans have issues with the idea that we descended from slaves and not the Taino Indians.

So my two cents worth is this article doesn't bring to light the fact that Latinos don't often acknowledge their black heritage and the colonization by the Spanish encouraged us to forget the relationship to Africa even existed. There is so much to say, where do I begin.



My reply to mi hermana:

Ironelly,
That's the point. There is so much to say, and you started beautifully. Now to get other Latinos and African Americans to do the same!
As you say, “The issue is very complex.” We’ve got to start somewhere.

(Along the lines of this conversation, check out my previous post about Africans in Mexico .)

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

One of my youngest daughter’s best friends has Panamanian parentage, mother and father. Her mother’s nickname is even ”Panama.” I don’t even know her real first name. While the mother is a freckled faced light brown-skinned women (like many African American women), the daughter is chocolate, darker than my daughter. Yet, my baby girl had to set her straight when this girl claimed not to be “black” but Hispanic, Panamanian to be exact! “You are blacker than me and you don’t even speak Spanish!” my daughter told her. They took Spanish together, and my daughter was doing better at it. My daughter went on to say, “You may not be African American, but you are black!” On one hand my heart broke for this young lady who obviously had no pride in any of her heritage. On the other hand, it was a case in point for the way black Hispanics deny their African heritage, even when it is so obvious.

To the point of how government officials view it.

Not long ago, I was stopped by the police for going through a red light. (I was turning left on yellow and I may have missed it. I missed him too because he was right behind me.) I was playing a CD of Gloria Esteban, very loudly. I pulled into a local fast-food restaurant parking lot, were a few black brothers were just kind of sitting around. They were already protesting the fact of my pullover. The policeman (who was white, by the way) looked a little hesitant but he struck up a conversation with me. He looked at my driver’s license and let me go saying, “I just needed to make sure that you were legal. Never can tell!” I was so relieved at not being written up that it took me a minute to really understand what he meant. He wanted to make sure that I did not have a Spanish name. My obvious blackness was not a guarantee. After all I was playing “their” music!

Marilyn

Alicia Michele Benjamin said...

Wow! Marilyn...the first example I'm sure happens a lot with Latinos denying their African heritage.

Your second example is -- What can I say, jolting! Thanks for responding.

Alicia

Anonymous said...

The fact remains that when people look at your skin they don't care what your heritage is. They are not going to stop and ask where your Mom, Dad or your Grand parents came from. They are going to consider you as what you look like. "ME" We all better love the SKIN were in because GOD chose it for us.
MaDear

Alicia Michele Benjamin said...

MaDear,
WELL put and FULL of wisdom! Thanks for that.
Love,
Alicia

sondjata said...

I think mr Hunter's point, badly stated was that in MLB there is a noticable lack of African-American ball players coming up the ranks. I've lived long enough to notice the demographic change. He isn't the first AA ball player to point this out either.

Outside the realm of baseball there are also studies in college admissions in which non "African-American" (as in non-slave trade descendants) being passed over in admissions for those blacks hailing directly from Africa and the Caribbean.

So there is a real issue of a perception that non-slave trade descended blacks are less desirable than "foreign born" blacks because the latter are supposedly easier to get along with, lack the "chip on their shoulders" are "more ambitious" etc.

So I think it's not a good thing to necessarily get distracted by Mr. Hunter's confusion about who is black, when his underlying point, that African-American kids who may be interested in careers in MLB are being passed over or outright ignored in favor of other groups.

Alicia Michele Benjamin said...

Sondjata,
Thanks for commenting.

Mr. Hunter’s point about the lack of African-American baseball players in MLB is well taken – just poorly said, as you point out. I hope the League will investigate that matter and come up with some solutions.

But Torii Hunter’s poorly-state comment points to his lack of insight on the matter and opens up a can of worms that needs to be explored – no matter how we got there, we’re there.

The whole conversation about the history of blacks in the U.S., the Caribbean, Central and South America, and other parts of the world, should be opened up among those of African ancestry in the diaspora. What kind of kinship do we or don’t we feel for each other? Why or Why not? How can we get to know each other better, etc. Why aren't our various historis taught in the school system?

I think Mr. Hunter may have done us a favor.

Peace,
Alicia

(im)perfect_black ☥☥☥ said...

Fascinating. i wonder where Brother Hunter grew up. I am from Los Angeles and can recall as a child being oblivious to the fact that there were black Latinos. I am thinking that if Hunter were a New Yorker he might have a more nuanced way highlighting the dearth of Black North Americans in MLB. But I could be wrong as I don't have a good sense or East Coast race relations.

I was a little confused by Sondjata's post. More enslaved Africans wound up in South America than North America. Most Black Latinos are descendants of the Middle Passage (or what Sondjata called "slave trade descendants").

BTW: Have you seen the census commercials encouraging afro-latinos to check the "black" box?

Alicia Michele Benjamin said...

Kwame,
Wikipedia tells us that Torii Hunter is from Pine Bluff, Arkansas, which may explain his perceptions of Black Latinos -- I'm sure there weren't many Latinos period in Pine Bluff.

As a person from the East Coast, with a history of friendships with "Latinos" from different places, I'll say that we played and hung out together, but never talked about any kind of history.

Yes, I also was thinking that "slave trade descendants" are all over the world -- especially in the "Latin American" countries.

I have not seen the census commercials encouraging afro-latinos to check the "black" box? -- but I WILL be checking it out.
:-)
Thanks for that.
Peace,
Alicia