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Afro Latinos: Everywhere, Yet Invisible

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Struggles with self-image, assimilation mirror Black American experience

By Cynthia Griffin, Special to the NNPA from Our Weekly –

Last year, during a discussion on increasing the number of African Americans in Major League Baseball, Angel’s centerfielder Torii Hunter in a USA Today interview called the dark-skinned Latino baseball players “imposters” and said they are not Black.

Hunter’s comments strike at the heart of an issue that is one reason scholar Miriam Jimenez Roman is undertaking a three-day conference called “Afro Latinos Now! Strategies for Visibility and Action,” on Nov. 3-5 in New York that will be the biggest such effort her organization, The AfroLatin@ Forum, has undertaken.

“This is the first time we have done such a comprehensive event where we discuss Afro Latinos specifically. We’re going to look at the state of the field and where we want to be, and there is going to be a heavy emphasis on youth, especially those in middle school years.”

Jimenez Roman says the confusion Hunter demonstrated about the connection between Africans born in Latin America and those born in the United States is particularly acute for U.S.-based 11- to 15-year-old Afro Latinos. In the context of a racist society like America, they are not only struggling to figure out how they feel about themselves, but also how they connect in relation to others, especially African Americans.

There are millions of Afro Latinos in America who live their lives in what is essentially a “Black” context but identify themselves as White, because of the perceived stigma of being African American, said Jimenez Roman, who last year came to the West Coast promoting her newly released book “Afro-Latino Reader,” co-edited with Juan Flores. The 584-page publication, which grew out of the notes the two professors always pulled together for classes they taught, explores people of African descent from Latin America and the Caribbean.

“In the Latino community, we tend not to talk about race; it’s in poor taste to bring up race and racism. It’s the notion of complaining. If you make a big deal out of it, you are the problem, and they say you’re playing the race card,” explained Jimenez Roman, who is of Afro Puerto Rican background, and noted that during book events, African Americans were much more receptive to the reader than were Afro Latinos.

She attributes that to a dichotomy about race many Afro Latinos experience in their countries of origin.

“There is the idea that Latino culture is Mestizo and European and Indian, and Black people don’t belong,” said the race and ethnicity professor about how many Latin American countries think about themselves. In fact, Latinos of African descent have been in many countries for at least 200 years.

If they do acknowledge their Black citizens, Jimenez Roman said officials will say “they all live on the coast.”

“This isolates them. Or in Bolivia, for example, there are Black communities in the mountains. They are totally isolated and ignored.”

But in reality, Afro Latinos are everywhere in Latin America as they are in the United States, says the head of the AfroLatin@ Forum.

In Los Angeles, there is large community of Garifuna people and many Afro Mexicans in Pasadena.

The Garifuna are found primarily in Central America along the Caribbean coast in Belize, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Honduras, and are descendants of shipwrecked slaves who intermarried with the Carib Indians on the island of St. Vincent.

Both the British and French tried to colonize the island, but were initially rebuffed by the inhabitants. By 1796, however, the British were victorious in gaining control and shipped Black-looking Caribs to Roatán, an island off the coast of Honduras. Only about 2,500 survived the voyage.

Because the island was too small and infertile to support their population, the Garifuna, originally called the Garinagu, petitioned the Spanish authorities to be allowed to settle on the mainland.

New York has the largest Garifuna population, heavily dominated by Hondurans, Guatemalans and Belizeans. Los Angeles ranks second and is populated by the Belizean Garifuna.

The City of Angels is also home to a growing number of Afro Mexicans who have both a contemporary and historical space in the city.

According to Alva Stevenson, program coordinator with the UCLA Department of Special Collections, who has spent the last 12 years researching and lecturing about Afro Mexicans, there were some Afro Mexicans in California in the early days prior to statehood, including the Pico family.

Two of the most prominent members of the Pico clan, Pio and Andres were intimately involved in the development of the region and the state. Both were businessmen who amassed fortunes from their various ventures, including a hotel in downtown Los Angeles.

Both also served as key political figures—Pio as the last Mexican governor of California and Andres as a member of the Assembly once California gained statehood. Reminders of their presence today include a major thoroughfare, Pico Boulevard, named in honor of Pio.

Their paternal grandmother, María Jacinta de la Bastida, was listed in the 1790 census as mulata.

Stevenson said what is important to note is that the Pico family originated from a town in Mexico, Sinaloa, where two-thirds of the inhabitants were of African descent. And that sort of mixing was not unusual.

“In fact, a professor did a DNA study (in the last 20 years) in Northern Mexico and found that two-thirds of the people living in the region have African ancestry,” Stevenson said.

Sinaloa was also one of the areas where the 44 Mexican settlers who helped found Los Angeles came from. About half of those pobladores, as they were called, were of African descent.

Contemporary Afro Mexicans have migrated to the Pasadena area. Trying economic times have also prompted many younger Afro Mexicans to migrate northward to the U.S. seeking work, and Stevenson said they have landed in locations like Santa Ana in Orange County and the Raleigh-Durham, N.C., region.

Jimenez Roman adds that while Afro Latinos are everywhere in the United States, there are larger pockets in regions like California’s Bay Area, Louisiana (helping rebuild New Orleans), Florida, Detroit, Chicago, other parts of the Midwest and the Carolinas.

“There is a small community of Afro Mexicans who migrated across the border and are now working in processing plants in the Carolinas,” said Jimenez Roman pointing out there are African-descended people from Colombia, Panama, Guatemala and Brazil in the United States.

For Afro Brazilian artist Bakari Santos, his arrival in Los Angeles was a just stopover during a backpacking journey to Europe 33 years ago; he visited a friend who is now the U.S. ambassador to Niger. He laughingly says, “I’m still on my way to Europe.”

“I came here and had a tourist visa, and I found a job at the Brazilian Consulate,” said Santos, who ended up in America after graduating college in Brazil with a biology degree. “I spent 10 years with the consulate, then after 10 years, I was tired of working for the government.”

So, Santos drew on his longtime artistic bent and began to focus on making a living with his art.

“There were very few Brazilians in town at the time; the community who really helped me and gave me a good start was the African Americans,” recalls Santos, who at that time in the ’60s was still wearing his Afro.

Santos, is an example of the types of Afro Latinos that will typically immigrate to America, said Jimenez Roman—middle or upper class with the resources to travel. Many Afro Latinos are relegated to the bottom of the economy in Latin America and just do not have the resources to do much more than subsist.

They are often ignored, added the scholar, and she said that invisibility traditionally follows those who are able to immigrate to the United States.

That’s one reason why it is so difficult to actually pinpoint exactly how many Afro Latinos are in the U.S. It’s also a reason that the AfroLatin@ Forum partnered with the U.S. Census Bureau to promote a campaign that urged Afro Latinos to check both the Latino and Black boxes.

“In the 2000 Census, there were 3 million Latinos who said they were Black; almost 2 million of them live in New York,” said Jimenez Roman.

But that is just the tip of the iceberg.

Understanding the reality of living as an Afro Latino in a very Black and White America means recognizing and talking about the fact that the lighter a person is, the more likely that individual is to say they are White and downplay, underplay or even ignore their African roots.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are the darker Afro Latinos, who Jimenez Romano say often live with or next to African American communities, intermarry with them and take on the African American identity.

And then there is a third reality that is explored in a one-hour documentary, “The Neo-African Americans,” by Ghana-born filmmaker Kobina Aidoo that questions ethnic identification in the context of rapid, voluntary immigration from Africa and the Caribbean (and Latin America) to the United States that is transforming the “African American” narrative. From Somalis in Minnesota, to Trinidadians in New York, to Afro Cubans in Miami, to Nigerians in Maryland, the term “African American” means something unique to everyone. But the film asks if these individuals are considered African Americans.

The Disparity in Teacher Pay: A Civil Rights Issue

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By Kenneth J. Cooper, Special to the NNPA from thedefendersonline.com –

New federal research shows that African American and Hispanic students are being shortchanged, literally, when it comes to school budgets, in most districts with diverse enrollments.

The U.S. Education Department study found that teachers in schools with more Latino and African American enrollment get paid an average of $2,500 less than teachers in the whole district. The pay disparity reflects earlier research that found students in public schools with heavy minority enrollments receive instruction more often from inexperienced teachers, who earn less because of salary schedules based on seniority.

In the 2009-2010 academic year, the disparity exists in 59 percent of 2,217 diverse districts, those defined as having between 20 percent and 80 percent African American and Hispanic enrollment. The survey was the first time federal education officials have collected information to compare individuals schools based on teacher salaries, which consume about 60 percent of a district’s budget on average.

Teachers are also a district’s most important educational resource. How the best teachers are distributed is a matter of educational equity. Because of relatively low pay and poor working conditions compared to other professions, the unfortunate fact is there aren’t enough top-notch teachers to go around, therefore they get rationed one way or another.

“America has been battling inequity in education for decades but these data show that we cannot let up.” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in releasing the survey results last month. “Children who need the most too often get the least. It’s a civil rights issue, an economic security issue and a moral issue.”

In its proposal for changes in the No Child Left Behind Act, which has been struck in Congress, the Obama administration asks the legislation be revised to require that “comparable resources” be spent on low-income students at the school level, rather than district wide.

“Currently, some schools with mostly white, non-poor students, may get as much as $1 million more a year because of differentials in teacher salary schedules and how resources are allocated,” Russlynn Ali, assistant secretary for civil rights, said during an interview in June. “The administration wants to be sure that high poverty schools are getting at least their fair share of state and local resources before any Title I funds are spent.”

Title I is the federal program that provides funds to support additional instruction for disadvantaged students. The program was established in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 and continued in No Child Left Behind, the law’s successor. Title I often pays for reading specialists and teacher aide’s in schools with high concentrations of low-income students, particularly in the elementary grades.

Reallocating district funds to make up for shortfalls in budgets allocated to those schools, as the administration proposes, could boost instruction in different ways, Ali said.

“The extra money to schools with teachers who get paid less could be used for many purposes, such as retaining effective teachers in high-poverty schools or providing extra learning time, and not necessarily to expand their staffs,” she said. “The administration’s proposal requiring comparable resources phases in over time so districts can adjust budgets over multiple years.”

Examining the comparability of school resources has been part of the administration’s strategy for enforcing civil rights.

As of June, the department’s Office for Civil Rights was investigating 11 cases having to do with comparable resources, including the experience and pay of teachers. Those cases involve eight complaints filed by individuals and three compliance reviews initiated by the office.

Those cases involve districts in nine states: South Carolina, Maryland, Texas, New York, Colorado, Indiana, California, North Carolina and Virginia.

Later this year, the Education Department will release state and national estimates of teacher pay disparities and other measures of educational equity.

When the teacher pay data were released Sept. 27, Ali said: “To repair our education system requires that we be able to identify where problems exist. Collecting these data and making them widely accessible is a powerful way to make the case for action.”

Kenneth J. Cooper, a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist, is a freelancer based in Boston. He also edits the Trotter Review at the University of Massachusetts-Boston.

China Seen 'Dictating African Policy' in Rebuff to Dalai Lama

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network –

Tibet’s religious leader, the Dalai Lama, was forced to cancel plans to give the keynote speech at the 80th birthday celebration of the Archbishop Desmond Tutu – a victim, some said, of the growing muscle of China not only in trade but in diplomacy.

A Nobel Prize winner, as is Tutu, the Dalai Lama was scheduled to give a peace lecture at the University of the Western Cape and at the University of the Witwatersrand.

Tutu blasted the government’s failure to issue the a visa for the Dalai Lama, calling it "disgraceful," and University of the Witwatersrand vice chancellor Loyiso Nongxa said it "ridicules the values enshrined in our Constitution."

Trade union leader Tony Ehrenreich, speaking at a midnight vigil for the Tibetan figure, said: "Even though China is our biggest trading partner, we should not exchange our morality for dollars or yuan."

Beijing has attempted to block visits of the Dalai Lama to other foreign countries in a dispute over Tibet which China claims. South African officials insist they were not blocking the visa under pressure from China.

Still, it seemed like too much of coincidence that South Africa’s Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe was in China recently signing a stack of commercial agreements, including one trade-financing deal valued at $2.5 billion. And visas for the Tibetan leader, approved

Hormone Drug Considered Unsafe in U.S. Now Creating Havoc in Africa

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network –

A controversial hormone drug, long opposed by several Black, Latina and Native American women’s health groups, has found its way to Africa where new research has made some alarming discoveries.

In the just-published study of seven African countries, researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle found that women who used the Pfizer drug Depo Provera – a hormone-based contraceptive injection - were twice as likely to acquire and pass on HIV as those who didn’t. A higher risk was also observed for birth-control pills.

The study suggests that active promotion of injectable contraception in Africa may be fueling the spread of the world’s biggest infectious killer, said Charles S. Morrison and Kavita Nanda, researchers at FHI 360, a nonprofit organization in Durham, North Carolina, that works on reproductive health projects.

Some 3,790 couples in Botswana, Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia in which one partner was infected with HIV were studied for the research.

For years , Depo-Provera has been targeted by health activist women of color, who point out how disproportionately it is used with Black and poor women despite dangerous side effects. Depo users in the U.S. are 33 percent under the age of 19, 84 percent Black women, and 74 percent low income, according to a recent study.

In 2004, Pfizer acknowledged that Depo caused a significant loss of bone mineral density, and a study funded by USAID found that women using Depo had a three-fold chance of infection from Chlamydia and gonorrhea.

Nevertheless, from 1994-2000, USAID provided 41,967,200 units of Depo-Provera to the developing world. USAID sends more units of Depo-Provera to Africa, to countries such as Mozambique, Tanzania and Nigeria than to any other part of the world.

“Depo-Provera is potentially life-threatening,” warned a poster by the Racism & Reproductive Rights Taskforce in San Francisco. “Get The Facts Before You Get The Shot.”

More than 140 million women worldwide use hormonal contraception, including pills and long-acting injections, which are the most popular form of birth control in Africa. But limiting the most highly used method of contraception could also be risky, warned the FHI 360 group. It could contribute to increased maternal mortality and more low birth weight babies and orphans – “an equally tragic result.”

The Jobs' Crisis Collateral Damage: The Coming Mental Health Epidemic

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Special to the NNPA from thedefendersonline.com –

The U.S. is facing “a silent mental health epidemic” as joblessness lengthens and deepens for millions of once-gainfully employed Americans, a new study is warning.

The report contends that signs of significant mental health problems are already readily apparent among the jobless who’ve been out of work six months or longer, and that they are also beginning to show themselves among workers who have found jobs after a long period of unemployment but at substantially lower wages and benefits.

These problems include difficulty sleeping; having more arguments than usual with family and friends, a tendency to isolate one’s self socially out of shame at being unemployed; a listlessness and loss of self-confidence in pursuing job opportunities in the face of countless rejections, and even clinical depression.

Sociologists and labor market analysts have long discussed these and other effects on individuals of a prolonged spell of joblessness. More recently, the impact of the Great recession and continuing slow recovery has provoked news media to devote more attention to examining the impact on individuals and families of prolonged joblessness.

The huge buildup to record levels of the jobless, and especially the long-term unemployed – those out of work six months and longer – has led some to warn the nation faces a looming social and economic catastrophe.

Among those at the forefront of that effort is the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University. Its researchers have produced a series of reports over the past two years probing the psychological well-being as well as the economic condition of a cohort of jobless workers, paying special attention to the long-term jobless. The findings of the latest, “Out of Work and Losing Hope: The Misery and Bleak Expectations of American Workers,” offer a grim portrait of individuals, most still in their prime working years, whose joblessness has marooned them on the margins of the society and are increasingly pessimistic about finding their way back to the center.

Nearly three-quarters of the 14 million Americans out of work have been jobless for more than six months. Half have been jobless for two years or more.

The loss of workers is a blow to the productivity of the workplace and, via workers spending their wages, the health of the economy.

The collateral damage stems from the drag on the economy caused by a sizeable cohort of unemployed and from the funding for the social services they will require.

The “Out of Work” report found that 47 percent of those surveyed said they had experienced stress because of their joblessness and 32 percent had undergone substantial emotional turmoil; at least 11 percent said they had sought professional help for depression within the last year.

The reasons why are apparent from another set of statistics embedded in the Heldrich Center survey. They show that 41 percent of those who lost a job before being first surveyed two years ago are either still unemployed or have settled involuntarily for part-time work. Among those who’ve found work, over half settled for lower pay; and nearly a third had their job-related benefits cut. The group as a whole remains in dire economic straits. Less than a fifth say their financial circumstances are “excellent; 45 percent say, after their prolonged period of joblessness that they are “poor.”

Further, as a group they are deeply pessimistic about America’s future. Nearly three-quarters believe the U.S. economy is experiencing fundamental and lasting changes, compared to just over half who said that two years ago.

Not surprisingly, the Heldrich Center found a high level of support among its survey subjects for government action to reduce unemployment, including funding long-term education and training program that help people change careers, giving tax credits to businesses that hire new workers, direct government creation of jobs for unemployed workers, and requiring recipients of unemployment benefits to enter job-training programs.

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