Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Reflections of Afro-Latina Leadership tour

Reflections of Afro-Latina Leadership Tour
March 2008

Greetings to All, E Kaabo,

My intent of writting these Reflections is to share this journey with the community,family and friends.It is to bring attention to the work of Afro-Latina leaders and to highlight the commonalities of people of African descent.

This was the third year of the Women of Power- Afro-Latina Leadership series that was led by the Caribbean Cultural Center and GALCI.The tour began for the women in New York. They then came to Boston were Encuentro Diaspora Afro hosted the event in collaboration with a luncheon by AFAB and a panel event at Simmons College Institute for Leadership and Change. The Encuentro family was moved by the words and the dedication of Sonia Pierre from the Dominican Republic and Maricruz Rivera Clemente of Puerto Rico.

Although this was a Afro-Latina focused tour, I would like to dedicate my reflection to both the men and women who continue to support and guide me and to the ones I met on this trip. To the Black men who dare to stand with us, much love.

I began my leg of the tour with an email from a friend, mentor and brother in the struggle. He wrote to me, go on this trip, make one or two friends and speak with a voice of love for our people. I returned from my trip and received and email from Mr. Claral Richards who is an inspiration to me,. He sent this quote, "When someone shares something of value with you, and you benefit from it,You have a moral obligation to share it with others". ---Chinese Proverb--Both these statements brought my emotions full circle after another pilgrimage of the reality of being black in the world.

We are ONE- Somos UNO

During the tour this year, I was reminded of the weight we carry as Black people and as women. How do we mend OUR broken World?

I attended an Ifa Divination conference the weekend prior to the tour. I walked away feeling the importance of embracing all of who are. It is important for us to learn about ourselves and speak for ourselves.In doing this, we honor our ancestors.

These women are not doing this work for the glory. In many ways the internal power that burns within exceeds the external power of position and title that they carry. That internal fire, is the base of why they, I, do what we do. On this tour we shared the work in our communities. I shared the work in Boston, how I see my own country, Panama and highlighted the work of the Red de mujeres AfroLatinoamericanas, Afrocaribeñas y de la Diaspora.

I begin by saying to all-We need to get involved in what is happening to Haitians in the Dominican Republic. What is happening there is not just about Haitians or Dominicans, it is about Black people.Sonia Pierre in her humble presence confirmed, to love our people is to fight for our people. "This is about human rights" is the statement she repeated in every presentation. To be denied health care, education, to be removed from records as if though you were never born, to be denied citizenship based on the color of your skin should not be happening in the 21st Century.

The first stop for the three of us was Chicago. The Chicago presentation was held at the at the Southwest Youth Collaborative in collaboration with the Egan Urban Center at Depaul University. This event had a strong youth presence. After listening to some of them and looking into their eyes, we walked away feeling very confident in their ability to take this information out to the community. One young man came alive when Sonia spoke. He was also of Hatian descent. At the end of the panel he approached us and gave us hugs. His hug was the kind of hug that said, Thank you for seeing my humanity.

Many of us have heard of Sonia Pierre. What many of us do not hear is that her work comes with threats of self and family. She moves with these questions in her body language,How can you not stand up and say, ENOUGH!! what do you do after hearing that young men are dying of suffocation while being trafficked to work in the fields.A question that was posed to Sonia at each presentation was the Responsibility of Dominicans both in and out of the country to address these issue. Should David Ortiz, Sammy Sosa, to name a few, speak on what is happening. Sonia's response was, YES, understanding the risk but going beyond and saying, HUMAN RIGHTS.

Politics, economics. land preservation was the message of Maricruz Rivera Clemente of Loiza,Piñones in Puerto Rico. Maricruz's message was the importance of our involvement in politics, the need to support our communities economic growth and the need to protect the richness of our land. her message resonated to many.What happens when developments in our communities begins with us and ends with displacement. This is what we call, gentrification.
Sonia could not join us on the New Orleans trip.Sonia, thank you for your unwavering committment to your people. Maricruz and I were stuck in the Chicago airport for most of the day on Thursday. It was frustrating and exhausting. We finally arrived in New Orleans at midnight.

We were greeted by this very kind young Black woman. She made our registration easy after hearing about our day. I then went on to ask her how things are around here, referring to KATRINA. She shared that she survived and that she is still surviving Katrina. She was open about the struggles with the insurance companies, the depression, and the coming back.She came back, as she said with firmness, for my three children. She and her husband are still working on their house. She has a half of kitchen, good enough to feed her kids and one functioning bathroom, to keep them clean.

After listening to her all the frustration and exhaustion I felt was lifted. All I wanted to do was spend time with her.Her question to me was, what did I know about Katrina? That was a recurring question while begin in New Orleans. I shared the work in Boston by the Rosa Parks Human Rights day Committee and the Green Ribbon Coaltion. I shared with her that it was not only Black people in the US but I could speak to Latin America. I told her about the Declaration from the Red meeting in Nicaragua in 2006 and how we mentioned the victims of Katrina. She was moved and said she had no idea that people were paying attention.

The next day I met Shantrelle Lewis who was our host in New Orleans. Shantrelle is the essence of what it is to be from New Orleans.Shantrelle took us to see the lower 9 Ward. Seeing the direct effects of Katrina after 3 years was an eye opener, on many levels. It brought to the surface a level of anger and pain that I cannot find the words to fully describe, what I was feeling.

Our first gathering in New Orleans was at the Ache Cultural Arts Center.This was a gathering with community activist, artist, writers and filmakers. Brother Kalamu opened the discussion by asking how much do we know about the people in the room and how can we tell what they do. We had pioneers, queens and students in the room.This is a reminder that we cannot assume and judge only by the color of our skin, light or dark. The first question posed to us was, What do we know about Katrina? Maricruz spoke of the importance it played in her community around issues of development and land protection. She went on to say that something like this could also happen in Piñones.

We spoke at length about the individaul struggles and shared the historical and present connections. At this gathering we also had a Brother from Venezuela who gave some insight on what is happening in his country. Did you know the 5 dollar bill of Venezuela has a picture of a Black Man, "Negro Primero." We all walked away with a new found committment to educate on both sides, African American and Latino.

The second day we had a panel at the George and Leah Mackenna Museum of African American Art of which Shantrelle is the Director and Curator. Once again natural connections were made, commonalities were highlighted. Brother Kalamu then took us on a tour of New Orleans East,Little Woods and Gentilly. The amount of territoty that was destroyed is undescribable.It was miles and miles. During the tour I decided to focus on how long it took before I saw a supermarket. It was very long. This is because many people are not back.I learned that it is not that they dont want to come back but what are they coming back to?

Most of the time in New Orleans I was distracted by this weight in my heart but I had a few moments of pure comfort . Every bite I took in New Orleans was like eating my Aunti Jeannes cooking. The French side of me was content. The beignet's, the corn in the cornbread, the seafood. I saw people eating catfish the way we ate crabs on the weekend, that my Uncle Tete brought us, in the back of the house in Rainbow City, on the floor,with no worry of getting dirty. What a delight!!!

Everyone in New Orleans we met wanted to tell their story. The people were kind and friendly.Their voices were filled with sadness but their strength was unbreakable.
Whatever your position may be or point of entry, African in the Americas, Diaspora,PanAfrican,Latino, spiritual perspective, it is time for a revolutionary space a common space, that we own,we define, we protect and speaks to our ONENESS.
I saw Panama, Colon everywhere. I saw it, not only in the Panamanians I met in Chicago but in the stories and in the food. I remembered something else Mr. Richards had shared with me. He said, when I see a black man or woman, I see a brother and a sister.

Marta Moreno Vega began this idea and it has gone beyond the exchange of Afro-Latina women to an exchange of our people. Once again, I could not stop crying on my way back to Boston. I was not only crying about the sadness I felt but of the new understanding, revelation of the depth of pain and struggle of our people.

While traveling I was reading the book Kinky Gizpacho by Lori l. Tharps. In it she has a quote by bell hooks."To travel, I must always move through fear,confront terror. It helps to be able to link this individual experience to the collective journeying of black people, to the Middle Passage. "
I end by revisiting a question I posed at the begining, How do we mend OUR broken World? We may all have many answers but for now and after this trip, I say, by building our community from our own experiences.

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