Saturday, March 13, 2010

Reflection-Now is the time, Ahora!!

"Any time you have an opportunity to make a difference in this world and you don't, then you are wasting your time on Earth. " Roberto Clemente

Now is the time, Ahora!!

Now is the time for the Black community to heal the internal divide that does not allow us to see each other as Brothers and Sisters.

It would be much easier to sit and let things go by but that is not who I chose to be.

I have been reading and reflecting on the comment made by baseball player Torii Hunter. Before I get to the comment itself, I want to share why I think this is an opportune time for us to move as a community.

To many this may sound like I am minimizing history but we need to break things down a little to get it moving. Our ancestors were forced on a ship and dropped off in different places. We may speak a different language, cook our rice different but at the root of our being, we are all people of African descent.

Almost two years ago, I participated in a panel at the Schoomburg Center called Black, Latino, Both. This event was hosted by the Afrolatin@ Forum.

During the presentation, I made a statement that Afro- Latino players are in the position to bridge the understanding between Latinos and African Americans yet, many do not identify themselves as Black. I was concerned then as I am now because these players are admired by many Latino youth, who struggle with their racial identity. A fellow panelist and I went back and forth as to the level of their responsibility to engage in this dialogue.

I immediately thought about Roberto Clemente as I began writing this reflection.

Please let me get something out of the way. I feel very comfortable speaking about sports as a college athlete in track and tennis and about baseball because of my father and brother’s love of the game.

Everyone knows about Rod Carew, Ben Oglivie, Omar Moreno and my personal favorite, Manny Sanguillen. Yet, I have always said that I grew up with some of the most talented baseball players. Yes, before there was Mariano Rivera, there was Tonio Ortiz, Mauricio Chin, Omar Massiah, Marco Pady, Ricardo Ortiz and Fernando Ramsey to name a few. So yes, I know baseball and now you know a little more about Panamanian baseball players.

Roberto Clemente is the first Latino player to make it into the Baseball Hall of Fame. I have always loved his story of commitment to the poor and underserved with a focus on Puerto Rico and his work in Nicaragua.

What has moved me the most is his courage to face the racism before him. Mr. Clemente transcended baseball. I sat and watched, Roberto Clemente an American Experience. I was left with the words, humanitarian, pride and loyalty.

He played during the Jim Crow era which was a shock coming from Carolina, Puerto Rico. He learned through painful experiences, that to the white community in Pittsburgh, he was just Black. To his fellow African American players, he was someone they did not understand and struggled to find commonality.

Mr. Clemente was inspired by Martin Luther King Jr. who he met face to face at his farm in Puerto Rico. He became involved and spoke out on the injustice that he saw and experienced in this country.

Encuentro Diaspora Afro participated in a national Black Brown focus group. In preparing for the dialogue, we shared with the facilitators that this space would be a Black –Black dialogue, African American and Afro-Latino, a Black –Brown dialogue using their definition, Afro-Latino and Latino and a Black –Brown dialogue, African American , Latino dialogue. We addressed the tension, the mistrust, the historical divide, the pain that was and still is present in our community.

One of the things highlighted in the dialogue was that our experience, the Afro-Latino experience in this country, is an African American experience. It is not until I open my mouth and they hear an accent, I learned that I am seen as a different kind of Black. It is at this moment that I step up to say,” Speaking bad about those Black people, ”African Americans” is speaking bad about me.”

We all agree that they are different cultural experiences in Puerto Rico, Santo Domingo and the U.S. but the Black experience, lack of inclusion, inequality, access, exist everywhere.

Why all of this? Torii Hunter’s comments places us in a position once again to talk, really talk to each other.

The use of the word “impostor” is strong yet, he hits a note. The note, that African American and Afro-Latino players do not truly see themselves as brothers. His words highlight that both sides need to learn more about each other, moving pass language.

Now is the time, Ahora!! Let us not get stuck on the word and take, grab, this opportunity to talk. Let us, people of African descent, transcend the stigma, perceptions that have plagued us.

Baseball is not just a game. During the time of Jackie Robinson and Roberto Clemente, it was the platform for visible change, a platform to challenge the status quo and now it can be the platform to confront a divide that exist between us, BLACK people.