Thursday, October 9, 2014

Standing with Love and Light - Raising Our Voices/Alzando Nuestras Voces

Standing with Love and Light- Raising our Voices/Alzando Nuestras Voces

The energy of this blog comes from sharing the space with my hermanas and those who came out to support, share and learn at the NY event, The Status of Black Women in Latin America. It is also a cry to ancestors to protect and guide us during these trying times.

Being with this amazing group of women of the Red de Mujeres Afrolatinoamericanas, Afrocaribe
ñas y de la Diaspora, always reminds me what a special journey this is for each of us and the visual confirmation that we were dropped off EVERYWHERE. The energy of this realization brings forth a sense of comfort in the knowing that this pain, this truth can be shared and acknowledged when we come together. In this moment, as I hear Paola from Bolivia speak of what it feels like to walk out of her home and get asked, where did you migrate from? You feel her sense of exclusion and warrior like spirit to create a shift in the question and the answer, Yes, I am part of the fabric of this land. As we moved through this event and in speaking of our daily lives as Black Women from Latin America we realize, this is work to some, purpose to us and is bigger than all of us. This is love in its most sacrificing force.

We had moments in our dialogue that highlighted how much needs to be done. We are not close to the mountain top within our countries and as people of African descent. This brings me to say this out loud, not only as it relates to the panel but to the overall state of our existence as a people, it truly feels like Black people are under attack.
That is a strong statement and it is confirmed in the answers of each of us when asked, what happens when we step outside. As I shared earlier, Paola speaks of being excluded from the Afro descendant,Indigenous and white community in Bolivia. How she looks gets minimized down to where she migrated from with no acknowledgement that she is born and raised in Bolivia. It was not until 2009 that Afro Bolivians gained a constitutional recognition and it was only within the Indigenous context. Now it is about acknowledging their experience that is unique to the Afro descendant history. Paola is the Coordinator of the Network for Bolivia and the Lower part of the Region for the RMAAD. She speaks of an exclusion of a people that only becomes visible through dance and culture and is nonexistent in the areas of education and health. When I look at Paola and know how hard she works and how isolated she must feel in her daily movement, my love and respect for her grows more and more.

Lidice a young bright sister from Puerto Cabeza, Nicaragua spoke of the sexualizing of Black women being a violent attack on body and mind. When she walks out, she is seen and approached as a sexual object. Lidice shared that there have been times that the men come so close to touching her on the streets that she feels violated.
Nedelka our hermana from Honduras spoke of the conflict of being an educated Black woman fighting for human rights and how she has to fight harder than most to get her voice heard.

My response to the question of how it feels to walk outside, was that a day does not go by that I don’t have to explain myself from an African/Black perspective and as a woman from Latin America. It puts you on guard because some exchanges can feel like the rug was pulled from under you wanting to rip apart the root you strongly stand on.
As I stood translating and sharing their deepest thoughts, I kept thinking how the racism we face on a daily basis is violent to our being. The fact that we keep getting up and doing what we have been placed on this road to do with such passion speaks to the ancestors light shining bright.

Standing in this light and raising the voices of Black Women in Latin America brings us closer to understanding who we are as individuals, recognizing the sisterhood, the bond we share wherever we are standing.

It was clear that our struggle is not only with those outside of our community but also within. The within is complex and speaks to the chain being off our feet but still on our minds.
Lidice shared the struggle in the coastal communities of Nicaragua as to what is defined as ‘proper’ English. She celebrates and embraces her Creole tongue yet gets told not only from outsiders but from those within the community that she needs to speak ‘proper English’ to get anywhere.’ It’s English,!’ She says with Pride, ‘who decided what is proper and what is not.’ She continues this thought by posing the question, ‘why others can’t adapt to our way, why are we always adapting and rejecting what is ours?’ I loved Lidice’s spunk to just say what she had to say. Asi es querida!!

No panel with Black women can go on without speaking about our Hair. Others won’t leave our hair alone and we don’t accept or embrace our own hair. This is a ‘to each his own’ topic but for those who have Natural hair more often than not, it can become a political statement. A statement of full  acceptance.  To truly speak of embracing our Africanness means embracing how we were born. Lidice shared how women in Nicaragua are seen as ‘not beautiful enough’ when their hair is natural. She shared the story of a contestant who had natural hair when she entered the contest and as the contest went along, her hair was processed.

I added the disappointment of how our hair is now seen, may it be in Afro or braids as not professional or clean. This is what is happening in Panama. We have had two recent cases that are a true realization of moving backwards. A staff member at Copa Airlines had to fight to keep her job because her natural hair was seen as ‘unsanitary.’ The other case which touched me was that of an 11 year old who was told she could not come to school with her hair braided and if she does, she would need it to not be ‘exotic’ and going back in straight lines. Que locura! This is crazy! My heart and my support for this beautiful young woman runs deep for she will need a lot of love to have this moment not have a lasting negative impact on her image of self.

As we moved through all the issues that affect us as Black Women from Latin America we touched on the overall sentiment that seems to be very visible in all our spaces, that most want us to think that to be Black is ‘less than.’ The discussion then went into the terms used and embraced by our communities. Do we know what it means to be an Afro descendant? Do we ourselves run from the term ‘African’ because we hold a negative view of the continent? Do we see the unified voice in the term that removes the who is the ‘better Black.’?

Yes, I know these are thought provoking questions and based on the emails since the event; everyone in attendance was left with something to think about.

There was one question that was posed to us,why don't we have the same presence as the Indigenous community? that speaks to why Amilcar Priestley, a fellow Afro Panamanian, Director of the Afro Latin@ Project and I began planning this event.  The event was a way to bring the MY WORLD/MI MUNDO campaign into the community.

Amilcar and the Afro Latin@ Project has been a leading force in making sure our voices are heard and making our experience count.

‘The MyWorld/Mi Mundo 2015 is a campaign to encourage citizen participation in establishing a new set of Sustainable Goals. The purpose of us participating in this campaign is to encourage Afrodescendants communities to have a voice in deciding which development issues are most important such as health care, education, gender equality, climate change, freedom from discrimination and better job opportunities. 2015 has been marked as the International Decade of People of African Descent.’ Visit to learn more and to vote.

Other organizations to collaborating on the campaign and the event are, Red de Mujeres Afro, Encuentro Diaspora Afro, When and Where I enter Inc. and the CCCADI.
One of the topcis that got all sitting up in their seat was race relations in the Dominican Republic. This is an issue of the Diaspora that until fully addressed will be our compass.  This is our problem of the 21st Century.

This uplifting yet thought provoking evening ended with a poem by our Afro Peruvian sister, Monica Carillo called ‘Pantera Negra.’ The poem speaks to how she feels attacked when moving through the streets as a Black woman from Peru.

Afro Panamanian songstress Mai-elka Prado of the Del Sonido Collective lifted our spirits with her soothing voice.  She was then joined by Afro Panamanian Percussionist Geraldo Flores who woke up the ancestors and sent us home feeling full.

This was truly a special evening where all present and all the women who shared their story stood with the Love of this calling and the light of those whose shoulders they stand on. That combination is a reminder that love is a guiding force and it runs deep in the face of the daily struggles we face in Raising our Voices/ Alzando Nuestras Voces.

We know no other way or better way to honor what we come from and who we are as Black Women from Latin America. We will keep reaching for that light and looking forward to the next opportunity to share it with you.

Peace and light,
Orgullosamente Afrodescendiente

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Michael Brown is my Hermano

Chalk this up to, my internal voice needs to sing out loud. There is so much going on around us, so much to speak on. Our focus then becomes how we uplift the spirit of our people, our community. Although external peace seems difficult at this time our hope is that our internal strength will guide us.

Like many, my heart feels heavy as we face another senseless killing of a young black man. There is an urgency to pause and say, that could have been……..

When an Afro Latino with my complexion gets on the bus their experience is no different from that of an African American of the same complexion. That is the skin color experience that supersedes the Afro descendant experience. It is a fact that we will have experiences rooted in societal bias and negative stereotypes. In saying that, my Song during this time is, Michael Brown in my Hermano.(Brother)

Michael looks like a young man from Panama, Colombia and Santo Domingo. One of the things that would make this different for any young man from these countries is that, with Spanish being their first language they would have said, ‘Tengo las manos arriba, no dispare!’ My Hands are up, Don’t Shoot.!

While we continue to name it a Black- Brown issue, organizations like Encuentro Diaspora Afro and other Afro Latino organizations, stand up to say, in thinking about my complexion, it is a Black-Black issue from the moment we step out of our homes. At this point speaking Spanish does not exclude us from these experiences.

If we understand this position and how that should change this ongoing Black-Brown narrative the next question is, where is the Latino community on the issue of our young men having these deadly experiences not based on their cultural identity but their racial identity?

What would you need to know and see to feel the pain of Michael Brown's family and the people of Ferguson? What does it have to look like for you to make a strong statement in English or Spanish about the senseless killing of our young black men? 

The statement is just a beginning. When will the face of the leading Latino organizations look like my Hermano from Panama, Colombia or Santo Domingo? When will it look like Michael Brown?

By not showing up in force, is it speaking to the implicit bias that Latinos come in one way? Brown is a name in Panama if you are of African descent. The Brown’s I know are Proud Latinos.

We are in a crisis. It is time to address our biases, our deeply rooted state of racial hierarchy even within our own community.  Until that time comes, I will keep reminding you that Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Eric Garner is my Hermano.

Rest in Peace my Hermano. You will never be forgotten by this Hermana.

In light and Hope,

Yvette Modestin

Encuentro Diaspora Afro

Friday, August 15, 2014

Elevating the Voices of the Silvermen; Celebrating 100 Years of the Panama Canal.

A few weeks ago I began Facebook entries about the Silvermen and my family. The entries were a way of bringing you closer to a story that has not been fully told and that of my own journey within this territory we called the Canal Zone.

As I reflected before and after each piece I realized how lucky I was to have been hugged tightly by my family who taught me my worth beyond this so called privilege and made me understand that I am Panamanian of Caribbean descent and the many layers of that identity.

As I grow as a woman, a writer and an activist, I embrace the fact that I loved my childhood and that I was on the receiving end of some privilege but still it was not what we fully deserved for the sacrifices that were made.

So today with a full heart that I have done right for you at this moment in time, I pour libation for your sacrifice, guidance and light and I raise the glass for those who are still standing.

For You I will keep Singing Loud and Clear!

Peace and Love

Entry #1
They call it the Panama Canal. I call it one of the Wonders of the World that carries the sweat of my family. As we move to celebrate 100 years of this wonder, I will celebrate and honor my family, others close to me and my community; for they have defined the place we call 'Patria.'

Leading up to the August 15th, I will share a story, a picture, a song that I hope will bring you closer to the Soul of this journey.

Modestin, Hyatt, Spence, Durant. I call out your name and Welcome your spirit of Resiliency, Hope and Love. Ashe O!
For your journey has been the exclamation point in my narrative, has fueled my footsteps and fed my purpose.
Thank you

Entry #2
Honoring the Unbreakable Pride of African Caribbean Kings-More than 'Silvermen'

Papa can I touch your 'chichón'? Yes Yzette:) ( no one says my name better than my Papa) Tell me the story of your chichon Papa? With his French accent and sharp mind, my beautiful grandfather would share stories of the long hours working in the dark and not knowing when something would explode and if you would survive. He would speak of long hours working without a break but he knew he had to do this, for his family.

Joseph Felix Modestin was from Vauclin, Martinique. He came from farm country and brought that same tradition with him. Papa was one of the great farmers in Gatun. Papa was born into slavery and left Martinque as a teenager. He lied about his age to get on that boat that dropped him off in Colon. This would begin the Modestin, Hyatt story in Panama. He was statuesque as he was almost 7 feet tall. My Papa moved with a sense of pride in what he came from and what he did for his family that was unbreakable.

Grandfather, who is that? Yvette, that is someone from the old country that came to visit. Grandfather you are good with numbers what is your secret? Always remember this, keep it in your head so no one can take it from you.

Stanley Spence was from Mandeville, Jamaica. I later learned that my beautiful dark skin grandfather, the one I visibly look like was a 'Numbers Man' and took care of a lot of people. He was a Lodge man and moved with a sense of style, grace and honor that made you take a second look.

These two men left a country they loved, to seek a better life. They found that in many ways but it did not come easy. They fled slavery and racism and found themselves facing another version of it that made them lean on that self worth, that Pride, that I saw growing up. My love affair with these two men runs deep.

The Silvermen were laborers who knew about sacrifice. They knew they had to turn the other cheek to the racism and Jim Crow Laws imposed on them to take care of their families back home and the family and community they became a part of in Panama.

Silver was presented as the 'less than' object which is what they were paid with for 16+ hours in no more than 10 cents an hour.

My Papa and My Grandfather were never 'less than men.' They were not then and they are not now, for I will raise their name before anyone that doesn't know this truth.

They are brilliant, Proud, African Caribbean men, whose hands were a part of building this wonder of the world.

Entry #3
Honoring the Queen Warriors standing with the Silvermen

Open your hands wide then squeeze them tight. Now punch forward as hard as you can, boom,boom. Always protect your face. Michele, Yvette, you paying attention? Yes,Ata. Felix, you ready. Yes,Ata.
These were my maternal grandmother, Ethlyn 'Ata' Durant instructions on how to fight. She was preparing Felix to go back out and defend himself after being bullied.
My grandmother was FIERCE in a, I am woman but do not see it as weakness, I have unbeatable strength.
Ethlyn Durant was one of the few women in Colon who owned and ran a business. She was proud owner of a Chiva Bus. I saw this sassy woman move with an elegance and a pride that most feared. She was an example of a strong Jamaica and Barbados upbringing. She was about never bau your head to anyone. To be a known strong businesswoman was a big deal back then. To know that one of these woman was my fight loving, sassy, sexy grandmother, well, it doesn't get better than that.

Mama Marie loved that fruit! Can I try it Auntie? Yes, Yvette. You know you were named after her. Yes, I know. Her picture was in every house. We heard stories about her all the time. I kept waiting to see her. As I got older I then understood that Mama Marie had passed away. Stories about her caring for her nine children, her community spirit and her gentle soul were an everyday occurrence in our family.
Marie Hyatt Modestin was a beautiful Martinican woman who loved her family. Although I never met her I walk with her stories and the pride of carrying her name.

While Papa worked long hours like many of the other Silvermen, women like my two grandmothers kept the family and the community together. Let us not forget that next to these Kings stood these Queens, two of them a permanent fixture in my song.

There is a Yoruba verse that says, nothing is complete, love, clarity and sweetness is not present without the presence of Oshun. Ethlyn and Marie brought that presence and for this I raise their name with pride.

Entry #4

For your Light
For your Struggle
For your Resiliency
For your Pride
For your Love
We Salute you Today and Everyday
For you began the journey and we extend it by never bowing our heads
For we will forever elevate You
Proud Caribbean, Afro Antillano

August 1st will now be the official day to commemorate 20,000+ Caribbean workers of the Panama Canal

Entry #5 Rainbow City, Pedro Miguel, Paraiso and Gamboa

We didn't want for anything! Although these communities were the Canal Zone version of Jim Crow, apartheid, segregation it was our version of a loving, supportive, intellectual, hard working Village. Every neighbor took part in looking out for you.

Christmas Day in Rainbow City was hands down the best! Everyone coming out with their version of a holiday get up with whatever toy they had that made noise then off we went.
All these communities were also a visual reality that we could do whatever we set our mind to do because we saw black teachers, doctors, nurses, firefighters, police officers, managers, tug boat captains etc. we could do it all. We had amazing examples of dedicated mothers.

Whatever the intent behind waiting way past the US laws to desegregate the Canal Zone what it did was instill a sense of pride, resiliency, and commitment to never let down the struggle of the Silvermen. To all those who came out of these communities, stand up! Stand proud! Step with certainty into your light.

Entry #6- Calling out their names, honoring the work- Panama Canal 100 Years
Peace all, I ask that after reading this entry, you pause and pour libation. Call out all the names, all the jobs and allow it to be heard in the depth of the waters of the Panama Canal.

In writing this entry, I embrace the gift that I am an extension of many voices. Today my Mother's and my Papa's sing above all.

One of my treasured moments with my mother was going with her to the Asilo de Anciano in Pilón. She would visit the retired workers of the Panama Canal many who did not have families. I was in awe of their grace and the character in their faces.
My love affair with my Papa runs deep within. My Papa passed away on my 15th birthday. Since then I have celebrated my born day and his journey.

I pour this for your guidance and your strength!

Construction worker, Foreman, Locomotive Operator, Ladies Department in the Coco Solo commissary, Malaria Control, Claims Supervisor, Nurse for the Retired Workers, Line Handler, Teletype Operator, Time Keeper, Detention Guard, Canal Protection- Assistant Branch Chief.
Michele-Control House. Yvette- Control House, Gatun Locks main office, Tugboat Office, Maintenance. Felix- Maintenance Division, Industrial Division - Oil, Industrial Division - Carpentry and Fitness & Recreation.

These are the jobs that my family held in the 100 years of the Panama Canal including those of Michele,Felix and myself. As we celebrate this wonder of the world it is important to elevate the sacrifice of our ancestors, the work of our families and even that of our own role in this story.

From the ship in Martinique, to getting off at the dock in Colon, 5th Street, to your hands being a part of this wonder, to Retiring as a Foreman of the Gatun Locks, you, Joseph Felix Modestin began this amazing story.

Entry #7-Honoring this Wonder of the World and the Silvermen- Panama Canal 100 Years

Today we celebrate the wonder of you, The Panama Canal and the journey of many resilient, dedicated Caribbean workers who built this wonder.

To see it up close, to journey through these waters brings us all closer to you. Your sacrifice will never be forgotten. Your journey, your story will always be elevated by those whose are an extension of your greatness.

I dedicate this entry to all of you for paving this Unbreakable ground we walk on. To my father, Felix Zachary Modestin Hyatt, I raise the voice of that young man from Gatun in you who reached for that banana from a white Zonian tree that brought you closer to the divide yet today you stand with great Pride and Joy that you are a Zonian, that you moved beyond and that our family is part of this wonder that we celebrate today.

Thank you for the whispers, thank you for the light.

Peace, love and Blessings

Critica Panama

BBC News

Monday, July 21, 2014

I Am a Product of......

I Am a Product of....

On the recent 4th of July weekend, I came full circle before what has defined strength, resiliency, love for family, love for friends and love for community to me. I know why I love and care so hard because I am Panamanian and that is what we know for sure and do with all our might. I have been on the receiving end of many things but I feel a sense of peace, humility and gratitude that I have arrived at the door to receive the love of my Panamanian community.

As I stood before this beautiful audience it was clear to me that I was placed on this journey and that I am something, someone, is guiding my footsteps, my heart and my soul. For those who were not present and walk this journey with me, Much Love. I share with you part of my words on that special evening.

Thank you, Gracias, peace and blessings to all
I am called many things but I most proud of
I am the granddaughter of fierce, resilient men and women
I am the niece of loving and loyal men and women , one of them here with me tonight. Thanks Bobby and Thanks Priscilla for joining him.
I am the sister of a woman that loves unconditionally, and keeps me safe, Thank you sis , love you dearly
I am the sister of a man who is loyal and dedicated to those he cares about. Thanks Felix
I am the auntie of a young woman whose light will shine bright always, love you Chanel
I am the auntie to two young men who will move beyond what most will limit them to, love you Christiaan and Nicholas
I am a product of a great coach who taught me the true meaning of a TEAM, Thanks Coach Jones
I am the extension of a true Afro Panamanian warrior, Thanks Mr. Richards

I am the product of a friend who has been with me every step of the way, Thank you Veena.
I am a product of women who have taken me under the wings up close and far away, Loretta, Maya, Alice, Marta, Dorotea, Sonia, Marinieves, Ms.. Phyllis,  and so many more, thank you
I am product of people who have cared for me, and have taken care of me, Thanks Aminta and Mr. Cordoba  for being here tonight. Thanks Michele A. and many more.
I am a product of a Boston community that shaped me spiritually and politically and care for me- Thanks Chuck, Tony, Profe. James, Jemadari, Ester, Alan, Askia, Gigi, Anne, Rolanda, Sarah, Toshi, Christopher, Avital, Robyn, the Encuentro Diaspora Afro familia and many more.

A big thanks to the Boston Panamanian Association, Francisco, Josepha, Delia and many others for embracing me from the start
I am a friend, sister, Hermana girlfriend, lover, mentor
I am you all of you for their light and yours have brought me to this very place I stand in this evening.
My greatest gift and the light that guides and protects my footsteps most is that of my mother. Thank you Mama for making me see beyond and move beyond.
Next to that gift is my daily reminder that I am worthy of all good things, loving things. He is my biggest cheerleader and the reason I know, I am loved. Thanks daddy for every girl should be so lucky to be loved in such a special way by her father.
Thank you Reginaldo Quique Williams for this this honor which I accept with the resiliency, love and humility from those whose shoulders I stand on, those who have shaped me and those who walk with me.
To all Panamanians present, I love you. That love has taken me to places that I am able to tell our unique truly special story. We are a special people! My heart smiles back at me when I stand in the light of Panamanians.
I am a product of Colon, Rainbow City, it is through that love, that light, that I know What Keep getting up looks like. I dedicate this to you.
I know I am guided and protected by each of you. That has kept me on this road that flows as smoothly as the waters of Playa langosta and gets as bumpy as a bad street in Colon but like you, I keep getting up.
For some I see too much, say too much. I will continue, saying too much and seeing as much as I can. I will continue to speak truth.
Truth as a Black Panamanian woman says, I am in love with the complexity of what that means and I will not be blinded by the love and not see truth.
What does this mean? It means speaking on things that make us uncomfortable. I have learned that discomfort means change is coming and is possible. Truth can lead to change. The truth I am talking about is
1.       That this country we celebrate and call Patria once denied my grandparents citizenship
2.       The territory that taught me that I am Black and Proud is the same territory that made Black feel and look inferior
3.       We are product of a country that still struggles with Truth.  That truth is that we are part of the building and the growth of this country.  We continue to struggle with the acceptance of that story and that Panama looks like me.

In saying that and knowing that our narrative or the opening to OUR song, each of you present is We love BIG, we are blessed and well protected because we are truly a product of Kings and Queens that sailed our beautiful waters.

Thank you for making this Colon, Rainbow City girl feel loved and for finding the courage to put my love for you on paper.

I close with the words from one of my poems, You are Beautiful, Cause you are Panamanian.

In light and love,


Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Who and what is Safe? Who is Authentic?

I am chalking up this reflection to the wisdom gathered with age, internal peace that showers you when that arrives and fearlessness that mirrors that of my dear childhood friend Usha.

One door cracked the other fully open. Understanding the depth of that line has allowed me stay on this road to bring truth to something that is nothing but the truth. We have been fed years of misinformation that does not allow us to see each other.
I am walking around after a few profound experiences asking the question. Who and what is Safe as it relates to addressing Racism. The follow up question then becomes, who decides?
My skin seems to be getting in the way of other people seeing the good intentions in my footsteps yet my joy and acceptance of this skin and the internal pride it showers me with, has opened the door for me to find my True Self. 

This combination has brought me face to face with the realization that I am not invited to most Latino tables in Boston. This reality has come with acceptance which is why it was time to share it out loud.
In speaking out loud and holding nothing back at a recent panel, I realized that if you are ready to hear it, that is the reality about racism in and out of our community, then the delivery, visual etc., will not get in the way.

One, Talking about race is not safe. Two, talking about race as an Afro Latina calling out the internal racism within the community is not safe. What I am sitting with today after being on this road for a long time, is that in speaking on it, you personally become ‘not safe’ to many.

I see myself as non-threatening moving with the intent to raise the voices of my ancestors. Yet based on the looks and lack of invitations, I now know that my words sound like a heavy punch.
I have heard many times, “we need to bring you back to the Latino community."
 I never left, Yo soy Panameña de Colon Por Vida/ I am a Panamanian from colon for life!

The "Latino" door that excludes my Africanness did close a long time ago and may never open after this reflection. Yet the door that opened is filled with clarity of what I come from, whose shoulders I stand on, who I am and what I bring to the table.

Moving with the phrase, ‘land gently on the heart’ taught me new ways to speak on this truth. Yet however gentle, in Spanish or English I say it, if your heart has fears being seen as Black first and foremost, then I absolutely understand why you closed the door.
I know I am reminder of the roots you struggle to identify. My next question becomes, Who decides who is the Authentic Latino? Is there a Latino checklist that those who these words are directed to walk with?
Last week the young girls of the HER Project attended an event in the community with staff. They were excited to see one of the participants being Latina.
They met the self-identified Afro Latina and had an inspiring exchange that led them both to say, I want to be like her. The other exchange was also inspiring yet puzzling. When they approached the Latina in Spanish, she immediately stopped them to say, my Spanish is not good. My girls were puzzled because she had the name, the accent, the look, but not the language.
When I walked into the mix, the Latina seemed surprised that I had the place of birth, the language, I was asked about my name and clearly she was stuck on the look.
In comes the question, who is Authentic and who decides? Who makes that checklist that says, Ok, Ella es Latina. In this moment it becomes clear that assumption and bias takes over.
Moment’s likes these are a common theme in my daily life. I have learned to navigate them without responding with a history lesson.
My concern today is the youth that we see every day. What happens to the youth of the HER and the HIS Project who are doing their work, reaching for their root and finding joy and pride in it? What happens when they are faced with a ‘Latino’ who has not but has the power to make decisions and does not want to talk about Racism that includes looking at self. Is it easier to address Race issues from the outside of self? For your eyes to open to see it all around us, your heart has to be open to heal and shed what you have been fed for so long, Black is Bad and White is good. This goes beyond the color of our skin because the acceptance of the internal Black, the Africanness is the first step.
With all the work they are doing to organize their minds and remove the chains of colonialism, will they be invited to the table? Will they be safe? They will be the leaders of tomorrow with a strong sense of their identity.
While you sit and ponder all the questions I have posed in this reflection, I will stay on this road for as long as they want me to, working with the youth, speaking to those who want to listen and to those who want to see real change.
I will continue walking through the door that was opened for me to see beyond. Maybe someday when you find it Safe to speak about the internal racism that you see then you can invite the young women of the HER Project and the young men of the HIS Project to sit at the table with you.
Peace and Light,


Tuesday, April 8, 2014


When we recognize the root,

Oh how light the soul feels.

All parts of self, receive an equal dose of recognition.

Your footsteps become lighter,

Your dance moves instantly to the beat of the drum.

Your heart knows unconditional love.

Your skin shines from within,

You see yourself in those that stand before you, moving beyond location and class.

You feel when they appear,

The cloud opens up,

Love is unconditional,

Clarity of your journey showers you,

All this when we recognize the root,

Giving thanks to the shoulders we stand on,

Oh how light the Soul feels

(Inspired by the young men of the HIS Project and the young women of the HER Project and our recent guests, Bill, Ayari, Anne and Domenic.)

The silence in my blogs is not from lack of writing but so much writing and so many stories to tell that it has been difficult to pick one. This short poem has been the Encuentro Diaspora Afro song for the past few months.

At our Black History Month event, we learned that our community needs ongoing spaces to address the internal conflict that they face every day around their identities. We have been fed a heavy dose of misinformation that gets in the way of us seeing our natural beauty or our true self in the mirror.

During our fishbowl dialogue and Q&A period, we heard the pain from the conflict of not accepting our Africanness. Many have been told that by doing so, you are going to be on the receiving end of everything bad and difficult. It is no secret in our spaces that this is deeply rooted in our psyche and will take time.

Many are forced to address their identity based on color of skin or by being parents to children who will have different experiences. What we know for sure is that we continue to be faced with the reality that saying I am black, I am an Afrodescendent, is a process. It is time to remove all the "different kind of black" that pull us apart.

The messages at home and from society have created a block to see race and ethnicity as two separate entities that can come together and uplift the soul. We need to get to a place that says, you do not need to deny any part of yourself. We need to understand that light skin, trigueño, and all the many terms we can reach for before Black, does not mean you are not an Afrodescendent.

The young men and the young women of the HIS and HER project are taking us on a journey that has our minds going a mile a minute and keeps us expanding and reaching for more.

We are faced with the reality that there is Pain in the exchange and we cannot lift it all. It is important to be patient of their process. There is joy when they arrive and see the light on their own. When the light shows up or as some say that aha moment showers them, what a beautiful sight it is.

During our Tree activity two of our girls learned that they might be related. Another one of our girls found out she has Chinese heritage. At the end of our Tree dialogues we invited community leaders to come in and share their family story. To see the excitement in the youths faces when they made the connection to a presenter was priceless.

They struggled with the visual of Ayari, a Puerto Rican, Mexican activist, being 'light skinned' and saying I am an Afrodescendent. One of the girls asked her directly, ' How do you know?' 'How did you get there?' When Ayari passed a drum around to speak about Bomba y Plena from Puerto Rico one of the girls went into one of the deepest explanations of Palo that I have witnessed. When she finished we all looked at her with a, 'tu eres Afrodescendiente', look. I kept saying to myself, the drums don't lie.

Anne and her Afro Dominican pride put the exclamation point at the end of this dialogue. The fact that she came to the US at the age of some of the girls, did not speak much English, and went through the Boston Public School system and went to Simmons College on a full scholarship was an extra, Aha moment for a few of the girls.

Bill Willis, Executive Producer, Writer of the film, 'The Last Shot' brought to light the importance of loyalty to our young men when he spoke of the reality of the streets of Boston and how our young men can move beyond the negativity.

Bringing current issues into the space is always interesting. We did just that when we shared Lupita Nyon'go's Essence Black Women in Hollywood and Oscar speeches. We had the girls read her words out loud and also watch the video. This landed profoundly on some of the girls who struggle with being "dark skinned." The fact that this woman who won an Academy Award spoke so openly about brought a light of acceptance to these girls.

We tried something new by engaging the young men in a dialogue on Beauty. They were so excited to share their thoughts. We took this opportunity to go deeper into what is done behind the scenes to make women look a certain way and the dangers of holding the women around them, their classmates, to those standards.

Allowing new light to come into the lives of these young people and our community has revealed the need to create more spaces and to try new things that make it feel safe to speak from the heart, and builds unity.

As you know, I always have a question for us to sit with, in the hope that we as a community can reach for the answer together. How do we continue to unmask the impact of colonialism? How do we dismantle the long term impact of the 'Willie Lynch Letter.'

Staying on this road is no easy task, but we believe we are where they want us to be and we believe in those who guide us. That light that we reach for allows us to see a truth and an unconditional love that is my greatest hope for Our People.

I hope you know my pen is always to the paper and I will be back soon to share more of this journey with you.

In peace, love and light,

Friday, January 10, 2014

A Revolutionary Compass for 2014

A Revolutionary Compass for 2014
Happy New Year familia!

I hear the word revolutionary a lot. Most times it is used in a way that seems, odd or negative. For 2014 I would like to claim it as a word that implies our act to love ourselves unconditionally and reach for what is rightfully ours.
In 2013 I wrote about searching and reaching beyond the words written in the books that do not speak our truth. I shared the words of Mrylie Evers Williams from her Inaugural address, “their spirit infuse our being to work together with respect, enabling us to continue to build this nation, and in so doing we send a message to the world that we are strong, fierce in our strength, and ever vigilant in our pursuit of freedom.”

I wrote about my beloved Colon, dedicated one of my Reflections to my Papa, one of the Silver men, and shared my thoughts on my trip to the Dominican Republic and Nelson Mandela. It was a year of reaching for truth.  For 2014 we hope to continue on this path by highlighting a few areas.

The first is of great organizational and collective interest. It is the Dominican –Haitian conflict. I truly believe this is our compass. This is the compass, for Afro descendents to know if we are moving in the direction of prosperity, for all.  If we cannot get a people to see that this act is far from just a migration issue but of a deeply rooted conflict of black identity, then we are in conflict as a whole of our blackness beyond the color of our skin.
The other is the work with the young men of the HIS (Hermanos is Solidarity) Project and the young women of the HER (Hermanas Exchanging Roots) Project. These young people have touched the very core of my soul. Sitting with them every week has confirmed that our compass took us to the right place.

They confirm the need to address the first issue as most are Dominicans and are struggling with the message they have heard for years, their personal experiences and their journey to awareness as they sit with us week after week.
My heart is heavy when they say; Ms. Being black in DR is not easy. My heart is heavy when I hear their dislike, towards Haitians without any real exchange with a Haitian. My heart is heavy when they do not know they are black based on skin color or roots. This is deep familia, and this is our future if we don’t address the direction of this compass.

We need to re root the direction of our compass to face the truth, address the misinformation of history and truly embrace who we are.
The final area is my ever beating heart of areas. This is the ongoing fire to uplift my home community of Colon. Although in a state of crisis, I still wake up believing that the compass will direct us, not to the Colon of the past but a Colon of the future that will have an inclusive voice, a Colon that will benefit from the richness it creates but is denied to retain.

Embracing our full self is not an easy journey but let us all give it a Revolutionary try for 2014. A compass is about forward motion in the right direction to successfully reach your destination.
For 2014 our wish is for a revolutionary compass that will uplift our righteous crown and direct our heart to love the face in the mirror and the face that reminds you of your abuelo/a, tia/o.

Let us look in the same direction, a direction that will say success in Dominican Republic means success in Haiti. Success in Colon means success in Colombia. Success in Boston means success in South Africa. Let us direct our youth to a place of internal healing that will transfer to a positive self image. That will be our Revolutionary compass, the Revolutionary act to be Negro y Orgulloso.

 In light and peace,


Wednesday, January 8, 2014

What Nelson Mandela means to this Panamanian, Black Zonian child

What Nelson Mandela means to this Panamanian, Black Zonian child

Since Nelson Mandela became ill, I began reflecting on when I first learned about him and his journey to Freedom.
I then remembered the very moment. It was in the 8th grade when I wrote a Social Studies paper on Apartheid.

My reflecting led me to think of why his fight was more than just for South Africa then and now. His fight/journey was for all people of African descent and for those who believe in peace and justice. His journey was definitely for this child from Panama who understood the depth of his act.

I grew up in Jim Crow imposed laws. My community was segregated and we were the Majority, that is what Apartheid looks like.

I understood him because he gave me another name to define my story.
Many Blacks died in Panama fighting this reality. Many Panamanians fought and died fighting the concept and construct that they could not walk in streets of the American territory that was smaller than an entire country.

To celebrate Mandela's life is to celebrate what Freedom should be yet it has not been attained by the Majority around the world.

The pain is felt all over the world and deeply by this Panamanian, Black Zonian child who still walks around with the thought, how did we not go to the Skating Rink until the communities where intergrated, it was right around the corner from Rainbow City.

As I reflect more on what this has meant to me, I think that segregation helped me in many ways to see what Black sacrifice , Black Unity and Black Love looks and feels like.

As an activist who stands for many of the same issues, he means more to me today. His lessons are many and in sharing these thoughts, his greatest in this moment is Forgiveness.

Speaking truth is to be Free. To be free in mind and heart is to be willing and able to forgive. I forgive and love, as I cherish that segregated and integrated community.

Madiba is our loss. A loss to all who can see right from wrong within their own complicated story. Because of him, I know I chose the right side.

He is a physical loss. He is what sacrifice for your people, sacrifice for truth, is.

I know he will be received by the ancestors in a joyous loving way because it is his time to rest.

Rest in Peace Madiba. Thank you for opening the eyes of this Panamanian, Black Zonian child. Thank you for loving me.

Fist up!


In truth and peace,