Meeting Afro-Argentine Activist

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18 June 2014 Wednesday

Today I felt a little sick. I kept coughing and felt self-conscience about it. I think the weather is finally getting to me. It’s cold and sometimes damp. I only brought my faux-fur jacket, a hoodie (that I didn’t want to wear all the time) and some soft sweaters. Hopefully I would get better.

I broke my fast and made myself a full breakfast before I left. I was a little surprised that cayenne pepper was in the cupboard and happily made tea. I was able to say a little prayer in the cold kitchen. Its hard to pray in my room because when I wake up I have to be extra careful not to wake up my roommates who can be grumpy…sometimes throughout the entire day.

Anyway, we went to meet Afro-Argentinos Activists today at a school.  I don’t know why I felt so happy that I was meeting activist. Now however, I think it was not really a big idea but before I met them I had an image of the late 60’s early 70’s and people looking like Angela Davis. This was totally not the case!

The two we met were Maria De Ma Landa and Patrica Gomez.

Maria De Ma Landa was an older lady, 69 years of age…the same age as my father. She looked pretty good for her age.  She started organizing in 1994 when she was just 25 (around my age).  I had a hard time following her ‘success’ story because there seemed to be gaps in her spoken resume  and also things she said did not make sense for an activist to say.

For example, she kept telling us that her days of organizing were over because she was much older now. My idea of an activist is – you believe in something so much that you always have a zeal to make others see the world the way you do, even if this means working in your old age. See, where I am from, activist work on their projects and believe in their topics till death!

Nevertheless, here is her story:

I started teaching my people about their history by going from door to door in 1997. I wanted them to feel comfortable about their history. First I went from house to house and neighborhood to neighborhood. I saw when I went from door to door that most afro-argentines knew their history but were not teaching their children. They were also marring out of their race.

During the Memin administration people didn’t have work and got involved with drugs and alcohol.  They were clueless about what they could do concerning education. They did not know they could go to the universities for free.

I created a group of youth who with drug additions in 1998 called the group La Famillia. I used music like drums to bring them together and gave the youth work through grants to create small businesses so they could support themselves.

Here, I asked her if the group was still running but she informed me that the grant ran out…I felt this was also awkward as if your heart is into something, especially like helping your people, you should not depend solely on a grant. And what about those small businesses? Weren’t they making money?! .

It took 4 years for things to get up and kicking and finally afro-argentines are organized- well those who agree with her. See, this is another thing that got me thinking, when you are working towards a cause, the work never ends. The poor is with us always, there is always someone new to teach and someone who needs help. How in the world did her story had an end such as this one??

As I was sitting there trying to put the pieces together, someone asked a question and the topic changed to race.

Question: How do blacks/ Indians identify? I am against using terms like colonial branch because the name is chosen by the white man. (I believe she calls herself Afro-Argentine. I should have asked her about the term indigenous ).

Question: How do people respond to this organization? People who don’t look black and the next generation are embracing it. But they don’t recognize themselves as afro-argentines….it’s a pan-Diaspora movement. They all have the same concerns but now people are separating themselves. Everyone suffered the same. The ‘colonial’ people (those who embrace the term) feel they deserve everything from the government.

When she said this, I could make connections to what goes on in America concerning movements and activism. There is always confusion and a split in doctrines. Some want peace and others want violence.

Question: What’s most challenging with running an organization?  The 2010 censes. Those who went around asking the questions did not ask the “Afro-Argentine” question. So, at the end of the census, there was zero afro- argentines in Argentina. We are currently concerned about the census. 

Dr. Anderson chimed in and told us that there are currently 2 million but only 160 thousand said they were Afro-Argentine. In 2000 the state recorded 5% Afro-Argentine but in 2010 it was only .15. This happened because not only did no one ask the question but the examiners were told not to ask the question and the people did not anticipate the question in any way since it wasn’t asked since the 17th century.

Question: How do you feel after starting an organization, do you feel defeated? I feel very proud thanks to my ancestors. If not for my ancestors, I wouldn’t have came this far. I am the oldest of 32 cousins and while I still have a voice I am going to scold them about speaking from the heart and what they really are.   

After Maria De Ma Landa spoke there was a short intermission and then we met the younger activist, who is my age…Her name is Patrica Gomez. I was able to follow her closely.

She was very light skin with long hair. She looked like a Dominican but classified as Afro-Argentine. She told us that her grandparents were from West Africa. I wonder what she would call herself if she traveled to America. Maybe simply Argentine? Maybe?

She works for the Mutual Aid Society. I think her profession has to do with law. The organization that she works with is important for Afro-Argentines because it helps maintain traditions and social activities. She mentioned another organization called the NGO. I have to find what the acronym stands however, it works towards the human rights. It deals with diversity, and sexual orientation groups. It also tries to provide education and reach young workers and encourage them. Moreover, NGO creates awareness of what Afro-Descendent women have to suffer with sexism and racism. She is involved with both organizations.

I was glad she didn’t talk long but got right to the point as to what she did and what she was trying to do. Not to compare and contrast so much but she was currently working on projects unlike Landa.  One quote I got from this discussion is the following:

Your identity goes back to your history not just physical characteristics.

I learned that the history that she is trying to preserve or make others aware of is a history that is true and not lost, the state of Argentina just refuse to acknowledge it. Thus, children and even college students do not  learn about the Afro- Argentines.  If your parents or family don’t tell you about it, you may never learn about it.

There at the meeting, I met an American professor, Robert Cottrol who teaches Law and History at the George Washington University.

After eating out again at another restaurant, we walked home. Everyone decided to get ice cream but I still was feeling a little under the weather thus I went home. I stayed home by myself which was almost scary at first. I took a hot shower and went to bed.

By the way, we are totally not following this Itinerary that I keep pulling out. Maybe tomorrow I will leave it in my folder.