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.

Meeting with Professor Ezequiel Adamovsky

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Journal Entry:

16 June 2014 Monday

Today we went to a lecture by Professor Ezequiel Adamovsky. (nice name right?)

The place where we went is called La Cazona De Flores and while I don’t understand fully why it’s so significant I do know that a lot of learning takes place there and many educators such as writers and authors give speeches there.

There to welcome us was another anthropologist named Nicolas Fernadez. He sat us down and told us a little history about La Cazona De Flores. It was an upper class house full of paintings owned by a rich family. However,  when the city begin to grow, the neighborhood swallowed up the smaller rich neighborhood.

Now it’s an open space used for studies.  He told us that it is also used a base to connect study courses with employment. I guess that’s the equivalent to an internship. “The house has achieved prestige among the intellectuals, he commented, and the neighborhood of Flores is associated with Afro-Argentine families.”  I think this means a lot, but currently I am not sure why I think this.

Fernadez switched the topic to race in Argentina and I jotted down some of his quotes that I thought were intriguing:

The meaning of race has been a challenged  myth of the country since the beginning

The problem with the stereotypes is not that they are false but incomplete.

Education and violence is what constructed the nation and the false ideas that race doesn’t exist   

If you want to evolve, leave your ethnicities behind

The difference is the resistance of the people and how change comes (his comment in regards to other nations and their response to inequalities)

During the discussion, we spoke about how the government is in control of maintaining the history of Argentina and telling the history of Argentina. He then showed us the 100 peso. There are currently two circulating. One of them, the older one, has the father of the disappearance on it, Julio Argentino Roca (we spoke a little bit about him at the Cemetery) and the other peso has Maria Eva Duarte De Peron’s picture on it.

After his quick discussion, we had lunch and at a popular dish among the indigenous people. ( I am an Indian/ Bolivian dish and it was called Tarte Quino.  I enjoyed it. It did not include meat (surprise!). If I learn how to make one thing on this trip, I would want it to be that!

After lunch the lecture began. Economic, Cultural, Moral and Racial Distinctions in the Making of Class Distinctions in Modern Argentina was filled with complexity for me. I had a hard time following along with the readings because Adamovsty’s voice was monotone and there was a humming in the room. I was just distracted and even dozed off a bit. I am glad he said he would email us the readings.

Nevertheless, I did get something out of the readings. Currently, Argentina is in the middle of social changing and are working to bring about change in relations, schools, newspapers, and even behaviors…The last word makes me think of enculturation all over again. When will governemts learn that certain change is out of their control?

In the 1920’s the middle class and it’s ideologies about society is introduced. Class identity and class separation are not far apart.  

One quote that jumped out at me –which I later asked Adamovsty about – is “ the current president Cristian Fernandez de Kirchner is a defender of ethics”.  Regardless of what Adamovsty meant, how can anyone defend something so vauge and unattainable as ethics? You see why I have to read it myself?

 

Tonight we had a discussion with Dr. Anderson. Apparently I wasn’t the only one trying to grasp the concept of Adamovsty’s paper. She told us how hard it is for Adamovsty who translated his paper into English and also had to read it in English.

Idenity had always been about exclusion in Argentine history. This quote is by Dr. Anderson. Once again we were discussing our favorite topic- race and class. She informed us of a new term: New Poor. The old middle class is slowly becoming new poor and the level of violence has increased. There has never been this many poor people  and it’s becoming a reality for people everywhere. There is also a term to refer to those who are below the poor and it it’s destitute.

One question I now have is- were these terms coined for Argentina or are they social science terms relating to poor and below poor people everywhere? Can we use the term destitute in America to refer to a begger by the wayside?

I am not sure if we are following the Itinerary. I think we are already running out of time.

At the Cemetery

Another Journal Entry:

15 June 2014 Sunday

Today we went to the Recoleta Cemetery. Yes, a cemetery.

I was a bit freaked out at first and I kept wondering if I even belonged there being that I it’s against my religion to participate at all in funerals. One of my classmates commented to me that she doesn’t do grave yards at all and we were able to connect. I quoted what Jesus said to his disciple, “let the dead, burry the dead”.

Nevertheless, I went along with my class and Dr. Anderson and at the end was not scared at all. I realized walking through that the Recoleta Cemetery was actually a tourist site! Imagine, a cemetery as place to sight see! But it is indeed like no other cemetery I ever saw! It is literacy a city of the dead! We walked in and had a time finding our way out. 

We met our tour guide, Simon, who made the tour very interesting and informative. It is at this site I begin to understand the story of the Peron’s and Roca, the father of the disappearance, since I was behind readings.

Simon’s mind seemed to be a store house of innocuous anecdote. He told us stories about government officials as well as others who happened to be buried in the cemetery.  A few stuck with me and if I could have a favorite, it will be the couple who always argued. The man held power of some sort which made the family rich. The women loved to shop, not clothing shopping but high art and things of value. She shopped and created debt for herself and her husband until he put his foot down and told her to quit. Of course she wouldn’t and that is when he refused to pay her debt or associate himself with her buying habit. They stopped talking and their graves were built resembling that fashion. Their backs were towards each other.

I should say here that these tomb stones are huge, some over 10 feet!

I also learned through the story of Rufina Cambaceres (1902 )that Argentina doesn’t waste time in burying the dead, she was buried alive!

The only animal buried in the cemetery is a dog of a girl named Lilliana who died in the 1970’s. She (I forgot if the dog or the girl died that day…) died on her wedding day.

The cemetery was once a garden and is connected to a huge church. It dates all the way back to 1716 and is 14.5 acres which is equivalent to 6 city blocks.

Check out my youtube videos for the full stories.

La Boca, Argentina

La Boca, Argentina

I enjoyed La Boca because of its colorful structure. The barrio is a historic district that contains many colorful buildings and creative vendors. La Boca reflects the 1800’s and give reverence to the past. The homes show how the European Immigrants used to live when they first arrived in Argentina.. Some buildings are weak and dilapidated thus they don’t have entrances…at least not any that I noticed.  It’s like an outside museum.

One of my classmates is taking this picture of me. We are on a weak stairwell that leads to a balcony that is very dangerous…but you wouldn’t know that by looking at the photo.

 

Charles from Ghana

His name is Charles. He is from Ghana. And this is his Story.

I was born healthy. However, at  the age of 3 I got a disease called Polio. There were a lot of people catching it and dying. My mother took me to the doctor who gave me a shot  which probably prevented death but left me crippled. I’ve been walking with crutches all my life.

I came to America a few years ago to get an education. However, I am not in school currently because I overstayed my visa. Now I am working to become legal so I could apply to school. After I finish school, I plan to go straight back to Africa. I don’t want to live in America.

Yes, education is much better in Africa but it’s also expensive. Here, in America, anyone can go to school. All you need is determination. I want to go to an university on the internet and get a free education.

With the education that I obtain, I would be able to help my people out more. I am the director of an non-government organization. With my organization and education background, I will be better off. My organization helps people with disabilities and those affected by disasters. It also has an orphanage, farming and tourism.

I aim to go to school for journalism and with a radio and TV background would be able to publicize my organization. I would like my organization to be between America and Ghana.

I have five children and my wife died in March.

Jocelyn

This is, Bronx resident and TCI student, Jocelyn. I was leaving the library with two of my students and asked her if I could photograph her. I thought her style was basic but also original.

The middle photo was taken by my second grader, Sade. Jocelyn is posing with her little sister.