Culture

Here’s What You Missed At The Long Beach Afro-Latino Festival

Black History Month is a time when the many African influences throughout Latin America should be acknowledged and celebrated. The Museum of Latin American Art (MoLAA) in Long Beach, California did just that on Sunday, Feb. 24. The second ever Afro-Latinx Festival featured dance, musical performances, vendors and a collection of traditional Latin American food to eat. Check out some of the highlights and what attendees said about what makes them proud to identify as Afro-Latino.

Music and dances of traditional Afro-Latino culture were well displayed.

Photo by Javier Rojas

The Lidereibugu Garifuna Ensemble, a Los Angeles-based traditional dance and drumming group, performed among a standing room only audience. The group consists of dancers from historically Afro-Latino areas like Honduras, Guatemala, and Belize.

There was various food trucks selling dishes from countries like Brazil and Peru.

Photo by Javier Rojas

What would a festival be without good food? The event didn’t disappoint on that part. Traditional Afro-Latino meals were available thanks to food trucks like The Tropic Truck, Mikhuna Peruvian Truck and Tender Grill Gourmet Brazilian. There was even a huge selection of agua frescas for sale that included flavors like watermelon, hibiscus and kiwi.

There was a huge selection of merchants selling traditional Afro-Latino goods and products.

Photo by Javier Rojas

Toni Shaw, owner of House of Mosaic, was one of many vendors at the Afro-Latino festival. She is an entrepreneur that sells candles as an homage to her cultural upbringing. Shaw says events like this are important beyond just a one-day celebration.

“Not only am I meeting new business owners like myself but I’m getting a sense of what identifying as Afro-Latino means to others,” Shaw said. “We need more days like this that’s a for sure.”

Jolin Miranda was another business owner who talked about what identifying as Afro-Latino means.

Photo by Javier Rojas

Miranda is the owner of an artwork and accessory collection called Boricubi.” The collection is a nod to her roots and an expression of her passion in art. Miranda says the art has not only helped her connect with other Afro-Latinas like herself but give her a voice.

“My art is a reflection of how I see myself and the vibrant roots of my culture,” Miranda said. “It’s powerful and we should never forget to express ourselves with others.”

Veronica Lennon, a jewelry maker, says having an Afro-Latino festival goes a long way when it comes to representation.

Photo by Javier Rojas

“This event is important for some if us who have a mixture of cultures in our backgrounds and rarely get talked about,” Lennon says.

She sells items that are a combination of traditional Latino and African merchandise that Lennon says represent what being Afro-Latino is all about. “We need to be proud of our background and take pride in events like this,”

Isabel Walker, who hails from Panama, voiced what festivals like this mean to her culturally.

Photo by Javier Rojas

“It makes me happy to see people come out and enjoy this day where sometimes people forget our small communities.” Walker said. “I’m from Panama and all this dancing and art just brings me home.”

One of the biggest highlights of the event was a performance by the
ABADA Capoeira team.

Photo by Javier Rojas

Capoeira is a Brazilian martial art form that was developed by slaves. It allowed slaves to disguise that they were practicing fight moves that they would later utilize by making them look like they were dancing. The martial art is used in various Afro-Latino communities.

Performers allowed children to get in on the capoeira as well.

Photo by Javier Rojas

The art of capoeria combines self-defense, acrobatics, dance, music and song together. Children took to the stage to show off some of their skills and put it to test against performers.

The festival is a perfect example of the importance of celebrating the Afro-Latino background and culture.

Photo by Javier Rojas

Officials say attendance sizes reached well over 600 people throughout the day. MoLAA officials hope to host a similar event in the forthcoming year with an even bigger lineup of artists and vendors. We are already looking forward to it.

READ: Latin America Truly Is A Food Oasis And Here Are Some Of The Best Dishes

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This Latino In His Sixties Spent Half Of His Life Behind Bars, Now He’s Graduating College With Honors

Things That Matter

This Latino In His Sixties Spent Half Of His Life Behind Bars, Now He’s Graduating College With Honors

Photo via Facebook/Miguel de la Rosa

Once in a while, a story comes along that makes you realize that the phrase “you can do anything you put your mind to”, isn’t just an old cliche. One California Latino man proved that the phrase has some truth behind it.

62-year-old Joseph Valadez just graduated with honors from Cal State Long Beach after spending the half of his adult life behind bars.

Valadez’s story went viral when one of his fellow students tweeted about the California Latino man’s incredible story. “This man accomplished something incredible AND took the coldest pic of 2021,” said that caption.

The post is a screenshot of a Facebook post Valadez wrote, accompanied by some stunning graduation photos of the 62-year-old.

“I finished my last two semester at Long Beach on the ‘President’s Honor List’ for making straight As,” wrote Valadez on the CSULB alumni Facebook group. “Was also on the Dean’s List with a GPA of 3.67. Not bad for someone who spent half his adult life in prison.”

“There’s a misconception about guys like me that I want to break,” he added. “If I can do it, anyone can.”

Since the picture went viral, Valadez opened up about the journey that took him from rock bottom to where he is now.

Like many people in the prison system, addiction fueled Valadez’s life of crime. In an interview with Long Beach Post, he revealed that he began using heroine when he first joined the army at the age of 18.

“All the crimes I did were related to trying to get drugs, selling drugs,” the California Latino man told the Long Beach Post. He would spend 38 years of his life battling addiction.

After that, his life spiraled into a cycle of addiction, homelessness, violence, and crime. In total, Valadez has been to prison 40 times. He has spent more than 30 years behind bars.

Valadez finally decided to change his life in his 50s, when he realized that if he kept living this way, he would die soon.

In 2013, Valadez checked into an adult rehab facility. He stayed there for a year while he got clean. Soon after, he enrolled in Orange Coast Community College before ultimately transferring to Cal State Long Beach. In total, it took six years of challenging coursework for him to graduate. But from the look of pride in Valadez’s face, it was worth it.

Throughout his journey in the educational system, however, Valadez has discovered all the ways that the system failed him. Despite getting good grades in high school, teachers didn’t suggest college as an option for him. Instead, they suggested he pursue landscaping or construction. Similarly, when Valadez bounced in and out of jail due to his addiction, no one ever suggested rehab as a way for him to break the cycle.

Now, Valadez wants to take the lessons he learned and give back to his community.

At CSULB, Valadez excelled in sociology, and was interested in exploring how the criminal justice system is set up to target people of color. “I know a little bit about that subject because I lived it,” he said. “I wanted to understand the ‘why?’.” As of now, he is waiting to see if he gets accepted into CSULB’s Social Work masters program.

Valadez wants to use his new degree to help young kids who are at-risk of being failed by the system, like he was. “I’m going to inspire somebody, I’m going to motivate somebody, I’m going to give somebody hope,” he said. “That’s what I’m supposed to do.”

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How Afromexicanos Fought For Their Place on the 2020 Mexico Census and Why It Took So Long

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How Afromexicanos Fought For Their Place on the 2020 Mexico Census and Why It Took So Long

Photo via SusanaHarp/Twitter

Black history month is the time of year that we shine a spotlight on the rich and unique history of people of African descent in the United States–a past that has consistently been downplayed, ignored, and in some cases, erased from our history books.

At this point, it’s evident that the Black experience is not a monolith–there is no “one way” to be Black. And yet, many people still struggle to comprehend the fact that Afro-Latinos exist.

When you hear the term Afro-Latino, you might immediately think of a few Caribbean Spanish-speaking nations with explicit ties to the African diaspora–Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, for example.

But the fact is, Black people are everywhere in Latinidad. But Afro-Latinos in non-Caribbean countries often feel overlooked, erased. And this phenomenon is especially true for afromexicanos.

In 2020, after years of fighting, Afro-Mexicans finally got recognition on the Mexican census.

The question was simple, but powerful: “Por sus costumbres y tradiciones, ¿se considera usted afromexicano, negro o afrodescendiente?” (“Based on your culture and traditions, do you consider yourself Afro-Mexican, black or Afro-descendant?”)

For Americans, especially, it can be hard to understand why the question wasn’t on the census in the first place. After all, Americans live in a country where identities are divided into strict categories: Black, white. Hispanic, non-Hispanic.

But for Mexicans, the concept of race and ethnicity is a bit more complicated. To critics, separating people into Black, white, and Indiegnous categories on the census seemed divisive. Many Mexicans identify as mestizaje–a combination of indigenous, European, and, to some extent, African roots.

But for the organizers of the #AfroCensoMx campaign–a campaign to add the negro/afromexicano to the census–the movement was more than just identity politics.

Self-identifying as Black on the Mexican census is, of course, a little bit about pride in one’s identity, but it also has more practical concerns.

The census numbers who also inform organizations about socio-economic patterns associated with being Black in Mexico–information that is invaluable. Because as of now, afromexicanos have unique experiences that are informed by their heritage, their culture, and their place in the Mexican stratum.

As Bobby Vaughn, an African-American anthropologist who specializes in Black Mexicans, put it bluntly: “Mexicans of African descent have no voice and the government makes no attempt to assess their needs, no effort to even count them.”

But for afromexicano activists, being identified as such on the Mexican census is empowering.

Lumping all Mexicans together and ignoring their (sometimes very obvious) differences can have the effect of making certain groups feel erased. Yes, Black Mexicans are simply Mexicans–that fact is not up for debate. But stories abound of afromexicanos being discriminated against because of the way they look.

An Afro-Mexican engineer named Bulmaro García from Costa Chica (a region with a significant Black population) explained to The Guardian how he is grilled by border guards and asked to sing the Mexican national anthem whenever he crosses into Guerrero.

He says the guards’ behavior is “classic discrimination due to skin color. [They think] if you’re black, you’re not Mexican.”

The differences exist, and by acknowledging it, we are more able to speak truth to power.

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