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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Today, Puerto Rico Celebrates Emancipation Day–the Day When the Island Officially Abolished Slavery

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Today, Puerto Rico Celebrates Emancipation Day–the Day When the Island Officially Abolished Slavery

Photo via George W. Davis, Public Domain

Today, March 22nd marks Día de la Abolición de Esclavitud in Puerto Rico–the date that marks the emancipation of slaves in Puerto Rico. In Puerto Rico, enslaved peoples were emancipated in 1873–a full decade after the U.S. officially abolished slavery. But unlike the U.S. mainland, Puerto Rico celebrates today as an official holiday, where many businesses are closed.

The emancipation of Puerto Rican slaves was a very different process than the United States’. For one, the emancipation was gradual and over three years.

When the Spanish government abolished slavery in Puerto Rico 1873, enslaved men and women had to buy their freedom. The price was set by their “owners”. The way the emancipated slaves bought their freedom was through a process that was very similar to sharecropping in the post-war American south. Emancipated slaves farmed, sold goods, and worked in different trades to “buy” their freedom.

In the same Spanish edict that abolished slavery, slaves over the age of 60 were automatically freed. Enslaved children who were 5-years-old and under were also automatically freed.

Today, Black and mixed-race Puerto Ricans of Black descent make up a large part of Puerto Rico’s population.

The legacy of enslaved Black Puerto Ricans is a strong one. Unlike the United States, Puerto Rico doesn’t classify race in such black-and-white terms. Puerto Ricans are taught that everyone is a mixture of three groups of people: white Spanish colonizers, Black African slaves, and the indigenous Taíno population.

African influences on Puerto Rican culture is ubiquitous and is present in Puerto Rican music, cuisine, and even in the way that the island’s language evolved. And although experts estimate that up to 60% of Puerto Ricans have significant African ancestry, almost 76% of Puerto Ricans identified as white only in the latest census poll–a phenomenon that many sociologists have blamed on anti-blackness.

On Puerto Rico’s Día de la Abolición de Esclavitud, many people can’t help but notice that the island celebrates a day of freedom and independence when they are not really free themselves.

As the fight for Puerto Rican decolonization rages on, there is a bit of irony in the fact that Puerto Rico is one of the only American territories that officially celebrates the emancipation of slaves, when Puerto Rico is not emancipated from the United States. Yes, many Black Americans recognize Juneteenth (June 19th) as the official day to celebrate emancipation from slavery, but it is not an official government holiday.

Perhaps, Puerto Rico celebrates this historical day of freedom because they understand how important the freedom and independence is on a different level than mainland Americans do.

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

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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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