Culture

For Afro-Latinos Celebrating The Right To Freedom On The Fourth Of July Invokes Memories Of History And Government Wrongs

If you identify as Afro-Latinx, the Fourth of July can bring up some complicated feelings, to say the least. Although the day commemorates the Founding Fathers officially declaring independence from Great Britain’s tyrannical monarch, it also is a day to celebrate American patriotism, which in some spheres has developed into a sort of blind nationalism.

It can be difficult to feel in the mood to wrap yourself in the American flag and sing the “Star Spangled Banner” when we’re constantly subjected to headlines exposing the horrors of the migrant crisis at the border, mass incarceration of black and brown people, and not to mention, the history of the US being founded through the oppression and enslavement of black and brown people.

Chris Rock put it perfectly a few years ago when he took to Twitter to speak his thoughts about the Fourth of July: “Happy white people’s Independence Day. The slaves weren’t free, but I’m sure they enjoyed fireworks”. That’s the feeling that many Black Americans feel regarding the day that we’re supposed to celebrate as the birth of one of the greatest, richest, most powerful countries in the world.

For many Black Americans, the Fourth of July is simply a painful reminder of all of the injustices, past, and present, that America has inflicted on their people.

From slavery to Jim Crow laws, to lynchings, to police brutality, to mass incarceration, there seems to be so much violence inflicted on the Black community at large by the hands of American institutions of authority.

Not only does the celebration of the “independence” of America from its colonial oppressors conveniently ignore the years of slavery America subjected Black people too, but it also ignores the genocide of the indigenous populations that lived in the U.S. before European colonization. Are we to forget that the whole continent of North America was completely “independent” before white colonizers ever stepped foot onto its soil?

As Prisca Dorcas Mojica Rodríguez from Latino Rebels wrote scathingly  in her piece, “The Fourth of July: A Celebration of Hatred” and you will find a lot of white smiling faces, celebrating as if America was ever theirs to begin with.” So yeah: Independence Day is a complicated holiday for people of color for more than one reason.

Before the Civil War, Independence Day was historically a holiday almost exclusively celebrated by whites.

And why shouldn’t it have been? Even for free blacks, it would’ve been hard to express devotion to a country that currently enslaved thousands of people of your same race solely based on the color of their skin. As Frederick Douglass put it eloquently in a speech addressed to a crowd of white people during a Fourth of July gathering: “I am not included within the pale of glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The sunlight that brought light and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn…”

According to historians, if a black American did celebrate Independence Day before the Civil War, they would often do it on July 5th to acknowledge the different relationship they, as black people, had with the so-called “land of the free” that was both their oppressor and their home country.

But, interestingly enough, there was a major shift in feelings towards the 4th of July in the black community after the Civil War ended.

So, although the Fourth of July does not rank among the likes of Martin Luther King day for its importance in Black History, it nonetheless has a surprising history of celebration with America’s black community.

While most white Southerners felt little to no loyalty towards the United States of America after the Civil War and would “shut themselves within doors”, as one woman put it, in order to blot out the shame of their failed rebellion, black Southerners began to look to the holiday as a way to celebrate their new-found freedom. Basking in their new freedom, black Americans looked to the holiday as a way to celebrate their own independence as well as the independence of the country they lived in.

According to Ethan J. Kytle and Blain Roberts at The Atlantic, after the Civil War ended, free blacks “gathered together to watch fireworks and listen to orators recite the Emancipation Proclamation, the Declaration of Independence, and the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery when it was ratified in late 1865”. Black Americans organized parades in honor of Independence Day, congregating to watch companies of black militia march down the streets.

Black southerners also created a ritual song and dance called “Too-la-loo” in which a group of men and women would form a ring, a woman would move to the center, and eventually, she would choose a suitor to join her. The game was so popular that “Too-la-loo” eventually “became shorthand for the Fourth of July” in South Carolina.

But like many burgeoning black traditions in the Antebellum South, the establishment of the Fourth of July as a black holiday was short-lived. Once Jim Crow laws took hold of the local government, the white population made it all but impossible for black people to continue their Independence Day festivities. Authorities pushed their “Too-la-loo” festivities to the outskirts of the city, and eventually, out of the city altogether. They forbid vendors from setting up shop on the streets where the festivities had been taking place. After a few years, black people no longer looked to the Fourth of July as a means to celebrate their freedom, and it became a “white holiday” once again.

These days, the Afro-Latinx population in America still wrestle with complicated feelings towards the Fourth of July.

On one hand, it can be viewed as a carefree celebration–a time to enjoy barbecues, beer, and fireworks with your friends and family and, of course, to get a day off of work. But, when some Latinx people look deeper into the holiday, it’s hard not to experience feelings of emptiness or frustration. And these feelings can be exasperated when you’re Afro-Latinx, as you have both the specter of black slavery and indigenous genocide to contend with on a day that is meant to celebrate American exceptionalism. As Patricia Montes, a Honduran immigrant living in Boston, said about the Fourth of July in an interview, “I feel very conflicted. What are we celebrating? Are we celebrating democracy?”

An Abuelito Makes Dolls With Vitiligo To Build Self-Esteem In Kids With The Skin Condition And If This Isn’t The Sweetest Thing I Don’t Know What is

Culture

An Abuelito Makes Dolls With Vitiligo To Build Self-Esteem In Kids With The Skin Condition And If This Isn’t The Sweetest Thing I Don’t Know What is

JoaoStanganelli / Instagram

Brazilian grandfather João Stanganelli learned to crochet with one goal in mind: to uplift the self-esteem of children with vitiligo. Stanganelli began to show signs of the skin condition when he was 38. Vitiligo causes the loss of skin color in blotches and can affect any part of the body. 

“Vitiligo occurs when the cells that produce melanin die or stop functioning. Vitiligo affects people of all skin types, but it may be more noticeable in people with darker skin. The condition is not life-threatening or contagious. It can be stressful or make you feel bad about yourself,” according to the Mayo Clinic. 

While some of the possible symptoms listed are sunburn, susceptibility to skin cancer, eye problems, and hearing loss, professionals also note that one of the most difficult issues is a social stigma which can lead to low self-esteem or other psychological issues. 

Fortunately, abuelo João Stanganelli is out here putting smiles on children’s faces and reminding them that they look absolutely perfect. 

A new beginning

Stanganelli began to show signs of vitiligo when he was 38. However, it wasn’t until last year, at 64, that he began this amazing project. After losing his job in the gastronomy industry due to a heart condition, Stanganelli wanted to keep busy while he was at home. He and his wife Marilena took up crocheting together. At first, it proved to be difficult, causing him to develop calluses on his fingers. But after five days of practice, Stanganelli crocheted his first doll. 

A tiny idea becomes a big one

While he only intended to create something to pass onto his granddaughter, things quickly snowballed.

“I decided to make the doll for my granddaughter, and wanted something that she would remember about her grandfather,” he told Romper.

Stanganelli decided to crochet her a doll that looked like him, one with two skin tones. However, photos of his adorable doll began to circulate – people wanted in. 

A new way to honor children’s differences

Parents of children with vitiligo wanted a doll for their little ones, but they weren’t the only group that wanted to be seen. Others began to request dolls with a wheelchair, hearing aids, blindness, alopecia, and other differences. They wanted their children to see themselves, and it’s not like there were many options on the market. 

It may not seem like a big deal to you, but just take a look at one of the comments on this doll with a wheelchair, “This is so beautiful it just made me cry. My Jenna has cerebral palsy and is in a wheelchair. You truly are so awesome for all you do sir. May God bless you over and over.” 

“These are beautiful. I’ve had vitiligo since my mid-40s. My face, chest, back, neck and some on my arms. It is a, “how did this happen” disease. These are a beautiful way for ppl to converse abt this so others understand. God bless you Joao,” another person wrote.

Difference is beauty

“The spots I have are beautiful. What hurts me are the flaws in peoples’ characters,” Stanganelli told CTV News. Kids and parents have told him that the dolls are “helping with their self-esteem.” Just more proof that representation matters, especially to those most vulnerable. 

It’s no secret that kids can be particularly cruel about differences, Stanganelli is providing children with an honorable service — a little taste of what it feels like to be represented just like anybody else. Sometimes the ordinary can you make feel extraordinary. 

“Vitiligo can be life-altering… Some people develop low self-esteem. They may no longer want to hang out with friends. They can develop serious depression. Most people have vitiligo for life, so it’s important to develop coping strategies,” according to the American Academy of Dermatology. 

Redefining beauty

Stanganelli’s dolls come at a time where people with vitiligo are embracing their unique aesthetic rather than covering it up. The Brazilian children’s book Menina Feita de Nuvens, or “the girl made of clouds,” tells the story of a little girl with a superpower: vitiligo. 

Models like Winnie Harlow, Breanne Rice, and Ash Soto have brought vitiligo to the mainstream of fashion. 

“Female models with vitiligo now appear regularly on designer runways and in advertising campaigns, empowering those who once hid behind the makeup to use these tools to enhance their individuality. Women with vitiligo who span the spectrum, including White models with vitiligo and Black models with vitiligo, are expanding the public’s definition of what it means to be attractive,” writes Anna Papachristos for APlus

If you would like to purchase a custom crocheted doll, please reach out to Stanganelli and his wife on Facebook

Just A Reminder That It’s Super Strange To Take Pictures With A Dying Man On The Cross

Culture

Just A Reminder That It’s Super Strange To Take Pictures With A Dying Man On The Cross

Like many aspects of Latino culture, we have a complicated relationship with Catholicism. While many of us grew up in the church and take solace in the ritual and community that the church provides, there are also some other aspects of the religion that are harder to deal with. For example, many Catholics express their love for Jesus in some…unusual ways. Anyone who grew up in the church knows that Catholics can be prone to depicting the death of Jesus on the cross in–some would say–graphic ways. Growing up, many Latinos don’t think twice about seeing explicit pictures of Jesus dying at their local parish.

But after Latinos grow up and are exposed to other lifestyles and religions, we develop a different perspective on Catholic art. Outside of our Catholic/Latinx bubble, we begin to see why a lot of people view Catholic art as morbid. And honestly, sometimes we can’t blame them. So, with both Dia de Muertos and Halloween quickly approaching, we thought this was the perfect opportunity to deep-dive into the sometimes weird world of Catholic art. Take a look below and see if any of these spark any memories!

1. The Towering Shadow of Jesus

@bishi_music/Instagram

Whoever thought this giant Jesus shadow was inspiring probably has a different idea of what brings people comfort than what your average person does. To outsiders, it may look intimidating, to say the least. 

2. The Floor Made of Bones

@danmstephenson/Twitter

Yes, Catholics have an unfortunate history of plastering their buildings with bones of their dead patrons. It was very trendy back in the day. We can’t say we want this one to come back in style.

3. Skeletons Everywhere!

@fakingitfab/Instagram

When non-Latinx people think of skeletons, they generally think of spooky stuff like Halloween. But many Latino Catholics have seen a skeleton or two pop up in their own cathedral’s decor (that still doesn’t mean it’s not a little spooky).

4. Morbid Public Rituals

@hildahoy/Twitter

You know an event is sufficiently Catholic when there is a life-size rendering of Jesus on the cross being carried by a group of people. When you’re experiencing stuff like this, you don’t even question it. 

5. Unfortunate Artistic Interpretations of Jesus

@jupit3rrr/Instagram

Look, no one really knows what Jesus looked like. We, however, hope Jesus didn’t look like many of the old and dilapidated statues that we have seen of him in certain cathedrals. It may have looked great back in the day, but some of these need some refurbishing.

6. Tone-Deaf Baked Goods

@hotoynoodle/Twitter

A quick internet search will turn up some unfortunate Catholic-themed baked goods that look like they were made by some clueless but well-intentioned abuelas. If you think these hands-of-Jesus cookies are bad, you should see the “blood of the lamb” cake we stumbled across on Pinterest. 

7. Uncanny Pope Memorabilia

@jscates/Twitter

Naturally, the Pope is someone to be venerated in the Catholic religion, but odd-looking artwork depicting His Holiness is…well, odd. Especially when it’s a dinner table’s centerpiece. 

8. This disproportionate statue of Jesus

@julie_van_winkle/Instagram

Again, it’s obvious that the artist had the best of intentions, but unfortunately, the execution left a bit to be desired. Odd artwork like this is par for the course in many smaller parishes.

9. Graphic Depictions of Saints Being Martyred

@julie_van_winkle/ Instagram

It’s art like this that we remember being particularly afraid of as children. Blood coming out of saints was hard to look at and may have kept us up at night once or twice.

10. Embalmed Bodies of Saints

@ktcoulter/Instagram

Most other religions don’t display their heroes of yore out in the open for everyone to see. Again, this is what makes being a Catholic a sort of secret society–it doesn’t feel unusual when you’re a part of it!

11. This altar dedicated to the preserved head of St. Catherine

@LectorGirl85/Twitter

Really, there are countless sites dedicated to displaying the bodies (or body parts) of Saints who are no longer with us. Like this altar that’s dedicated to displaying the mummified head of St. Catherine. 

12. Yes, it’s as creepy as it sounds:

@VivantBlondie97/Twitter

We can understand how outsiders would give this practice a bit of a side-eye. But they just don’t understand, okay?

13. This Glow-In-The-Dark Crucifix

@revinthenorth/Twitter

This one is equal parts funny and spooky. Who thought it would be a good idea to display this in a church? 

14. To sum up with this astute observation from a priest with a sense of humor:

@thehappypriest/Twitter

Truer words have never been spoken. Sure, Catholic art can be morbid, but for many Latinx people, being Catholic is a substantial and important part of their identity.