Friday, February 23, 2007

Tego Calderon on Black Pride

Check out Tego's article in The New York Post's Tempo magazine!

To view the Tempo version click here.


February 15, 2007 -- Just this morning, I was listening to radio host Luisito Vigeroux talking about a movie project that I am working on which co-stars Mayra Santos Febres and he was saying, "Her? She's starring in it?"
Questioning her Black beauty.

I remember, too, when Celia Cruz died, a newscaster, thinking she was being smart, said Celia Cruz wasn't black, she was Cuban. She was pretty even though she's black.

As if there is something wrong with being black, like the two things can't exist simultaneously and be a majestic thing. There is ignorance and stupidity in Puerto Rico and Latin America when it comes to blackness.

In Puerto Rico, Spike Lee's "Malcolm X" was only shown in one theater and unlike all the other movies shown here, there were no subtitles. It's as if they don't want the masses to learn.

But it's not just here - in Puerto Rico - where I experience racism. When I lived in Miami, I was often treated like a second class Boricua. I felt like I was in the middle - Latino kids did not embrace me and African American kids were confused because here I was a black boy who spoke Spanish. But after a while, I felt more embraced by black Americans - as a brother who happens to speak Spanish - than other Latino kids did.

Because I am well known, sometimes I forget the racist ways of the world. But then I travel to places where no one knows Tego Calderón I am reminded.

For instance, when I travel first class, the stewardess will say, "Sir, this is first class," and ask to see ticket. I take my time, put my bags in the overhead, sit, and gingerly give them my ticket, smiling at them. I try not to get stressed anymore, let them stress themselves.

And the thing is that many white Puerto Ricans and Latinos don't get it. They are immune to the subtle ways in which we are demeaned, disrespected. They have white privilege. And I've heard it said that we are on the defensive about race.

Those things happen and it's not because of color, Tego, but because of how you look, how you walk, what you wear, what credit card you have. Then, they spend a couple of days with me, sort of walk in my shoes, and say "Damn negro, you are right."

When I check into hotels and use my American Express they call the credit card company in front of me saying the machine is broken. This happens a lot in U.S. cities but it's not because there is more racism there, it's because they don't know me. When I'm in Latin America, I am known, so it's different. That is not to say that there is less racism. The reality for blacks in Latin America is severe, in Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, Honduras ...

Puerto Rican (and Latin American) blacks are confused because we grow up side by side with non-blacks and we are lulled into believing that things are the same. But we are treated differently.

My parents always celebrated our history. My dad always pointed things out to me. He even left the PIP (Pro-Independence Party) because he always said that los negros and our struggle was never acknowledged.

Maelo (Ismael Rivera) and Tite Curet did their part in educating and calling out the issues. Today, I do my part but I attack the subject of racism directly.

It makes me so happy to see Don Omar call himself el negro and La Sister celebrate her blackness. Now it's in fashion to be black and to be from Loiza. And that is awesome, it makes me so happy. Even if they don't give me credit for starting the pride movement, I know what I did to get it out there.

Young black Latinos have to learn their story. We also need to start our own media, and forums and universities. We are treated like second class citizens. They tell blacks in Latin America that we are better off than U.S. blacks or Africans and that we have it better here, but it's a false sense of being. Because here, it's worse.

We are definitely treated like second class citizens and we are not part of the government or institutions. Take for instance, Jamaica - whites control a Black country.

They have raised us to be ashamed of our blackness. It's in the language too. Take the word denigrate - denigrar - which is to be less than a negro.

In Puerto Rico you get used it and don't see it everyday. It takes a visitor to point out that all the dark skin sisters and brothers are in the service industry.

It's hard in Puerto Rico. There was this Spaniard woman in the elevator of the building where I lived who asked me if I lived there. And poor thing - not only is there one black brother living in the penthouse, but also in the other, lives Tito Trinidad. It gets interesting when we both have our tribes over.

Black Latinos are not respected in Latin America and we will have to get it by defending our rights, much like African Americans struggled in the U.S.

It's hard to find information about our people and history but just like kids research the newest Nintendo game or CD they have to take interest in their story. Be hungry for it.

We need to educate people close to us. I do it one person at a time when language is used and I am offended by it. Sometimes you educate with tenderness, as in the case of my wife, who is not black.

She's learned a lot and is offended when she sees injustices. She gets it. Our children are mixed, but they understand that they are black and what that means. My wife has taught her parents, and siblings, and they, in turn, educate the nephews and nieces. That is how everyone learns.

This is not about rejecting whiteness rather; it's about learning to love our blackness - to love ourselves. We have to say basta ya, it's enough, and find a way to love our blackness. They have confused us - and taught us to hate each other - to self-hate and create divisions on shades and features.

Remember that during slavery, they took the light blacks to work the home, and left the dark ones to work the fields. There is a lot residue of self-hatred.

And each of us has to put a grain in the sand to make it into a movement where we get respect, where we can celebrate our blackness without shame.

It will be difficult but not impossible.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Gallego's Teatro del Barrio

Gallego is an accomplished literary figure—author of two critically-acclaimed books of poetry—AND reggaeton's resident poet. He is also a dear friend, socio of my early days as a writer in the early 1990s in Puerto Rico. I'm eager to hear his debut album, Teatro del Barrio, which drops tomorrow.

I've only heard the quirky "Imagínate," which sounds Calle 13-ish in the best sense of the phrase.
Imagínate que somos dos buruquenas y que el cura en nuestra boda sea Roberto Roena / Imagínate que somos dos uruguayos y que tú caigas preñá en la primera lluvia 'e mayo... / Imagínate que somos dos pitchers grajeándonos de noche sentaos en los bleachers .../ Imagínate que somos dos economistas que al medio día en Barrio Obrero almorcemos una mixta

And I'm looking forward to more!