Sample Blog Posts #1
The following blog post is about a "memory site" called The Remembrance Park. In Argentina, memory sites are places and spaced used to commemorate the lives of the desaparecidos, the thousands of people who disappeared during the country's Dirty War (1969-1983).
This memory site is located near the La Plata river. The river holds a great significance in the stories of many of the desaparecidos because it is the resting place of for several thousand of those who disappeared. Some were taken on "death flights" where they were drugged, shackled and weighed down, and then pushed off of a flying plane into the river while they were still alive. Others, who were already dead, were thrown into the river to the murky waters of the river have made the bodies of the deceased hard to find and retrieve. This has left many families without closure and made it difficult to gather evidence to convict war criminals.
There were 30,000 spots total, the estimated number of people who were disappeared. Some stone plaques looked older than others, which showed that names were being added all the time. The calculated kidnapping and killings did not target just one demographic of people. The victims were young (the youngest one I saw a as nine years old), old, men, women, and women who were pregnant.
One figure in particular is dedicated to one of the many young victims. Placed about fifty feet away from the dock and into the river is the figure of a young boy, fourteen years old to be exact, with his hands tied behind his back. An instructor from Georgia State University brought a bouquet of flowers from which we were all given a flower to throw into the river in remembrance of the many people who forcibly drowned.
This memory site was another example of how Argentina has commissioned artists to create excellent, expressive art pieces to commemorate those who were "disappeared" in the Dirty War.
My experience in Buenos Aires, Argentina thus far has been nothing short of amazing. The people, food, and the culture has already been life changing. I made the conscious decision before arriving to Buenos Aires, that I would fight the urge to compare the United States to Argentina. I made this decision because I knew that it would be very different experience and it was important to take each experience and each breath as is. Often times as African Americans we take an ethnocentric approach consistently comparing and through doings so we miss the beauty that is truly the experience that is provided each day spent in a foreign country.
By far the most transformative day that I have had in Buenos Aires was our visit to the Xango Cultural Diversity Group Center. The purpose of this center is to provide more awareness of the Afro-Argentine culture and provide a space where they can dialogue about the challenges in the Afro-Argentine community. One of the main goals of this center is to empower Afro-Argentine youth as they are met with so much negativity that is never truly noticed in their society. In Argentine society, the belief is such that race and racism does not exist. One of the main social issues that plagues their society is the lack of socioeconomic equality, which allows the wealthy to become wealthier, and the impoverished to become more impoverished. Simultaneously, the middle class is disappearing rapidly. The socioeconomic inequities cover up the unspoken race problem that exists in this society.
This race problem was brought to the forefront during our discussion at the cultural diversity center when one of the young women discussed her experience with race in Buenos Aires. She discussed with the group that she did not truly know that she was of African descent until she was around twelve years old, and now twenty-two years old she still struggles with issues of body image. Her problems with body image come from the pervading whiteness and European culture that exists in her society. She stated that she has had issues with her body due to the comments that she would hear about her hair, hips, and lips. All of these comments consequently made her believe that she was less beautiful than her European descendent Argentine counterparts. The reality is her struggle with self-image is nothing new in her society and continuously happens in American society. Women of African descent struggle with body image all over the world because they are indeed unique and different, but this uniqueness is what makes them beautiful. While listening to her Afro-Argentine narrative, I was shocked to hear this is what she experiences, and was more hopeful that her narrative would be different.
After the conversation, I began to look at Argentina, specifically Buenos Aires, with a different lens. My previous lens blinded me of the true Afro-Argentine experience. I find myself yearning to interact with this often forgotten demographic of people so much more. I have fallen in love with their culture and the way they view life. Simultaneously, the attachment to this particular group grows stronger and stronger, because they are now my brothers and sisters. Buenos Aires is a beautiful city, but its beauty is in the strength of my brothers and sisters. They are the backbone of Argentina.
Before embarking on my journey to Buenos Aires, the Black Beyond Borders Global Cities Cultural Exchange participants attended several classes, during which we were informed of Argentine history, customs, and culture. Throughout our lessons, we were reminded that upon our arrival, it would be necessary for our group to be aware of our behavior and presence while overseas, as our “American-ness” would not only reveal us as foreigners but also could potentially offend natives of the city. I immediately understood what the term “American-ness” meant; it was the privilege and arrogance associated with citizens of the U.S., the assumed belief that Americans felt a sense of entitlement when entering new spaces.
A few days into the excursion, Black Beyond Borders and the Afro-Argentine students of the non-profit group, Agrupación Xangó, were invited to attend a presentation at the Argentine’s Ambassador’s residence on the global movement for civil rights for individuals of African descent. The presenter, a Congolese man, spoke on the Afro-Argentine population and the need for social justice on an international scale. Overall, the session was informative but it was made less effective when the presenter concluded his talk with, “There is only one race, the human race” and proceeded to explain how race, in essence, does not truly exist. Although I’m sure he had good intentions behind it, this statement completely contradicted his lecture, which was based on the presence of race and racism.
I was informed in advance that as visitors of a foreign country, my job was to “observe” but during the Global Cities Cultural Exchange Program, our purpose was to engage in active conversations on race and social justice with Afro-Argentines in Buenos Aires. In this situation, we were to do more than simply observe but to also become chameleons in our environment, seek out truth and, as the program title suggested, engage in an exchange of cultures and experiences.
I was unsure on whether or not it was my place to offer my perspective on the matter, seeing as I was not from Argentina, but then, neither was the presenter. Black women are warned not to be too “loud, aggressive, or angry”, especially when it comes to voicing our thoughts on issues that pertain to us. Although I was an invited guest, I was anxious about how I would be perceived and did not want to be viewed as a stereotype of my race. I considered not making a comment but then I thought about the Afro-Argentine youth in attendance and how their racial existence is ignored in its entirety in their home country, and how this comment may have affected them. They needed to know that their differences were to be accepted and cherished. Integration will not solve the issue of discrimination.
When the floor was opened for questions and comments, I offered an alternative opinion on what I considered a hypocritical line.
I expressed that it is possible to recognize all races and cultures without amalgamating them as a method to eradicate racism, xenophobia, and other forms of discrimination. I understand his view that there is only one race but to say that would ignore the heritage, customs, and struggles of different groups of people. The male presenter saw my critique of his concluding statement as a challenge and tersely dismissed my response.
Although I had several attendees praise me for speaking up, this moment replayed in my mind several times after our departure. I initially saw this “shut-down” as a result of my age (nineteen) and not my gender but it was not until a friend of mine expressed his opinions on the incident that I began to see this censorship as a patriarchal display of power. At that moment, my perspective shifted from my position as a Black American, to my identity as a young woman. Here was an African man (approximately fifty years of age), censoring my voice on the topic of equality in front of a multiethnic group of people. I expected some form of unity and a welcoming of diverse viewpoints from a fellow member of the African diaspora and was disappointed that this expectation was not met. It hurt to be in a space with so few people who looked like me far less than that of the United States not to receive support in a formal setting from someone of a somewhat similar background.
I eventually spoke with the presenter afterward, along with a male colleague, and still felt as if he was not entertaining nor understanding the point I was trying to make and he seemed more responsive to my male friend.
This event served as wake-up call and caused me to question perceptions of Black American women. Following the afternoon at the Argentine Ambassador’s residence the intersection of nationality, race, and gender served as the topic of many important conversations. I began to notice intrigued stares and received questions from Argentine citizens who were interested in knowing my nationality and ethnicity. Due to my complexion and physiognomy, I was assumed to be of Brazilian, Cuban, or Dominican descent and it came as a surprise to some that I was indeed, an African descendant in the United States.
In the United States and abroad, Black Americans often have to second-guess themselves rethink certain situations, and sometimes even stay silent for our safety or the comfort of others. As Black American women, we may sometimes forget the privilege that we have, for despite the gender inequality that exists in the U.S., the gender gap is much wider in other cultures and societies beyond our immediate vision. With nationality, race, and gender in mind, the question of when and where to insert and assert ourselves becomes even more complex. After a discussion with the BBB cohort, we’ve found that the line between being an entitled American and an educated, outspoken individual abroad is a blurry one. I share this story because as long as respect and understanding are present, we should not be afraid to enter new and foreign spaces and conversations. My advice for the assertive Black American abroad is to speak up and out without fear of being stigmatized, just as you would in the U.S. Set an example for those who look to you for guidance and reveal yourself to those who have never had the privilege of witnessing an articulate, Black intellectual. As Black Americans abroad, we have the power to change negative perceptions of the African descendant. We do the world a disservice by staying silent.
Sample Blog Posts #2
In the United States, many of us are familiar of the different ways that racism has manifested itself in our country's history. We have seen racism rear its ugly head with the creation of discriminatory legislation, intimidation, denying people of color access to services and public goods, and violence. The past decade has seen the emergence of a new form of racism in the United States that's a little subtler than past forms of racism, covert racism. This can be the use of code words or other micro-aggressions. While talking to our Afro Argentine cultural exchange partners I learned about a form of racism that is prevalent in the Argentina: The denial of the existence of Argentine of African decent.
Both the government and Argentine citizens deny their existence. Our Afro Argentine friends all had stories where their fellow, native Porteños (people who live in Buenos Aires) looked at their skin color and assumed they were from Cuba, the Dominican Republic, or another Latin American country with a larger Black population. Additionally, they told us how the Argentine government denies that there is an Afro Argentine population.
The denial of African heritage can also be found within Afro Argentine families. Our Afro Argentine friends also shared with us a few personal stories about how some of them weren't always aware of their African heritage. Liz was one of our new friends that shared her personal story. She told us that she wasn't aware that she was of African descent until she was twelve years old! This was a very defining moment for her. She said that before she discovered this, she always struggled with being different from her classmates and would try to find ways to fit in. However, learning that her difference stemmed from being of African descent, she was finally able to embrace the physical features that set her apart from her classmates.
Judging from the experiences of our Afro Argentine friends, I can imagine that there are more people in Argentina that are unaware of their African heritage. In the coming years I would love to see a movement that encourages people to look deeper into their family history. I think this would help other people discover their African roots. From there, all of the people of African descendant can rally together and act as a collective force to demand that the government and other Argentine people to recognize their existence. This could help bring an end to Argentina's denial of the existence of an Afro Argentine population.
Arriving on my second day to Buenos Aires, I encountered a group of Afro Argentine students that changed my life forever. More importantly, they assisted in the process of removing me out of my comfort zone that I never new existed. On the first day of the cultural exchange program in Buenos Aires, I met Patricio, a 10-year-old Afro Argentine male that immediately felt that we were brothers. The funny thing was if you examined our facial features for a substantial amount of time you could definitely see the resemblance. However, our connection was deeper than that, because our verbal communication was hindered due to his lacking of understanding English and my struggles with speaking in Spanish.
On the first day we would attempt to have full conversations and we struggled, however, I found out that language as what bridges the gap between countries and the world. Essentially, there is beauty in the struggle. As Americans we historically have felt that it is important for people to know our language, as we often times believe that English is the universally accepted language. This belief is problematic and hinders our possibility in seeing the beauty of language and how it connects people.
In a joking dialogue but yet serious conversation with BBB co-founder and ambassador, Delonte and Johnny both expressed their distaste with the English language and described it as a language that doesn't sound as great to other cultures and it is difficult for other cultures to adapt because English is always changing. However, I believe that bridging the gap falls on the shoulders of Americans. We must remove ourselves and our privilege from the equation and be open to expanding our knowledge base. It truly does begin with us.
Throughout the exchange program I found myself frustrated due to not being able to fully convey my thoughts in Spanish and the need to have a translator. It was difficult to have to stop, allow for translation, then begin again. That's not dialogue. I felt enabled. I understood that it was a necessity. However, like the conversations had in the United States that are fluid and no gaps, I hope that I can reach that place with Spanish as well. This cultural exchange has showed me how beautiful this language is and how exciting it can be as well.
During our last meeting with the Xango Cultural Diversity Group we were asked to describe this cultural exchange in three words. There were little slips of paper that were passed out, some slips were in English but majority were written in Spanish. A young lady by the name of Sofia decided that we would switch our papers. I would take Spanish and she would take English. As she presented her three words in English, I was there the whole way to assist and ensure that she would not be embarrassed with the phonetic sounds of the English language. Also for her to know that she can trust me, as I have entrusted her to help me these past ten days.
Learning a new language requires trust. This is not trust with only the Xango Cultural Diversity Group in Buenos Aires. I am ready to build that trust with the world and allow language to flow through me in hopes in continuing to make the world a better place. My dream is to speak with Patricio for hours and hours in Spanish, and simply for him to end the conversation with, " Well Done, My Brother". It starts with us. It starts with me. A dream realized.