In the second annual release of its Social Inclusion Index, Americas Quarterly measured 16 Latin American countries based on numerous performance variables, including access to formal employment and adequate housing, enrollment in secondary school and civil society participation. Among its most interesting findings, the Index provided insight on the systemic nature of racial discrimination in Latin America and the Caribbean. Brazil and Colombia—which possess two of the region’s largest Afro-descendant populations—offered particularly unsettling results.
The Inter-American Development Bank estimates that Afro-descendants represent one-third of the Western Hemisphere’s total population, with the largest concentrations living in Brazil, the United States, Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador.
Across the region, Afro-descendants are more likely than others to live in impoverished areas affected by high rates of crime and violence. Racial inequality is further exacerbated by structural economic factors, including deep income disparities and minimal socioeconomic mobility among Afro-descendants.
Brazil and Colombia possess the region’s largest Afro-descendant populations and both countries continue to face formidable obstacles to reducing racial inequality. The 2006 national census in Colombia estimated that Afro-descendants accounted for 10.6 percent of the country’s population, but some demographers say this number is likely closer to 26 percent. Experts suggest this may be due to the fact that many Colombians of mixed European and African descent do not identify as black because “they do not feel discriminated against—or as a means to avoid discrimination.”
Similarly, the 2010 Brazilian national census marked the first time in history that a majority of Brazilians identified as Afro-descendants, including 50.7 percent of the population identifying as “black or mixed race.” In its official release of census results, the Instituto Brasileiro de Georgrafia e Estatística (Brazilian institute of Geography and Statistics—IBGE) noted that, “Among the hypotheses to explain this trend, one could highlight the valorization of identity among Afro-descendants.”
On November 24, excited, flag-waving fans crowded Brooklyn’s recently-opened Barclay’s Center in anticipation of its first-ever Latino concert. “Is Brooklyn ready to sing?” Colombian rock star Juanes asked the crowd of 10,000 people.
Juanes opened the show for the Dominican multi-Latin Grammy recipient Juan Luis Guerra. It was not a coincidence that the acts were Colombian and Dominican—there are 800,000 Dominicans and 200,000 Colombians who live in New York City, which is now 30 percent Latino.
Juanes’ 12-member band played songs for both the older and younger generations, from the Bob Marley original “Could this be love?” to Inolvidable, a tune that your parents or grandparents probably danced to at their wedding. He also sang Cada vez, a duet with one of his backup singers from Puerto Rico, as well as the Grammy-winning Camisa Negra and the all-time salsa classic salsa, No Le Pegue a la Negra, a Colombian anthem describing the history of slavery in Cartagena—though Juanes added some electronic fusion sounds to the original version and tweaked the speed.
Photo: Courtesy of Errol Anderson / Barclays Center
Juan Luis Guerra joined Juanes midway through his performance and sang “Love and Hate,” a celebration of change and peace. Guerra caught the fans off guard—no one introduced him before he came onstage. The music took off—and so did the fans, who got on their feet and started to dance and shout requests for Como Tú, a contagious song off of his new album, A Son de Guerra. The album is Guerra’s eleventh studio album and was named 2010 Grammy album of the year. He also sang the beautiful ballad Bendiciones.
Guerra did not shy away from social themes during his performance: the classic Ójala que llueva café, was accompanied by images addressing poverty in the Dominican Republic. He also livened up the stage with El niagara en bicicleta, a poignant song that he wrote in the 1990s about the Dominican Republic’s poor infrastructure, the deteriorated conditions of its hospitals and the scarce government resources for healthcare.
President and CEO of Cardenas Marketing Network (CMN) Henry Cárdenas, who brought the duo to Brooklyn, called Barclays Center “absolutely breathtaking,” and said he would be back on February 16 with Marc Anthony in time for Valentine’s Day. “There’s no venue like it,” he said of the three-month-old concert and sports arena.
Also on display at Saturday’s concert was the growing economic strength of the Latino population. A report by the Selig Center for Economic Growth recently revealed that Hispanics have the greatest purchasing power of any U.S. ethnic group and will soon represent the world's ninth-largest economy, with $1.5 trillion in purchasing power. Meanwhile, the Hispanic advertising industry is outpacing all other sectors of advertising, increasing four times faster, and is now a more than $5 billion industry.
Proceeds from the concert will be donated to the Red Cross, providing relief for those who were affected by Hurricane Sandy after it swept through the Caribbean, mid-Atlantic and northeastern United States. As of press time, an estimated $160,000 was collected by Cardenas Marketing Network (CMN).
Latino voters could make the difference Tuesday in a tight presidential race—especially in battleground states such as Colorado, Florida and Nevada, where the Latino population has grown exponentially. Latinos are now 16 percent of the U.S. population and account for a record 11 percent of the nation’s eligible electorate. This year, 23.7 million Latinos are eligible to vote—four million more than in the 2008 presidential election.
But despite the growing number of Latinos eligible to vote, approximately 10 million did so in 2008. Will 2012 break the pattern of voter participation being lower than that of other population groups? What will motivate Latino voters to go to the polls, and what issues will influence how they cast their ballots?
Immigration: A Key Issue for Many Latino Voters
Issues that are critical in the Latino community—such as the economy, employment, education, and health care—are the same issues that matter to the rest of the nation. However, immigration reform is also a top concern and was the subject of heated exchanges throughout the campaigns including in the vice presidential and presidential debates. Many Latinos have acutely felt the consequences of a failure to pass comprehensive immigration reform, and the Obama administration has deported an estimated 400,000 undocumented immigrants each year since 2008, more than any previous administration.
Obama’s executive order of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), issued in June, was greeted with much enthusiasm across the immigrant community even though it is only a two-year, temporary policy. While it is expected to potentially benefit 1.4 million undocumented young people hoping to avoid deportation, DACA does not guarantee a path to citizenship and applicants must meet stringent conditions to qualify. While the measure promises to provide some temporary relief, many DREAMERS are refraining from filing their paperwork. And the anxiety is only growing—Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has promised to not renew Obama’s DACA and instead replace it with his own measure. Few additional details have been provided. If Romney wins the election, some DREAMERS are weary that any personal information the government obtains through the Deferred Action application process could be used against them at a later date.
Piri Thomas, revered as an icon of New York City’s East Harlem neighborhood (El Barrio) and author of Down These Mean Streets, was honored last weekend by fans and fellow artists at the Museo del Barrio. Thomas passed away last year, and was known for infusing terms like cheverete! (fantastic) and punto! (period) into New York’s Spanglish lexicon, and for positioning East Harlem’s Nuyorican (New York/Puerto Rican) experience on the map. Down these Mean Streets and other works told a story of a community that is rich in cultural heritage but conflicted by an identity caught between New York and Puerto Rico. Prior to discovering his writing and story-telling talents, Thomas discovered another passion while incarcerated: uplifting at-risk youth through poetry and the written word.
Spanning several generations and backgrounds, Thomas’ admirers lined up patiently to commemorate his life alongside poets, activists and authors including author Junot Díaz, poet Emmanuel Xavier, poet Lemon Anderson, fiction author Willie Perdomo, poet Martín Espada, former Young Lord Party activist Felipe Luciano, and former director of El Museo Marta Moreno Vega. Speakers recounted their experiences of meeting Thomas for the first time and discussed how Thomas’ style influenced their work. Some of the artists read from Thomas’ collected works while others delivered writings of their own that spoke to Thomas’ character. Lemon Anderson read excerpts from the script of his play, County of Kings, and Xavier read an adaptation of Down These Means Streets that described his experience as a gay man.
After the artists delivered their heartfelt dedication to Thomas, a panel featuring Dr. Marta Moreno Vega, editor Marcela Landres and Felipe Luciano discussed contemporary challenges facing Latinos in the U.S. and Latin American ethno-cultural literature. Much of the discussion revolved around Tucson, Arizona, where HB 2281 (which went into effect in January 2011) prohibits schools from offering courses at any grade level that advocate ethnic solidarity or cater to specific ethnic groups. Much of the Latino literature canon has been banned from schools, including Martín Espada’s 17-book collection. The panel concluded that the exclusion of these books is a clear extension of the discriminatory immigration laws that have taken hold in Arizona, Georgia, Alabama, and elsewhere. Ultimately, laws like HB 2281 drive a wedge between American literature and Latino/Latin American literature, and call into question the concept of equality for all regardless of their nationality.
It’s been 45 years since Thomas’ work injected the Nuyorican identity into mainstream literature and shed light on how issues of race and ethnicity play out in the United States post-World War II. The panel discussion concluded that half of a century later this country is still grappling with this same issue of what/who is or is not American.
Though they may fall under the genre of Latino or Latin American literature, the works being banned and their authors represent the American experience in its fullest and should be recognized as such, punto! Achieving this would be the best way of honoring the memory of Piri Thomas.
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.