[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

a890: LECTURE AT FIU by Carl Fombrun, on February 19, 2002. (fwd)

From: Carl Fombrun <carlfombrun@iopener.net>


Good morning. My name is Carl Fombrun. I have a segment on the Haitian radio station in Miami, on 1020 AM at 8.45 in the morning, week days, called " Carl's Corner." I also have been a columnist for a couple of Haitian newspapers in the United States. Presently, I am semi retired, and I thank the Student Programming Council, at FIU, in the person of the  chair, Mr. Brockner Louidor, of Pan-African Heritage Celebration, to have graciously invited me as a guest speaker. I hope that this lecture will both entertain and educate the community of the diversity of Pan-African culture.  Thank you.

This lecture is not to be a study in depth of Pan-Africanism, but just an airing of my own impressions and experiences, relating to the subject, on Black History Month.
I was born in the Black Republic of Haiti., six score, nine years, and eight months ago, to be exact. My father and mother were born in Haiti and their parents as well. Therefore I am an authentic Haitian although with a last name which is supposed to be of Dutch descent. My grandfather on my mother's side was a Black man, doctor by profession, and his wife, my grandmother, was a light skin, almost white person. On my father's side I knew of his mother, my grandmother who was also light skin. My father's dad died at an early age and he seemed to be of the caucasian race, through the family pictures I have seen. That's about all I know, or care to know, about my genetic and racial background.

Haiti was the first Black republic in the world, and the second country in America to win its independance from France, in 1804. It was not recognized by the United States as a country before 1860, due to the established system of slavery which was still enforced. Haiti, to remain independent, had to pay a huge amount of money to France, for the privilege of remaining independent, although she won fair and square on the battle field.

The differences among Haitians and Black Americans, are obvious, although they both are from the same race, and those two groups have sometimes clashed, due to controversies in cultures, languages, customs, and racial attitudes. Sponsoring community forums, in this country, have been in the vanguard to bring together people from different races, cultures and religions. "There is an increase in diversity in this country, that should be celebrated, but instead we have an increase in hate crimes: said Sanford Cloud Jr., president and chief executive officer in New York for the National Conference for Community and Justice.

ALL OF WHICH BRINGS ME INTO THE LARGER PICTURE OF PAN AFRICANISM.  Obvious to all, Africans were brought to the American continent on slave ships, and along with those ships came the African heritage.

Five-hundred years ago, in 1502, the first African slaves arrived in the Americas. It is not until the civil rights movement of the 1960s in the United States, that some of the secrets of the slave trade came to the surface. 95 per cent of the slaves went to the Caribbean and Latin America. and very few slaves arrived in the United States after 1730.

Africanism in the Caribbean and Latin America, is a different situation from that of North America. In North America, Africanism was a minority overshadowed by the English influence and European majority. In the Caribbean, Central and South America, the African populations were for the most part greater than the colonial ones.

Therefore, one can see why the European influence dominated in North America, and not as much in Latin America. The African population was greater than the European one in many Latin countries, and often marginalized the European influence .. African culture is more in evidence in Latin countries, than in the United States, although its impact in the U.S., has been silent and deep until the civil rights movement of the 60s.

It's notable that African culture, for the most part, has no written language. Whatever was brought over to the New World was through word of mouth. There was no continuity. So, for the African to establish himself in the New World, without some sort of education, it was next to impossible. It was all verbal communication between Africans, whether by drums or by rote (word of mouth).

When various changes occured, and the preponderance of African descendants established themselves in many Latin-American countries, they did so without a solid foundation in their new world . They had the basics in African culture which by now was diluted by the European influence, be it English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Dutch, or other. And let us not forget the influx of ethnic backgrounds from other countries, like indians in Suriname and Trinidad, Japanese in Brazil, Italians in Argentina. Argentina for instance, has eliminated almost completely the African race from its territory. Further, the Africans who were brought up to the new continent were from different tribes, and cultural differences ,among themselves, were conflicts of major importance.

This is a tremendous clash of different ethnic heritages, confusing to say the least. We are all a product, either by culture or race, a melange of European, African, Asian, Indian cultures none of them as an exclusive force. All Pan-Africans have a title for themselves. In Haiti which is the first Black republic in the world, I know of native Haitians who consider themselves Euro-Haitians, and they are not necessarily light skins. Many of those Haitians are similar more or less, to the poet-president of Senegal, Leopold Sedar Senghor, who died recently in his nineties, although Black and African, he considered himself a francophile, and was accepted as a Euro-African, due to his affinity to the French culture. He found his refuge in French academia. At his death, he received unanimous honors from the French cultural media and was embraced as one of them.

Right here in Miami, there are clashes of different ethnic heritages which fortunately do not pose an immediate threat.  I know for instance of two Haitian sisters of the same light skin pigmentation, one considers herself caucasian, and the other one opted for the Black race. In the Dominican community the term" indio" or indian is often used as an identity or race; yet the vast majority of Dominicans are of African descent. The well-known dictator and ruler of Santo Domingo from the 1930s to the early 60s, was Rafael Leonidas Trujillo, a mulatto, partly of Haitian descent. He hated his Black heritage and had thousands of Haitians massacred along the Dominican-Haitian border. Haitian passorts in my youth had listed, for race definition of Haitians, "west-indian." In the Hispanic community some, although with residue of black blood, identify exclusively with Spain.

Other Pan-Africans with light skin deny their black heritage. There is this peculiarity among some that although black, if one has straight hair with caucasian features , one is therefore not of the black race. Some others although acknowledging their black heritage, also want have a desire to recognize their other ethnicities ; like Black american Tiger Wood, with an African/Asian background and other. Multiracial is a recent description or category which is now acceptable in many job applications. We could go on and on, in this quagmire of racial identifications..... It would be so much simpler if all of us could identify with the human race.

All the Caribbean islands are predominantly African descent to the exception of St. Barthelemy which is 95 % caucasian and 5% African descent, and the island of Saba, which is inhabited by descendants of Dutch settlers. All the coastal towns along the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America and the Atlantic have a predominance of Blacks. The South American countries with a predominance of African descendants are Brazil (Bahia in the north, and other cities along the coast), Venezuela,Colombia, Suriname, the French and British Guineas. A majority of indians is found in Peru Chile, Ecuador, Bolivia, which are mostly devoided of African descendants.

I would like to concentrate on those two predominantly Pan-African countries, Haiti and Brazil, Cuba's Pan-Aficanism to a great extent, and in Argentina where it is almost non-existant.

Haiti and Brazil are the two countries with the utmost African influence in Latin-America.
There are a lot of similarities between small Haiti, and huge Brazil in the racial context in food, music,custom, and religion. Haiti was colonized by the French, and Brazil by the Portuguese, but regardless, the African traits prevailed in the Vaudou religion, customs, music, and other.
If France had won a battle with the Portuguese, Brazil might have been a bigger Haiti, with a French flavor. It's interesting to note that Haiti and Brazil are somewhat isolated from the rest of the Americas, by their languages, creole in Haiti and portuguese in Brazil. Haiti is the only country to have completely eradicated the European presence in the country, with its independence in 1804. Haiti is a miniature of Africa in the Caribbean.

The African influence is dominant in many parts of Brazil. Every New Year day, Brazilians in Bahia ,by the thousands dress in white, and head to the ocean to honor the spirit of their ancestors. Every year in the village of Soukri, near Gonaives, Haiti, on August 15, hundreds of Haitian Vodou practioneers gather to honor the spirit of their ancestors, in the same manner.

Carnival and soccer are passions of the first order in Brazil and in Haiti. In Miami, it's hard to find a Haitian who is not a Brazilian soccer fan. As for Carnival, the two countries are identical; everything shuts down for the celebrations, during the four days preceeding Ash Wednesday. Another similarity is the city of New Orleans, which follows closely those traditions, with the closing of the streets and the parade of hundreds of floats, and cultivates as well, a strong African presence.

In Brazil, the ruling class seems to be mostly caucasian , with mixed-whites, indians, and blacks in the middle class, and an African majority among the masses. At the United Nations Conference on racism last year in Brazil, Ivanir Dos Santos, Head of the Center of Marginalised Populations, called Brazil the most racist country in the world. Having visited Brazil, I personally found much more of a cultural camarederie among Brazilians of different ethnic background, than among Americans in the United States. Another  interesting phenomenon in Brazil, in a town like Sao Paulo, in 1983, 20 per cent of the population was of Japanese descent.

In Haiti, similar to Brazil, until 1946, the ruling class was mostly light-skin or better known as mulattoes, with an African majority among the masses. Today the ruling class is black, with the mulatto class now heavily involved in commerce. Also in Haiti, trade, traditionally has been in the hands of Haitians, of Middle East background. When I was a teenager in Port-au-Prince, my siblings used to tease me and tell me that the ideal country to immigrate  was Brazil, instead of racist U.S.A. Those were the days when a young African-American by the name of Emmett Till, in Mississippi, was lynched by a white mob, for having whistled admirably at a white woman.

Cuba also has an important part of its population which is ingrained in Vaudouism and Santeria. Close to 50 per cent of the Cuban population is of African descent. Similarly to Brazil, Cubans of the ruling class seem to be mostly caucasians, with mixed-whites, indians an blacks in the middle class, and an African majority among the masses. Since 1959, with the arrival of Fidel Castro , the racial divide has improved, compared to the Batista days when American racism was flourishing , to comply with the booming tourist industry of those days. Ironically, President Batista himself was a mixed-blood of African, Indian, and caucasian roots.

Argentina, next door to Brazil, on the southern tip of the South American continent, by contrast, is considered the Europe of South America. 97% are of white European origin out of a population of 37 million people. The remaining 3% are mostly mestizos, a mixture of black and white. This was due as per African-American writer Helliott Hester, to a successful campaign aimed  at "whitening" the country with European immigrants, while eradicating non-whites in the process , the black Argentine population receded to its present state of near invisibility."

Racism is a serious problem the world over and evidence in the United-States and South Africa for instance, show that race discrimination can be beaten. Giant steps for the better in that field in those countries have been taken. There is absolutely no excuse for the terrrorist attacks in the United States, on September 11, 2001. Many minorities and innocent were victims of this senseless savagery. However, I am convinced that chances for such treacherous acts to occur would have been lessened, were it not for racism and oppression in the world. In the United States, the present Secretary of States is of African-Jamaican descent; the National Security Advisor is an African-American female by the name of Condoleeza Rice ; and the Secretary of Education is also an African-American by the name of Rod Paige. In South Africa, Nelson Mandela became president of the country after 27 years of incarceration by the defunct white power structure.

To conclude, a Haitian-American, Dr. Patrick D. Bellegarde-Smith, PhD.,                             ( www.uwm.edu )  professor of Africology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, states the following. " As you know February is " Black Month ". Most institutions and Americans do their "serious" thinking about Black people in that 28-day stretch, ignoring the next 11 months of the year."

He continues : " Two films you need to see, both on HBO. Saturday, February 9th, 2002 9.00 PM CST "

The travel from Africa to the Americas. Done by Martinican filmaker Guy Deslauriers. The film takes place exclusively on a slave ship. Joanne Weintraub writes in The Journal Sentinel 2/3/02..." the stench rises, the rats gather and men begin to die of disease and infection. Each night as he hears the cries of African women and children being raped by the white sailors the man wonders. " What have we done to so enrage our ancestors." P.B.S notes: " It's about capitalism, not ancestral religion! Ms. Weintraub continues, ".....their faces looking stunned and impassive as they lie in their own waste or choke on their own vomit."

Saturday, February 16th, 2002 9.00 PM (Check time!)

The life and death and times of the Congolese national hero and Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba, by the Haitian filmaker Raoul Peck. This film has taken the world by storm. It also addresses U.S. involvement in the assassination of Lumumba as the U.S. has done with a number of other leaders around the world. A must see film!

Thank you for coming, and I will submit to questions if any.

--------- End Original Message ---------

--------- End Original Message ---------