Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Back in Dock Sud

Drum circle of high school students & cooperativa workers

Despite my roommates trying to convince me of my impending death by fast, the first few days of my fast went very well. I stayed to myself mostly, reading and writing and soaking up whatever vestiges of the sun that I could find on my back porch. The third day, however, the outside world called me back.

Marcelino, the Cape Verdean activist from Dock Sud called me to come down to participate in some exciting activities that were going down in the barrio. Gerson, a local teacher who also works with the community, was able to create a program with his students to help some of the chicos in the cooperatives in Dock Sud. About 12 students from a wealthy, private, English-Christian school excitedly volunteered to come with Gerson to meet and help out with the activities in a barrio outside of the city limits of Buenos Aires that most people warn them not to go to.

One of the many projects that Marcelino has been successful in implementing is a cooperativa of young boys, paid by the government, working collaboratively to provide the neighborhood with much needed services in construction and beautification. Gerson’s students, all impressively comfortable, friendly, and eager to make new friendships, also donated enough money to feed all of the cooperativa workers lunch for the week.

So they went to work: children of Shell Oil Corporates, the government supported, those who’ve traveled all over the world, those who only leave the barrio to go to a bigger boliche, and if I do say so myself, the projects were very successful.

Gerson, Brian, & Crew planting their tree together.

Check out some more pictures of the activities:

-Organizing and folding clothes the community collected to donate to a super rural community called Chaco.

-Cleaning up a vacant lot and converting it into a parklet and community space.

-Planting trees in the parklet.

-Making and setting cement tables and benches for the parklet. (Each will represent one island of cape verde..with one extra to represent the diaspora.)

I do have to admit that this was also my hardest day of fasting. First of all, Marcelina, wife and fellow activist, is an amazing cook who is always keeping the food coming from everywhere in the diaspora. She cooks food from her birthplace of Cape Verde, from Brazil, from Argentina and everywhere in between. Feijoida, Catchupa, Lengua, Empanadas, Pizzas. Her cooking, her smile, her spirit, her heartful commentary always hold every meeting, birthday party, event together.

Secondly, everyone and their mother kept trying to feed me. Yes of course, they were gestures of kindness, but

“how about some homemade cheese”

“just a little bit of dulce de leche?”

“come on, how about a café con leche?”

After explaining to people that there was actually technically religious reason that I was choosing not to eat, I realized how silly it can be to explain to people who sometimes don’t know where their next meal will come from, that you are fasting for choice.

It’s these moments that inspire my gratitude for exactly how blessed that I’ve always been, but also my commitment to try to live outside of excess. Though of course, it is always hard to draw specific causality between my financial position and someone elses but it is in our living excess that someone else does not have enough.

Remember to check out how awesome this community is...

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Ayundando: The Fast is never fast

Fasting is as much a mental and emotional experience as it is a physical experience. The experience of not taking in any food—not consuming, is one of reconsiderations and examination of one of my most important habits.

As Yogis say, your food is your fuel, the way that you nuture and care for your temple. At some point, this fuel can becomes an emotional crutch, a distraction, a way to replace energy that should be flowing in a more healthy manner. Just yesterday I came upon this quote in a book on Tantric theory:

“No he llevado la energía al amor, a la creatividad o a lo espiritual, por lo que he reemplazado esa carencia con la comida”

The passage basically said that often we are lacking energy that comes from love, creativity and spirtiual exploration, and this is why our tummy seems insatiable. We really want to feel fulfilled and satisfied with something, and food is the easiest way to do it. The problem is...this type of satisfaction never lasts.

This is why to really open our charkas, to really begin this work of being in harmony with our energetic fields, we must first purify our bodies. Generally, as Westerners we are prone to excess. We work to much. We drink too much. And undoubtedly, we eat to much, and we eat counter intuitively. We obviously don’t want ourselves to function correctly, because otherwise why would we eat past satisfaction, why would we eat things that make us fall out immediately on the table afterwards?

So after my week of indulgence, I am definitely excited to start again, trying to make choices that will work for my spirit and body.

One thing I always notice when I begin a fast is how non participatory that I begin to feel in many facets of society. Walking through the particularly busy streets of Buenos Aires is more and more disorienting, as you begin to realize that most of cities are just walls and walls of consumption.

The city streets began to transform into an evil fun house, a 5 foot tall Big Mac would heckle me from across the street, facturas and medialunas were lined up and greased up in store windows looking like gastronomical pornography, Empanadas….Pizzzaaa…maybe a bit of Carnneeee today! You look hungry. Aren't you hungry? Shouldn't you eat something?

And in between all of the food was clothes, and Bazaars of plastic items, doggie clothes, incense, flowers all encouraging us to have more, then to want more, to be completed by whatever item is nicely lit up in the window.

As our societies and governments have just conduits to feed corporations, to invent our cravings, then convince us that they have just the thing to solve them, it leaves us with this constant aching to buy, buy, eat, eat, to solve the voids that we may have inside.

And with that I’ll leave you, and try to get back to the origin of this fast: try to understand this constant urge to eat, imbibe, and consume, and how to begin to quiet the impulses.

Until then, let’s all take a bit of time to realize how much we have, and little we actually need to survive happily…

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Senegal: Freedom Ain't Free

My week of indulgence also came at an opportune time…The celebration of Senegalese independence!!

More delicious food & a room full of Afro-Argentines & African immigrants, what more can I say??

How about...Spicy empanadas & Puffpuff?!

Check out the happenings...

Saturday, April 17, 2010


Carlitos--comida Peruana.

Now, I don’t know if I’ve ever told you about how shocking and uninformed my initial meeting with Buenos Aires was, but um, yea, it was quite a shock.

My reasons for studying abroad:

-chill with brown people

-eat rice and beans and plátanos

-dance salsa

-drink tequila

-get a few credits to add to my African American studies major

It wasn't until I had already signed on the dotted line to go to Buenos Aires (based on peoples comments that it was an amazing city similar to NYC, that they had a great time, that the food was great, that it was cheap...) that I actually started researching Buenos Aires.

As it turns out, there is absolutely no rice and bean or plátanos eating, no spicy food, hardly any salsa, (a pretty stiff cumbia actually), and (though i don't want to play into the European imagery) most people have Italian looks with some sneaky black/indigenous features that pop up. Now this is all in Buenos Aires, which has taken it upon itself to become the center of the Argentine universe....

The rest of the country is admittedly more colorful, gots some flavor in their food, and lets say are more like the REST of Latin America.

Now as much as I might complain about the things that I CAN’T get here readily:

(AHEM)peanut butter, thai food, Indian food, tea tree oil, chipotle peppers.

And though I might complain about the average persons dinner options

(COUGH) pizza, pizza, empanada, pizza, carne, carne, jamon y queso, and empanadas. MILANESA

And salad consists ONLY of lettuce, tomatoes, and onions.

It is PERFECTLY OK to just have meat and white bread for dinner.

Seasoning is salt & pepper. Nothing else is needed. Nothing!

STEAK SAUCE is an insult

As much as I might complain about the general eating habits of Argentines, there are somethings that I just can't get enough of down here:

5. $10 filet mignon…

· I don’t even really mess with meat all like that in the united states, but I’ve definitely had the best steak of my life in this city. So far, Argentina's carne industry is pretty far from the capitalistic meat factories that exist in the US, so the meat is rich in flavor and guilt-free.


· Every street corner has beautiful stands overflowing with fresh fruits and vegetables all at competing prices. It makes an awesome photo-op, but it also makes fruits and veggies look oh-so-much-more appetizing.

3. YerbaMate

· This herbal tea is sipped from a gourd through a special straw. It has no caffeine but is an all natural stimulant, and keeps you regular, (if you know what I’m saying).

2. Empanadas

So every culture has their delicious pastry dough wrapped around some meat and cheese. Jamaican Beef Patties, Dumplings, and Argentina has their empanadas. I remember the first time I tasted a real empanada was 5 years ago on Venice beach, and empanadas and I have been inseparable ever since. Luckily, down here, they’re less than a dollar each. Will it be veggies, ham, cheese and pineapple, carne, pollo, or corn today?

1. FACTURAS with Dulce de Leche

·After every verduleria overflowing with all of these fresh fruits and vegetables, you’ll find an equally beautiful panaderia/confiteria with glossy cakes of chocolate and fruits, peeking out the window begging for a good mouth to go home to. Dulce de leche is crack…theres not much else that I can say about it.

Now, at some point in my stay here it became my daily habit to wake up, take a run in the park then get my yoga on. Now these things are awesome but then I would incorporate a stop at a verdularia to pick up tomatoes and palta, THEN stop at the panadaria and pick up 3 empanadas, and a half dozen facturas dripping with dulce de leche.

As I told myself, as part of my reintroduction to the country, the city, and my neighborhood, I’d pick a new stop each day and chow down. Empanadas never get old, and I’d make a mental note of which pollo empanadas had a pit of spice in them, which carnes were ruined with pesky olives, which verduras were particularly garlicy & delicious, and which crusts were flaky, and which were soggy after coming from the oven.

Now I have to admit, I’m an eater and an unabashed AMANTE of food. I don’t have any shame in my eating game, BUT there is a time when things get to be too much, and food gets a bit sinful.

Yup I said it sinful.

So, I decided that it was time that I got out all of my food comforts and reintroducing out of the way for a week…then go on a cleansing fast.

The following are meals from my week of indulgence:






CRESOMA llena de dulce de leche


Friday, April 16, 2010

Abuela: Bridge to the other side..

I haven’t experienced very much death in my lifetime, death that severely affected my life. I had no experience of childhood wondering and confusion, no feelings of being harmfully ripped apart from a loved one without proper and practical brearings.

The first death that I was truly witness to, I was old enough to step up to a podium in front of the family and a room full of mourners and tell them the story that I knew of his life.

It was the first time that I realized how much else there was to him—so many other parts and facets that I just wasn’t privy to in this lifetime. And, I found out when it was too late for somethings, too late to ask him questions, too late to marvel at his genius advice, too late to understand much of his creativity and courage first hand.

But, it wasn't not too late to let his spirit and memory encourage and inspire me.

I sat at the funeral—dry. Trying to force emotions buried or, perhaps ones that I didn’t quite understand at the time. I had reveled in his time—understood his continued faith and acceptance of me despite my constant underestimation of my own power, despite my consistent failure to live up to my own standards. He still cared and loved me despite my inate ability to sabotage myself. Still cheered. Still supported. His words of support still keep my head up.

Your faith in others may not be fully understood and appreciated at first, but the energy that you provide them will always be felt.

The second time death approached, it was even more tragic and unexpected. I was unprepared, to say the least. I was selfish and long, and innoportune in my mourning. Unskilled and ungraceful, I would mourn in broken bits and pieces, lash out at those who loved me most, and could cry without logical provocation.

It was a mourning of regrets and second guesses and wishes. The first time I had witnessed how some Western death rituals can truly massacre the living memories of the person, yet at the same time bring us back together with people that will help patch them up again.

I was a mess of a person until I reached out, and tried to remember her memory and what she taught me:

-Work hard to build community. Everything else is futile

-The nucleus is always the one working to bring people together, not those creating drama to tear it apart

-You can do everything. WELL.

-What you don’t know can kill you, so maybe it’s best that you don’t know.

-hard work. Work hard. Hard play. Play hard.

Today I learned about the death of my grandma that I barely knew. We spent two weeks together in a small farm with only our energy and pigioen English to bridge us, which is to say, enough. When she saw me she would grab the sides of my cheeks and smile broadly and she was proud. She was so proud of what had came out of her stubborn and quiet child who coveted only his books, his silence, and his solitude.

I was quick to smile, but still in the grips of the shyness of adolescence. I wore the clothing of her village and ran among the boys with confidence.

I was already a photographer then, and I took many pictures of her. Her appearances always came out strong shapes of bending and stretching and smiling.

Pulling groundnuts from their earthy cradle, looking back between cornfields, trekking ground she knew and raised, gripping onto her offspring that hardly knew her. I should have written more often, perhaps sent postcards, thought of being more thoughtful than my father but, I am very much his daughter in many ways.

My throat choked immediately—lamented not putting fuerza into the only woman it seemed my dad loved unconditionally, eternally.

Here I was again in selfishness, jealousy, wanting to continue memories of this life on a farm. Wanting to herd goats and plant crops and learn outside of the bookish predilections I inherited. Wanting to learn how to bless her in her own tongue, to make her proud again. Really, I wanted to learn the life that my father left, and really know the life they say that I was privileged enough NOT to live.

In some ways death has always been wanting to celebrate something that I wish I knew completely.

This constant feeling of wanting to know, to understand, to be able to hold completely in my heart did stir me to try to get closer to my father. He, as many people of color throughout the diaspora, claims one religion but has a syncretic religious belief system.

He was raised with the spiritual beliefs in his village, but was taken to America by a missionary pastor, who later married him to his wife.

After I found out about the death of my grandmother I cried pathetically and without particular reason. It was as if I was losing future memories with a person that I had planned to live with in a time. In my head we would have connected again incredibly, living side by side on the farm, her teaching my hands only parched with paper turning and piano playing, to truly till the earth—to truly grow and cultivate a life.

After I talked to my Dad, I found myself feeling strangely childish and aware of my childishness in so many respects. I was thousands of miles away from my grandmother, another thousand from my family, and in a successive crisis of dilemmas and choices—my instincts were cloudy. Scrunching my knees to my chest I spoke softly into the phone.

‘papa, a dónde fue mi abuela caundo se murió?

It was in part to understand my father’s belief system, but it was partly a small girl’s plea for her father to put her on his shoulders so that she could see more clearly.

He started his answer with a profound sigh, much like he starts most sentences.

“I was brought up to believe that though death is sad, it is actually not a bad thing. Your ancestors become your intermediaries between you and your God”. So there was my grandmother, my uncle, cousins, and the host of other family members in Cameroon that had died without me being able to hold a conversation in their launguage, bridging me to the universal energy source, bridges built with their world view. So perhaps, now, I'm closer than ever to my Grammama..

Monday, April 12, 2010

Old Friends, New Communities...

Coming back to Buenos Aires has been a bit of a polarizing adjustment. Physically the city is very familiar for me. I’ve been all over it by foot, squished into its buses, and have been intimately intermixed into the grit of it’s underground.

In some ways it feels like a second home, a second or perhaps third character, life and existence that I’ve tucked away thousands of miles from the US to save for wintry days. Often I feel like I’m returning to unfinished business, to a mission that I just didn’t have the time or tools to complete yet.

I’ve got a host of really awesome friends here, my favorite restaurants, and community organizations that I feel committed too.

But in many ways, my return to Buenos Aires has been yet another quick and startling transition that my brain and heart has yet to wrap itself around. I’m no longer a study abroad student running around with a naïve mission to find the long lost black people. I’m no longer just limping by with my Spanish, and in many ways the universe has truly provided me with everything that I need to make ANYTHING happen during my time here.

I have money, equipment, opportunities overflowing, communities that have a clear plan and mission, and yet I’ve been going around in circles like a puppy trying to figure out where and how to start. Literally, within two weeks of arriving in Buenos Aires, all of the desires I’ve had about this place have manifested themselves. An opportunity to sing? Check. An opportunity to photograph? Check. A job teaching yoga? Check? A productive community organization to contribute to? Check?

This has been one of these times where the universe has really showed me that it is possible to do ANYTHING that I want here, I just have to be patient and calculated about my actions—and FOCUS.

These times when things all fall together, and there are about 14 thousand things that I could do, I start to tend toward workaholism. If I’m not working, I feel uncomfortable, and when I am working I feel that I need to be working harder. It’s a nagging feeling that brings guilt instead of relaxation.

These are tendencies that I’ve definitely picked up from Harvard, and I find them to be more and more common among other high achieving black women. It seems that we are constantly racing against the clock, fighting against these our societal images to prove ourselves, and to out-do ourselves….before it’s too late?

I’ve found that commonly, we’ve seen so many of our fellow sisters in the depths of destruction that we are stuck in a never ending struggle to not waste time, to not to waste what we’ve been given. We’ve been warned by mothers not to follow in their paths. We’ve been told by our community how much potential we have. We’ve been told by 18 different people, the different truth about 18 different paths that we should take. We’re a generation with more choice and opportunity in some ways than ever. We don’t have to get married to support ourselves (and frankly we don’t get married much at all). Our career choices are not as strictly delineated by our gender or the color of our skin. Even having babies doesn’t confine us to the domestic realm anymore. And it’s become more and more common that our attachment to our career status acts as our man, family, and child (or so says all of the articles coming out lately that high achieving black women never get married….)

Without diving into Often times in wanting to live up to all of the expectations that we have of what we COULD do we end up overworking ourselves, and undervaluing our relationships.

It sounds counterintuitive that during a year that I would be without job, hours, or responsibilities that I would end up feeling so pressured and busy.

I am thankful that I’ve got such awesome friends here to make me take time out of my busy schedule to take care of what’s more important. And what is that? Peacefulness, maintaining balance, leaving a space better than you’ve found it—and as it’s something that I’ve definitely neglected in my past.

Luckily, I’ve found a roommate here who has taught me a lot about maintaining positive energy and relations in the house…and about taking breaks to do these things.

She makes sure that I teach her yoga during the week, she makes sure that I sit my ass down to watch a movie, or listen to a song, or to sing a song with her, she teaches me about Argentine Futbol, and takes great pride in joy in explaining my Spanish mistakes while teaching me new slang.

Lucky for her, lately my way of showing my appreciation (and moreso my procrastination method) has been cooking. I’ve been cooking all sorts of new and interesting things that most Argentines may have never seen in the kitchen. Arroz con frijoles, plátanos, salsa, guacamole, thai-pinneaple rice, crazy salads, new sauces and salad dressings, baked chicken, sweet potatoes…

To welcome me into the house and to say good-bye to a good friend we even had an incredible process of learning how to make EMPANADAS TUCHUMANAS, which of course, according to every Tucumana that lives in my house: THE BEST EMPANADAS IN THE WORLD. Actually, I hear that Tucumanas INVENTED Empanadas.

I have to admit, they were pretty damn good. Baked, Fried, Burnt, Hot, or Cold. I definitely ate to one stop past itus all the way into having to literally lay out on my bed for a while to regain my ability to talk and walk. (Sad, but true).

They were even better having gone through the entire process of cooking then with Emi…including staying up until four am the night before just peeling off strips of meat…and even better still beside the heaping piles of homemade guacamole that I made.

Sometimes there is nothing better than indulging in some gluttony and wine with new friends…oh and of course futbol. ..



Saturday, April 10, 2010

Cumple de Christian

A week after I had met after I had met a Cape Verdean activist at a political rally in Buenos Aires, there I was, headed to his son's 12th birthday party.

He called me with very specific directions on how to arrive. I was told which buses to take, from where, and what corner to get off at. After the 45 minute trip, and a little bit of help from the bus driver, I nervously got off of the bus hoping that my embarrassing sense of direction hadn't struck again. I was ecstatic to see Marcelino and a round faced teenager waiting for me. I was greeted and introduced, then he focused completely on making sure that I knew the way to the house.

He walked rapidly and recounted his steps.

"You get off here, you go straight here, left here, then right. You’ll know the house because of the broken down van in front."

He joked jovially that he had accompanied me because of how dangerous the neighborhood was, but it was understood that he came to gently show me the ropes, and that I wouldn’t be picked up from the bus stop like a school child again. If I was going to be a part of the community, I wouldn’t be coddled, I wouldn’t be treated any differently then the others that lived in the community. This meant, if I didn’t feel safe walking around the community by myself, well, then I shouldn’t come.

True to his description the front door to Marcelino’s house was literally open and without locks in a “dangerous” neighborhoods inside of Gran Buenos Aires. After a corridor of car parts and other recyclables hastily covered with blankets, we entered into Marcelino’s home—the nucleus of the neighborhood. Quaint, but powerfully consolidated, the small space was one kitchen, living room, and dining room without walled separation. It is a space for the public, a space to solve problems, to plot strategies, to feed hungry mouths; a space to laugh, to raise a glass of whiskey, a place to dance.

As I walked in, Marcelina, his wife and fellow keeper of the neighborhood, rushed from behind the sink with arms open.

“Diane!” she exclaimed like I was her child returning home from my first year at college. She gave me the customary peck on the cheek then pulled me close for a hug.

Marcelina is a short and round woman with soft curves, a disarming smile, with hands always in a giving position. She's quick with a hug, and kind words, and her voice is certain and coaxing. With her hand softly on the small of my back, she led me around the room to meet the family, all eyeing the newcomer from the sidelines.

There were three teenagers on the futon next to the dining room table. Tatooed, pierced, and with the general air of youth disgruntlement, I was surprised to know that they were all much older than me, and spoke to me with timidity. After twenty minutes of tattoo and music comparisons, we were all speaking easier. They reclined onto the futon comfortably and I slumped back into my chair.

Though makeshift, and short for space, the room had a definite order. Marcelina seemed to always be in the kitchen when I arrived, moving with ease and a magic spoon, constantly serving and preparing. The youth would come in and out of the corridor. If they stayed in the room they’d sit on the futon listening vaguely, or whispering among themselves. Sometimes they’d fiddle with the community computer, and their selections of cumbia, and fulana, were always appreciated by "The Marce's".

Marcelino and I would sit at the dining room table that sat in the middle of the room. I would realize soon after that business was done around the table, but only after a good meal, and a few cups of coffee or on better days, whisket. This day wasn’t a business affair. Este dia fue una celebracion perras —and my induction of sorts into the Cape Verdean family.

Christian, the birthday boy, eventually strolled in, baby-faced and flanked with his gang of compañeros. He reminded me of my older brother, Paul, whose skin is a soft blanket of brown and whose silky black hair earned him nicknamed Chinese Boy. Christian's confidence was obvious by his stance and his careful questioning would always show a social awareness that betrayed the 12 years that he was turning.

Cuantos anos me das?” He asked, placing his hands on his hips.

How old do you think I am?

“Ya me dijieron que estás por cumplir 12."

They already told me you were turning 12

It was a few weeks later that he would ask me if he seemed older to me, and I would tell him truthfully that he did. He took a second to measure my sincerity by looking me rightly in the face, then he nodded, satisfied, and walked off.

The birthday was the introduction to the inner circle. Not only did I meet all of Marcelinos five children and all of the neighborhood friends, but other Cape Verdeans who work with and around Marcelino.

Among other honors, it was the first time I tried the amazing food blessed by the hands of Marcelina. First there constant rotation of homeade pizza and empanadas, but after the kids got full of the appetizers Marce brought out the real food CapeVerdean food of fried fish and cow tongue for the grown ups.

After we had laughed, and drank, and ate way past contentment, the tables were moved to the perimeter of the living room and we danced. Cumbia, Reggaeton, Fulana. (MUSIC LINK HERE) Christian had the job of making sure I learned the moves, and he never missed a step, although his stature didn’t permit him to lead me too much.

After a few hours of dancing, it was Christians time to steal the spotlight! Everyone had told me that Christian was a dancer but Good Lord! We cleared the dance floor and Christian grabbed a black top hat. He turned towards the door and somebody hit the music. The unmistakable first bars of Billie Jean came on and Christian slid across the floor, moonwalking, gyrating, and getting his full MJ on. The kid killed it!

After all of us contributed our own pitiful MJ impression, the cake came out.

With the lights dim and the room still smoky from birthday candles, I appreciated just how lucky I was to have found this home away from home. As Marcelino and Marcelina constantly repeated,

"we want you to be a part of this family. What you can do to help the community is great, but primarily we want you to know that you’re welcome here and that you’re home here."

Though finding ways to share my gifts with others is definitely apart of my goals in Buenos Aires, Marcelino and Marcelina's organization is first based around a family, and it was there that I’d found my home.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Marcelino..Intro to Dock Sud

About two weeks ago I ran into Marcelino, an activist from Dock Sud , the most cohesive community of Afro-descendants in the Great Buenos Aires. I met with Marcelino in a coffee shop so we could find a mutual understanding--what was it that brought us together? I didn’t know what the guy was about, or what his organization was, and he wasn’t sure why I was in Argentina bothering with black people, but we were certain that there was a reason that we had met each other. We sat with a beer and a few empanadas while he questioned me intently about what it was I was doing here. The question for me is still a bit difficult as sometimes I can’t answer it myself. Am I a researcher writing about hip-hop sometimes, am I an activist in the black community interested in music…am I photographer on vacation?

At this point my explanation was that I was researching youth in the black community and how they use music to express their Afro identity. My interest is his work did not come from a research interest but from a personal interest in participating in a community organization that was really helping diasporic peoples. I explained that I was tired of people talking about how much they were doing when they had hardly been outside of a conference room. I told him that I had just finished doing work for a really exciting non-profit in my home town and so I was ready to use a bunch of new skills that I had just learned.

He nodded sympathetically, and always with an “uh-huh”, a deep throaty affirmative response that seemed calculative, and introspective. His eyes were deep and probing…his emotions at his beck and call. He would pour my beer, but his eyes stayed fixed in mine. He was sizing up my intentions with my talk, was feelin out the vibrations of my heart.

He'd been in the game for more than 25 years, he had heard it all before. He'd seen a million politicians with the cara de buena and with ganas de hacer leave his organization cold after they'd gotten what they wanted out of it. He'd been left with battle scars and suspicions about those outside of the community coming in.

Marcelino was born in Cape Verde, a tiny group of islands off of the coast of Africa, and came to Argentina on a scholarship some 40 years ago. He moved directly to the neighborhood of Dock Sud, where he joined numerous other ex-patriots from his homeland. More than 100 years ago, a large wave of Cape-verdean immigrants settled to work at the docks, and their presence continues to dominate the neighborhood. It is probably one of the only places in Buenos Aires that you can find a "black neighborhood" because though Africans and Afro-descendientes continue to immigrate to Argentina, there isn't much of a pattern to where, how, and when they settle. In contrast, the Cape Verdeans through proximity, social and political action, have maintained their family, their language, and...their color.

Marcelino's mission has always been to focus on his community, to understand their needs and to respond to their problems before they found alternative ways to address them.

Yet, Marcelino does not divide his dedication by color.

Though his neighborhood is completely inhabited by those who most Porteños would call "negros" many are not "Afro-descendientes"--many are not phenotypically black.

In Argentina, the word negro has generally been disassociated with the racial phenotype. Inline with Argentine discourse, the word negro is used very emphatically and yet paradoxically.

It can be used as a term of endearment for anyone, most often for those who have darker hair, or have a bit of brown in them.

"Ay mi negra querida"

But in regards to Marcelino's barrio "Dock Sud", when people call them "esos negros" it is usually a derogatory term to describe their social and economic state.

Negros are:

poor people.dirty people.brown people.unfortunate people.dishonest people.

Those who live in the "conventillas" shanty towns

"Cabecita Negras":

Bolivians, paraguayans, those from the provincias of Argentina and general outsiders to Buenos Aires who come to "steal jobs" from the "hard working" Porteños.

"Negra de Mierda"

Nigger (or the closest you'll get with a completely distinct slavery narrative)

This is why his organization Amigos de Cabo Verde en Dock Sud does not follow a racializing ideology. Many of the youth that come in and out of his house, that work for his cooperatives, who he's taught to fix bikes and pour cement aren't black--but are still 'negros'.

He admitted to me that he was pretty uninvolved and had been uninterested in the "Afro" political community in general in Buenos Aires.

"Congresos and Actos pero no hacen para nostotros. Todos hacen por su propio bosillo."

In other words: they talk a lot of shit but they don't back it up. They are actively activist-ing for their own pockets, not the rest of the community that needs the money.

And he's right. There is a serious problem in the community in terms of distribution of money. A few of the older politicians and activists run things like super-cargo, as they've completely replicated the slave master oppressor formula, and they act as intermediaries to the victimization of their communities so that they can have careers. They prefer to have conferences lamenting the poor ideological state of the community rather than set up concrete plans of auto-ayudo where those that truly need in the community can speak for their own needs.

"Almost always, during the initial stage of the struggle, the oppressed, instead of striving for liberation, tend themselves to become oppressors, or "sub-oppressors." The very structure of their thought has been conditioned by the contradictions of the concrete, existential situation by which they were shaped. their ideal is to be men; but for them, to be men is to be oppressors. This is their model of humanity." (Friere, Pedagogy of the oppressed)

I talked very little in general except in very empathetic nods, his thoughts and ideas dominated the conversation. The conversation was just in this way. I told him what little I knew of myself at 22 and he tried to paint me a picture of what he knew in his sixty odd years to be true with only 2 hours of words.

Then, he invited me to his sons birthday party.

otld me

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


Easter or Pascuas in Buenos Aires is a very important time of the year. As a vehemently Catholic nation, images of Christ’s bloody figure on the cross are as Argentine as empanadas; while the capitalist tradition of changing holy-days into opportunities for Disney characters to hand out candy is just as ubiquitous. With the city’s Parisian store front architecture, it’s easy to appreciate the season that Christ died with….the windows of each panaderia, supermarcado, and confiterias plastered with White Bunnies, and shimmering with silver and gold egg-shaped cellophane.

More so than overpriced candy, Easter has always meant a time to sit in fellowship with loved ones. It is a time to slow down and appreciate a meal together, and to begin to look towards birthing positive changes. Even when I was in Buenos Aires for Easter in 2008, it was an incredibly special event. Two friends had arrived to visit the day before Easter with their suitcases stuffed full of awesomely colorful Easter candies from the US. In exchange, we cooked them a deliciously southern-tine dinner (for two Southern girls) of Milansea (essentially a chicken fried steak), puree de papas (mashed taters), and choclo (corn).

Because of the incredibly fond memories I have I felt particularly encouraged to follow upon the tradition…

The early afternoon I spent with the atheists. J

We eat a slightly spicy tomato based pasta with meijlliones, vino, homemade flan, and enough gin and tonic to drown out the spirit of Jesus. (Father Forvigve me…but we finished of all of your blood…)

Then I was baptized into the second most important religion in Argentina—futbol. No seriously, Futbol is a religious experience here. There are even those who belong to the “semi” facetious Iglesia de Maradona or Church of Maradona.

Check out a wedding here:

My roommate, raised a Catholic, but a self proclaimed atheist has been moved to speak in tongues during some truly emotional games. Being from a city of CHAMPIONS (GO STEELERS!), I can compare the experience but there is something a bit different about the sport here. People literally lay their lives on the line for their teams up here; they become martyrs for the game! Each local team has their barra bravas” dangerous gangs or hinchas. Deaths at serious games are not uncommon.

Now that’s some gansta ass silliness.

After our worship for the day, Emi had to go to work, and I moved on to the next gluttonous activity. All of the American Fulbrighters in Buenos Aires turned out to be chicks…so we came together to indulge in our domestication by cooking some BOMB comida.

There was chipotle pulled pork, deviled eggs, rice, milanesa, and delicious desserst of vegan cake and apple cinnamon empanadas in phyllo dough. Needless to say, I ate until my heart was overflowing with gratitude for the life that were living as researchers in Buenos Aires. Or maybe I just ate until my frontal lobe failed.


The itus was on and strong, but I knew I had an assignment to get to. I cabbed it over to the Niceto Club, and with my camera and a bit of help from Fidel, I got into the “overly crowded show” where Reke and Onechot of Venezuela would be performing again.

Check out some pics of the show...