Monday, March 22, 2010

Un casamiento de negros: Fede & Ceci get married!

You must understand that I was jumping for joy when I found out that I would be arriving in Buenos Aires just in time to see my friend Fede getting married. As one of my best friends in Buenos Aires who had definitely shaped my political, and social views of Afro-Argentine politics, it was such a well-timed honor! His wife to be, Ceci is such a wonderfully sweet woman who speaks perfect English, and was always looking to help out with anything and everything that I needed.

My first week into the trip, and I'm still living with Erika and Uli, who have graciously donated their couch and wifi to my cause of house hunting. Yet there is no better half-way housing...

Good music all the time, awesome conversation, comfortable atmosphere, and people who appreciate my cooking. As we got ready and put on our wedding party bests (funky, flowy clothes to dance in) Erika told me about her last experience with an Argentine wedding.

“An open bar, and it went from about two in the afternoon to two in the morning!”

As Erika, Uli, and I drove to the wedding, I was bursting with anticipation to let off some of the stress and pressure of my new arrival jitters. I was excited to dance the night away...and dance all over and around that open bar.

But when we arrived, my excitement sunk a bit. People were sitting in little pods at tables, the lights were dim, and the dance floor looked like uncharted territory (I swear I saw a tumbleweed roll slowly across the parquet wood). We offered our saludos to the family and I took in the scenery.

The families sat at separate tables, the Pita family lineage of Afro-Argentinos sat regal and black-as-ever in a room full of contrasting colors. Beautifully-antiqued caramel women with thick thighs and soft waves sat next to burly mahogany men. There were all types of brown aunts, uncles and cousins who I had never met.

Fede’s Mama’s side, surrounded the Pitas--clarito, plump, and with booming, scratchy voices. As I kissed Fede’s Mama she commented on how special it was to be at “un casamiento de negros” and I nodded in agreement, then was washed with a bittersweet feeling:

This may be the last of the negro Pitas. It seemed likely that after this generation there would be no more phenotypical signs of blackness in this enduring slave family.

Fede who is already a café-con-mas-leche-que-café was to marry Ceci, who is pretty Aryan if I do say so myself. And Nico, Fede's younger brother who describes himself as a “novio muy comprometido” also fell in love with a nice girl, “without the color”.

The whole family was handsome. Beautifully mixed and huddled in the corner, I couldn’t help but getting flashes in my head of their future generations having to show ID to fight the Afro-Argentine power . Ok, so maybe it’s a stupid image colored by my American-made, color-protective instincts, but one of the few remaining Afro-Argentine slave-descending families who proudly claimed their blackness, would soon have a passing option.

Eri, Uli, & I chose a mesita on the balcony, that faced a stage that looked like a neon cube dangling from the ceiling. Though we were at a casamiento de negros, we were still in Buenos Aires. We were two negras divinas with large curly hair. Erika was sporting a Foxy Brown-esque Afro, and her indio fiancee was also decked out in his brightest patterns. Most people looked up at us curiously, unabashedly, and without a friendly greeting or smile. Accustomed to the attention, we sat around, eyeing each other hungrily and asking not-so-non-chalantly “so um where’s the damn comida?”

As the appetizers of white bread sandwiches called “migas” came out, I joked about how little of a “negro casamiento” this was. Where were the chicken wings, of the jollof rice, the laughing, and the dancing? But the grumbles were more than likely coming from my empty tummy as soon they were quieted by a tomato basil pizza, and some hot picks by the dj. Erika and I couldn’t help but belt out tunes between bites as Anthony Hamilton, Robin Thicke, Erykah Badu brought us back to the good times in the old country where we didn’t have to go “black market” to get hot sauce, negros, and some rice and beans.

After we crushed a pizza, and Uli and I alternated bringing each other Fernet y Coca, we decided to get the party started right. It was a Mo-town singer that pulled us out to the dance floor and I put down my drink of dark syrup water and vegetable booze to get down on the floor with my girl Eri.

It started out as only us two in the zone of funk. We would dance to the era, and encourage Uli to come down (or encourage him to drink more so he’d come dance). Soon after, another black girl (the dj’s girlfriend) from Uruguay came to dance with us. And little by little the liquid courage conquered the Porteño no-dancing gene and the dance floor started looking less and less like a tightrope to the crowd.

“We started this damn party” Erika threw out at me assuredly mid-twerk.

And so we did.

And so we kept it going through an awful reggae dj, a dancehall & hip-hop dj, the soul &funk period, reggaeton & salsa, and even through the 80’s. (Argentines LOVE the American 80s. No I can’t explain why. Why yes, unabashedly, with mullets and rat tails and all.)

Eventually the family mounted the stage, to not only toast the newly weds but to get a jam session going on! The Pitas and the Nadals are a super talented musical family. How musical? Let’s just say that two members of the family came out in the same “best of” Rolling Stone issue.

The band played a mix of rocky-blues and bluesy-rock, and Erika and Uli kept gently and not so gently nudging me to take over the stage.

“You better sing” Erika reminded me as Fede and his Papa started going into a bout of vocal improvisation. I preferred to stay behind my new camera to capture some of the scenes, but when the two broke into a butchered version of the Beatles “Yesterday” I received two demanding looks that pushed my ass to move. They gave me the kind of parental look that moves reluctant four year olds to kiss weird smelling grandparents, the look that leads snarky teenagers to bite their tongues so-we-can-at-least-have-one-god-damn-peaceful-dinner….and it is the look that pushed me to gingerly weave through the crowd of on-looking wedding goers towards the stage.

As I reached the stage, the two had tripped over the last verse and Fede, realizing my intention, motioned for me to take over his mic. I slid into the song smoothly, but conspicuously, the feminine gringa voice amongst the scratchy Argentines, “I believe in yesterdaaay...”

And just as I geared up to sing another verse, they finished unexpectedly, leaving me a bit exposed as the only non-family on the stage. We clumsily did a bout of improvisation on the next song until I felt useless enough to climb back down to my seat.

“Mommy and Daddy” gave me approving complements, then we all got back to celebrating The Last of the Afro-Argentiquans…I mean, the marriage of Fede and Ceci. :) Congratulations beautiful people!!!

We stayed until our feet were sore and the party was winding down. And long after we had left, Fede relayed us our complements from all of the wedding party.

As Ceci’s Dad said of the two negras “I will always remember the one for how she danced, and the other for how she sang”.

Well, at least were helping to break some stereotypes here. Yessuh, Somebody hea bess git me a basketball n some watah-mellon. ooooo--weeee!

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