We typically associate Black History Month with African-Americans. Since this is commonly the case, what does Black History have to do with the Latinx community? There is a tendency to view “black” and “Latinx” as separate entities, as if they have nothing to do with each other. However, there are significant populations of Latinxs throughout the countries of Latin America who are of African descent. These African- descended Latinxs are commonly referred to or self-identify, primarily in the U.S., as “Afro-Latinxs”. With that said, what do African-Americans and Afro-Latinxs have in common? We are black! Yet there is not nearly enough mention of the Afro-Latinx experience in the U.S. during this commemorative month. Looking back into our history, African-Americans and Afro-Latinxs share a common lineage. The conversation about the
Seen at the 54th annual Puerto Rican Day Parade along Fifth Avenue Sunday, June 12, 2011 in Manhattan, New York.
history of the transatlantic slave trade and the experience of enslaved people is typically focused on those who came to the U.S., especially in the South. However, only approximately 400,000 out of the 10.7 million of the enslaved Africans who survived the Middle Passage came to the U.S. over the course of the transatlantic slave trade. Thus, the majority of the Africans who survived the voyage to the Americas arrived in the Caribbean and Latin America.
The Africans who arrived in the U.S. and Latin America left a significant impact on the African-American, Afro-Latinx, and broader communities. Their descendants continue to preserve, shape, and maintain the influence left behind by their ancestors. From the music to the food, from literature and the arts to religion, there is a notable African presence that exists in both cultures. Now, what does this all mean?
“Essentially, what differs us from each other is where our African ancestors landed during the transatlantic slave trade.”
So, why should Latinxs be included in the celebration of Black History Month? Firstly, we should honor the achievements and sacrifices of the African-American community and acknowledge the horrors they endured to fight for the rights that not only African- Americans have the freedom to exercise today, but rights that continue to benefit all groups, including the Latinx community.
Secondly, Black History Month should be a celebration of all African descendants and the contributions they have made to the U.S.; there are also notable Afro-Latinx figures that made their mark in American history who deserve recognition as well. Arturo Alfonso Schomburg, a Puerto Rican of African and German descent, was a historian, writer, and activist during the Harlem Renaissance who raised awareness pertinent to the contributions African-Americans and Afro-Latinxs made in society.
Schomburg’s collection of African artifacts, art, literature, and narratives of enslaved people became the basis for the construction of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, housed in the New York Public library. Roberto Clemente, who was a Puerto Rican of African descent, became the first Latino player inducted into the Hall of Fame. Afro-Dominican Junot Diaz, writer and professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and MacArthur Fellow. Celia Cruz, who was Afro-Cuban, is recognized as the one of the most popular and renowned Latin artists of all time. She is known internationally as “The Queen of Salsa.”
These influences are a few of the many examples of Afro-Latinxs making history in the United States of America. Let us proudly celebrate Black History Month. Let us celebrate our African roots. We need to stop differentiating ourselves from the African-American community, because we are all part of the black community. It does not matter if we speak a different language. That just shows how truly diverse we—the people of the African Diaspora— are. As we move forward, let us work on sharing our narrative as Afro-Latinxs during this month, because Black History Month is OUR month too; because black history is also OUR history. And we deserve a seat at the table.
As part of the Dominican Heritage Month celebration, DUSA has been pleased to present the work of Persio Minier, an active and respected member of the Latin American artistic community whose current exhibition, Ancestral Exploration, celebrates Dominican-American culture through abstract and figurative paintings.
On the morning of January 20th, 2018, in the heart of New York City, over 200,000 people attended the second annual Women’s March. The demonstrators held signs that came in waves of color as they marched. Etched on these signs were the concerns of many New Yorkers, including issues such as women’s rights, immigrant reform, and racial equality.
Dominicanos USA, in partnership with the League of Women Voters, stood at the outskirts of the Women’s March in New York City, with the goal of registering eligible voters.
The Women’s March did not only represent the shift women want to see in society but also encompassed the various concerns of the people. It ultimately became their platform to speak. From toddlers to senior citizens, the Women’s March became home to a diverse pool of people who united as one, regardless of age, gender, or race.
By: Dinahlee Pena
DUSA hurricane relief efforts
On October 7th, 2017, DUSA was honored to be part of the #UptownUNIDOS fundraising campaign for hurricane victims in Puerto Rico and earthquake victims in Mexico. The event was sponsored by a collaboration of CUNY in the Heights, Bronx Free Press, Hispanic Federation, and Manhattan Times. Congressman Adriano Espaillat and Public Advocate Tish James were also in attendance supporting the relief efforts.
It was important for DUSA to be there and help out the Puerto Rican and Mexican community at a time when they did all the need they can get. The unfortunate circumstances being faced by the people from these countries is very heartbreaking. We are a non-profit based in the Bronx that has strong relationships with both communities. So when we heard about the relief efforts #UptownUnidos event, DUSA did not hesitate to lend a helping hand. DUSA encourages everyone to donate the best they can to these relief efforts because Puerto Rico and Mexico need our help. The Latino community is one that helps each other at all times. A catastrophe like this can unite us into becoming one big family. Dominicanos USA like to thank everyone who donated and helped with the relief efforts.
“The Dominican Parade was a thoughtful experience. It really showed what being a Dominican was all about and the pride we have in our culture and lifestyle. Seeing how many Dominicans were unregistered shows how we could make a change in politics.”
-Jeff Banks, #YoungVoices
It was a busy time at DUSA headquarters this past week as we prepared to say goodbye to our young voices. Our young voices were part of New York City’s Summer Youth Employment Program. Our 60 participants worked four weeks canvassing Manhattan and the Bronx, collecting 1,000+ voter registrations along the way. They also went on field trips to museums and college tours while also attending educational workshops.
On August 10th, DUSA held a dinner recognizing the accomplishments of our young voices. They were given certificates during a festive ceremony at the Alianza Dominicana Cultural Center. Senator Marisol Alcantara, Congressman Adriano Espaillat, and Assemblywoman Carmen de la Rosa were some of the prominent figures who also recognized and congratulated our young voices. They urged our teens to continue to participate in civic engagement and applauded our teens for their dedication this summer. This event highlighted how the Dominican population and culture continue to influence politics in New York City. Many of our teens related to seeing people who look like them in positions of power, and we’re hopeful our teens will continue to be involved in neighborhood issues.
A few days later, on August 13th, DUSA and our young voices celebrated Dominican culture at New York City’s Dominican Day Parade. First, we attended the pre-parade breakfast at La Marina in Washington Heights. The breakfast was filled with Dominican pride, graced by the presence of Hall of Famer baseball pitcher Juan Marichal, who served as the Padrino of the parade. Our teens were excited to meet Dominican Actress Dasha Polanco from the hit television show Orange Is the New Black.
After the breakfast, our dedicated young voices canvassed the parade for voter registrations. We take pride in the fact that Dominicans are the largest Latino group in New York City. DUSA marched alongside fellow Dominican, Deputy Brooklyn Borough President Diana Reyna. She congratulated the accomplishments of our young voices and articulated useful advice for them as well. She reminded our young voices that the reason there is Dominican representation in politics is the dedication of community members like them, who go out their way to register new Latino voters.
As an organization, we are confident that our summer program developed and mentored future leaders who will carry the torch in civic engagement. There is still work to do because teens between the ages of 14 and 21 are the fastest growing population segment among Dominican-Americans. We hope to connect to this group of potential new voters. We are looking forward to next year’s cohort of young voices.
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By Nelson Santana
Tuesday, May 9, 2017
On Tuesday, May 2nd—Voter Day—a coalition of electoral reform activists visited Albany to voice their concerns regarding New York’s antiquated electoral system. Charter buses from Manhattan and the Bronx filled with New Yorkers arrived in Albany to deliver an important message: New York needs to become more voter friendly. Running on the campaign, “Vote Better NY,” NYC Votes and partners—including Dominicanos USA (DUSA), League of Women Voters, and Coalition Z—marched to the Capitol and spoke directly to legislators to improve the electoral system and get more New Yorkers to vote.
Part of DUSA team arriving.
Activists advocated for The Voter Empowerment Act, Early Voting, New York Votes Act, and “Preclearance.” If passed, these legislations would make it the government’s responsibility to ensure all New Yorkers are registered voters, provide same-day Election Day registration, two weeks of in-person early voting, improved poll worker training, and more voter protection. For detailed explanation on the proposed legislation, please click here to view the “Voter Day 2017” factsheet created by NYC Votes.
NYC Votes is the brainchild of the New York City Campaign Finance Board. The campaign promotes civic engagement through community outreach, voter registration and engagement programs, and educational resources.
Several individuals spoke at the “Voting Day” press conference. Onida Coward Mayers, Director of Voter Assistance at New York City Campaign Finance Board, noted that, “Vote Better New York is a coalition from around the state” that wants “a better voting experience and we come to Albany to partner with legislators and to advocate for what we want to see in our election process.”
Director of Voter Assistance Onida Coward Mayers, New York State Senator Michael Gianaris and Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh.
When presenting DUSA Executive Director Eddie Cuesta, Coward Mayers stated, “We need to really acknowledge this gentleman, Eddie Cuesta, because he makes sure that he works New York City up and down, making sure that disenfranchised New Yorkers understand their rights and gets them registered.” Since its founding, DUSA has registered close to 150,000 voters. Cuesta stated, “We are here because we have seen the problems that affect our communities, and we are here to support early voting. We know the problem, so we hope we could continue pressuring our state legislators and make sure that New York becomes, as the capital of the World, be number one and not be so antiquated with our voting laws.”
Advocating for early voting, New York State Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins noted, “We have found that if we push them…if enough of us come out…if enough of us understand that elections matter…that things happen in life, that’s why early voting matters.”
Close to two million voting-age New Yorkers are not registered. Although New York ranks third in population size among the 50 states, voter turnout is one of the lowest. Strong proponents of the Voter Empowerment Act, New York State Senator Michael Gianaris and Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh called for its enactment. According to Senator Gianaris, “There are over two million New Yorkers who are eligible to vote but are not registered to vote…the reason is because we put a lot of hurdles in their path in order to get registered.” Assembly Member Kavanagh echoed the senator, noting, “We have seen a passive effort to keep the laws
DUSA Executive Director Eddie Cuesta, State Senator Jesse Hamilton, and Director of Voter Assistance Onida Coward Mayers.
weak so that people don’t participate in the election.”
DUSA and NYC Votes.
Other states have modernized their electoral system to reflect the technological advances of the twenty-first century. New York, however, continues to lag behind. Blair Horner, Executive Director of the New York Public Interest Research Group noted, “Too often in the hallways of Albany, it’s about big money and well-connected lobbyists, and when citizens get involved, it makes a big difference.”
Voter Day 2017 provided New Yorkers with the opportunity to speak directly with the senators and assembly members who represent them. NYC Votes and partners met with individual elected officials and staff in their offices. Among the elected officials at hand were Assembly Member Carmen de la Rosa, Assembly Member Michael Benedetto, and State Senator Jesse Hamilton. If passed, the proposed legislation would allow for a smoother electoral process and greater civic participation.