Being Afrolatina in Ghana
As a woman of Puerto Rican and Garifuna Honduran descent, being part of the African Diaspora gives me a portal by which to connect with Afro-descendant people all over the globe. Labor day just passed here in the US and Yaminah and I were so proud to wear our flags and represent the cultures that raised us. Growing up under the influence of well-traveled cousins and uncles who love to drum, dance and learn languages was of my first exposure to my sensibilities as a global citizen. Later on in life, coming of age in Miami and New York surrounded by proud Afro Diaspora peoples gave me the confidence to claim my identity as both black and Latina.
My recent trip to Ghana was, in many ways, a return to home. Not in a practical sense, but in a spiritual sense. From visiting Elmina Castle, to experiencing the popular street festival, Chale Wote, to getting my hair braided in Africa for the first time, I became more aware of just how deeply rooted my African sensibilities and history is and how it shows up in my daily life.
HISTORY: ELMINA CASTLE | Visiting Ghana’s Elmina castle was a stark reminder of the royalty in my roots and my existence as miracle. Built by the Portuguese in 1482 and originally intended for the storage of trade goods, Elmina Castle was ultimately used to store slaves (robbed from different African Kingdoms) before they were shipped off to various parts of the world - that is, if they survived the inhumane treatment and horrific living conditions of the castle.
Here I am, centuries later, a modern Afro-Diasopran entrepreneur. I am a product of the sacrifice and resilience of my gorgeously blackity black ancestors. I reclaim joy and affirm my aliveness. Standing in the very room King Kwaku Dua III of the Asante kingdom was once held as a prisoner was a visceral reminder that my job is to live fully in my greatness and consistently develop my power and freedom mindset.
The effects of Colonialism are deeply rooted and show up in complex ways today. Growing up, I was unsure of my place in the world as an Afro Latina woman. My Puertorican family is living on an island that is essentially a present-day colony. Puerto Rican’s living in PR cannot vote for President of the United States because PR is considered a territory. In the states, I wasn’t black enough because I talked too "white", in Puerto Rico I wasn’t quite Latina enough because my afro was too unruly. Now that I am an adult, I am happy to witness awareness about Afro Latinidad becoming more mainstream and stereotypes about how Latin people should look being broken down, but there is much work yet to do.
I still get reactions of surprise when folks see me rocking a fro, or (presently) waist length braids while speaking Spanish. Our roots have been so discombobulated by the Transatlantic slave trade that many African Americans are surprised to see themselves in Afro Latino brothers and sisters. There is a severe lack of understanding that we all come from Africa and many of us were shipped all over the world as cargo. Some of our ancestors ended up in Spanish colonized territories while others went to North America, but ultimately we're all blood.
This understanding of just how connected we all are emboldened my photography approach. I connected with the people I photographed, exchanged information and asked questions with a new-found sense of confidence.
I heard Papa Niche before I saw him. I was in search of the restrooms at Elmina Castle. As the bathroom attendant, he was calling down to me from the second level, directing me to climb the stairs to find the restrooms. When I reached the base of the staircase and saw him, I stopped in my tracks and immediately asked if I could take his photograph. I was absolutely taken by the harmony of colors between his orange shirt, his green broom, the off-white castle walls, and of course the crisp blue sky. Sure, I could have leaned into the fear the I was there alone, my friends were inside the castle and anything could have happened to me in that short period of time, but I did not. I assessed the situation, responded with trust and had a great short conversation that led to him giving me his home address so I can mail him these photographs:
Meeting Papa Niche, conversing with several Ghanaians and seeing the creativity, hustle, wit and ingenuity of Ghana replaced what could have been a sad and sorrowful visit to Elmina Castle with hope and gratitude. We are still here, alive, striving, making the most of our days as best as we can with what we have, but also imagining brighter futures, cultivating resources on our own land and celebrating our beauty, resilience and heritage.
FUTURE: CHALE WOTE |
If Elmina Castle is a stark representation of a traumatic portion of our history, Chale Wote festival is an inspiring representation of our future. Filled with art exhibits, street vendors, fashionistas, music and food, Chale Wote is a signal of the forward direction in which Accra is headed. My heart was soaring the moment I stepped into Chale Wote festival and felt the drama, energy, enthusiasm and heart beat of the space.
Rhythm is by far the most intuitive connection to my African heritage. When we dance, you can see our ancestors beaming through our movements. It was nostalgic to see the same spirit of joy that leads my Honduran uncles into a drum circle frenzy present in the dance circles of Accra. The expressions on the faces of the dancers in Jamestown, Ghana is the same worn my Puertorican brothers and sisters in the thick of a bomba y plena exchange.
If you know my love for Afrobeats music, then you know just how excited I was to hear it blasting from every corner of the festival. Unlike hearing Afrobeats music in the USA, when a song comes on in Ghana, every aspect of the music makes absolute sense. The woman on the corner selling kelewele (spiced fried sweet plantain) is dancing in tune with the young businessman across the street enjoying a happy hour drink. It all just clicks, because Africa is the source.
I'll make a short recap video of my time in Ghana. I think hearing the sounds will help you understand the ambiance of Ghana I am trying to describe in writing. Subscribe to our newsletter below to be the first to see it!