Due largely to the failure of schemes to establish "Negro colonies" in Latin American counties in the late nineteenth century and opening decades of the twentieth century, anti-black immigration policies, and the disquieting reports of respected, widely read black journalists like Robert S. Abbott, George Schuyler, and Ollie Stewart who toured the region and exposed its racism and poverty, by the 1960s the myth of a multiracial Shangri La somewhere south of border had been replaced by a more realistic assessment of conditions there. In July 1965, Ebony magazine, by far the most widely read African American monthly publication, featured the first of a lengthy two part series titled "Does Amalgamation Work in Brazil?" by its international editor, Era Bell Thompson, who spent two months in that country (part I, 27-41; part II, 33-42). Writing during the height of the civil rights movement in the U.S., she could not resist making comparisons and summed up her impressions of Brazil's finely delineated pigmentocracy thusly:
Whether the bleaching properties of miscegenation will produce a beige or a cafe com leite nation, only time and genes will tell, but the desire is for and the trend is toward a white Brazil. The darker a man is the greater his problems (part 1, p. 29).
Thompson praised Brazilians for their "non-violent" nature, for having "abolished slavery without conflict" (part II, p. 42), for outlawing capital punishment and bullfighting; and she seemed genuinely flattered that the Brazilians she interviewed were sympathetic to the cause of racial equality in the U.S. in general and in particular their high regard for Martin Luther King Jr. who along with a contingent of black clerics had attended the Baptist World Alliance in Rio de Janeiro in June 1960.
But it was in the 1960s when a new crop of black scholars--not journalists like Bell, or entertainers like Duke Ellington who toured Mexico with his orchestra in 1968, or writers like Chester Himes who spent the winter of 1963 in a Mexican fishing village--earned the appellation "expert" on some topic pertaining to Central or South America. In 1963, Robert L. Jackson took his doctorate in Spanish literature at Ohio State University. Two years later he complained in the journal Hispania that literature researchers had overlooked Afro-Latino writers (p. 870-871). He did more than just complain, he set about rectifying this by devoting much of his energies to informing us of their achievements. Subsequent articles over the past thirty years have appeared in American Hispanist, Interamericana de Bibliografia, CLA Journal, Afro-Hispanic Review, Chasqui: Revista de Literatura Latinoamericana, College Language Association Journal, and Revista Iberoamericana. His books include The Black Image in the Latin American Literature (1976), Black Writers in Latin America (1979), The Afro-Spanish American Author: An Annotated Bibliography of Criticism (1980), Black Literature and Humanism in Latin America (1988), Black Writers and the Hispanic Canon (1997), and Black Writers and Latin America: Cross-Cultural Affinities (1998).
Who could have guessed that a professional jazz saxophonist who once traveled in the bands of Woody Herman and Lionel Hampton would become the most important historian on the black experience in South America, even producing and directing a television series called "The Black Man in the Americas." In between band gigs Chicago-born Leslie B. Rout Jr. managed to earn a Ph.D. in Latin American diplomatic history at the University of Minnesota in 1966. Rout's personal reflections on the racial scene in Brazil as he experienced it living there as a musician in the 1960s, "Brazil: Study in Black, Brown, and Beige," was originally published in Negro Digest (1970) and has been reprinted in books. Like so many other black Americans who were initially enchanted with the vision of Brazil as a place of racial bliss, Rout determined its advantages were illusory and chose not to become a citizen there. Instead, he spent the remainder of his life teaching at Michigan State University. At the time of his sudden death from hepatitis in 1987 at age 51 he had authored Politics of the Chaco Peace Conference, 1935-1939 (1970), based on his doctoral dissertation; Which Way Out? A Study of the Guyana-Venezuela Boundary Dispute (1971); The African Experience in Spanish America, 1502 to the Present Day (1976); The Shadow War: German Espionage and United States Counterespionage in Latin America During World War II (1986); and co-authored Latin American History (Bratzel & Rout, 1986). His articles and reviews were published in the American Historical Review, Hispanic American Historical Review, International History Review, Wilson Quarterly, Luso-Brazilian Review, the Journal of Popular Culture, and other peer reviewed and popular periodicals. Shortly before his death he had been granted a Fulbright Scholarship to do research in Argentina pertaining to the Falkland Islands War.
There were four more scholars of note whose research led them into Central and South America. In 1963, John L. Gwaltney, himself blind almost since birth, wrote his award-winning anthropology dissertation at Columbia University on river blindness among the Chinantec Indian under the guidance of the revered Margaret Mead, later published as The Thrice Shy: Cultural Accommodation to Blindness and Other Disasters in a Mexican Community(1970). Gwaltney's articles on the Chinantec were published in Natural History (1981) and Papers in Anthropology (1980). He taught at Syracuse University. Thomas T. Orum, former diplomat and Slippery Rock University history professor, wrote is master's thesis on U.S.-Mexico relation during the period of the U.S. Civil War at the University of Arizona (1967); and later published an article on Jewish prostitutes in the Amazon cities of Belem and Manaus during the years of the rubber boom (2001). Miriam DeCosta Willis was awarded the doctorate in medieval Spanish literature in 1967 at Johns Hopkins University but most of her research has been on Afro-Latino and African American literature, published mainly in CLA Journal and the Afro-Hispanic Review. Two of her edited books are Daughters of the Diaspora: Afra-Hispanic Writers (2003) in which she contributed a chapter on the Afro-Ecuadorian writer Luz Argentina Chiriboga; and Blacks in Hispanic Literature: Critical Essays (1977). Lastly, historian and diplomat Clinton E. Knox was counselor and deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa, Honduras from 1963 to 1965. With a Ph.D. from Harvard, Knox, who later was appointed U.S. Ambassador to Dahomey and Haiti, lectured and wrote on international affairs and Latin American politics (Christmas, 1966). And, parenthetically, more black Americans were inclined to apply for Fulbright grants to teach and do research abroad, among them Lincoln University president Ivory V. Nelson who went to Mexico in 1966 and, later, historian John Hope Franklin to Venezuela in 1973 and Brazil in 1987; Fisk University president Carolyn Reid-Wallace to Guyana in 1974; author and comparative literature expert Carolivia Herron to Mexico in 1985; distinguished English professor Houston A. Baker to Brazil in 1996; and law professor George E. Edwards to Peru in 2001.
There were three unusual and quite unexpected events in the 1970s that brought Central and South America to the attention of black Americans. For decades black tourists, journalists, and social scientists had provided glimpses on life there, particularly the situation of kindred peoples of African descent there. While in Brazil in 1972 black Harvard neurobiologist and explorer Dr. S. Allen Counter was informed of the isolated rainforest tribe called Djuka, the purest group of Africans in the New World descended from 17th and 18th century slaves surviving in Suriname, formerly Dutch Guiana. He returned numerous times to remote villages in Surname to study medicinal plants and observe the ways of the inhabitants--on one occasion bringing with him actor LeVar Burton. Counter's exploits and discoveries were detailed in his book I Sought My Brother: An Afro-American Reunion (1981); in a host of magazines and newspapers like the Smithsonian, New York Times, and Boston Globe; the award-winning film documentary "I Shall Moulder Before I Shall Be Taken" (1976); and in special features on national public television (PBS) and network television. Second, Rutgers University professor Ivan van Sertima published his highly controversial but hugely popular book They Came Before Columbus (1976). A black Guyanian who arrived in this country in 1970, van Sertima supposed that the ancient Nubians were responsible for sending an expedition from Africa that landed in Central America and, subsequently, influenced the development of the ancient Olmecs, predecessors of the Mayas and Aztecs. To this day the book is often dismissed as unscientific and deliberately misleading by mainstream anthropologists, archaeologists, and historians but it survives as a classic of the black consciousness era. And, third, a touching human interest story that spanned seventeen years culminated in 1978 with the publication of the book Flavio (1978) by photographer-filmmaker Gordon Parks who in 1961 was sent to photograph the impoverished residents of Rio de Janeiro for Life magazine. The book told of Parks' emotional involvement with a sickly 12-year-old named Flavio da Silva whom he more or less adopted and whose family he rescued from imminent disaster.
A number of jazz artists found inspiration and due recognition in the region. Pianist Thelonius Monk was in Mexico City in 1971 and trumpeter Miles Davis performed in Sao Paula in 1974. Having recorded what he considered his best album ever, "Tijuana Moods" in 1957, bassist and composer Charles Mingus, spent the last year of his life convalescing in Mexico, dying in Cuernavaca in early 1979. Diplomat Terence A. Todman climbed another step in his illustrious career, serving as U.S. Ambassador to Costa Rica from 1975 to 1977, then as Assistant Secretary of State for Latin American Affairs from 1977 to 1978.
On the academic front, Marvin A. Lewis finished his Ph.D. at the University of Washington in 1974. Among his books are Afro-Hispanic Poetry, 1940-1980 (1983), From Lima to Leticia : The Peruvian Novels of Mario Vargas Llosa (1983); Treading the Ebony Path: Ideology and Violence in Contemporary Afro-Colombian Prose Fiction (1987), Ethnicity and Identity in Contemporary Afro-Venezuelan Literature (1992), Afro-Argentine Discourse (1996), Afro-Uruguayan Literature (2003). A professor of Spanish at the University of Missouri at Columbia, Lewis is currently director of the Afro-Romance Institute for Language and Literatures of the African Diaspora, and is co-editor of the Afro-Hispanic Review and of Publication of the Afro-Latin/American Research Association (PALARA). He also founded the Afro-Latin/American Research Association (ALARA). Based on his 1970 dissertation at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, Colin A Palmer, presently Dodge Professor of History at Princeton University, addressed African slaves in the Americas in four books beginning with his groundbreaking Slaves of the White God: Blacks in Mexico, 1570-1650 (1976).
In 1970, Effie J. Boldridge wrote her dissertation on the Mexican poet Gilberto Owen and later authored an article in Romance Notes (1973) concerning his work. June C. Carter, a professor at the University of South Carolina at Spartanburg, wrote her dissertation on the Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes at the University of Washington (1976) and did post-graduate study in Mexico and Costa Rica. She is the principal editor of the book Jose Agustin: Onda and Beyond (1986). Historian Cleveland Donald Jr. 's dissertation at Cornell University was titled "Slavery and Abolition in Campos, Brazil, 1830-1888" (1973), a theme he revisited a few years later in the Luso-Brazilian Review (1976); and he wrote on perceptions of race relations in contemporary Brazil in Black World (1972). Donald, who once led the Black Studies Program at the University of Mississippi, teaches Latin American history at the University of Connecticut at Waterbury. Angela M. Gilliam wrote her Ph.D. thesis, "Language Attitudes, Ethnicity and Class in Sao Paulo and Salvador da Bahia" (1975) at the Union for Experimenting Colleges and Universities, and her articles on race in South America have appeared in Presence Africaine (1974) and Latin American Perspectives 26 (1999). San Diego State University librarian-historian Robert Fikes Jr. published in the trilingual Americas "Jose de Acosta's Window on the New World" (1978), about the 15th century Jesuit missionary who traveled between Mexico and Peru. Arizona State University political science professor Michael J. Mitchell's dissertation at Indiana University was titled "Racial Consciousness and the Political Attitudes and Behavior of Blacks in Sao Paulo, Brazil" (1977). He has published scholarly articles on race and democracy in Brazil in the Social Forces (1999) and Comparative Politics (1989). Zelbert L. Moore, a black studies professor at the State University of New York at New Platz, wrote his history dissertation at Temple University on the 19th century Brazilian mulatto poet Luis Gonzaga Pinto da Gama (1978). His journal articles on Brazil have investigated the samba, blacks in popular culture, racial discrimination, and the obscure Afro-Brazilian poet Solano Trindade. Closing out the decade, Otis Handy, now retired as Associate Professor of Spanish at California State University at Hayward, analyzed the works of Afro-Peruvian poet Nicomedes Santa Cruz in his dissertation at the University of California at Berkeley (1979).
In terms of African American scholarly interest in Latin America the most notable feature of the decade of the 1980s was that a new group of anthropologists and Spanish literature specialists dominated center stage. In 1981 Edmund T. Gordon received his Ph.D. at Stanford University with a dissertation investigating life in a fishing village off the coast of Belize (1981). His book Disparate Diasporas: Identity and Politics in an African Nicaraguan Community (1986) was published at the University of Texas at Austin where he is Associate Professor of Anthropology, and where today at least five Afro-Brazilian scholars are employed. In 1982, Laurence E. Prescott wrote his doctoral dissertation at Indiana University on the Afro-Colombian poet Candelario Obeso (1982). A Spanish professor at Pennsylvania State University, Prescott has written articles on Manuel Zapata Olivella, Juan Coronel and aspects of Afro-Colombian literature. His magnum opus is Jorge Artel and the Struggle for Black Literary Expression in Colombia (2000). It was also in 1982 that Shirley Mae Jackson, a Spanish professor at the University of the District of Columbia, was awarded the doctorate with a dissertation on Afro-Latin literature which was later published as La Novella Negrista en Hispanoamerica (1986). She also published an interview with the Afro-Costa Rican poet Eulalia Bernard. Michael A. Brookshaw, a professor of Spanish at Winston-Salem State University and a nationally recognized outstanding teacher who has traveled to ten Latin American countries, studied the evolution of the Afro-Latino novel for his dissertation at the University of Illinois (1983). Dallas L. Browne, an anthropology professor at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville whose specialty is African and African American cultures, earned his Ph.D. in 1983 at the University of Illinois at Urbana. He has studied and spoken at professional conferences on Latin American ethnic issues and teaches a course called "People and Cultures of Latin America." Since completing her 1982 dissertation on the Afro-Equadorian novelist Nelson Estupinan Bass, Millicent A. Bolden, Associate Professor of Spanish at Samford University, subsequently wrote on Bass in the Afro-Hispanic Review (1989) and in a festschrift (1995). Bolden also wrote on the white Chilean novelist Baldomero Lillo in Romance Languages Annual (1996).
Claflin University history professor Jackie R. Booker penned her dissertation, "The Merchants of Veracruz, Mexico: A Socioeconomic History, 1790-1829" (1984) at the University of California at Irvine which spun off a book, Veracruz Merchants, 1770-1829: A Merchant Elite in Late Bourbon and Early Independent Mexico (1993), and articles in The Historian (1993), and Americas (1988). Sarah E. King teaches in the Program in Writing & Humanistic Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Her Harvard University dissertation examined the work of Argentine novelist Julio Cortazar and Chilean novelist Jose Donso (1987). Sociologist Paulette Pierce, while teaching at Ohio State University, transformed her dissertation at the City University of New York into a book: Noncapitalist Development: The Struggle to Nationalize the Guyanese Sugar Industry (1984). Carolyn R. Durham, who teaches at North Carolina Central University, was awarded her Ph.D. in Spanish literature at Rutgers University in 1987. She has written several articles on Afro-Brazilian literature and co-edited a bilingual book on Afro-Brazilian female writers (Alves & Durham, 1995). Another bilingual book, The Image of Black Women in Twentieth-Century South American Poetry (1987), was co-edited by Morgan State University's Ann Venture Young who five years earlier had published an article on the same theme in the Afro-Hispanic Review (1982). G. Reginald Daniel's wrote his dissertation at UCLA on the Brazilian mulatto novelist Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis (1987) and did research in Brazil as a Fulbright scholar. He teaches courses on race and ethnic relations at the University of California at Santa Barbara. Daniel contributed the chapter on race relations in Brazil in the book Latin America: An Interdisciplinary Approach (1999). Conservative economist and former University of Southern California professor Victor A. Canto relied on mathematical models to analyze monetary policy in his book Currency Substitution: Theory and Evidence from Latin America (1987). Another black economist, Prof. Rose-Marie Avin at the University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire, who is fluent in Spanish and has studied and taught in Mexico, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica, teaches a class called "Economic Development in Latin America."
Upon finishing study at the School of Art Institute in Chicago in 1982, South Carolina-born artist Jonathan Green, today renowned for his Gullah-themed work, left for a tour of Mexico and executed paintings inspired by his experiences in "La Tierra del Sol." There was at least one novel set in South America written by an African American in the 1980s. New York City novelist James M. Wylie started work in 1964 as a columnist for the English language newspaper Mexico City Times, but by 1986 he was teaching at The Cooper Union College. Wylie's third novel, The Sign of Dawn (1981), is a political thriller that takes the reader from the jungles of the Amazon to the riot-torn capitol city of Brasilia, Brazil. He not only traveled throughout Mexico but he personally explored the Amazon region. Like Wylie, Gayl Jones did not entertain a romanticized vision of Brazil's history as did many of the black literati of previous decades. The country's brutal legacy of slavery haunted the main character in flashbacks in her first novel, Corregidora (1975), about a Kentucky woman whose three generations of female ancestors suffered greatly on a Brazilian plantation. Her book-length prose poem, Song for Anninho (1981), is a love story set in the slave haven of Palmares in colonial Brazil.
The decade of the 1990s commenced with African American military personnel stationed in Panama resulting from the U.S. invasion of that country to eject dictator Manuel Noriega in late December 1989. Their presence helped to reinforce notions of human rights and racial solidarity associated with the civil rights and Black Power movements and, according to one important historian of the region, these troops "introduced Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and the Black Panthers into the local political lexicon" (Andrews, 2004, p. 183). Also promoting U.S. interests in the region was Terrence A. Todman as U.S. Ambassador to Argentina from 1989 to 1993; and Richard L. Baltimore as Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Costa Rica from 1996 to 1999.
The most prolific Africa American writer on events in South America in the 1990s was journalist Calvin Sims who as Bureau Chief in Buenos Aires for the New York Times from 1992 to 1994 wrote nearly four hundred articles regarding developments in the region but mainly focusing on the political scene in Argentina, Peru, and Chile. Another journalist, Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post, was in Brazil in the mid-1990s. His critically acclaimed book, Coal to Cream (1999) was subtitled A Black Man's Journey Beyond Color to an Affirmation of Race and consisted largely of his comparisons of the racial landscape in Brazil and the United States. Aside from Robinson's masterful prose and sensitively expressed views, one gets the impression from reading the book that not much had changed in Brazil and the countries bordering it since journalists Ollie Stewart and George Schuyler visited there fifty years prior. There had been no great civil rights revolution or militant uprising in Brazil to relieve the plight of its poorest, darkest-skinned citizens; no Booker T. Washington, or W. E. B. Du Bois, or Martin Luther King Jr. had emerge to lead the way; no Marcus Garvey or Stokely Carmichael to convince them they were black, despised, and oppressed. In 1996 Rev. Jesse Jackson spent a week in Brasilia, Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Salvador, sponsored by the Brazilian government through the Palmares Cultural Foundation, to heighten Afro-Brazilians' consciousness of their connection to the African diaspora--especially their link to black North Americans--as a corrective to a twenty-year military dictatorship's official line that racial discrimination did not exist in the country ("Jackson Promotes Brazil," 1996). Several months prior to Rev. Jackson's tour Norman Hill, president of the A. Philip Randolph Institute, was in Brazil working with union leaders to establish an Inter-American Trade Union Institute for Racial Equality to respond to the urgent concerns of black workers there ("Norman Hill," 1996). Probably the largest United States trade missions to Brazil was assembled in late 1999 when the National Black Chamber of Commerce arranged for 75 black businessmen to meet with 250 Brazilian businessmen and government officials mainly in Rio de Janeiro and secured tens of millions of dollars in contracts (Wagner, 2001).
In the novel Passing (1929) by Nella Larsen, one of the main characters resists her husband's desire to move the family to South America, more specifically Brazil, to escape racism in the U.S. Almost sixty years later, in Danzy Senna's novel Caucasia (1998) the main character's father and sister immigrate to Brazil for essentially the same reason. For more than a century and a half the countries in Central and South America have been viewed as a refuge, an idealized sanctuary from the harshness of everyday racism experienced by Afro-North Americans. So it was no real surprise when yet another black novelist, this time Pulitzer Prize-winning Alice Walker, started off her highly sensual story, By the Light of My Father's Smile (1998), in a remote location in Mexico with a black family amongst a fictitious tribe of African-Amerindians. Another literary light, Ntozake Shange, reminisced about time spent in Nicaragua and Brazil while offering up mouth-watering recipes in If I Can Cook, You Known God Can (1998).
Increasingly destinations in the tropics with sizable Afro-Latin populations attracted black American artists and intellectuals bored with the usual meeting places in the U.S. and eager to make connections abroad. It was at the 1997 Festival of the Drums that Paul Goodnight was inspired to paint his colorful masterpiece "Sisters of Bora Morte." In August 1996 Charles Rowell, literary critic and editor of Callaloo, along with Joanne M. Braxton, an English professor at the College of William & Mary, and several other North American scholars gave a series of lectures in Rio de Janeiro, Recife, and Salvador da Bahia, Brazil on the topic in American literature; and was at this time Braxton attended the first meeting of the American Association for Afro-Latin Research in Bahia ("Department News," 1997). In 1996, filmmaker Thomas Allen Harris, while a professor at the University of California at San Diego, went to Salvador da Bahia, Brazil to indulge his long-held fascination with the deities of the African-based religion known as Candomble. For four months he shot footage of Afro-Brazilian religious festivals culminating in carnivals that were prominently featured in his documentary film "E Minha Cara = That's My Face" (2003). Movie executive Jeff Friday made arrangements for the first Acapulco Black Film Festival in 1997 to promote independent films by black filmmakers. This venue convened annually in Mexico until 2002 when it was moved to Miami, Florida.
African American scholarly interest in Central and South America gained additional momentum in the decade and the number of Ph.D. dissertations pertaining to Latin America and Afro-Latinos bears this out. In 1990, Caroll M. Young completed her dissertation on Afro-Uruguayan literature at the University of Missouri (1990). She studied at the Universidad Veracruzana in Mexico, was a Fulbright scholar at the Universidad de San Miguel Tucuman in Argentina, and the Universidad Belgrano in Buenos Aires. A Spanish professor at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, she has published her research on Afro-Latino literature and on the Afro-Uruguayan poets Cristina Cabral and Virginia Brindis de Salas in books and in the journals Afro-Hispanic Review, CLA Journal, and PALARA. Political scientist David Covin at California State University at Sacramento published articles on the black political organization O Movimento Negro Unificado which was formed in Sao Paulo, Brazil in 1978 (1990, 1996). In 1991, Harvard University professor J. Lorand Matory completed requirements for the doctorate in anthropology at the University of Chicago. Much of his work has examined the nexus of African and Brazilian culture and he has lectured and conducted extensive field research. Matory is currently on the editorial board of Afro-Asia, the leading black studies journal in Brazil produced by the Federal University of Bahia. His latest book, published by Princeton University Press, is Black Atlantic Religion: Tradition, Transnationalism, and Matriarchy in Afro Brazilian Candombl'e (2005). Economist Jessica G. Nembhard at the University of Maryland converted her dissertation into a book published by Praeger: Capital Control, Financial Regulation, and Industrial Policy in South Korea and Brazil (1996). She also wrote The Nation We are Making: A Junior History of Belize (1990), commissioned by the Ministry of Education of Belize.
Rutgers University history professor Herman L. Bennett finished his Latin American history dissertation at the Duke University (1993). His recent book, published by Indiana University Press, is Africans in Colonial Mexico: Absolutism, Christianity and Afro-Creole Consciousness, 1570-1640 (2003). Ollie A. Johnson acquired his political science doctorate in 1993 at the University of California at Berkeley. Both he and his wife, journalist Lori Robinson, have taught at the Universidad San Francisco de Quito in Quito, Ecuador. Johnson has also taught at several universities in the United States. His book, Brazilian Party Politics and the Coup of 1964 (2001), was praised in the American Political Science Review (Norden, 2002); and his major journal article is "Racial Representation and Brazilian Politics: Black Members of the National Congress, 1983-1999," in the Journal of Interamerican Studies and World Affairs (1998). Irma P. McClaurin is an anthropology professor at the University of Florida at Gainesville. Her reworked 1993 dissertation done at the University Massachusetts at Amherst is Women of Belize: Gender and Change in Central America (1996), published by Rutgers University Press. McClaurin profiled the career of the Belizean novelist Zee Edgell in Americas (1994). Long Island University history professor Kimberly F. Jones wrote her dissertation at UCLA in 1995 and later published an article in the Journal of Third World Studies. Both studies analyzed the Afro-Brazilian struggle to fight racial discrimination (Jones, 1995; 2003). At Central Connecticut State University, political science professor Walton L. Brown-Foster combined expertise in race relations and comparative politics to produce Democracy and Race in Brazil, Britain, and the United States (1997).
Before moving into other academic pursuits relating to gender and social inequities, France W. Twine, the daughter of a Chicago civil rights activist and currently a sociology professor at Duke University, wrote her 1994 dissertation at the University of California at Berkeley and based her book on the same theme, Racism in a Racial Democracy : The Maintenance of White Supremacy in Brazil (1997), published by Rutgers University Press. The reviewer in the American Journal of Sociology hailed her book as "clearly written, forceful, and thought-provoking" (Camara, 1998, p. 911). Leslie R. James, a religious studies professor at DePauw University, persevered to see his 1994 dissertation at St. Louis University about the contemporary Uruguayan theologian Juan Segundo and Brazilian theologian Rubem Alves become his first book: Toward an Ecumenical Liberation Theology (2001). Similarly, Rutgers University's Kim D. Butler had her 1995 dissertation at Johns Hopkins University published as Freedoms Given, Freedoms Won: Afro-Brazilians in Post-Abolition Sao Paulo and Salvador (1998) and has written journal articles and book contributions in the same vein. Pennsylvania State University professor Ben E. Vinson HI was granted the doctorate in Latin American history at Columbia University in 1998. His books are the highly regarded Bearing Arms for His Majesty: The Free-Colored Militia in Colonial Mexico (2001), published by Stanford University Press; Flight: The Story of Virgil Richardson, A Tuskegee Airman in Mexico (2004) published by Palgrave Macmillan; and, with coauthor Bobby Vaughn, Afromexico (2004). A prolific writer, his articles on Mexican, Costa Rican, and Caribbean history have appeared in Americas, Ethnohistory, Callaloo, Hispanic American Historical Review, and the Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History. Vinson has published book reviews in the Journal of Military History, the Journal of Negro History, and the American Historical Review. In her 1997 dissertation at Duke University, Lesley G. Feracho, a Romance languages professor at the University of Georgia, examined the writings of the Brazilian authors Carolina Maria de Jesus and Clarice Lispector, the Cuban Julieta Campos, and the Zora Neale Hurston. Though her parents are from Trinidad, Feracho was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. Her research has probed the literature of mainly Afro-Latino female writers in Ecuador, Brazil, and the Caribbean. Feracho's book, published by the State University of New York Press, is Linking the Americas: Race, Hybrid Discourses and the Reformulation of Feminine Identity (2005), a revision if her dissertation.
Three significant events occurred just two years into the new century: Wynton Marsalis and Auturo O'Farrill co-founding the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra at New York City's Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts; Larry L. Palmer moving from Charge d'Affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Quito, Ecuador to U.S. Ambassador to Honduras; and the accidental death of popular hip hop singer Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes near the town of La Ceiba, Honduras where she frequently vacationed. An article carried first in the Boston Globe headlined "Brazil Touting Its Rich Black Heritage" (Prada, 2004), later reprinted in the Miami Herald and other news outlets, confirmed socio-historical affinities and burgeoning African American tourism and business opportunities in Brazil.
In February 2003 Congressmen Charles Rangel of New York and John Conyers of Michigan introduced House Resolution 47, called the Afro-Latino Resolution, jointly sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, intended to broaden recognition of the 80 to 150 million people of African descent living in the Americas. Two months later the Congressional Black Caucus sent a delegation to Brazil hoping to expand commerce between African Americans and Afro-Brazilians, with stops in major cities and meetings with high level trade officials and businessmen. In October 2003, with participants from eight South American countries in attendance, a week-long Afro-Latin awareness conference and workshop was held in Atlanta, Georgia dubbed "Generating Knowledge From the Inside." The event, organized by University of Texas anthropologist Sheila S. Walker, was inspired by the Cross-Hemispheric Partnership entered into by Spelman College and the Venezuelan Fundacion Afro-America. and was funded by the United Negro College Fund Special Programs Corporation. In January 2004 the TransAfrica Forum sent a group of prominent blacks--among them actor Danny Glover, economist and syndicated columnist Julianne Malveaux, the Smithsonian Institution's James Early, and union executive Patricia Ford--to Venezuela in a show of support for the social reforms of President Hugo Chavez who presides over a nation that has marked Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday as a national day of celebration.
In spite of the foregoing positive news, another of those occasional reminders of the gulf that exists between African Americans and their Latino neighbors occurred in April 2005 when President Vicente Fox of Mexico made a statement to a group of white American businessmen that his less fortunate countrymen worked at jobs in the United States "that not even blacks want to do" (Carl, 2005. p. 3), thus earning the embarrassed leader an earful from the Reverends Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton et al, and reinforced the uneasiness black Americans have long felt about Latin America's legacy of dominance by a white elite and discriminatory treatment of Afro-Latinos. And on the heels of this international incident, two months later the Mexican government felt the sting of black critics and even the White House when in June 2005 it released a postage stamps featuring the iconic Memin Pinguin, a familiar black cartoon character (accompanied on one stamp with a stout black woman with head scarf), the U.S. equivalent of Sambo and Aunt Jemima, once again putting Mexican officials on the defensive and outraging blacks in this country.
No longer the exotic stepchild of African American professors, bright young scholars continue to be attracted to the southern half of the hemisphere which remains a fertile area for research; and an older generation of black experts are in a position to mentor these young academics. An example of this is the aforementioned Marvin A. Lewis at the University of Missouri at Columbia who at the onset of this new century was the dissertation advisor for two aspiring academics. The first was Antonio D. Tillis, now a Spanish professor at Purdue University, whose dissertation was on the Afro-Colombian novelist Manuel Zapata Olivella (2000). The second was Dorothy E. Mosby, a Spanish and Portuguese professor at Ohio State University, whose dissertation the following year was published by the University of Missouri Press as Place, Language, and Identity in Afro-Costa Rican Literature (2003). Ethno-musicologist Chris Lee who teaches at the University of Kansas will soon have his UCLA dissertation on Afro-Brazilian religion (2000) published by Harmonie Park Press. Also on the campus of the University of Kansas is Dr. Judith M. Williams who is laboring to produce a book on Afro-Brazilian theater. Bobby E. Vaughn, an anthropologist who teaches at Notre Dame de Namur University in California, was granted the doctorate at Stanford University with his dissertation titled "Race and Nation: A Study of Blackness in Mexico" (2001).
He maintains an impressive website on the history and culture of Afro-Mexicans at http://www.afromexico.com/. Chris Lee, currently a political science professor at the University of Minnesota at Morris, took his doctorate at the University of California at Riverside with a dissertation on political dissent and state repression in Latin America (2001). At the University of Illinois at Chicago David Akbar Gilliam, a professor at DePaul University, earned his Ph.D. with his dissertation on the works of three Afro-Latino writers: Colombian Manuel Zapata Olivella, Gregorio Martinez of Peru, and Rosario Ferre of Puerto Rico (2002). Prof. Hollis M. France, a political scientist at the College of Charleston, wrote her dissertation at the City University of New York on recent events in Guyana (2002). The same year that Tenibac S. Harvey was hired to teach anthropology at Case Western Reserve University he completed his dissertation on the health care of rural Guatemalans called K'iche Maya at the University of Virginia (2003). Prior to completing his dissertation on Latin American history at Ohio State University in 2005 Sherwn K. Bryant, an assistant professor at Northwestern University, published an article on slavery in Ecuador in Colonial Latin American Review (2004).
Like Vaughn and Harvey and many other young black Americans, what sparked their fascination with Latin American cultures was a study abroad experience that changed the course of their lives. Many of the older scholars, too numerous to mention here, situated in a variety of disciplines came to discover engaging facets of life in these countries after acquiring their university degrees. Unlike W. E. B. Du Bois, who despite his reputation as a globetrotter never set foot south of the Mexico border; or Alain Locke who despite never having traveled to South America was beguiled by the myth of a Brazil free of a "race problem as far as the individual is concerned" (Locke, 1944, p. 17), contemporary black scholars are more likely to visit there, to deepen their knowledge through research and, occasionally, to write on what they have learned and experienced. Over the past few decades it has been rather astonishing to see them move to the forefront of research on Afro-Latinos to a degree possibly without parallel in any other area of investigation of the African Diaspora.
There is no evidence that native Afro-North American interest in Central and South America, particularly Afro-Latino history and literature, will dissipate in the foreseeable future. To the contrary, there is every indication that popular interest and exposure to these regions via television will heighten, and that immigrant settlement, tourism, and research will at least keep pace with what has been observed over the past two decades.
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ROBERT FIKES, JR.--SAN DIEGO STATE UNIVERSITY
Robert Fikes, Jr. is a reference librarian at San Diego State University where he is also subject bibliographer for Middle East, European, African, and United States history and also Africana Studies. An alumnus of Tuskegee University. he has graduate degrees in European History and in Library Science from the University of Minnesota.…