Black in Latin America

Black in Latin America

Black in Latin America

Black in Latin America

Excerpt

I first learned that there were black people living someplace in the Western Hemisphere other than the United States when my father told me the first thing that he had wanted to be when he grew up. When he was a boy about my age, he said, he had wanted to be an Episcopal priest, because he so admired his priest at St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Cumberland, Maryland, a black man from someplace called Haiti. I knew by this time that there were black people in Africa, of course, because of movies such as Tarzan and TV shows such as Shena, Queen of the Jungle and Ramar of the Jungle. And then, in 1960, when I was ten years old, our fifth-grade class studied “Current Affairs,” and we learned about the seventeen African nations that gained their independence that year. I did my best to memorize the names of these countries and their leaders, though I wasn’t quite sure why I found these facts so very appealing. But my father’s revelation about his earliest childhood ambition introduced me to the fact that there were black people living in other parts of the New World, a fact that I found quite surprising.

It wasn’t until my sophomore year at Yale, as a student auditing Robert Farris Thompson’s art history class “The Trans-Atlantic Tradition: From Africa to the Black Americas,” that I began to understand how “black” the New World really was. Professor Thompson used a methodology that he called the “Tri-Continental Approach”—complete with three slide projectors—to trace visual leitmotifs that recurred among African, African American, and Afro-descended artistic traditions and artifacts in the Caribbean and Latin America, to show, à la Melville Herskovits, the retention of what he called “Africanisms” in the New World. So in a very real sense, I would have to say, my fascination with Afro-descendants in this hemisphere, south of the United States, began in 1969, in Professor Thompson’s very popular, and extremely entertaining and rich, art history lecture course. In addition, Sidney Mintz’s anthropology courses and his brilliant scholarly work . . .

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