The importance of celebrating black history to the African-Diasp - FOX5 Vegas - KVVU


The importance of celebrating black history to the African-Diaspora in Las Vegas

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Many people in the valley, like Mayani Gray and her family and friends have multi-cultural backgrounds. (FOX5) Many people in the valley, like Mayani Gray and her family and friends have multi-cultural backgrounds. (FOX5)

Things aren’t always black and white, especially when it comes to race. Some stories can’t be checked in a box.

During Black History Month, prominent historical figures like Martin Luther King, Jr. or Rosa Parks have often been celebrated, but other people have been overlooked, such as Haitian-American James Weldon Johnson, who wrote the Black National Anthem, and Dominican-American, Esteban Hostesse who was a Tuskegee Airman: black immigrants who made major contributions to the United States. 

People in the valley like Mayani Gray and her family and friends have multi-cultural backgrounds.

“We speak Patois,” Gray said. “We speak Spanish, we eat Caribbean food, we live our Latina African culture.” 

A typical weekend night in Gray’s family’s home involves celebrating her Panamanian and Jamaican cultural background through food, dance and conversation. It’s something that Tania Hunter said she believes is important to pass along to their children everyday, but especially during Black History Month. 

“In our country, we are considered black,” Hunter said. “I really can’t hide that I’m black, but a lot of times people will say, you are not black.”

Hunter is Panamanian-American, and so are many of her friends and family, but she said sometimes it’s difficult for people to understand her ethnicity versus her culture. 

“People will see you as a black woman,” Gray said. “But when you start speaking it’s, ‘Oh you’re not really black,’ ‘Where are you from?’ For me, because I’ve been here 25 years I can’t get rid of my accent. So it’s daily, it’s a daily struggle for me.”

That is why these women said it’s important to celebrate Black History Month, to make sure their children know what it means to be Afro-Latino, or a Black person of African decent. 

Hunter said in Panama, like many other Central American, South American and Caribbean countries, there is a large black population. She added that African culture was infused many decades ago because of the effort to build the Panama Canal. 

“We also came from the motherland of Africa ... via Jamaica or via bringing blacks to build the canal in the early 1800s. Because of that they stayed in Panama and spread their roots," Hunter said.

That story is similar across the America’s in countries like Brazil, where just over half of the population is black or mixed race. These are people of the African Diaspora. People of a diaspora are those who have scattered from their homelands and spread their influences and culture along the way. 

In the America’s, that is due largely in part to the trans-Atlantic slave trade. According to Pan-African and African Diaspora research professionals at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, less than five percent of Africans were transported to the United States. The remaining 95 percent spread across the Caribbean, Central and South America including countries like Guatemala, where JC Cayeteno is from. 

“Once you reach the United States, you’re other or African-American,” Cayeteno said. “Over the years, we’ve identified ourselves as Latino, and it’s just now that there is this wave of identity that is going on across the nation of folks embracing that Afro side.”

He said he believes it is a good thing because it exposes more Americans to the diversity of the black community. It’s something typically seen more and understood more on the East Coast because of the large Afro-Caribbean populations. 

It's a population that has begun to grow in the Las Vegas Valley as well.

“There is a huge community from the Dominican Republic, a huge community of Cubans,” Cayeteno said. “Huge community of Puerto Ricans here in Las Vegas, huge community of Belizeans, so when you put that together, there is this fusion of food, music, culture and identity.”

And now that they’re in Las Vegas, Cayeteno and others from the Las Vegas Latin Caribfest have been working to bring more visibility to those communities. 

“Once reggae, soca, merengue and bachata began that filled the spirit of wanting to embrace who you are ... and seek recognition like our African-American brothers, like our Latino brothers," Cayeteno said.

Their festivals and events lead up to the big Las Vegas Latin Caribbean Parade in the fall, which Cayeteno said he hopes one day will become a major destination for Carnival in the United States.

“It began with four people,” Cayeteno said. It has grown into Atlanta, Miami, L.A., Phoenix coming to Las Vegas and celebrating Vegas’ version of the Latin Caribbean community, which is exciting.”

Hunter said sharing their culture means more understanding that no matter their country of origin, they too can be proud of and celebrate being black in America.

“We need to embrace it,” Hunter said. “We need to love it and just enjoy it because we can’t get away from it, I can’t hide that I’m black, I’m black all the way.”

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