Tag Archives: Argentina

Hard Lessons Drawn From History

23 Jun

The other night I was interviewed on an urban radio program, Mobile Extreme Street Team on the subject of self-hatred in the Black community. As a social issue, there are few simple answers, and yet the topic resonated with the themes in my book. Self-hatred within any racial or ethnic group derives from internalizing limiting beliefs drawn from a legacy of discrimination and persecution. My own story reflects the common saying in the country of my birth, Argentina, “In Argentina, there are no blacks.” This became part of a collective denial of the African presence and its influence. One of Argentina’s leaders, Domingo Sarmiento actually coined the phrase and was responsible for extermination of blacks in the War of Paraguay (1875). Later, a yellow fever epidemic broke out in 1871 which contributed to the demise of many Argentine blacks. These events teach African descended people hard lessons about justice, equality, courage, and the even harder lesson to learn- self-acceptance. Today in the United States there appear to be many examples of media bias as related to African Americans. We have only to scan the Center For Disease Control webiste to see alarming health statistics that point to a shorter life expectancy. It appears stories of advancement and gains made by African Americans are uncommon, and under-reported. It is up to every individual to rid themselves of the horrid indoctrination perpetuated by all negative sources- history, the media, family, and the self- destructive voices within.


Travel in Argentina

30 Apr

I recently found a blog The Real Argentina  that covers  adventures one can experience while traveling in Argentina.http://www.therealargentina.com/argentinian-wine-blog/mendoza-travel-guide-tips-on-planning-a-trip/

I’d like to share an excerpt from  my book Born in the Land of the Tango related to my travels in Argentina with my son, Shem Nathaniel. He was a teen-ager at the time and we had a glorious time!

Excerpt: Source: Born in the Land of the Tango: A Memoir about Identity, Family, and Healing by Jackie O’Neal

In 1993, I decided to take my son, Shem who was 17 at the time, on a trip to Argentina. Fortunately, we traveled during my summer break from teaching which gave us to two months of freedom. He was thrilled about the idea, and we left New York in June as soon as classes ended. At the time, he was a student at a private school called Walden Lincoln.

 As soon as we arrived in Argentina, we made our way to Mar del Plata, and settled in with my aunt Josefa. Of course, Shem quickly aspired to traveling beyond the confi nes of my hometown.

 He longed to see the interior of the country- the northern part. “Let’s go to Salta, Mom,” he said. Salta is located in northwestern Argentina. My son had read in his travel book about the mild climate, and that in order to get there, we’d have to take a train called “The train to the clouds.”

 It sounded idyllic, however, at the time, we could not verify if the train was still operational. The high- altitude was another health concern, and I was certainly not the type to be willing to chew cocoa leaf, as some of the locals suggested.

The novelty of cocoa leaf did, however appeal to my son’s imagination. We compromised and traveled to Buenos Aires for a week, first, and then to Iguazzu Falls. Shem loved the natural environment and I felt proud to have brought him to “one of the most beautiful places on earth;” as it is known.

 During the day, we left our hotel early in the morning to join the tours of the spectacular Falls. We also discovered a town called Foz de Iguazzu which was not only idyllic with its fl owering trees, but a great place to enjoy fresh fruit drinks.

 We had roughed the trip to Iguazzu and taken a 30 hour bus ride from Buenos Aires. Needless to say, we encountered a great deal of what is known as local color. For the fi rst time, in our lives we heard the dialect of the Guarani spoken, and we eavesdropped with fascination.

I had hoped the trek and adventure would have taught my son the value of being a world traveler, and in the end it did. In the future, he took trips abroad to France on his own. When we arrived in Iguazzu, it appeared the rising soon had taken on red hues like the earth. Finally, our journey came to an end.

We bathed in the Rio Iguazzu while the wind
blew papagayos
The wings of the blue table cloth fl utter, Paraguay
radio blares songs, raspy voiced marimbas
Puerto Iguazzu, waiting for the omnibus, gulping
Guarana out of orange, glass bottles, lunching on
the last empanadas

The day opens wide as the Parana River, the air,
newly cut aloe and mimosa. Good-bye.
Once we returned to Mar del Plata, we continued going on local excursions, and since the coastal city has beautiful beaches, countryside, and a rich cultural life, there was no dearth of places to see.

 My son was a literary type, and so I wanted to introduce him to the work of one of Argentina’s greatest feminist writers, Victoria Ocampo. Her family’s summer home had been converted to a cultural center and museum, and we swiftly began to planspending a day there.

 My cousin Pablo, Raimundo’s son, accompanied us, and brought along his, wife Andrea. Pablo seemed eager to introduce my son to “Dulce de leche” gelato, and he mentioned a nearby café that served it. We agreed to stop by the café after visiting the museum.
My son was already familiar with the gelato, but  unwilling to hurt Pablo’s feelings, we feigned enthusiasm. Victoria Ocampo’s former summer home was located in the exclusive neighborhood called “Los Troncos,” Ketaki Kushari Dyson, writing for parabaas.com in a narrative, “On the Trail of Rabindranath Tagore and Victoria Ocampo,”
noted about Victoria Ocampo’s contributions to Argentina’s literary life,”She became an important cultural patron in Buenos Aires and was involved in many important activities such as bringing good contemporary European music and ballet to her city, combating fascism in Argentina, helping the resistance in Europe before and during the Second World War, giving shelter to refugees fleeing fascist persecution in Europe, and the feminist movement.
Dyson went on to say, “Her liberalism and antifascism brought her the wrath of Peron, under whom, in 1953, she was held in prison for 26 days. There were protests from her many distinguished friends and admirers all over the world, including the Chilean poet Gabriela Mistral and India’s Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. She was released.”
Dyson also pointed out that “the international network of her friendships was in itself quite an achievement. A great deal of her work as a cultural organizer was made effective through this network.”  Dyson wrote,” She had many friends among the writers, artists, and intellectuals of London and Paris and of the USA in the thirties, forties, and fifties. Men like Graham Greene, Aldous Huxley, Albert Camus, Roger Caillois, Ernest Ansermet, and Igor Stravinsky were good friends of hers. She also cultivated a somewhat one-way relationship with Virginia Woolf”. 
Once we entered the museum, it seemed echoes of these personages appeared to be very much present. The Steinway piano where poet, Federico Garcia Lorca played was a prominent feature of the home, however, it was no longer there, but his aura still appeared to be part of the ambience.

 Victoria, your heel marks imprinted on the tile
bathroom fl oor have formed a dotted, star-shaped pattern How swiftly and energetically you darted about!
The wallpaper, embellished with aubergine
is faded in a few corners, but not crumbling. The
Steinway where Federico Garcia Lorca played
joyous, romantic ballads is gone: but the music’s
spirit seems to fl oat through the buoyant air of the
spacious English house. As I slip through the vacant
spaces, I breathe in words and songs still suffusing
the atmosphere. Invisible hands stroke the keys. I
am part of your world now as I encounter your auric
essence and the fragrance of words
Soundless footsteps falling beside the piano and
so many delicate details as part of the interior of the
The bed draped in mosquito netting, and in front
of it- the balcony facing the garden
I run down the winding stairs enthralled by the
thought I’m inside a museum of inspiration offered
to us by the generous government of Victoria’s Muse

Latin America’s African Roots Explored

22 Apr

Latin America’s African Roots Explored

An article in UrbanMecca.com announced http://urbanmecca.net that Black in Latin America, a new four–part series “on the influence of African descent on Latin America”, is the 11th and latest documentary film from renowned Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

 I’m impressed with the ideas brought out in the PBS series concerning the African presence in Latin America, as they are in line with content of my newly released book Born in the Land of the Tango: A Memoir About Identity, Family, and Healing. It’s interesting that scholar, Henry Louis Gates Jr. covers six Latin American countires and explores how each country acknowledges or denies their African roots, and how African descended individuals live and are perceived in their native countries.  I’m surprised that Argentina is not one of the countries profiled, and yet it is clear they still categorically tend to deny the African past- despite the presence of many “enlightened” black Argentines.

The article went on to say “Latin America is often associated with music, monuments and sun, but each of the six countries featured in Black in Latin America including Brazil, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Mexico and Peru, has a secret history.” 

Fast Facts:

  •   12.5 million Africans were shipped to the New World during the Middle Passage.
  •   While just over 11.0 million survived the arduous journey, only about 450,000 of them arrived in the United States.  The rest—over ten and a half million—were taken to the Caribbean and Latin America and kept in bondage far longer than the slaves in the United States.
  •   This astonishing fact changes the entire picture of the history of slavery in the Western hemisphere, and of its lasting cultural impact.
  •   These millions of Africans created new and vibrant cultures, magnificently compelling syntheses of various African, English, French, Portuguese and Spanish influences.
  • Despite their great numbers, the cultural and social worlds that they created remain largely unknown to most Americans, except for certain popular, cross-over musical forms.


According to Urban Mecca.com   in his new series,  “Professor Gates  sets out on a quest to discover how Latin Americans of African descent live now, and how the countries acknowledge—or deny—their African past; how the fact of race and African ancestry play themselves out in the multicultural worlds of the Caribbean and Latin America”

The article in UrbanMecca.com pointed out, “ Starting with the slave experience and extending to the present, Professor Gates unveils the history of the African presence in six Latin American countries through art, music, cuisine, dance, politics and religion, but also the very palpable presence of anti-black racism that has sometimes sought to keep the black cultural presence from view.”