Tag Archives: Basque roots

Q & A with author, Jackie O’Neal- Born in the Land of the Tango

22 Apr

Q & A with author, Jackie O’Neal- Born in the Land of the Tango:

Your book deals with how you integrated your mult-cultural past- particuarly your African roots.
You say that in Argentina, your birthplace, there has been an awakening of black consciousness. Can you give an example?
“On a You Tube video, a young Afro-Argentine
guy mimics a strong Argentine accent which is
said to be close to the Italian speech patterns, or
Spanish spoken with an Italian accent. The young
guy laughs and repeats the litany In Argentina,
there are no blacks, but I am an exception to the
rule. It appears the younger generations of black
Argentines have experienced an awakening of
black consciousness and today they are more apt
to poke fun at the absurdity of denying their roots,
or expressing shame over it.”

Can you  clarify the attitudes about race you grew up with?
‘My parent’s generation born in the late 20’s and early
30’s in Argentina, seemed to be brainwashed to
lean towards their white, European roots. Further,
they passed their bigotry down to their children.
Even after civil rights, when my family lived in
the United States, I was not allowed to have black
friends. At the time, I was in grade school and lived
in New York City, a virtual melting pot.”

How did you come to explore your African roots?

“By the time, I was 41, I had already researched
my African roots. I undertook the exploration at
The Schomberg Center in Harlem. Pouring over
books, I noticed Al Sharpton within my peripheral
vision. I read about how Buenos Aires was a major
slave port and that the majority of African slaves
were brought form Nigeria. My eyes darted across
the pages scanning more and more fascinating
details, never spoken about in my family. One of
Argentina’s presidents was affectionately called
“Doctor Chocolate” as it was a well-known fact, he
was black. The common saying, “In Argentina, there
are no black,” derived from a collective denial, and
one which I had grown up believing. My parents
were terribly patriotic in terms of Argentina, yet
they never spoke about how one of Argentina’s
leaders, Sarmiento had been responsible for the
extermination of blacks in the War of Paraguay
(1865- 1870), and that the yellow fever epidemic
followed in Buenos Aires in 1871.”

What role did bigotry play in your parent’s lives and why was it so strong?

“In refl ecting on my family’s bigotry, I’ve been led
to explore the idea that defining race codes can
be confusing, especially with the inaccuracies
inherent in the way people report their race
and ethnicity. According to Adu-Asamoa, the
classifi cation and hierarchy of race in Latin
America begins with Europeans or descendants
of European immigrants, mainly descended from
Spain, Italy, Portugal, and the Netherlands. Within
those groups, there would be those individuals
called “Blancos.” In my family, my father boasted
about his Andalusian roots, seemingly leaving
out his indigenous and African descent, and this
is typical among those in denial.”

You also derive from European roots. Can you describe your maternal grandmother and her influence?
“Guizpicoa, my grandmother’s homeland, was
in fact, the geographic location of one of the
largest witch hunts undertaken by the Spanish
Inquisition, later known as the Labourde witch
hunts. These witch hunts began in the Basque
country surrounding Labourde in 1609, and
led by Pierre de Lancre, judge of Bordeaux, in
France. Strangely enough, Nostradamus is said
to have predicted the events in one of his famous
quatrains. Author, Mario Readings noted the
Labourde witch trials brought the total of witches
investigated by the inquisition to over 7,000. In
refl ecting on my maternal grandmother’s Basque
roots, I often speculated how many of our ancestors
may have been victimized by these witch hunts,
and how the violence of such a historical episode
in the Basque region may have infl uenced my
grandmother’s attitudes. I did observe as a child,
that my grandmother was quite superstitious, and
appeared to have passed these ideas down to my

Your indigenous roots are traced via your grandfather. Can you clarify more about this?

“My indigenous ancestry derives via my maternal
grandfather, a descendant of the Tehuelche-
Mapuche indians. These groups inhabited
southwest Argentina for 12,500 years. Scholars
have pointed out about 300,000 American Indians
were scattered throughout Argentina at the time
of the Spanish conquest in the 16th century. My
ancestors lived in the province of Chubuut. The
modern Tehuelche Mapuche say man must adapt
to nature, not nature to man- as they observe the
destruction of planet Earth around them.”
Can you describe what you have learned about native spirituality?

“The Tehuelche-Mapuche hold a reverence for
Mother God, and they refer to her as Pacha Mama.
My grandfather, as far as I know did not speak
about his spiritual practices, and in fact, he was not
a man of many words. However, due to my native
roots, and love of  Mapuche spirituality which is complex, I realize it is
diffi cult to capture all the strands of their faith. My
grandfather, I observed appeared to have a deep
attachment to nature.”

How do the Tehuelche- Mapuche live today and how are they regarded?

“Currently, the Tehuelche -Mapuche suffer under
government policies, and the lack of recognition of
their rights as aboriginal peoples. The Tehuelche-
Mapuche say they are not anti-development in and
of itself, but fear because of the lack of proper legal
representation, they will have very little opportunity
to receive a just and settlement, by which they will
be able to benefi t. According to author, Gabriela
Hoberman, the Tehuelche represent about 2,200
people of the Argentine population. They are one of
the most ancestral groups and lived in Argentina
so for 1,500 years. They have been extensively
persecuted and segregated, due to the forced
assimilation of the white majority. Their culture
has been scattered and the language has lost its
identity. The women are economically in active and
the community as a whole is being affected by a
structural disorganization that prevents this group
from maintaining their culture, language, and

Why did your parents deny their ethnic roots?

“In the case of Argentina, it seems that the attempt
to make society more “ethnically homogenous”
has resulted in a deprivation of lands. This also
infl uenced the way my parents raised me. My
parents were controlled by the rhetoric of the
white majority, internalized it, and passed along a
sense that we were less than. The indoctrination
was so powerful;they could not escape its grip.
In effect, they denied their indigenous heritage;
it was an afterthought she pushed into the
shadows, preferring instead to consider herself
French-Basque which was absurd. Guizpicoa, my
grandmother’s province was on the Spanish side
of the Pyrenees. I grew up in a world where bigotry
was allowed to fl ourish and whether my parents
were aware of it, or not they fed into it with their
ideas related leaning toward the white majority.
But I knew I had to let go and let the current of life
pull me in the right direction of my destiny.”
Can you describe the process of healing you underwent?

“I’ve read extensively about the process of healing
ancestral wounds. Since my roots derived from
two ancestral groups in Argentina, the Mapuche
Tehuelche and the African slaves, who were both
persecuted and segregated throughout the history
of Argentina, I sensed I needed healing to transform
my life. Argentina, my birthplace is a country
which has used forced assimilation. There were
attempts throughout history to create a society
more “ethnically homogenous.” My parents were
controlled by these ideas, and it was not till I was 41,
after I married my husband, Mason who is African-
American that I began to explore my African roots
with his encouragement. Since that period of time,
I’ve worked to embrace my Afro- Indian identity,
and at the same time, moving away from Western
ideas about spirituality. This process of exploration
and integration of one’s ancestral roots, rather than
denial is vital in order to become a whole person.”

How have you made peace with your family?

“Over a period of many varied experiences
in exploring my roots, forgiving my parents
and getting closure about accepting the many
cultural infl uences that inhabit my being, I’ve
come to understand that I exist on a collective
consciousness level. Therefore, we are all part of
those incarnate at the same time we do. Since my
parents derived from an earlier generation than I
did, their world view naturally differed from mine.
One generation cannot tune into the frequency of
another generation all the time. As a result, from
a metaphysical perspective, my destiny was to
be a whole person and to be able to integrate all
the cultures I drew from, without shame, denial,
or judgment. The destiny of every individual is
determined by what he or she is, and by what he or
she does, and what any individual is to be, or do is
determined by those individuals and what they are

You experienced a tragic loss. Can you share those details?

“My family had unwittingly taught me
to cultivate a negative attitude towards the other
aspects of my ancestral roots. I knew I had to fi nd
a way by which my soul could be healed, learning
to cultivate a positive attitude, and accepting a
spiritual foundation on which my self-image could
moor itself. After the passing of my son in 2009, a
long period of grief followed, and I was not aware
fully that the tragic loss represented a sudden trend
reversal I would need to confront. New ideas would
soon be showing themselves as intuitive guidance
as to what changes I would need to make in my
life for the betterment of my soul. Slowly through
the process of deep meditation each day I began to
discover peace, renewal, and regeneration. I had a
long talk with Jimena, my spiritual mentor related to her practice of soul
energy dynamics. I personally knew little about
such holistic modalities, but was eager to learn,
after all, I was starting to feel my soul depended
on it.”

What are some ideas taught to your by your spiritual mentor?

“Not long after my discussion with Jimena, I was
eager to understand the most important aspects
of showing others the value of it. So I called on
Jimena once again. ‘It’s valuable to realize you are
paving your way out of duality and up to the higher
dimensions as creators. God is energy- all that is
and will ever be. If we are made in his image, then we
have literally nothing to fear in life. We constantly
face change in life, and through soul energy work,
we can heal the body, the mind, the spirit, and as
we heal the individual, at the same time, we heal
the human race collectively,” she said.
The time had fi nally come in my life where I
needed to transcend the false ideas about my
racial identity, I had internalized. True, research
had been undertaken, but now spiritual healing
would be the next step, as I knew the change
would manifest inwardly in a most profound life
altering way, I could not yet put into words. The
paramount truth I must live by was making itself
clear in my mind and heart.”