Tag Archives: Jackie O’Neal

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


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.”

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.”