When we think about Black History month, our thoughts go to the enormous amount of invaluable contributions African-Americans have given to the United States and to the world. This celebratory month has allowed us to reflect on the past while contemplating our present, and thus giving us hope for the future. Perhaps we can look forward to a future where we don't need to dedicate months to learn about history or recognize an accomplished group of people -- instead we just learn and internalize this information every day.
February is called Black History month and, as Latinos, we need to understand our part in this celebration outside of the learning component. Black History is not simply about African-Americans, but African descendants. Latinos have a long history of African heritage within their linage that is not brought to light enough. We are willing to recognize the greatness of Roberto Clemente but are we prepared to celebrate his African roots?
It is no secret that Latinos are increasing in population within the United States, and with this comes a large strength politically and economically. While we tend to think that progress means looking forward, it is months like February where we need to look back and see ourselves in the same historical landscape as our African American brethren. If anything else, we can look back a few figures who have shaped our histories and deserve proper praise during Black History Month:
• Arturo Schomburg (1874-1938) was an Afro-Puerto Rican whose research on African descendants in the early 20th Century made him an important figure during the Harlem Renaissance. His work is the inspiration for the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture located in Harlem.
• Nicomedes Santa Cruz (1925-1992) was a Peruvian poet, journalist, and folklorist. His work often reflected black issues in Peru. His contributions to the awareness and preservation of the Afro-Peruvian culture are so significant that in 2006 Peru officially declared his birthday, June 4, "Day of the Afro-Peruvian Culture"
• Dr. Jose Barbosa (1857-1921) was the first native born Puerto Rican to have a medical degree from the United States. Notably, he graduated with a medical degree from the University of Michigan and was valedictorian of the class of 1880. Taking the knowledge that he learned, he moved back to Bayamón and opened his own practice.
• Juan Gualberto Gómez Ferrer (1854-1933) was an Afro-Cuban revolutionary who fought alongside Jose Martí in the Cuban War of Independence. He founded the Central Directory of Societies of Color in 1890. He fought for the rights of the black population in which he stressed that Afro-Cubans need to have the same right to education than everyone else. Slavery ended in Cuba in 1886.
• Jaime Hurtado González (1937-1999) was an Afro-Ecuadorian politician and was the first black man to run for president of the Republic of Ecuador. Many say he was the voice and advocate of the disenfranchised groups of color within Ecuador. He was an outspoken congressman that was assassinated in 1999 near the country's Supreme Court Building.
The struggle for education and basic civil rights is at the heart of all African descendants, whether they are from the United States or the African Diaspora. Black History month should be something that we all embrace to learn not only about other people, but ourselves.
A few years ago, a friend and I were discussing how her son had to pick a Black person to do a report for Black History Month. The choice that her son made (mostly likely with the help of his mother) was Roberto Clemente. He was told that Clemente cannot be chosen because he is not African-American. So the question is, should Black History Month truly be restricted to about being African-American?