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What Capoeira Taught Me About Afro-Latinos History

I was the typical college freshman student who loved to dance and enjoyed finding excuses to go dancing. So, when I heard about the opening of a new dance class, I signed up without hesitation. It was November 2014, and little did I know that the UNESCO had just recognized Capoeira as an “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Brazil.”

At the time of registration, I found out that Capoeira (which was actually martial arts) began in the 16th century, around the same time when much of the African diaspora was prevalent in the New World. It was during those years when the African slaves created Capoeira as a symbol of resistance to the oppression. (You can watch a Capoeira video here)

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                Capoeira or the Dance of War by Johann Moritz Rugendas, 1825, published in 1835

Capoeira is beautiful, diverse and complex. It combines many elements such as dance, music, acrobatics and martial arts. The most important technique in Capoeira is “the ginga,” a movement that consists of rocking your body back and forth. (I think the ginga is a resemblance of the state of alertness that the slaves lived in the sugar cane farms where they were forced to work in hostile conditions.)

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Photo Source: Flickr User Vogo Bongo

Today Afro-Latinos like other groups of people are free from slavery, but they still face other struggles such as racism, invisibility and even rejection. It is believed that only 5 percent of the Africans arriving in the slave ships were sent to North America. The other 95 percent went to Latin America and The Caribbean.

It is essential to acknowledge Afro-Latinos during Black History Month. These Latinos have added important contributions in the art, music, food, religion, science, sports and literature. The history of their people and events also needs to be heard.

A few notable Afro-Latinos:

  • João da Cruz e Sousa: Brazilian Poet and the son of emancipated slaves.
  • José María Morelos: Mexican revolutionary leader who led the Mexican War of Independence.
  • Celia Cruz: Cuban-American singer
  • Zulia Mena: First Afro-Colombian Congresswoman
  • Jean-Michel Basquiat, Afro-Puerto Rican and Haitian Artist
  • Arturo Alfonso Schomburg, Afro Puerto-Rican historian
  • Nicolás Guillén, Cuban poet.
  • Jacques Roumain, Haitian poet

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