Tag Archives: republica dominicana

Black in Latin America

With a little break in the school year, I finally sat down and watched all of Henry Louis Gates’ Black in Latin America PBS series this weekend. There are four 50-minute episodes, and each is worth your time. Luckily, they are all free to view on show’s website.

There are quite a few aha moments to be had in the series. For instance, I had no idea that Haiti occupied the Dominican Republic for 22 years in the mid-19th century (episode 1)—an event that really began the shaping of Dominicans’ conception of “blackness,” as well as their feelings towards Haitians. I also learned about the racially charged character Negro Mama (episode 4)—a bumbling blackface thief played by comedian Jorge Benavides on Peruvian TV.

There is also quite a bit in the series about food, which meant that I was constantly hungry while watching it. At one point, Gates is having a discussion with a Mexican historian about fufu (episode 4), which is a popular savory dish in the Caribbean that has its roots in the cuisine of West Africa. Their discussion made me think of an entertaining episode of Internets Celebrities from a couple of weeks back about mofongo (just another word for the same dish) in Corona, Queens, NYC.

Gates himself seems most taken with the country of Brazil (episode 3), which has over 75 million people of African descent and was the last country in the Western Hemisphere to abolish slavery. Personally, I was  most interested in the complicated path of racial identity in Cuba (episode 2). But I got a ton out of each and every episode. Check it out!

Oswaldo on Béisbol

When I was a kid growing up in Indiana, our Little League team took an outing every year to see a game at Old Comiskey Park in Chicago. While I wasn’t much of a White Sox fan, I did always enjoy going to see a game, and I particularly enjoyed watching the Sox’ shortstop Ozzie Guillén play. Guillén had a quick hand in the field and a light stroke at bat—something I appreciated since I wasn’t much of a power hitter myself. Guillén was from Venezuela and part of a sustained wave of players that came to Major League Baseball from that country in the 80s.

But Guillén is better known these days for being the manager of the White Sox. Through that role he became the first Latin-born manager to lead a team to a World Series victory when he took the White Sox to their first championship since 1917 in 2005.  Guillén is also known for being outspoken on…well, just about everything. He even tweets—both in English and Spanish. And he’s never had much love for umpires.

Recently, Guillén’s been making headlines for a comment he made in an interview about the treatment of Latino players versus other foreign-born, non-native-English-speaking players, particularly ones from Japan and Korea.

“I say, why do we have Japanese interpreters and we don’t have a Spanish one. I always say that. Why do they have that privilege and we don’t? … Don’t take this wrong, but they take advantage of us. We bring a Japanese player and they are very good and they bring all these privileges to them. We bring a Dominican kid … go to the minor leagues, good luck. Good luck. And it’s always going to be like that. It’s never going to change. But that’s the way it is.”

You can hear that quote in context in the following video.

Usually when Guillén opens up like this he gets eaten alive by sports media. But he’s actually gotten a little support on this one from some in the sports journalism crowd, though he’s also been blasted by most. Guillén often touches a nerve when he rants about society or the state of baseball or just about anything else. But in this case, he irritated that racial sore that still won’t heal in this country. However, I think he’s also talking about one of the major economic truths of sport: players are products.

In the case of MLB, Asian players are seen by many in baseball management as a precious investment to be protected. Japanese and Korean players also come from industrialized nations, so playing the game in North America is often a career choice for them, not a means to escape poverty—a major bargaining chip when in contract negotiations. Latino talent, on the other hand, is plentiful. Latin American players are an inexpensive investment for teams because many are coming from nations in development or poverty, and they can easily be replaced because there’s always a large group of young players coming up behind them. It’s all about the marketplace. To put it in context, when the Oakland A’s signed Dominican star Miguel Tejada, they paid $2,000 for him. When the Boston Red Sox won the bidding war for Daisuke Matsuzaka, it cost them $102 million. That’s a big gap!

There was an interesting film about the subject of how Dominican players are recruited for the league a few years ago called Sugar. I recommend it. It paints a vivid picture of how baseball can eat up the hearts, minds, and talent of young boys from the island and then dump them on the street corner when their skills have been used up. It can be a brutal world.

José Cobles down by law

The story of guitarist José “Puerto Plata” Cobles is an interesting one, though it intersects with one of the darkest periods of Caribbean history. Cobles was born in the the town of Puerto Plata (hence his nickname) in the Dominican Republic in the 1920s and bought his first guitar at the age of 24. He quickly gained fame playing Afro-Iberian guitar music in the dance halls and underground venues of Santiago, but Cobles unfortunately was in the prime of his career during the dictatorial reign of Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina…”El Jefe” (the boss).

Trujillo was popularly known as "Chapitas" (bottlecaps) because of his love for medals.

Cobles’ music came from the Afro-infused guitar traditions of bolero and son, which were forms primarily played in the music circles of Cuba. Trujillo was not a fan of such styles; he preferred the accordion-heavy merengue típico. And what Trujillo liked, everyone needed to like. “El Jefe” ensnared his people in a cult of personality built around his image and his tastes. The city of Santo Domingo, for instance, was renamed “Ciudad Trujillo.” Statues of him were placed all over the country. Bridges, public buildings, and even a mountain were renamed in his honor. Churches were made to post slogans such as “Dios en cielo, Trujillo en tierra” (God in Heaven, Trujillo on Earth). And he established a brutal racial hierarchy.

Trujillo’s musical tastes meant that Cobles was not allowed to record his music, and the musical styles he loved were generally repressed in the country. By the time Trujillo was assassinated in 1961, the music scene had been changed. Cobles had long left the clubs and had found work as a carpenter for United Fruit Company. Much later, he made his way to the United States in the 1990s. Though he had abandoned the life of a professional musician, he had never stopped playing his guitar.

A few years ago record producer Benjamin de Menil was tipped off to Cobles’ talent. Now in his mid-80s, Cobles was signed to his first record deal, and in 2007 his first album was released. International recognition followed, and now Cobles’ second album, Casita de Campo, just came out last year. The little bit of it I’ve heard sounds fantastic.