[OP-ED]: Hidden Heritage: The Oneness of Two Peoples
Spanish Harlem is where I spent Spring Break during my freshman year accepting an invitation to ‘hang out’ there from the “Original Last Poets” the now fabled group of revolutionary spoken word artists. At that time one Poets member was a guy of Afro-Puerto Rican ancestry, Felipe Luciano.
Experiencing vibrant cultural currents in Spanish Harlem while getting ‘schooled’ by the Poets on that community’s socio-economic contours helped enhance my understandings of the connections between Latinos and blacks. That NYC community had long held a place in my imagination arising from reading books, news articles and listening to Ben E. King, the R-&-B music star, sing about a “Rose in Spanish Harlem.”
I followed the activities of Luciano, who months after that Spring Break, shepherded the NYC formation of the Young Lords, a militant group similar to the Black Panther Party in objectives and community outreach. I kept tabs on Luciano in part because his then signature poem “Jibaro, My Pretty Nigger” stuck in my mind.
Little did I know that a decade after my Spanish Harlem trip I would work at a Philadelphia newspaper with one of Luciano’s NYC Lords lieutenants, Juan Gonzalez. We established a lasting professional relationship and personal friendship.
My solidarity with struggles of Latinos began a few years before that 1969 Spanish Harlem trip with support for the boycott of grapes initiated by the United Farm Workers’ struggle for better wages. As a teen during the mid-1960s I became aware of Afro/Latino connections through jazz music listening to musicians like trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie who once partnered with a hot Afro-Cuban conga player with a cool sounding name: Chano Pozo.
Philadelphia’s Puerto Rican Day Parade was firmly established when I became a reporter in the mid-1970s. In 1988 President Reagan expanded the Hispanic Heritage Week that received a White House proclamation from President Johnson in 1968 to Hispanic Heritage Month.
My reporting in the late 1970s on resistance to the racist policies/practices of then Philadelphia Mayor Frank Rizzo included coverage of collaborations between black and Latino communities on issues of shared interest from ending police brutality to expanding availability of decent housing and ensuring equitable access to economic opportunities.
One often ignored legacy of former Philadelphia Mayor John Street, who served from January 2000 to January 2008, was his placement of more Latinos into cabinet level and other ranking positions across City government than any of his predecessors.
“I instinctively knew the future of minority’s in the city was dependent in part on black and brown people’s cooperation,” Street said last week about his hiring initiatives.
Current Philadelphia Sheriff, Jewel Williams, elevated the first Latinos into ranking Sheriff Office supervisory and administration positions. Williams said his personnel decisions were the “right thing to do” unrelated to personal feelings from his father being Cuban.
The current racially divisive climate souring America, aggravated by openly bigoted President Donald Trump, necessitates increased, conscientious collaborations between blacks and Latinos. As Luciano reminds in Jibaro, “…we’re together now…”