Arts + Culture

Profiles in the Diaspora: Re-thinking Arturo Alfonso Schomburg, the Afro-Puerto Rican Father of the Global African Diaspora

In this weekend read we profile the father of black history Arturo Alfonso Schomburg and his Afro-Puerto Rican heritage.

Editor’s Note: In the inaugural edition of our Weekend Reading series, journalist David Pastor reviews new work on the legendary black scholar Arturo Alfonso Schomburg that helps reinstate his Puerto Rican identity.


NEW YORK CITY—Arturo Schomburg, namesake of the renowned Schomburg Center for Research in Black History in Harlem, is said to have identified as an afro-borinqueño, a Puerto Rican of African descent. Yet there has been a delay in acknowledging this ethnic component of his racial identity—his legacy so closely tied to the Harlem Renaissance, black history and culture.

Even during his lifetime, there were misconceptions concerning Arturo Schomburg and his intersectional background, including assertions that he had forgotten his native tongue; lost his culture, his interest in Puerto Rico, etc. Later, conflicting, often simplified views on Schomburg emerged and characterized him almost exclusively as a black scholar whose Puerto Rican identity had seemingly diminished upon his integration into the African-American community.

In 1995, the Schomburg Center and the Center for Puerto Rican Studies made an early attempt to counter this fractured narrative with a symposium entitled, “Arturo Schomburg: From Santurce to Harlem.” More than two decades later, a more mainstream appreciation of Schomburg’s Puerto Rican background has emerged; setting the stage for Diasporic Blackness: The Life and Times of Arturo Schomburg by Vanessa K. Valdés, the first book-length study that reaffirms the ‘Father of Black History,’ as Schomburg is known, as a Puerto Rican of mixed heritage (his father, German; his mother, a black migrant woman from St. Croix) who navigated his afro-latinidad deftly and reliably throughout his life as a scholar, collector, and translator.

One such example can be found in a letter written near the end of his life. Schomburg names Salvador Brau and José Julián Acosta as the two figures who first inspired him to pursue the study of black history and culture. Brau was a Puerto Rican journalist and writer. He would later be named the first official historian of Puerto Rico (and like Schomburg, he was an autodidact). In another letter, Schomburg cites Brau as one of the few examples of literature on Afro-Puerto Ricans included his collection at the time. Acosta was also a Puerto Rican journalist, as well as one of the founders of the Ateneo Puertorriqueño, a leading cultural institution on the island.

In addition to the influence of Acosta and Brau, three other 19th century Puerto Rican intellectuals and writers; Ramon Emeterio Betances, Lola Rodríguez de Tió, and Eugenio María de Hostos; can be viewed as establishing a tradition of diasporic thought and discourse, to which Schomburg belongs. Each of them also spent time in New York City and like the young Schomburg, participated in the independence movement.

Schomburg arrived in New York City as a 17-year old in 1891. Within a year, he was involved in several revolutionary clubs, including Club Borinquen, the Partido Revolucionario Cubano (which included a Puerto Rican section), and Las Dos Antillas. As a tabaquero and soon after, a member of a Masonic Lodge in Brooklyn founded by Afro-Cubans, Schomburg integrated himself into the working class and revolutionary exile movement of Cubans and Puerto Ricans in New York.

As a writer and scholar, Schomburg was committed to highlighting the global African diaspora, one that reflected his own experience and understanding. For example, Schomburg wrote an article published in The Crisis, the official magazine of the NAACP founded by W.E.B. DuBois, that provided English-speaking readers with a nuanced survey of current events in Cuba—specifically the struggle of Afro-Cubans. As a marginalized and repressed sector of the population, Schomburg attempted to connect the struggle of Afro-Cubans to that of the African-American struggle for equality.

Schomburg also wrote biographical sketches, including articles on Gabriel de la Concepción Valdés and Juan Francisco Manzano. Both were Cuban poets of African descent. Plácido was put to death following charges that he was the leader of a planned anti-slavery uprising. Juan Francisco Manzano is credited with writing the only surviving Spanish-language slave narrative from Latin America.

At the institutional level, Schomburg’s interest in the global black experience is reflected in the American Negro Society and the Negro Collection at the Library of Fisk University (now the Special Collections and Archives). The former presented research on the contributions of black people in other parts of the world, including writing on the slave trade in the Caribbean. The collection at Fisk University also had an international scope and provided a model for the creation of similar collections dedicated to the African diaspora.

There are also more implicit examples of Schomburg’s afro-latinidad. His name, for instance, changed from Arturo Alfonso to Arthur to A.A. and then back to Arturo Alfonso over the course of his life. Several of Schomburg’s eight children were also given Hispanic names. Valdés also argues that Schomburg’s very presence within various black and intellectual circles is often prioritized in the many roles he fulfilled—one such role being that of a translator, which utilized Schomburg’s knowledge of Spanish, English, and French.

Overall, one comes away with the impression of Schomburg’s afro-latinidad as a seemingly understated, but as Valdés shows, there are examples to be found throughout his life, a self-awareness expressed in the context of a global African diaspora and Schomburg’s undeniable appreciation of his latinidad.

Arts + Culture

This Stunning Series of Self-Portraits Explores Love And The Concept of Letting Go

Cape Town photographer Meet The Internet shares a few images from her exhibition.

Cape Town photographer Siziphiwe Ngqoyiyana, who is known online as "Meet The Internet," does not take the topic of love lightly. "Most of us rushed into it," she says, "and we started dating without understanding what love is."

Her latest photography series, Love Through My Eyes is, is a reflection on how people around her deal with love, from staying in toxic relationships because they fear being alone, to those who build walls around themselves in fear of heartbreak and are hence unlovable.

"We come from broken families," says Ngqoyiyana. "Some with no fathers at all, so we go out yearning to be loved by a man and pray for better experiences than what we see our mothers go through. We get our fair share of hurt, we watch people come to our lives, we share our bodies with them and when it's enough for them they leave. We even start understanding and forgiving the cycle."

This cycle is reflected in the photos. In most of them, the color red is prevalent, symbolic for love. And the main subject, which is the photographer herself, is elusive, hiding her face either with a mask or red ropes, which could symbolize the blinding effect of love and how it can suffocate you.

Ngqoyiyana wants the images to focus on both sides of love. "I like the concept of balloons," she says, "because from a young age it kinda teaches us the concept of holding on to something and letting go. Obviously letting go is never fun, hence we cried when we would see our balloons fly away."

Ngqoyiyana got into photography by taking behind the scenes photos in music video sets. Her first gig as a photographer was a matric ball, and she recently started directing music videos.

The photos for Love Through My Eyes took "roughly three weeks" to make, and are all self-portraits. A confessed shy person, for a long time Ngqoyiyana wasn't happy with her appearance. "I can be whoever I want to be with self-portraits, and I am not so conscious about the way I look," she says.

"When I started taking pictures I was at a stage in my life where I was depressed and anxious, because I didn't have a career, and with no tertiary education," says Ngqoyiyana. "I felt I was "wasting away," she says. "Self-portraits were more of an escape, or a 'pretend like I am doing more than I actually am.' But after seeing the reception on the Internet, I did more."

Love Through My Eyes ran for a day on the 10th of November in Observatory, Cape Town. As a result of the amazing reception, says Ngqoyiyana, more prints of her work are on the way.

Photo courtesy of Siziphiwe Ngqoyiyana


Photo courtesy of Siziphiwe Ngqoyiyana

Photo courtesy of Siziphiwe Ngqoyiyana

Photo courtesy of Siziphiwe Ngqoyiyana

Follow Meet The Internet on Instagram and Facebook.

Video
Blinky Bill 'Don't Worry.' Source: Youtube.

Watch Blinky Bill's New Video for 'Don't Worry'

The Nairobi producer releases the humorous visuals for his second single.

Blinky Bill dropped his long-awaited debut album, Everyone's Just Winging It And Other Fly Tales, last month and it's clearly been well received by fans in Kenya and all over the world.

His latest music video for the hard-hitting single "Don't Worry" was filmed in Detroit and directed by his usual collaborators Osborne Macharia, Andrew Mageto and Kevo Abbra.

Blinky prances around Detroit's Heidelberg Project—an outdoor art installation created to support the surrounding area's community—lighting up the vibe of this aggressive song.

"The song is called Don't Worry and I feel like the vibe we created with the visuals is in tune with the spirit of the song, which is just about staying in your lane and minding your business," the Kenyan artist mentions. "I like that it takes a song that is serious and aggressive and makes it a little more fun."

This video is an instant mood-lifter and definitely worth the view.

Watch Blinky Bill's new music video for "Don't Worry" below.

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Video
Photo still via YouTube.

Falana's New Music Video for 'Ride or Die' Is a Must-Watch

The Nigerian singer returns with her first single in 4 years in this Daniel Obasi-directed work of art.

Falana couldn't let the year wrap up without making a statement.

The Toronto-raised Nigerian singer recently dropped the music video "Ride or Die"—her first single in 4 years—directed by Daniel Obasi.

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