Black in Latin America

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Selected as a 2012 Outstanding Title by AAUP University Press Books for Public and Secondary School Libraries

12.5 million Africans were shipped to the New World during the Middle Passage. While just over 11.0 million survived the arduous journey, only about 450,000 of them arrived in the United States. The rest—over ten and a half million—were taken to the Caribbean and Latin America. This astonishing fact changes our entire picture of the history of slavery in the Western hemisphere, and of its lasting cultural impact. These millions of Africans created new and vibrant cultures, magnificently compelling syntheses of various African, English, French, Portuguese, and Spanish influences.

Despite their great numbers, the cultural and social worlds that they created remain largely unknown to most Americans, except for certain popular, cross-over musical forms. So Henry Louis Gates, Jr. set out on a quest to discover how Latin Americans of African descent live now, and how the countries of their acknowledge—or deny—their African past; how the fact of race and African ancestry play themselves out in the multicultural worlds of the Caribbean and Latin America. Starting with the slave experience and extending to the present, Gates unveils the history of the African presence in six Latin American countries—Brazil, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Mexico, and Peru—through art, music, cuisine, dance, politics, and religion, but also the very palpable presence of anti-black racism that has sometimes sought to keep the black cultural presence from view.

In Brazil, he delves behind the façade of Carnaval to discover how this ‘rainbow nation’ is waking up to its legacy as the world’s largest slave economy.

In Cuba, he finds out how the culture, religion, politics and music of this island is inextricably linked to the huge amount of slave labor imported to produce its enormously profitable 19th century sugar industry, and how race and racism have fared since Fidel Castro’s Communist revolution in 1959.

In Haiti, he tells the story of the birth of the first-ever black republic, and finds out how the slaves’s hard fought liberation over Napoleon Bonaparte’s French Empire became a double-edged sword.

In Mexico and Peru, he explores the almost unknown history of the significant numbers of black people—far greater than the number brought to the United States—brought to these countries as early as the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and the worlds of culture that their descendants have created in Vera Cruz on the Gulf of Mexico, the Costa Chica region on the Pacific, and in and around Lima, Peru.

Professor Gates’ journey becomes ours as we are introduced to the faces and voices of the descendants of the Africans who created these worlds. He shows both the similarities and distinctions between these cultures, and how the New World manifestations are rooted in, but distinct from, their African antecedents. “Black in Latin America” is the third instalment of Gates’s documentary trilogy on the Black Experience in Africa, the United States, and in Latin America. In America Behind the Color Line, Professor Gates examined the fortunes of the black population of modern-day America. In Wonders of the African World, he embarked upon a series of journeys to reveal the history of African culture. Now, he brings that quest full-circle in an effort to discover how Africa and Europe combined to create the vibrant cultures of Latin America, with a rich legacy of thoughtful, articulate subjects whose stories are astonishingly moving and irresistibly compelling.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Of the 11 million enslaved Africans who survived the Middle Passage between 1502 and 1866, 450,000 were brought to the U.S., and the rest—more than 10.5 million—were sent to the Caribbean and Latin America. Harvard professor Gates (How 12 Extraordinary People Discovered Their Pasts) continues to plumb the roots of the descendants of Africans in the New World, and in this companion volume to his PBS special of the same name, he tells the stories of Africans shipped to Brazil, Mexico, Peru, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Cuba. It's a rare history that reads like a travelogue: Gates records his visits to the countries, his pleasure in a cool evening in Mexico, his investigations into the issues of the cultural encounters between the indigenous, colonizing, and enslaved populations —the hybrid forms of song and dance, the virulent racism and brutality—with a personal touch. He takes the contemporary pulse of each country, lists its racial categorizations, and interviews common folk and celebrated activists and historians alike. His chapter in Haiti is especially wrenching and inspiring; in the aftermath of the devastating 2010 earthquake, Gates discovers in Port au Prince both the worst living conditions he has ever seen and the only "bold, public recognition of a nation's black founding fathers." (July)
From the Publisher
"Gates expands his focus on the black experience in Latin America...While Gates’ tour reveals a burgeoning brown (mixed-race) pride, it also reveals lingering valuation of lighter skin." -Booklist

“A fascinating and engaging journey through past and present, this book offers us a rich portrait of the complexities of race as it is lived in contemporary Latin America. Gates is the perfect guide, sharing his insights, emotions and surprises with eloquence and candor.”-Laurent Dubois,Duke University, and author of Avengers of the New World: The Story of the Haitian Revolution

"it offers general readers a snapshot perspective on the history and life of New World blacks and legacies of slavery, plantation economics, and poverty"-Library Journal

"In approaching this vast topic, Gates displays disarming modesty and enthusiasm; his tone is that of a letter from a perceptive friend who can't wait to share what he's learned."-The New Yorker

“Henry Louis Gates, Jr., leads us on a country-by-country tour exploring the recesses of blackness in well-known and lesser-known regions of Latin America, surprising us at every turn with his findings. Through the pages of the book, we embark upon a process of historical discovery, learning as Gates does from his informants and sources. Accessible, witty, insightful, and informative, both for its regional coverage and its comparative analysis, this book will be welcomed by scholars and laypersons alike.”-Ben Vinson III,Johns Hopkins University

"An entertaining alternative to the chronologically framed a folksy vernacular [the book] recounts a great range of historical events and actors, offering a wonderful level of detail without overly challenging the novice audience."-Micol Seigel,The Journal of American History

Black in Latin America is a lively and intelligent introduction to the complex history and reality of race in Latin America. Readers accompany Gates as he travels across the region interviewing scholars, activists, cultural figures, and ordinary people who share their insights and experiences—often surprising, at times painful—of how creolization, discrimination, and anti-racism have evolved historically and are lived in the present.” -Ada Ferrer,author of Insurgent Cuba: Race, Nation, and Revolution, 1868-1898

"Gates doesn't linger in the past. Through music, cuisine, art, dance, politics, religion and language, he finds living links to Africa...would be an interesting companion to any guidebook for the Caribbean and Latin America." -Jennifer Kay,Associated Press

"Black in Latin America would be an interesting companion to any guidebook for the Caribbean and Latin America,as it reveals not just a hidden history but also an evolving sense of identity."-Associated Press

"Black in Latin America provides a different in-depth survey of the African migration to the New World."-The Midwest Book Review

“An amazing travelogue that swiftly transports the reader from the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries through the racial histories of Brazil, Mexico, Peru, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Haiti. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., brilliantly describes the formation of these New World societies as they evolved from colonialism and slavery into complex national communities with rich and vibrant Creole cultures. This is an essential book that helps us understand the similarities and differences between post-slavery societies in the Americas today.” -Frank Moya Pons,author of History of the Caribbean: Plantations, Trade, and War in the Atlantic World

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780814732984
  • Publisher: New York University Press
  • Publication date: 7/30/2011
  • Pages: 270
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Henry Louis Gates, Jr., is the director of the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research and holder of the distinguished title of Alphonse Fletcher University Professor at Harvard University. He is the author of twelve books, including several award-winning works of literary criticism as well as the memoir Colored People; The Future of the Race, co-authored with Cornel West; Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Man; and Tradition and the Black Atlantic. Gates has hosted ten PBS television specials, including Looking for Lincoln and the two part series, African American Lives, upon which his book In Search of Our Roots (2009) was based. He is winner of the 2009 Ralph Lowell Award for Outstanding Contributions to Public Television and the 2010 NAACP Image Award for Non-Fiction.

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Table of Contents

1 Brazil: “May Exú Give Me the Power of Speech”
2 Mexico: “h e Black Grandma in the Closet”
3 Peru: “h e Blood of the Incas, the Blood of the Mandingas”
4 h e Dominican Republic: “Black behind the Ears”
5 Haiti: “From My Ashes I Rise; God Is My Cause and
My Sword”
6 Cuba: h e Next Cuban Revolution

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
( 4 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 13, 2011

    My President is Black

    My president is black. But what does that mean? Is it skin color, a cultural identity, or a label.
    Henry Louis Gates, Jr. whose scholarly work has not crossed into science tracing blacks back to mother Africa using their DNA. The common assumption is that most black in the US descended from slaves. However from 1502 to 1866 out of the 11.2 million Africans who survived the ocean passage to the Americas, only 450,000 arrived in the United States. So the African American experience expands below the border into our neighbors to the south.
    In Black in Latin America by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the author uses a case study approach and examines a broad spectrum on countries: Brazil, Mexico, Peru, The Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Cuba.
    What he finds is that there are levels of color and the treatment has varied to the country. In the end he list a appendix of the names used to describe the diversity of colors.
    This book is an interesting examination of race in the Americas through the lens of one of the preeminent scholars of our time. The book pulls from the PBS television series Blacks in Latin America.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 26, 2014

    Informative and Insightful

    As an American-born white man, there will always be a feeling of guilt concerning the way this country started and on whose backs it was built. Native Americans, Chinese, Irish, Jews, Africans, etc. Professor Gates doesn't completely clear my mind of this guilty feeling, concerning the treatment of Africans during the slave trade, but I am a little more educated, and I feel less of the, "white guilt," that is instilled in non-minority Americans from elementary school on.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 2, 2012


    Whaaaa???? Me no lika me familia

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 7, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

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