Uncovering Latin America’s African Roots
Saturday, February 12, 2011

 

 

 

 

 

 

Henry Louis Gates, Jr., in new four-part series, Black in Latin America, premiering Tuesday, April 19 at 8 p.m. on PBS

 
“Black in Latin America” is the 11th documentary from Professor Gates whose previous PBS projects include African American Lives 1 and 2, Oprah’s Roots, Looking for Lincoln, and Faces of America, among others Six Latin American countries are featured in the series: Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Brazil, Mexico, and Peru The series is the third part of a trilogy which began 12 years ago with Wonders of the African World
 
“Black in Latin America”, a new four–part series on the influence of African descent on Latin America, is the 11th and latest documentary film from renowned Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr. presenter and writer of the acclaimed PBS series “African American Lives” (2006), “Oprah’s Roots” (2007), “African American Lives 2 “ (2008), “Looking for Lincoln” (2009) and “Faces of America” (2010).
 
“Black in Latin America” is the third of a trilogy that began in 1999 with the broadcast of Professor Gates first series for public television, “Wonders of the African World”, an exploration of the relationship between Africa and the New World, a story he continued in 2004 with “America Beyond the Color Line”, a report on the lives of modern-day African Americans. Black In Latin America, premiering nationally Tuesdays April 19, 26 and May 3, 10, 2011 at 8 p.m. (ET) on PBS (check local listings), examines how Africa and Europe came together to create the rich cultures of Latin America and the Caribbean.
 
Latin America is often associated with music, monuments and sun, but each of the six countries featured in Black in Latin America including Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Brazil, Mexico, and Peru, has a secret history. On his journey, Professor Gates discovers, behind a shared legacy of colonialism and slavery, vivid stories and people marked by African roots.
 
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 and kept in bondage far longer than the slaves in the United States. This astonishing fact changes the 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. In his new series, Professor Gates sets 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, Professor Gates unveils the history of the African presence in six Latin American countries 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.
 
Episode One: Haiti & the Dominican Republic: An Island Divided
 
In Haiti, Professor Gates tells the story of the birth of the first-ever black republic, and finds out how the slaves’ hard fought liberation over Napoleon Bonaparte’s French Empire became a double-edged sword. In the Dominican Republic, Professor Gates explores how race has been socially constructed in a society whose people reflect centuries of inter-marriage, and how the country's troubled history with Haiti informs
notions about racial classification.
 
Episode Two: Cuba: The Next Revolution
 
In Cuba, Professor Gates finds out how the culture, religion, politics and music of this Island are 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.
 
Episode Three: Brazil: A Racial Paradise?
 
In Brazil, Professor Gates delves behind the façade of Carnival to discover how this ‘rainbow nation’ is waking up to its legacy as the world’s largest slave economy. 
 
Episode Four: Mexico & Peru: A Hidden Race
 
In Mexico and Peru, Professor Gates explores the almost unknown history of the significant numbers of black people—the two countries together received far more slaves than did the United States —brought to these countries as early as the 16th and 17th 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.
 
In “Black in Latin America”, Professor Gates’ journey becomes ours as viewers are  introduced to the faces and voices of the descendants of the Africans who created these worlds. He shows the similarities and distinctions between these cultures, and how the New World manifestations are rooted in, but distinct from, their African antecedents. A quest he began 12 years ago with “Wonders of the African World” comes full-circle in “Black in Latin America”, 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.
 
The companion book, “Black in Latin America”, written by Professor Gates, will be published in 2011 by NYU Press.
 
This was article was printed in the February 13, 2011 - February 26, 2011
 

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