Archives For South America

My house was too hot and the mosquitoes too pesky for me to stay inside and work a few days ago. So I decided to take my stuff and walk to Pampus Cafe in Punda for the wi-fi, the cool breeze from the inlet bay, and a drink. But on my way, I decided to stray from my usual route. I wandered into the public library just to check it out.

It shouldn’t surprise me that Curacao has a library, I know. During my last experience living abroad in Ghana, there were few ways to get books other than going to the university, or going to the bookstore at Accra Mall. But public libraries? Not that I remember.

I’m glad I wandered into the library, because at least now I know where I can read local Dutch and Papiamento newspapers for free. My Dutch and Papiamento skills are at about -124% currently, so my definition of “read” is looking for words that look like English or Spanish and and look at the pictures. Hey, it’s better than nuthin.’

Luckily for me, I got a B in my Intermediate II graduate Spanish class last year  am more or less (slight emphasis on less) proficient in Spanish, so I was able to read the local spanish language newspaper, El Periodico.

Curacao is facing Parliamentary elections ten days from today. The battles between the political parties, individual politicians, and party supporters have been dominating the news coverage here on the island. One interview with Anthony Goddett, leader of the political party Frente Obrero (FOL) caught my attention.

Curacao is a small island that hosts around 50 different nationalities. Whereas a large percentage of Curacalenos are of African descent, significant numbers of inhabitants are migrants from, or descendants of immigrants from South America and other Spanish-speaking countries. A topic that I keep running into on the island concerns the treatment of immigrants on the island, many of whom say they are subject to discrimination here. El Periodico describes the Oct. 19th elections for immigrants to ” have in the vote the opportunity to exercise their legitimate rights and choose authorities who will take into consideration their needs.”

In response to a question about why foreigners and Latinos in general should support FOL, leader Anthony Goddett, said (translation):

Everyone who resides in Curacao deserves the same treatment. Everyone contributes to the wellbeing and economy of Curacao. Being born to parents from Curacao, or foreign parents, or immigrants, each one that resides on the island and respects its laws, the opportunities and protections should be equal for all.

Now, FOL does not appear to be one of the frontrunning parties in the elections, but I’ve heard over and over again about the fact that there is discrimination against foreign immigrants on the island. From chats with Jamaicans, Haitians and other immigrants, I’ve learned that difficulties for them include not getting work permits, low pay, and ostracism from locals. Of course this is not 100% of the locals. One of the politicians here, Helman Wiels, leader of the party Pueblo Soberano (PS), has come under fire for what is taken to be his anti-foreigner ideologies. “No, no, no, we Haitians can’t support PS”, a Haitian construction worker told me yesterday. “He doesn’t want extranjeros here in Curacao.”

For a nation that draws so much of its intrigue from its history of the intermixing of peoples, one can only hope that tolerances will prevail.

Sidenote: The library also had kiosks where people could come in and learn about the voting process and the platforms of the different parties.


Saint Martin de Porres Feast Day Procession in New York City

With the aroma of incense and the sounds of hymns, a mass of men and women clad in Catholic robes gathered around West 50th street and 9th avenue in the Hell’s Kitchen area of New York City on the the first Sunday of September. Most men were wearing dark purple robes with golden medallions, others wore black and white.  A group of about fourteen men carried a massive carriage on their shoulder with a statue of a man standing amongst ornate flower arrangements. Curious onlookers, including this author, whipped out their smartphone cameras to capture what was undoubtedly some sort of religious special event.  Instagram first, ask questions later.

One spectator, after snapping photos with his phone, walked up to me and asked, “Wait, is this some sort of funeral march?”

Far from a funeral, the elaborate procession was the New York feast day parade of San Juan Martín de Porres of Peru, who was the first black saint from the Western Hemisphere. Born in 1579 in Lima, Peru, Martín de Porres was the illegitimate son of a freed slave woman and a Spanish knight. Lupe, a friendly older woman saw me wandering around and took it upon herself to tell me Saint Martin’s history in the best English she could manage.

“You know, he was the first black Saint. White father and African mother. He was very nice, very kind to the poor and to the sick. Pope John Paul Twenty Three made him saint. You know how? John Paul Twenty Three very sick. Near death. And then he saw a man in his room, and the man was black. He said to know, helpers, “Who is that man in the room?” And helpers said, “We don’t see no man”. Later, he got better, he found a picture of San Martin and he said, “That is the man, that is the man that was in my room. He make him saint.”

Martín endured a life of poverty and ostracism due to his status as a mulatto. However, he decided in his teens to join a Dominican order. Legend has it that  Martin had extraordinary abilities to care for and cure the sick and ailing. Legend has it that he able to pass through locked doors in order to attend to the sick. Martín de Porres was indeed canonized by Pope John Paul XXII in 1962, perhaps as a nod to the struggle for black civil rights in the United States.

Statue of Saint Martin de Porres


The Fraternidad de San Martín de Torres of New York celebrates Saint Martín’s feast day every first Sunday in September, according to Carlos Fuentes, a member of the Brotherhood of Miracles (Saint Martin is their patron saint)  and a participant in  the procession. “In Peru, they actually celebrate his day in November, but here in New York, we do it earlier in September.” Saint Martin is the patron saint of inkeepers, barbers, and of mixed race peoples, and is one of the chief patron saints of Peru.

New York and New Jersey is home to a large number of Peruvian immigrants, a large number of whom are Roman Catholic.