Virgin de Carmen, El Carmen Chincha

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San Martin de Porres : Peru’s Black Saint

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He is there in La Iglesia de Santo Domingo and the Convento Santo Domingo. He shares his miracles with the first woman to be made a saint and another.  During the tour guide’s talk, I thought about how long it took the Roman Catholic Church to canonize him and make him a saint.  Over a hundred years for the man who prayed underneath a staircase, who could not be made a priest because he was of mixed ethnicity; because he was Black. I think about his skull up there, exposed in a small elaborate casket of gold (I’d hope) and glass.

I just wonder.

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Wandering About in Central Lima, Peru

Imagine myself without the Spanish tongue.  Imagine myself a foreigner whose birthplace is but several miles away.  By allowing myself to wander, I allowed myself to be strange, to be quiet and listen, to find small traces of what history has left scattered about.

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Tattoo Expo, Lima, Peru 2011

It was my first night in Perú.  I arrived to Lima in the morning and made my first phone call to Pedro Mo, a Hip Hop artist living in Salamanca.  To my luck, while my spanish was limited, Pedro did speak some English.  Later that evening, he was to perform at a concert and invited to either come along and/or grab the mic with him. What I did not know that the concert was being held in Tattoo Expo.  

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at El Museo del Barrio

yesterday my back went out.  it’s been a long since a back spasm. i fear that if i don’t get some proper exercise in before I go, i will carrying a bottle of muscle relaxers my entire trip.  it had to do with purging of course. as i’m re-reading and processing, my want to get rid of things; of clothing, of books, and shockingly, of my vinyl collection.  the horror when i’ve shared this contemplation with friends.  i did, a couple of years ago, release myself from boxes of cassettes.  but, it is essentially my paranoia of New York’s recent invasion of bedbugs.  i’m trying to be the next victim.

But to get to the point of this entry, i did a massive amount of laundry before my reading as the launch party for Me No Habla with Acento: Contemporary Latino Poetry edited by Emmanuel Xavier. Held at El Museo del Barrio, the event was important for me.  In a matter of several weeks, it was my second time reading there.  The museum has been part of the backdrop that is my childhood.  I remember how the facing was covered with images of Taino artifacts.  It’s always been there.  It’s not something I could politely delete from my narrative because I am African American and was raised on Lenox, not Lexington.

So yes, this is muy importante.  To be included in the anthology was special for other reasons.  It contains some of the first poems I wrote for this project and provides a setting to introduced to the largely spoken word, largely Puerto Rican community, captions of the African/Andean experience.  For the event, I read a poem in Quechua and a poem dealing with laws created by the Spanish crown to control the population in colonial Peru.  In my studies with Odi Gonzales, I learned that in Quechua, there is no word for a Black person and focusing on that, I try to imagine how then how Spanish conquest would then shape in the eyes of Inca, of other nations of that time, a black person. If there is no word to describe them or any person different that their own, how would they interact?

I guess that is one of the question I hope to answer in my travels.  For now, the poems were well received. It added a layer to the conversation that El Museo is having now; one that is attempting to highlight more layers to the Latino experience.

Here’s one of the poems:

un momentu


It was enough for the blacks, the pardos, the zambos

to become Catholic in 1614.  It was enough to become

orderly and upright, to pray hard and repent.

The Archbishop of Lima didn’t think so.  In death, black

was still black and black could not rest beside

a Spaniard in the cathedral’s graveyard.

The city council agreed and remembered one other item.

Your African ancestry disqualified you for a coffin.

Only a Spaniard could have a coffin.

You, had your sheet, your tattered wool pants;

your hole in the earth

Your swollen body floating back to Africa.

There is no word in Quechua for a black person


The sumaq zamba abandoned home and became black.

It was easier this way. Easier to be free;

to locate herself.  But easy is too easy to explain her situation.

All this talk over crimes of passion…

How lovely it was to have her sisters,

zambo and mulata, as bed flesh.

There is no word in Quechua for a black person. (It’s said they fuck like jackrabbits.)

1574. No black woman shall wear silk pearls gold or mantillas.

1622. No black woman shall bring a rug or cushion to sit on in church. 1623.

No black woman shall wear silver bells on their slippers.

No black woman shall wear slippers.

There is no word in Quechua for a black person.

No black woman shall have a canopied bed.

The fruits of prostitution they say.

tanqay away memory.

So says the Crown.

Says the municipal authorities

when they seized her pretty jewels.

Having been married to a Spaniard

these past two years meant nothing.

  sumaq, pretty; zamba, a person of Indian and African blood; tanqay, to push


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la canción de trabajo

While I’ve managed to divorce myself from Facebook, create this blog, update other blogs, book my ticket, the month of April was a tough one.  There is another ticket to purchase and I hesitate as my plans to El Carmen are not yet confirmed.  There is an annual holiday that is only celebrated in El Carmen and Cuzco.  While most of my journey will be in areas East of Lima, I want to witness and pay homage to Black Peru.  I am after all, African-American.  It is like Bahia for me.  Why go to a place and not connect with the blackness of it?   So I am hoping and meditating intensely that it will work out for me.

I tell everyone that I am excited and terrified.  The journey is without a road manager or a tour bus. It is without venue and tech riders.  I will be going as a writer and musician and field recorder.  I will be going with ten copies of my passport in every pocket and it the spirits make it so, a cellphone in case of an emergency.  And my Spanish?  I try to practice a little every day.  My head doesn’t seem to want to soak it in.  Mae Regina is in town from Brazil and she does not know that my head is throbbing because in my efforts to catch on to the Portuguese, I am spilling Spanish over words and working harder than ever to make sense of her every instruction.

I’ve always approached language like a child. Listening to repetition, following facial expressions and how they match words, repeating every statement as much as I can.  Yes, my head hurts and that does not even include my efforts to relearn Quechua.

So now I return to song and a poem I wrote once in Quechua I am now transforming into a little song.  I listen to Concha Buika and Peru Negro a little every day.  I watch Harry Potter in Spanish which is pure comedy.  Mae Regina tells me that once I am there, I will pick it up.  I will forced to pick it up.   Give the length of time to be spent there, that is certain.

work song

ñañaykuna kutichinku phaqchata tutaman                                                                                my sisters return the waterfall to the night

ipaykuna,  mamaykichis llank’aranku t’uruman                                                                        my aunts, your mothers worked the mud

paykuna kanku llank’ashanku pachawan                                                                                  they are working with the universe

ñañaykuna kutichinku t’antata allpaman                                                                                      my sisters return the bread to the soil

 kutichinchis k’uychita takiman                                                                                                    we will return the rainbow to the lullaby

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Yesterday I purchased my ticket

Something I’ve learned about myself. I hesitate often on major decisions. Since receiving word that my project would be funded, I danced in my living room, I’ve worn a smile for a month, I’ve experience chest pains from anxiety, I’ve attempted to take a Spanish language class and forgotten everything I needed to brush up on, I’ve accepted the fact that I was chicken shit scared of this journey. For a solid year, I was deep in this project and never once thought it would become something. And now, well, I’m still processing. The major step was the purchase of a plane ticket and four o’clock this morning, I awoke, heart beating rapidly, announcing yet again to myself, I am going to do research for a project of my own creation. This will not be like the gigs I’ve done as a musician and vocalist on someone else’s project. This will be me. This will be my work. I wonder if I will bring my drum. It would be nice to hear how it sounds nearer the equator than my home.

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