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Tengo Casi 500 Anos: Africa’s Legacy in Mexico, Central and South America

Posted Jul 5 2009

It’s probably safe to say that most people think of Africa’s legacy in the Americas as primarily restricted to the United States and Brazil. As this book shows, this is far from the case.

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It’s probably safe to say that most people think of Africa’s legacy in the Americas as primarily restricted to the United States and Brazil. As this book shows, this is far from the case. Photographer Tony Gleaton captures everyday people in powerful black and white photos, running the gamut of age and covering countries ranging from Mexico to Panama. The pictures are quite powerful and are sure to generate a reaction and curiosity. But Gleaton does not explain nor contextualize his work. As engaging as these image are, they raise more questions than they answer. Thankfully there is some text by others, addressing questions such as why and how certain people have been systematically excluded from written history and the mainstream social fabric of countries despite the obvious fact that they’re here. How is that African Americans have come to dominate discussions of the African diaspora when the majority of Africans brought to the Americas weren’t brought to the U.S.? How is that African American only refers to people from the United States when the Americas encompass dozens of countries? Recorded history has natural bias and reflects who’s perspective is deemed significant, making works such as the book critically important.

Professor Lois Elaine Griffith, who also directs The Nuyorican Poets Café adds a personal tale of traveling with Gleaton to Nacimiento de Los Negros, a town founded by Black Seminoles. While she has obvious respect and love for him, Dr. Griffith doesn’t shy away from his contradictions, as well as her own conflicted
feelings about photographing people. These contradictions make this book even richer, bringing up questions of what’s considered exploitation and the complexities of human interaction as African Americans interacting with Afro Mexicans.

Based on the images alone, this book is a good add to your collection. From an historical perspective, it’s also a must-have, as well as a good entry point in exploring this topic. I myself, own two copies!

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