American history from a different perspective
Signs like “No dogs, negroes, Mexicans” from 1943 offered insight into what American history was like for minorities in the land of the free.
The sign was part of a multimedia presentation given by University of Florida’s Paul Ortiz on Sunday afternoon at the main branch of the Durham County Library.
In his presentation titled “African American and Latina/o Narratives in the Century of Jim Crow/Juan Crow,” Ortiz clarified the unified histories of African-Americans and Latinas/o s in the Americas.
“This is American history from a different perspective,” Ortiz told the crowd of about 50 people. “These perspectives are different because African-Americans and Latinas and Latinos had unique and distinct experiences.
“When you focus on African-American and Latin American histories, it’s not a story of progress or how we’re gaining more equality from decade to decade. It’s not a story of progressive gains but more a story of constant struggles.”
In addition to being an associate professor at the University of Florida, Ortiz is author of “Emancipation Betrayed: The Hidden History of Black Organizing and White Violence in Florida from Reconstruction to the Bloody Election of 1920” and co-edited and conducted oral history interviews for the award winning “Remembering Jim Crow: African Americans Tell About Life in the Jim Crow South.”
He is currently working on the book “Our Separate Struggles Are Really One: African American and Latino Histories.”
Ortiz played a recording of a poem by Martin Espada, “Imagine the Angels of Bread” which Ortiz said challenged the parameters of the African-American and Latin American experiences in America and expressed the “permeability of the past, present and the future.”
A shared history of working land that has never historically been theirs, Ortiz explained that this shared history is “a laboring history, a working class history” with the “plantation being at the center of that economic world.”
“Jim Crow, Juan Crow, was never just about black and white. It was never that simple,” he continued. “Jim Crow, Juan Crow was a labor system. Segregation was a labor system.”
Many African-American newspapers in the United States kept a close watch on the struggles for independence in many South American countries and saw them as beacons as similar struggles continued stateside.
Ortiz explained that many African-Americans saw the possibility of France invading Mexico prior to the Civil War as a potential problem because it could have resulted in a French-occupied Mexico siding with the Confederacy and prolonging slavery.
“African-Americans followed the liberation struggles of countries like Cuba,” he said.
Manisha Sharma, a doctor from Harlem, N.Y. was on hand for Ortiz’s presentation and said that she saw the value of his presentation and in including more perspectives of American history.
“I loved it,” Sharma said. “In New York we get a lot of this so to see this happening in Durham, this is great.”
During the question and answer segment, Sharma began a discussion on the re-acculturation of cultural norms by those who generated them after they’ve been commodified by others.
“Whenever I hear kids say that they are reacculturating something, I have to ask, what are you reacculturating? What are you redefining? Why? By asking that, maybe I’m getting them to think twice about our history and what they’re saying.”
Retired New Jersey Teacher Heshima DuEwa said that this is the sort of program that would benefit students of all ages.
“This type of program weaves a thread through our culture and our history,” she said. “I would recommend that students attend this and not attend it alone, but students with teachers and parents. The parents can put this into context for the students, the teacher can learn from what the parent teaches so they can go back to their class and teach their students and the students can teach their friends.”