2010 PFIG Recipient Marcus Hall
College of Arts & Sciences
2012 Graduation Year
Internship: Africa y su Diaspora
Notes on the first week
The organization that I’m working for is called Africa y su Diaspora. This organization focuses on human rights for Afro-Argentineans and African descendant. The organization is stationed in Argentina and has existed for atleast a decade. But human rights can become kind of a broad term and has different means for different people.
Human Rights in this sense follows more of social discrimination of Afro-descendants and protection of their rights. For example access to free medical resource that many afro-descendant people, here, are not aware that they have. Discrimination by the public is another issue. For example on the street corners are of micro-center, Buenos Aires where many tourist go, there are west African workers that sell items. They are harassed by Argentinean police on the streets, while they are trying to survive in a new country. Those are some examples to give you an idea of human rights. Some of the topics that Africa y su Diaspora addresses in human rights are politics, culture, gender, and sexuality.
How did I come across this organization? I was doing a study abroad program for the semester of Spring 2010. I thought about interning in the U.S. but since I was in Argentina I considered staying here. On top of that I really wanted to explore anthropology more, so I thought working for an international organization would help with that. I went to an event that discussed music and culture of Afro-Argentineans (a video showing). The attendance of the event was very impressive and observed some of the staff. I really enjoyed the video and the speech that was given by the secretary of Africa y su Diaspora, Carlos Alvarez (now my boss).
Now lets move on to exactly what I do. My rolls in Africa y su Diaspora tentative however for the majority of the time I’m in charge of the communications department. I created the blog for Africa y su Diaspora and manage it, as well. The other members of Africa y su Diaspora fell this is an important item because the organization does a lot of great things. However it is very challenging for people to know about the events it puts on and political changes influenced by Africa y su Diaspora without a medium to communicate human rights work that it does to the public.
In working with the communications I find information (books, articles, publications, events, presentations, etc) about Afro-Argentineans and Afro-people in general. I also relay information to the members if there is a claim of discrimination by an Afro-descent person here. I put up a form on the blog that allows victims to come to Africa y su Diaspora to request help and counseling. It’s interesting to be the creator of a department in an organization. It really pushes me to be even more self-motivated update and find and read information because other viewers are observing the blog as well.
Starting the blog wasn’t easy. I did not start out as a professional blogger and I wouldn’t say I am a professional right now. I had to do a lot of reading about what a blog is suppose to do and talking to other people who have been involved in creating websites, blogs, and other forms of communications. I did a hefty about of bench-marking or looking at other NGO/human rights organizations and their blogs. I started out with the basics (www.google.com: How to make a blog). After reading more information I decided between using Wordpress or Blogspot. I ended up choosing wordpress. Learning how to use the program was a battle within itself, let alone finding information to put on it. Eventually, after much trial and error I learned how to put articles, videos, photos, and commentary.
I’m very excited that I’m doing this internship for several reasons. I am interested in international public policy related to human rights, so this is perfect for my future goals. It’s also nice to see how things workout side of the U.S. I’m really a lot more that human rights organizations in the U.S. do have more resources than countries in South America. This human rights organization is no exception and does not have equivalent resources that some human rights organizations in the U.S. have. How do other developing countries still continue to fight for human rights when a staff may comprise of five or six members who has one room to rent out, and not many computers, for example.
Also with this particular organization it has built coalitions with other organizations. Human rights organizations related to youth issues and LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgendered) discriminations, Africa y su Diaspora helps to support. Seeing those partnerships gives me an understanding of the mentality of the people workers in my organization and what some of their future goals of success are.
One of my personal missions is to understand what is the black rights movement here; and are blacks in Argentina fighting for the same things as Black American were in our civil rights movement?
Since the beginning of my internship I’ve participated or attended events that Africa y su Diaspora was involved in. For example for a very long time Afro-descendent presence in Argentina was thought of to not exist. Many Argentineans don’t know about the slave history here and think there are no black people here. Or the only black people are immigrants. Because of this perception of the racial demographics of Argentina, more efforts by organizations are being made to make this acknowledgement. In about mid-May of 2010 there was a "charla" or a kind of speech made by Ana Maria Edwin, President of INDEC (which is the organization that holds the annual census), about including questions on the next census that ask Argentineans about afro-descendancy that they may have. My boss, Carlos Alvarez is going to be working on that project. I definitely think this is very empowering for the black rights movement, because before any group can fight for equality their presence has to be known. This will be the first time questions about afro-descendancy are presented to the public through the census.
Recently I have been meeting with other Afro-Argentinean youth. There was a trip to be planned to meet other youth from Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay through a commission of Youth in the Mercorsur conference, to do workshops, which was held in another province of Argentinean. During the meetings it was very nice to meet Afro-Argentinean youth, because some of the issues they face here, I can make a stronger comparison with in the U.S. For example one issue that was brought up was discrimination in school systems (for young children in elementary school and universities). I also did a bit of recruiting for the meetings by finding other Afro-descendant youth to attend the meeting(s)--as a way of creating a space in which we can share and learn from one another. Another thing we talked about was lack of political representation in government of Afro-Argentineans and their interests.
In a sense I’m lucky to be here, because not only am I working with a black rights organization but I’m a black myself. In some ways I can relate to some of the discriminations that afro-descendant people face. I have had moments where when I walk into a store people stare at me the entire time I’m there. There was a moment I went into a library to ask if they had wifi and the woman gave me a disguised look before someone else answered for her.
It is unfortunate but somewhat true that because there are not many afro-descendant people in this country most of the images of black people, white Argentineans see are from American hip hop videos or poor Senegalese workers on the streets (to name a few). In the minds of some Argentineans that represents poverty. And that may contribute to the negative perceptions of black people here. However it’s not always bad. Some people are very open to helping me if I’m lost on the streets.
About the blog! The blog is coming along. Finding information can sometimes be the hard part because of the lack of focus on Afro-Argentine history. Entonces I venture out and find information about black social movements in other Latin American countries to put on the blog. My handy work on the blog has gotten better. I understand how to put information on much better than when I started out. I think one of the challenges is diversifying the look. Sometimes I might put on a video, other times an article. However it must always look colorful and busy so people know it’s something that’s being updated and that the information is important.
However there are some challenges with the blog that I still deal with. The blog is a mix of Spanish and English. Some pieces are in English and others are in Spanish. Because Spanish isn’t my first language, reading lots of information in another language isn’t an easy task. Often times I will look up information but finding English sources instead of Spanish sources (which is something I try to minimize). The organization is about Afro-Latino social change so Spanish is preferable, however I want to cater not just to Afro-Latinos but Afro-descendant people around the world. Language was somewhat of a conflict between my boss and I when it came to what information was appropriate to put on the blog.
Another challenge that I face is South America isn’t really my cultural context. For example in the United States because I live there, I’m from here, and I’m constantly bombarded by information through TV, newspapers, magazines, etc. I’m more aware and have a better understand of social issues that are in the U.S. However in this country it’s a bit more challenging because it’s in another language, but I haven’t really been in this country for a sufficient amount of time to gain the same political exposure. So when I’m searching for information I don’t always know what direction I’m trying to take myself. So I have to work even closer with my boss because he is from South America and has worked in black rights for such a long time where he knows what’s going on. I’ve definitely been learning a lot!
I am currently working on a side project outside of the blog. Basically I feel as though people don’t have a strong grasp of what the Africa y su Diaspora does and current state of Afro-descendants here. So I have been having interviews with the members of Africa y su Diaspora about the black rights movement here. Discussing areas of politics, cultural, gender, and sexuality, I plan to make these videos and put them on the blog with questions captioned above or below the videos. I think this will help Argentineans see a presence of Afro-Argentineans in this country by watching these videos and seeing the blog.
Since making some of the videos for the blog, looking up information about black social movements throughout Latin America, talking to Afro-descendant people in Argentina I definitely think that there is a kind of movement here. A key question I ask myself is, is the movement here, in Argentina, the same as movement black americans had during the 1950s and 1960s? Are Afro-descendants in Argentina even fighting for the same things? And even more importantly what does one call this movement; Black Rights, Afro-Argentinean Rights, Afro-Descendant Rights, etc.? I pose the last question because throughout this entry I’ve used several phrases referring to Afro-descendants because I’m not entirely sure what to call the people here. It’s a mix of African immigrants, immigrants from other Latin American countries, and the Caribbean islands. It’s one of those things about identity that even black Americans struggle with today. Being perceived one as thing while you (the Afro-descendent individual) perceive yourself as another. It is challenging to centralize this movement when there isn’t even name for it.
How to begin? There really is too much to say about my internship in Argentina. One of the things about being abroad (especially working) is that it's not just about the work that your doing but also the life you have. I did have a life in Argentina while I was working. I lived in a neighborhood and had friends and shared local customs. I even speak the same way as the people from Buenos Aires speak, since that's where my main foundation of learning Spanish came from. I definitely think I will miss Argentina A LOT! Also I witnessed a lot of political and socio-cultural moments. I attended the remembrance of the disappeared during the Argentinean dictatorship, the bicentennial, was present for the gay marriage law that passed in Argentina, watched the world cup, and celebrated the Day of Afro-descendent women. Working in a low economically developed country, on a topic that is very under-looked by the majority of Argentines definitely was a challenge. A lot of Argentineans don't even know about blacks being in the country, let alone organizations. It's one of those things that has gained presence because of word of mouth but not so much because of media coverage.
My overall sentiments about the black movement in Argentina are that it is succeeding in some ways. However, I do think there is a lot of work to do. An important thing to note is that there is at least an organization or rather the organizing of afro-descendents in Argentina. That really helps to concentrates the efforts. I think with the 2010 census project and Africa y su Diaspora gaining more media coverage, people are starting to recognize the presence of blacks in Argentina. However whether or not blacks will gain position in politics is something different.
There were some difficulties but some upsides to having my own schedule. Positives were that obviously I could decide when I wanted to work, what information I needed to look up and the events I need to report about. All of those items (in additional to extra things), I could do at my own pace and still have the time to learn about the city and experience la cultura de Buenos Aires. I met us with my boss on a regular basis so he could tell me what I needed to fix and we could discuss improvements to the blog. I wasn't totally alone but it wasn't exactly like a typical office building internship that most Americans imagine. A lot of aspects of my internship involved me being outside or interviewing and/or helping my boss so it was very hands on.
However, there were negatives. Some of the problems with working on the blog alone (for the most part) was I didn't have as much direction as I would like. I created it, but not really having a lot of experience with managing political blogs in the past. I met up with my boss regularly but we both had different perceptions of what we wanted the blog to represent (in the beginning of creating it), so often times the information that we put on would conflict with our interest.
Also me, the American who is learning Spanish and not totally fluent, often times typed sentences and paragraphs incorrectly where as if someone were to read it they would maybe have a bad impression of the organization (if the medium of communication wasn't grammatically professional). My boss emphasized the importance of improving my written, along with oral spanish, so that would reflect in the quality of the posts and information I put on the blog.
My plans to follow up with my work in Argentina are to try to develop an exchange program where American students can come to Argentina and Afro-Argentineans can come to the U.S. to study black political movements and take those ideas back to Argentina. Intercultural exchange can work in ways outside of sharing backgrounds but in beliefs of black empowerment. I would like to talk to some organizations, like the NAACP, to see what they would say about supporting Africa y su Diaspora. One of the members of that organization works at UVA, so I can try to make some connections with that individual about what can be done for Africa y su Diaspora.
In terms of direct work with the organization not much. I'm still uploading some of the interviews I did with the workers of the organization. I'm looking at the blog, here and there to see some things that I can suggest them to improve. I'm planning on making a facebook page to help accumulate more members. I will put the link of the blog on the facebook group so people can follow to the link and explore the blog more; more people watching the better.
The internship definitely influenced my career and education goals. Now I believe after doing so much work with black people in South America I really want to study the intersections of race and sexuality. I would like to do more work with transgender people in non-western countries to protect their rights. Because my boss was also a LGBT rights activist I had the opportunity to witness his work and efforts in other organizations as well. After talking to more transgender people I realized that transgenderism is a topic that is very challenging for most people (including myself) to understand. So that's my motivation. I think if I did any work it would be in a Spanish speaking country, Brazil, or India.
Well with much luck I went to an event about a month ago. It had something to do with gay marriage law passing in the congress. There was a marcha or gathering of people in front of the congress to show support. I ended up seeing an afro-descendent young man at the event so I approached him to ask him where he was from; he was Argentinean. With a natural click in personality we started to hangout a bit more, and I told him more about the organization that I work for and the goals that it's trying accomplish with protecting afro-descendent human rights and giving a political voice as well. After attending a few meetings/events related to the organization my boss and I talked and thought that MAYBE he would like to take over the work of the blog, once I would have left Argentina. After talking to Alex (the young afro-argentine), he was VERY HAPPY to be apart of the black rights movement in Argentina and agreed to take over my work. This makes me so happy because I really believe that he'll be able to take it, the blog, very far. He speaks fluent Spanish, afro-argentine, young, and has had experience with doing blogs in the past; (he's a little more qualified than me. haha).
I also found that that Africa y su Diaspora is going to use the blog I created to put on the national census website for Argentina. There is already a category that talks about Afro-descendents. In order for people to learn about blacks in Argentina they can look at the blog and learn.
Thinking more about my work there, I made my dent in the social movement for afro-descendents in Argentina and I'm really proud and happy that I stayed for as long as I did. I really do hope that black people in Argentina continue to advance, organize, and make change.