Marsha Aregullin always told her children they were like hybrid orchids – that their black and Mexican heritage made them richer.
Having married a Mexican man, Aregullin raised her children to avoid the “us-against-them” mentality.
“When you isolate yourself from others, it makes you smaller,” said Aregullin, who lived in Mexico more than 10 years before moving to Tucson in 1981. “Society has tested my children, attempting to separate them because of their skin tone.”
What many forget is that the black and Hispanic communities have a centuries-old mutual history.
Aregullin knows this well. Not only does she live it, but the Chaparral College student also wrote an extensive report about it.
Like Aregullin, a number of people here are trying to draw attention to the “black-brown” connections dating back to the 1500s, when Spanish and Portuguese colonists settling the New World imported Africans as slaves and conquered indigenous residents.
Pointing to museum exhibitions, new Afro-Latino groups and recent news coverage, several individuals said more people are talking about the history.
Others say that, given the anti-immigration mind-set, it is a critical time to acknowledge intercultural ties between blacks and Hispanics.
Some say the nation may then be able to reconcile racial tensions that nationalism, misinformation and a Eurocentric world view have brought.
“There have been cultural exchanges, and we fought together at different times,” said Rebekah Cuauhtemoc of Danza Mexica Cuauhtemoc, a traditional “circle.”
“This is such an important time to recognize the common struggle of the indigenous people of Africa and of the Mexican indigenous people to bring change in our world,” she said.
Among the pressing issues are health care, equity in the justice system and access to education.
Others also say Latin America needs a change, too, because racism and segregation persist.
Here, many are pushing for local change first.
One October Sunday, Cuauhtemoc danced with a number of others at the Quincie Douglas Library during an event titled “The African Legacies of Mexican Births.”
The two-part event, which continues Sunday, is about creating solidarity between the communities, said dance instructor Barbea W. Williams.
“You have these two groups that are pitted against each other consistently,” said Williams, also a University of Arizona adjunct dance instructor.
“The interest in this topic has been growing to the point that we are seeing both scholarly forums and major museum installations focusing on black and brown connections and relations,” she said.
The influence is evident in food, music, musical instruments, dance and demographics.
Puerto Rico, Brazil, Cuba, Venezuela, Colombia and Costa Rica have sizable black populations.
The Mexican states of Veracruz and Oaxaca also have substantial black communities, and blacks account for 35 percent of Guyana’s population, the CIA World Factbook notes.
Surprised by the figures? Don’t be, said Dolores Rivas-Bahti, a UA adjunct instructor in Spanish and Portuguese.
“In the United States, we don’t often look beyond our own borders, so all of a sudden, this feels like a recent history,” Rivas-Bahti said. “But it’s moving more into the mainstream of public consciousness. This is a high wave that hasn’t crested yet.”
Marsha Aregullin’s son, Manuel Aregullin, who teaches drumming and African songs, has been pushing the community in that direction for year.
But he wants more.
“There are a lot of small organizations that have tried to do it in a limited way, but there hasn’t been a concerted effort to make a black-Latino coalition of some kind,” said Aregullin, who is also musical director for the Sovereign Arts Society.
There still exists subtle racism and a lack of trust, said Margo Itule, founder and president of the Sovereign Arts Society.
“It’s really hard to get people to cross sides,” Itule said. “It’s not like it is in the bigger cities, where they have more influence. Here, I think it’s just a mentality. But we’ve been trying to break people out of the close-mindedness and ignorance.”
She, like Aregullin and others, still wants to see a social consciousness movement that would unite blacks and Hispanics.
For now, Aregullin is trying to launch an Afro-Cuban choir by next year.
“Once you see things in a bigger picture and see how there is a pattern, it creates a greater understanding of what’s going on with us,” he said. “In a lot of ways, we are at a different point on the same path.”
His mother, Marsha Aregullin, shares a similar message.
Aregullin said that while today’s talks appear to be the byproduct of globalization, “it’s not a current event, it is ongoing,” she said.
“We all have the same desires. As people, we all want to be respected. As families, we all care about the same things,” she said. “And it’s really exciting when you discover our cultures are more similar than you think.”
● Part II of the “African Legacies of Mexican Births” will be held Sunday at the Quincie Douglas Library, 1585 E. 36th St. The 3 p.m. event features hip-hop and spoken word artist Wade Colwell-Sandoval and Ballet Folklorico de Arizona. For information, call 628-7785.
● Manuel Aregullin has put a call out for drummers and singers. For more information about participating with his group, call 327-3663.
● Tucson’s Brazilian percussion group, Batucaxé, is planning to introduce educational, cultural and recreational programs and needs volunteers. For more information, call Cliff Berrien, the artistic director, at 744-2037.
ON THE WEB
Want to learn more about the connections between blacks and Hispanics? Visit these sites:
• Arizona State Museum www.statemuseum.arizona.edu/ podcasts/ep008_mmat_negrito.shtml – the Negritos Masked Drama audio tour at UA’s museum.
• Tucson’s Castañeda Museum of Ethnic Costume: www.castanedamuseum.org/index1.php — contains information about masks, historic figures and regional influences.
•Batucaxé: www.batucaxe.org – Tucson’s Brazilian percussion group
• Smithsonian Institution: www.smithsonianeducation.org/migrations/start.html – Explores migration patterns of various peoples.
• Chicago’s Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum: www.mfacmchicago.org/current.htm – Information on the museum’s exhibit titled “The African Presence in México.”
• Encarta.com: http://encarta.msn.com/ text_761576758___0/Mexico.html — the entry on Mexico speaks to the history.