Black Love for Brown Pride: How Black Artists Honor Latinos
In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, we wanted to look back at how African Americans have honored Latinos through Art.
It is without question there exists a cultural and social interconnectedness between Brown people with Black people in the United States. The two communities according to the 2020 U.S. Census makeup 32.8% of the U.S. population.
The term Hispanic is a census driven term of art used to describe a group of citizens whose roots are in the Spanish-speaking Latin American World. In 1968 the U.S. Administration under President Lyndon Johnson created a one-week observance called Hispanic Heritage Week. In 1988 the 100th U.S. Congress passed a joint resolution authorizing the designation of the national Hispanic Heritage Month, from September 15th through to October 15th. 40th U.S. President Ronald Wilson Reagan signed the authorization into law. The rationale behind a mid-month celebratory month was in recognition of the September 15th independence anniversaries of Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. This Independence Day is followed by Mexico on September 16th and Chile's on the 18th.
The most prominent contemporary voice on Black and Brown homage comes from 74-year-old Carlos Santana. Santana, whose wife is Black, homage to Blacks in the Arts is too voluminous to write about. In a 2019 interview with Rolling Stones, Santana was asked why he called his 25th studio album Africa Speaks?
The state of the world is so infected with fear and separation and disharmony, I know for a fact that the frequency of this music from Africa gives people hope, courage, and joy. The ingredients and the nutrients from everything that comes from African music makes people dance and rejoice like a revival.
Although politically different, California, Texas, and Florida all have one thing in common, they are former Spanish colonies. Each of these states are located in either the South Eastern, Central, or Western portion of the United States. Depending on where one lives, the Black and Brown experience is different.
To Live & Die in L.A. song by Tupac Shakur
When Tupac Shakur (2Pac) recorded To Live & Die in L.A. in August of 1996, it was just weeks prior to his demise from a fatal gang shooting on September 13th of 1996. 2Pac understood the griminess of Los Angeles, with its 700 gangs and over 40,000 gang members, Los Angeles is the gang capital of planet Earth. So with those statistics, maybe it was inevitable, rather than manipulated by the 1988 release of the movie Colors that L.A. Gang Wars would soon become L.A. Race Wars. Colors, starring Sean Penn and Robert Duvall, had been sold to the public as a movie about the Crip-Blood feud in Los Angeles. However, it ended with a mano a mano shootout between a Black gang member and a Chicano gang member. So when 2Pac dropped To Live & Die in L.A. eight years later, the movie's ending was no longer a wish list of the powers-to-be, but a full-scale reality.
It wouldn't be L.A. without Mexicans black love, brown pride in the sets again.
---To Live & Die in L.A.
38-year-old Mexican American Cory Benton Sr., who grew up in the 805 recalls those times and what it meant to him to have heard Tupac's words.
Tupac Shakur was a talented African-American rapper that constantly paid homage to the significance of the Mexican-Central American edition of Los Angeles through his music. His song To Live & Die in LA is a classic example of how Mexican-Central American culture is not only complimentary to the city of Angels but a signature of L.A.. The deep roots and culture is recognized worldwide. The people, the cuisine, desserts, and Customs are praised by Tupac. Born a native New Yorker this is a perfect example how Mexican-Central Americans are visible to Outsiders like Tupac and solidified their imprint on society. Mexican-Central Americans have literally cultivated the Southwest, their presence continues to keep it driving and remain an integral contribution to Southern California and the rest of the nation. To capture this phenomena that many can relate to with impactful song lyrics, "What would be L.A. without Mexicans black love brown pride in the sets again?" You don't need to be a resident of L.A. to understand this message. L.A. would be like a Hollow piñata! L.A., California would be irrelevant without the proud, deep, beautiful influence of the Mexican-Central American flavor!
FDT (Fuck Donald Trump) song by YG & Nipsey Hussle
20 years later in 2016, a Crip-Blood music collabo would repeat Tupac's exact words but expound upon Black appreciation for Brown culture much further in the YG, Nipsey Hussle rap song FDT.
Three years later in 2019, grammy-nominated rapper, entrepreneur, father-of-two, and community leader, Nipsey Hussle was gunned down at his Marathon clothing store over a personal dispute. He was 33. After his death, city leaders and Los Angeles itself, the second largest in America, who were unaware, became aware of Ermias Davidson Asghedom, also known as Nipsey Hussle. After his death, South Central Los Angeles, now South Los Angeles, was in a state of visible mourning. Not privately, but on the streets, which culminated in the city's second Staples Center funeral; the first being the late great Michael Jackson. Nipsey's 2.5 mile long funeral procession post Staples Center Services was a testament to his impact. For example, the laying down of arms by the city's Crips, Bloods, and Hispanic gangs. While the bloody beating of Rodney King was the catalyst to the Los Angeles riots, it only brought truces between Crips and Bloods. On the other hand, Nipsey's blood ended the city's Crip, Blood, and Racial Wars.
End All Hostilities Talking Zine Sneak Preview song by Min King X Aka Pyeface
On August 12, 2012, California prisoners Todd Ashker, #C58191; Arturo Castellanos, #C17275; Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa (Dewberry), #C35671; and Antonio Guillen #P81948 signed the Agreement to End All Hostilities. These four racially diverse men were housed in the Pelican Bay State Prison Security Housing Unit's Short Corridor. Despite Pelican Bay having been designed as a Super-super maximum security prison for the purpose of long-term solitary confinement, it did not work. Prison officials came up with a new isolation tactic, isolate the leadership of the prison gangs by housing them with one another. These prison gangs were blood-rivals. The net result was the creation of the Pelican Bay Short Corridor Collective, and on the 12th of August, 2016, they signed the following in pertinent part:
1. If we really want to bring about substantive meaningful changes to the CDCR system in a manner beneficial to all solid individuals, who have never been broken by CDCR's torture tactics intended to coerce one to become a state informant via debriefing, now is the time for us to collectively seize this moment and put an end to more than 20-30 years of hostilities between our racial groups.
2. Therefore, beginning on October 10, 2012, all hostilities between our racial groups... in SHU, Ad-Seg, General Population, and County Jails, will officially cease. This means that from this date on, all racial group hostilities need to be at an end... and if personal issues arise between individuals, people need to do all they can to exhaust all diplomatic means to settle such disputes; do not allow personal, individual issues to escalate into racial group issues!!
In an October 12, 2020, article in the California Herald, "Former Prisoner-Playwright Finds Ex-Felon Voting Ally in Progressive Senator," Min King X Aka Pyeface is quoted as saying, "It is the most significant racial and gang truce in the history of California. It is on par to the 1998 Northern Ireland Good Friday Peace Accords."
Curtis "C-Loc" Daniels, a retired Crip who has been in prison since 1995, and spent 14 years at Pelican Bay, seven years in the SHU, noticed the difference as a result of the AEAH. Daniels who is now the Vice chairman of the Men's Advisory Committee (MAC), a prison liaison committee between prison officials and the Prisoner population at the California State Prison Los Angeles County's general population, B-Yard recounts the change:
Now there is better communication when there wasn't before. More patience with one another. Since the agreement, there may have been one or two race riots, but none in the last 7-years. It seems we're not at each other's throats and the system is responding by providing more rehabilitative services, and we are responding with these opportunities collectively working with one another to see that we all can make it home.
Prior to the truce, the prisoners being held in long-term solitary confinement held two hunger strikes to end their continued suffering of isolation; after the agreement, over 30,000 prisoners up and down the state on the general population yards participated in the largest prisoner hunger strike in U.S. history. The purpose of the strike was to end the torture suffering from long-term solitary confinement at Pelican Bay.
King, who himself was released from prison in 2019 after serving 24-years in prison, six in the Feds and 18 in California's worst prisons, including Pelican Bay, had participated in all three hunger strikes. While imprisoned in California, King started a prisoner led peace movement through Art & Culture called K.A.G.E. Universal (Kings and Queens Against Genocidal Environments). In 2020 King released the Hip Hop track and video End All Hostilities Talking Zine Sneak Preview. With lines like Black lines, Brown lines, Red lines, and Yellow lines, he addresses the unity of original and native people.
Published in 2014, Untitled 76 was a work C-Note had to have. Untitled 76 is a pattern. Patterns are traceable images behind the wall that are shared amongst prisoners. The most prominent users of this drawing system are the Chicano artists. Because it is so prevalent, the practice is frowned upon by Prison Art curators and contests, as the submissions are not original, and usually are from copyrighted material.
Published in 2016, La Reina de las Mujeres Chicas (The Queen of the Petite Women) is C-Note's finished rendition of Untitled 76. The finished work is graphite and wax on paper. The background colors of green, red, and white are the colors of the Mexico flag and is an homage to Mexico, and the Mexican people.
Published in 2016, Tears of the Mothers is a Paintoem (painting +poem). Paintoems are digital works of art. This particular paintoem is a collaborative work between C-Note and Edgar "Guerilla Prince" Aguirre. Aguirre as the visual artist, and C-Note as the poet. When then California State University, San Bernardino, Professor Annie Buckley and founder of the Prison Arts Collective heard C-Note's recital of the poem at her inaugural Performance Poetry class, she was deeply, deeply moved. Tears of the Mothers tells the tale of what so many Black and Brown mothers face raising a son in South L.A., or any other community just like it. To learn more of this work, visit TEARS OF THE MOTHERS | Mprisond Poetz https://mprisondpoetz.wordpress.com/2016/10/06/tears-of-the-mothers/.
Published in 2016, Black August - Los Angeles is C-Note's first political work. Included in the messaging of this work are the words, "Mundo Sin Jaulas" (A World Without Cages), in recognition of the Brown People's Movement. Later this work would be included in a paintoem of the same title. To learn more of this work, visit BLACK AUGUST-LOS ANGELES | Mprisondpoetz
Published in 2018, Today We Are Sisters is a paintoem about the lack of reparations for the forced sterilization of women in the California prison system. Most people may be unaware from 1909 - 1979 California had a eugenics law on its books that allowed forcible sterilization. California was one of many U.S. States that authorized this practice. Not only was California one of the first States to adopt eugenics, but it led the nation in its use. California was so prolific at it, it is well documented, California's policy was the inspiration for the Nazis' eugenics program.
As an artist, I like to give voice to the voiceless. In my work Life Without the Possibility of Parole the story of women doing life without the possibility of parole in a California women's prison, the vehicle for telling that story was a white woman. In Strange Fruit, the story of mass suicides in a California women's prison, the vehicle for telling that story was a Black woman. So I was looking for an opportunity to tell a Brown woman's story. And since the story of eugenics in California was the targeting of persons with Spanish surnames, this gave me an opportunity to tell a Brown woman's story.
February of 2021 saw the release of Free Virtual Art Exhibition (1-Artist; 1-Subject; 21-Works). It contained 21-Works by C-Note on the subject of incarceration. It concluded with Today We Are Sisters. Three years after C-Note's donation of Today We Are Sisters to the California Coalition for Women Prisoners, and their relentless yearly trips to Sacramento since 2018, in April, the California legislation began work on a reparations bill for the estimated 1,500 women who were forcibly sterilized in California's prisons since 1979. In July these reparations became State law.
To learn more about this paintoem, visit Today We Are Sisters | Mprisond Poetz
Published in 2019, El Vato (The Man) is a work of ink and acrylic on canvas.
Be sure to check out the more than 200 wall art prints from the world's most prolific prisoner artist Donald "C-Note" Hooker. https://www.c-note.org/the-prints/
While Black and Brown people have clashes within their own groups, and with each other, especially from overcrowded schools, lack of housing, jobs, and language differences, there is a recognition from both groups, their lives have been enriched by their shared interconnectedness.
Do you have any stories like these for future publication? If so, please feel free to leave a comment below