Plantain or Plátano?
As the title suggests, even though language separates them immensely there is no denying that Latinos and Afro Caribbean people have a lot of things in common.
Discovered or re-discovered as’The New World’ in 1492, this area of the world is famous for its care-free lifestyle, its tropical climate and welcoming people to name but a few, however there are many similarities that people many not have been exposed to making these neighbours, almost flatmates.
On that infamous wrong turn (Originally bound for Asia!), Christopher Columbus amongst others, introduced European Colonizers to the Caribbean and South America as a new land waiting to be governed. From the brutal slave trade connecting West Africa to the islands and mainland to the Spanish Encomienda system in Cuba, from the start Latinos and Caribbeans have shared memories of imperialism at its worst. It is well known that countries such as Cuba and Brazil had a vast number of slaves brought over to work on various plantations but there were also prominent numbers of African slaves taken other colonies in Ecuador, Mexico and Peru for the similar purposes, in turn creating pockets of African culture in these countries The Amerindians, the Aztecs and other native groups were forced into a system of slavery in order to make the region profitable and from this we see one of the earliest similarities between the cultures.
When someone says they are going to the Caribbean, the most common assumption would draw to islands such as Jamaica, St Lucia or Trinidad however the Caribbean diaspora goes as far as the Mexico across Central America and down into the South American continent. There are 30 Modern-Day islands territories including Cuba and the Dominican Republic making them a part of the physiological structure of the Caribbean however regions such as the UNESCO protected Garifuna culture and the Mosquito coast of Central America to Archipelago of San Andrés, Providencia and Santa Catalina of Colombia can’t be denied to influence of the Caribbean Sea upon their lands. The fact that in 2009 Peru officially apologized to Afro- Peruvians for the devastation caused by slavery across history shows that African presence definitely made a huge impact on their country and culture and in many parts is still alive today. We can also see the that geography plays little part in the cultures of Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana who are all run by foreign department regardless of being on the South American Continent. Therefore the Caribbean is not just a chain of islands; the most accurate definition has to include multiple Hispanic countries as well.
The 90’s created a rebellious musical movement around the Caribbean and Latin America. From the influence of the USA and the desire to create their own identity music genres of Dancehall and Reggaeton were created. Infamous for their sexually charged lyrics and infamous dances such as the ‘Dutty Wine’ and ‘El Perréo’ the two genres have gained a lot of enemies, blaming them for social problems such as increased peer pressure, drug use and glorifying vigilante behaviour. Another theme up for debate is the degrading of women, many of the songs talk about infidelity, domestic violence and promiscuity as a common theme which has caused protests all over the region. This being said we can’t deny the percentage of female liberation these genres have inspired. In a society very much controlled by Catholism, Latin American women found comfort in women such as Ivy Queen and the late Jenni Riviera who spoke about current issues affecting young Latinas as well as giving them power in a ‘macho’ society. Though very different culturally, Grammy Winning Jamaican vocalist ‘Lady Saw’ did the same for young women of Jamaica, being the first women to rap within a male dominated genre and even gave brought the importance of safe sex to a very conservative island. However we interpret the controversial genres there is a prominent common ground in both culture’s approach to rebellion and equal rights.
Food is one of the biggest evidences of cultural assimilation that can be found in both cultures. There is no doubt that if you visit any Latin American or Caribbean you will be offered a meal that includes the staple diet of ‘rice and peas’ or ‘Arroz con Frijoles’. Whether it is the economic popularity of the dish or the caloric benefits the two have cemented themselves into the cultures. The tropical climate has also made way for a number of snacks to be made in a similar way. The ‘baleada’ or the ‘Arepa’ are easily compared to the ‘Fried Dumpling’ or ‘Pattie’ due to their easy preparation and wide range of variations. However the most popular connection between the two diets has to be the ‘Plantain’ or ‘El Plátano’. This starchy banana can be boiled, mashed, fried, roasted or chipped, you will find a bunch on almost every Latino and Caribbean shopping lists. At any stage of maturation you will find a recipe including this staple food from the abundant plantain chips to the tasty chapo juice containing blended plantains.
These are just a few examples of how the two cultures have come to be almost identical although linguistically they could not be further apart so next time you pick up a plantain just think of you are holding they key to the assimilation of Latin American and Caribbean culture.
(This Article is based on my own personal opinion and research do not wish to offend anyone, just putting some food for thought out there….)
Let me know what you think!