A people without history is like a tree without roots. If you don’t know where you’re coming from, you won’t know where you’re going.
-- Marcus Garvey
It was when Haas Haas traveled from Philadelphia to Acapulco, Mexico with her grandmother as a young child that she realized what path her life would take. “This lady was a powerhouse having come from the segregated south. She loved to travel and getting to know people everywhere we went. I’m so grateful she opened the world up for me, and I’ve been moving forward ever since,” Haas Hass said in a Conversations with Al McFarlane interview last week.
The budding producer and stunning television host had very wisely majored in Spanish throughout her academic journey and learned far more about the African diaspora than any textbook or educator had taught her.
Though Africans were enslaved in the Caribbean and South America in even greater numbers than in North America, Hass questioned why people who looked like her were not on television in Latin America, or in Latin American oriented programming in the United States.
Haas set out to fight for more people who looked like her to be on television. Doors were shut, but she would not be discouraged.
“I had this idea for a travel show celebrating Afro-Latinos after exploring Latin America for years and having Afro-Latino friends share their family stories with me. I rarely saw Afro-Latinos even on Spanish language television and media,” Haas said. Despite the number of travel shows with substantial audiences that air on public television, they are independently produced. It takes a lot of hard work and sponsored funding to cover costs and pay guides, writers, and camera operators. Primary support often comes from individual donors, non-profit foundations, corporate sponsorships, and even tourism bureaus of foreign governments.
Latin America and the Caribbean have the largest concentration of people with African ancestry outside of Africa. Shared legacies of slavery and colonialism are reminders of the massive influx of millions whose heritage includes Spanish, indigenous, and African roots.
It has yet to be explained why their contributions are forgotten and ignored in the history books. 12.5 million enslaved Africans (1502-1867) were shipped across the Atlantic with only 450,000 landing in North America, what would become the United States. The Latin America imported ten times as many Africans as the U.S. and kept them in bondage far longer. In the U.S., ethnic and cultural differences that don’t fit neatly into Black and white boxes often leave out people who are proudly Black and Latino. One of every four Hispanics in the U.S. identifies as Afro-Latino according to the Pew Research Center. Today, that’s at least 15 million people.
Even a small portion of that figure would comprise a pretty impressive television audience for journalist Haas’ travel series, “Afro-Latino Travels with Haas Haas” that is airing on PBS stations for Black History Month. The first episode was shot in San Jose, the capitol of Costa Rica. The city was first called Villa Nueva when it was settled in 1736 and developed slowly as a tobacco center. In 1840, it became the hub of coffee production and transportation as the junction of express highways to the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.
Haas has years of experience reporting for local English language television and for Telemundo, one of the nation’s leading Spanish language broadcasters. And through most of the last decade, she has poured her own money and time into developing her travel series which introduces us to food, music, and cultural traditions of people in places not usually on tourist itineraries.
The first episode introduces viewers to Quince Duncan, called the godfather of cultural languages, Afro-Caribbean literature, and identity because his work and writings and the teaching of Black history have affected policy in the country. Artist Adrian Gomez is one of the most important artists in Costa Rica. His bold, colorful, simple, and brilliant artwork is said to represent Pura Vida which expresses the identity of the country as one of tranquility, optimism, and happiness in life. “I speak to the feeling of being human, of joy, of the right to be happy, and to be at peace. It’s the feeling, the heart, and the flavor of the people,” Gomez says.
The amazing dancer Sharifa Clarke finds her way of life a fusion of movement from Jamaica and Latin America as well as Africa, reflecting the oppression we have lived for years. She said, “It’s a way to be happy despite the situations we have in everyday life. It’s a way to know yourself, your limits, and how far you can go. It’s loving yourself and giving people some sort of light. We are liberated and can express ourselves and be free to be who we really are.”
Aspiring Olympic gymnast, Tarik Soto attributes much of his success to the support of his parents and the discipline required in his 6 day a week training regime. Dancer and singer, Doris and Sasha Campbell take great pride in their sister, Epsy, who is the first Black and female Vice President of Costa Rica or in any Latin American country.
The shows are vivid reminders of the deep reservoir of diversity in the Americas. It connects North American viewers to their connectedness in Latin America. “I want this show and future episodes to be part of a larger movement to bring awareness and recognition to Afro-Latinos. They have been ignored and underrepresented far too long,” Haas says. Early viewer response to Haas’ first episodes has been encouraging. Educators have reached out asking how they can incorporate the first shows into classroom lessons. There is so much rich history to be discovered; so many phenomenal individuals to virtually meet.
Kim Haas, Host & Executive Producer - Afro-Latino Travels with Kim Haas;
President and Founder-Haas Media LLC
NOTE: In December 2020, PBS began ongoing conversations as to how to attract, promote, and retain independent creators from communities underrepresented on the service’s programming channels. The media service recognized not enough has been done to increase participation and opportunity for creative minds from African American, Latino, Asian, and Native American communities. With the trusted input of experts in workplace equality and inclusion, PBS hopes to identify what yet must be done to ensure the service reflects the nation’s demographic and social diversity.
In a group of Afro-Latino journalists from throughout the U.S. and Latin America, questions as to what a summer of racial reckoning meant to a community for whom discrimination has known no boundary of time or geography? Let us hope the responses were candid and informative enough to support the continuation of a rich and timely series produced by the powerhouse granddaughter who took advantage of a world filled with so much history, knowledge, beauty, and possibilities. BLG