Black immigrants see personal triumph in Obama

on January 12, 2009 at 8:10 PM, updated January 12, 2009 at 8:19 PM

MIAMI — There is no box on U.S. Census forms that accurately describes Ray Gongora.

The Belize-born naturalized citizen grew up in an English-speaking Central American country, a former British colony where African slaves were once sold. He emigrated in 1986 to a country that deemed him Hispanic based on the geography of his birth.

“I identify myself as ‘other’,” Gongora says. “I am black, so to speak — a brown-skinned Caribbean person. You cannot identify yourself as a black American because our cultures are so totally different.” 

He doesn’t worry about not being counted, though. Not with President-elect Barack Obama set to take office Jan. 20. 

Obama, the son of a white woman from Kansas and a black man from Kenya, will be the first black U.S. president, fulfilling the dreams and promise of the civil rights era. But for black immigrants and their children, Obama’s swearing-in realizes other dreams.

In Obama, they recognize their own parents, who saw themselves as outsiders, and the children they raised to believe that education was the road to success. His election superseded not only color, but also economics, family divisions, government failures and nagging questions of identity.

“It’s an individual accomplishment for each of us,” Gongora said.

Gongora, a 53-year-old postal worker, scheduled a vacation day Jan. 20 to watch the inauguration on television at his Pembroke Pines home. His hope for his U.S.-born children is that no one will question their citizenship in an Obama administration, even with a Honduran mother and a Belize-born father.

“I said to my (17-year-old) son, ‘You were born here. You can be president even if your parents were both born in different countries,'” he said.

Haitian-American schoolchildren were so caught up in the election that they wrote “Obama” on their arms as they talked about their culture in a Haitian Heritage Museum program this fall. His story, not just his skin color, was so similar to their own, said Lawrence Gonzalez, the Miami museum’s education manager.

Obama’s father left Kenya to continue his education in the U.S. The president-elect also knows what it’s like to uproot his life: He was born in Hawaii, then spent part of his childhood in Indonesia. He returned to Hawaii to live with his grandparents, then left the islands for college. He eventually settled in Chicago.

“They left that comfort zone and came to a random area where they weren’t accepted. They continued to work to make a better life and get a career going,” said Gonzalez, a Haitian-American who was born in Miami. “Our parents did this.”

Jean-Marie Denis, 67, beams as he lists the reasons any Haitian could say, “Obama is my brother!”

The president-elect achieved success through education, so prized in the Caribbean country that families scrape together money for tuition even in the hardest times. He made his name in Chicago, a city whose first permanent settler was Haitian. He named a Haitian-American, Patrick Gaspard, as his political director. Finally Obama fulfills Haiti’s legacy as home of the world’s first successful slave rebellion, led by Toussaint L’Ouverture.

“Martin Luther King’s movement was a continuation of Toussaint L’Ouverture’s dream. Obama is, 40 years later, the realization of Martin Luther King’s dreams,” said Denis. “Toussaint L’Ouverture didn’t work in vain.”

Denis, a naturalized citizen whose bookstore Libreri Mapou is a cornerstone of Miami’s Little Haiti, also sees himself in Obama’s father, who left a poor African village to study in the United States.

“Now his son is president,” Denis said. “He’s just like me. I came to this country with $50 in my pocket and now look at me, with two doctors in my family.”

For all the times that Obama had to fit into a new environment, he never lost his roots, said Sharon Makoriwa, a 30-year-old Kenyan.

Obama has said that while the world saw him as black, he still identified with the small-town values instilled in him by his grandparents, something that helped him connect with rural Illinois voters in his Senate run.

“During the campaign they said, ‘Who exactly is this Obama?’ I found it a very ridiculous question,” said Makoriwa, a grantwriter for the African Services Committee in New York.

“I connected with him as a newcomer to the United States. I’m living in a new culture, I have to learn to respect the culture and I have to fall back on my values and my principles to be who I am,” she said.

Many immigrants are also hopeful that Obama will inspire change in their home countries.

The president-elect’s Kenyan ancestry gives him the authority to criticize African governments, and will set an example on a continent where leaders often fail to uphold the rule of law, said Bonaventure Ezekwenna, 47, who left Nigeria to study in New York in 1983.

“He is in a better position than anybody else to speak with the leadership on the African continent, eyeball to eyeball, that it is time for change,” said Ezekwenna, chief executive of Africans in America, which focuses on human trafficking issues. “As leader of the free world, if he tells them the game is up in his motherland, his ancestral home, they will get a clue that the game is up.”

Marlon Hill, a Jamaican-born Miami attorney, made Obama’s election official as a member of Florida’s Electoral College.

“It felt like carrying tons of history on my shoulder,” the 37-year-old said.

But Inauguration Day should not be a time for immigrants to stop and reflect on past sacrifices and achievements. They need to expect more, he said — from Obama and from themselves.

“It’s beyond just being about Obama and him being a president who is black. It is about our circumstances and, whether we are black or black immigrants, can we do more with our circumstances? Can we provide for our families around us?” Hill said. “We have fewer excuses now because of an election of an Obama-like person.”


In the US, Young Haitian-Americans mobilize

In U.S., young Haitians mobilize to help their nation

Miami Herald

August 29, 2009


In U.S., young Haitians mobilize to help their nation

Lawrence Gonzalez wants to invest his energy, sweat and time in Haiti. And he believes he has found just the way to do it: Create a corps of Haitian students in the United States to work on service projects in the Caribbean nation.

At a recent Haitian diaspora conference in Sunny Isles Beach, elbow-to-elbow crowds of participants swapped business cards, passed out policy papers, and pitched earnest plans to develop Haiti.

Gonzalez, 25, was busy, too. In small groups and large, he talked about the United Haitian Students of Florida, an organization he heads to get students more involved in Haiti.

“A lot of us, the younger ones, haven’t even been to Haiti,” said Gonzalez, who lived in Haiti until he was 9 and is now a graduate student in accounting at Florida State. “But they want to contribute to Haiti.”

From Washington’s corridors of power to South Florida’s classrooms and conferences, Gonzalez and other young Haitians from outside the country are developing ways to help rebuild from decades of economic devastation and civil strife.

The effort comes at a crucial moment for Haiti. The country enjoys a semblance of political stability not seen in years, and former President Bill Clinton, the United Nations’ special envoy to Haiti, is trying to lure foreign investors after the country suffered widescale destruction from last year’s spate of hurricanes and tropical storms.

At the diaspora conference, where Clinton urged Haitians overseas to play an active role in what happens in Haiti, the idea of youths helping Haiti popped up repeatedly.

The basic premise is for first-, second-, or third-generation Haitians to travel to the country during their junior or senior year of college, or after graduation. The in-the-trenches work ranges from teaching computer skills to planting trees.

One conference speaker likened the role of young Haitians going to Haiti to the rite-of-passage trip many young Jews take to Israel. The reason: It’s a chance to do good, to forge meaningful ties with culture and community.

“This is an opportunity to create bonds that are not artificial bonds, that are not familial bonds,” said David Elcott, a professor of public service at New York University.

At the diaspora conference, Elcott urged Haitian parents outside the country to encourage their children to volunteer in Haiti. The work, Elcott noted, is in keeping with President Barack Obama’s inaugural call for public service.

Opportunities to visit Haiti are likely to increase now that the United States has downgraded its travel advisory to the country. It no longer advises against nonessential travel.

Robert Maguire, an international affairs professor at Trinity Washington University in Washington, D.C., has worked on the idea for the past seven or eight years, though political unrest in Haiti had thwarted progress.

Development in Haiti rests heavily on building the health and education systems, Maguire said, and so the diaspora is ideally suited for teaching, in part, because of its knowledge of Creole.

Maguire has passed the idea on to State Department officials.

“The U.S. authorities are certainly aware of this,” said Maguire, an expert on Haiti. “I introduced the idea as a kind of mechanism that would facilitate productive engagement of Haitian youth.”

A spokeswoman from the State Department said that the agency has received the proposal and looks forward to discussing it soon with Maguire.

Maguire and other advocates of such ties say the benefits of a diaspora connection are countless.

Carolyn Rose-Avila, a former Peace Corps volunteer and director, has helped draft a proposal for a diaspora youth program, which she said would help fill a void since the Peace Corps no longer operates in Haiti.

The Peace Corps suspended its Haiti program in June 2005 because of security concerns and shut down entirely in April 2006. It is not clear when or if it will resume work in Haiti; a Peace Corps spokeswoman said the agency has not received an invitation from the Haitian government to reestablish a program.

Its absence moved Rose-Avila to consider the Haiti Volunteers in Education Corps. Young people, she said, view the country without cynicism.

“I was driven by the fact that the Peace Corps was no longer in the country,” said Rose-Avila, a board member with the Favaca volunteer nonprofit and its former executive director. “Since [the Peace Corps] is not in Haiti, I thought it was a major disconnect. Young people tend to work in a different space — they don’t try to know all the answers. They don’t come in thinking Haiti’s a `basket case,’ but that it presents a wonderful experience.”

Along with a few colleagues, Rose-Avila hammered out a program sketch, which would require $1 million to start. The project would target college students or recent graduates as volunteers to help teach computer skills, environmental conservation, math, reading and English for at least one semester.

Axelle Latortue is among those interested in creating a youth program. The 27-year-old daughter of Haiti’s Miami Consul General, Ralph Latortue, she sees the diaspora’s involvement as instrumental to Haiti’s development.

“You have people not as politically engaged or politically polarized as the older generation,” Latortue said. “They come with creativity in approaching Haiti’s problems.”


She steps fwd.

Reaches with her right,

while she makes eye contact,

They always like that.


She seen it on TV,

Read about it books,

So she steps fwd,

Reaches for her fixation.


Plays with her thoughts,

Runs through that familiar feeling,

The first time, and every time.


She’s nervous,

Steadies her nerves,

Enjoys the moment,

Makes eye contact,

Because they always love that.


These are the words

that the pages can’t express,

The knowledge, only gain through pract. app.

She is vulnerable,



Enjoying her moment.


Her thoughts moistened her tongue,

She sucks the soul out the room,

Applies for the job.


She makes eye contact.


She knows they like that.


Her tongue expresses fantasies,

She is vulnerable,

She melts into her groove,

She sucks the life out the room,

Fixated on her goal,


They love that $hit.


She reaches,

Grips with her right,

And pulls it closer.

Fixated and enjoying the moment.


She climaxes,

Shares her vulnerability on the mic,

Expressing words that pages couldn’t hold,

sharing her story,

She makes eye contact.


They snap cuz they love that shit.

She smiles cuz I like that sssshhhhh.


*Ode to the Lyricist.

The storyteller.

The liar

The lifelong friend.



Journal entry #37

Well all my machinations have finally come full circle. Sigh of relief. Starting March 1st 2017, I can officially say that my net worth is equal to a Fat “0”.

Going from -$100k to ZERO was the struggle. But I learned loads of lessons. So much of my brain power went to solving epic riddle. Like rotating a cube that keeps changing its featutes. Many ideas came to mind. I made it a game;

  • Playable character, complete with skill sets.
  • Random dialogues and multiple side quests.
  • So many features, so many plotlines… so many NPCs.
  • Mini Bosses, Mini games, overall quests,
  • So much Spam and Junk Mail..

Phrases that helped me break the societal Gengutsu;

  • “That’s just Prime” (Optimus Primal, Beastwars)
  • “Rolling the Hard Six” (Battlestar Gallactica)
  • “Semper Fi”, “Having the Moral Courage”, “Once more into the Breach” (Marines)
  • “Don’t argue the free throw line”, “One more turn at the screw” (my own)
  • “Can’t see the Forest for the Trees” (Tom Cruise, Max Reacher)
  • Think (MLK)
  • My fav, “the climb” (Game of Thrones)

Next machinations will lead to $250k in 4 years. I’ve heard everyone saying it’s impossible. I let them believe in their matrix. Student loan debt free in 8 years. Dem or Rep, I don’t give a @!#%. It’s a game. There are rules, levels, and distractions.

My end game. Originally it was to save ….. @#$% that, these folks don’t want to be saved. Besides I don’t have the power of persuasion to help them. I guess they will be alright… or not.

Well when i close out, catch me in a villa in Brazil or somewhere international.



She said treat her like fire,

Curious to the touch,

She is life and death,

She burns,

Leveling fields,

Falling into ashes,

She said treat her like fire…

Swallow her whole,

and breathe her essence into the world,

Watch as they gaze in amazement,

While you extend to give her, room.

She dances,

Surrounded by flares of gold,

Edges of rubby,

Rendering cold nights warm against her flesh,

Inspiring passion.

She is lust that flirts with the wind,

healing open wounds,

Running through threads,

She gives birth to death,

She said treat her like fire…

To be careful with her heart,

To breathe air so that she nourishes life,

So that she blooms,

Igniting embers of energy,

Bringing sight,

Depth to the shallows,

Perception to reality.

She said treat her like fire;

She can burn,

But she would rather love.

To be cared for,

so her spark doesn’t fade through the long night.  



Snaps, smudges and fingers

Technical skills,

with surgical precision.


In a car, on a train, in any mirror.  


Every reflection,

Showcases deep insecurities,

Superficially inflated egos,

Facades and personas.


Tears every night.


Cash, check, gift cards,

Tradeoffs for


Matted skin,

Covered pores,


Blended techniques,

Dramatic Shadows at 7 am.


How do you appreciate what you have if you never learned to love it back when…


Constantly competing,

Scared to be alone.

Gotta be bad and bougie,

Got to be prim and proper,

Serious but not angry,

Supporting but not resentful…


Independent but not lonely.


Layers and layers of Dos and Don’ts,

Matted textures,

False lashes,


Slimming shades,



To capture the eye and affection of friends,

To capture the heart of lovers,

To capture the attention of the one.


You do all this,

Until you say I do,

While for him,

you could have been anyone.


For him,

you could have been just another one…


How Cruel are we as men,

To strip women of the effort,

Expose them, display their naked skin,

To fault them for what they are not,

Pick out the pieces that they have,

Highlight what they don’t,

To miss who they really are,

How cruel are we to be this carefree…


To judge endlessly.

Missing the effort,

Missing the broken heart of

Matted skin,

Rosy blush,


Lash effects,

and covered souls.




Sorry about the missed calls. 

Somewhere along the way I didn’t pick up…

In truth, I didn’t want to pick up.

Or I didn’t have anything to say…

So I let it ring…


I let it go to voicemail a few times,

I let it go until I didn’t receive any more calls,

Until there were no more voice messages to sift through.

No more awkward conversations.

No more pauses.

So I’m sorry that I couldn’t pick up.

I miss your voice.

The excitement.

The energy. I was always elated when you picked up. You always wanted me to share so much… so many details.

So many layers, so much joy.

So much more…

I got the gig,

And a tuxedo.

Real james bond type stuff.

Still need to learn how to tie a bowtie.


I got the house.

Yes, I was able to finally get the bachelor pad. It’s nice, hardwood floors and a fireplace.

You would have loved it.

I’m living the life you always wanted for me.

I can finally afford, the little things.

Even got a chance to go to Brazil.


I was talking about it for so long.

But I held my promise.

You would of loved it so much.


I always wanted to go with you.

Travel the edges of the world.

Maybe even rented the castle airbnb in Europe aka the Chateau.

I wonder if you fly there on a whim now.

I wonder if you’re happy.

I wonder about a lot of things…

But I’m happier now…


I couldn’t pick up anymore.

I ran out of words.

My memories were choking me.

I ran out of breath.


But I’m happier now…

I met someone.

Well I think I did.

Here’s hoping she thinks of me in the same way.

Can’t put the cart ahead of the horse.

But she seems nice. Churchy.

But into financial literacy,

maybe she is the type of girl for me.


I’m sorry I couldn’t pick up anymore.

I simply ran out of words.

I needed to move on.

I needed to forget.

I needed to remember who I was.

I needed to forgive.

I needed to heal.

I needed this feeling…


…. So long ago

And forever to go.


*Letters to a ghost, part 3