The Dominican Republic

Nicolás de Ovando (1460-1518) – A Spanish soldier, Ovando served as the third governor of the Indies from 1502 until 1509 when he was recalled to Spain. In 1502, after economic goals fell short, Ovando ordered the importation of the first African slaves to the Americas.

Indio – A racial classification to describe someone as dark, used in lieu of “black”, which has negative connotations in some cultural circles.

The Brotherhood of the Congos of the Holy Spirit – The Brotherhood is a religion developed by Dominican slave populations that attaches African traditions to Spanish Catholicism. African-derived music plays a central role in its rituals. In 2001, it was recognized as a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

Rafael Trujillo (1891-1961) – Nicknamed El Jefe (The Boss), Trujillo ruled the Dominican Republic from 1930 until his assassination in 1961. During his authoritarian reign, he forged a strong state, straining Dominican and Haitian relations by stressing their supposed racial differences. In 1937, Trujillo sent his troops to kill all Haitians in the northwest of the county, leaving 15,000 Haitians dead.


Creole – A language spoken by Haitians based largely on French, African dialects, Spanish, Taíno, and English. Since 1961 Haitian Creole has been recognized as an official language along with French. An estimated twelve million Haitians living inside and outside the country speak Creole.

Voodoo – A religion developed by African slaves who were brought to Haiti in the 16th century. The complex belief system combines elements of several African religions. Voodoo unified and organized the slave populations in Haiti. It was a voodoo ceremony on August 14, 1791 that marked the beginning of the Haitian revolution.

Jean-Jacques Dessalines (1758-1806) – This former slave-turned-general was a leader of the Haitian Revolution and the first ruler of an independent Haiti. He declared independence on January 1, 1804, and ordered the killing of all Frenchmen on Haiti’s soil to prevent the reinstatement of slavery. Naming himself Emperor Jacques I of Haiti, he ruled the country until his assassination in 1806. ,.

Henri Christophe (1767-1820) – Christophe fought in the American Revolution and was Dessalines’ right-hand man in the war against the French. He was elected President in 1807. As President, he constructed the massive Citadelle Laferriere, the largest fortress in the western hemisphere.

Citadelle Laferriere – The largest fortress in the western hemisphere, the Citadelle was built on top of a 3,000 ft. peak and took 20,000 men to construct. President Henri Christophe built the fortress because he feared the return of the French.

François “Papa Doc” Duvalier (1907-1971) – Duvalier served as Haitian Dictator-President from 1957 until his death in 1971. Despite his despotic rule, the American government backed him, seeing Duvalier as a loyal ally against communism. Many of the country’s best teachers, writers, and intellectuals were forced out during his reign.

Fort Dimanche – Fort Dimanche was a political prison under the dictatorships of François “Papa Doc” Duvalier and his son, Jean-Claude. The prison was nicknamed l’enfer des hommes (hell for humans) and was known for the inhumane treatment prisoners experienced there. Now abandoned, it is surrounded by one of Haiti’s largest slums.


Carlos Manuel de Céspedes (1819-1874) – A Cuban planter, Céspedes launched the Ten Years’ War for Cuban independence. On October 10, 1868, he called all of his slaves to a meeting where he freed them, and then invited them to join the war effort against Spain. He was killed by Spanish troops in 1874.

Antonio Maceo (1845-1896) – Antonio Maceo, often referred to as the “Bronze Titan,” was a prominent military figure during Cuba’s fight for independence from the Spanish. He joined the war for independence in 1868 as a common soldier and was quickly promoted to general. Spain unsuccessfully tried to use Maceo’s race as a black man to divide the movement. He actively fought in the war for independence until his death in 1895. His body was later exhumed in 1900 to study his racial makeup.

USS Maine – In 1898, the USS Maine battleship was sent to Havanna Harbor to protect America’s interests during the final stages of Cuba’s war for independence. On February 15, 1898 the battleship unexpectedly exploded and sank. The U.S. blamed Spain and shortly thereafter the Spanish-American war began. The war lasted only four months with Spain’s defeat. This marked the official end of Cuba’s colonial rule but the United States continued to occupy Cuba long after the war.

Pedro Ivonet – Pedro Ivonet helped found the first black political party – not only in Cuba – but in the entire new world. The Independent Party of Color (Partido Independiente de Color), established in 1908, demanded equal rights for all races. Fearing a black takeover, the party was persecuted by the white Cuban government until they were banned from meeting at all. In 1912, Ivonet staged a revolt. The government retaliated, massacring 3000 party members. Ivonet was killed in 1912 by firing squad.

Son – Black musical style in Cuba developed toward the end of the 19th century. The music combines musical string elements that originated from Spain with percussion styles from Africa. The music was initially played in hiding, but today is celebrated as a uniquely Cuban musical tradition.

Cubanidad – A concept that originated in the 1920s to explain the multicultural and the multicolored people of Cuba

Fulgencio Batista – Fulgencio Batista rose to power after he led a U.S.-backed coup in 1933. He served as leader from 1933-1944 and then again from 1952-1959 until he was overthrown by anti-Batista rebels. He was known as a ruthless and violent leader who murdered an estimated 20,000 people during his time in power. Batista brought large-scale gambling to the country, transforming Havana into the Latin Las Vegas. Batista did nothing to sooth race relations in Cuba and under his rule the economic gap between white and black Cubans widened. Anti-Batista riots began in 1955 and a group of revolutionaries, led by Fidel Castro, ultimately overthrew Batista’s government and pushed the leader out of Cuba.

Battle of Santa Clara – The Battle of Santa Clara began December 28, 1958 and ended the Cuban Revolution with a decisive win for the revolutionaries on January 1, 1959. With his regime toppled, Batista fled the country less than twelve hours after the fall of Santa Clara.

Fidel Castro – Fidel Castro came to power during the anti-Batista riots of the mid-1950s. After Batista’s regime fell and the leader fled the country in 1959, Castro rose to power. Shortly after taking office, Castro put an end to institutional racism, and instituted free health care and education for the people of Cuba. Castro nationalized U.S.-owned companies. The U.S. responded by canceling its sugar contracts leaving the Soviet Union as Cuba’s major economic partner. This dynamic put Cuba in the middle of the Cold War and marked the beginning of continued efforts on the part of the U.S. to remove Castro from power.

CUC – The CUC, or convertible peso, is one of two official currencies used in Cuba. One CUC is worth approximately one dollar, almost 25 times more than Cuba’s other official currency, the Cuban peso (CUP). The CUC is primarily used by foreigners and tourists, making jobs tied to tourism – jobs rarely held by black Cubans – some of the most lucrative on the island.


Church of the São Francisco Church and Convent – A prime example of baroque architecture, the early 18th-century church was built primarily by the slave and free black populations in Salvador, Brazil. Construction began in 1708 and ended in 1723; the elaborate decoration of the church’s golden interior was not completed until the mid-18th-century.

Capoeira – A Brazilian art form that incorporates elements of martial arts and dance, capoeira was created by African slaves in the early 1500s. It served as a way for slaves to organize and develop self-defense techniques without alarming their masters.

Candomblé – An Afro-Brazilian religion steeped in African traditions and worshiped by Brazil’s diverse slave population, candomblé combined traditional Yoruba, Fon, and Bantu beliefs and Roman Catholicism.

Diamantina – Diamantina is a colonial town built in the 1700s to service the diamond mines located outside of the town. During the 18th-century, the city was extremely integrated, with free blacks and whites living together. Diamantina was also home to the famous ex-slave, Chica de Silva.

Chica de Silva – A black slave in 18th-century Brazil, Chica de Silva was ultimately granted her freedom by her master and partner, a well-off white diamond merchant. The couple lived together for fifteen years in the city of Diamantina and had thirteen children. She died one of the wealthiest women in Diamantina. The 1976 feature film, Chica de Silva, stars actress Zezé Motta in the title role.

Sociedade Protetora dos Desvalidos – Also referred to as the Society of the Needy, the Sociedade Protetora dos Desvalidos is one of the oldest Afro-Brazilian organizations. Founded in 1832 by a group of free black men, the organization sought to raise funds in order to purchase the freedom of enslaved blacks.

Branqueamento – Immediately following Brazil’s abolition of slavery in 1888, the nation instituted a racist immigration policy, branqueamento, to encourage white Europeans to move to the country. The government hoped that an influx of whites would ultimately whiten the face of Brazil and its culture.

Manuel Querino (1851-1923) –An Afro-Brazilian intellectual and artist, Querino was incredibly outspoken against racist attitudes in Brazil. He worked as an abolitionist prior to 1888 and vocally opposed the racist immigration policies that were set in place directly following the end of slavery. He argued that the black presence in Brazil is fundamental to the nation’s rich and impressive culture.

Gilberto Freyre (1900-1987) – A white Brazilian sociologist, historian, and anthropologist, Freyre’s most notable work, Masters and Slaves (1933), was a study of the races and cultures in Brazil. His thesis argued that race relations in Brazil were far more fluid and integrated compared to other nations, and that different races were informed and enriched by one another. This seminal text is often credited as a catalyst for changing race perceptions in Brazil.


Port of Veracruz – During the colonial period, the port of Veracruz was Mexico’s main port of entry. Virtually all the merchandise being delivered to Mexico during this time, including African slaves, was unloaded here.

Yanga – Brought to Mexico as a slave in 1570, Yanga led a slave rebellion during early Spanish colonial rule and, after escaping with a band of slaves, settled outside Veracruz. After an unsuccessful campaign to expunge the community of former slaves, the Spanish finally ceded in 1609, offering Yanga and his community of slaves their freedom and land to setup a free territory. Yanga served as governor of the town – widely regarded as the first town founded by free black people in all of the Americas.

Sistema de Castas – Implemented in the early 1500s, the Sistema de Castas was a racial classification system implemented during Spanish-ruled Mexico. It ranked different racial groups, favoring those who were more European. There were over forty different racial classifications. The system was formally abolished in the 1830s, after the independence of Mexico.

Vincente Guerrero (1782-1831) – After Father Miguel Hidalgo was captured and executed by the Spanish, Guerrero became a key leader in Mexico’s struggle for Independence. He quickly rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel and continued to fight until independence was achieved in 1821. After becoming Mexico’s second president in 1830, Guerrero abolished slavery and eliminated racial categories from all government documents.

José Vasconcelos (1882-1959) – José Vasconcelos was a Mexican intellectual and philosopher whose seminal work, Cosmic Race, was published in 1925. The essay argues that the “metizo” or mixed race is superior to all other races.

Memin Peguin – A cartoon character created in the 1940s by the writer Yolanda Vargas Dulché, Memin Penguin is often attacked for its minstrel-like qualities. In 2005, as part of a History of Mexican Comics series, the Mexican Postal Service released a commemorative stamp featuring Memin Peguin.


Susana Baca (1944- ) – A popular, grammy-winning Afro-Peruvian singer, Susana Baca, born and raised outside Lima, has spent years researching Afro-Peruvian music traditions. She has been creating music for over thirty years, with her first release, Poesia y Canto Negro, in 1987.

Señor de los Milagros – Also known as The Lord of the Miracles, this mural depicts Jesus Christ during his crucifixion. It was painted by an unknown Angolan slave in the 17th-century Originally worshiped primarily by Afro-Peruvians, after surviving two earthquakes, the piece is now venerated by Christians nationally and internationally. Every October, hundreds of thousands flock to Lima to celebrate the work in a religious procession.

Pancho Fierro (1807-1879) – A free black man,, Fierro was a painter who created a series of watercolors that depict daily life and customs in 19th-century Peru. His work documents the multiculturalism of Peru, with slaves, free blacks, indigenous peoples, and whites all represented in his work.

Simón Bolívar (1783-1830) – A Venezuelan aristocrat turned military and political leader, Bolivar liberated six Latin American countries from the Spanish. In 1821, along with General José de San Martín, he helped free Peru from Spanish rule. Although Bolivar and San Martin told the Afro-Peruvian slaves that they would end slavery in exchange for their help in the revolution, they did not keep their word. Slavery continued in Peru for another thirty-three years, until Ramon Castilla freed all remaining Afro-Peruvian slaves.

Ramón Castilla (1797-1867) – A military man active in Peru’s fight for independence, Castilla was later elected President of Peru in 1845 and served for six years. During that time, the Peruvian economy expanded, largely thanks to a boom in the guano trade. After a three-year break from office, Castilla served as president again in 1854. On December 3, 1854, during his presidency, an abolition of slavery law was passed.

El Negro Mama – A popular TV character, El Negro Mama is a grotesque and minstrel-like caricature of a black man, played by a white actor in black face. LUNDU, the Center for Afro Peruvian Studies and Advancement, has attacked the character for its racist portrayal and is fighting for El Negro Mama to be taken off Peruvian TV.

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