Saturday, June 26, 2010

Nomad in Las Vegas

The Nomads have arrived in Las Vegas, Nevada. It took us a long ride through some of the most beautiful scenery one can imagine. Beautifully diverse as well, although the road through Nevada didn't show much of the expected desert views.

From Flagstaff on we had some of the best historic Route 66 landscapes and just before reaching Las Vegas city limits we arrived at Hoover Dam for a quick pit stop. Unexpectedly we bumped into our family there and I could not help myself from singing: "It's a small world after all..." After some typically disgusting Cafe Americano (explaining a lot of the success of Starbucks) and animated conversation with my best man and upcoming parents in law we rode off to Las Vegas, city of sin and wedding chapels, the latter being of particular interest.

A short ride further we were at the office for wedding licenses in Las Vegas and with only our passports and the code of our online application we were able to leave with the desired document, a mere 15 minutes and 60 dollars later. The other couples there consisted of 2 American and 1 European 'spur of the moment' couples, as well as a foreign Asian couple with their parents. In our slightly more prepared line (the ones with online application codes) there was 1 couple in front of us consisting of a white american guy and a foreign black girl (that could hardly speak any English), and behind us an African American couple from New York.

The sign inside the office was well worth taking a picture of, the wedding chapel sales persons outside not so much.

It was a matter of days now before 2 Nomads would be united. They say whatever happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. Well not in our case.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Nomad in the Navajo Nation

The Nomads have arrived on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona for what was to be their most impressive experience to date. The Navajo or better said the Dines people have the largest reservation in the country. 350.000 Navajo remain on an area larger than our home country.

The first night we stay in the Quality Inn motel in Window Rock, capital of the Navajo nation. When we check in they ask us about our tribal affiliation. The next day we were on horseback riding through the amazing Canyon de Chelly and cruising our Chevy through the rez until we witnessed the most enchanting sunset. The following morning we woke up early not to miss a single minute of an equally amazing sun rise from our room at the View Hotel in Monument Valley

Booze and blues on the Rez.

Riding through the canyon on horseback makes time slip by in a pace that is unlike any other. We seem to move in an age old rhythm and a speed determined by the original horsepower of 1. Time is told by watching the descending sun and conversation is paused and continued over minutes that could very well be hours. Our guide James, an old rodeo rider, showed us many of the holy places and told tails of the ancient Anasazi ones. James started riding rodeo as a talented 17 year old one. Unfortunately his passion left him with wounded knees and much older now he works as a horse tour guide. James has the Red Man's Blues, ever since he found his wife running around with another fellow, after he came back from a rodeo tournament 8 years ago. But he doesn't sing his Blues on Mississippi born chords, but in ancient American Indian chants.
James still drinks a lot nowadays but the blues isn't washed away that easily. He candidly tells me he just got of a drinking spree, but isn't planning to fall off the wagon soon. He wishes me a nice wedding and a happy marriage though. Conversation pauses... and continues. Not without a hint of bitterness he adds, "Hope Peggy Sue don't back stab you." I don't think James will join the ranks of teetotalers soon. His cousin Justin owns the ranch we got on our horses Dynamite and Sherman and its clear to me how family supports each other on the Rez. I ask him if he found a new woman yet. But he replies with: "Nothing serious" and starts to tell with Navajo machismo about this white woman who went out for a long camping ride with him a few years back and after 3 days proposed to him. James was puzzled how someone could think she knew somebody after only 3 days and he told her that it was much too soon for these things. Of course this was only 5 years after he got divorced.

Unhurried by the ticking of a conventional clock we slowly trail back to the ranch. My fellow nomad softly starts singing an improvised melody. James starts humming a Navajo chant and suddenly wonders which tribe we're from. "A tribe from far far away.", I answer. Conversation pauses... and continues. I speak of Island Indians from across the ocean, tribal affiliations and old 'adat'. James agrees that it is often hard, especially for the young ones, to stay in touch with their old ways. We start breaking our identities down from nation to tribe and tribe to clan. He takes it one step further to the actual place he was born, when we turn a canyon corner and conversation pauses...

In the far distance 4 very small silhouettes on horseback are leisurely riding into our direction. I can hardly make them out, but immediately know they are Indian. Even at this distance without really seeing them, something in the natural demeanor of these 4 lean riders clearly tells me their Native American. Slowly our 2 parties approach each other. Gradually I can make out 4 young kids, no older than 16, on unsaddled ponies. Their long hair is blowing in the warm canyon wind and one of them is sitting cross legged on his horse. Just before our paths cross and just in time for James to be able to answer, they ask him if he had seen 'Blue Eyes'. When they pass us by conversation continues. James tells me Blue Eyes is a horse. "A wild horse?", I ask. "No just not broken yet."        
Love on the Rez isn't always as pretty as the natural beauty surrounding it, I think, when back at the rangers station I ask a young female Navajo ranger if the tattoo on her ring finger is a wedding symbol. She answers, "Yes, but he ran off." She smiles when I say it is still a nice tattoo. There is still much hardship on the Rez and challenges sometimes include environmental awareness and waste disposal habits. But it is also clear these people retain undeniable pride in their traditions and heritage. As always its about finding the right balance between modernity and tradition. A struggle universal to all native peoples I will meet in my nomadic travels.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Nomad at the Red Earth Festival

The Nomads have attended the 3 day Red Earth Festival, the Grand Pow Wow at Okla City in Oklahoma, USA. This annual Native American cultural event is the largest of its' kind in the world, with a history dating back to 1978. Its' mission to promote, educate and celebrate the rich traditions of American Indian arts. This highly respected inter-tribal event showcases the vibrant culture of the native american nations to both its' own community, as well as to the world.

The name chosen to promote the event and its' profile as a festival clearly focuses on its cultural mission, by which it differentiates itself from the many tribal Pow Wows held throughout the year and throughout the country. The location of Okla city, the capital of the state Oklahoma, is also not a random choice for a large inter-tribal event. Oklahoma was once known as designated Indian Country. The region where all native tribes east of the Mississippi river were forcefully moved to in the early 19th century. End station of the infamous trail of tears. Today its the state with the largest number of Native American Nations.

Although a community of displaced peoples, with many different tribal affiliations the American Indians here have been united in their resilience to resist forced assimilation into white society. Today the transfer of traditions by teaching ancient native american knowledge and skills to new generations has instilled the young with a much needed sense of pride. There are many social problems still facing the American Indian today, but as far as they are rooted in a crisis of identity, this cultural event and the ones like it help give new generations a foundation of communal pride.

Centuries of attempts to break the will of the Native American have left their scars on his soul. But seeing grandfathers teaching grandsons the old traditions of dance, song and drums and the enthusiasm in which second, third and fourth generations apply their learnings together gives a nomad much hope and vision for the future of all peoples.

Isn't there a great annual festival in the city of The Hague that is searching to transform nostalgia into the transfer and re-invention of its' own cultural heritage? Grooming their next generations to become involved in the evolution? Did not that same festival change its name from Pasar Malam Besar to Tong Tong Fair and Festival, to differentiate itself from the many Pasar Malam Pow Wows around the country and throughout the year?

While the Red Earth Festival can certainly learn from the Tong Tong Festival how to work its culinary culture. The Tong Tong Festival might learn from the Red Earth Festival how to align and unite the different generations in common activity.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Nomad in Oklahoma

The nomads have arrived in true Indian country. Oklahoma, the Native America state, lives up to its' name. Crossing the state border the first big place we drive by is Sallisaw, located in the rolling green hills of Cherokee country. Billboards invite us to visit the Cherokee Heritage Center and National Museum and of course the Cherokee Casino... On our way west to Oklahoma city on Highway 40 we pass several native nations, including the Creek (Muskogee), the Shawnee and my fellow Nomad's favourite the Kickapoo, all of which are trying to generate income from their Casinos.

When we stop for gas and I get out to pay, just before I walk through the door of the petrol station I realise I am actually going to see my first real live Native American. In a split second I suddenly become very conscious of the fact that from a lifetime of fascination and even identification with the world of the American Indian and all the indirect exposure I had to it from film and literature this was the moment I would really stand eye to eye with one. From the other side of the door I see the silhouette of a tall Indian coming out of the shop. I slow down my pace. The door opens. The man steps out. I stop to let him pass. His eyes briefly meet mine and he gives me a nod with his head.

One thing I would learn this week is that the Native Americans and their culture are very much alive and kicking. They are not characters from a story book and certainly not the cliches of Hollywood films. They are not relics from a bygone era or a chapter in a history book. Not the wild primitive nor the noble savage. They are a vibrant and proud people overcoming the hardship of generations, making their way into what we tend to call modernity without loosing their grip on their traditions.

Most Native American nations are located in the state of Oklahoma. The sad fact of the matter is that most nations do not originate from Oklahoma, but became displaced peoples when they were forced to move here after the American government passed the infamous Indian Removal Act of 1830. This Trail of Tears will remain one of the darkest pages in Americas history. One third of the Cherokee nation perished and an American soldier involved in the removal put it like this: "I fought through the Civil War and saw many men shot, but this is the cruelest work I ever knew."

Tomorrow Nomads will witness the Grand Pow Wow called the Red Earth Festival in Oklahoma City and see for ourselves how resilient a people can resist forced assimilation.

Nomad in Arkansas

The Nomads have arrived in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Home of Bill Clinton and jewel of the Natural State. We originally planned to stay in Little Rock, a couple of hours from Memphis. The city's name appealed to me because of it's place in the history of the USA's civil rights struggle. But the ride went smoothly and Arkansas is actually just a bridge over the Mississippi river away from Memphis, Tennessee. Our energy levels were still up by the time we reached Little Rock, so we decided to drive on to Hot Springs and... take the scenic route.

A good choice as it turned out. The state of Arkansas is indeed a real natural beauty and every little stop you make or side road you take brings you to someplace pretty. Once we rode into town just a quick browse through our 'Lonely Planet USA' book convinced us which motel to look for. When we arrived at the Alpine Inn motel the owners greeting us did not sound very Southern. In fact they sounded surprisingly Scottish.

Once we made our acquaintance with Lesley and her husband Eric, the Scottish couple now (a little over a year) running the motel, we checked into the comfortable, spacious and newly refurnished room and were invited to take a dive in the motels pool. Floating in the pool and gazing at the star lit Arkansas sky it did not seem too far fetched that a Scottish couple decided to cut out their own little slice of heaven here.

As it turned out they have lived in the USA (Texas) for many years and their daughter in fact grew up here. She has now returned to Scotland to attend the University of Glasgow. Although the USA is quite broad minded about citizens having dual nationalities (while back home our country's drift to the political right wing has made the issue of having 2 passports an increasingly contentious subject), upon her last visit to her parents in the States, American customs officials were puzzled about the fact that a permanent resident of the USA in fact lived abroad.

It was funny to hear that for Europeans, be it permanent residents or visitors like ourselves, the same things 'Americana' still amaze us. Easy gun permits and (openly) carrying weapons being one of those things and widespread fast food obesity being another. Michael Moore, that tenacious critic of America's dark side, would probably agree with Eric's observation that the South's celebrated hospitality and politeness might very well be based on fear for your neighbours' loaded handgun.

On the other hand there are also many attributes to what make up America's cultural and social texture that are rooted in the many European Diasporas that ended up in this famed land of opportunity. The explorers that first went fact finding in Hot Springs, Arkansas were in fact Scottish and to this day you will find considerable German influences in Arkansas as well. Unsurprisingly most noticed in its' kitchen.

Isn't in the Netherlands the kitchen also that one last uniting and most profiled cultural element of that astoundingly well assimilated immigrant group called Indo-Europeans?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Nomad in Graceland

The Nomads arrived in Graceland to pay homage to the King of Rock and Roll. At the crib and grave of Elvis his awesome musical power still resonates.

The legend still continues. His heritage still alive.


After completing our road trip and reaching the West Coast I wrote the following lyrics in Los Angeles:

"Riding up to Graceland, bringing flowers to the King. When you stand there in silence, you can almost hear him sing..."

Check out the whole song I recorded in Santa Monica on Myspace.

It is called "A Nomad is Free".

Nomad in Memphis

The nomads have arrived in musical Memphis, Tennessee. The magical melting pot of Blues and Country. The birthplace of Rock and Roll. But also known as Soul ville. That Urban City that became the fertile grounds for the Roots. The roots of the worlds most powerful mixed race music. The meeting place where black and white music culture started their longlasting love affair. They had it out. First slugged it out. Or perhaps just made out. But in any case it did become hot and sweaty, funky and sexy, smelly and sweet. Preacher preach: Oh deliver to us that wonder that changed the world forever! Or alternatively worded : Rock n Roll, man!

Yes, yes I am talking about Memphis Tennessee. A place permanently bustling with creativity. From its' old legendary recording studios and its' music museums to the Royal Palace Graceland and the Gibson factory, Memphis is full of amazing musical attractions. And of course the actual live music of jam session littered Beale street. Lets not forget that. No, no, not that.

The Blues originated in the Mississippi Delta, but found a warm home in Memphis, before it left cotton country and moved even further north to Chicago to electrify its' sound. The strong Blues tradition to the south of Memphis and the strong Country and Western tradition to the North (Nashville) magically merged in this wondrous spot along the Old Man River.

This attracted an ocean of artists of which Mississippi born Elvis became the most influential one. He not only personified, but even embodied the fusion of black and white music called Rock and Roll and became its greatest ambassador. The legendary King of Rock and Roll. But also the King of the Blues, Mississippi born, B.B.King found his artistic home here.

Other musical nobility include the likes of Albert King and even Isaac Hayes, also prolifically baptized Black Moses. All iconic Memphis residents. Lest I forget, I must mention the queens: Aretha Franklin and Mavis Staple. Unsurprisingly the Memphis music scene also spawned legendary recording studios like the Sun Studio and Stax Studio.

A succer for nostalgia... at the Sun Studio we actually recorded 2 songs in honour of all these legendary talents that recorded there in the mythical past. Standing in the spot. Magnetic. Touching the mic Elvis growled in. Irresistible. I have a typical 'Thinking of the Tardis' moment and than enthousiastically burst out into belting a Presley classic. "Not bad.", the recording lady says afterwards. "Really?", I ask. "Better than what we usually get.", she replies. "This is encouraging news.", I smile.

We also purchased an amazing cd (Million Dollar Quartet) I highly recommend to any real music lover: Sun Studio jam session (by Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl 'Blue Suede Shoes' Perkins and Johny Cash). This record became our road trip's soundtrack. We could not listen to these epic jamsessions without repeatedly being astonished by Jerry Lee and Elvis competing in who could vocally relish more in some very spiritual down south gospel. Delicious treats for your eardrums.

Now to taste all these wonderful flavours I tried to describe above, Nomads just had to leave Lonely street and take a stroll down Beale street by night. Something we did frequently. But tomorrow what else could our first order of business be... but to pledge allegiance to the King?


Sunday, June 13, 2010

Nomad in Mississippi

Driving up the Blues Trail on Highway 61, along the great Mississippi river, the Nomads have arrived at the Ground Zero of the Blues, Clarksdale. Time to pay homage to the old masters and creators of that ol' Blues Music.
Walking in the summer heat of the Mississippi Delta, mosquitoes buzzin' all around, I'm finding appreciation why this old cotton picking country became the birthplace of the Blues. Today the state of Mississippi is still one of the poorest places in the USA. However there does not seem to be much racial segregation here anymore. In fact one graffiti on a wall said: "Ain't no Black or White here, just poor folk."

One early night driving up to Clarksdale we pit stop in a very small Mississippi town. My fellow Nomad goes into a little road cafe for a sanitary stop. When she returns to our car she smiles and says: "All the girls in the shop were looking at me funny." Only then we start to notice this place here was a 100% all black town, which even with our dark complexion made us stand out. Although we have often been to all black neighbourhoods in the big city, this was a little different. When we cruise through the residential area in the simmering summer heat  I was fascinated by the fact that the scenes of folks sitting and chatting on the veranda and girls braiding each others hair was more reminiscent of traditional tribal villages I had visited in East Indonesia, than anything else we've seen before of 21st century USA.         

One way of pulling visitors to this state is by capitalising on its' rich musical heritage. It's one of its prodigal native sons that has returned home (since the passing of his father) that has taken a lead in bringing visitors to Mississippi. Morgan Freeman himself has opened a Blues Club in the middle of downtown Clarksdale. Above the club there are studios for rent and that's exactly where were staying.
It's our ground zero from where we intend to explore Blues country. Our very first night we got lucky and found both the blues in the club downstairs, as well as an upgrade to Morgans Room upstairs. Downstairs a local Blues cat named Kid was playing his ass off. He said: "This is what my granpa thought me.." and broke out with a groovy Blues tune I had never heard before.

Tomorrow a Nomad just has to find that crossroad...

The Crossroad
The fabled crossroad where Blues legend Robert Johnson (1911-1938) sold his soul to the Devil for the gift of unrivaled musical mastery is supposed to be where highway 61 and 49 meet. The crossroad of these modern highways is located just off Clarksdale and many Blues aficionado travel there to find that legendary spot. Now the fact of the matter is that the new highways are not the old ones from Robert Johnson's time and the original roads are to be found elsewhere. The more inquisitive Blues aficionados go there. Of course as it turns out there is no such crossroad. When we meet Clarksdale's last surviving knowledge owner of the era at the equally legendary Riverside Hotel he tells us it's just a song steeped in mystical and mythological meaning.

I went to the crossroads, fell down on my knees
I went to the crossroads, fell down on my knees
Asked the Lord above, have mercy now,
Save poor Bob if you please

Standin' at the crossroads, tried to flag a ride
Whee-hee, I tried to flag a ride
Didn't nobody seem to know me, everybody pass me by

Standin' at the crossroads, risin' sun goin' down
Standin' at the crossroads baby, the risin' sun goin' down
I believe to my soul now, po' Bob is sinkin' down

Notwithstanding other equally anguished Robert Johnson songs like 'Me and the Devil', it is more likely po'Bob was describing the despair of walking unfamiliar roads at sun down and the not unimaginable fear of a lynching party.

The Riverside Hotel
When we met Rat the friendly proprietor of the Riverside hotel I clung to his every word, when he started telling tales of a bygone Blues era. His grandmother once managed the Riverside hotel and as a child he had witnesses much of the musical ongoings of the Blues patrons staying at this historic hotel. Stimulated by my sincere interest in the hotels history he starts showing me the rooms and shares their remarkable stories. Many legendary musicians like for instance Howling Wolf had their own rooms in the hotel and Rat tells me they also jammed and wrote music there. Clarksdale resident Ike Turner even composed and recorded the demo for the song 'Rocket 88' in it's basement studio creating Rock & Roll history.

Clarksdale is located on the route from Mississippi to Tenessee and as the town's only black hotel in the old segregated South it was the place where most Blues artists stayed on their way North (or back South). Before it was turned into a hotel it was actually Clarksdale's black hospital and Rat shows me the actual room where Blues Empress Bessy Smith passed away after her car accident. Rat keeps the old hotel in an authentic state and the rooms are refurnished, but still have much of the old furniture. It felt like I was getting a museum tour, but Rat is quick to emphasise that he's operating an actual hotel and all rooms, including the Bessy Smith room, can be booked.

From the outside the hotel and the 'shabby' cabins next to it look like picture perfect remnants of the historic Blues age. However when Rat shows me the inside of the 'shabby cabins' I find totally refurbished and air-conditioned rooms. He tells me he is slightly disappointed many visitors believe his hotel is just a historic site or museum. I reply by saying that he should defintely keep the authentic look and not turn into some Blues Disney land. Rat doesn't maintain a fancy website and whatever is online is made by befriended visitors. When we leave I ask him where his visitors mostly come from and he shows me his guestbook with many European names.

Tomorrow we will drive on to Memphis, but a Nomad knows where he's going to stay next time he's in Clarksdale.   

Friday, June 11, 2010

Nomad in New Orleans

The Nomads have come home! We have arrived in legendary and indestructible New Orleans. Home of the Mardi Gras. Birthplace of the Jazz. Where there's always music in the air. A melody might whisper in the distance, a trumpet may blow in the wind. Everywhere you roam you will find musicality grounded in old rhythms and roots. A childhoods fascination with the syncopated soul of this city finally turns into an encounter with the creative energy that to this day is still unsurpassed by any rival music scene around. Humming a Satchmo solo I stroll from the bright lights of the French Quarter down to the free style jams on Frenchmen street and I feel like a king. A King Creole. So how can this place not feel like home?

From the first moment we hit the scene I already felt like a funky fish in groovy waters. I meet and greet. But most of all am magically greeted like a long lost friend. My fellow Nomad wonders how everybody seems to know me and I guess I must have been living a parallel life here in some dream time universe. Or perhaps there's a twin around somewhere. In any case at some point I simply feel like I've never lived anywhere else and this must be my home town. Funny how the music and sounds I have always adored seem so omnipresent here that it makes a Nomads travel appear like a hip shaking King Creole's home coming.

If it is music you love than New Orleans must be in your itinerary.
This stop of my musical pilgrimage allowed me to touch the holy ground of Congo Square where Jazz was born and a Nomad still has the square's pebbles to commemorate the occasion.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Nomad in Alabama

Sweet Home Alabama.

The nomads have arrived in the port city of Mobile (pronounced Mobeel), Alabama. Driving down Government street it is easy to see pieces of old southern splendour. The wide avenue is shaded by a big tree canopy and the mansions alongside it still bear witness to plantation wealth. The old historic district has a New Orleans kind of appeal, in fact it hosts the oldest Mardi Gras in the country, but overall it’s much cleaner and tuned down. At first glance it is hard to imagine that this place and neighbouring Selma and Birmingham were once the scene of bitter racial tension.

However already during the American civil war Alabama was the first southern state to cede from the USA to retain its’ right to continue slavery. Over 25.000 confederate Alabama soldiers perished and it’s reconstruction after the war was long and painful. After the abolishment of slavery Jim Crow’s racial segregation continued and the heaviest fights of the civil rights movement in the 50s and 60s were right here. Still ill willed towards a central government the rebellious southerners stubbornly refused to comply to much of the country’s directives and procrastinated efforts to allow their black neighbours equal rights.

The civil rights movement only gained momentum when miss Rosa Parks stood up for her rights in 1955. Or rather she remained seated and refused to give up her seat for a white person on the bus, for which she was consequently arrested. It took until 1965 and the famed march led by Martin Luther King Jr., that ended in a brutal crackdown of the non violent protest, before the Voting Rights Act was signed by the president. Amerikkka had finally defined the truths they held self-evident for so long. Another 45 years later a black president resides in the White House.

So now here we are visiting Obama’s Alabama, an ocean away from the voting concerns back home: Who should be the next prime minister? What’s the right political power balance? What about Wilders? It doesn’t seem so urgent or important. But in fact it is. Politics, democracy, voting rights. These are the things wars have been fought over. In 2010 Democracy in a market driven system has proven to be the only successful way of government and the USA it’s most prominent example.

For the people and by the people. All the people. A country can only be truly strong when it finds unity in diversity. Alabama has come a long way and that makes a Nomad hopeful for the rest of the world.
The South is indeed simply beautiful, without the stench of Strange Fruit that is.

Strange Fruit

Southern trees bear strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black body swinging in the Southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

Pastoral scene of the gallant South,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolia sweet and fresh,
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh!

Here is fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.

Written by Abe Meeropol and performed by Billy Holiday.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Nomad in Miami

Miami, the Cuban Capital of the Americas.

The nomads have arrived in Miami. Sunny South Beach to be precise. 1 street removed from the famous Ocean Drive and 1 block off the shiny white Miami beaches and the Atlantic ocean. We are staying at the old Clay Hotel currently a mix of mid range rooms and a hostel for backpackers. But in older times a fancy place that occupied the likes of Al Capone and springboard to the sins of Batista’s capitalist Cuba. Today Cuba is the last stronghold of the Communist religion and Castro’s private kingdom. The former elite of the Batista era are now all in exile right here in Miami.

What can you say about a US city that thrives on its’ Latin flavours and doesn’t seem to sleep, except for a midday siesta? It has a skyline that rivals New York’s Manhattan, a buzzing business centre, a shopping paradise, a top entertainment industry, including an exhilarating party scene, beautiful beaches and beautiful people to populate them and all of this in a lush tropical setting. But what is most ear- and eye catching is the fact that the city’s first language is Spanish and its inhabitants are mostly Cuban.

When I visited the famed ’Calle Ocho’ (8 Street) in little Havana, it did not strike me as particularly Cuban at all. But that is probably because the whole city is a hybrid of US-Cuban. To be honest it is nothing like the real Havana. That unique city is Cubana to the core, in each sense of smell and sound. And it is easy to understand how the Cuban refugee community, especially the first generation is prone to nostalgia and still sick for home. Old dreams of re-conquering Cuba are still very much alive. But what they did in their Diaspora is in fact the second best thing. They made Miami into a US version Cuba. Different but also appealing.

In all big US cities from the East to the West Coast you can hear Spanish. But usually spoken by the peeps in blue collar jobs, cleaning and serving for Anglo-American segment of society . For 80% of the Miami population the first language is Spanish, the Latinos are in the majority with a significant Cuban segment of almost 40%. This is the one place in the USA where the Latinos are (already) leading society. Here the people being served in the fancy restaurants and having their huge garden sculptured are also Latino. First and second generation Cubanos have build a Latino empire where they have set the norm. Their banks control billions of dollars, generating bigger revenues than many small Latin American nations. American businesses that want to profit here, better speak Spanish to. Heineken commercials are already in Spanish. El dinero habla!

Being a mixed race ranging from Negroid to Caucasian and anything in between, the Cuban Mullato and Mestizo culture more readily adapted to Anglo-American culture. However these mixed people did not assimilate into it, but rather created their own brand of American capitalist culture. The fact that many of the refugees were well educated, government officials and entrepreneurs also contributed to their success. Having a common foe in Castro helped retaining a strong sense of unity in the community. But after the ‘Bay of Pigs’ fiasco they also knew that, at least for the time being, there was no turning back to Cuba possible. El futuro es aqui.

It’s fitting that the avant garde intellectual Tjalie Robinson turned his attention to the USA and the Latin American world to benchmark Indo identity and culture and establish a vision for the future. For whatever that identity is, it is nomad in nature...