Invisible History: The African Spirit in Latin America

On view September 19 – December 15, 2012
Main Library, Second Floor Gallery
Curated by Ingrid Betancourt

1873-1973, Augusto Marin. Special Collections Division, NPL.

Approximately eleven million Africans survived the brutal journey to the New World during the Middle Passage, but only about 450,000 of them arrived in the United States. The rest—over ten and a half million—were taken to the Caribbean and Latin America. This exhibit explores the unknown history and deep-seated influence of Africa’s people in Central and South America and Mexico, areas of Latin America not commonly associated with a strong African presence.

Invisible History: The African Spirit in Latin America chronicles the presence and contributions of little–known figures such as Vicente Guerrero, who became North America’s first president of African ancestry 183 years ago, and abolished slavery in Mexico in 1829; it examines the theories of a pre–Columbian African presence in Mesoamerica based on the facial features of Olmec colossal stone heads dating back to 1500–1000 BC; it features the story of the young Peruvian boy who became, St. Martín de Porres, the first black saint in the Americas; and traces the African presence and legacy in Colombia, Ecuador, Honduras, Guatemala, Venezuela, Peru and Mexico from colonial times to the present.

Also on display is a selection of prints from the Newark Public Library’s Special Collections Division that celebrate African iconography in Latin America. The majority of the prints and limited–edition signed posters are by leading graphic artists in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean.

The Newark Public Library is located at 5 Washington Street on Washington Park in downtown Newark’s growing cultural complex. The exhibition is open during regular library hours, Monday through Saturday, with free admission. Group visits and more details are readily available by calling the Sala Hispanoamericana at the Library: 973–733–7772.

Opening Reception
Wednesday, September 19, 6:00pm – 8:00pm
Centennial Hall

The opening of the 2012 Hispanic Heritage Celebration will feature a talk by Dr. Samuel Cruz, Associate Professor of Religion and Society at the Union Theological Seminary, titled “Africa in the Americas: Doing Justice to the Black South Atlantic.” The evening’s festivities will include a performance of traditional Afro–Peruvian music and dance.
Centro Académico de Expresión Afro–Peruana

Dance performance /
¡Festejo! Afro-Peruvian Dance
Saturday, September 29, 2:00pm
Centennial Hall
Historically neglected until fairly recently, Afro–Peruvian music began to experience a revival in popularity during the latter part of the 20th century. It incorporates a wide variety of Spanish, African and indigenous elements, rhythms, dances and instruments. The Centro Academico de Expresion Afro-Peruana (CADEAP) presents a lively performance of this little–known genre of Peruvian music and dance. CADEAP’s mission is to reclaim the history and culture of Afro–Peruvians.
Concert / lecture demonstration
The History of Salsa: 350 Years of African Influence
Saturday, October 13, 2:00pm
Centennial Hall

Instruments used in a Currulao (Colombian–African music) ensemble

José Obando traces the development of this unique Latin American rhythm from its African roots through the slave trade to the Latin American colonies and into contemporary American ethno–musical culture. Mr. Obando’s talk incorporates geography, history, anthropology, ethnomusicology, religion and African studies. José Obando is one of the incorporators of the Salsa Museum in Spanish Harlem and its former executive director. The program includes a lecture demonstration and musical performances by Mr. Obando and his musical group. Dancing is highly encouraged.
Lecture / Afro–Mexico: The Untold Story
Saturday, October 20, 2:00pm

Herman Bennett, renowned scholar on the history of the African diaspora in Latin America, will examine the role that African slaves and freedmen played in Mexican society during the colonial period using narratives and real-life accounts. This talk, based on Dr. Bennett’s essay “Sex, Lies, and Incest: The Afro-Mexican Experience,” explores the interaction between Native American, Europeans and Africans in colonial Mexico and will discuss the effects on the identity of present–day Mexico.

Print by José Alicea, Special Collections Division, NPL

Lecture / Roots, Ritual & Rhythm: African Belief Systems in Latin America
Saturday, October 27, 2:00pm
In the US, African belief systems were generally rejected as primitive and barbaric, but in Latin America and the Caribbean they gradually amalgamated with the sacred and secular expressions of the culture. Dr. Samuel Cruz, Associate Professor of Religion and Society at the Union Theological Seminary, will discuss how traditional African belief systems and practices have influenced religion and culture in Latin America.


Latino Oral History: Justice
Wednesday, October 24, 6:00pm
Centennial Hall

The New Jersey Hispanic Research and Information Center at the Newark Public Library launches the Latino Oral History: Justice website, which features interviews of New Jersey Latinos with distinct perspectives on “justice.” Keynote speaker, Juan Cartagena, President and General Counsel of LatinoJustice PRLDEF, will discuss the Latino community’s long history of community service and engagement on issues of civil rights, justice and the search for equal treatment for all.

Book Presentation / Cubans in New Jersey: Migrants Tell Their Stories
Saturday, December 1, 2:00pm
Centennial Hall

New Jersey is home to the second–largest Cuban community in the country. In this study Milagros Castillo-Montoya, Doctoral Candidate at Columbia University, presents a carefully researched social history of this vibrant immigrant group, enriched with the words and vignettes of the people who actually lived the experience of dislocation and adjustment, while creating meaningful new lives in New Jersey. Published by the Newark Public Library, this book is the first in a series exploring the Latino immigrant experience, being developed by the NJ Hispanic Research and Information Center.

All programs are free and open to the general public. For additional information, please call 973–733–7772 (Sala Hispanoamericana) or email

This year’s Hispanic Heritage Celebration is made possible in part by funds from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Department of State, a Partner Agency of the National Endowment for the Arts and administered by the Essex County Division of Cultural and Historic Affairs.