Field Notes: AfroColombian Communities & Digital Oral History Collection

By Andrea Hayes | May 12, 2014
  • Author: Andrea Hayes
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My friend Qituwra Anderson and I recorded 10 brief accounts of the experiences of Afro-Colombians living in the neighborhood of Nueva Colombia in Barranquilla.  The majority of the residents are descendants of the Palenque community.  This  community is known for residing in  one of the more dangerous areas of the city, but personally, I have never had any problems there.  Actually, being  in Colombia felt like a  second home to me.

While collecting the narratives I was  able to  experience  some  of the barriers  that individuals experience every day in this region; while collecting the narratives. The following includes a list of those difficulties:

1.  Inaccessibility to the Internet: I would say that my friend’s house is one of the few places in her barrio with Wi-Fi access.  Thus, if we were using the online voice recorder it would be very difficult to record them in different locations.  Ultimately, we had to invite people to her house, which means we had to restrict the interviews to family members and trusted neighbors.  In order to really capture these experiences we need a more mobile way of doing so.

2. Security – In the Caribbean coast of Colombia, most people have basic Nokia phones, or something similar.  Right now, Blackberries are the big thing. Overall, not many people have smartphones, especially not those who live in low-income Afro-Colombian neighborhoods.  Therefore, they are considered a commodity and it may be unsafe to walk around with them to do video interviews.  Since Peace Corps gives us basic phones, our only two options were using a handheld video camera or a laptop: both of which are very valuable. The easiest way is to schedule interviews with trusted individuals inside of their homes, and then use a computer or camera to record the documentaries in the event that there is no internet connection; and then maybe play it on speakers and record it using the online tool.   However, Whatsapp is a wonderful idea for someone with a smart(er) phone.


3. Space/Time – Coastal Colombians usually have many relatives living in one house, so it was hard to establish a quiet place for recording the interviews.  You’ll probably see kids in some of them.  Timing is also important, because there are set hours of the day when women are doing chores and they say there is little time do an interview outside of the home.  Considering the first two factors, this could be an issue in collecting female narratives.


4. Misunderstanding of the vision – I definitely felt that Qituwra and I were a lot more excited about the interviews than they were.  I think this is due to the lack of a global perspective.  I’m not sure if many people fully understand the invisibility of Afro-Latinos on an international scale, so I don’t know if they really grasped the importance of communicating their experiences.  Maybe we could have done a better primer: maybe shown them some of the organization’s YouTube videos and the Proyecto Afrolatin@ site.  I admit that I did it during my last week in Colombia, so it was a bit rushed.

Furthermore, I think there is some degree of being wary that their culture will be exploited in the United States.  While I don’t feel like we were ever treated as outsiders, I do think that there would be some degree of hesitation in sharing this information had we not been family friends.  There is a degree of mistrust that is common in Colombia.

5. Different interpretations of racism – Though I don’t see this as a real problem, I do think it’s important to note that what we would consider racist in the States does not necessarily hold true for all Afro-descendants.  One of the girls I interviewed, though not recorded, in a matter of 5 minutes told me how she had to quit her job because they wanted to relegate her to a cleaning position (because that’s what Blacks are good for), and then tell me that there really isn’t racism in Colombia.  In coastal Colombia, almost everyone tries to convince you that it’s a utopia (there is an insecurity about being viewed as a violent country).  They say that people are always happy, there’s no racism, everyone is beautiful, etc.… So I think it’s important to be mindful of that when asking questions about race, and to find a way to ask non-probing questions that shed light on the issue in a more roundabout way (rather than asking: if they think there is racism in Colombia?)


For more information about the neighborhood, see this piece written by my friend Marly María Estrada Cardona:


Andrea Hayes has been a volunteer with the Afrolatin@ Project since May 2013. Ms. Hayes is a graduate of the University of Florida where she received her BS in Psychology. She later received her Masters in City/Urban, Community and Regional Planning from Florida Atlantic University. Ms. Hayes is a Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Scholar where she conducted research comparing Florida Department of Juvenile Justice punitive and rehabilitation programs to investigate disparities in services rendered to minority youth. Ms. Hayes recently returned from Colombia where she spent the last year in the municipalities of Campo de la Cruz and Barranquilla working with PeaceCorps on youth education, food security, HIV/AIDS awareness and economic development volunteer. Prior to her time in Colombia, Ms. Hayes worked in Paraguay as a volunteer working on community economic development and computer literacy among other issues.

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