Asynchronous Assignment on Paraíso Negro

Asynchronous Assignment (The deadline is 11/9 before the online class)


1. Read the essay “Paraíso Negro” by Khalil Waywood.

2. Group A (Acevedo to Lester): In the comment section below, respond to ONE of the following options. 

Group B (Lorenzo to Woods)Respectfully interact with ONE of your classmates’ responses. Do you agree with their arguments and interpretations? Do you disagree? What other observations about Haywood’s essay do you want to bring into the discussion?

(250-words minimum)

Pick ONE of the following prompts and respond in the comment section below.


Khalil Haywood starts his essay by saying “When people think about a Spanish speaker they don’t necessarily rush to think about someone who looks like me. You know, a brown-skinned, kinky-haired man, at least with my hair grown out.”

Elaborate on Haywood’s identity formation as an Afro-Latino while growing up in a predominantly West Indian community in Brooklyn.


Khalil Haywood writes: “I’ve had the privilege of going back to my family’s homeland and seeing firsthand things that many others haven’t had the opportunity to see here in the States. Paraíso is a lot of things. There’s beauty in it. It’s peaceful- a place we created a lot of fun. But make no mistake what it really is at its core: Black”

Thinking of this quote, describe some of the takeaways Haywood gets from traveling and experiencing life in Paraíso, Panamá.


In the last section of the essay, Haywood argues that “We have the knowledge that white people can speak various languages, and we have never batted an eye. Yet, Black people historically seem to have been made fit under one umbrella many times.”

What things make Haywood hopeful that times are changing and people are understanding the diversity of Black folk? What type of social work needs to keep happening to improve this awareness and embrace inclusivity?

22 thoughts on “Asynchronous Assignment on Paraíso Negro

  1. One way that Haywood mentions his hope for the “changing times” and more of an understanding of diversity in culture amongst black individuals, is through the influence of the internet and social media. Social media serves as an outlet of exposure, while also using that exposure to “increase curiosity”. The benefit of this increased curiosity as stated by Haywood, is tourism. Throughout the last section of the essay, Haywood emphasises on how travel has been beneficial for the exposure of the countries and the different people that reside within them. Not only does it provide benefits for the locales, but it also encourages people to seek interactions with others of different cultures and backgrounds. They get a first hand view of how many of these countries contain people of various races, and how this realities renounce the many stereotypes of Black and Latino people. This works to diminish the idea that black people are unable to adhere to different cultural identities. It also inspires appreciation for the different aspects of these cultures and their histories that are unknown to some. Haywood states, “ The premise of seeing things beyond yourself and your interests would help the human race as a whole. The ability to understand, and the desire to be understanding, are extremely underrated characteristics to have” (Haywood 131). I believe that this quote ties directly to Haywood’s aim within the end of his essay. Taking the initiative to attain knowledge of those around you and becoming more open to their perspectives could enable more of an understanding amongst people, and in turn, enable others to possibly follow along in these endeavours.

    1. I would have to completely agree with Yuddy and also add on and elaborate on a few other points that the author presents. This quote that goes hand in hand with the question in option three is one that can seem a bit hard to understand. This quote in simpler terms, is pretty much reminding and alarming us about what the society tends to do without even realizing. We seem to always be okay and understanding of the idea that whites don’t need to be grouped and all share many differences in languages, music, dishes, etc. This isn’t the case for African Americans. African Americans tend to always be grouped together in which the author believes is because it’s the group that has suffered most and the least considered out of all groups. This alone contributes to the decline in diversity representation amongst African Americans or in this case, Afro-Latin Americans. Even with that being said, Haywood still has hope that times are changing and his main reasoning is the internet and media as you had stated. A great point that you immediately state is that social media and the internet has contributed to the exposure of many different countries and people. This is something that almost everyone can begin to see in this time and age. The author describes it best when he states that social media and the internet has caused traveling to become a “trendy thing”. This alone would cause the author to be hopeful and mainly because of his personal experience. The author states early in the reading how grateful he is for his mother in pushing him towards traveling as a child. He pretty much owes all of his understanding of many different cultures and people to her and traveling was the root of it all. The author is a big believer in attaining knowledge from other sources in order to be able to categorize Afro-Latin Americans differently and this becomes clear through Yuddy’s response.

    2. Hi Yuddy,
      It’s interesting that you’ve chosen option three because it makes a strong point about being racially profiled. I do agree with the references you made about travel being a form of comfort to get to know more of different ethnicities behaviors, languages and styles, treatments from all over the world. I would of preferred to read more of your interpretation of the quote you’ve chosen though but mentioning social media served as an outlet of exposure is a realistic information even still now in our generation. Google searches provides a lot of knowledge that is schooling on the nuances of race and ethnicity. I believe the more people are aware of these researches, it will improve the approach between blacks and white and change the stereotypes a little even if people are ignorant after being knowledge of the facts. “Curiosity is important to have when dealing with people and learning about cultures.” Also, based on my observation to add on to your opinion. Social work such as Inclusions, recognition between ethnicity and seeing beyond our self and interest needs to keep happening to improve this awareness and embrace inclusivity.

    3. I would definitely support the notion that Haywood uses social media as an aspect of changing times that boosts exposure and helps people gain more experiences from places and trips that they otherwise would not. I had actually given this idea some thought last Spring/Summertime on my most recent trips to DR. The tourism business is definitely a more profound topic with many aspects other than promoting a positive image of a country and its culture. However, at its foundation, it at the very least encourages a connection between worlds and traveling among those who are willing and able. “The premise of seeing things beyond yourself and your interests,” was a great quote to use because this is an obstacle that can directly be removed by an experience such as travel.

      To be able to see how an entire community exists – away from one’s home country, is a life-changing experience if we stay in it for a long enough time or take it with enough serious intent. Through social media, people have a small window into a different world that is not at least virtually accessible to them. Some may go as far as visiting these places they’ve now seen on their “feeds” and a select few will eventually decide to fully assimilate themselves into a foreign country. It’s a powerful thing that Yuddy highlights here, and I really liked the quotes you used overall, thank you!

  2. In Khalil Heywood’s “Paraiso Negro”, he discusses his travels home to Paraiso, Panama with the same sense of pride and wonder that I too have felt as a child of West Indian heritage that had the opportunity to enjoy summers away. His description of the change of scenery from the moment he exited the airport immediately lets us know that he is definitely not in Brooklyn anymore. The warm air, coconut trees, and noticeable change in dress for the police force depict a distinct scene that immediately radiates calm. He also mentions the sense of self that he feels in not having to feel ostracized because he looks “black” but fluently speaks Spanish…his native tongue. The ease at which he can speak with his abuela and abuelo without the curious looks of others warm his spirit.
    He notes that while it’s a little odd to have bats and lizards in the house, it’s a natural phenomenon there. He’s not truly at ease with them, but it’s part of the culture much the same the unusual, galvanized rooftops on homes and cold showers since running boilers weren’t necessarily a thing. An additional bit of culture shock comes with public bus culture. In Brooklyn, you ring the bell to single for your stop while in Panama, if you don’t know the call of “Parada!” who knows where you may end your trip.
    While he has many great memories, he won’t let is forget that segregation and inequality were also a part of the culture at that time. There were separate drinking fountains for blacks and whites as the quality of life and education were also sub-par when compared to that of whites in the communities. Although part of history, I’m sure he’d rather forget in and maintain his positive memories of paradise.

    1. Hi Michelle.
      I absolutely enjoyed reading Heywood’s account of his childhood experiences in Paraiso, Panama. It was wonderful to see him describe the change of scenery from Brooklyn to Paraiso and the way that he felt immediately at ease speaking Spanish with his abuela and abuelo. I could definitely relate to his experiences with the bats and lizards in the house, as I too have had to deal with those creatures in my own home! It was also interesting to read about the public bus culture in Panama and the way that it differs from the culture in Brooklyn. I definitely agree with Heywood that segregation and inequality were a part of the culture in Paraiso at that time, but I’m glad that he was able to maintain his positive memories of paradise despite those experiences.

    2. You noted some great takeaways, Michelle. I appreciated reading his perspective on growing up as an Afro-Latino in a Black Caribbean neighborhood. Being Black and “appearing” Black still left him feeling left out. He is proud of his identity and had a strong sense of self and wanted to share that and proudly live in it, but people in his school and neighborhood constantly did not see him for his Afro-Latino heritage. They labeled him as one or the other. That made him feel somewhat left out in elementary school where his fellow classmates were reluctant to try the foods he grew up eating, but he was not apprehensive to try theirs. He thoroughly enjoyed eating their foods and sharing in their culture, but he did not receive that openness from them.
      Traveling to Paraiso and spending time with his cousins and grandparents helped widen his perspective on where he felt he fit in in the world. Spending time in Paraiso solidified for him that he was not a rarity, he just lived in a community and in the United States where being Black and being Latinx is so strictly defined that it’s jarring for some people when they meet someone who does not seem to fit in the box that the US has created for them. He saw and spent time with people who were his skin tone and spoke his language. He also witnessed racism in Panama and in NYC. It helped him connect the dots of his identity and an understanding of why some people in the United States weren’t as connected to their own identity and he valued and cherished the opportunity for him to have that connection.

    3. I had a similar experience to his when I visited the Dominican Republic for the first time. It felt like I was finally with my people. And that’s not to say that I don’t consider myself American, but when you live life only being able to relate to people through your American side, it feels nice to relate to people through your Dominican side as well. Food that I’m so used to calling “Hispanic food” is just commonplace over there, as opposed to being in select restaurants in the US. The change in climate is very peaceful as well and I’m glad he mentioned it.
      I also agree with your analysis of how he won’t forget the negatives he saw there too. Not every country is perfect, and racial discrimination is an issue that plagues a majority of the world today. As great as a country may seem for certain reasons we must still hold them accountable for the wrongdoings they continue to do.

  3. I will be elaborating on the beginning of Khalil Haywoods essay when he says “when people think about a Spanish speaker they don’t necessarily rush to think about someone who looks like me. You know a brown skinned, kinky-haired man, at least with my hair grown out.” He mentions how in the media they only portray fair skinned Spanish speakers such as Jennifer Lopez, Pitbull, Eva Mendez or Marc Anthony. There are Spanish speakers of various different colors with different hair textures as well, not just 2 to 3a hair. There are alot of brown and dark -skinned Spanish speakers. A lot of people weren’t aware that Spanish speakers don’t all have to look the same. He talks about how he is from Panama and going to a predominantly West Indian school, a lot of kids have not heard of the country and they were surprised he spoke Spanish because he looked like them. He also talks about being in Panama and how it was very normal for him growing up with Panamanians of various skin tones. One last comment I would like to add is something that stuck out to me in the essay. When Khalil discusses how in a public place such as a restaurant, they would get better service once the staff found out they spoke the same language. They didn’t see them as “one of them”. You should treat everyone the same equally. I know when I went to high school it was predominantly black and there were a lot of dark skinned fluent Spanish speakers, so I was aware of this, but in social media I do agree that it is not always shown. They tend to show one type. There should definitely show more representation of the Spanish speaking cultures.

    1. Hi Jerikka, I completely agree with everything that you mentioned in regard to Haywood’s purpose behind challenging the stereotypical portrayal of a Hispanic physically. Latin America is filled with numerous cultures and that does affect physicality due to background and history. However, I think the reason behind this typical generic portable of Hispanics is caused a lot by our surroundings especially the media. In my other LTS class, I’ve learned about the over sexualization of Latinas in the entertainment industry as well how the Latinx community tend to have a rigid and limited role in film/show opportunities due to societal standards. This has accustomed our minds to have this set portrayal of what a Hispanic “should look like” although it is completely false. Skin color and hair type both display the history behind one’s culture and internalized racism has caused this loss of representation amongst Hispanics that have darker skin or “kinky” hair with more texture to it.

    2. Hi Jerikka,
      I completely agree with the point you made about treating everyone equally without having to get to know them first. When he describes the example of being in a restaurant and getting better service once they realize they spoke the same language it reminded me that these instances of prejudice happen all over the world and they happen both intentionally and unintentionally which is unfortunate. People deserve to be served and treated with respect regardless. Also I think the lack of representation leads to these prejudices. Like you mentioned, there are Spanish speaking people of all skin tones and who have all types of hairstyles. However, only the white and fair skinned ones are portrayed in the media which makes people think they all look like that. This is why in both the school he attended, and the situation in the restaurant, nobody assumed he spoke Spanish and therefore treated him differently once they found out that he did, both positively and negatively.

    3. Hi Jerikka, I agree with your analysis of this quote and of how his identity as an Afro-Latine formed growing up in a predominantly West Indian neighborhood in Brooklyn. While I was doing this reading, it reminded me of the W.E.B. Du Bois quote that we read in class about the “triple consciousness” of Black Latinos in the United States. Growing up, Haywood was navigating being Black and American much like his West Indian peers in his community, but a factor that created a sort of distance between them was that he also had to navigate his identity as a Latine as well. To add onto the idea of “triple consciousness,” I feel that the argument could be made that Afro-Latines in the United States experience a “quadruple consciousness”, and Khalil Haywood is an example of that. They have to navigate not only being Black, Latine, and American, but they also have to navigate being Afro-Latine as well. Being Black in the United States has different implications from being Black in the West Indies or being Afro-Latine, and Haywood experienced that difference growing up. He says “As I got older, I would let kids know that I was Panamanian and spoke Spanish. They would look at me with confusion.” He also says, “It wasn’t a racial thing. I mean, we were all Black. But I was a different type of Black from theirs.” Haywood’s Black West Indian peers recognized him as Black just as they were, but his Latinidad in intersection with his Blackness created a sense of confusion for them like he was a sort of ‘anomaly.’

    4. Hi Jerikka, I agree that nowadays we are more aware of dark skinned fluent Spanish speakers, but on social media the representation of that is not always shown. Haywood’s identify formation as an Afro-Latino while growing up in a predominately West Indian community in Brooklyn was unique in the sense where others were not exposed to Afro-Latinos during the 90s. Although New York City is a melting pot of races and that Afro-Latinos did exist in New York at the time, his neighborhood did not understand that you can be black and speak Spanish. He states, “As I got older, I would let kids know that I was Panamanian and spoke Spanish. They would look at me with confusion. A lot of kids had never heard of Panama before. Imagine a kid my age having to explain to another kid that your family’s place of birth isn’t imaginary”. It’s almost mind-boggling to me because there are so many neighborhoods within New York City at that time where you can go to see a dark-skinned Spanish speaker, such as Washington Heights. A lot of the fluent Spanish speakers I personally know are all Afro-Latino. The representation that is put out on social media should show that Afro-Latinos do exist and that you can be dark skinned and speak Spanish, or any language in that matter. It will show the reality that there are many people throughout the world who are from African descent and speak multiple languages rather than just one.

    5. Hi Jerikka,

      Haywood says he’s not what your “typical” Spanish speaker looks like. From what we see in pop-culture and the media it is most often times than not; someone with light skin and Eurocentric features that speaks Spanish. Haywood has brown skin and kinky hair, making him sort of invisible. When Haywood discusses his experience at the restaurant we understand why he wasn’t seen as one of them or treated the same until the staff found out they shared a common language. The staff didn’t see themselves in Haywood appearance wise, which is why they didn’t know he was Afro-Latino. They probably assumed he was just black, because of his darker skin and hair texture. I agree that it is unfair that he was only treated better by the staff when they found out he spoke Spanish too. As a costumer he should’ve been treated like any other person who is paying to be served food. This assumption made by the staff that Haywood wasn’t one of them, comes from the lack of representation of Spanish speakers within news media who don’t fit into the stereotype of what they “should” look like. Just because all of the Spanish speakers you see on T.V look a certain way, it doesn’t mean that thats the only way they look in real life. There are over 20 Spanish speaking countries in the world, therefore it really wouldn’t make sense if everyone all looked the same. Spanish speakers come in all colors and hair textures; I would know as a Spanish speaker who has friends and family that also speak Spanish.

  4. Haywood talks a lot about his travels back to his family’s hometown Paraíso, Panama as a child and teen. Surrounded by people like him and his traditional foods, he found comfort and love. He strengthened what his identity was, who he was, through getting educated in his family’s roots and culture. By having this base understanding of his culture, he didn’t feel weird when people back in his schools in Brooklyn didn’t appreciate his arroz con pollo. This shows how his strengthened knowledge of his culture had strengthened his pride as an Afro-Latino. Other people’s lack of knowledge of other cultures did not make him feel insecure, and when he saw that his teachers appreciated the food it was only confirmation of what he already knew–that his food was good and valid. Besides pride and identity, he also became more acquainted to nature. In Paraíso Haywood had experiences with bats, stray dogs, frogs, alligators, and more. He had the opportunity to connect with nature and wildlife, and he says that all in all the experiences were fresher and more natural than those in Brooklyn. This is unlike many in New York who never get the chance to connect with nature, and end up feeling distant and uncaring for it.

    1. Hi Alexandra,
      I agree that he became more comfortable with his African and Latino roots after visiting Panama. It shows the power of exposure in educating people. In Paraiso, everyone was like him, so he didn’t have to do any explaining regarding his ethnic group. He didn’t have to explain what was Panama or why he spoke Spanish. No one questioned his identity in Paraiso, where his recent lineage comes from. If I’m not wrong, he mentioned how both sides of his family were born in Paraiso. I think besides adding more content to the text, he also added this part due to how when you mentioned you are Afro-Latino, some people assume one of your parents is black American and the other one is the stereotypical brown Hispanic. People have asked me, “which of your parent is black?” regarding my mentioning that I’m Latino as well. I’m pretty sure he probably got that question ask to him too However, as time goes by, I get asked that question less. So it is a good thing.

    2. Hi Alexander,

      Well articulated and thought out response to the reading. In adding my two cents to the culture pot, I think exposure to a myriad of different cultures opened his eyes from a tender age. One pertinent point I must say is that it appears, to me, that his mother knew what she was preparing her son for. As he stated, she was always so involved and up-to-date with society.
      I wholly think it was his trip to Panama as a pre-teen that helped him to appreciate his culture even more, especially coming from Brooklyn in a time where Afro Latina and Latinx were barely recognized. I would vehemently argue that his plight just highlights ignorance, even today, of the US as it regards other cultures, outside of the US, especially Afro Latina and Latinx.

  5. I agree with what everyone has been saying about how it can be difficult to understand cultural differences if you have never been exposed to it. Growing up I was born in Uzbekistan and I had many Uzbekistan friends. Having Uzbekistan friends made it difficult for me to understand what it was like to live in the United States. However, when I moved to United States for the first time, I was able to adapt in it. But, it took a while to get used to. This is what the author was trying to tell us that, even when we move to another country, you will still have pieces of your own culture and that is something that won’t change. But, it didn’t stop me from being able to adapt to a new place in the United States. Overall, it was a reading that resonated with me.

  6. (1)Haywood tells the reader how his family is Panamanian, and now he attends a majority West Indian school in Brooklyn. He brings up how people generally have the same vision as to what “looks latino”. Examples he gave were Jennifer Lopez and Eva Mendez. Basically, any light skinned latinx. According to Haywood: “Ignorance and the media have a huge part to play in how this narrative has been shaped” (p.111). Coming from a country that is racially diverse like Panama, it is not odd to assume a black person can speak Spanish. Because Haywood is living in a community with mostly Dominicans, Trini, and Jamaican people, there is a lack of Latino representation, which leads to confusion about where he stands. This, along with what comes with not “appearing” to be latinx can lead to struggles around self-identity. I feel like this issue is universal to black/indigenous latinx people. This is also a very common issue for women and affects us in different ways , and I would like to see more of these conversations being lead by women too. This creates a distance between you and your culture, since you are made to feel as though you are an outlier. Essay’s like this help with this kind of issue, by being inclusive of all latinx experiences.

  7. When it came to traveling to and experiencing life in Paraíso, Panamá, we see that his mother sends him or sometimes goes with him to develop more on who he is as a person. Culture and the motherland plays a big part when you are trying to find who you are as a young child and a teenager because you get curious of the traditions, foods and family and I feel like his mom did a good job of doing that because there are so many Latino and Black kids who don’t know every much on their motherland or culture/traditions and so on. He speaks of how different New York and Panama is and I feel like when you know your home country and meet every family member you don’t want to leave, it’s a different feeling and he describes that when he lands. He was learning translations and learning so much from his Abuelo and how it was a constant learning experience for him.

  8. I believe one of Haywood’s main takeaways from his experiences staying in Panama was learning to be uncomfortable and adaptable. One of the main points he keeps repeating is that things in Panama are so much different than they are in Brooklyn. He’s eating new foods and drinks. He’s socializing with people despite a language barrier. He’s taking cool showers and encountering plants and animals he’s never seen before. Probably most important is that he is having all of these experiences without his mom around to guide him or give him advice. His travels were something that he had to navigate all on his own, and that took a lot of bravery and open-mindedness.
    A related takeaway Haywood made was that Brooklyn and Panama are a lot different specifically in the way he is treated or the way his identity is viewed. He stated that as he traveled to Panama more and more, he felt more secure and empowered in his identity as a Panamanian. However, the more he accepted and leaned into this identity, the more he realized that back in Brooklyn, people were not seeing/treating him this way. Despite him having more exposure to multiple cultures than anyone who was judging him, people saw him as someone without connection to any. It became apparent to him that people couldn’t ‘see’ his ethnicity because it’s so common to preemptively box Black people into their strict, closed-minded definitions of Blackness. And these definitions did not include ‘Spanish Speaker’.

  9. I decided to discuss the first question because I felt it was very relatable to me as I am also a dark skinned latina who often gets the surprised looks when people find out that I am actually Dominican and Puerto Rican. Haywood speaks about feeling out of place while living in Brooklyn with there being so many West Indies and everybody being able to relate to each other through the culture. Growing up he didn’t really get the time to embrace his culture with others as his friends did because there was no one that could relate to him. He in a way was kind of on his own with figuring out his identity and really only had the chance to embrace it when he was around family or when he traveled back to his home country. These were the only places where he could express his true self without being looked at with confusion. I also want to add on how I really enjoyed how he brought the issue of racial profiling into his story because more often than not many people judge you based on your appearance and if you don’t match the stereotypical characteristic of Latino/a then you aren’t expected to be one and people tend to be shocked if they find out you are one. I think it’s important for people to realize that latinx people come in many different shades and colors not just one complexion as society makes it seem like.

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