So while down in Uruguay, I was looking around for a place to eat, late night. I was told to go to a place called “La Negra Tomasa” and to get some Faina and a Chivito (huge sandwich down there). I was a little put off by it. Why was I a little put off? Well, the translation means “THE BLACK WOMAN TOMASA“. Tomasa would be the name of this black woman, basically. Well, Uruguay has like what, like 3 Blacks in total. I mean the population is so low, they’re almost erased from every street I went to, except for this 1 section that is a tourist attraction. Well, this restaurant was NOT in that Afro-Latin area, it was nowhere near that area, it was in the business area of the World Trade Center, where I was working. Now, considering that I hadn’t seen even 1 black, from Colonia to Punta Del Este (aside from that 1 cultural street), I knew it wasn’t some restaurant by a Black woman named Tomasa, but if it was, well then I had to get some great food. I mean the place was rated 5 stars by like 1 billion people. So I mapped out how to get to it and walked there. As I come up on the place, I’m looking at the store kind of cock-eyed… as my body makes the car-about-to-crash-breaking-noise SSSSSSRRRRREEEAAAaaaaacchhhhhhh!!!!! WTF???!!! I was making some odd faces apparently.
Now, I should note that I was with an Indian co-worker, from actual India, it’s night time, unlike myself, he doesn’t speak Spanish, he is scared out of his forking mind when he sees me pause that way. He looks all around, he is panicking, his fist is clenched, he is glued to my side, and he starts walking slowly. Now I’m looking at this fool like “WTF is wrong with you?” He is on high alert like when you’re walking your dog, you give someone the evil eye and then your dog picks up on that energy as if your dog is asking you “what??!! Who are we gonna bite the nuts off of??! Who? This guy, this guy right here??!!” like Bill Burr jokes. It was hilarious and I started to laugh because I thought he was going to have a panic attack. I thought he was reacting to the sign like I was (he, of course, was clueless), but instead, he is looking at the logo of the restaurant, in panic, like I was about to bring him to an Uruguayan BLOODS STREET GANG-RELATED TUPAC SHAKUR eatery!
That boy stiffened and straightened up like a cornstarch-soaked pair of pleated pants pressed on an ironing board in hell! looool
Wrong vibe, dude, wrong vibe! Bless his heart. We pull up and it’s WORSE than I initially thought though, it had this BLACK FACE character as the mascot or symbol of the place, I was kind of upset to see that. Then I remembered a few crucial things immediately though: One, I’m not in the USA and two, I’m in South America- WAAAAAAAY SOUTH in SOUTH AMERICA, so their opinions and mental processing are completely different from mine. You can’t go to foreign countries and expect them to think like United States citizens- hell you can’t even get people in USA to get their racial act right so… We were so far south there aren’t even any Indigenous folks (called “Indians” down there) around either, just like no Blacks, mostly European descendants! I was trying to remember that “La Negra Tomasa” name, it was a song I swore…. and it dawned on me that that was from back in the days,.. and it came to me, that was some old school CUBAN stuff right there! I heard it on a Buena Vista Social club album but also a Compay Segundo album. They are praising the Black woman who is the ORIGINAL image of La Negra Tomasa, she’s the woman of the house, she is the strong person, she is the woman they all wish to have as MEN, her culinary game is off the meter!!! This is clearly what was meant by the restaurant when they were appropriating the name, and there are restaurants of the same name in places like SPAIN (however, many are run by BLACKS there-which is the key). Her image is an Afro-Latin concept, not a white-skinned Euro-Spaniard based concept, they don’t have this figure. When a Mexican band tried to copy the song and sing it, the rock group CAIFANES were looked at as silly by most and praised by some. That’s not their character, that’s Afro-Latin, not Mexican. La Negra Tomasa is a symbol of pride in a strong black woman! This much I already knew. This is where the conflict came in, this was all dancing in my head while standing outside, walking closer, thinking “yeah that’s what they mean by this, it’s safe to eat there”. But to see non-Afro-Latin make FUN of such a character, given what she symbolizes, is a SMACK IN THE FACE of Afro-Latinos who adopted the character as a loving and endearing caregiver. So was that what was really happening with this place? Was THIS a black face joke way the hell down there in Montevideo, Uruguay? Others clown this image in Latin America and Spain:
So I’ll let you know that I’m well versed in BLACK FACE USE ON LATIN AMERICAN TV. Unchecked, the result has been THIS KIND OF BEHAVIOR. It’s done a lot, it’s very damaging to Afro-Latino pride, and many people don’t even bat an eye about it because Latin America never had the equivalent of the America Civil Rights Movement and awakening for Afro-Latinos. So non-Afro Latins, Hispanics or Spaniard descendants, and whathaveyou don’t know or see it as wrong to belittle such a prideful character to Afro-Latinos. Hell, many Afro-Latinos don’t either, they’re not “WOKE” as people say today, and don’t know when they’re being laughed at. Normally, when you would see someone making fun of La Negra Tomasa, it’s some overweight, fair-skinned Spaniard or a descendant guy dressed in the charcoal black face, imitating La Negra Tomasa for large white skinned people’s pleasure. And the portrayal of the black skin is sooooooo black it’s not even funny. They could have gotten a real Black to do this, but no, it’s more entertaining to do black face. Hell, even the Batman character Black Mask is like “fuuuuuuuuuck, that’s RACIST!!!”
… And my United States American brain sees MAMMY from Gone with the Wind and associated it Aunt Jemima Pancakes, slavery and rape by US slave masters. That MAMMY is the SAME look of the Black woman represented in La Negra Tomasa physically, but the take on them is a COMPLETELY DIFFERENT meaning, as you move to the United States of America. Anyone with knowledge of self, in USA, will feel a burn when seeing La Negra Tomasa. Mammy was the nanny who tended to white households, not something to cheer about or feel proud about for African Americans. Mammy was the subject of much abuse and symbolized inferiority. Mammy couldn’t go home and take care of her own family like she was taking care of white families, all her time was dedicated to white people. The portrayal is of an uneducated woman who cleans up after white people and takes care of the children they don’t want to take care of. You even had these Mammy characters being forced to breastfeed white children of masters and employees, they were called WET NURSES. So that Mammy image HURTS if you are an African American and know anything about history, and unfortunately today, many DO NOT KNOW what that image represents. However, I can tell you, African American women who do know, aren’t having ideas of that stereotype come back. They made Aunt Jemima get a PERM and force that bandana off of her head!
So being subjected to that, armed with that knowledge, and contrast, all of that is flashing before my eyes as I still hesitate I have to grapple with judging this place I’ve never been too previously, based on foreign ideas learned from the places and cultures they culturally appropriated when naming the restaurant and making the theme. So we get to the door, the cartoon is more and more clear, I’m staring it down, I’m confused still. I’m thinking “Am I going to go full SPIKE LEE in Do the Right Thing, in Uruguay???” or “Am I going to get one of these famed Uruguayan FAINA, and the best sandwich available, from the best place serving it in the area, the famed CHIVITO CANADIENSE sandwich!?”
The truth is they have NO IDEA about the offensive nature of this character in US culture! The restaurant is using the name in the image of a Black woman who is an excellent cook you don’t want to ever leave, as is said in the songs. Restaurants of the same name are in many places in Spain and Latin America. These guys just copied that idea and yes, they did perform cultural appropriation and it doesn’t fit as there is not any significant population of Blacks in Uruguay. However, they’re not trying to insult Blacks with use of the character. The cartoon is used as a “friendly” way to present the idea of La Negra Tomasa to a predominantly White Uruguay customer base. No one is going to that place thinking, “you know, I’d like to partake in the daily fill of racism, but I’m hungry. Hey Siri, how can I have the best of both worlds?” So the decision was to dial it down a gram, just turn off the brain, and go eat some great food! And the theme is like that of the AFRO-LATIN themed restaurants, complete with paintings of black women on all of the walls of the restaurant. They are just guilty of cultural appropriation if anything, but it’s harmless.
That also proves that sometimes, the if people are able to eat properly, day to day, there will be less racial tension.
As always, the finished products can be found on the main site of www.drunkphotography.com.