West Mt. Airy native Kim Haas is on a mission. She wants the public to know about the significant contributions to the culture and life of Central and South America by people of African origin. …
West Mt. Airy native Kim Haas is on a mission. She wants the public to know about the significant contributions to the culture and life of Central and South America by people of African origin. “Studies have shown that at least one-quarter of the people of Latin America are part African, and that percentage may even be much larger,” said Haas in a phone interview last week, “because many people there do not associate themselves with the African part of their heritage.
“It is unfortunate and disheartening. When you look at Spanish language TV shows, for example, there are very few Afro-Latinos, and the few you see are very limited and stereotyped. They are missing out on a whole segment of the population that has been an integral part of the history and culture of Latin America for 500 years. For example, they built Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Jamaicans built the railroads in Costa Rica … When you travel throughout Latin America, you see so many people who look like me.”
Haas, who graduated from Girls High School in 1986, the University of Pittsburgh as a Spanish major in 1990 and La Salle University with a master's degree in Spanish, is not part-Hispanic herself, but she has an intense interest in Romance languages and has traveled extensively throughout Latin America, She also is fluent in Italian, having lived in Sicily, traveled in Italy several times and taken Italian language courses in college and afterwards. She also spent a year in Spain during her junior year of college.
Owner of a communications firm, Haas also has experience in television as former Director of Marketing for WWSI-TV Telemundo and an on-camera pledge host in English, Spanish and Italian for WYBE-TV in Philadelphia. So, 11 years ago Haas began pitching her idea of a TV series about Afro-Latino culture in Latin America and the Caribbean to the Public TV station in Miami, which has a large and very politically active Hispanic population.
“They liked my idea and were willing to support it,” said Haas, “but on Public TV you have to come up with your own funding. “I went to so many corporations, foundations and airlines trying to get funding. Finally, the Ford Foundation came through with a grant. (Haas would not say how much.) They deserve credit because they have been making black issues a real priority recently. I think it is as a result of the Black Lives Matter movement.”
Kim, who is also the founder of losafrolatinos.com, a blog celebrating Afro-Latino culture, was able to put together camera crews to help shoot two half-hour episodes in San Jose and Limon, cities in Costa Rica, so far of “Afro-Latino Travels with Kim Haas,” of which she is Executive Producer, host and creator. They aired in September on Channel 23 in Philadelphia and NJTV. (They may air here again at a later date, possibly during Black History Month.) The episodes are also currently airing in other parts of the country through Oct. 31. Kim had planned to shoot several more episodes in places like Rio de Janeiro and Cali, Colombia, “which is mostly black,” but all production has been halted until the pandemic is over.
“Afro-Latino Travels with Kim Haas” is very different from anything else on TV today. Each episode captures the heart and soul of Afro-Latino culture throughout the Americas by examining the history, art, music, dance, cuisine, sports and environmental conservation that African descendants brought to Central and South America and the Caribbean. Haas examines the unique role that Africans played in building countries such as Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Mexico and Puerto Rico.
Haas' most memorable experience took place in a “favela” (a Brazilian shack or shanty town) in a mountainside in Rio de Janiero, where huge numbers of people, almost all of whom are black or brown, are jammed together in extreme poverty. “I felt so welcome there,” said Haas. “The people have such a lack of opportunity. We are used to seeing pictures of the homes on the hillside, but I want viewers to see them as hard-working, generous people, not just as buildings with no soul. A rich culture comes from them, and now they have another problem because of the coronavirus. They are so close together that social distancing is a real problem, as is lack of access to health care.”
The most fascinating person Haas has met was the former minister of culture for Rio, Nilcemar Noqueira. “Her grandfather, Cartola, was an early samba musician who wrote over 500 samba songs. Nilcemar even founded a Samba Museum. She said Afro-Brazilians were pioneers in this musical genre that captivated the world, but they have been marginalized. I was touched by this woman, who is trying to preserve Afro-Brazilian culture … A whole group of people in Latin America have not had their stories told, so we have to tell them.”
For more information, visit travelswithkimhaas.com. Len Lear can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org