Diaspora Travel: A Glimpse into Afro-Colombian Life with Designer Edwing D’Angelo

As I write this article, I envision myself traveling to Colombia and connecting with my brothers and sisters through stories, songs, dance and of course food.  Although we live thousands of miles apart, we are still connected by culture and history as people of African descent. After all, the country has the third highest population of Blacks with African origins in the world, right behind the United States which is second and Brazil which is number one.

Although I haven’t been… yet, I enjoy traveling the country vicariously through friends and others who have. Their stories illustrated visually and verbally make me want to bump a few destinations from the top of my travel bucket list. But the ultimate storytellers are those who live the culture every day and so when I had the opportunity to talk with Afro-Colombian Edwing D’Angelo, I got an inside look into being Afro-Latino as well as where to go, what to do and where to eat when I finally do step foot into the country.

Born and raised in the coastal city of Buenaventura where the population is more than 90 black, D’Angelo and his family left the South American country for New York when he was 13.  While it would be many years before he would return, memories of his homeland were still very much alive.  He shares that coastal areas are where most of Columbia’s black population resides. As with all Latin cultures, Buenaventura is rich in afro-centric vibes, music, dance and cuisine.

“My grandmother was an amazing cook and loved seafood,” says D’Angelo who boasts that Columbia has some of the most delicious food in the world.  He shares that in the Spanish culture, men are typically not in the kitchen.  For this reason, he only admired his grandmother’s cooking by watching and eating.  To this day, he has never forgotten the taste of her food and often makes his own version of her dishes for friends and family. Dishes that include coconut milk, plantains, root vegetables, garlic and cilantro.

A strong advocate for Afro-Latinos who are often forced to pick a side of their dual identity, D’Angelo says no one should have to choose. “In the United States, Blacks don’t consider me black, the Latinos don’t consider me full Latino,” says D’Angelo of his experiences after moving to the states. Instead, he, like so many, embrace their blackness and Latin roots which adds another interesting layer to many conversations going on in the world today. Watch this video from Huffington Post’s Latin Voices as six Afro-Latinos share what their lives have are like being both black and Latino.  During my conversation with D’Angelo, I see so many similarities between both of our native countries as it relates to Blacks which makes me not understand this push and pull dilemma many Afro-Latinos face.

D’Angelo returns to Columbia often as a local celebrity whose designs have been featured on shows such as “Good Morning America,” “The Today Show,” and “The Wendy Williams Show” and in the movie “The Devil Wears Prada.” He has also styled high profile celebrities such as Patti LaBelle, Vivica A. Fox and B. Smith.

For a long time, Columbia has been overshadowed by reports of crime and violence, but those who are true adventurers at heart have come to experience something totally different.  San Francisco-based blogger Ekua Impraim is one of these adventurers who shares her own experiences about Columbia on her blog Girl, Unstoppable.

For a great South American and Afro-Columbian experience, D’Angelo shares his top three choices of where to go.

1.  A visit to the village of Palenque de San Basilio also known as the first free town in America.  Located in northern Colombia, the village has a population slightly under 4,000 people who are mainly Afro-Columbians with root in Palenque’s African past.  The village is also an UNESCO Heritage site.  Click here for more info.

2.  Cartagena – In D’Angelo’s own words, “this city is spectacular.” From the weather, nightlife, beaches, outdoor activities and culinary offerings, if you plan to visit one city during your trip, this one is it.

3.  Pacific Coast – Although he says it is not as developed as the Atlantic side of the country, it has a Caribbean culture. Columbia’s Caribbean is the subject of many travel bloggers who have explored it to no end.  This includes Impraim. Check out what she had to say here. D’Angelo’s native city Buenaventura is among the cities in this part.

Just as you would travel solo or with family or friends to other parts of the country or world, always do your research and plan ahead first. Travel to Columbia is on the rise and for the most part is a well-kept secret.  For travelers looking to experience cultures that are uninterrupted by the changes of the world with history that must be told instead of being overlooked, Columbia is definitely that place.

For more about D’Angelo, visit www.edwingdangelo.com.  You can also follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

To plan your trip to Colombia, visit http://www.colombia.travel/en.

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Sheree has been penning stories since the fifth grade. Her stories took a delicious and adventurous turn as an adult when she became a foodie.