In almost every country in the Western Hemisphere, people of African descent have left an indelible mark on modern-day expression; in music, culinary arts, dance, language, literature, science, and much more. The contributions men and women of African descent made during slavery and for generations afterward are often undervalued and unrecognized. Although they make up more than one-third of the population in Latin America and the Caribbean, people of African descent have historically been and continue to be underrepresented in government, civil society, and the media.
The United Nations and the Organization of American States have designated 2011 as the International Year for People of African Descent and the U.S. Department of State has initiated a worldwide campaign to commemorate the year. A highlight of our programming is an International Visitors Leadership Program (IVLP) on "The Cultural Heritage of the African Diaspora in the Americas." This program explores the historic roots, as well as the current manifestations of African origins in the cultural arts and the evolution and significance of African influences in American culture. Through meetings with museum and festival managers, curators and archivists, practicing artists, academics, and others, participants from nine countries will gain an understanding of the history and identity of African-Americans in the United States and how the African-American community has contributed to the United States through the arts.
The delegation of 11 cultural experts began last week in Washington, DC, with a visit to the Department of State to meet with Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Arturo Valenzuela, Deputy Assistant Secretaries Julissa Reynoso and Fabiola Rodriguez-Ciampoli, among others. Assistant Secretary Valenzuela highlighted the U.S. government's strong commitment to recognizing the contributions of African descendants in our region and encouraged the group to engage in a constructive discussion on how to honor and preserve cultural traditions. After their visit to Washington, the group will travel to Virginia, New York, Florida, and Louisiana to exchange views with local communities and institutions.
Roberto Da Silva, the Director of the Museo Afro Brasil in Sao Paulo, said, "As Afro-Latin Americans we have common issues and common challenges. We need to work together along with governments and civil society to address the issues that affect our ability to succeed."President Obama recognized that the Year for People of African Descent is "an opportunity to recognize the myriad ways that men and women of African descent have strengthened our countries and enriched our societies."Secretary Clinton expressed that the International Year for People of African Descent is "an opportunity for all of us around the globe to celebrate the diversity of our societies and to honor the contributions that our fellow citizens of African descent make every day to the economic, social and political fabrics of our communities."
We hope the International Year will mark a change in how people of African descent are incorporated in policies, programs, and initiatives to strengthen our relationships with our neighbors in the region.