DALLAS TWP. -- When Bobby Gonzalez tells people he's Native American, they're often perplexed.
They say, ‘How can you be Native American? Your last name is Gonzalez.' They're surprised to learn that more than 90 percent of Native peoples come from Latin American, the 61-year-old said in a Bronx accent.
Born and raised in the South Bronx and a fan of the New York Yankees and Wilkes-Barre (because the city co-hosts the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees Triple-A baseball team), Gonzalez on Monday presented a lecture titled The Taino: The Native Americans who Discovered Columbus to begin Misericordia University's Dream Week 2013.
Maria Cabrera, multicultural student outreach coordinator, welcomed the 12 audience members to the university's third Dream Week, which she says usually begins with people or an occasion that contributes to something Martin Luther King has expressed to us. This year's theme is Giving voices to those who have been oppressed, she said.
Gonzalez picked up on that theme to start his talk, recounting the story of a journalist in Pennsylvania in the 1750s.
He wrote an editorial saying, ‘We have to do something. All these people are coming in. Pretty soon, they'll outnumber us. They don't want to speak our language, they don't want to assimilate. They're not even our color.' He was talking about Germans. And the person who wrote that article was Benjamin Franklin, Gonzalez said.
Eventually, Franklin matured and changed his way of thinking, Gonzalez said. Every … group has gone through similar challenges (or) obstacles. … We've all been oppressed. It doesn't matter what your background is.
A nationally known multicultural motivational speaker, storyteller and poet, Gonzalez said his hope on Monday was to share with the people here in Dallas the history and culture of a people they might not be aware of and to encourage young people to reconnect with their own individual heritage and be proud.
He presented slides and information pertaining to the origins, history and culture of the Taino people, whose traditional homeland was the islands that are present-day Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica, Cuba and the Bahamas.
When Columbus arrived on the island in 1492, he encountered the Taino.
Thinking he was in the East Indies (Asia), he called them Indians, and the term stuck. By 1550, the Taino were close to extinction because of disease and starvation after countless numbers had been forced into slavery by the Spaniards.
Still, their influence remains, in language and culture. Many words thought to be Spanish – such as maraca – are really Taino.
Misericordia sophomore Dayanara Rodriguez Munoz said she attended the presentation because it was about my roots. And I heard this food was here, she said with a smile, gesturing to empanadas, tostones (fried plantains) and arroz con gandules (rice with pigeon peas).
Munoz said there has been a long rivalry between Puerto Ricans and Dominicans. One of the things she appreciated most about Gonzalez's talk was that he clarified that we all come from the same people. The debate means nothing because we're all the same.
More Dream Week events at Misericordia University run 6 to 8 p.m. in the McGowan Room at the Bevevino Library:
Tonight – The 1995 movie Stonewall, which depicts the 1969 riot by drag queens in New York City.
Wednesday – Roya Fahmy Swartz presents Conflict Resolution Through Theater: Middle East Conflicts.
Thursday – Tata J. Mbugua presents The Educational and Psychological Needs of HIV/AIDS Orphans in Kenya.