Episode 57 – Afro-Latino Travels: Kim Haas

“I turn on television and…there’s no one of African descent. So I’m thinking, wow, we are missing out on all these incredible people that I’m meeting. I’m meeting Afro-Puerto Rican writers and dancers and cooks, and I’m learning so much. I mean, Latin America, so much of Latin America and what we enjoy was started by Afro-Latinos, so people of African descent, but yet they’re not represented pretty much at all in media. And what a shame that is for all of us, because we all lose out when we don’t learn about the gifts, the talents, the history of anyone, but in particular, I’m thinking about in my focus, which is about Afro-Latino.”

Jump down to listen to the podcast

The conversation with Kim Hass, creator and host of the PBS program Afro-Latino Travels with Kim Haas, is an eye-opener for all of us who want to know how the world really works, and how we can offer up our talents to make it a just a little bit better.

When you take a look at Kim’s biography page, you’ll catch a glimpse of her creativity and compassion, yes, but also her keen eye, her skill in recognizing the dignity and power in each individual, her sense of justice in the act of helping to make visible those who have been marginalized or made invisible, and her resilience and focus in discerning and then following a path to effective action.

So what we learn from her work informs and changes us, while the model of how she goes about her work – with respect and deep-seated joy – provides us a pathway of effectiveness and peace.

Kim knew from her work at Telemundo that visual representation in media spoke to whole populations, as well as to individuals, about their presence and worth. She observed that her lived experience in Latino cultures, where Afro-Latinos make up a third to a majority of the populations, was not at all reflected in the media she saw or worked with.

She decided to bring the Afro-Latino presence into media herself, and spent ten years actively searching for the most powerful pathway to demonstrate visually and through interviews and stories, the contributions of African-heritage peoples in the Spanish- and Portuguese- speaking countries and regions of the Western Hemisphere.

So it’s the story of what Kim did, and the reminder that it took her ten years of constant outreach to finally find the door that the “keeper” would open to let the stories be seen and told.

Kim was inspired by the Afro-Latinos that got up each day, in lands not of their heritage, in lands to which they had been forcibly brought, to work, to live, to build families and hope. As she told me, “If they could get up each day under their circumstances, I can try one more outreach today,” one more call, one more email, one more visit.

So, enjoy this podcast, deeply, for its content, please. Check out Kim’s PBS program, website, and stories. Learn more about and share the Afro-Latino experience and contributions with your circle of influence and encourage them to pass on not only the information, but the power of resilience in the Afro-Latino experience itself, and in Kim Haas’s dedication to bringing their stories and the representation of African-heritage presence to the world.

Enjoy the podcast.


Click to listen:

Episode 57 – Afro-Latino Travels: Kim Haas

Scroll down for full transcript.

Testimonial

Yes, @NorahLulicJones definitely has the talent of "bringing out" the best in others or allowing them to showcase themselves in the best light! Thank you for directing the spotlight on others who have great stories and talents to share with others. 

Lisa Fore

Testimonial

Your podcasts are exceptionally relevant and applicable, thought-provoking and insightful, easy-to-follow and enjoyable!  

Paul Sandrock
Senior Advisor for Language Learning Initiatives / ACTFL

Testimonial

You have an immense talent to draw the best from your participants. 

Richard Brecht

Testimonial

Norah knows how to LISTEN - she really "hears" the message - and the interview is richer because of it.  New questions come from the hearing. 

Terri Marlow

Want to hear more? Access previous episodes, and get to know the wonderful people I talk with through the It’s About Language page, or by clicking on the Podcast tab above. You can also find this week’s episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Twitter.

As a certified Gallup Strengths coach, I can provide you or your organization personalized coaching to discover and build on your strengths.

I provide workshops, presentations, and talks that inspire and engage through powerful language insights, and I pair those insights with practical applications for the lives of educators, learners, businesses, and faith-centered organizations. I’d love to share ideas with your organization or group, and develop an event tailored to your objectives.

Click here to start a conversation.


Transcript

Norah Jones:

Boy, is it a pleasure for me to welcome Kim Haas today to the podcast! Kim, welcome.

Kim Haas:

Thank you so much, Norah. Great to be here. Thank you.

Norah Jones:

I just had a joy in meeting you and spending a little time talking with you when we were at the Northeast Conference for the teaching of foreign languages there in New York City, and you had just been also to the Bilingual Education Conference, and in both of them, you provided a keynote. And I’m always fascinated. Can you talk about what your keynote was about, but connect it also to why it is that for those particular audiences, you would’ve chosen the keynote you did. What were you sharing?

Kim Haas:

Oh, thank you. Norah, it was just … I loved meeting with you. So, thank you again. And … Yes. The keynote for both conferences really focused on the importance of either learning a language, maintaining your heritage language, and I think how absolutely and important it is and that we not lose sight of it. So that’s kind of the summary for me. And then giving examples, like I told a story of listening to the radio here in New York, and a woman said that she majored in a master’s degree in a useless language from NYU. And I was astounded, and I was like, “Oh my gosh.” And then when she said that her masters was in French, my heart just broke, and I thought about all the people who maybe listening in that moment and hearing her describe her major as useless. And I just thought, she can be impacting someone in that very moment, and someone may be on the edge of thinking about to major in French or any language.

Kim Haas:

To me language, in this case, it’s only useless if you believe it’s useless, because it starts right with your mind, and if you believe it’s useless, well, then it will be, and I said in the speeches. But how can French … I’m using that as example, but how can French be useless if 70 million people speak French as a first language? It can’t be useless. We have mothers raising their children in French, and doctors and nurses caring for patients in French, engineers designing infrastructure projects, bakers baking pastries, and all those good things. And I’m not talking about just in France, but throughout the Francophile world. And then you have another 200 and I think [2]30 million people who speak French as a second and third language. It just can’t be useless.

Kim Haas:

But I just feel like she didn’t think big enough about it, she didn’t think without limitations about all the wonderful things that she could do with it. Maybe she had some new way of creating something that we haven’t even enjoyed yet, or hasn’t shared with the world yet, but it starts with your thinking. And so I use that as an example for both conferences, really trying to inspire and help people to learn, whether it’s learn another language or really see the absolute benefits of it. That’s what was my goal.

Norah Jones:

Well, and it certainly had that impact in the conference that I was at with your keynote. It was powerful. What is it in your personal history, Kim, that has led you to understand that, well, languages are not useless? Where do you come from to make that insight happen?

Kim Haas:

Norah, I love your questions. I think as someone who started … I tell the story that a stranger taught me, my first experiences with a world language, another language, not English, was when I traveled to Mexico, and a stranger taught me to count in Spanish from 1-20. And that experience did everything for me, and I say that it changed my DNA if that’s even possible, but it changed the course of my life. And I think about all these wonderful people that I’ve met with in my travels, and that I was able to communicate with because I spoke, whether it’s Spanish, I also speak Portuguese and Italian, who perhaps didn’t speak English or maybe didn’t feel as comfortable speaking English, but because I could speak to them in Spanish, Portuguese or Italian, this whole world opens up when you take the time to learn another language, whether it’s learning just a few words, because you’re preparing for a trip, or really majoring it as I did. So I think the experiences have just been innumerable and priceless because I’m able to connect with people that otherwise I would not be, and it’s just absolutely amazing. I love it.

Norah Jones:

The thing is you went from counting from 1-20 with a perfect stranger there as a kiddo visiting Mexico to speaking fluent Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese, majoring in Spanish for both your undergraduate and graduate degree. So what lit that fire that you would’ve continued to collect languages and use languages? Talk some about the motivation behind your dedication then in this direction.

Kim Haas:

Yes. I think I was just after studying Spanish in middle school, high school, majoring as you said in college, undergraduate, and I knew I wanted to travel to Spain and I lived with a Spanish family in Seville in southern Spain, and I say that they treated me like I was the fifth child. It’s this whole other world. When you’re able to communicate because they didn’t speak English, not that they had to because I was in their country, I’m a guest. And so, it really forced me to really practice and learn Spanish for really that year, and it was just an amazing experience.

Kim Haas:

So, I think that was part of the motivation, is once you were there and you want … I wanted to communicate with them, I wanted to speak fluently. I’d marvel at them and how they use certain words and try and just soak it all in, and plus I was going out at night, I must say, because the Spanish do know how to party, Norah, so you want to be able to communicate. So it was really a lot of fun. And I think then I came back and came back to finish my last year in college at the University of Pittsburgh. And so I had Spanish and Pitt just has just every language under the sun, that was taught at the cathedral of learning and it was just amazing. You could learn almost pretty much any … it felt like any language. So I decided, call me crazy, but I decided to study Portuguese, Italian, and continue with Spanish, like one of my semesters. And that’s just like, what is she thinking? It’s just studying like three romance languages at the same time, the same semester. But it was wonderful and I just felt so alive and I just love it.

Kim Haas:

You have to really focus in. You have to think, okay, what class am I in? What language is this? But it was great. And that was, I think, the motivation really is my desire to speak fluently with people of other cultures and backgrounds, to be able to connect with people and to joke with someone or to share a laugh or a smile or a tear, but to really connect with them. And I think being able to speak another language allows you to do that.

Norah Jones:

That true humanity that you were just talking about, connecting with, I’m actually going to take you on that little bit of that side trip now, Kim, to identity, how this became part of your identity. From other podcasts, my listeners may be aware that I not only ask about identity, but I also recognize that for some that are not as familiar with perhaps learning languages and coming across cultures, that they sometimes fear that those around them say their children will lose their identity. And often we in the language community recognize that identity can be additive. It’s a bit of a long introduction to ask you this, but the importance of identity with regard to your work is critical. If you could talk to us about that.

Kim Haas:

Well, I think … Yes, I mean, you made some really great points and I think as you said, I mean, it’s all … so much of it is about how we perceive things. And if you see it as an opportunity and not to learning a language or maintaining your, whatever your heritage language is, do not give that up, but that can be your identity, as you said, is, can be continuously, we can add onto it in terms of identity and it’s not something that you have to limit yourself to. But I encourage people to learn their … it’s part of their heritage, it’s part of your culture, and then you can still, whether it’s learning the language spoken in wherever you may now be residing, but I don’t think we … it’s not an either or. I see it as learn another language, learn as many as you like. I mean, do not limit yourself, but to open yourself up to more, more possibilities. And so your identity to me is constantly can be constantly evolving.

Norah Jones:

What kind of role of identity for you personally, did languages evoke? When you were taking languages, one of the things that you mentioned to us in your keynote was something that you noticed with regard to who was speaking the languages, who people thought were speaking the languages, and your own experience as a black woman in the United States speaking Spanish. Can you tell the listeners some of the experiences you had and what kind of conclusions and directions you went in, both that, which you’ve already talked about that I have heard, but also more in depth as you desire?

Kim Haas:

Yes, sure. And I think the, well, the question of identity is because I majored in Spanish undergraduate graduate school, I worked for Telemundo, the Spanish language television network for a while in Philadelphia. And so in terms of … Yes. And so most times on Spanish language television, you see people of European descent as the anchors in almost all the programming, I mean, close to 100%. And when I traveled throughout Latin America, and then I returned at that time to Philadelphia where I was raised, I started meeting more people of African descent. And so this whole interest in Afro-Latino culture became … it was so fascinating to me because I was traveling to countries like Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, and I’m starting to see all these people who look like me, who could be my, as I say, my uncle, my aunt, my grandmother, mi abuelo, mi abuela …

Kim Haas:

And then I turn on television and there’s no one. I mean, there’s no one of African descent. So I’m thinking, wow, we are missing out on all these incredible people that I’m meeting. I’m meeting Afro-Puerto Rican writers and dancers and cooks, and I’m learning so much. I mean, Latin America, so much of Latin America and what we enjoy was started by Afro-Latinos, so people of African descent, but yet they’re not represented pretty much at all in media. And what a shame that is for all of us, because we all lose out when we don’t learn about the gifts, the talents, the history of anyone, but in particular, I’m thinking about in my focus, which is about Afro-Latino. So samba in Brazil. I mean, samba, hands down is Brazil’s national dance, music genres. It was created by Afro-Brazilians, but yet there are times in Brazilian history where Afro-Brazilians weren’t allowed to participate in something that they created. And so-

Norah Jones:

Wow.

Kim Haas:

Yes. Or in Costa Rica, blacks built a Costa Rican railroad, those from Jamaica and other Caribbean islands. And in Panama, the canal was built by Afro-Panamanians and then also Caribbean Islanders. And so this is crucial. This is so important. And so the more I learned about it, and I’m still learning, I just feel like this is an incredible journey, but the more I learn about it and want to share it, and so that people also, particularly people of African descent in Latin America hopefully feel good about themselves because there’s a lot of when you don’t see yourself and when you don’t see anyone who looks like you, you get all kinds of feelings. I’m not important. I’m not worthy. I haven’t done anything. And so seeing people who look like you learning about your history, I think you do start to stand up taller and straighter and have pride in knowing that your ancestors, in so many cases, formed the very foundation of so many of these countries.

Kim Haas:

And so that’s what I’ve been on this journey quest to really tell the stories of so many of these people that I’m meeting, which we are not seeing on Spanish language television still. And-

Norah Jones:

Wow.

Kim Haas:

Yes. And if you … I mean, there are estimates conservative that one in three Latin Americans are of African ancestry, have African ancestry. So one in three, and then yet you watch Spanish language television and pretty much almost zero.

Norah Jones:

Isn’t that interesting? I’m still channeling the emotion, not only that you’re expressing, but also in my classes, I taught both Spanish and French, and I remember being sensitized to the lack of representation fairly early on, thank goodness in my career and making sure that from the first year onward, that there was plenty of searching for videos and things that would represent students of all kinds of, well, continental backgrounds, so that they recognize the language universality from among all ethnicities and heritages. Now, Kim, you turn that awareness and that shock into a PBS program, your Afro-Latino Travels with Kim Haas. Talk to us, please … and it’s interesting, you established that pretty much the same month and same year that I established my podcast, so I’m especially fascinated by that. Can you talk then about your Afro-Latino Travels and your PBS program, please?

Kim Haas:

Sure. No, thank you. I created the show, at least the idea. I had the idea at least, the light bulb went off at least 10 years ago and it’s taken pretty much that long to try and get it on the air, going from idea to actually where you have a television show that you can air, was just an incredibly challenging experience because 10 years ago, we were not speaking about Afro-Latinos as we are now. And so when I would pitch … because we needed support in order to produce the show, so when I would pitch a corporation or a foundation about it, “Hey, I have this idea to really celebrate and honor all the accomplishments.” I mean, it’s a good thing of people in Latin America, black people, it just went nowhere. I mean, it went-

Norah Jones:

Wow.

Kim Haas:

Yes, there was no interest whatsoever. I couldn’t get any support until finally someone just said, you know what, you’re going to have to pay for it yourself, make the investment because it’s just not happening. And so finally, we were able to shoot in Costa Rica and I thank them, the tourism board because they believed in it. And also I think what’s interesting is because Costa Rica is not one of those countries that automatically comes to mind when you think about blacks in Latin America. Usually people think about Brazil and Cuba, the Dominican Republic or Puerto Rico, but not Costa Rica. But Costa Rica has a significant history of blacks and people of African descent. And so they were on board and we were able to shoot the first two episodes in San Jose, the capital, and then in Limon on the coast. And I just wanted to show the incredible brilliance and creativity and warmth and tenacity and resilience of all these people who just don’t see. I mean, if you think about it, it’s absolutely incredible that we leave out-

Norah Jones:

It is.

Kim Haas:

… a third, at least a third of the Latin American population.

Norah Jones:

What were some of the conversations that you had with the folks in Costa Rica, the tourism board and so forth, that made them decide that this was indeed something they wanted to support you in, that provided these opportunities for you to do these wonderful recordings, the episodes are phenomenal by the way, just enjoyed them thoroughly.

Kim Haas:

Thank you. Gracias.

Norah Jones:

Why were they the breakthrough, do you think? What were some of the aspects?

Kim Haas:

I worked directly with the PR agency that had the contract with the tourism board and it’s nothing like having a champion and someone who believes in your project, and Norah you may have gone through some, but these champions who just say they believe in it. And so with the PR agency, we just had a real champion in the project and she said, “We are going to back for this.” So I didn’t talk to the tourism board directly. We went through the PR agency and they said, “We believe in this, we believe in the importance of it”, and I thanked them and they said, “We haven’t seen anything like this and it’s important to tell this story.” And so then they pitched it to their client who was a tourism board, and then somebody, I guess, somebody just said, “You know what? She has worked on this long enough, hard enough, given her heart and soul, give her this, give her this opportunity.” That’s what I think somebody upstairs was like, “Goodness, she has tried for the last 10 years almost. Let’s give her this.” And we were off and running.

Norah Jones:

Finally somebody had your back with that and helped you to have that breakthrough.

Kim Haas:

Yes.

Norah Jones:

Since that breakthrough, have others that initially did not respond positively to your work or to your pitch recognize the power of what you’re doing?

Kim Haas:

Yes, that’s great. Since Costa Rica, well, now it’s like we have episodes that we can share. Before it’s just an idea … I don’t mean just, but it’s an idea. And so it’s hard for people to visualize. You can tell them all you want, but just like having a podcast until somebody can listen to one of your episodes, it’s still just in someone’s head in their imagination of what it could be or what it does sound like. So finally, after we shot in Costa Rica and we were able to edit, we’ve been sharing them with some of those same countries that I pitched years ago, but I think because of George Floyd and bless his soul and that of his family’s, so much has changed since then. So I think we’ve been, I want to say the recipients of interest, has this been, I mean, globally has hit the world in terms of what was happening and how he was killed.

Kim Haas:

And so I think we’ve seen that yes, many of the countries that we had pitched previously are now have a greater interest, but I think it’s also, not just George Floyd, but also in Latin America, there’s been an increased interest in Afro, I’ll say, Latino, pan-Latino issues, whatever country. So in Mexico or in Colombia. So there’s this movement now where you see more politicians like in our San Jose episode, we interview the sisters of Epsy Campbell. Epsy Campbell is the first vice president of a Latin American country of African descent. It’s those kinds of things. So now we’ve … the politics in Brazil, we’re seeing more Afro-Brazilians running for office. And so in Colombia, I mean, there’s changes happening. I think much of it yes sparked by George Floyd, but also just internally within.

Kim Haas:

And so people of African descent in Latin America are asserting themselves. You’ll see that even more. Afro-Mexicans are finally have been counted in the Mexican census. I mean, this is the first time at nearly 500 years of people of African descent being in Mexico and they were never counted. And if you are not counted, that means a loss. There’s so much, you don’t receive as a citizen, as a human being, resources, and you’re not seen, you’re invisible. So Afro-Mexicans finally, I think it was a 2020, recent census within the last like two years, have finally been counted in Mexico. I know…

Norah Jones:

Wow, Kim. That’s-

Kim Haas:

After we pick ourselves up off the floor.

Norah Jones:

I keep saying wow because you just reveal so many things. It’s not very erudite, but it sure is fascinating and appalling in some directions.

Kim Haas:

Yes. Absolutely.

Norah Jones:

You are working right now with your major in the background that you’ve started out with, with the Spanish speaking cultures, in the case of Brazil, with the Brazilian Portuguese cultures. You started this conversation by noting that there was this strange comment about French being a useless language. There are so many folks around the world better of African heritage or living in countries in Africa that are French speaking by national design. What kind of work, if any, or what other conversations have you had that helped to expand this identity across additional languages from the Spanish that you’re using with the Afro-Latino?

Kim Haas:

So if it’s not Spanish, because that was my major, but Portuguese, studying that because I just find Afro-Brazilian culture in particular, but you also have Cabo Verde off the coast of Africa, Mozambique and Angola where people of African descent speak Portuguese in addition to their other languages. And so I just always found it just so fascinating seeing people who look like me and in other parts of the world, and I think about Brazil because I was just there just a couple months ago, and learning about their history and what do we have in common, what are some differences, how does it express themselves? And I just find it really interesting.

Kim Haas:

And then in Italy right now, I mean, they’re kind of, I don’t know if to say struggling, but they’re dealing with this whole immigration issue and having people come in from other parts of, in particular Africa, and not always, just not every Italian, but not always so well received, but being able to express myself in Italian. I’ll tell you this. When I’m in Italy, it’s funny because sometimes people don’t expect you to speak Italian. So I’ve heard people say things and I just sit there and listen while they’re talking about me, sometimes good, sometimes not. So, you know. And so it’s funny when you can surprise them and people have … you should see their faces, Norah. When they learn that you speak Italian. I mean, it is just priceless that, you know.

Kim Haas:

And so learning about kind of sometimes the Afro-, if you say -Italian experience is really interesting and it’s countries seeing countries like Italy, for example, that’s white European having to deal with this influx of people who are not of Italian descent. Change is hard. I mean, this is what it comes down to. Changing the way you see yourselves, the way you see your culture. Language is always evolving. As people come in, they influence language and the words and vocabulary. And so change is hard and having to deal with change is tough for human beings.

Norah Jones:

Culturally, linguistically, ethnically, these changes all are part of how we see ourselves, indeed. You’ve had so many wonderful interviews I know, as part of just the way you live, but also as part of your travels series. Can you pick out an especially amazing, touching, important story or two to share with the listeners today?

Kim Haas:

Oh, my gosh. You know what, you’re asking that question and there’s so many people, but you know one that comes to mind is Antonio and he’s not in the show. He’s in Rio, Copacabana, one of the hotels where I was staying two or three years ago when I was in Rio. And I just … he looked like he could have been my brother or cousin. He is a dark skinned man, Afro-Brazilian, and I just, again, this is right when you can speak a language. And so we were able to speak in Portuguese, he didn’t speak English and he was a bellman there. And when I do presentations, I title my slide about him, with a picture of the two of us together, a gentleman in Rio, because I want people to see him as a gentleman. I’m almost getting emotional when I think about him and how absolutely kind and giving he … I’ll say, what is, and he told me how hard it is for him in Rio. He said, when I crossed the street, people grabbed their bags, they … you know, and he said how challenging it was. And I just loved him. And I just had just a wonderful time with … We just connected.

Kim Haas:

And I think about what talents and gifts he has to offer the world that he may never … and I don’t want to say … I don’t even want to put this out there, but because of, we’ll just say it, racism, will he have a chance to be all that he can be? He could. Who knows what he can be, but because of … It’s racism. Will Antonio be able to express himself fully with all his talents and gifts because he has them and we all do?

Kim Haas:

And so I feel like I’m on the verge of crying just because I just love seeing him every day and we would speak and have a chance to talk to him. And he talked about how often he’s so negatively treated by people and people at the hotel and guests. And so I try and honor him in my presentations with that slide, because I do want us to think about him as a true gentleman that he is and how kind he is, and wishing for him just the absolute best. So I think about him when you ask that question. He was the first person.

Norah Jones:

I so deeply appreciate that story, especially because it clearly did touch deeply your heart and spirit. And thank you for sharing that vulnerable moment. When you look then at the production of the show, and you think you have Antonio in the back of your mind, and you see the racism that creates the blockages for him, what are some of the ways, Kim, that through that show and through your presentations, that you see the possibility to open doors for Antonio and so many like him?

Kim Haas:

Norah, I love your questions. And I just hope that through the show and we looking to shoot in Brazil one day, and I just hope that as a result of the show, people will think differently. Well, first of all, people write me and tell me when they see the show, “Oh, I didn’t know that there were blacks in Costa Rica.” So the first thing is awareness, that hopefully this show is just bringing awareness to, in this instance, Costa Rica, but whatever the country, that there are people of African descent living their lives, that they have a history and it’s pretty tremendous in each country. And that’s the first thing, is just awareness, because so many people say I had no idea. So then-

Norah Jones:

I had no idea.

Kim Haas:

Yes. And so that brings me great joy to know that hopefully we’re opening people’s hearts and minds to learning about other cultures and other people in these countries. And then hopefully that maybe they’ll read more, they’ll travel to some of these places, they’ll be interested in reading about Quince Duncan, one of the authors that we interviewed in the segment, or going to Selvin’s restaurant in Limon Coast, or taking a dance class with Yethsira, any of those things. But also thinking about the humanity of these people and the people, and really saying, “Oh, well, they have the same wants and desires as I do.” And to see … they may not see Antonio on camera, but what these people for me represent is this incredible talent that’s there.

Kim Haas:

And I hope that they’ll think about Latin America differently, that they’ll think about Costa Rica differently, specifically, or whatever country, and they’ll be inspired to learn more and support, as I said, through reading some of the books of authors, if they travel, going to some of these places and doing whatever comes to mind that is a positive force. And that maybe somebody like Antonio, that hopefully they’ll think about him in a different way. If they happen to be in Rio and extend a kindness, kind word, because knowing that he’s a human being and he has wants and desires just like everyone else. And unfortunately, just because of the color of his skin and the place where he grows up on, it’s just very challenging.

Norah Jones:

Well, and that opening our eyes to the Antonios in front of us, no matter where we go, including down the street, may we indeed have that happen because all of the openings that are possible. Kim, turn that mirror for just a second onto the United States. What are some of the insights, concerns, however you would like to put it, you’re a very positive person. You come at everything that you do with such an attitude of freedom and joy and invitation-

Kim Haas:

Thank you.

Norah Jones:

… that it’s very compelling and inviting. So turn to, just for a moment, to the United States. We have very few people relative to many countries that take languages that understand why they should. Turn your good eye to the United States now. What are some of the things that you can imagine happening that can help to turn the tide in the United States to the importance of languages and cultures?

Kim Haas:

Wow. I mean, I think so often, we’re kind of a celebrity led or at least inspired country, and it’s a great question. I think seeing more people who are in positions or prominent positions who speak another language would be so helpful. I mean, I don’t think we, if I’m not mistaken, no matter how people feel politically, I don’t think any of the presidents have ever spoken another language. I mean, I could be wrong, but … So, I mean, that seeing people in certain positions who, if they were bilingual, spoke another language or had that inclination, I think they’re an example, or, I hate to say it, but I think celebrities have a certain, just because of their platform. And if there were people that are kind of prominent who spoke other languages, it probably I think would inspire people to do so, but we don’t have to wait for any of that. I mean, and I don’t think we should. Just saying that if someone that we saw in the public eye put it that way, and we saw them speaking in another language, I think that could inspire people for sure.

Kim Haas:

And so I think that would be key, but I think the more, hopefully moving out of the pandemic or at least traveling again, I always try and encourage people to, when you’re going to a different country and I try and do that, even learn just a few words. Learn how to say thank you and hello, and whatever language you’re speaking. So there are things that we can do where we’re not waiting for, again, someone else to lead by example. But if we can all see the value in it, and again, it’s not about people, you don’t have to major in a language, but learning some basic phrases and caring, caring about it.

Kim Haas:

And people pick up on that when you are trying. I mean, it’s not about being fluent. I’m not fluent in French, by no means. I just know a couple words, but I try when I’m there. I try to be gracious. So I think those things are all things we can do to make a difference. And I think those kinds of things are important. And I think schools. I mean, right where we are, the schools can really stress the importance of learning a language and to live in this global society. I mean, look, after coronavirus, if people don’t know that we’re all connected, that something can start in one region of the world and truly within, however long you want to say, days, whatever, can be somewhere else in another corner of the world, we are. And so by learning another language, it’s a great way to connect with people.

Norah Jones:

You have helped people, especially those of African heritage to discover the background, very touched by the stories of certainly the percentage of the population, again, the construction of canals and railroads and the bringing of culture. And it sounds to me, Kim, like there’s so much of a richness there still, even in the United States for encouraging all to take languages, to connect up with the excitement that’s around the world, to connect and honor people and make things happen. But do you see a special, positive impact in the young people or grownups of African heritage in the United States with regard to languages? What kinds of encouragements or insights do you have?

Kim Haas:

Well, I think what we’ve been seeing since the show launched is people have said to me and people who said, they’re African American in particular, and they said, oh, because of the show, seeing, watching an episode, now I want to get back and study Spanish. And yes. So I received correspondence many times with people saying, oh, I really want to now study Spanish or I’m going to dust off my, you know, or I’m going to get back to it. And so the that’s been really wonderful if we can inspire people and I think particularly people of African descent to want to study another language, whatever it may be, then that’s really wonderful. And I think it just … so much of it just depends on, I think your home, your upbringing, your school, do you have opportunity to connect with people from different backgrounds, but I hope that the show does inspire people. That’s great if you want to study another language. I have people I’ve talked to on the phone. I can still say I wanted to study Spanish or another language, but I don’t know … they don’t know what to do with it. It’s not like medicine, where if you study medicine, you go to med school and you know you’re going to be a doctor. Maybe you don’t know which specialty yet, but whatever.

Kim Haas:

So I think language for many people, it can be harder if you’re not going to be a language teacher, teacher in the formal sense, then it can be harder to try and figure out what to do with this for some people. And I think maybe that’s what happened with the woman on the radio who was saying it was a useless language, but you have to put on your thinking caps and to do what you want to do doesn’t always just come and you brainstorm. I do a lot of just thinking and kind of daydreaming, but I just try and let myself think creatively and I just enjoy it. So yes, I see quite a few people reach out and say, as a result … and they’ll say I’m black and I want to study Spanish, I want to get back to Spanish, or people call me and ask me, I don’t know what to do with it, but I know I want to do something with language and we talk it through and try and figure out some ideas, brainstorming ideas, and then just try and be an inspiration and hopefully a positive force for folks as they try and figure out, what can I do with this language?

Norah Jones:

What in the world can I do with this language? Right?

Kim Haas:

We got the whole world. Yes. That’s the great thing.

Norah Jones:

That’s exactly right.

Kim Haas:

Yes. We got the whole world.

Norah Jones:

We got the whole world, indeed. Now, Kim, I’d like you to do one more thing for me today, please.

Kim Haas:

Of course.

Norah Jones:

I want you to I’m imagine that listening audience now, and what else is on your heart, your mind, your spirit, that before we finish our conversation today, you do not want to leave them without hearing from you about what?

Kim Haas:

I think it’s, again, a summary because this is just so important to me. So I think it’s just more of a summation of thinking about Latin American in particular because that’s my area. But I think thinking much more broadly and expanding our thoughts about who is Latin American, what does that person look like, and they could look like me, they could look like you, but I think we’ve left out the people that look like me, and that their history is glorious. I mean, it comes with a lot of heartbreak obviously and tragedy, but I say to create such things as samba in Brazil and salsa and building part of Puerto Rico and Old San Juan being San Juan and so much of Latin American, the Afro-Mexicans, that there is a tremendous history and accomplishments and resilience, and that for me is most important. And if people can think differently, and so then maybe the next time they open a magazine and see someone who’s Brazilian, even if they aren’t of African descent, start thinking differently like, oh, wait a minute, because in Brazil actually, 55% of the population is of African descent.

Kim Haas:

So the majority… Yes, so the majority are of African descent. And questioning this, questioning when you see something, oh, could this have not been fill this role, because casting is a choice, casting, as I say, is a choice and it’s a decision that is made, but other decisions can be made. And so for me, it’s this awareness. If I can shed light on awareness and hopefully, and I’ll tell you this, Norah. I remember reading a while ago, that there was a little boy in Rio, in a favela and if your audience isn’t familiar with the favelas, it’s those really kind of humble structures that are built on the Hills in Rio, you see them so often, and they are usually … people who are black and brown people live in them because they tend to be very humble, low to moderate income individuals, but this is all … there’s a whole history behind it and it’s all built on, unfortunately, racist policy.

Kim Haas:

But my point is, so this little boy, when I was reading this article, he said that before seeing Black Panther, the movie, he said, he thought black people were dirty and he didn’t want to be black. That is not uncommon. That unfortunately is not uncommon. And after seeing Black Panther, he said, the father said he realized he had superpowers and he felt so much better about being black. That’s the power of movies, television, magazines, media, for good as well. So I hope that our show can have that same kind of impact, especially for young children, that they feel good in the skin that they’re in and they start to learn more about their history and culture, and that they walk with their heads held high and know that they’re part of a great legacy. So for me, if I can help with that, I’m feeling really good.

Norah Jones:

You are definitely helping with that, Kim Haas. Thank you so much. That was powerfully said. Those that are about to put casting calls together, I give them a warning and-

Kim Haas:

It’s a choice.

Norah Jones:

… and I just really … That’s right. I really appreciate it that the touching stories that you have shared, and I know you have so many more, perhaps we have an opportunity to do a storytelling exchange where even more stories are told so that we can continue to bring this very important meaning of our identity and just the heartbreak that you just shared from the sense of identity that that young child had. But now he has the superpowers that he needs to make a difference in the world. So thank you for that.

Kim Haas:

Gracias.

Norah Jones:

Kim, thanks today. I really appreciate you being here and we all wish you, of course, the very best with your wonderful program and all the other wonderful things that you’ll think of with that thinking cap of yours. It’s clearly on all the time.

Kim Haas:

Gracias, Norah. Muchisimas gracias.

Norah Jones:

Gracias, gracias. Hasta pronto, no?

Kim Haas:

Claro que si. Hasta pronto.

Leave a Reply