Archive for July 2011

Baby Boomers Redefining Retirement   1 comment

Last year I met a guy in one of my favorite hotel bars in San Jose, Costa Rica. The year before he had retired to Costa Rica. A little older than me, perhaps in his mid 60’s he and his wife had spent a good part of their later work years saving and planning their dream retirement, a golf course community in beautiful Costa Rica was the way they decided that they would spend their years after a life of work and raising their family. As I listened to his story I wandered why he sounded so sad. And what was he doing in San Jose, a about a three hour drive from his home. And then he said it. The most horrible thing, his wife had died. And he was alone in this retirement community that was their dream. Now he was faced with some decisions. Some very difficult decisions!

Costa Rica and Panama, principally in Latin America, have spent millions and developed great incentives for people to move there in their retirement. Both countries have stable governments and economies. The dollar is accepted in both countries. In Panama retirees pay no tax on foreign income earned. Foreigners can buy property in both countries with the same rights and protections as citizens. Panama has a retirement incentive program. Both countries offer access to their world class health care and in both countries English is spoken widely. Panama offers exemptions from import duties, construction materials and equipment, income, real estate taxes, etc. Both countries offer great telecommunications systems with access to the internet readily available.

I am a baby boomer. In fact, I will turn 61 this Saturday, July 30, the day I leave for Cartagena and then on to Barranquilla to find an apartment. It is estimated that a baby boomer, a person born between 1946 and 1964, turns 60 every eight seconds in the United States. With the potential of 70 to 80 baby boomer retirees over the next decade many other countries, like Nicaragua, Colombia, Argentina and Uruguay also have seen that attracting some of these potential retirees may be great for them and their economies. In February, 2011, the Tico Times published an article, entitled “Why are so many baby boomers retiring in Central America?” In the article Ryan Piercy, head of the Association of Residents of Costa Rica (ARCR), stated “Central America and Latin America are going to receive at least 250,000 American retirees over the next 15 years. And of all the options in the region, the majority, in my opinion, will go to Panama, Costa Rica and Nicaragua.”

With the United States Congress still undecided about the Colombian Free Trade Agreement, It is probably not coincidental that on July 20, 2011 USA TODAY carrier a twenty page supplement on Colombia. No one should underestimate the country’s interest in strengthening economic ties with the United States. The insert goes to great links to move Colombia to the forefront of the minds of north American’s as a safe, stable, thriving economy ready to receive visitors and residents from all over the world. And I for one (yes, shameless self-interest) am hoping that they like other Latin and South American countries catch the fever and begin to offer incentive for retirees to more there. Already two of their banks, Banco de Bogota and BanColombia, are able to receive social security checks by direct deposit.

What is true for me is also true for many of my fellow baby boomer. We are not the buy a piece of property on the golf course types. Bridge every Thursday, a planned movie once a week, dinner at the club house, and endless golf – on the same course – is not appealing. A generation or more certainly thought so. The economic downturn notwithstanding, many of us still have more discretionary money after 60 than the generation before us. But we have no intention of not working or doing something that either makes money or contributes to the greater good. We want our lives to continue to be healthy. We want diversity. We want to be active. We want to learn and explore.

My own goals are to buy some property to renovation and rent. I will tutor one or two students in subjects they are having difficulty with, for free. I plan to conduct several tours a year with a focus on linking African Americans to the cultures of both Costa Rica and Colombia. I may teach some. And of course, I will write and travel. So maybe it is not retirement that I am doing. Maybe I am just changing my life. Perhaps we should coin a new term for baby boomers. We baby boomers are not retiring. We are in “re-creation”.

Posted July 28, 2011 by Wayne in Uncategorized

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Retiring to Colombia   1 comment

After reading the weather reports for Barranquilla, Colombia, I am not sure why I am moving there. I really dislike the heat. A few days over the past couple of weeks it was hotter than a Pittsburgh blast furnace. The saving grace is that the weather is no better in the northeast U.S. It must be the kindness of people, their value for family, the beaches, the dancing, the food, the culture, a healthier life balance, a belief that life must be enjoyed, and yes those gorgeous Colombianas.

I once tweeted that “Moving requires vision, a to-do-list & a great sense of balance. Moving out of the country also requires courage & supportive family/friends.” Nothing could be truer of my impending move to Barranquilla on July 30, my birthday. Belle who is giving me a place to stay and keeping my stuff; Bill and Cora who are receiving my mail and providing loads of unconditional love; Renee gives unconditional and unbelievable moral support; Moss, Banks, Karen, Lynette and other great friends are wonderful cheerleaders and counselors; Lilo is making looking for an apartment from the States easier; Nidia is checking on import taxes; Melissa has promised to continue my Spanish grammar lessons; my Facebook page (the one in Spanish) has messages from my Colombian friends that are planning a birthday celebration; Elizabeth, my sistah in Cali, Jorge, Mayra and her family in Costa Rica are sources of great encouragement; my family sisters, Exa and Jean, perhaps not sure what to make of me, give me their love just the same. All, and more, are making this move, at age 60, easier.

Now as the days grow shorter, and my move closer, I realize that even though I have been living in Barranquilla for the past three months, moving my stuff there is not just something to do. There are emotions at play also. I returned to the U.S. June 8 to organize my things for this move. Though I landed in Atlanta, I immediately left (at 2:00 a.m.) headed for Charlotte. A friend of 37 years let me sleep on her couch and took me to breakfast. I left at 7 a.m. or so and drove to Charleston, West Virginia in time to surprise my sister on her job and have lunch with her. Leaving Charleston by 2 p.m. gave me enough time to get to Pittsburgh in time to change clothes and see Shade with my friends. What a show!! I hung out in the ‘burgh for a week seeing many of the friends with whom I grew into adulthood. Philly, another of my old stomping grounds for a whirlwind two days, to see a mentor, friends and my spiritual counselor was my next stop. Washington D.C. to see my new doctor for my physical; visited the Colombian Consulate; hung out at the Smithsonian Folk Life Festival (Colombia was a featured country this year) and had plenty of laughs with friends was the last stop on what I began to call my farewell tour.

Two-thousand miles! My farewell tour! And the growing acknowledgement that I am leaving behind the life I have known for the past thirty-five or so years. I spent a career trying to make institutions more responsive to people’s needs, particularly those people who rely on education and training to improve their lives, the lives of their families and their communities. I wanted to change the world; then I tried to change the inequities of our society; then I tried to change the communities in which people lived and struggled by changing the institutions in which they trusted their dreams and aspirations.

I am a different person than I was before I started visiting Latin America four years ago. Being in Latin America has affected me in ways that I have not fully comprehended. I feel like I will return to the U.S., as a visitor. My home will be Barranquilla, Colombia. I feel like my heart will be there also. I am way less tolerant of the racism I feel here in the United States. I am ready to live life more simply; less focused on what I can accumulate; less accepting of the racism I feel here in the United States; less tolerant of the negativity; and frustrated by our inability to improve the infrastructures supporting our society. I am at a place where I believe the politics of privilege is driving a chasm between our society’s soul and our connection to the universe.

I am ready to consume myself with family and projects that secure my future. I am ready to be more giving to myself, to be less stressed, in better balance and in better health. I have always been a little different. Perhaps that is because I have always seen the world as a place that should be more giving. So it was not surprising to hear some of my friends say “… you never cease to amaze me.” Well I have to say that there are parts of me that are amazed that I am moving. It is an exciting amazement. There are both melancholy and joyful farewells. There is a new chapter ready to take place in my life. I am learning to fully believe that after a career of making the dreams of others come true, now is time for me to make my own a reality.

Posted July 18, 2011 by Wayne in Uncategorized

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We Were Better Off When We were Slaves? Uhhh!! Time To Go   2 comments

On June 8, I returned to the United States to get my things organized for my move back to Colombia. As I have said before moving to Latin America is a healing contribution to my soul. But I have to admit my elation with seeing friends and family has been troubled by the reminder of why my soul needs healing. The latest salvo comes from The Family Leader, whose mission, as appears on their website, is to be “a consistent, courageous voice in the churches, in the legislature, in the media, in the courtroom, in the public square…always standing for God’s truth.” Described as an Iowa based conservative group with both money and political power, The Family Leader released on July 7, 2011 a presidential candidate pledge document stating “Slavery had a disastrous impact on African-American families, yet sadly a child born into slavery in 1860 was more likely to be raised by his mother and father in a two-parent household than was an African-American baby born after the election of the USA’s first African-American President,” As a requirement for The Family Leader’s presidential endorsement, both Rep. Michelle Bachmann and Sen. Rick Santorum signed the original document containing those sentiments.

Though, because of public outcry, the statement has been deleted from the declaration one has to wonder what level of thinking; what social, political, economic or spiritual agenda lead to such an oration in the first place. And what are potential presidents of the United States thinking, believing and valuing leading them to affirm such a perspective. To say that the lives of slaves in North America provided African Americans with a more intact family structure than they have today is both ludicrous and insane. The fact is that families were torn apart by slavery. Women were raped by their masters. Children were sold from their families. Husbands and wives were treated as chattle to be sold either separately or together depending on the will of their masters. People were murdered because of the color of their skin.

When I say that I am moving to Colombia some people are quick to point out the fact that Colombia has its own racist history. This is true! Yet, somehow, it seems, the slave trade and the millions of lives affected by it must have taken a more insidious turn when it reached North America. To quote Kjartan Sveinsson, Senior Research & Policy Analyst, The Runnymede Trust, “Some historians have argued that, because of this combination of economic, cultural and legal factors, Colombian authorities and slave owners were more ready to accept slaves as human beings with – albeit not equal – at least some basic rights. This is not to say that a slave’s life in Colombia was a good one, but slaves appear to have enjoyed more freedom than their counterparts up north. Liberty, for example, was a legitimate goal for a slave who could gain his or her freedom through a variety of means. Furthermore, and to a great extent through the influence of the Catholic Church, family bonds amongst slaves were fostered and encouraged. Up to two-thirds of all adult slaves in Colombia lived in family units, and parents had rights over the fate of their children – when sale occurred, it was more often than not the sale of families.”

Let me also point out that slavery did not exist in Latin America for the length of time it existed in North America. Most accounts hold that slavery began in the United States in the early 1600’s and did not end until 1865 or so; the Emancipation Proclamation did not free all slaves. Afro Colombians proudly celebrate that in 1757 the first emancipation of slaves in the Americas came in eastern Antioquia in the town of El Retiro where 127 slaves were emancipated by their slaveholders. Though the process of full emancipation did not get started until 1821 and was only achieved in 1852, the overcoming of this horrible practice, by whatever means necessary is seemingly a source of pride for many Colombians.

In my last post, July 5, 2011, I talked about the connections between Latin American culture and African Americans. Connections that go back, at minimum, to the slave trade and the common struggles experienced by generations afterwards are just a part the journey we share on a spiritual level. When I am in Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Colombia’s Atlantic coast I no longer feel like I am being treated differently; being judged differently; having different rules apply to me; having different penalties for breaking those same rules; and more, because of the color of my skin.

Statements, like the one made by The Family Leader seemingly lament the good old days. These beliefs and sentiments are really the tip of the iceberg. The ongoing assault that “minorities” face in the United States of America is wearisome. I have chosen not to spend the rest of my life waiting for the next racist salvo to be launched. Or worse looking in the mirror and wondering why I am allowing my soul to be contaminated by these kinds of thoughts and beliefs. So, again, don’t call me gringo. I may be from North America but there is no way in God’s universe that I can even begin to embrace values such as these nor the ideals from which they spawn.

Posted July 12, 2011 by Wayne in Uncategorized

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I Ain’t No Mother F^@king Gringo!   1 comment

I have some pretty strong feelings about being called a gringo. I mean it is not exactly like being called a nigger. Close enough though.

Some say the word “gringo” is derived from the word “griego” meaning Greek in Spanish. In this context the reference is to something or someone not understood, i.e. its Greek to me. Some say the word was born out of the Mexican American War, when Mexican soldiers overheard American soldiers singing “Green Grow the Lilacs.” The legend says they would satirically imitate the foreigner’s singing using the song’s title as a kind of satirical commentary. It is also said that when the United States invaded Mexico, wearing green uniforms, the people shouted “Green Go Home”. Whichever, if any, of these etymological accounts are true, all give credibility to the reasons for the pejorative use of the word as a way of referencing conquistadors, foreigners with white skin or Anglos.

Now- a-days the term gets used in all manner of ways. North Americans and Europeans alike refer to themselves as gringos. Either euphemistically or as a way to separate themselves from the people and places in Latin America where they live the term is descriptive and widely accepted. There is a website called “gringos.com.” Escazu, just outside of San Jose, Costa Rica is popularly called “gringo land” because there are so many North Americans living there. Generally, the word gringo now gets used to describe anyone from North America.

So what’s my issue with being called a gringo? It goes back to the roots of the word and its negative connection to the conquistadors. As an African American in Latin America the only thing that I feel that I have in common with the word’s use is that I am from North America. For me though, let’s not forget that I am North American for the same reason that many Latinos are my color: the slave trade. Given that fact, I have more in common with the Latin cultures who suffered from the European invasion of the Americas, and the ensuing slave trade, than the North Americans who visit Latin America.

Many say that the word’s negative connotation has been greatly diminished. But I have to disagree. In many places the sentiments run strong and deep. I have heard too many Latin Americans say, and read references to, “those mother f$@king gringos” talking about the arrogance and attitudes of entitlement that many North Americans and Europeans bring to Latin America. I have heard the sarcasm. It is widely known that in many parts of Latin America there is a gringo price for everything from massage parlors to property purchases. I had two friends ask the owner the price of his property just outside of Barranquilla, Colombia. One reported back to me that the price was $35K. The other said they were told the price was $150K. The second friend either told the owner that I am North American or was trying to make some money herself. Presumable the first did neither. Perhaps gringo prices result from a sense that gringos can, and perhaps should, pay more. Perhaps it’s a backlash to the arrogance and entitlement some Latinos feel they bring. Who knows!

The truth is I can deal with the practice of charging me more. To me the practice is pure capitalism. Whatever! I am more disturbed that calling me a gringo does not recognize that the cultural struggles which are a part of Latin American life, past and present, are the struggles that typify my life and the lives of many African Americans in the United States. My ancestors, brought forcibly to these shores, are also the ancestors of many people in Latin America. Calling me a gringo undermines our common struggles and triumph. I am a part of the same African diaspora that produced the cultures of Salvador Bahia, Brazil; Cartagena, Barranquilla, San Andres Island and Cali in Colombia; Liberia, Costa Rica; Bluefields in Nicaragua; Panama and more. So when I am called a gringo, I feel that all of that gets denied. I feel that I am being associated with something I am not, something that I have struggled against all of my life. And I hate that association almost as much as I hate being called a nigger.

Posted July 6, 2011 by Wayne in Uncategorized

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