|June 14, 2000
Mario André Chandler
The final leg of my journey was to take us to the enchanted city of Granada in the southern region of Spain called Andalusia. Granada houses the Alhambra (the Moorish palace) and a plethora of other sites that speak loudly to an African presence in the city’s past.
It was from Granada that I wanted to share with you the life story of the most important black man to impact 16th century Spanish society. His name was Juan Latino (1516?-1597). Born in West Africa, he was enslaved and brought to Spain in chains. In spite of his servitude, his sharp intellect combined with a favorable fate would allow him to break the chains and become an educator of the very people who had subjugated him. In Granada, he became a professor of Latin (hence his last name, Latino), and is reputed to have been sought after from far and wide by students who were eager to learn from him.
I stumbled upon Juan Latino by accident a few years ago. The more I read, the more I realized that this man was an icon in Renaissance Spain. He is cited in Spain’s most famous novel, Don Quijote de la Mancha, written by Spain’s most renowned native son, Miguel de Cervantes. He is referred to in the great Spanish playwright Lope de Vega’s La dama boba. There is even a fictional history of Juan Latino written by Diego Ximénez de Enciso more than 50 years after Latino’s death. La comedia famosa de Juan Latino (1652) chronicles the life and times of the black savant.
The main purpose of my research in Granada was to attempt to find information that would aid me in distinguishing the historical Juan Latino from the fictional. To help me in this endeavor, I was hoping to meet with the author of a recent book about slavery in 16th century Granada. Unfortunately, our meeting never materialized. Since Granada was to be my final destination before returning to the United States, I have decided to finish up a few days early and make my way back to Birmingham.
It’s worth noting that conducting research is a curious process. Sometimes you set out in one direction and end up some place else. Though not making it to Granada is somewhat disappointing, Spain, as you can tell, is almost like my second home. I know I’ll return again very soon and pick up where I left off.
Without hesitation, I would have to say that my trip has been enormously productive for three primary reasons. First, I accumulated a wealth of information from Valladolid, Madrid and Salamanca that will enhance my contributions within in as well as outside of the classroom. Second, I have a solid foundation for my first book project on which I will begin working immediately. Third and no less important is the fact that I was able to share a great deal of my findings with you.
Your comments, questions and words of encouragement have been priceless over these past few weeks. Your role in this journey to Spain has been more important than you may realize because you kept me focused and connected. I am impressed by your sensitivity. I am honored by your sincere interest in the work that I do. Thank you, the WOW audience, my mentors, and my colleagues for sharing my passion.
As I make my way back home, know that it is a bittersweet return indeed. Forgive any errors that I may have made in the rush to meet deadlines. Most importantly, excuse the very internal tone of many of my writings if doing so has disturbed any style to which you are accustomed. I try to write from deep within because there is where the greatest articulation of expression, emotion and reflection resides. Such articulation is needed in order to convey the sensations that Spain has produced within me on this journey and on previous ones.
I welcome you to post any additional comments or questions between now and the conclusion of the UAB in Spain project. I will be happy to respond to the best of my ability.
Warm thanks for your attention.