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Sunnyside Restaurant Takes Down Blackface Photo After Backlash

A photo of a Cumbia & Sabor staffer in blackface (via Cumbia & Sabor)

Oct. 8, 2018 By Nathaly Pesantez

A Sunnyside restaurant came under fire for recently posting a now-deleted photo of one of its staff members in blackface, which it maintains is part of a cultural tradition.

Cumbia & Sabor, the Colombian restaurant by 45th Street and Greenpoint Avenue, posted a photo about two weeks ago to its social media accounts depicting a staffer with his face painted black and lips drawn in red, who was posing outside the restaurant with two other staff members.

The post, accompanied by a separate image of the staffer in a different costume, was a type of promo that indicated the staffer, who recently began putting on song and dance shows at the restaurant, would be doing a parody performance at the site the following evening.

The photo was deleted as of last Thursday after staying up for several days, where it received comments from people who took offense to the image and called it racist.

“This is not ok or funny,” wrote one user in a now-deleted Instagram post.

“Black face? Really? This is incredibly offensive,” wrote a Facebook user.

Comments on the restaurant’s post while the image was up (edited screenshot via Cumbia & Sabor on Facebook).

The restaurant, like others, however, said the blackface character was anything but racist, and defended it as a part of Colombian culture. It wrote at the time that the character was a “representation of Colombian folklore,” and part of Colombia’s Blacks and Whites’ Carnival.

The event, celebrated in late December and early January, is on UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The carnival includes people donning “black cosmetics” and white talcum to “symbolize equality and integrate all citizens through a celebration of ethnic and cultural difference,” according to UNESCO.

“…Not everybody understands the meaning behind it,” one Facebook user wrote, later adding that in Colombia, “…nobody gets offended because we don’t pull the race card at all.”

Some, however, did not buy the restaurant’s explanation.

“So where are the Afro-Colombian people with their painted faces?” read a response on Facebook. “Or any indication that has anything to [do] with carnival other than a way to justify this as ok?”

But in the new post uploaded after the photo was removed, the restaurant said the staffer, wearing fake breasts and a wig, was in costume as La Negra Tomasa (“the black woman Tomasa”), a well-known blackface archetype in Latin America and Spain that frequently appears in carnivals and other festivities.

The staffer, who was also wearing a Colombian soccer jersey, appeared in this character in anticipation for a Colombian soccer match in September, the restaurant said.

While the image was removed, the restaurant continued to defend its use of blackface, noting that they took the photo down to “avoid further controversy,” among other reasons.

They lamented that the community wasn’t more open minded to learning and understanding others’ traditions.

“We too have the right to express our cultural traditions, even if you believe them to be outdated,” reads Cumbia & Sabor’s post. “It is not up to you to decide which parts of our culture we embrace or not. Ignorance of others’ traditions is not an excuse for attack.”

The restaurant’s note included an apology written in Spanish to the Colombian community that “knows and understands this character.”

“People from other cultures felt it was in their right to attack a representative part of Colombian tradition and culture,” they wrote. “Ignorance is bold.”

Jessenia Burgos, who helps run the family business with her father, told the Sunnyside Post that negative reactions to the image came as a “complete surprise” to her and staffers at the restaurant.

“We were embracing a long-standing tradition from our culture, which is very common and generally accepted, and that was the extent of it in our minds,” Burgos wrote in an e-mail. “While we understand the backlash, its reasoning, and the history behind it, we still can’t help but feel misunderstood by the few who were offended.”

The staffer dressing in that character, she said, was a way to further root for Colombia during the soccer match. Patrons at the restaurant reacted positively, with many asking to take pictures with him, she said.

It was the first time the staffer had appeared in blackface, Burgos said.

Blackface, while taboo in America, is still seen widely throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, according to Danielle Roper, a professor at the University of Chicago’s Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture, whose research focuses on blackface in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Some characters, like La Negra Tomasa, are known across Latin America and Spain, while others are more regional. A part of Ecuador, for instance, holds the festival of La Mama Negra (“black mama”), typically featuring a man as the archetype character in blackface.

Carnivals and parades are also places where people don blackface as part of the festivities. Television, books, and other forms of media, furthermore, are another holding ground for the practice.

“In Latin America, these types of racial caricatures are actually incredibly common,” Roper said.

While the restaurant and many others say that blackface is embedded in culture and not considered racist, it is increasingly becoming a subject of controversy and critique in the region.

Television shows and networks, for instance, have recently dropped blackface characters after mounting resistance from activists groups. “El Negro Mama” and “Soldado Micolta”, both dim-witted, buffoonish caricatures of Afro-descent on popular variety shows in Peru and Colombia, respectively, are two such cases.

Blackface, Roper said, tends to be defended as a playful costume or something done as a joke, much like what the actors portraying the blackface characters have said.

But jokes, Roper says, carry a certain function.

“Jokes are ways in which we confirm and consolidate assumptions that we have about marginalized groups of people,” she said. “These jokes always seem to draw upon common assumptions about blackness—exaggeration of black features, blackness as operating as outside standards of beauty.”

Evoking tradition, she says, is also a common defense for the practice.

“Nationalist posturing is part of the course for how some Latin Americans tend to respond to critiques of blackface,” Roper said. “The fact of it being tradition does not mean that racism is not operative here. In fact, I would say traditions are precisely where understandings of race are ritualized and solidified.”

Ray Charrupi, founder of the Chao Racismo (Goodbye Racism), the Colombian-based organization that was instrumental in taking Soldado Micolta off the air, told the Sunnyside Post that he considers Latin America several decades behind in terms of its understanding of race and blackface, resembling attitudes once prevalent in the states.

He rejected Cumbia & Sabor’s blackface photograph and responses, and said the restaurant was engaging in racism whether it wanted to or not.

“Culture is not an excuse,” he said to the Sunnyside Post. “Blackface is damaging to the dignity of a human being.”

Burgos, while aware of how blackface is seen in the states, still stands behind the staffer’s use of blackface “as a Colombian character and longstanding tradition.”

She said, however, that the restaurant will not be engaging in that representation again.

For Melissa Escuerdo, a 26-year-old Colombian-American and Sunnysider who denounced the restaurant’s use of blackface, the fact that it happened in her neighborhood is especially troubling.

“This community really raised us to be well rounded,” she said. “This is why we immediately felt so angered and frustrated. This doesn’t represent us.”

She hopes the situation could be a learning experience for all.

“The only way that we’re going to grow as a society is if we help open each other’s eyes to true empathy and compassion for everyone.”

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55 Comments

ABC

What about women who dress like men? Or men who dress as women, where’s the outrage on that ?< If you support that, you shouldn’t complain about how other people choose to “express” themselves you bunch of clowns !

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GEORGE Kelly

lets get something straight here..Through out Mexico, Central America,South America,and all the Caribbean Islands there has been a profound bias for all the peoplet of dark skin by their blue eyed Government Politicians. .If they want to parody Black Face that’s their business…These so called Negras..negritos are still loyal to there fellow country men…HOW DARE YOU P.C IDIOTS DEMAND WE IMPOSE OUR OR YOUR THOUGHTS ON THEM.YOU ARE THE RACIST. .GO CULTURE,GO BLANDACKFACE,GO TO HELL TO THE P.C COLONISTS LIBERALS

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BigJim time for your meds

What does the murder at the Trump rally in Charlottesville have to do with this?

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Juana Juana

it was just a neo-nazi rally where a lot of Trump supporters HAPPENED to show up at you obsessed antifa cuck shill sjw soros fool.

Indepentlaffingatyou

You ate all so silly! Getting your panties in a wad over an article! I love this paper. Brings put all the morons and their abundance if stupudity no matter which side if the fence you play!

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OldSkool

Wow – where is the compassion and tolerance for the immigrant community?

My wife and her friends are Colombian. Years ago, when I first saw the Colombian comedian (Soldado Micolta) in blackface and then attended the festival – I admit, I was shocked. I explained that in USA – blackface is taboo and has many negative connotations. They were horrified that I was horrified – and explained their traditions to me. They basically told me words to the effect that every view in the world is not based on, or needs to conform to effects of American racism. That comedian is very funny – and his comedy is NOT racist. BTW, now he appears in camouflage face paint. Additionally, most Colombians now realize that things are evolving and blackface is not accepted as funny anymore, even in South America.

In my experience, Colombians (born and raised in Colombia) are the least racist group of people I have ever come across – and I have been around the world a few times.

Ray Charrupi is a race baiter and does not reflect the views of average Colombians. Ray is working hard to bring the Al Sharpton style “race hustle” to Colombia, but most see thru his hollow claims. He is the type of guy that tries to exploit sh*t like this to raise his profile.
Professor Danielle Roper needs to get out of the academic bubble she is in and talk to some real people. She thrives on sh*t like this as well. It keeps her in her cushy job.

In Colombia, if you are black – they call you black “negro” – If you are white – they call you white “blanco”, “blancito”, or “gringo” if you are foreign. Straight up – no “politically correct” terminology or BS.

Now – that picture was in poor taste for a restaurant here in the USA and should have never been posted, but give me a break and cut these folks some slack. They took it down once it was brought to their attention. To me – that seems like an honest oversight – all things considered.

Everyone calm down and go eat some food and have a drink. You will see that Colombians (born and raised in Colombia) are the warmest, friendliest, least racist people you will find anywhere in the world. We are lucky to have a large Colombian population right here in Queens.

Honestly, I am not sure if the online mob will forgive such a cultural oversight. Things are getting very weird these days. Liberals and Progressives sure have changed.

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el lol

That’s because the spanish word for “black” is “negro” lol, not because Colombians aren’t “PC”.

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Tired of Nonsense

They are not the least racist people. Us Latinos have to take responsibility for perpetuating the racist stereotypes of “el negro” and “el indio.” People who have a bit more respect and intelligence will call afro Colombians Moreno

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Anonymous

This is definitely racist and wildlyinappropriate. I understand why the restaurant thinks it’s ok to represent its culture but just because your culture is extremely antiquated and non progressive doesnt mean I as a black man have to sit here and be triggered by you. I love Hispanic food and these people will NEVER get my business. That is all.

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A.Bundy

and here comes the racism wild card. took long enough. except now all those facebook posters are publicly exposed forever. its not me that has to worry about my job, or worry about future hirings. oh, you thought background checks wont look at your facebook posts? haha dont these posters worry if an employer sees their post as racism? especially if their employer is columbian? this is too funny. you cant make up this level of entertainment. enjoy social media!

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freedom of choice

“We too have the right to express our cultural traditions, even if you believe them to be outdated,” reads Cumbia & Sabor’s post. “It is not up to you to decide which parts of our culture we embrace or not…” You are right – it is your right. You are defended by the first amendment just as we all are in America. But I don’t see what rights were violated. You chose to remove the image. I imagine you were concerned about the effect that the image was going to have on your business. But that is our right. We have the right to be offended if we find it offensive. And we have the right to patronize Cumbia & Sabor or not

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Henry

This may be part of the culture of Colombia but then so is slavery and lynching of Afro-Americans a part of the American cultural history. African slaves was a part of Colombia’s history. In the 21st Century are Colombians still unable to recognize human injustice? It seems so. Of course, I am not giving the US a pass, we continue to belittle the lives of African-Americans. Sad, sad, sad.

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Thomas Less

We invite and welcome all cultures into our community, so long as they strictly adhere to our view of what is acceptable, since only we know what’s best and our moral view is the only one that counts.

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reading is hard for Trumpeters

You should try reading the article.

How do “dim-witted, buffoonish caricatures of Afro-descent” and “exaggeration of black features, blackness as operating as outside standards of beauty” count as welcoming all cultures?

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The Perps Wife

My American, hyper-sensitive reaction to this photo was “oh no, really?” But once I took the time to hear that it’s something steeped in Colombian culture, that I was unaware of, it takes the sting out of it for me. Isn’t it all about embracing diversity, after all?

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IanM

“It’s part of our culture” is probably the weakest defense of a racist practice (or any other kind of abhorrent tradition) that I can imagine. Yes, that’s the point! The fact that racism is deeply engrained in your culture as a result of centuries of oppressive history is EXACTLY why it’s offensive.

There are plenty of horrendous traditions, including blackface, that were once part of American culture, too – once we understand how evil they are, we change them. Or at least, we try our best. Get with the program.

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XYZ

Always get a bad vibe from this place. Like I could just piss off if I dont speak Spanish.

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25 year old Bicyclist

First, this article just runs on and on, overstating, over explaining. It could weigh a lot less with a few paragraphs removed. Make your point once.

Second, regardless of “Colombian culture” they’re still in America and as we’re all painfully aware getting gussied up in “black face” isn’t ok, HERE. Just ask Whoopi Goldberg and Ted Danson.

Third, prepackaged outrage is not getting old. It IS old. This new era of tattletales and cell phone cameras is the new norm. So, if you’re going to do something stupid expect that some self proclaimed member of the Justice League will record you and circle up a mob, that are in a constant state of “outrage”, just looking for a reason to put their self deprecating fists in the air. Congrats to Cumbia & Sabor on giving them one. The worst of this backlash has yet to come, unfortunately. “Progressives” aren’t happy until they’ve tasted blood and lives are destroyed.
Lastly, I’m surprised women and “transgender” folk aren’t “outraged”. Or is it that it’s still ok for a man to dress in women’s clothing, complete with faux boobies? Pretending to be black = bad. Pretending to be a woman = good. Get on that people. We need new topics to spark that good time, adrenaline spiking, endorphin releasing outrage. It’s such a rush!

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Juana Juana

Get help! You are obsessed #Trumpin2020again! #hillaryislovelyandamazing #billclintonwearsthepantsuitsinthisfamily

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typical

> WHATABOUT HILLARY

that’s usually the best argument a Trumpeter can muster. You’ve proved it yet again 😂😂😂

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Joey

These SJWs are tough in a mob but when you confront them in small numbers it’s a different story.

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but her emails

These sjw soros soyboys cuck shills have run amok with politicul correctness.
What’s so racist about imagery steeped in hundreds of year of racism? maga again hillary’s emails.

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SunnysideUpsideDown

“What’s so racist about… racism?” 🤦‍♂️
Bitch, shut the fuck up. You can’t even write right. And don’t bring Trump into this… You’re giving us conservatives a bad rep.

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too late

Conservatives kind of gave themselves a bad rep when they murdered someone at that Trump rally in Charlottesville where they were wearing Nazi armbands marching with Tiki Torches and chanting “the Jews will not replace us”

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Mark

Customs and traditions change and evolve continuously to meet the demands of their time and place. When a thing begins to hurt more people than it salves is when those decisions are generally made. The swastika isn’t used much by indigenous peoples because, despite a long standing benign/beautiful history, it has a more nefarious meaning today. In this country blackface is a weapon—to say it’s ignorant to be offended by it has it backwards. If you think your nostalgia is more important than a national history of suffering, you should take a breather.

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Juan Juan

It was at the Unite the RIGHT rally where Trump supporters were chanting “the Jews will not replace us”. How are they “Typical libs”?

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What's offensive about overt racism?

As usual the Trumpeters race to defend the racists. Blackface means something different in the US than it does in other countries, with a different history behind it.

Of course, the Trumpeters aren’t educated enough to understand this.

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Roberto

Your statement offends me. I’m going to tell on youMaybe I can sue you and get some of your trust-fund money.

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trust funds, tax fraud, etc are the worst

Surely you hate people that are just living off their parents wealth, like Trump, right?

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lol

> just the ones that are offended by everything

You mean like Trump, who was so offended when a football man didn’t stand up that he tweeted about it?

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Juana Juana

Yeah, right: many of us have law degrees and have practiced law for decades and we have many doctors in our families. They treat people like you for mental illness.

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Juana Juana

Hillary: “I love the stupid and corrupt – they voted for me! #iamspecialandselfentitled

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Pete Za

No, it’s not. When it has the power to hurt and demean someone it’s not acceptable.

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