AMMAN, Jordan – Pop singer Ricky Martin (search), on his first ever visit to the Middle East, pledged Monday that he would try to change negative perceptions of Arab youth in the West.
"I promise I will become a spokesperson, if you allow me to, a spokesperson on your behalf. I will defend you and try to get rid of any stereotypes," he told youngsters from 16 mainly Arab countries attending a youth conference. The children, aged 14 to 16, expressed concern about being labeled as "terrorists" by the West.
"I have been a victim of stereotypes. I come from Latin America and to some countries, we are considered 'losers,' drug traffickers, and that is not fair because that is generalizing," said Martin, sporting a black tee-shirt and jeans.
"Those comments are made out of ignorance and we have to sometimes ignore the ignorant, but we also have to educate the ignorant. You have me here as a friend," he added.
Martin, who is a United Nations Children's Fund Goodwill Ambassador (search), said he wanted to get to know the youth and their cultures better by spending time together. He said he planned to do a concert tour of the Mideast and North Africa, including Jordan and the Palestinian territories, tentatively scheduled for May 2006.
Martin, a Puerto Rico native, posed for photos with fans at the youth conference, at one point draping over his shoulders a traditional Palestinian kaffiyeha scarf with the slogan "Jerusalem is ours" written in Arabic on it.
Martin attended the silver jubilee of the Arab Children's Congress set up 25 years ago by Jordan's Queen Nour, King Hussein's widow, to promote creativity, peace, cross-cultural understanding and tolerance. He said he would like to promote a similar youth congress for his native Latin America.
Martin said he would travel later Monday to Thailand where his organization, the Ricky Martin Foundation, had built 225 homes to protect children orphaned by the tsunami that swept through South Asia earlier in the year.
"I couldn't stay at home with my arms crossed," he said.
Martin said his foundation is also working to combat child pornography and prostitution worldwide.