For the last week of Black History Month and for the LatiNegr@s Project, I've decided to send out some questions to LatiNegr@s in my life who I've learned from, been mentored by, and have built community with and share them with you all. I thank each of them for agreeing to share their lives with us and to share them publicly. Today's interviewee is my homegirl from grad school: Kismet.
Q. How do you want to be identified?
A. Great day and morning, sisters and brothers! They call me Kismet (sometimes Kismet 4). I am the co-author of the now retired Radical Woman of Color blog Waiting 2 Speak. I slowed down on blogging to pursue and peruse the Superwoman lifestyle (i.e. higher education, doctoral degree, teaching and research) but still trim and weed my little corners of the web when I can: The WOC Survival Kit, I Wanna Live Productions, and Nunez Daughter. I plan to spend some more time in each of these places so look out!
Q. What identities do you embrace/have/claim?
A. Yo soy latinegra, afroboricua, borinquena, y negra. I am Black and Puerto Rican. I claim both not to exclude blackness from boriquenidad--cause it can't be!--but to acknowledge that part of my ancestry is a distinctively African-American, Slave South narrative. To look at mi familia, there's a heavy dose of Utuado Taino, so there's probably some of that kill-a-Spaniard maroonage running in me also. Would explain a lot. But you know what they say: "Blood of a slave, Heart of a Queen." I am blessed with two rich histories of resistance, dissent and matriarchy--two generations and more of woman warriors on both sides. Y tu abuela....????
I was born in the states, in the great city of Chi, and I am relentlessly urban and northern and Midwestern. Great thing about folks de color in the Midwest--we end up being a great big confluence of many different things. A little bit of South, a little bit of country, a little bit of racist, a little bit of bracero; a twist of gang behavior and a dose of Irish drunk. A lot of hope and love and passion. And pizza. And barbecue. Holla!
I began working-poor and now claim middle-class privilege with all of the negatives and positives associated with that. Class is situational--if I had a daughter or other dependent of my own, it would be a different story. I'm cis, English speaking, college-educated and able-bodied. I'm a devastating diva of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. In other words, I've got a lot of privilege--which means I've got a lot of work to do and I strive for ally status every day.
I'm a fangirl. Octavia Butler is my hero--is, I say! She's kickin it where Elvis, Tupac and Michael Jackson are. Legends live forever but heroes never die. Long live my Kindred.
Q. Do you have a preference regarding the terms LatiNegr@, Afr@-Latin@, etc? If so, which one and why?
A. No preference.
Q. What images/texts/narratives were available to you growing up about LatiNegr@s?
A. My family provided the foundation narrative. My mother and grandmother, both very Taina in appearance--brown/red skin, thick and straight black hair, black eyes. But mi tia--black. Black like me, café colored, nappy hair (I suspect she relaxes it). Both of my grandfathers--black. Like me. Like Denzel.
And even STILL I would only find out later that there is familia even darker, really African looking in facial features, in skin tone, in body shape.
My grandma was very into Celia Cruz when we were young. I loved her too but my first real encounter with Puerto Rican-ness outside of my family and community was Rita Moreno in the film West Side Story. Could she ever dance!!! And to see a woman of color, so obviously brown (not painted Natalie Wood) and so obviously sexy, sensual, and unapologetically Latina blew my mind. And important enough to be in a movie besides (give me a break; I was in grammar school and for me, if someone was in a movie then they must have been important). Besides which, her purple dress in the rooftop scene was bangin--I wanted it then and I want it now.
But neither Celia Cruz nor Rita Moreno were negra in the way that I came to learn Afro-Latinos really are. That Moreno appeared so dark to me gave me a wonderful reference point and someone to identify with--but it didn't give me a full sense of the historical reality. The five hundred years of African slavery to the Caribbean and Latin America, the more recent racial intermingling of African-American and Latina/o and Latin-American immigrants in the United States--I didn't understand until college that I was a product of both. But when I did finally get it, the conocimiento sent me deep into research mode...and then into teaching mode...and I've been there ever since.
Q. Is there a specific or pivotal time in your life that stands out as being imperative to your consciousness as a LatiNegr@?
A. Imperative? Eh, maybe not. But two that stand out:
Being in NYC for the Puerto Rican Day festivities in 2005 and not getting looked at twice as legit PR. Game changer. From that point on, when around Puerto Ricans who seem confused by my dark brown-ness and hair texture (I went natural in 2006) I just act as though they are the ones with a problem instead of making it a "teaching moment." Guess they should have lived in New York.
Being in Carolina/San Juan and seeing advertisements for Dark & Lovely relaxers on the doors of salons in the heart of the projects. Being (with the exception of my mother and great-aunt) one of the lightest people in the mall. Being at the resort near Luquillo and seeing all the white executives, brown managers and black maids and janitors. Game changer. Don't tell me there's not f%*king racism in Puerto Rico, that we're all Rainbow Coalition in the PR diaspora, that we're just one big happy friggin mixture!
Q. What are your thoughts about the lived experiences of LatiNegr@s all over the world having similar experiences with those living in the US (i.e. HIV rates).
A. we are still the poorest
we are still the least educated (formal)
we are still the least enfranchised and empowered
we still pretend too often that this world is a world for us, this modernity is a modernity for us--it isn't.
we (woc) still get beat for speaking too loud, for imagined slights against Latino-manhood
we still uncritically tout foolish ideas of mezclá and race-mixture (morena vs. negra, Spanish and Taino over African) and forget that mixture is built off the rape of women, our lack of power, our disempowerment is something to be celebrated. or we forget that we are black at all (Mexico, Argentina, Chile)
we are still colonized within colonies.
we have so much work to do, but we are also still rebellious, still creative and innovative, and we continue to organize on behalf of ourselves. this keeps me hopeful.
Q. What symbols/rituals/etc. are important to you for maintaining community (locally, internationally, virtually) with other LatiNegr@s?
A. arroz con gandules. temblequé. food in general; bacalau (I don't even know if I spelled that right because I only know it the way mi abuela says it), always heading home for a recharge and a reminder of why I do what I do conversations and interviews like this one where B let's me speak my mind :)
Q. Where there any lessons/ideologies/norms that you had to “unlearn” as you evolved into your identities? If so, will you share some with us?
A. Good lord, woman. All of them. Hair, thighs, butt, skin color, my own potential. Talk about being devalued in the world--and if you are latinegra, you are devalued twice, thrice over. For not being a man, white, for not being Anglo, for not being English speaking or a citizen. You are ugly--and you're slutty, which is ironic if you think about it--and you are a man-hating bitch. And you don't exist. It is hard work doing all of that at the same time!!!
But I'll just name the most important and hopefully no one else has beaten me to it--
Unlearn the idea that Lincoln freed the slaves and that only one march to Washington ended slavery and segregation. It is a lie. Freedom was never given to anyone. Freedom was taken. And it was taken by people on the ground--grassroots--and many if not most of them were women and youth and children. Read Jo Ann Robinson, The Montgomery Bus Boycott, and the Women Who Started It (1987)
Then go on and unlearn U.S. hegemony, relearn slavery and the slave trade, and realize that there's a whole world of people of Afro-Latin descent to get lost in.
And don't ever believe what your teachers ever tell you. Look it up yourself.
Q. Is there a book/image/quote/artifact/etc. that is important to you to symbolize your identity? If so, will you share one with us?
A. "Eventually it comes to you: the thing that makes you exceptional, if you are at all, is inevitably that which must also make you lonely..." ~Lorraine Hansberry
Q. What else would you like to share with readers?
A. I'll say what I told Littlest Sis when she went off to college--don't ever let anyone tell you what you are. You be what you are. Let them figure out the rest.
Q. Is there a way readers can reach you through social media?
A. On Twitter
Many thanks to Kismet for sharing! Please go find her on the web and visit her virtual homes. Don't forget to visit the LatiNegr@s Tumblr Page and consider submitting something. The page will be available year-round as people are welcome to submit as often as they like.