Friday, February 26, 2010

LatiNegr@s Project: Sofia Quintero

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 someone who I was a huge stan of and now I'm so honored and it gives me great pride to call her my homegirl: Sofia.

Q. How do you want to be identified?
A. Sofia Quintero aka Black Artemis
Co-Founder of Chica Luna Productions and President of Sister Outsider Entertainment

Q. What identities do you embrace/have/claim?
A. Among countless other things, I am: Afro-Latina, Puerto Rican and Dominican, a Black woman, an Ivy League homegirl, CISgender female, straight ally for LGBTQ liberation, daughter of working-class immigrant and migrant parents, hija de la Pura y el Negro, a feminist, a radical, a cultural activist, a Bronxite, a hip-hop head, a social entrepreneur.

Q. Do you have a preference regarding the terms LatiNegr@, Afr@-Latin@, etc? If so, which one and why?

A. I tend to use Afro-Latina, but I like Latinegr@, too. I also have no problem just being called Black since my Latinadad is a given. To be Latin@ yet claim one’s Blackness in a world that is constantly devaluing “negritude” is, I believe, an act of healing and resistance.

Q. What images/texts/narratives were available to you growing up about LatiNegr@s?
A. Those images, text or narratives most likely existed but were not identified specifically or explicitly to me as Afro-Latin@. My father is Puerto Rican and Black, and his nickname is Negro. So this has been a part of my life since the day I was born. I lived Pedro Pietri’s notion that to be called negrito means to be called love. It was something I lived but did not study. As a child was I ever taught that this text or that image is by or about a Latino who is also Black? No, I cannot say that. In school I was taught about slavery, Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movement. I learned about Aztecs, Incas and Mayans. I learned nothing about Puerto Rico except that it was a commonwealth – that term meant nothing to me then and it feels like a lie to me now – and the Dominican Republic was never even mentioned. One was either African American – and that included Afro-Caribbean folks – or Latin@. In retrospect, this feels quite odd to me because in New York City the relationship between the African American and Afro-Caribbean community and Latin@s (who were overwhelmingly caribeño in the 70s and 80s) is very intimate. New York City is such a blessed anomaly. Maybe that’s why I never experienced it as something overt. Until I became politicized, it never had a name. It just was.

Q. Is there a specific or pivotal time in your life that stands out as being imperative to your consciousness as a LatiNegr@?

A. Yes, it was in college, but it was a process and not a moment. This sense of myself was always there, and one tends to take for granted what is always there, especially if it is accompanied by vulnerability. Still I remember at times begin a child and referring to myself as Spanish knowing all the while that this was false. So false that I did not even want it to be true even as I claimed it. That resistance was always in me I guess. Then in college I was in a leadership program for Latino students at Hunter College during the tuition strikes of the late 80s – mind you, I was attending Columbia where most of the Nuyorican students went through A Better Chance or Prep for Prep – and I recovered an identity that felt authentic. I embraced it. It wasn’t so much a matter of discovering who I am as much as remembering who I always was.

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. This is evidence of a shameful legacy that endures. Some knuckleheads like to believe that slavery and colonialism are things of the past. Sadly, some of said knuckleheads are our own people. Internalized oppression is a bitch. Divide and conquer remains in full effect. But on a positive note, there are many Afro-Latinos and allies across the globe working diligently to build and advance a worldwide movement that transcends borders. I am excited and hopeful about that.

Q. What symbols/rituals/etc. are important to you for maintaining community (locally, internationally, virtually) with other LatiNegr@s?

A. It’s the little things really. Saying, “Aché” instead of “Amen.” Starting a meeting by calling in the ancestors. Just this past weekend, Casa Atabex Aché partnered with Dwa Fanm and the Third Root Community Health Center to do healing work in Flatbush in the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti. As a Dominican woman knowledgeable of the legacy of oppression in Ayiti, I felt compelled to participate in that. To do my part –however small it might be – to make amends and heal that history. Hell, even being an Afro-Latina claiming space in hip-hop where so many of the artistic practices have their roots in the African diaspora is part of this. This is why in all my hip-hop novels you will see friendship and romance among Latinos, African Americans and Afro-Caribbean characters. In my first Black Artemis novel EXPLICIT CONTENT, the protagonist and a narrator is both African American and Trinidadian and her best friend is Puerto Rican. In BURN, the key characters are Puerto Rican, Haitian and Dominican and even combinations of all those nationalities. Even in my “chica lit” novel DIVAS DON’T YIELD, the lead among equals in an ensemble of four characters is an Afro-Latina hip hop feminist named Jackie Alvarado who leads with her Blackness. I was always a voracious reader but as a child I never saw self—identified Afro-Latin@s in anything I read so as a novelist I write my community into visibility. Writing is my primary ritual. [Also written by Black Artemis: PICTURE ME ROLLIN']

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. Wow, I had to unlearn a lot, and the unlearning never ends. I had to unlearn that names can never hurt me. Bullshit. Language is powerful. Language matters. Names can manifest things into being. Words can give birth to nations and movements, and they can genocide an entire people. I had to unlearn that it’s never just a movie, a video, a song. Just like language matters, images matter. Culture matters. Entertainment matters. I had to unlearn the idea that because I am Black or a woman that I never have power or privilege, and that means submitting myself to constant gut-checks around heterosexism, ageism, elitism, etc. These are just a few I can share in this limited space and time, and like I said, the unlearning never ends. Well, one last thing I’ll share. One way to remain committed to the unlearning is to teach what you have unlearned. Bring your lessons to your various tribes in the ways that come natural to you. Everyone is a teacher in some fashion, and you teach what you genuinely believe – not what you want to believe or think you should believe but what you actually do believe. And you do this not through what you say but through what you do or don't do, how you behave. Stay conscious of that. We are all on a journey. The question is are you awake on yours?

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. It's no surprise that we named our company after a collection of essays by Audre Lorde. One quote of hers that I would like to share at this time: “If I didn't define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people's fantasies for me and eaten alive.” I think these words are particularly relevant for this project. :-)

Q. What else would you like to share with readers?
A. I have tons to share so I hope folks will keep up with me in cyberspace. For now specifically I’ll just ask folks to check out my first young adult novel EFRAIN’S SECRET which hits bookstores this April. You can read an excerpt here. Oh, and look out for Homegirl.TV this March.

Q. Is there a way readers can reach you through social media?
A. I prefer folks follow me and/or Sister Outsider on Twitter. You can also become a fan of Sister Outsider on Facebook and sign up for our newsletter at our website. I blog occasionally at, but I tend to fall off when I’m working on a novel or film because those things have to be my priority. But, the good thing about that is that you can subscribe to my blog so you won’t miss anything yet rest assured that I won’t be bombing your inbox, lol!

Many thanks to Sofia 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.

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