Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Review of FLOW: A Cultural History of Menstruation

Cross Posted from RH Reality Check.

Growing up with hippie parents I was exposed to books such as Our Bodies, Ourselves and The Joy of Sex at a very young age. I’d like to think that my parents owning these books helped shape the sex-positive ideologies I embrace today. When my homegirl Nilki contacted me about an upcoming book focusing on U.S. women’s bodies, menstruation, marketing, and myths I was instantly sold and eager to read the book. FLOW: A Cultural History of Menstruation arrived at my home for review and I was instantly impressed.

A hardcover sturdy book with a pin-up image on the cover appealed to the femme in me. The pages are glossy and bright and almost every page had an image of some sort to break up the text on the page. My initial thought was that the book was accessible, which is always pleasant for books of this sort. At the same time, when I read the title I had some assumptions. As a child of immigrants, and a woman of color, the term “cultural” triggers many images/ideas for me. Basically, I expected to see myself represented at some point in the text. As an interdisciplinary professor, I know the term “culture” and “cultural” have various definitions, yet I still immediately think in an inclusive way with the term.

I noticed that with the exception of one image on page 96, that all of the images in the book were of racially White women and written in English. A majority of the images are of marketing ads geared towards women regarding tampons, sanitary napkins, and “cleansing” products. I found, and still find it, extremely odd that images in the early 80s to the present were not included to represent women of Color. After all Serena Williams is the latest spokesperson for Tampons®, and there is what I would consider a “racially ambiguous” woman on the Moon Cup advertisements. Neither of these are included.

I often joke that my time in graduate school made me too critical of research and theories, as that is how we are trained when engaging with various texts. Yet, I’ve tried to get out of that graduate school mode and understand that not every book can do every thing. Sometimes this is difficult to remember, especially when there are huge gaps in a narrative. Yet, we still live in a society where creating a text that is supposed to be inclusive of all women really isn’t and this is a problem. One of the ways I’ve appreciated some authors approach this issue is to say explicitly in their introduction what their text does, who it includes, how they know their scope is limited. I often admire when authors are aware of how this can help prepare readers for their text.

One of the many soapboxes I have is that the bodies of women of Color are not valued in the same way the bodies of other women are in this country. The text clearly showed how color-free and exclusive early marketing was for menstrual products. I wondered how the “flow” out of the bodies of women of Color were stigmatized, celebrated, seen as a rite of passage and those perspectives were not present in the text. Actually, I can recall two specific instances when they were presented, but they were done so in a way that “Othered” them/us. The examples were of women outside the US, especially in Africa, and how “primitive” the experiences of young women can be challenging in such “oppressive” environments.

This continues when the authors, Elissa Stein and Susan Kim, mention international women of Color in examples as they discuss their text. For example, in their interview on The View Susan Kim discusses various terms and phrases people have used to reference and name their menstrual cycle. See a short clip below

Watching this short clip made me very uncomfortable (and not because I’m menstruating and can’t joke about some things). There’s also something about these examples in the clip that strike me as a form of name-calling that is inappropriate and perpetuates stereotypes. “Walking like an Egyptian,” was that really necessary? And to evoke that Egyptian people walk differently just makes me want to give them a reading list of texts by Nawal El Saadawwi. Was I surprised to hear this from the authors after reading the book? Not really, especially when there are sentences such as these in the text:

“…unless you belong to some kind of cult, chances are you are not bearing and breast-feeding babies every second of your entire reproductive life" (page XXII).

"(And we're sorry no matter what any 15 yo tells you, vulgarity alone does not count as honest discourse)” (page 2).

“In a small study of women in New York City, 61 percent said they had had a period when they weren’t expecting it…and we bet the others were lying” (page 188).

As someone who has a belief system that is not part of an organized religion, which has been called a “cult” this wording really turned me off because it was extremely offensive. It clearly isolates women who do not fall into a specific value and/or belief system, women outside the US, women with a different perspective on their spiritual connection with various deities/spaces/texts/etc. The statement about youth and vulgarity really irks me. As one of my favorite bloggers, cripchick, once said (and I’m paraphrasing): “language is one of the only things youth have” to express themselves and we, as adults, often take that away from them.

Now, I know that my opinion and cripchick’s may be unpopular, however I find that things such as graffiti writing, use of slang, and fashion are forms of media that youth create. They are media makers and when we attempt to censor them it’s not the most effective way to build and gain their trust. It also reeks of class and age discrimination. On the age tip, there were also quotes by women discussing their experiences with their cycles, and the youngest was 37 years old. I wondered why women younger than 37 were not quoted in the text. Were we even included?

To be clear I’m not advocating that youth are not introduced to and learn the scientific or what others may call “proper” terminology for our body parts and genitals. I think this is important, I just don’t think because a young person is more comfortable code switching that they are not capable of being engaged in “honest discourse.” Positive youth development is essential. So is affirming identities. Language has power and I’m not comfortable debunking the power in the language young people use to express themselves.

Then the idea that the authors will “bet” that some women in a small study were lying if they did not remember or recall experiencing an unexpected period; defeats the entire purpose of the book which I read as: trust women. There is also the issue that “women” only refers to cisgender women. There is no discussion of trans communities. At all. In the discussion regarding how menstruation is constructed in US society, there is nothing regarding how transgender men may experience their menstrual cycle, and this may not always be something that is celebrated. At the same time, there is no discussion about how conversations and values of menstruation exclude transgender women. How does menstruation confirm rigid ideas of gender and gender identity? I thought this type of discussion could have fit nicely in the list of questions the authors identify on page XXIII. Even to simply ask the questions is a sign that they recognize the term “woman” and “women” are often used in an exclusive context.

Finally, the book is an interesting, yet color-free and limited history of menstruation in the U.S. I was intrigued by chapter two “Where Are We Today” with discussions of menstruation and connections to current and future birth control methods. People of Color are mentioned in chapter seven which focuses on religion. Unfortunately, almost all of the examples from a religious space are negative. “Scent of A Woman” is the title for chapter nine and the advertisements focusing on scent and menstruation are overwhelmingly heterosexist. Almost all of them discuss pleasing a husband, which I found very interesting and troubling. Chapter 10 has the most discussion of rites of passages among women outside the U.S. and specifically in Africa and the Philippines, yet these examples are one’s I learned about over 15 years ago when I took an introduction to Anthropology course.

The list of resources and bibliography at the end of the text was not what I expected and were a pleasant surprise. There were limited citations on some of the research that was presented (except for the Kinsey Reports and such) and a majority of the citations were online. I see the author’s inclusion of these resources as useful and important from a historical perspective. They are also great examples on how to reference a website, which surprisingly not too many students know how to do these days. I’m saddened that there was no reference to some of the amazing forms of art that have been created regarding menstruation, contributions to popular culture if you will. Sandra Cisneros’ poem “Down There” in her book Loose Women Poems comes to mind, Ani DeFranco’s song “Blood In The Boardroom.” I agree with Cisneros, “I find the subject charming,” and hope that there is a second part to this text that will be more inclusive to the “culture” aspects the authors implied in the book.

At the end of the day, I expected to see myself in this text, have my experiences affirmed, and my community represented. This did not occur, however, to be fair this rarely occurs in books that come out in the field of sexuality and reproductive health unless the text is specifically devoted to communities of Color. As they said in their text “Femcare has been so long monopolized by manufacturing, medicine, advertising, and religion that any fresh, individual voices seem like cool water in a blazing desert” (p. 251). That’s right, fresh, individual voices. Klein and Kim started the work and there is still a lot more to complete.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Sunday Night Common Sense

by Paulo Coelho ( “The Witch of Portobello” )

I’m going in search of the adventure of being alive.And it’s complicated: why am I not looking for happiness when everyone has taught me that happiness is the only goal worth pursuing?

Why am i going to risk taking a path that no one else is taking?After all, what is happiness?

Love, they tell me. But love doesn’t bring and never has brought happiness.

On the contrary, its a constant state of anxiety, a battlefield; its sleepless nights, asking ourselves all the time if we’re doing the right thing. Real love is composed of ecstacy and agony.All right then, peace.

Peace? If we look at the Mother, she’s never at peace. The winter does battle with the summer, the sun and d moon never meet, the tiger chases the man, who’s afraid of the dog, who chases the cat, who chases the mouse, who frightens the man.

Money brings happiness. Fine. In that case, everyone who earns enough to have a high standard of living would be able to stop work. But then they’re more troubled than ever, as if they were afraid of losing everything. Money attracts money, that’s true. Poverty might bring unhappiness, but money wont necessarily bring happiness.I spent a lot of my life looking for happiness, now what i want is joy.

Joy is like sex – it begins and ends. I want pleasure. I want to be contended, but happiness? I no longer fall into that trap.

You Can't Stop My Go!: for dopegirlfresh

I was working on creating a curriculum for young women of Color in NYC who will be doing street outreach providing safer sex kits in their East Harlem community. As I was creating one of these handouts for an activity on what their strengths and areas to improve were I used the following hip-hop lyrics:

For Strengths "You are now rockin' with the best" by The Real Roxanne's Bang Zoom. For those of you who don't know she was one of the first Puerto Rican female MC to get signed to a label. You can listen to the song here.

For areas to learn and grow "You can't stop my go" by Mos Def's Casa Bey. My homegirl dopegirlfresh LOVES this song and I was thinking of her when I used this lyric. Here's the video

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Sandra Cisneros Is My Heroine!

Sandra Cisneros has updated her website! She's also shared her perspective on pregnancy prevention and sexuality for Latinas in this interview below:

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

What Do We Know About Open Relationships?

Cross posted from my Media Justice column

If you are on Twitter, you are already in the know of all the triflin’ hashtags that have been floating around regarding relationships. There’s #RelationshipRules, #DontWifeHer, #HollaFail, #IKnewUWereGayWhen, #DontTrustHer, and #SheAHoIf. Often when these pop up in my timeline it is because one of several radical women of Color* I follow is speaking to how ridiculous and oppressive the hashtags are and what it says about the people who are utilizing them. I hardly pay them any mind, yet I was reminded of them when I heard a story last week.

As the Oscar’s were recently awarded, there were several stories that focused on the “open relationship” between Oscar-winner Mo’Nique and her husband Sid Hicks. Mo’Nique defines cheating as “when you lie and are deceitful not when you have sex outside of the marriage.” Open to Mo’Nique is “no secrets.” She shares here with Barbara Walters in her interview, which you can watch below. Her conversation about her relationship starts at about the 7-minute mark.

People have several opinions, and misconceptions, about open relationships. As someone who has been in an open relationship in the past, and remains interested in them for the future, I’m in support of them. I’ve heard several stereotypes about open relationships: they only work in “queer partnering,” that they are not relationships people of Color who are heterosexual would engage in, the relationships allow for “cheating” between partners, and they simply “won’t work.” Enter those trifling twitter hashtags.

Ironically, what I’ve found in my experience is that these are often the fears of other people who project their own issues onto the relationship of others. There is a difference between “cheating” (lying about one’s actions and desires with another person(s)), polygamy (multiple marriages of women to one man; polygyny is multiple marriages of men to one woman), and polyamory (open relationships which take many forms). I really appreciate this compilation of terms and concepts regarding polyamory that includes definitions. I find the definitions accessible and clearly explained.

Many people who may not have conversations often about relationships that are non-monogamous may think of open relationships and automatically go to polygamy and the representations we have in our culture that represents this partnering. Big Love comes to mind. Other representations in the media include “Short Bus” by James Cameron Mitchell, and Spike Lee’s film “She Hate Me.” Which is a film that needs an examination all on its own because there are some problematic representations in the film. Yet, it is one of the few that have people of Color, even on a film list compiled of open relationships and polyamory.

There are limited narratives from polyamorous (poly for short) people and couples, but even more from poly people/couples that are people of Color. I think there has been more conversation among communities of Color about open relationships in the past 5 years. As books were written (or updated) about open relationships in the past 5 years, I was surprised of how color-free the narratives were. I reviewed the book “Opening Up: A Guide To Creating And Sustaining Open Relationships” 4 by Tristan Taormino (who had a handful of couples of Color she interviewed) and “The Ethical Slut: A Practical Guide to Polyamory, Open Relationships & Other Adventures” by Dossie Easton and Janet W. Hardy. These two texts are more on the instructional tip than anything else and although they do offer some testimonies, really are created to allow readers the opportunity to decide if open relationships are for them and if so how to prepare and create them.

I suppose my “surprise” at the color-free discussion is because I know a lot of people of Color in open relationships and we talk about them! A brief conversation that comes to mind is the “Ask A Sex Goddess” column that used to be on Wiretap where a question about open relationships was addressed two years ago. One of the LatiNegr@s I featured last month is educator, artist and activist Ignacio Rivera, who provides workshops and consultation on a range of topics within the sexual science field and has shared the following about poly relationships:

“Polyamory goes beyond non-monogamy. It is negotiated, ethical non-monogamy.
Polyamory is the non-possessive, honest, responsible and ethical philosophy and practice of interacting intimately with multiple people simultaneously. It gives one the option of having relationships outside of social norms. Polyamory is from the root words Poly (meaning "many") and Amour (meaning "love/lovers"); hence "many loves" or Polyamory.

Polyamory is an umbrella term, it can mean many things, such as being in a triad (when there are three people who are intimate with each other), having a primary partner, being single but having multiple lovers or relationships. To us, revolutionary polyamory means purging the seeds of oppression that try to corner us into ownership, control of our bodies, and illusions of security through something outside of yourself.”

In addition, artist, activist, and educator Favianna Rodriguez has shared in her writing, “Let’s talk about sex! Latina girls still having more babies than any other teenage group” the following:

“This year I have been active about discussing alternative models of having relationships, considering that the dominant model we hear about relationships does not work for many of us. In fact, it does not work for about 50% of the population, if you take a look at how high divorce rates are. I have also been more active around learning more about my own sexuality, and challenging ourselves, as people of color, to reconsider sexuality as something that is constantly changing, adapting, being reinvented.

In our own communities (black and brown) I feel that we often regergitate [sic] heterosexist, oppressive models around sex, for example, in many brown families young women are not talked to about sex unless the message is "Don't have any!" There tends to be an emphasis on "waiting for marriage" for young Latinas, I mean, I definitely got conditioned that way, not by my parents, but by all the culture around me. I was also not encouraged to learn about masturbation, about open relationships, about questioning whether I liked men or women - I was conditioned to believe that I would fall in love with one really awesome guy, have babies with him and be monogamous, and that that should be one of my main life purposes. That's not where I am today, and at age 30, all I hear at family parties is "Favi when you gonna have your own babies! Cuando te casas??"

I’ve also found interesting conversations on a Blog Talk Radio show called Original Native Network hosted by Coach Khayr which aired October 29, 2009 called “Take It Off Thursday’s-Polyamory & People of Color” where people call in and share their experiences with choosing and creating polyamorous relationships. One of the things that really stood out to me hearing the callers and speakers share their perspectives on their open relationships were their relationships to spirituality, religion, and/or belief and value systems. These are not new conversations, what makes them new is the format that makes such conversations public.

So why are we excluded in such conversations. Honestly, I took three days to do some research, which included a google search, to find many of these quotes and resources, yet people who write books about a topic we have a lot to say about don’t or can’t find us? Were they looking for us? How does our omission from such discussions perpetuate the stereotypes I outlined above about open relationships?

At the end of the day, when will it be your business what someone else does in the privacy of their own home? What two, three, four, or more consenting adults choose is the best way to build together and raise a family is not really our business. Of all the abuses and neglect that children and youth face today, focusing on an “untraditional” partnering where people center love, trust, honesty, communication, and family seems moot.

Three months ago one of my homegirls asked me a question on the infamous formspring about open relationships. Here is a part of my response (just ignore that I don’t use the spell check feature when answering these questions!):

“i think that if you are clear about what it is you want, what it is your potential/current partner can offer and are honest with one another that it can and does work. i also think many people of Color who have opinions on it are very much unaware of what poly relationships are and confuse it with polygamy and cheating. i think they are also far too comfortable assuming they have control over other people's actions, and buying into the illusion that there is only one person who can fulfill everything we need in this lifetime from another person. talk about STRESS!!!

sometimes open relationships don't work for a lot of reasons, that are just the same as why monogamous relationships don't work (scheduling, values, belief systems, politics, family, dishonesty, death, changing needs etc.) but not because they are open. sometimes monogamous relationships [sic] dont work because they are not open!

what would happen if every person was raised with love and acceptance to our opinions of open relationships? i think for many people the fear of losing love, giving love, exchanging love is so overwhelming it leads us to want something that may not be very realistic for some people like monogamy.

i also think many people project their own ish onto the open relationships we may have. what if people not in our relationsip [sic] realized our relationships are about our needs not theirs? what if we all realized that we do what is best for us at that time and if having one or more primary partners or primary lovers or companions etc. is what is best for us that is what we need to do at that time. we are always evolving.

i also think monogamy is a result of colonization but that will take me on a tangent.”

I’ll pick up on that tangent for next week’s column where I share some of the research I looked into during graduate school regarding open relationships and cohabitation! In the meantime, what are some of your thoughts about open relationships? What conversations do you think are missing and need to occur? If you want to learn more about the topic I’d suggest taking a look at a few of the books on this list and also checking out the book “Vodou Love Magic: A Practical Guide to Love, Sex and Relationships” by Kenaz Filan a book which I personally adore and go back to often for guidance and opinion from a spiritual standpoint.

*Thanks to those radical women of Color who helped me remember those triflin’ hashtags SH, LV, and MP.

Monday, March 22, 2010

An Evening With Vanessa Del Rio

Many of you know how crucial Vanessa Del Rio is/was to my LatiNegra sexual identity and consciousness. I've written about her before here and I've discussed how powerful her presence and influence in my life continues to be. So, I'm incredibly excited to share with you all that I will be too happy to attend the Sex Worker Literati: Goddesses, Sinners, and Saints where Vanessa will be reading!

Thursday April 1
Happy Ending 302 Broome St (B,D,J,M,Z,F)
FREE 21 & over only though!
Hosted by Audacia Ray & David Henry Sterry

Part of the benefits will go to the Young Women's Empowerment Program

I'm there because Thursday is my late night and I have nothing else planned for Friday! So, if you want to sit with me, have me save you a seat, or just want to hang in an amazing space that will center one of the most important figures in contemporary Latina sexualities, please join me!

**Disclaimer** Those of you following me on Twitter will read about this at LEAST one time a day, but I'm sure you'll get over it!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Sunday Night Common Sense

Comes from one of my favorite homegirls/bloggers/professors: ProfSusurro who tweeted this week (in 3 parts):

always advocate for yourself & take nothing for granted, but never let anyone tell you oppression isn't real some times u can b the best advocate in the world & the wall of bigotry will still come up & smack ur arse; real miracle is getting back up

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Womyn's Herstory Month: Marcela Romero

Argentine activist, Marcela Romero, was recently honored as Argentina's Woman of the Year December 2009. She was awarded this honor after a 10 year fight to have the Argentine court recognize her as a woman. Marcela is vice president of FALGBT (Federación Argentina de
Lesbianas Gays Bisexuales y Trans) and a member of the Association of Transvestites, Transsexuals and Transgendered People of Argentina. She is the regional director of REDLACTRANS (Red de América Latina y el Caribe de Personas Transgénero), established in 2004 which now has various locations in over 18 countries in Latin American y the Caribbean.

2009 was an amazing year for Marcela as she was on the cover of Queer magazine and REDLACTRANS was honored again with the Clarence H. Moore Award for Excellence in Voluntary Service which she accepted on the organizations behalf. As she accepted the award she stated:

“This award belongs to the entire transgender community. We are working for an inclusive Latin America and Caribbean that offers equal rights for a better quality of life.”

Below is an interview (in Spanish only w/no subtitles (anyone want to transcribe & translate let me know!) with Marcela where she discusses her work and the needs for improving the health of all transgender people living in Latin America and the Caribbean. She speaks specifically to the violence and human rights violations of all transgender people.

Interview with Marcela Romero, a woman fighting for rights of transgendered people in Argentina from PAHEF on Vimeo.

foto credit: dosmanzanas.com y http://weblogs.clarin.com/espacio-positivo/

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Llegada con Elegba, Fiesta de Yemaya

It should come as a surprise to no one that I'm posting the latest Omar Sosa videos I've found from his latest release Ceremony. These come at just the right time as I'm in the process of moving my home and will be burning sage tomorrow to cleanse/bless my home with two close friends/chosen family. Enjoy!

This video is made with material filmed during the recording sessions for the Omar Sosa & NDR Bigband CD, “Ceremony”, arranged and conducted by Jaques Morelenbaum (the song is “Llegada con Elegba”), together with material that Omar Sosa filmed in Bahia, Brazil.

Llegada con Elegba, Omar Sosa & NDR Bigband. from tom14 on Vimeo.

This video is made with material filmed during the recording sessions for the Omar Sosa & NDR Bigband CD, “Ceremony”, arranged and conducted by Jaques Morelenbaum (the song is “Yemaya En Agua Larga”), together with material that Omar Sosa filmed in Bahia, Brazil, “Fiesta de Yemaya”, Queen of the sea…

Yemaya en Agua Larga, Omar Sosa & NDR Bigband from tom14 on Vimeo.

Omar Sosa
“Oda Africana”
Jove Orquestra Athenea
conducted by Lluis Caballería
with Omar Sosa Quintet, featuring
Omar Sosa, piano
Mola Sylla, vocals
Childo Tomas, bass
Leandro Saint-Hill, saxophone
Marcos Ilukán, percussion

Festival de Musicas Religiosas
y del Mundo de Girona
Escaleras de la Catedral

Girona, Spain
July 9, 2009

Omar Sosa “Oda Africana” from tom14 on Vimeo.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Monday's Keynote Experience

I mentioned that this Monday I was the Keynote speaker at the Get The Facts NY Youth Leadership Conference. There were over 250 young people from all over New York state demanding comprehensive sexuality education in Albany. To say that this experience was amazing is an understatement.

To be around so many young people dedicated to the field I am committed to, who want to create change, who are demanding their human rights be respected and upheld is a level of rejuvenation that is really difficult to explain/express. I didn't have a mentor of Color who could help me with some of the many challenges and hurtles I experienced entering the field, and it is something I am very dedicated to. We need MORE sexuality educators who are of a diverse background, experience, and location.

One of the highlights was meeting so many youth and fabulous people in the field. After I spoke there were several young people of Color, young Puerto Ricans, young women, young men of Color on their way to college that wanted to ask me questions and talk with me about my career and activism paths. Many of them said "it was so cool to hear you speak" because they identified with some part of who I am: daughter of immigrants, bilingual, LatiNegra, Puerto Rican, went to higher ed, a woman of Color, living in NYS, and the list goes on. Youth DO need to see people who affirm their identity in this work!

So far I've had 3 young people contact me after the conference. One called me and we spoke for an hour and I mentored him as he started a blog. When it's up I'll share the link. Two others have connected with me on social media. You can also see what folks tweeted about the conference using the hashtag: #gtfny10

Here's one of the first videos that was created. You'll see me all giddy, because it was really an amazing high to be in that space, and sounding all "valley girlish" as I like to say. You also hear from the youth and they share their experiences and what they learned from the conference. There was also additional footage from other media outlets that you can see here.

I'll post some of my comments from my keynote shortly!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

LatiNegr@s Project: Womyn's Herstory Month: Rosa Clemente

A hip-hop activist, organizer, mami, journalist, partner, entrepreneur, and the person many of my homies voted for to be Vice President of the US in 2008, Rosa Clemente is, in my opinion, one of our most important living legends. Clemente is leaving us with an amazing legacy already. "They made up the first women of color ticket in American history and Rosa Clemente was the first Latina in the history of the U.S.A. to be on the vice-presidential ballot in over thirty states" as her site states. She is the founder of Know Thy Self Productions which is a speakers bureau for youth of Color to hear and see people form their community speaking on issues that affect them and affirm their identity.

A radical woman of Color who centers self-determination, she has been active in various communities that remain oppressed and is in support a liberated and FREE Puerto Rico. A NY native who pursued higher ed in NY state and has earned a bachelors and masters degree, Rosa remained an activist during her college years as a founding member and student leader in various organizations centering youth of Color.

She announced her campaign to run for NY State Senate in the Bronx earlier this year! This very much makes me happy as I live in the district she is running in and seeking to represent.

Check her out speaking at the National Conference for Media Reform in Minneapolis, June 7, 2008.

foto credit: voxunion.com y rosaclemente.org

Thursday, March 11, 2010


It's been a busy week! I'm grading midterms, doing HIV presentations, and helping to create a short training for young women of Color who are going to do street outreach providing safe sex kits to other youth of Color in their communities!

Add to that: I'm working on my Keynote for the Get The Facts Youth Leadership Conference which is in 4 days and planning travel for the two presentations I'm doing at the Civil Liberties & Public Policy (CLPP) annual conference so I'm super excited! Registration is still open for the CLPP and they do offer some travel support and lodging. I'll be talking on two panels:

Friday April 9 4-6pm Feminine-tastic (Helen Hua, Bianca Laureano, Jos Truitt, Tonya Williams*)
Saturday April 10 5:15-6:45 Media Radicals (Melissa Gira Grant, Bianca Laureano, Thanu Yakupitiyage, Misty Perez Truedson*)

As usually, I've been writing a lot and my upcoming Media Justice article will be on Open Relationships and I'll share the link to that when it is posted. Read my latest review of the film Our Family Wedding.

Finally, I received some amazing news this week: I was nominated and accepted the nomination of one of El Diario’s 2010 LATINAS DESTACADAS a recognition given annually by El Diario La Prensa to the most outstanding women in our community!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Sunday Night Common Sense

From former Surgeon General of the US: Dr. Joycelyn Elders on abstinence-only education:

I'm against abstinence programs because I really consider "abstinence only" child abuse....Condoms will break, but I can assure you that vows of abstinence will break more easily than condoms.

I wholeheartedly agree with her!

LatiNegr@s Project: Featured on Independent Sources

I had shared that I was interviewed for a television show where I discussed the LatiNegr@s Project. I posted a link to the television show: Independent Sources and now have access to the video and have posted it here. You will hear about the project for a few minutes and from other activists and scholars as this entire segment is dedicated to the topic of Afro-Latinos in the US and around the world.

I want to say thank you to everyone who was a part of the LatiNegr@s Project in any form and to the Associate Producer: Marlene Peralta and the cameraman Duane Ferguson who filmed me/us for this segment.

Afrolatinos from Marlene Peralta on Vimeo.

The LatiNegr@s Tumblr page is still going to accept submissions. It will still be available for people to visit, learn from, and build curriculum or produce knowledge as each person's pace/need/ability. This is a project that centers affirmation, recognition, and love.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Womyn's Herstory Month: Sylvia Rivera

As March is Womyn's Herstory Month I plan to feature one Latina each week that you must know about. Last week it was Latinegra/Afra-Cubana Magia MC. Today it is activist Sylvia Rivera.

Sylvia was an activist, radical woman of Color, and a survivor in all ways you can imagine. A Puerto Rican-Venezualen transgender woman and self-identified drag queen living in NYC who at the age of 3 was raised in kinship-care, she was vocal, persistent, and demanded that the rights of all people be granted and respected. She advocated for transgender people to fight and take the "historical legacy" that is theirs within history all over the world, and not just within LGBT movements. She, like many Latinas, was not a single-issue activist. She fought for working-class and working-poor communities of Color, queer communities, anti-war policies, housing and homelessness changes/access, civil rights, and human rights. Sylvia is not only a part of transgender history, she is a part of Latino history, womyn's history, feminisms, LGB history, and US history. She is often erased, forgotten and excluded because of isms in various spaces, but we ALL must challenge this as she did.

She has been a part of multiple movements, not just ones focused on sexual orientation that, as they attempted to create change at the policy level excluded gender identity and ultimately her, the transgender, and drag communities, but she was also a part of other radical spaces. If you do not know about how LGB organizations have historically and currently push out transgender activists and community members, you may read up on it in various spaces and here is one starting point. She speaks about joining the Young Lords Party:

Later on, when the Young Lords [revolutionary Puerto Rican youth group] came about in New York City, I was already in GLF [Gay Liberation Front]. There was a mass demonstration that started in East Harlem in the fall of 1970. The protest was against police repression and we decided to join the demonstration with our STAR banner.

That was one of first times the STAR banner was shown in public, where STAR was present as a group.

I ended up meeting some of the Young Lords that day. I became one of them. Any time they needed any help, I was always there for the Young Lords. It was just the respect they gave us as human beings. They gave us a lot of respect.

It was a fabulous feeling for me to be myself-being part of the Young Lords as a drag queen-and my organization [STAR] being part of the Young Lords.

I met [Black Panther Party leader] Huey Newton at the Peoples' Revolutionary Convention in Philadelphia in 1971. Huey decided we were part of the revolution-that we were revolutionary people.

Part of her activism lead to becoming a co-founder of the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), a radical organization that provided various services to the community from organizing demonstrations, offering housing, to food. Here is more on STAR from an interview Sylvia did with activist Leslie Feinberg
STAR came about after a sit-in at Wein stein Hall at New York University in 1970. Later we had a chapter in New York, one in Chicago, one in California and England.

STAR was for the street gay people, the street homeless people and anybody that needed help at that time. Marsha and I had always sneaked people into our hotel rooms. Marsha and I decided to get a building. We were trying to get away from the Mafia's control at the bars.

We got a building at 213 East 2nd Street. Marsha and I just decided it was time to help each other and help our other kids. We fed people and clothed people. We kept the building going. We went out and hustled the streets. We paid the rent.

We didn't want the kids out in the streets hustling. They would go out and rip off food. There was always food in the house and everyone had fun. It lasted for two or three years.

I encourage you all to read Jessi Gan's article about the life and legacy of Sylvia Rivera as well as Tim Retzloff's piece in the Centro Journal published in 2007.

She died February 19, 2002 and has left us all with an amazing legacy for creating change in communities of Color, communities that are under-resourced, and with tools to begin and continue decolonization efforts.

Watch SYLVIA RIVERA TRANS LIFE STORY in Entertainment  |  View More Free Videos Online at Veoh.com

Learn about the Sylvia Rivera Law Project (I use their film and curriculum Toilet Training in my class every semester!)

Check out the NY Public Library Digital Gallery of images with Sylvia.

Lee en espanol El legado de Sylvia Rivera: Los hispanos y la lucha por los derechos civiles de la comunidad LGBT

foto credit: srlp.org

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Sexual Risk Takers Get An Ethnic Identity, Or Do They?

Cross-posted from my Media Justice Column

Last week the internets were a blaze with a particular story about the “sexual risk taking” of Latino youth. Surprisingly, or not so, most of the people in the sexual science field who shared the story either via email or on twitter had nothing to say about the article. I found that interesting because I have a lot to say about this topic! The articles that have been written reference a piece of literature titled “Sexuality and Sexual Risk Behaviors Among Latino Adolescents and Young Adults” written by Marcela Raffaelli and Maria I. Iturbide.

Both researchers are academics with a focus on sexuality and Latino communities. Marcela Raffaelli’s biography can be read here and from what I can tell Maria I. Iturbide may still be a graduate student working with Marcela Raffaelli. I have to say that I think if this is the case, this is great to have an advisor agree to publish with a student; this is rare in graduate school (usually we do bibliography and research and get an thank you at the end of the article)!

I share a few of my initial thoughts on Love Isn’t Enough (LIE) (formally Anti-Racist Parent) yet wanted to go more in depth with my ideas and thoughts about the literature and findings. There are a few areas that stand out to me and these include the date of publication, how Latino is defined, how Whiteness and Blackness is defined, gender discussions, cultural values, and issues of consent.

As I wrote on LIE about the date of research:

The first thing that came to mind was the date of publication. The text this article was published in was 2009. That means that some of the research was conducted a while ago, if not a decade ago. Many of the citations that are used and some of the longitudinal statistics are from data that was collected over 5 years ago.

The date of publications is important, because, as you can imagine, if you are writing a research paper for school it takes a while. Imagine if you had to wait for funding from an organization or the government to approve, and agree to have you perform the work so that you can get paid to do it. That’s often what happens in academic research publishing. However, some publications are created because specific funds have been set aside for such work. Regardless, this type of work and research does not happen over night, or even in a few months. Examining data alone can take months.

This publication being included in this book in 2009 and using data, which may have been collected almost 5 years ago, tells us a few things. First, what many of us have known all along was confirmed years ago. Second, we’ve known about this topic and these findings for some time but not much has changed with regards to funding and program evaluation and development. Third, if we have had this data and information for years, why hasn’t there been a shift or a good amount of proactive efforts to respond to the multiple issues that are present? These topics lead me to then ask the question: are Latinos even a priority in the sexual science field?

As the US “celebrated” Black History Month in February, many conversations were going on about the diversity of the continent of Africa. It was not until the 21st Century that many academics, scholars, and researchers realized this difference and began to incorporate it into the analysis of people who were/are descendents of African slaves in the US. Why have we yet to come to this understanding about people who are identified as “Latino”? For all over the world? I’ve shared that I struggle with being identified as a part of a group simply because we share a similar history of exploration, conquest, and colonization when in reality that is almost all we have in common. This is one of the challenges with the term “Latino.”

Many people have heard me share that I was not raised in a “Latino” home but in a Puerto Rican home, a Caribbean one that has very specific rituals, values, traditions, and expectations. For this reason I find more similarities with people who are also from the Caribbean versus people who are from some countries in Central and South America. Why is that you ask? Because, surprise! We are different. I’d also like to mention that the term “Latino,” and how it has been constructed and used, leads me to wonder if people who have a history of colonization by non-Spanish empires are included. Folks often forget that countries such as Belize, Brazil, Suriname, and Guyana are also parts of Central and South America. Are they considered “Latino” in the way the term is used in the US? I have my own answer to that question, yet think it is still important to put out there for discussion.

As a result, the research allows youth to self identify as “Latino” yet does not give information on how that identity is constructed, or how inclusive or exclusive youth are guided to gain clarification. There is also no discussion of race among Latinos that I have seen in this publication. My impression is that “Latino” is being used as both a racial and ethnic identity, which, hopefully from my last several articles on Blackness among Latinos, you realize is not always accurate or inclusive.

For example, when data is used such as “Latinos are less likely to have sex than Blacks but more than Whites” does that represent LatiNegr@s or Latinos who racially identify as White as well? See where I’m coming from? Still with me?

I completely agree with the authors regarding a need to examine “Latinos” as subgroups (i.e. ethnicities such as Cuban, Puerto Rican, Dominican, etc.). This also forces researchers and program developers/evaluators to recognize the privileges and unique challenges that many specific ethnic groups experience being identified as “Latino.” The article discussed differences between ethnic groups and that is real. I can’t begin to explain to you how real it is, especially for im/migrant youth and families. Even the ways that people arrive or were born into the US differ, and those must be recognized as a part of socialization.

There are two things I’m so tired of reading about when discussing Latino sexuality: acculturation/assimilation, and specific cultural norms. This article addressed some aspects of acculturation/assimilation, which many people have very strong feelings and thoughts about , including yours truly. Yet, research has shown that when Latino youth are raised to embrace all aspects of their cultural and national identity (that’s their Latinidad and US specific experiences) they are happier, healthier and less likely to do “bad things.” Why hasn’t this data fit into a discussion on Latino Sexuality, yet? Oh, is it because I have yet to write it? Ok, I’ll work on that!

The topic of cultural norms and values always makes me roll my eyes because it’s the same thing I’ve read decades ago when I was in high school! I will admit that when I wrote my first publication Si Podemos! Yes We Can! Helping Latino Youth Prevent Pregnancy (here’s an article from that publication) on pregnancy prevention efforts targeting Latino youth one of my main issues was the topic of racial and ethnic diversity as well as cultural beliefs and values. The literature at the time was filled with the terms “machismo,” “familialism,” and “marianismo.” I too implemented the same approach that many authors have when discussing sexuality among Latinos: assuming these ideologies are norms and values within a community BEFORE the community can confirm or deny.

I remember when I first got my hands on the book Erotic Journey’s: Mexican Immigrants And Their Sex Lives by Gloria González-López, which focuses on using feminist ethnography and research methods to get the testimonios of heterosexual Mexican Immigrant couples. This was revolutionary! It still is as there is nothing similar at this moment that uses these approaches to talk to/with heterosexual Latinos (if you know of some PLEASE let me know!). One of the things I really loved about González-López’s work is that she did not introduce the term “machismo” (the expectation for Latino men) at all and only used it after one or more of her participants used it first.

Often people think Latinos have a monopoly on the concept of “machismo,” but as I’ve written in the past, that can be found in every community and culture. I also have shared that my experience with “machsimo” in my family is nothing like what you read about in the literature. I had something similar to a “stay at home dad” during my early adolescence as my mother had the full time job. I was also raised in an agnostic home so the idea of “marianismo” (expectations for Latinas, connected to representing the virgin Mary/enduring sacrifice hence the name) was foreign to me. I know I’m not the only one. So creating a program or approaching Latino youth with these two ideas in mind will result in a loss of an opportunity.

Other lost opportunities in this piece was an inclusion, or even an attempt to recognize, Latino youth who identify as something other than heterosexual. There was also a very rigid discussion of “gender” that fits too nicely into a gender binary that ignores transgender men and women and people who identify as gender queer. Then again, who knows if researchers consider any activity outside of a heterosexual encounter to also be categorized as “risky.” Ugh! This makes my head and heart hurt!

Finally, I’m incredibly disturbed that the ideas of “sexual risk taking” are assumed/normalized to be read as consensual encounters. This is not always the case. There are some levels of coercion for some youth (not only females, but males and gender queer people too), as well as sexual assault and rape. Yet there is no discussion in regards to safety when it comes to protection of such encounters. This not only disturbs me, but it saddens me as well. Why can’t we talk about safety for Latinas and all women of Color in the same way we talk about it for White women? Why can’t we talk about it and include gender queer and transgender people?

Some exciting pieces of information from this article include: Latino mothers desire to have an open conversation with their daughters about sex and sexuality, oh, but then that “marianismo” issue gets in the way. Unfortunately, we don’t know if that’s what all Latino mothers think and believe, or if they can’t find time to talk to their children because they work two jobs or work a job that consumes their time as many high paying corporate jobs do, or because they don’t speak English as a first language and don’t know the terminology to use, or that they don’t ever have privacy to discuss such topics because they live in a multi-generational home, or because their daughter is so involved in school and extra-curricular activities they assume everything is ok (perhaps the original article cited answers these questions). There are also some good things about increase condom usage among Latino males who are more “acculturated” to US society and norms. Perhaps this is connected to the patriarchal society in which we still live that grants more privileges to men in general.

What more can I say? Homies, we got work to do! But I’m glad that those of you reading this are down for doing this work!

LatiNegr@s Project: TV Interview

Last month in February I was asked to speak on the LatiNegr@s Project regarding our goals, missions and objectives for the TV show Independent Sources which focuses on ethnic media.

The TV interview is up and is part of a larger discussion about Afr@-Latin@s. You may view the show here and below I've provided the overview from the website:

Independent Sources: The Black/Brown Divide

Episode: 216 Taped: 03/03/2010 Running Time: 0:30

A weekly television series about New York's ethnic, independent and community media

On this edition of Independent Sources, we examine the economic crisis in Puerto Rico. Will the job cuts and overall economic turmoil in that country lead to a massive migration to the mainland? We also focus on Afro Latinos and their conversation about race color and ethnicity. Is there really and black and brown divide in the community?

Renzo Devia
Exeutive Producer, “Afrolatinos: The Untaught Story”

Judith R. Escalona
Independent Sources

Norma Hiram Pérez
Educator/Labor Organizer

Abi Ishola
Independent Sources

Miriam Jiménez-Román
Co-Founder, Afro-Latin@ Project

José A. Laguarta Ramírez
High School of the University of Puerto Rico

Bianca I. Laureano

Melissa Mark-Viverito
NYC Council Member

Marta Moreno Vega
The Franklin H. Williams Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute (CCADI)

Marlene Peralta
Presentadora, Desde la Calle/Independent Sources

Guesnerth Josue Perea
Founder, Afro-Colombian NY

Garry Pierre-Pierre
Producer/Co-Host, Independent Sources

Alicia Anabel Santos
Writer/Co-Producer, “Afrolatinos: The Untaught Story”

Monday, March 1, 2010

LatiNegr@s Project: Women's Herstory Month: Magia

As I shared with you yesterday, the LatiNegr@s Project is still in full effect because it is a year round endeavor! Today begins Women's Herstory Month (WHM) and I'd like to introduce to you one of my favorite female MCs: Magia of the group Obsesion y La Fabri_k.

I've seen her perform at least two times in the past decade and it is always a huge treat. I was able to purchase Obsesion's first album Un Monton De Cosas in Cuba on the first trip I took 9 years ago. Here's the foto I took the last time I saw her perform:

She is one of the first Afra-Cubana MCs and began the group Obsesion with her partner Alexie, they have since also formed a new "crew" called La Fabri_k whose goal is to "La Fábri K es un colectivo interdisciplinario que aúna a raperos, gente del mundo del teatro y otras artes para trabajar de forma autónoma en proyectos sociales en los barrios y periferias de La Habana, Cuba/ La Fabri_K is a collective of independent artists who, in a creative way, articulate projects designed to stimulate artistic development with social repercussions, through the revolutionary art of Hip Hop. In this way, they promote the true essence of this culture working with the original Hip Hop ideas, which have been distorted by the cultural and fashion industry." Here's a clip from the film trailer about the new crew as well as a few clips from the film (with English subtitles):

Last year I wrote a list of the Top Anti-Love songs and Magia's song "Te Equivocas" was on that list. It is not so much against love as it is against violence and more about self-love for mujeres. Some of her lyrics from that song have been translated and I share them with you as the have been republished from the book Cuba Represent!: Cuban Arts, State Power, and the Making of New Revolutionary Cultures, by Sujatha Fernandes (pp. 109 - 117) from this site:

Magia derides an ex-lover who has mistreated her and she asserts her rights to her body and her sexuality. Magia tells her ex-lover that he is no longer welcome in her life, she is not the weak and dependent girl that he thinks she is: "You are wrong to tell me I would die to kiss your mouth." Magia attacks the machismo and egoism of her ex-lover: "With egoism made machismo, you yourself fell into an immense abyss of false manhood." Magia demonstrates that the myths created by her ex-lover about his virility and manhood are false. He is not worth even one-thousandth of all she has gone through for him and he has denied her happiness. She tells him that she will no longer be used by him: "I have finished being your toy." This kind of assertion of female agency has a history in black popular culture, which dates back to American blues women and Cuban rumba. Women rap artists continue this legacy of negotiating sexuality and power with their lovers and asserting their presence as sexual beings, not objects.

You may hear her perform Niche

Here Obsesion is performing Los Pelos. I totally dig that Magia is painting the face of a doll Black. For those of you who don't follow Spanish well, she's talking about Hair, African identity, beauty, survival.