Sunday, February 26, 2012

Reflecting on The LatiNegr@s Project

cross posted from my Media Justice column

This February marks the 2nd anniversary of an virtual online project that I co-created calledThe LatiNegr@s Project. I’ve been reflecting on how this project has grown and evolved and wanted to write a 2-year review of the project. It seemed fitting that I post this reflection here on the Media Justice column because it was here that I very publicly started to think and work on how to create and implement such a project. Because of this website, column, and the interaction with readers in the comments I was able to work with a good friend and create The LatiNegr@s Project.

Three years ago I was so frustrated! My main frustration was with a story about Latin@s and the ending events for Latin@ Heritage Month and how one-dimensional these discussions, presentations, and festivities were. It really stuck with me until the end of the year in a way it had not before. This was at a time when social media was evolving rapidly and people were creating spaces for Black and Latin@ communities but not for Black Latin@s. I felt overwhelmingly excluded, isolated, like I had to pick a part of me, but it couldn’t be all of me. I also felt tired. Tired of always having to “school” Latin@s on our Black and African roots, reminding them that their anti-Black exclusion of us is very much a racist act. I also felt the same irritation and exhaustion with Black communities and spaces often not including us as members of the community because our ethnicity is one that is connected to Latinidad.

It was from this space of exhaustion, anger, frustration that I went to Twitter and wrote something such as “I’m going to do something about the underrepresentation of LatiNegr@s in Latin@ and Black spaces” (I can’t remember the exact thing I wrote, but this captures the essence). One person responded. That one person is Anthony, a homeboy that I had yet to meet in 3D but had followed online and whose blog I read. Anthony blogs under the nameLatinegro and he said he would be interested in doing something similar and we should definitely collaborate. A few other folks demonstrated some interest in creating a project and were present with some of the initial posts we created on our respective blogs for Black History Month (BHM). When BHM ended it was still Anthony and I committed to the project.

Afrolatinos from Marlene Peralta on Vimeo.

That first month we reached out to everyone in our network. We shared with them that we were working on a project to include LatiNegr@s, Blaktin@s, Afr@Latin@s in Black History Month, Women’s History Month, Pride Month, Latino Heritage Month, and basically year round! Our goal was to use the virtual platform of Tumblr, which at that time was very heavily based on visual content such as images and fotos. It was a huge learning curve, but I found guidance and encouragement from the work that my homegirl Maegan Ortiz of Vivir Latino had done in creating a Latino Heritage Month tumblr in 2009.

Surprisingly, (or not?) only a few of my friends I reached out to agreed to participate. It took a lot of work to get content, post calls for submissions, and get to know the tumblr platform. There were even some of our friends who we reached out to who told us that they were not going to contribute because our ideas were not new, other organizations were already doing what we were hoping to do, and that there was no leadership.

What can I say, Anthony and I dream big in a collective non-hierarchical way.

And we kept dreaming. We worked our tails off, posting often during BHM to our blogs, interviewing folks, and providing highlights on LatiNegr@s to know about. Before BHM was over, we were asked to be on a TV series discussing the work we were doing. This was to be on CUNY TV’s Independent Sources, a television show that focuses on issues and topics that impact people living specifically in NYC. Producer Marlene Peralta asked us to participate in her series on Black Latin@s. Preparing for the exchange was a bit of a challenge, we had a snow storm that day, I was not sure how to dress or what make-up, colors, or jewelry to wear that would be best captured on film. Marlene’s team was amazing. They never attempted to change or alter my appearance in any way, and they were very professional, supportive, and all people of Color which made me feel even more at ease to see that this story was really a community effort. When her segment was created our virtual project received some amazing support and views! Below is the segment:

Those folks who had told us our ideas and goals were less than exceptional all of a sudden wanted to participate. Go figure! I share this because at that time I thought to myself “of course they want to jump on the wagon now that we thought about it, put it together, got it moving, and now it’s being appreciated. They want ‘in’ when all the hard structural work is done!” Now, after working on the project for 2 years, I realize that there are folks who will come and go and share what they can. That each of us plays a role and that I can value them for the role they are present to provide.

Last year The LatiNegr@s Project grew. We had two new members join our team and The LatiNegr@s Project has moved in directions that both Anthony and I find exhilarating. Kismet and Vio have given The LatiNegr@s Project new energy, fresh ideas, security, and has helped us dream even bigger. We are talking non-profit organization bigger (not there yet but it’s one of the big dreams for now)! We have a Twitter account, a Facebook page, and opened up our Ask feature on tumblr and have been receiving amazing questions. We have alsobegun our first survey, have over 2000 items posted and over 850 followers!

We are doing radio shows, receiving invitations to speak at events, and will be discussing our evolution, challenges, and successes at the Southeastern Women’s Studies Association People of Color Track on Friday March 30, 2012 (stop by and say hello if you are in the area!).

A few things that I think make The LatiNegr@s Project stand out from the other amazing projects focusing on Black Latin@s, Afr@Latin@, pride, and inclusion are the following:

• The platform is virtual. We offer the opportunity for folks to contribute what they believe is important by submitting an image, video, quote, link, or writing something that connects to the LatiNegr@ identity. This makes our space interactive all the time and not just on special occasions or events. Plus, it helps to reach folks from all over the world who have access to the internet, not just those in the areas where Anthony and I are physically located.

• The LatiNegr@s Project centers social media and elements of youth culture where young people are at the center of their usage and evolution. I would not have heard of tumblr if the students I work with not mentioned the platform to me. I would also not have learned about the options and opportunities that existed using the platform had it not been for young people. Many of the items on The LatiNegr@s Project are primarily from youth (under 25 years old), about youth, for youth, or discusses youth and how much we value them. I can’t remember the last time an organization focusing on Afr@Latin@s centered young people. And not just centering what our challenges are, but how we learn and evolve from the youth in our community and how their contributions are vital to all of us.

• The LatiNegr@s Project was built on the ideas of inclusivity. We have always focused on including various aspects of our identities that are often ignored. For example, we actively seek to support, challenge oppressions, and have represented LatiNegr@s with different abilities, who identify as transgender, who have various socio-economic statuses, are more than artists or entertainers, are youth, single mami’s and papi’s, local activists, various sexual orientations and gender expressions, and that are not just from the US. The LatiNegr@s Project shows all of our complexities.

Some challenges or areas for improvement from my perspective include:

• More content that in other languages besides English. Right now the site is predominately English-based and I’d love to have translations, more inclusive languages we speak beyond Spanish and Portuguese included. Sometimes this is a difficult task to accomplish as many of our items are user submitted, but I have confidence we’ll find a solution to this very soon.

• Approving and posting “controversial” topics. This goes back to our complexities. We’ve had users submit some content that some of us may not agree with personally. At the same time it’s important to have a dialogue about gender roles and expectations and how they impact us, how sex tourism and sex trafficking impact our homelands and families, and what immigration policies and border security means for LatiNegr@s. IT’s not all fun and jolly posts we have. There are many that speak out against the systemic racism, sexism, xenophobia, transmisogyny, ableism, and anti-immigrant hate (to name just a few). For many of us seeing these stories and images reminds us we are not alone and that there are others who witness our lives. For others these stories are triggering, devastating, or affirming. It’s all about promoting the dialogue and pushing ourselves to really examine what self-determination, self-identification, and liberation means.

I encourage you to check out The LatiNegr@s Project and consider how you may use some of our content in your Black History Month, Women’s History Month, etc. observations and celebrations. There is so much to see, read, and hear and I hope each visitor leaves finding something new out about themselves, their community, and LatiNegr@s.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Why Are We Surprised? Latin@s, Reproductive Health & Abortion

cross posted from my media justice column

There are so many stereotypes that people have about Latin@s, our sexual experiences, practices, and decisions. As a member of this community and someone from the Caribbean I have a few ideas on how these stereotypes have emerged and how they have been linked to reproductive health and justice. It is clear from reports by the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health and the California Latinas for Reproductive Justice that we are collectively working to change and challenge these stereotypes. A recent report by the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health demonstrates that a majority of Latin@s (over 70%) believe that a woman has the right to make her own personal, private decisions about abortion without politicians interfering.

Remembering how I was trained, by racially white professors and Latin@ ones, the idea of “cultural values” that Latin@s have and hold true I continue to struggle with. Some of these “cultural values” are connected to ideas that stem from colonization, others from social sciences such as anthropology and sociology where our communities were “observed” and have become truth we are continuing to deconstruct, challenge, and recreate. If you’re not clear on what some of the texts that created this about us consider Oscar Lewis’ La Vida, and Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s The Negro Family (because Latin@s come in all colors!) to start.

And yes, there are times when I’m being flip in this article, something I don’t often do, so hopefully you can pick up on the sarcasm (a coping mechanism for many of us myself included) and differentiate between that and the larger topic/ideas.

Top Stereotypes On Latin@s connected to Reproductive Health

Stereotype: Latin@s are all Catholic.

No we aren’t. Many of us may identify with and practice Catholicism, but many of us do not as well. Latin@s are a diverse group and assuming we all hold the same spiritual beliefs and practices is erroneous. The history of Catholicism in the Americas is connected to exploration, conquest, colonization, and revolution. This is why we see many religions that are connected to Catholicism but also connected to indigenous and African ritual practices (when this occurs it’s called syncretism) and religions, such as Candomblé, Santería, and Vodou. All of these religions Latin@s are known to practice. We also practice a range of spiritual belief systems that many of you have heard before such as Judaism, Islam, and some of us are even atheists. Not all of these religious belief systems have the same perspective on the body, reproduction, family, contraceptives, pregnancy, termination, and power. To ignore this is to ignore our humanity.

Stereotype: Latin@s value family soooooooo much.

Sure we do, but not any more than any other ethnic group. The fact that this has been labeled a “cultural value” and the terms familialismo and familialism has been overly used to understand and connect with Latin@s is a testament to how this has become a stereotype that is systemic. What this “cultural value” ignores is the chosen family that many of us create and the extended family we go to seeking support and help because we are under-resourced. It also ignores the abuses, assaults, violence, rape, and throwing-away* of children that does occur in some Latin@ families. This stereotype is the reason why we rationalize the high teen birthrate among Latin@s without being critical of systemic issues at play. There is also limited examination into how a pregnancy for a young Latin@ may be connected to safety. Some youth do carry a pregnancy to term so that they can give the illusion they are heterosexual as so many people assume only heterosexual people become pregnant and want families.

Stereotype: So many Latin@s are (undocumented) immigrants.

And so many of us are not. How quickly we forget that what we know today as the US-Mexico border was more Mexico than US. To this day I meet people who have no clue that Puerto Rico is a colony of the US and thus we are “granted” US citizenship. Plus, many folks have no idea that Cuban immigrants are granted refugee status which offers benefits some US citizens have a tremendous challenge accessing. All the stories of “terror babies” and“anchor babies” portrays undocumented immigrants in the US are primarily Latin@s. What this stereotype is really connected to when it comes to reproductive health and justice are ideas that people who migrate from the Americas or Caribbean are so “traditional” (read: conservative, primitive, and sheltered) in comparison to folks in the US. If these are the stereotypes (as if none of the cities in any of the countries in the Americas have wealth of any sort similar to capitalist ideas found in the US, or that people don’t evolve if they live in a particular part of the world) that people hold and connect to our ideas of reproductive health and justice, the “rational” connection would be that ideas of abortion, contraceptives, and family planning are what we in the US would consider “oppressive” and “patriarchal,” and “un-feminist” which automatically means anti-choice. This is also where an assimilationist perspective would chime in and say “Latin@s are pro-choice because they’ve lived in the US and been exposed to modern ideas.” Yeah, this is condescending and leads to the next stereotype.

Stereotype: Assimilation and/or Acculturation is why we see Latin@s more pro-choice

Yeah, not really. This ignores the fact that people all over the world, not just Mexico, Central, South America and the Spanish-speaking Caribbean have been practicing herbal remedies and care for terminating a pregnancy. Maybe they don’t call it “abortion” or “terminating a pregnancy.” Maybe they call it “making your period/menstruation come.” Let’s not try to start history when the US comes into play. Let’s remember that many countries existed long before they were “discovered” and that starting history at a particular time/place may erase and ignore a long history and legacy of supporting women, families, and choice. Many folks resist and actively challenge assimilation and acculturation because they choose to hold onto what they know and value. Others openly begin the assimilation and acculturation process and that is their choice, but it must not ever be a requirement, especially for self-determination.

Stereotype: Latin@s are curvy and voluptuous and “naturally” built for giving birth.

Our bodies must be made for breeding if we are built in a particular way. Aside from this being so closely connected to eugenics, it’s ridiculous. Just as we are diverse in belief systems we are also diverse in body shape and size. This stereotype assumes that a “real” Latin@ looks a particular way, which always leads to a problem of exclusion. Through migration, slavery, exploration, and travel there has been inter-mixing of communities and cultures and to assume we look a particular way erases this history.

Stereotype: Latin@s get sterilized so they don’t have to worry about pregnancy, so why would they care about abortion?

Now this idea may not be the most popular, but the stereotype is connected to many things: sterilization rates in the US (forced and consensual), assumption that sterilization is an approved from of contraception (which connects to stereotype one about religion), and a disconnect to the topic of abortion. Without going too in depth on the history of forced sterilization in the US in communities of Color and those with different abilities, I will share that longitudinal research has been conducted with Puerto Rican women who have grandmothers and mothers who were forcibly sterilized and daughters have chosen this method as a form of contraception. Author and scholar Iris Ofelia López uses the term “agency within constraints” in her book Matters of Choice: Puerto Rican Women’s Struggle for Reproductive Freedom, to describe how our various identities are connected to the systems of oppression we live in and how we find self-determination to survive and live the lives we desire for ourselves. Some people do choose sterilization as their contraceptive method of choice, but that does not mean we all do. Choosing this method also does not mean we completely disconnect from the communal struggle and desire to live life on our own terms and to experience pleasure and happiness. Just because someone chooses a particular option does not mean they are instantly no longer a member of their community.

Stereotype: Latin@s are hyper-sexual and passionate.

No wonder we have so many high rates of unplanned pregnancies because it is believed we are always having (unprotected) sex all.the.time. Just look at the way we dance, or how we get dressed to go out, we are exuding sensual passion we want to share consensually with another person. These stereotypes make Latin@s seem as though we are always already sexually available (and consenting). Some of us do have active sexual experiences on a daily basis; some of us are still virgins; and some of us experience times of celibacy and abstinence throughout our lives (which is closer to a inter/national “norm” if there is one). I struggle to think of one current media representative that is Latina that we see who does not support this image. Now, this may be true for many, but offering only a one-dimensional representation supports this stereotype and some may read that as permission to base ideas on our reproductive health and choices.

Stereotype: Latin@s are mostly heterosexual, that’s how people get pregnant anyway!

It’s a struggle for many providers, educators, and those of us working in the field of sexuality and sexual health to actively remember that we do not need to identify people based on their behaviors alone. Asking folks to self-identify also contributes to providing them care and support. This stereotype is connected to ideas that the Latin@s who experience pregnancy are exclusively heterosexual and thus they are not questioned beyond current partner status. This stereotype impacts the services Latin@s (and all pregnant people) experience and need. Yes, sperm and a mature egg are needed for pregnancy to occur, but assuming that those people who contribute those are always going to be male and identify as men and female and identify as women is wrong. This excludes intersex people and creates more barriers for transgender people and those who identify as gender queer to really find quality reproductive health care.

*”throw-away” is a term used to describe youth who are homeless or in the foster care system who were “thrown out” of their home of origin. This may happen for various reasons which may include an unplanned pregnancy, coming out as not heterosexual, identifying as transgender, identifying a family member as an abuser, to name a few.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Best of Media Justice

cross posted from my Media Justice column

It’s been two great years and for my 100th plus post I thought it would be a good time to share some of my favorite columns I’ve written. Do you have a favorite Media Justice column? If so tell me what it is! (Editor's note: Amplify editors name their own faves after the jump!)One of the reasons I like to do these reflections is because I get to see how I’ve evolved as a writer, media consumer, and in sharpening my own media literacy skills. For example, some of my earlier writings I used the term “female” a term that speaks more to describing someone’s sex assigned at birth versus their gender, such as “woman”. Although at times it is embarrassing I did this, it’s a reminder of how I’ve grown, what I’ve learned, and I’m not ashamed of having my learning and knowledge production public for others to see and learn from as well.

LatiNegr@s to Look Out For in 2010
This article is one that is very close to my heart. It marks the beginning of my work dedicated specifically to LatiNegr@s (also known as Black Latin@s/Afr@Latin@s, etc.). This was one of the original articles I wrote that lead to the creation, implementation, and management of The LatiNegr@s Project. This is a virtual project that recognizes and represents LatiNegr@s year round. We started two years ago especially to include LatiNegr@s into Black History Month, Women’s History Month, and Latino Heritage Month celebrations. The LatiNegr@s Project is also in its second year and we have expanded to a team of 4 and have over 180 pages of content, that’s over 1000 articles, images, definitions, syllabi, fotos, commentary, maps, and videos. Many of these have been reader/viewer submissions, which means not only the 4 of us managing The Project have generated content, but others submit as well. If you are interested in checking out The LatiNegr@s Project , submitting, or having us come to your school or organization visit us today.

Man Up, Woman Down
This article I am very proud of because it was a challenge for me to write it as well. I really did some introspective work in examining my own ideas on violence, self-determination, and what it means to claim violence at certain times. These questions stay with me since this article as I think more and more about liberation, struggle, decolonization, revolution, and realize that we are surrounded by all of these right now in different ways. I still don’t have too many answers to these questions but I think sometimes the questions are more important than the answers.

Communal Survival: Holding Each Other Accountable and Healing
When I wrote this article nothing else really mattered to me for 2 days. I was so absorbed into this piece, reading what others wrote, listening to songs by Roxanne Shanté, thinking about how healing has been institutionalized in our society in a way that makes certain forms valid and others questionable. It was one of my first articles for the Media Justice column and I wasn’t too sure if it would “fit,” but I was reassured that it would fit perfectly! This is a post that shows my evolution as a writer and using terms such as “female” when I meant “woman.” It’s also the one post that I received some of the most interaction with readers via social networking.

Major Lazer: Cyborgs, Dancehall, Racism & Colonization in Music
This was one of my first collaborations with my homeboy and music mentor Hugo. It’s one of the more popular posts that I’ve been a part of and we’ve received many compliments and comments about it via social networking. I’m really proud of this piece because it demonstrates my understanding of my limitations, I’m honest about my impressions, thought process and how learning is a communal activity, not something we just do by reading a book. We do a lot of learning with one another and that’s why I love this piece. A while after it was posted and I had talked to Hugo again about creating another article, I realized that he was a co-writer of this piece, not just someone I interviewed/spoke to. As a result, we share writing credit with one another on our personal blogs and resume’s, and I shared half of the income I received for writing this piece. Hugo and I are working together and sharing with one another our expertise/passions. I go to him for music support and he comes to me asking for writing tips and suggestions for online publishing. I’m proud this piece demonstrates how complex we both are and how we have one another’s back.

The Power of Our Jiggly: Jiggly Boo Dance Crew
Still one of my favorite testimonios I’ve written for the Media Justice Column. Here I share my experiences being a part of the fat dance crew Jiggly Boo Dance Crew. It’s been over 2 years since we danced together, but we are still connected, loving, and supporting one another. Our workshop that we hosted in June was amazing! We had about 15 participants, we stretched, breathed, moved, danced, and painted together. I still have the image I painted/created during the art therapy segment I facilitated and listen often to the playlist I created for this session. For art therapy each person picked a location to begin at where a different form of art was located (i.e. markers, water color, finger paints, chalk, pastels) and as they danced they created something using the item at their location. People had the choice to move around to other locations to use different forms of art and left with their creations. Some of us imagined our paper as a partner we would dance with and each time a song changed we’d find a new partner or color. I’m so amazed that I have had this experience and still have my Boos to call family.

Tattooing As Media
This article I had thought about writing for such a long time. I had to really get myself together and think about how this message would be constructed, what I would share, how I would discuss these experiences and the choices that come with making them. It is one of the most exciting pieces I’ve written because it brought me closer to an artist whose work I’ve admired and had tattooed on my body: Isis Rodriguez. She reached out to me shortly after the article was published and we corresponded about her current work in Mexico. It was amazing to have someone I value reach to me and thank me for including their work and valuing it the way I do. This article is a testament to some of the positive outcomes that may emerge from all of our technology.

Why I’m An Adiposer
Not too many people know I posed for the Adipositivity Project (yes even after I’ve written about it!). However, writing this post was one way for me to “come out” as someone who is connected to and dedicated to examining the ideas of how race, ethnicity, gender, class, and body shape and size impact our lives. I am still a part of challenging the stereotypes people have about people of different shapes, sizes, and weights. Part of valuing a healthy at every size philosophy is to first come to love and appreciate my own body and what it holds. This is not always easy. There have been times where I’ve been shamed for the way I look, questioned if I was doing the right thing, and considered drastically altering something about myself, habits, and body to fit into an ideal the US has constructed for women of Color. I recognize now that this is a process. That posing for the Adipositivity Project is part of the process, questioning if I did the right thing or if I will have the resources I need in the future are also parts of the process. It is from within the process that I can find self-determination and liberation.

American Idol and Representations of Working Class Whiteness
If only because American Idol (AI) is still on television, that’s reason enough for me to adore this piece. It was one of the first times that I decided to focus this column on racially white people. I think it’s important for us to be honest about when we see representations of working class white people and what those representations tell us about the country we live in. It’s not often we critically look at how race intersects with specific examples of whiteness or how that also connects with geographic location and gender. Today, several seasons of AI since it’s publication, I realize that this representation is a formula that AI incorporates because they think it works. And maybe it does, but it’s still a formula and I would not have seen it so quickly had I not taken the time out to share some of these thoughts.

Make-Up As Media Making
This is one of the newer posts that I’m really proud to have created. I really needed to vent and share some of the commentary I made to someone who insisted that people of Color who wear their hair naturally had “internalized oppression” because if they didn’t they would be wearing their hair “natural” (i.e. without chemicals). One of my responses was that some people (i.e. “feminists”) have judged me for wearing make-up and claim that by painting my face I’m conforming to certain standards of beauty, when in fact I don’t just paint my face, I paint my entire body! I needed to share how my face paint was something more meaningful to me, that it connected me to my culture, my mother, and my own form of personal liberation. What I never imagined was that other friends of mine, many who identify as “femme” embraced this piece, shared it everywhere, and gave me a lot of praise which was a magnificent experience which continues to this day.

Media Justice for Outlaws
This post still brings me to tears at times. When I was writing it I was thinking about where I was in my life and what my parent’s responses were/are to my work in reproductive justice and sexual health. Hearing Sandra Cisneros and Dorothy Allison talk about how their parents respond to their work helps me. I wonder if I could be the person I am today if my parents were more “connected” online and able to see and witness what I was creating. Instead, their work is more manual and doesn’t offer them this ability. Putting my “Action Plan” into actual action was something I did do shortly after writing this piece. I sent my father for Father’s Day a piece I wrote about his presence in my life and how this challenges what I read about “machismo” in our culture and community. His response was short and he basically said “ok.” I had to be honest with myself that I desired something more from his response. That maybe I just won’t ever have a response from them. It hurt. Part of that pain is connected to my parent’s aging and their memory fading. But I’m at a place where I realize this is how it may be and that’s when chosen family and community come into play.

Editor's Note: At Amplify we love having Bianca and this column, and we wanted to chime in with some of our favorites as well!

1) Bianca's online course in Human Sexuality:
Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5. This is an invaluable contribution in a world where many young people never learn the facts about human sexuality in high school. We are DEEPLY grateful to have it shared here.

La Femme Fetal: Bianca linked last week to this great post about a song that's almost 20 years old but still among the only, if not the only, overtly pro choice music out there.

3) Bianca's work on Net Neutrality - most recently
here, with links to previous entries. People need to know about this very important issue.

4) Bianca's
discussion of Charlie Sheen and ableist uses of the word "crazy" and synonyms. It's too easy, too glib, to call things we don't like "crazy" and we need to be reminded often.

GaGa Fans: Please Explain: Bianca wonders about the weird and unfortunate terms used in "Born this Way"

6) And as a dance crew fan this editor (Emily) was really psyched about this oldie but goodie,
ABDC's Vogue Evolution.

Check all these out, and keep coming back each week!