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.

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