There are, unfortunately, only a handful of Latin@s in the film industry, especially as directors. There was a time I appreciated films such as “Illegal Tender” (b/c they centered LatiNegr@s, but also because Wanda de Jesus). However, folks who create those films are less than exceptional folks in general. My favorite “Latin@” films include: I Like It Like That and Miracle At St. Anna ”I Like It Like That” is phenomenal! It is a story about a radical woman of color, lisette (lauren velez) (puerto rican mom and jamaican father) coming into her own, an afralatina who is raising three children with a man (chino, john seda) whose mother (rita moreno) is a white supremacist and speaks all that “good hair’ bullshit. lisette character has a trans sister Alexis (jesse borrego) who is a owner of a botanica in the neighborhood. lisette finds her own space and independence with the help of her sister and community.
Miracle at St. Anna is a film by spike lee and stars laz alonso as the main character, hector negron. the film follows 4 US soldiers during WWII who are in Italy. Negron is the one surviving soldier to tell this narrative and we watch as he is struggles with the story and weight of what he survived. when else do we hear the stories of LatiNegr@ soldiers?
Day 13 – What Do I know about indigenous culture (i.e.Tainos)
I know a lot about the Arawak, aka Tainos in Puerto Rico, as it’s part of my culture. I’ve also learned a bit by reading and experience of living among Mayans in Xhualtez, Yucatan (yes Mayans STILL exist so quit with all your “Mayan prophecies” bs where they were annihilated before finishing a calendar). I do become suspicious of folks such as anthropologists who do not have any connection to our communities because they are outsiders telling us what our ancestors have left. Who are they? This is something I realized when learning about Mayan and Aztec images and writing. Some of the “leaders” and “experts” on deciphering those writings and images and symbols are racially white folks. Will they really ever be able to understand what those symbols mean? Will they ever truthfully share what they mean? What if the symbols are about their colonial legacy and current oppressive actions, would they cover them up?
If you follow this blog you know what issues I care about and what impacts me. Here's a letter from Barack Obama (staff) that was sent to me at a job I was working at in 2007. For a day about ending smoking we had a "graffiti" wall in the center I was working at and I had to organize activities for the day.
I decided to have pieces of newsprint for students to write encouraging letters of support encouraging Obama to quit smoking. I had a picture of him and a sentence that read "Barack Obama may be the US first Black president. He smokes, send him a note to encourage him to quit smoking tobacco and why it's important." Many students wrote things like "you need to quit smoking so you can be the president" and "If you stop smoking you are stronger and can lead" and similar things.
Here's the letter below. The letter arrived after I was "laid off" and the staff held on to it for me and sent it to my home address. I then scanned it and emailed it to my former supervisors. None of them responded. I now have this in my portfolio for when I go on interviews. Some folks are impressed. I'm more proud that there were adults who recognized that youth created something and someone in some kind of power responded. Had I still been employed I would have posted this letter for students to see.
I don’t know what to write about this topic. It’s not a question or a complete sentence. Instead I’ll share a foto, when in doubt share a foto. Below is a foto of me with my offering for La Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre in Santiago de Cuba (the southwestern part of Cuba) in January 2001. This city has the largest African ancestry as the transatlantic slave trade stopped here. La Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre is Black, her image in Cuba is Black and folks from all over the island and world come to bring offerings to her.
Offerings folks leave for her (including the Castro’s, which challenges the ideas about how religion was “outlawed” or “illegal” or some other term under Fidel Castro’s regime) all sorts of items from candles, to silver and copper images of the body part they need care and healing for (i.e. feet, hearts, arms, etc.). Folks sell these batches of sunflowers on the road towards the site: El Cobre Basilica. I asked that I be more open to the love that comes my way and recognize it as it arrives.
Excuse me while I self promote, again! My homegirl, AfraLatina Puerto Rican and Dominican warrior and media maker Sofia Quintero created HomeGirl.TV, an online space where young folks of Color, especially young women, could ask advice from other women of Color on a range of topics. I was one of the many dope folks included who offered advice. I've posted these before but you can log into HomeGirl.TV to see them all.
Also, here's a video focusing on Afr@Latin@s where I was included talking about The LatiNegr@s Project!
I feel like I miss Arizona. I have chosen family there and have been twice already! All of my chosen family are Xican@s who were born and raised there. Some identify as Native Xican@s. I know this question is re: their laws and ish, which honestly are triflin and scary and I think of the folks who are living in AZ who i love and adore and who are doing much needed work in the trenches while many of us just talk about AZ
I feel pissed I can’t afford to visit AZ, but happy that my homies have jobs that offer them pay and that they are coming for a visit soon! Here are some fotos from my last trip(s) to AZ:
Here i get off the plane, my homegirl elena picks me up, she wants to show me the desert. i think the desert is just dry and arid and bare. but it’s GREEN and i want to see catctus! so she takes me to some spots. i frolic as i hop to a cacti that i want to take a foto near, and then i step on one and get pinched. before helping me, elena takes a foot!
when i finally got that ish out of my foot, i took this foto between 2 ginormous cacti! mind you i’m 6ft tall:
Here we are on our way to Sedona (RED ROCK no mars). I wondered if the red rocks when held or sat on would leave a red debris, but it doesnt’. folks who live in Sedona have bank and spend it on some ridonkeylously isn, like homes crafted like pods with glass ceilings to watch the stars/aliens. here’s me gazing at the red rocks
Here’s an NYC license for Aliens
Here’s me (suggestively?) eating a chocolate covered peanut banana
Here’s the liquid silver necklace i purchased. i also purchased some earrings and the dudes selling the necklace in scottsdale (where dan majerle ads are STILL present b/c that’st he demographic!) the 2 older native women who worked there were sisters, brother owned the shop. they saw me in my leather motorcycle jacket and asked “are you from nyc?” and laughed when i said yes.
There are many that I don't enjoy here are a few that work my nerves especially:
1. "good hair"/pelo malo. this is not Latin@ only, but it's def rooted in anti-Black racism that many Latin@s embrace and perpetuate.
2. Latin@s are all one religious belief system. no we aren't! we are present and reprsented in so many religious belief systems including having no belief system!
3. Latin@s are not pro-choice. um, yes many of us are! and those who think they would never get an abortion doesn't mean they would stand in the way of another person's options. that means being pro-choice too, minding your own business! (and there's research to support this)
4. You are not a "real" Latin@ if you don't speak Spanish. shut all the way up, callate ya.
Day 7 - Post a picture about your culture and explain its significance
this is a foto from “our big fat puerto rican lesbian wedding” that happened 2 years ago. it’s my sister and her wife (and in the right my sister’s best friend). they are holding their marriage certificate. they got married in DC in June when DC legalized same gender marriage.
we were treated with respect, dignity, and congratulations as we walked into the court house. it was so hot. over 100 degrees. everybody cried. and they let us take fotos for 20 min before in the room and for 10 min after the ceremony.
a month later my dad married his wife in a court house in their state. i had just come back from spending a week with a homegirl on her honeymoon b/c she was stood up at the alter (literally, i was there to do her make up and old boy called and said he wasnt coming!). being with her was the hardest thing i’ve ever had to do in my life right now.
i chose this foto b/c that year my sister and father found love in the ways they desire. my papi cried when he said his vows. he cried when he told me how lucky he is to have had my mother love him and now his current wife love him.
he is very much learning with the same gender tip stuff. he has no one to talk to about my sisters b/c all his homies never talk about lesbians and he doesnt know how to bring it up or talk about it. when the wedding was being planned for my sister my dad asked me “bibi what do i wear to the ceremony” b/c he didnt think it was the same tradition/ritual as he’s used to. he’s learning. it’s all a process.
this is significant because so many folks think Latin@s are homophobic, and some are, but not all of us. Many of us, and our elders, are open to learning and that’s what makes my family dope.
I have no idea what this question refers to exactly. I think folks will read into this question and answer it based on their own perspectives. Folks may make arguments regarding DREAMers, immigration reform, secure communities (SCOMM), and other federal policies. But is that REALLY what this question is asking?
Am I for or against immigration, um who the hell am i to tell folks what to do with their bodies? To cross borders or to stay in homelands? Who am I to have an opinion when my homeland was FORCED into a migratory experience and then folks argue we aren’t “real immigrants” when our experiences of shock, isolation, expected assimilation, etc. are as “real” as many immigrants.
People immigrate and migrate all over the world. This is a fact. This is how we have the world we have today. That ish isn’t going to stop and if folks think they can stop it or try to regulate it they are really out of touch with the world and so focused on squirreling away resources for a day that may not ever come.
Do I really have to go into why neither is a good choice? How about we rephrase the question and state “Which candidate do you think is a good choice for POTUS?” that does not perpetuate the 2 party system (that’s not democracy imho), and it still isolates the women, women of Color, etc. who are on the ballot. Bet some of ya’ll didn’t even KNOW there are women of Color on the ballot including Latin@s!!!!
now who is an educated voter? The folks who know many of the candidates running or the ones who only know about the above mentioned men?
I’m not saying this is the perfect tool, but go and see who you side with based on your interests and beliefs of how this country can be lead.
then yo got to go to VivirLatino.com where Maegan is always schooling folks and I’m sometimes writing about music and films.
i also suggest my column of 4 years on Reproductive, Sexual & Media Justice. it ended in July but the archives have some amazing pieces, interviews, films, commentary I’m so proud to have that as part of my portfolio.
whatever my papi makes. it’s really that simple. my papi was the chef and cook in our house primarily. his cooking is like another form of artwork. the way he seasons things, the way he times everything to be done at the same time. how he plans out menus from basic and simply items.
when i go home for special visits i ask him to make me maizena. it’s a porridge made from cornstarch. he makes it so sweet and yummy it can be for breakfast or dessert! He adds lemon and lemon zest and then the top layer of the porridge gets a bit solid and when you dip your spoon into it the creamy filling on the inside is still warm and smooth. it’s like when you dig into a chocolate lava cake and the chocolate pours out. only this time it’s in a bowl, it’s homemade, it’s lemony goodness.
maybe this is not a “Latin@” cuisine but more a Caribbean one.
Day 2 – What Latin American Country/Island have I been to
I’ve lived in Xhualtez, Yucatan in Mexico. i worked at the Mayan House of Health for several months. It was the first health facility that had western trained and traditionally trained Mayan healers working at the same facility. I worked with the healers mostly as the western doctor didn’t really want to be bothered. I helped the healers who came in 1-week shifts, lived on the campus with us, and planted the herbs they needed to make ointments and medications.
I was present when one person needed to “have her period come” (i.e. have an abortion) and translated while the healers provided a tea and deep tissue massage. I used the balm they made for me and my mosquito bites. I slept suspended in the air in a pink and white hand woven hammock. It was amazing. I was there when it was voting time and witnessed how candidates send in baby chickens to sway voters. You may eat the chicken and have grub, or raise the chicken to lay eggs and still eat, or swap it with someone else for something else.
I’ve been to Cuba twice, once for a tour with MADRE in 2000, and again in 2001 for the World Association of Sexology (now the World Association of Sexual Health) conference where I presented on my work on Latin@ Teen Pregnancy Prevention efforts in the US. I also traveled to Santiago de Cuba for several days.
I’ve been to Puerto Rico, my homeland that is not sovereign.
i used to think the term “AmeRícan” was witty and clever. Introduced to this wordplay by poet Tato Laviera (see full poem below).
I appreciate Laviera’s poem, but today i don’t connect with the term. i’m not happy about the forced removal and citizenship i’m demanded to have because of colonization. because of racism. because of xenophobia, ideas of decency, conquest, murder, rape, and the legacy of oppression that continues.
i dig that i can read poetry and have access to ideas such as these. that i’m not alone when desiring a sovereign homeland and willing to put the work in to make that happen one day at a time.
we gave birth to new generation, AmeRícan, broader than lost gold never touched, hidden inside the puerto rican mountains.
we gave birth to a new generation, AmeRícan, it includes everything imaginable you-name-it-we-got-it society
we gave birth to new generation, AmeRícan salutes all folklores, european, indian, black, spanish, and anything else compatible:
AmeRícan, singing to composer pedro flores’ palm ———-trees high up in the universal sky!
AmeRícan, sweet soft spanish danzas gypsies ———-moving lyrics la española cascabelling ———-presence always singing at our side!
AmeRícan, beating jíbaro modern troubadours ———-crying guitars romatinc continental ———-bolero love songs!
AmeRícan, across forth and across back ———-back forth and forth back ———-forth across and back and forth ———-our trips are walking bridges!
it all dissolved into itself, the attempt was truly made, the attempt was truly absorbed, digested, we spit out the malice, we stand, affirmative in action, to reproduce a broader answer to the marginality that gobbled us up abruptly!
AmeRícan, walking plena-rhythms in new york, ———-strutting beautifully, alert, alive, ———-many turning eyes wondering, ———-admiring!
AmeRícan, defining myself my own way any way many ———-ways Am E Rícan, with the big R and the ———-accent on the i!
AmeRícan, like the soul gliding talk of gospel ———-boogie music!
AmeRícan, speaking new words in spanglish tenements, ———-fast tongue moving street corner “que ———-corta” talk being invented at the insistence ———-of a smile!
AmeRícan, abounding inside so many ethnic english ———-people, and out of humanity, we blend ———-and mix all that is good!
AmeRícan, integrating in new york and defining our ———-own destino, our own way of life,
AmeRícan, defining the new america, humane america ———-admired america, loved america, harmonious ———-america, the world in peace, our energies ———-collectively invested to find other civi- ———-lizations, to touch God, further and further, ———-to dwell in the spirit of divinity!
AmeRícan, yes, for now, for i love this, my second ———-land, and i dream to take the accent from ———-the altercation, and be proud to call ———-myself american, in the u.s. sense of the ———-of the word, AmeRícan, America
We are happy to bring back The 30 Day Latino Blog Challenge. 30 days, 30 blogs, 1 message to celebrate Latino Heritage Month. We challenge oursleves and any Latino blogger to write everyday for the next 30 days. The rules are simple. The blog must be at least 2 paragraphs on the selected topic, although there are 2 entries for poetry. The blog can be written in anyway chosen.
Latino/Hispanic Heritage Month is from September 15 - October 15. So this challenge will begin tomorrow. Have FUN and Good Luck! Below are the topics:
Day 1 – What I love most about being Latino in America. Day 2 – What Latin American Country/Island have I been to Day 3 – Favorite Latin Cuisine Day 4 - What Latino Blog I recommend Day 5 - Romney or Obama? Day 6 - Immigration: For or Against? Day 7 - Post a picture about your culture and explain its significance Day 8 - What Latino Stereotype do I hate the most Day 9 - My Feelings on Arizona Day 10 – Afro Latinos/Latinas in the Media
Day 11 – Religion Day 12 – Latino Politics – What affects you? Day 13 – What Do I know about indigenous culture (i.e.Tainos) Day 14 - Favorite Latino Musician Day 15 – Latinos in the Film Industry Day 16 – Latino Art Day 17 – Si No Puede Hablar Español, No Se Pone Latino. Verdad? Day 18 – A Poem (original or quoted) Day 19 – Latinos, Police, and Prisons. What Say You/Que Te Dices? Day 20 – Latino Superheros
Day 21 - Post an Image that Represents (Afro)Latinidad and explain why Day 22 – Blogueros y Blogeras - Are Latinos on the ‘Nets Relevant? Day 23 – Hispanic or Latino..What do you prefer? Day 24 – Should USA lift the embargo on Cuba? Day 25 - Post a picture about your familia and explain its significance Day 26 – Favorite Latino Actor or Actress Day 27 – Favorite Latino Author Day 28 – Are Latinos Queer? Day 29 – Are Latinos Black? Day 30 – What I learned in the last 30 days.
I finished The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks two weeks ago. Yes, I’m about three years late and for good reason! I wasn’t ready to read the book. I knew there would be a lot of discussion about the anti-Black racism, xenephobia, ableism, and misogyny that I wasn’t ready to read about. Many of the folks in my life have shared how good the book was and encouraged me to read it as well. I didn’t have the same expectations of the book being a “good read,” but I also didn’t expect to have the reaction I had to the text.
Making a conscious effort not to read any written critiques or praises for the book, I began reading with a specific goal: How can I, someone who is benefitting from the misuse/abuse of Henrietta Lacks’ body, honor her without reinforcing the same oppressive experiences others have upon her and her family? How do I examine how I’ve benefitted from something heinous that I had nothing to do with but that allows for my existence today? As I read I was immediately questioning some things about the text. First, how was the text so comprehensive when it comes to sharing intimate and private moments Henrietta Lacks experienced when there were not witnesses? This book was said to be nonfiction, but some parts read as fictional to me. Half way through the text I wondered how do I see this form of data collection and methodology? Would I use this book as an example of “feminist ethnography” or “feminist research” and if I did would I support this approach? I think back to the forms of testimonio, oral narratives, that people of Color have shared. And then I remember the ways folks have tried to debunk our words and narratives. From Rigoberta Menchu, to the slave narratives, to youth questioning pop singer Rhianna’s experience with abuse, women of Color are often questioned, especially when we speak about our lives
When I remember my “Feminist Ethnography” class, and how, if I got the chance, would teach it similarly or differently, I considered if this book would be useful. How would I rationalize it being a “feminist” text if the methodology and data collection were so limited and unclear? Could this be a useful text to discuss some of those topics? There are many questions I still have unanswered from that class. Sometimes the questions are more important than the answers.
Then I read this critique An Open Letter to Those Colleges and Universities that have Assigned Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks as the “Common” Freshman Reading for the Class of 2016by Rebecca Kumar. I realized that I had the same questions and discomfort as did Skloot. Kumar specifically mentions parts of the text that I too had questions about their authenticity, such as a part of the book that Kumar describes as “voyeuristic.” Is it too fantastic to believe a woman knew her body so well that she knew there was a tumour on her cervix without having to feel for it with her fingers? What does this say about the ways women are expected to understand what is occurring in/to their own body? How does it set up the same situation the Lacks’ discuss of not questioning medical providers because they are doctors and know more? How does this fall into criticising alternative forms of knowing and knowledge, some of which Skloot calls “voodoo” and how Henrietta Lacks’ youngest daughter Deborah (and other family members) discusses Henrietta’s spirit being present?
When it comes to the questionable non-fiction parts of the text I too am troubled as Kumar. Upon sharing Kumar’s letter with folks in my network there were many racially white folks who have read the book and who did not agree with Kumar for different reasons. I had to admit that I was not surprised that many racially white people who praised the text would disagree with what a woman of Color was stating. Her points require us to examine our own ethical philosophies and ways we consume the bodies and narratives of women of Color. When women of Color speak about racism and misogyny and oppression we need to listen and not just focus on debunking their positions and statements because they make us uncomfortable being self-reflexive.
How did Skloot come to decide/know (I can’t tell if it was her choice/decision or if she found this out from someone else) that Henrietta Lacks’ husband had been cheating on her and thus transmitting various sexualy transmitted infections, such as syphilis? From what I read Skloot had limited interactions with David Lacks who was aging and ill. How did she come to this conclusion or did she decide that on her own? I’m not comfortable with a racially white woman deciding that a Black man’s infidelity was the reason for certain illnesses and outcomes especially when she had the opportunity to ask him directly. This goes back to believing what Black men say when they speak.
Also Skloot mentions a recorder she used, but never mentions it early on in meeting with the Lacks family. How does she get long conversations with the Lacks men long before they have consented to being recorded? Does she “sneak” the recorder and record the conversation in her pocket? If so, is that ethical? Is that what the Lacks family agreed to? How is this a misuse of obtaining information from living human subjects? Does she ever obtain consent to using those recordings?
Finally, the discussions of racism and race are odd for me to read. Not because I didn’t expect them, but because Skloot doesn’t discuss this at all in the text from her perspective. Instead she leaves it up to the Black folks in the text to bring up race and racism. This gives me the impression that she is “post-racial” and doesn’t think about how her whiteness may impact this narrative or how she’s normalized her own whiteness. She’s surprised how folks she contacts know she is white because it is only white folks who call asking about Henrietta Lacks and HeLa cells. Why not spend some time discussing how her whiteness was something that gave her access in ways others, even the Black doctors she interviewed, did not have? Why not discuss how her whiteness gave her some protections, even in the spaces she described as being locations many would interpret as “scary” or “undesirable” for a white woman to go alone?
As many folks who have discussed and critiqued the book have mentioned, Skloot includes discussions of herself in the text, some even argue it’s an overwhelming part of the text. Why not go into a first person voice to address some of this? I’d especially like to hear how Skloot came to the decision on her own that a educational fund was necessary to create. Did she even ask the family what they wanted or did she decide what was best for them? (I’m not even going to go into the problems with her receiving immoral amounts of money in honorariums to speak about this text and how she’s been known to be difficult and not want to engage with students when at universities who pay her this amount.)
This book is important, and I don’t question that at all. It gives us reminders that oppression by and among medical professionals exists in this country today and is embedded in the (re)memory of many communities of Color in the US. What I do appreciate from Skloot is she uses the voices of the Lacks family and does not change their vernacular for easier reading or more acceptable text. Some folks may not like this approach, yet I find it important to have readers understand the words and vernacular of those speaking in an authentic voice.
In addition to Kumar’s discussion of first year students and the faculty who teach them using this text, the book has also attracted readers some may not have expected. Now, the text and the narrative have been immortalized in a different way: in the Hip Hop genre by one of my favorite MCs: DOOM. In his latest track, “Winter Blues,” from his album JJ DOOM (he collaborated with Jneiro Jarel hence the JJ in front of the name which is explained at the beginning of the video), references Henrietta Lacks. Here are the video and lyrics, bolded are the ones in reference to Lacks.
Melanin on melanin
Your dude need to recharge off your velvet skin
Make ‘em feel like, like twelve again
Soon as you give the green light I’m delvin’ in (x2)
Learn to balance, it’s real tricky
Like The Incredible Hulk turned back to Bill Bixby
Fuck masturbating, I’d rather wait than
Keep enough of that good stuff for the trading in
Each and every day making cash with Satan
Can’t eat can’t sleep, it’s exasperatin’
Mad like burning off
All he needs is one warm hug to keep from turning off
I’m sure you could use a boost
Left the hooptie parked in hood with the screws loose
Bust the coupé out the driveway, stash house
Scooped you up, hit the highway and mash out
Matte-black like melanin on melanin
Of course the butter soft, black leather trim, set of rims
Let ‘er purr, not a scratch on it
Spin it back to the garage and put a latch on it
I need a handful of melanin
Feelin’ like the lambswool beard on your tender skin
It might give you a shock initially
As we reconnect up the flow, electricity
The phenomenal melanin bio-polymer
Follow with a glass a merlot, I could swallow her
Eat ‘er up like a SnackWell®
We could live forever like Henrietta Lacks cells
Melanin on melanin
Ask me where the hell I been soon as I felt her skin
Holdin’ hands, feet in the sand— grounded
Starin’ in them pretty brown eyes— astounded
I’ll share some solar power
If you let me pound it we could go for hours
And then again in the shower
Left her leg tremblin’— recharged the melanin
Girl you got it
Me too let that show
This is how you know
That’s that glow
Feel it yo
Love that glow
Feel it yo
I still remain with many questions, especially around how to honor and remember Lacks. What does it mean for me to recognize the privileges I have benefitied from by the misuse of a Black woman’s body? How do I pay homage and give thanks for her and her family while still holding myself accountable for the ways I’ve benefitted. This is something I’ve begun to discuss with my community. As my good friend Aaminah had mentioned when I shared I was working on this piece “You know, like how we talk about white privilege including the benefits that come from the system of slavery, even when white people say ‘but I didn't have slaves! that was so long ago!’ Well, we have to talk in the same way about how we continue to benefit from this thing that we didn't have anything to do with, we didn't do it, we are horrified that it happened, but the fact is we still benefit from it! I don't know how to have that convo with myself much less with anyone else yet. But I know it has to happen.”
I think it’s time for that conversation to begin. Let’s start.