Monday, May 31, 2010

African Fractals

One of my past students-turned friends, Rory, posted this video and it's rocking my world! Rory quotes the presenter Ron Eglash:

When Europeans first came to Africa, they considered the architecture very disorganized and thus primitive. It never occurred to them that the Africans might have been using a form of mathematics that they hadn't even discovered yet.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


Cross posted from my RH Reality Check blog

My homegirl Nilki shared on Twitter a link to the latest HIV prevention advertisement that Spain has produced. I immediately checked out the 50-second video and was instantly just as impressed as she was. Our quick admiration for the ad was shared by the Summit International Awards which awarded this ad “Best of Show Multi-Channel Campaign.” I learned about the award and the organization that created and produced the advertisement, Coordinadora Gai Lesbiana de Catalunya (CGL), Nilki's link to the post by blogger Blabbeando.

As I watched the video a few things came to mind: use of slang and language used commonly by the community, code-switching, representing the community, and having an action-oriented message. These were all a part of my wish list for Latin@ teens during Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month.

Watch the advertisement below. There is profanity that is used so the video may not be safe to view at work.

Blabbeando has shared a translation of the advertisement in English, which reads:

To you, who has fucked us during so many years, who CRUSH us all, young people, older people, women, men, heterosexuals and homosexuals. To you, ABOMINABLE being... we say...

I wanted to share this with readers here because this is what I would consider an example of an effective marketing campaign that is not only targeting youth but is intergenerational. It is not often that marketing and prevention efforts around and about HIV and AIDS in the media are so accessible and as powerful as this one. I've also noticed that many people in the US do not know the history of how the media was/is used to discuss HIV and AIDS especially in the 80s. I find this especially true with the youth I work with today.

What thoughts came up for you as you watched this video? Do you see an opportunity to use this with the community you work with? If so, in what ways do you see utilizing this video to promote discussions? How can we use anger and frustration as motivational and encouraging emotions towards preventing infection of HIV?

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Teaching Abstinence

Cross posted from my Media Justice column

It’s not often that I have conversations about abstinence that are completely in-depth and devoted just to that topic. Often, the conversation is introduced in a larger conversation about choices, healing, sexual assault, contraception, and communication. As I prepare to teach a sexuality course at the private Catholic college I work at, I realize that I need to have a good selection of media (specifically songs) that discuss this reality.

Thus, I started to ask my friends about songs that discuss abstinence but that are also accessible and non-corny. When I do have conversations about abstinence I usually ask the youth I’m working with what type of sex they think people can have. I break down “sex” to include at the very least: vaginal penetration, anal penetration, and oral sex. We talk about how there are various body parts that people can do different things with by themselves or with a partner. I then share with them how some people think abstinence means maintaining their “virginity,” which is defined as a hymen. This means that some people may engage in oral or anal sex to remain a “virgin” and consider themselves abstinent. I share how it’s important for them to define how they want to define abstinence for themselves because potential partners may define it differently. It’s important to know what boundaries you have prior to someone asking to cross over them.

I’ve just fallen in love all over again with some classic songs I’ve been reminded of recently. As I prepare to teach a new summer course on sociology and sexuality these are some jams I’m thinking of teaching.

Janet Jackson’s “Let’s Wait Awhile” which features Taimak for those of you who are old enough to remember the fantabulous film “The Last Dragon.” Her lines “Let’s wait awhile, before we go too far. I didn’t really know to let all my feelings who. To save some for later, so our love could be greater” are amazing teaching tools that help promote discussions about assertive and passive communication.

Jermaine Stewart’s song that was suggested by my homegirl Sofia Quintero, who I’ve mentioned before. Now, there are a lot of possible reasons why Stewart sang this song and as one of my homeboys on twitter stated “of course he didn’t want to take his clothes off. He was gay!” At the same time there is something to be said that this is one of the only songs sung by a man that I can think of or have my homies think of as well about abstinence. He sings in his song “We Don’t Have To Take Our Clothes Off”: “we don’t have to take our clothes off, to have a good time. We could dance and party all night and drink some cherry wine….so come on baby show some class. Why you want to move so fast?” This song offers amazing opportunities to discuss and deconstruct what the terms “dance” and “party” mean to youth today and how they think he was defining them. It also welcomes a conversation about the use of various substances (i.e. cherry wine) and the law, which I’ve encouraged people to be aware of their Constitutional rights. Finally, the line about “class” is always interesting to hear how that is defined and presented by young people today in comparison to how it is presented in the video.

Lisa Lisa & The Cult Jam had (and Lisa Lisa still has) an amazing musical history in my opinion. Their song “Take You Home” brings up so many topics I’ve used when working with high school students. Aside from talking about what one wants to do with a partner, what will the post-activities result in? How will the relationship end? But even more importantly for some youth, what does it mean to have a home to take someone to? What is a safe home?

Ciara’s “Goodies” came out at a time when I was pretty critical of some messages. I thought her message in her song “Goodies” was contradicted in her performance of Black femininity through her costuming in her video. Today I think there is still room for such a critique, but I’m on a different tip with the critique today. For example, in what ways does this song help us get a good understanding of how powerful this message was during the time it was released? Ciara sings: “I bet you want the goodies.Bet you thought about it. Got you all hot and bothered. Mad cause I talk around it. Looking for the goodies. Keep on lookin' cuz they stay in the jar.” I remember hearing young girls of Color I worked with at a public charter school in Washington, DC singing this hook in the hallways of the school. How was this song an important coping mechanism for remaining abstinent, for affirming their choices at a time when they were getting conflicting messages in other ways?

For those of you who are reggaetonfans, you already know who Ivy Queen, one of, if not THE, first lady of reggaeton. I used this song in a class I co-taught back in 2005 with my homegirl Ryan because she’s talking about dancing and her motivations. The song is “Quiero Bailar” which translates into “I Want To Dance.” For non-Spanish speakers the loose translation of the hook is “I want to dance, you want to sweat, if I say yeas you can lead me that doesn’t mean that I’m going to bed with you.” Now I’d like to say this is an anthem for the dancefloor, but I really can’t confirm or deny that. I know that for my homegirls who I dance with it is an important song for us to cut a rug to. It’s like it’s the “ladies choice in dance partner” selection, where a majority of the women choose to dance on their own, a free dance if you will. Or maybe that’s my fantasy dancehall situation….

In a more classically “you haven’t earned my love” is En Vogue’s “Never Gonna Get It.” In addition to being an amazing all-woman band (that may of my homies and I are still nostalgic for) this song is one of those songs that have also become a verb. My homegirls and I have said “it’s about to get so never gonna get it up in here” so many times and we knew exactly what the other meant! Although used at times as a “diss” I can see some important messaging in this song especially about agency and self-determination.

What abstinence-centric songs do you have to suggest? I’ll totally give you citation credit for putting me onto your suggestions!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Goodbye To The Only Midwife on TV

cross posted from my blog at RH Reality Check

Spoiler Alert

I want to fully disclose that I cannot afford cable so I don’t have it and this post is about public television. I’m one of those people that still uses their rabbit ear antenna for their television. I have no shame in still living an analog life where my polariod camera gets more use than my digital one. So you can understand, I’ve only seen one midwife on television this year and that is Dell on ABCs Private Practice.

A spinoff of ABCs Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice piqued my interest with having a Black heterosexual couple who opened their own wellness center, called Oceanside, that has a holistic approach to health and well-being and cast a great group of actors to perform each character. This first season had me intrigued when the writers included storylines about relationships among older adults, gay and lesbian topics on fertility, and challenges in the child welfare system and storylines on intersex children. The third season has been interesting regarding the commentary on sexuality with people who have disabilities, teenage pregnancy, mental health topics and parenting, and a range of beliefs among the characters regarding abortion.

One of the many things I also appreciate about the show is that the physicians and people who work at Oceanside are interesting models of how to work with and among various patients and clients. I always find it interesting as a viewer to see how physicians talk to and engage their patients, especially youth. Dell Parker (performed by Chris Lowell), a young white man who has a child and a history of drug recovery, is also the only midwife on the television show.

We watched as Dell was trained under the care of various OBGYNs and other medical staff to help create and build on his own contributions to the center. His work in midwifery not only challenged some perceptions on masculinity when it comes to who can and is a midwife and what makes a good midwife (do “good” midwives have to have had a child? Need a uterus? Experienced menstruation?). His character also provides complementary care to Westernized thoughts regarding pregnancy and childbirth.

It saddened me to a level I can’t even really express to know that this last episode of Private Practice, "The End Of A Beautiful Friendship" the writers chose to kill Dell’s character off via a brain injury. I was shocked to say the least. This was one of the only representations I’ve seen on mainstream public television of midwifery. As an abortion doula with The Doula Project (we are currently accepting applications for doulas in NYC click here for more information) I found it extremely devastating to the storyline and will admit I think it is a poor choice.

Having midwives represented in mainstream media is important. Dell was one of the only representations I can think of in non-cable mainstream public television that may be accessible to a wider audience. There is now a void on representations of midwives, but there is also a larger void in how the care midwives give is just as vital to wellness centers and childbearing. Who remains to challenge the Westernized models of pregnancy and birthing options on the show as Dell did (I don’t think Pete will be as passionate or on point as Dell was)? Have you thought about how his character was an opportunity to establish and further conversations on midwifery and doulas? I know I’d mentioned his character in my teaching on human sexuality, and now I worry that none of my students will even know of his characters existence or was important.

Are there other non-cable mainstream television shows you’ve seen or known of (in any language or country) that feature midwives and doulas? I’d love to know of other resources that are accessible.

(repost) Call for Submissions!!! Women of Color & Sexuality

There is STILL time to submit!

I've partnered with an amazing media maker and radical educator: SuperHussy to help her find, edit, and publish an anthology focusing on women of Color, sex and sexuality! Here's the Call for Submissions:

Alright ya’ll, it’s time to expand the reach of Super Hussy Media. You know there;s the blog, and the film projects in the works, but wait, here it comes…our first call for submissions for our annual publication, The Compendium.

Our first issue, The Talk, focuses on self-identified women of Color and how they learned about S-E-X. Here are the details:

The Talk: Women of Color On Sex is an exploration of how self-identified women across the Diaspora came to learn about sex and what it meant to have a sexual relationship. Did your mom, aunty or tia sit you down? Were your homegirls or hermanas responsible for giving you the blow by blow? Was Cinemax After Dark, Youtube or a telenovela your sex ed instructor?

Super Hussy Media seeks fresh and daring writers who can coax the reader into an intimate understanding of not only how they learned about sex, but how that knowledge impacted their sexual exploration. We want submissions that are funny, sad, enraging, and transformational.

The Talk is ultimately about our testimonies regarding how we were taught or chose to learn about our sexuality. How we are continuing to learn, lessons we wish we could share with other women of Color, introspective activities of reflection. This is all about us.

Submission Requirements

• Deadline: July 1, 2010

• No more than 2 previously unpublished short stories per submission

• Simultaneous submissions okay, but notify if your work is accepted elsewhere

• 4,000 words or less

• Double spaced

• Poetry and non-English submissions accepted as long as they are accompanied by an English translation

All contributors will receive a copy of the anthology.


All submissions must be sent electronically using .doc or .pdf to

Title of submission should be placed in the subject line. Please include your name, email address, mailing address, phone number, and short bio with your submission.

Superhussy Media publishes work that celebrates girls and women of color everywhere!

We look forward to reading your submissions.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

(VIDEO) Vanessa Del Rio: Goddesses, Sinners, and Saviors

If ya'll remember when I was super excited to see and hear Vanessa Del Rio read from her book in NYC that I advertised, then I hope it comes as no surprise that I'm posting this video of her that evening. My apologies to people who attended the reading and asked for me/looked for me and was told by organizers they didn't know who I was or that I was not there.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Why I'm Not Celebrating the Pill

Cross posted from my rh reality check blog post.

I’ve mentioned before that hippie immigrant Puerto Rican parents raised me in the US. One of the messages that was transmitted to me as a young Puerto Rican woman growing up was that the birth control pill kills Puerto Rican women. And it did.

Excuse me if I do not partake in all of the celebration of The 50th Anniversary of The Pill because from my perspective it is still very much a reminder of the exploitation and violation of human rights among Puerto Ricans (and Haitians, and working class women in general) that continues today. Ignoring this reality is easy. Yet, it is a part of my, our history that I can’t simply forget or overlook. If I choose to ignore this history I also choose to ignore the history of activism by members of my community that has helped to create change at an institutional level. Ignoring this reality and history also perpetuates the ideas that historically oppressed communities are not important in the work we do today.

There are some things I’m not ready to ignore or forge and many of those are the power of language. The adjectives used to describe members of my community are horrifying. I don’t care if it was how people spoke “in that time,” they were and remain inappropriate. To describe our homeland as “slums,” “jungles,” and our community as “undesirable,” “genetically inferior,” and “ignorant” is defendable? The ideology “that the poor, uneducated, women of Puerto Rico could follow the Pill regimen, then women anywhere in the world could too” is not condescending to you? Don’t be fooled. There was almost nothing that was “female controlled” or “empowering” about being a part of the trial for many participants, especially after they realized they were taking a medication that they did not know was not approved.

I remember reading the book Sexual Chemistry: A History of the Contraceptive Pill over a decade ago when I was in graduate school. The conversation we had as a group about the book shocked me. While I was sickened by the overt ethnocentrism, classism, ableism, xenophobia, and racism, other classmates were mostly intrigued by what the history was in the US. It was an extremely painful book for me to discuss with a group of 99 percent White people who viewed the history of my community as less than and Othered as fascinating. When I realized a yam in Mexico was a part of the early production of the pill and how the US obtained it, the inclusion of animal products that included pork and how some communities do not consume this product for various reasons, I was floored. Some classmates rolled their eyes at me as if I was making something out of nothing. To this day I’m surprised those people are now working within my community. I hope they have learned something over these ten years about the ways their thought processes isolated the people in the community they now try to provide services to. Engaging in these conversations continue to hurt.

Often, when I bring up this topic, I have people who say to me “but that was the ‘norm’ back then.” Just because it was/is the “norm” does not automatically make it “right.” Others have said to me “Look at how many people and families the pill as helped.” As if the lives of the women who were injured, died, or experienced some major side effects during the trials makes that ok. Who is thanking them? Who is remembering them? Then there are the “We need more of a biomedical model and not just a social one.” I don’t disagree, I just think that a biomedical model can also recognize how the field is constructed and given value by a society that gives it value (and money). I also think a biomedical model can be one that does not completely ignore a community response. Just because it has more money behind it does not make it better than other models.

On anniversaries such as these, I ask that we all take a moment and think about the people who have been directly impacted negatively during trials, especially when historically discussions are not comprehensive and exclude us. Also think about how pharmaceutical companies are still engaging in some questionable actions and continue to purchase land in Puerto Rico, which does bring jobs to the island, yet those jobs are not always permanent.

All these talks about Puerto Rico and our status, do people really think that big money corporations want to lose the ability to work in a “foreign” country with a completely different approach to taxes? Think about it and consider doing some research on your own.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

(VIDEO) Walking Home: A Film About Street Harassment Among Women of Color

cross-posted from my RH Reality Check blog

Late last week jaz shared the following film with several of us reproductive and sexual health advocates. It is called WALKING HOME and it is by a filmmaker Nuala Cabral. The description that accompanies the video states:

This is an experimental piece about women ritually facing street harassment as they walk home. Shot in Brooklyn and Philadelphia, it mixes 16mm film, video, poetry and music in an effort to honor and reclaim our voice, name and humanity in the public sphere. This is for the walkers, talkers and those who say nothing.

Take a moment to watch the film. Unfortunately, the film is only in English and at this time does not have any subtitles. I’m in communication with Nuala and will ask her if the poem being read can be shared, if so I’ll post the words. There is some profanity used in this video so it may not be safe for work (NSFW).

When I shared this film with the people in my circle and network it received the following responses: “Loved this.” “Will be using at work. Thanks!,” “Wow, love this, this is walking in the BX,” and “Brilliant!’ I had to agree with my homegirls, the film is stunning. I immediately thought of the limitlessness of using this film in my classroom and work with youth of Color, especially with young men of Color. There are so many layers to the film that I wanted to share with those of you who are searching for quality films created by members of the community in which they are speaking/targeting/educating.

This film has come to my attention at an important time. Earlier this week a woman in Southeast Washington, DC was shot by a man when she refused to give him her telephone number. As La Macha states on the Vivir Latino posting: “It reminded me of how very rare it is for so many people to say ‘no’ in safety.” Here’s the video for some coverage:

I know I have a lot of plans for using this film in my classroom. Nuala has also agreed to an interview after the semester is over so stay tuned for part of that shortly! I’d like to know what your thoughts are when watching this film. How do you see this film being used with the young people that you work with? How can this film be used to address topics/issues that may not be presented in the film? I’m thinking specifically of women with disabilities, and how, if at all, street harassment is different by people of the same gender. Do you find this film effective?

Interview With Young Adult Novelist Sofia Quintero

cross-posted from my post at Love Isn't Enough

Ambitious high school senior Efrain Rodriguez dreams of escaping the South Bronx for an Ivy League college like Harvard or Yale. But how is his family going to afford to pay for a prestigious university when Moms has to work insane hours to put food on the table as it is? And Efrain wouldn’t dare ask that good-for-nothing father of his who has traded his family in for younger models. Left with few options, Efrain chooses to do something he never thought he would. He embarks on a double life—honor student by day, drug peddler at night—convinced that by temporarily capitulating to society’s negative expectations of a boy like him, he can eventually defy them.

Sofia Quintero makes a stunning debut writing for young adults with this gritty, complex, and real exploration of the life of an urban teen whose attempt to leave one world behind for a better one could cost him everything.

In all honesty, I am a friend and fan of Sofia Quintero. She gave me a review copy of her latest young adult (YA) novel Efrain’s Secret after we attended a morning taping of The People’s Court with her father. When she shared her next book was a YA novel focusing on young men of color, I knew LIE readers would want (and need) to know about this text. Many of us on LIE have shared numerous times how difficult it is to find good books for young men and boys of color that affirm their identity and encourage them to be excited about reading.

Sofia is very much aware of these issues. This is her first YA novel, but when I worked for a program to encourage literacy among youth in East Harlem, I purchased all three of the hip-hop fiction novels she wrote under the name Black Artemis. She also graciously joined a group of 7th and 8th-grade students who chose her text to read for the semester. They were able to ask her questions about her characters and writing. It was a highlight of my time working in East Harlem.

It took me about two weeks to finish Efrain’s Secret. The first six pages had me tearing up because I knew I had in my hands a very important piece of literature for young men of color. The character dialog alone–Sofia’s choices of sentences and words–is affirming.

Sofia agreed to answer some questions about the text, which is NOW IN STORES! If your bookstore does not have it, ask them to get it.

Sofia often offers readers a sample chapter to read online for FREE and has done the same with Efrain’s Secret. Read the sample chapter here.

What was your motivation for writing Efrain’s Secret?

The story for Efrain’s Secret has been incubating within me since 1985. That summer, a high school senior from Harlem named Edmund Perry was shot to death by a plain clothes police officer in Morningside Park. It caused a great deal of controversy because Eddie had just graduated from Philips Exeter and was going to start college at Stanford that fall. And yet the police officer and almost two dozen witnesses stated that Eddie and his brother had mugged and assaulted him. It was such a tragedy. No winners in that one. This was the summer before my senior year of high school. I was an honor student myself, hoping to attend an Ivy League college, but I wasn’t oblivious or immune to the forces that could derail me. I had classmates like Eddie who were leading double lives, and this fascinated me. What compels people to attempt to reconcile what society insists is irreconcilable? This and related questions are recurring themes in my work, and Efrain’s Secret is my first exploration of this theme from the perspective of a person who is young and male.

You have Efrain narrate the story and events to us. Why did you decide to have him tell us his story?

I have come to realize and embrace that my voice as a writer is strongest in the first person. It doesn’t mean that I have not or will not ever again write in any other voice, but with this story, I did want to play to my strengths since I knew there would be other things to challenge me. One that I welcomed was the challenge of writing in the voice and from the perspective of a teenage boy since obviously that has never been my experience. In a way, writing the story in Efrain’s voice helped me to maintain the compassion that’s necessary to keep judgments and didacticism at bay. Finally, Efrain’s Secret might be my first novel with a male protagonist, but I still think of it as every bit feminist as any of my previous work. In that regard, I wanted this novel, in part, to be one exploration of how patriarchal constructions of masculinity wound boys – especially boys who are already vulnerable because of racism and classicism – and it just intuitively felt right to let Efrain tell his own story. Something told me that even when he’s conflicted, unaware, misinformed or otherwise unable to articulate precisely what Efrain thinks or feels at a given moment, the first person would provide more space for the reader to understand him. More so than in third person which sounds counterintuitive even to me. I can’t explain fully why I made this call, but I think it was a good one.

One of the things I’ve noticed is that for a young person to have high expectations of themselves, others in their life must have the same expectations. Who do you think in the book was the most influential in encouraging Efrain to pursue higher education? To seek to attend Ivy League institutions?

In my mind, Efrain has always been surrounded by people who value a good education. The most influential of these is his mother Dolores who herself never finished college, and that is revealed early in the story. While not explicit in the book, Chingy’s parents are college graduates, and it was a given that their sons would go to college. In fact, Chingy’s older brother Baraka who is attending Morehouse is a model for Efrain as well as his own brother. Even Rubio who Efrain suspects discouraged Dolores from finishing her college education initially put his own children through private school for a period of time. I remember in the 90s when there was a major political battle in New York City over public education, and one member of the board of education made a very racist, classist, xenophobic comment to the effect that working-class children of color in immigrant families were failing because their parents did not care about their education. This was years before Herman Badillo lost his liberal mind and spewed that same nonsense in his book. My own parents never finished high school, but that is precisely why they pushed my siblings and I to go to college. So I hope it comes across that a parent’s own educational level or financial ability is no indicator of whether or not s/he wants values a good education. And I also wanted to show that even at an academically challenged high school, there exist teachers like Mr. Sweren and Señorita Polanco who have high expectations for their best students and give them their all as educators because I myself had teachers like that. As for the Ivy League aspirations, I have been asked how did the Ivy League land on my own radar as young student. I really cannot tell you definitively, but that still goes to show you that the power that these schools have to influence their graduates’ life outcomes is known to even those who are the least likely to attend them. I have talked to urban, working-class children of color and they know what Harvard is and how it can effect your life to attend it. Mind you, they may have never heard of Phillip Exeter or Andover. But they at least know Harvard, Princeton and Yale.

The book had me in tears at times, reading some of the statements, thoughts, dialogue of the characters (my first emotional reaction was on page 6 when Efrain and his mother are filling out financial aid forms and Efrain thinks: “See how she says we? My moms believes in me, all day, every day.” Were there emotional parts of the book for you to write? Moments in the story that were emotional to create?

I’m glad that the book moved you, and yes, there were parts that were emotional for me to write. If your own work doesn’t effect you, don’t expect anyone else to be moved by it. Funny parts should genuinely make you smile, sad parts should choke you up. Now that’s no guarantee that the parts that move you as you write them will move all readers the same way if at all. However, you can pretty much count on the fact that if you’re not impacted by your own words at some point, chances are you’re not going to impact any readers either. There were many emotional moments for me, and I can’t spell them all out. Not only are there too many to list, I don’t want to give spoilers. I, too, cried at critical turning points in Efrain and Dolores’ relationship, and let’s just say that the last third of the novel was as anxiety-producing for me to write as it was for you to read. I think in every story I have written there’s a male character who sneaks up on me and steals my heart, and with Efrain’s Secret that character was Nestor. Chingy made me laugh out loud more than once. But the deepest emotional impact for me did not only in “big” scenes but in small moments like when Efrain bonds with his little brother or Candace. One small moment that was really charged for me and unexpectedly so was the one between Chingy and Efrain in the principal’s office. Maybe it’s because you have these two young men who have been best friends since kindergarten and have come to love each other like brothers and are now in the fight of their lives. Each wants to say so much to the other than society allows boys and men to express, and their practice of talking around their conflict or speaking plainly about their feelings because that feeling is anger doesn’t suffice. It was very painful for me to write and still heartbreaking for me to read. I’m choking up now as I write this.

In the first 4 pages you have Efrain think: “Deserving a [class] ring and being able to afford it are two different things, and a man has to set priorities and make sacrifices.” I smiled so hard when I read this because Efrain is already identifying as a man, and a responsible one at that. Will you share a bit about how this idea/belief of “a man has to set priorities and make sacrifices” is a part of the story?

That’s interesting that you smiled at that. When you develop a character well, s/he will take over his or her role in the story, and you basically just become a transcriber. When Efrain says that, I myself had mixed feelings about it. My initial reaction was to smile, too, like a proud mother. But because I also know some of the reasons why Efrain feels this way and where this attitude is going to lead him, my heart also broke for him. This is because Efrain is at once a man and is still a boy. To some extent, he’s being pushed to be a man before he’s ready and before he has completely figured out what manhood means to him. He has some ideas, and some of those ideas are resistant to patriarchal tenants of masculinity, and that’s what made me initially smile. But by the same token, I’m was also thinking, “No, please be a boy. Just a little longer! It’s not right that you have to figure this out just yet and all on your own.” That’s because this particular belief – that a man sets priorities and makes sacrifices – is rooted in his own father’s failure to do just that! Rubio didn’t do it, and it hurt his family so now Efrain at the age of seventeen feels that he needs to do it when, like I said, he should not have to be thinking about that or navigating this by himself.

I wanted to punch Mrs. Colfax, the high school college advisor, in the face! Will you share why you created her character to be so “small fish in a big pond” with the students in the story?

This is an element of the story that was taken from my own experience. In high school, I had a college advisor that attempted to level my aspirations. She wasn’t as transparent as Mrs. Colfax, but she made it clear that she was overly concerned that I was setting my sights too high when I was applying to Ivy League colleges and even some smaller, private colleges like Hamilton, Swarthmore and Wesleyan. I once remember telling another teacher, “It’s like she’s surprised that I want to go to school that doesn’t advertise on the back of matchbook.” Her recommendations were not based on any knowledge of my interests and talents. Believe it or not, I can actually accept today that she genuinely believed she was protecting me. It doesn’t make her paternalism any less wrong, and maybe I have the ability to do consider this because I had enough gumption to ignore her and ultimately prove her wrong. Now the person who told me “small fish in a big pond” was the admission counselor at my high school. I didn’t want to go to my neighborhood high school, but all the alternatives that I was aware of at the time were unavailable to me. I was very upset, feeling condemned to go to a school where I thought I was going to do more fighting than learning. The African American woman who enrolled me said, “Sofia, if you had gotten into the Bronx High School of Science, you would’ve been a little fish in a big bowl. Here you’re going to be a big fish in a little bowl.” Unlike Mrs. Colfax, she was saying this not to level my aspirations, trivialize my feelings or make me resign myself to my circumstances. I felt this then and I feel this way now, she was trying to help me change the only thing I could in the moment and that was how I saw the situation. She was also trying to console me and let me know there would be more available to me at James Monroe High School if only I opened myself to it. And she was absolutely right. I still told myself I would make the most of my first year of high school at Monroe and transfer someplace else, but at the end of that year, I no longer cared about going to the Bronx High School of Science or any other specialized high school. None of my fears had come to pass, and now I can see how silly they were. I had many teachers who encouraged me to excel, and my friends were other students who cared about doing well, going on to college, being involved in extra-curricular activities and avoiding things that could jeopardize their futures. I never regretted going there. By the way, the girl in the story who held the record for the highest SAT score at Pedro Albizu Campos High School before Efrain breaks it is Sra. Polanco… and me. I mean, I gave her my SAT score – 1060. 1060. That’s far lower than the incoming student at Columbia where I went to college, but at Monroe the word spread about my score, and folks acted as if I were a genius because I broke a thousand. Teachers and students alike congratulated me like they were proud that I was a member of their school. Not a bad place to go to school, wasn’t it?

Many of the instructors that Efrain has are women, Sra. Polanco, his Spanish teacher, he identifies as having educated him on his own radical cultural history as a Caribbean and Latino man through using various forms of texts in her classroom (books, films, music, etc.). Did you plan to have the women in the novel be the primary people who transmit culture and communal history in the book?

I sure did, and then some. I see Baraka playing this role, too, but he is away at school acquiring his own knowledge. There’s much ado about young men of color going astray because they do not have male role models in their lives, it bothers me when this is driven by a sexist devaluation of what female adults can offer boys. Sure, we lose too many boys because their fathers and other male role models are not present in their lives or are present in a toxic way. But there also are many amazing men who were raised, taught and otherwise loved and nurture primarily by women. For the record, I think boys and girls alike need both masculine and feminine adult influence in their lives. Again, influence of a certain type. I know quite a few men who are healthy and happy because (1) a dysfunctional parent kept his or her distance and (2) other loving adults filled the void. I hope the adults who read Efrain’s Secret have dialogues, among other things, about whether Rubio’s fleeting presence in Efrain’s life – especially given the choices he made as a husband and father – is truly a “better than nothing” proposition. Was this a model of masculinity that served Efrain? What kind of difference might Rubio have made if he were a better financial provider yet still the same social model? What if he were a different social figure yet no better an economic influence? What kind of difference would that have made if any? I myself don’t have definitive answers on any of these questions, but that’s why I raise them. I’d love to hear what others think.

I loved how you created the friendship between Rashaan (Chingy) and Efrain. It was clearly built on love, respect, and trust. Often stories about young men of color don’t describe the love they have for other men in their life, which I think is a problem and huge disservice. Will you share how creating their relationship was important to this text?

Interestingly, many of the reviewers of Efrain’s Secret have discussed the racial and class dynamics of the story, and I deeply appreciate that because those issues are and always will be important to me. I’m particularly happy that those dynamics transmitted, however, because in writing Efrain’s Secret, I came with a specific desire to explore gender socialization. All my work is unapologetically feminist work, and I didn’t want Efrain’s Secret to be any different because it was a young adult novel or a story with a male protagonist. If anything, that made it even more important. The primary question, I wanted to explore with this novel was what are the mixed messages that boys get about masculinity and how does that impact them. Of course, there are complex intersections with race and class that I hoped would emerge, but since none of the reviewers to date have raised the gender aspects of the novel, I wonder if I had lost that intention along the way so your question is a relief! Anyway, I always envisioned Efrain as character who, because he suffered from certain expressions of patriarchal masculinity, was intent on defining his masculinity on his own terms which means negotiating those mixed messages. So naturally, he would gravitate towards friendships with boys who are also on a similar journey. Are Chingy and Efrain conscious on this journey and are they explicit in their communications about it? No. They still live in a patriarchal world that does not allow for that. But one way they resist, whether they know it or not, is to show each other that love, respect and trust as well as an abiding loyalty and understanding that goes unnamed even when their friendship is strained. In fact, the challenge for me was to show these boys engaged in a feminist resistance to the limiting, unwritten codes that govern male bonding while still rendering them realistically as boys. This is why, for example, when Chingy and Efrain are on the outs, they do not process their disagreements. They either talk around their conflict or pretend it never occurred. They only speak explicitly about their emotions when the prevailing feeling is anger because that’s the only emotion that patriarchy allows boys and men to express. Ultimately, I wanted to depict boys needing to give to and receive love from others, especially with other boys and men, and how it affects them when that love is denied, rejected or mocked and how nourishing it can be when that need is fulfilled even in small ways.

Efrain develops a relationship with Candace, a young black woman who is from New Orleans and relocated to NYC after Hurricane Katrina. I love you for this. Will you share why you chose to include this specific and devastating event in the story?

The variety and depth of social and political interaction between African Americans and Latinos in New York City is like no other. It’s one of the many things I love about being a New Yorker, and it gives me tremendous pleasure to represent these cross-cultural friendship and romances in my novels. I always saw Efrain’s best friend and first love being African American or Afro-Caribbean. While he is incredibly attracted sexually to GiGi, I knew that Efrain would connect emotionally with a young woman who like him was studious, edgy and independent and had a secret or two of her own. When I began writing the novel, Hurricane Katrina and the classism and racism it brought to the surface was still relatively fresh, and it just clicked that Efrain would fall for a girl who had her own ongoing battle with institutional and individual racism and classism. I had but cut a conversation between Candace and Efrain on Thanksgiving about the never-ending legal battle her family was having with the insurance company to compensate them for the loss of their home in New Orleans. It dragged down the scene which is ultimately about their growing closer as Efrain finally opens up to Candace about his father. My hope is that even without it, young readers will remain interested in the effects of Hurricane Katrina and be inspired to learn and do more about it.

The interactions the young men have with young women/potential partners are fabulous! Can you share what messages were important for you present for young readers to capture?

Even though the main characters in this novel are young men, I wanted to take care that the young female characters were fully formed with their own wants and needs. I hate when I read novels or watch movies where the men are layered and complex, but the women are little more than plot devices. Popular images of young men of color often depict them as hypersexual to the point of predatory with no desire for emotional intimacy with young women or even the capacity to interact with them as human beings and not objects. I personally know so many young men who are the antithesis of that image, and I wanted to give them some representation. I also hope that Efrain’s Secret gives young women hope that there are young men who will love, respect and appreciate them for all of who they are so that there’s no need to settle for less. I attempted to do this mostly through the character of GiGi, and her relationship both to Efrain and Nestor. As a young woman attempting to direct the impact of her sexual power on the males around her even though she herself does not fully understand it, I could have devoted an entire novel to GiGi. She’s as fascinating to me as Candace is which is why it made sense to me for their relationship to change as the story unfolded.

You make an amazing argument for the importance and crucial role the public library plays for working class and working poor communities. Was this intentional?

Of course! The public library was a big part of my life when I was Efrain’s age, and even though I write books, can afford to buy them and frequently have them given to me, I still put my library card to regular use. If not for public libraries so many poor and working-class people would be without literature, technology and information. My neighborhood branch is always teeming with people of all races and ages. It’s truly a community center. One of the employees recently began a scrapbooking club that meets twice per month, and I can’t tell you what a joy it is to meet such diverse women who walk the same streets I do, take the same bus and train, shop at the same stores. We crop and politick for hours.

I was not expecting the violence in the story by the characters who engaged in it (I’m being vague on purpose so not to spoil the story for readers.). Although I assumed some form of violence would occur, you made it clear violence was NOT a character or the norm. How did you come to choose to use violence in this story?

Although Efrain chooses to place himself in an environment where the likelihood of violence is high, it interested me more to address the role that violence has in the construction of masculinity. It’s hard to answer this question without giving away some critical events and diluting their impact. One scene I suspect readers will see coming, and whether they do or not, is fine by me. There are several scenes – one in particular – where I play with the potential for violence. In fact, I can honestly say that even in writing them, I had ideas of where they could go but really did not commit to any given direction until I was actually executing them. I usually went with what felt right in the moment, true to the story. Finally, there is one particular scene that I do hope knocks readers completely off their square. The point of all this variety is to pose this question: how can we socialize boys and men that it is their prerogative – that we even expect them – to engage in violence and believe we can govern their violence so that it is contained and predictable and otherwise to our liking?

Will you talk a bit about the concept of “delayed gratification” which I think is central to the story. How do you see this concept as tying into Efrain’s ability to set goals and expectations and meet them?

While he can be naïve about certain things despite his obvious intelligence, Efrain is relatively mature and that shows in his ability to delay gratification. There is a part of this ability that is a matter of nature. This is just the way Efrain is. There is another part, however, that is a result of nurture. Efrain never forgets how his family suffered as a result of Rubio’s unwillingness to forgo instant gratification to preserve the family he created. So the concept of delayed gratification becomes an intricate part of Efrain’s developing sense of masculinity. To him one of the things that makes a man is his ability to honor the commitments he makes to his loved ones even if that means forgoing instant gratification. Just the fact that he even desires to make those commitments, sets goals, surpasses expectations and otherwise thinks of the future – a future that includes other people – rather than being lead through life by his short-term needs and desires makes him a man. So in some ways Efrain is right that he is a man unlike his father. But Candace is right, too, when she suggests that Efrain is more like his father than he would care to believe.

Nestor has some valuable information to share with Efrain just as Chingy does. He says on page 87: “Man, just the fact that he has a job—no matter what it is—says something about the kind of man he is.” I interpreted this as Nestor, who made different decisions than Efrain and Chingy, is also intelligent and has knowledge to share and give. Was this intentional?

Absolutely! I always had a clear vision of the kind of young man Nestor was, and that was the scene where he went from being a collection of traits, opinions and experiences in my notes into a fully dimensional character. One of the biggest mistakes we make as a society is that we write off the corner boys and ‘hood chicks. Not all of them do what they do because they aren’t intelligent enough to do otherwise. Many of them are quite intelligent – they have to be in order to survive – and the real tragedy lies in the socioeconomic circumstances that diminish their life choices. There are also different types of intelligence. Nestor’s EQ – his emotional intelligence quotient – is off the charts, and he deserves respect and love for that. When it comes to being self-aware and managing relationships, no one else in the novel can touch him. Under different circumstances, Nestor had the natural abilities to become an excellent businessman, social worker, community organizer, and, yes, husband and father.

You’ve been asked in the past about the use of the n-word by the characters in your hip-hop fiction novels; especially its use by Latino and Caribbean characters. You mention it here when Efrain and Nestor have a double date with Candace and GiGi. How did you choose to have Candace come to the decision about the words use?

The use of the n-word is always tricky for me as are any slurs. There is such a fine line between keeping it real and keeping it right. I agree with artists like Aaron McGruder who once said that it’s difficult to write “around” the n-word. Speaking for myself, it does feel false to not use it in certain stories because, like it or not, people use it for whatever reasons that they do. That said, it also feels false to use it gratuitously. After all, not everyone uses it, and those folks aren’t more or less authentic than those who do use it. So it’s important to me when I have a character who uses it to provide a counterweight via a character that does not. Being an African-American girl who survived Hurricane Katrina and continues to endure the racist neglect of its aftermath, Candace seemed like a fitting character to be that counterweight. One of the regrets that I have with Efrain’s Secret now that it’s published is that I did not provide a similar counterweight with the homophobic remark. Even though they are rare – used far less than they actually are given the context in which they are used – I still wish I had some character take issue even in a small way. If I could rewrite it again, I’d do that. I’ve been toying with the idea for another YA novel where I can make that up to the queer community.

You shout out The Bronx Defenders in the book. Why did you choose to have them represented?

While researching the legal aspects of this story, an attorney for the Bronx Defenders named Leana Amaez was very generous with her time and knowledge. But I knew to call the Bronx Defenders to see if someone there could answer my questions because I have met people who work for them and know they are a great organization. I could have made up the name of an organization, but what if I have a reader for whom this group will be a critical resource? As an activist, I know many wonderful organizations across the country and wish I could give them all a shout out in one story or another so that folks become aware of their existence. I have a lot more writing to do!

A part of Efrain’s story is about his interaction with a father who is not present yet tries to be later in his life. In many ways I see this as Efrain coping multiple things about his family: what does family mean? How does he define family? Etc. Will you talk a little about what challenges you chose to portray for him as he interacted with a “blended” family formation?

Family structures like Efrain’s common. Sadly, too many result for the same reason as Efrain’s family: a father’s infidelity. I wanted to explore how it might impact a boy’s sense of family, masculinity, etc. when he has been sold the traditional family structure only (1) to have it and all its benefits taken away from him and (2) to have that disruption justified as a man’s prerogative i.e. for the fulfillment of temporary sexual needs to override any emotional and financial commitments he has made to a woman and the children he has had with her. Efrain’s “blended” family results from his father’s repeated betrayal of his marital vows, and what bothers Efrain as much as the choices his father made is the rationale he gives for womanizing. If Efrain had his initial way, the two families never would have been blended or at least not under those circumstances. He’s a young man who believes that family is important which is why he feels betrayed on multiple levels by his father’s actions. Yet he is also a very compassionate boy who prides himself on having more integrity and sensitivity than his father. So on the one hand, Efrain resents that Rubio began another family (and in the way that he did) as if he did not already have one. On the other hand, having been a child who has suffered from those actions, Efrain could not bring himself to hold his father’s behavior against the other children once he meets them. This is why he avoided them for so long. He had resolved to steel his heart against Rubio’s attempts to remain a father to him, and in order to maintain that posture, he had to see the other family as “them” instead of “us” which is the way his younger sister Amanda views them. His views are further complicated by his exposure to Nestor’s family who in some ways is similar to Efrain’s family and, in fundamental ways, is quite different. And so does Chingy’s family to a lesser, more subtle extent. Chingy comes from a two-parent, dual-income, middle-class household with the emotional and material advantages that offers. Now if Rubio had been a faithful husband and had started a new family some time after he divorced Dolores, would Efrain still have had the same resentments toward him? What if Rubio had been more affluent and had enough money to send Efrain to college? Would Efrain have been less resentful of his father then, regardless of whether his parents split over Rubio’s infidelity? As the writer, I have my thoughts about it, but I will let readers decide that for themselves.

The book is called Efrain’s Secret, yet I think Efrain has a lot of secrets. Will you talk a bit about how those secrets impact him from your perspective?

You’re absolutely right that Efrain has many secrets, some of which he is not aware at the beginning of the novel. The deliberate choice he makes to have one particular secret eventually forces him to come to terms with all those other secrets. All of Efrain’s secrets prevent him from being whole. They are not the kind of secrets that one can keep if one is to have an healthy, intimate relationship to one’s self. On the contrary, they are the kind of secrets that are maintained by lying to oneself which inevitably leads to lying to others and keeping those relationships from being as healthy as possible as well. In one of my adult novels Picture Me Rollin’, I quote bell hook’s All About Love where she writes that patriarchy teaches men that to be honest is to be soft. One of the things I hoped to explore with Efrain’s Secret is how that socialization is damaging to boys and why it is necessary for them and all who care about them to heal that.

The last 1/3 of the book produced so much anxiety for me I had to stop reading right before going to bed! The ending was unexpected and it kind of made me sad, although not a negative outcome for the main characters. Will you share why you chose this ending for Efrain?

How do I talk about this without giving it away? It is a bittersweet ending because even though Efrain rights his relationship to everyone he loves and as well as with himself, it is at multiple and tremendous costs. There had to be consequences for his choices. Realistic consequences. That is what the story demanded, and as a writer, I have to stay true to that. By the same token, I wanted there to be hope for Efrain. As an activist and educator, I needed to be able to give that to my readers who may see themselves or someone they love in Efrain. An ending that reconciles those two demands cannot help but be sad even if not negative.

How have young men of color who have read your book responded?

The book was just released so I’m still waiting for feedback from any young person. All the feedback that I have received so far has been very positive, but it has all come from adults. I did want Efrain’s Secret to be appreciated by adult readers so hopefully the primary intended audience will like it as well.

In your Acknowledgments you thank “the brothers of the Urban Assembly Academy of History and Citizenship for Young Men” will you share how they helped you with this text?

I met them and their teacher Chris Slaughter at a Black History Month event at Penguin Books which had published all my Black Artemis novels to date. I did a short workshop for the staff on hip-hop literature and the young men of Urban Assembly were reading their poetry. When I began working on Efrain’s Secret, I reached out to Chris – who is a fierce poet in his own right and goes by Pohetic – and asked if his students might be interested in helping me workshop the manuscript. After they had read the second or third draft, I went to their school and held a focus group to gather their feedback on just about everything – characters, plot, slang. Of course, there was one suggestion that I didn’t take and that was to change Efrain’s name to one of theirs. I wasn’t going to get myself into trouble by playing favorites.

The Beauty Within

It's final's week for me. That means posts will be a bit scare for a moment. I am also developing a crush on someone who I actually communicate with outside/beyond my head, so I'll be working on that too, see where it takes me....

In the meantime, I just want to thank Dead Prez for making songs like "Mind Sex" which I adore and STILL use in teaching sexuality education today and for songs like this "The Beauty Within"

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Gay Vatos In Love?

Cross-posted from my Media Justice column.

When I learned that Ozomatli a “notorious urban-Latino-and-beyond collision of hip hop and salsa, dancehall and cumbia, samba and funk, merengue and comparsa, East LA R&B and New Orleans second line, Jamaican ragga and Indian raga” band, had a new album out, FIRE AWAY, and that one of the tracks on the song was called “Gay Vatos In Love” I knew I had to hear the song. I’m thankful that a fan has uploaded the band performing the song live for me to share with you. This is not an official video for the song but it is the official song.

There are many other video uploads that have emerged this week regarding this song. You can see the many videos on YouTube alone here. This song came to my attention via an LA Times article that interviewed some of the band members while on tour in Mexico City. One of the aspects of this interview that really caught my attention was the motivation for creating the song, audience reactions, and the inclusion of the murder of transgender Latina Angie Zapata.

As a fan of Ozomatli, I know that there has been some shift and changes in the band members, but the sound and quality of the music they produce and create have stayed stellar. Often, Ozomatli’s lyrical content centered on social justice and human rights. I see the band very much as using their art and music as a form of activism.

Ozomatli stated in their LA Times interview that they created this song as the Prop 8 debates were at their height. The release of their new album and this track is very timely, especially with Ricky Martin coming out recently. I’ve heard various comments about this song and Martin’s announcement. One thing I have yet to hear people discuss is how this is a very important time in music for queer Latin@s. It’s not often that major record labels, highly marketed and commercialized (to an extent) artists that are Latino make the statements on solidarity with an oppressed community as Martin and Ozomatli have done recently.

I can’t say that I am extremely surprised at how Ozomatli shared their audience has responded to their song. In their interview they shared the following:

They’d played “Gay Vatos in Love” live on several recent tour stops, and the reaction was sometimes mixed, Pacheco said. “It can be polarizing.” So, he added, “we had to find a way to suck people in without giving it away.”

The singer says he now prefaces the song by asking audiences: “Do you believe in love?” The response is almost always enthusiastically affirmative. “People are like, ‘Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!’ And we just start singing.” Pacheco laughed.

Still, the song consistently challenges comfort levels among some listeners, the singer admitted. “I think people get confused, they don’t know where we’re coming from. Some people ask, especially in the Spanish press, ‘Who’s gay in the band?’ So there’s an assumption there.”

(When reporters ask about the sexuality of the band’s membership, Pacheco says he sometimes responds with a purposely blank, “I don’t know.”)

“For us it’s a bigger issue,” Pacheco went on. “We felt that [gay rights] is just another in a long line of underdogs, so I think we connected to it on that level. It was totally natural for us to take that stance.”

Ozomatli makes a good argument and example of how standing for your convictions and challenging all forms of oppression have consequences, that are positive and often challenging. Creating a song that centers the love between two men of Color by a well-known band is an amazing piece of media. Not only that, but the language used speaks to specific community members. Some folks may not know how or why the term “vato” represents or was used. I would not be surprised if folks who are not Mexican or Chican@ or who do not live on the west coast are only familiar with this term via Latino gang films (i.e. Blood In Blood Out). This form of code-switching speaks directly to a specific community, and that is something I love. The message is constructed in a very specific way with a particular community in mind, which makes this song, in my opinion, effective.

One important part of the song, something I have never heard done before by artists of Color on major record labels (If you have please share!): discussing the murder of a transgender woman of Color in music. Verses in the song invoke the memory and brutal murder of Angie Zapata, who was murdered by a partner after having sex with her and learning her sex assigned at birth was male. Ozomatli sings:

Juan Gabriel says amor es amor
But Angie Zapata is lying on the dance floor

At first I found this an odd inclusion, especially for a song that focuses on Latino men (hence the use of the term “vato”) who identify as gay, as Angie, to my understanding, did not identify as either. I feared Ozomatli had ignored or were not familiar with the problematic ways of ignoring the difference between sex, gender and sexual orientation and ignoring that and thus canceling out their attempted activism. I do believe it is a weak attempt to include her and problematic as it perpetuates stereotypes and misinformation. At the same time, when I heard the song I can see how there are trying to challenge the familiar and overused phrase “love is love” or as they sing “amor es amor.” I can see some connections they may be trying to make with regards to the idea that if we do believe that amor es amor, why are we mourning the intra-racial/cultural murder of transgender women of Color all over the world at a devastating rate?

I find this useful and at times exciting piece of media and look forward to the possibility of including it in a workshop or class in the future to promote discussion and education. There is definitely room for a more in-depth conversation around how and what trans-misogyny is and understanding how it works and how to challenge and dismantle it in our lives, psyche, and work. After all we do need to hold even our favorite artists accountable, and I think Ozomatli have made an important song, but it was a fairly weak attempt on including Angie; especially in comparison to their other songs about topics such as terrorism, colonization, and police brutality.

One thing I’m interested in hearing or experiencing is the band performing this song live and in the same fashion as they do many of their songs, not only with call-and-response techniques (as seen in the video above) but also coming into the audience. All of the Ozomatli concerts I’ve been to they have come into the crowd, all of the musicians and singers, formed a circle with the audience, danced, sang, and very much created our own musical fusion cipher. To know that this is a possibility, to have such a space to testify and honor and dance around these topics and our community is phenomenal. I wonder if the audience will participate in the same way if/when this song is part of that performance.

I’m feeling very hopeful and energized. This is exactly the way I hope Amplify readers feel as many of us prepare for the end of our semesters!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

My Wish List For Latina/o Pregnancy Prevention Month

Cross posted from my RH Reality Check blog.

May is National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month and May 5th specifically is the National Day To Prevent Teen Pregnancy. Each year at this time I usually focus on how we can and do work with Latin@ youth, as my training and education over a decade ago began with trying to understand what was occurring in my community.

This year, instead of focusing on young people, young Latin@s, and programs that have been effective for some communities I want to encourage providers working with Latin@s to try a few things. Here’s my “wish list” for providers for National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month:

1. Expand y/our understanding of what and who Latin@s are. With the US Census, there was/is a lot of talk about racial classification and how race has been formed and is interpreted in the United States, especially for Latin@s in the US. One aspect of our identity that I’m very much committed to is the understanding, recognition and inclusion of Latin@s who identify and claim their African and/or Black identities (and yes there are multiple aspects to our complex identities that also include European, indigenous, Asian, and every ethnic and cultural group you can think of). If you are unclear how to even begin to understand this specific aspect of our identity I encourage you to visit The LatiNegr@s Project Tumblr Page, which I co-founded with several self-identified Afr@-Latin@s/LatiNegr@s/Blaktin@s/Afr@-Caribeñ@s. You may also submit something to the page as well.

2. Include ALL people who identify as boys and men into programming. Yes, this includes recognizing and including trans men and boys, people on a spectrum of gender identity and cisgender men. I’m totally convinced one reason pregnancy prevention programs do not work is because there is too much focus on (young) women and Latinas. This is a huge disservice and perpetuates the idea that pregnancy is only a “woman’s” issue. Men and boys need the same and specialized information about sexual and reproductive health.

3. Do not introduce or mention the ideology of “machismo” unless/until the community you are working with introduces it to you. Do you think this will be a challenge for you? Why is that? What will change if you make a conscious decision to not introduce this term and ideology? If it is presented in a setting ask how your client is using it and how they define the term. You may be surprised with what you hear. There are many people who have bought into the ideology that machismo is always already negative. Yet, there are some people who don’t always see machismo as negative, I am one of those people. The ideas surrounding the negative aspects of machismo are completely foreign to me because I had a stay-at-home father growing up for most of the 1980s and a mother who had a full-time job. Who do you isolate and protect or victimize when using this term in a rigid way?

4. Recognize, know, and act like you know not all your clients are heterosexual. If you have yet to realize that there are many lesbian, gay, bisexual, and queer identified people who want to be parents, I don’t know what to tell you besides get it together! Being an example of how to challenge heterosexism in our society and in our community especially is something that is not always centered. What examples of challenging heterosexuality can we think of in our programs that target Latin@ youth specifically? What images, symbols, marketing, brochures, language, forms are used in your program/environment/space that let young LGBTQ and heterosexual Latin@ youth know they are important and will be heard?

5. Recognize your clients who identify as transgender, queer, lesbian, gay, or bisexual need pregnancy prevention. I mentioned this back in 2002 when I was working at the Child Welfare League of America and unfortunately the concept was not embraced until an LGBTQ program was established and an older White gay man hired to lead the program. When he shared this as an important community to focus on, guess what happened, people listened. Assuming that queer identified and transgender Latin@ youth do not need to be educated about preventing pregnancy is simply ignorant, problematic, and harmful. One thing I’ve learned over the years is how pregnancy is used among queer youth as a form of safety to not have to “come out” to family or supportive people in their lives. For some youth, “coming out” is connected to having or losing shelter, food, and daily basic needs. This is real for Latin@ youth as well.

6. Honor the language that young Latin@s use to express themselves. Recognize code-switching as a valid form of expression and an important part of the power young people have. I’ve mentioned how language is powerful and an important part of young people creating specific forms of media before. How many of our images, brochures, conversations recognize code-switching as a valid form of expression? Side-bar: terms such as “Latina woman” are a double positive and grammatically incorrect as the term “Latina” is already a gendered term. “Latino woman” is correct.

7. Include Latin@ youth who are currently parenting in pregnancy prevention efforts. Helping youth plan their families and future is a skill that everyone needs. Assuming that a young parent does not need pregnancy prevention is missing the point, in my opinion. How do parenting programs targeted towards young Latin@ parents incorporate conversations and skills about preventing pregnancy beyond birth control and contraceptive options?

8. Rethink how assimilation is used, defined, and incorporated into pregnancy prevention targeting Latin@ youth. I’ve shared before how research has shown that when Latino youth are raised to embrace all aspects of their cultural and national identity they are happier, healthier and less likely to do “bad things.” How have you incorporated this data and perspective into your pregnancy prevention efforts for Latin@ youth? Or is it too easy and affordable to ignore these findings, and potential life-saving information? Because that’s been done.

9. Help youth find and use adjectives besides “hard” to describe what it’s like being a teen parent. I’ve heard this term used several times, especially on MTVs 16 & Pregnant and Teen Mom and find this term to be just as descriptive as the word “stuff.” Not sure where or how to begin such a discussion, consider how wish number 6 can help.

10. Commit and follow through with having the Latin@ youth you work with teach you something. Often programs and curriculums are created having the facilitator as the person with the most knowledge in the room. If we begin to challenge this concept we not only can create new class/space dynamics, but also help youth recognize the power they have, how valuable they are, and that they are producers of knowledge. Some of the topics I’ve committed to asking the youth in my life to help me with include:

• Teach me about the musical genre Bounce from NOLA
• Introduce me to new terminology, their origins, and how to use them accurately and appropriately

Monday, May 3, 2010

Latino Sexuality Links

It's only Monday but amazing links to some great information regarding Latino sexuality have come to my attention and I wish to share them with you:

-The National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health has published an overview of some current literature and research focusing on Latinas. The publication is called: Removing Stigma: Towards A Complete Understanding Of Young Latinas' Sexual Health.

-Blacks and Latinos more at risk for Alzheimer's, reluctant to acknowledge disease. This is a topic very important to me as both of my maternal grandparents died of this illness. I wonder how as sexuality professionals we understand and can help people navigate this disease and how it intersects with sexuality.

-De la universidad a la cárcel (in Spanish) is the narrative of Jessica Colotl who is currently awaiting deportation. You can also read this article in English via Goggle Translate here.

-Ozomatli sings about Gay Vatos In Love. I know I'm going to write more about this topic in the future so stay tuned for that piece!