Monday, June 28, 2010

Media Makers Salon: Espie Hernandez

Cross posted from my Media Justice column

This is the first in a series of interviews with various media makers who have agreed to share with us their motivations, process and hopes for the media they create.

It’s rare when film festivals are open to featuring the media created by young people. I can honestly say I can’t think of a film festival I’ve attended (New York International Latino Film Festival, Tribeca Film Festival, etc.) that has included a youth track of films created by youth in general. There are many films about youth at these events, but not ever a representation of youth as media makers. To say that it is rare is an understatement. When I was invited to the third edition of Youth Producing Change Film Festival presented by Adobe Youth Voices at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival, I was too excited!

Looking at the list of films that were going to be featured I knew this was a phenomenal space to be invited to participate in. One film in particular, which was highlighted for me by festival staff member Sheila, also stood out because of the topic, was Espie Hernandez’s film MARIPOSA. Espie’s film was the only film that discussed aspects of sexuality and sexual orientation. Her film discusses the rite of passage of a Quinceañera, or as we may know it more clearly in the US a “Sweet 15.”

Espie documents her experiences preparing for her Quinceañera as a young Latina lesbian living on the west coast who has come out to her parents. She shares with us some of the challenges her family has experienced and continues to struggle with as her Quinceañera comes closer. We meet her partner and hear from her partner’s family as well.

I had the pleasure of meeting with Espie briefly after the film festival and she agreed to answer a few interview questions. Because she is always already fabulous she asked if it was all right that she film herself in NYC answering the questions I sent her. My analog-life-living self was too busy being amazed at her suggestion to say anything other than “YES!” Take a moment to watch her short film MARIPOSA and then check out her responses to my questions which I’ve tried to provide an accurate transcription for under each film.

Interview Questions and Answers:

Question 1: What were some of your goals in creating this film?

“Some of my goals were to get my message through and get people to understand you know what a teenager goes through and you know what a traditional family, how hard it is for htem to accept somebody. My main goal is to inspire people and to encourage tehm to do what I did. If I can do it anybody else can.

“Making this film has brought me closer to my parents ‘cause I was able to show them my real side, I was able to open up and be honest and truthful and by them seeing my video they came to an understanding and they’re being supportive. They are not as embarrassed because I’m coming to New York so the whole world could see my film at the film festival. And it’s going to be a success.”

Question 2: How do you go about choosing the theme and setting/scenery for this film?

“We chose this topic as a group. I worked with two other filmmakers and we all chose it together and about the scenery, we chose a nearby park near my house it’s called Hollenbeck Park, somewhere I could feel comfortable while they interviewed me and you know somewhere nice and relaxing shady. Also my Quinceañera so we can get a concept of what a Quinceañera looks like and me dancing with my dad.”

Question 3: What have been some responses to the film since you have shared it?

“I’ve gotten a lot of great responses. I’ve been doing a lot of good activities like being interviewed, I got it [the film] into the Human Rights Watch Film Festival here in New York. All my friends that watched it they really like it and I really, I actually had, I think he was a teenager, come up to me and ask me for advice during an interview for him to come out and you know I’ve just been helping people and talking to them and helping them through it and getting appreciated for what I did.”

Question 4: Will you share with us how you chose the title for your film Mariposa?

“We chose the name Mariposa for my film because “mariposa” is butterfly in Spanish and a butterfly when it’s in the cocoon is reaching out of it’s shell and it’s opening up and being free and just leaves and it flies just like a beautiful butterfly. So we named it after that.”

Question 5: Is the identity of media maker one that you embrace? Can you share with us how other aspects of your identities intersect with being a media maker (how does being a woman, Latina, etc. inform your media making)?

“I think it is good that I’m Latino because a lot of Latinos they have a lot of causes and by me you know getting out the film and speaking about the film it’s much better in my community. I can get a lot of help and support and I think it’s a better to get a lot of information out about my culture and everything else.”

Question 6: How do you see creating media as fitting into a larger social justice agenda you have?

“I’m an activist because of the film I’ve made and because all the kids who ask me for advice about gay rights. I help them, I talk to them about my story and my film. And also because of the Human Rights Watch film festival in NY I feel I’m an activist because I submitted my video and all of the press conferences I’ve been doing I feel like I’m supporting gay rights.”

Question 7: Will you share with us how you began creating films and media?

“I was a peer advocate and did volunteer work and it was on sexual education so I had some background on that and through a friend I found out about ImMEDIAte Justice and they focus on films about reproductive justice.”

“And in media justice I was taught by mentors who would teach me about editing and making a film and about making a point and getting your message through and many other things. I always wanted to be part of a program and do a video because I want to be a photographer when I grow up so I wanted to get used to the film and camera and all that stuff.”

Question 8: For readers who are seeking to create similar media for their communities, what would you like to share from your experience?

“I just want to tell the future film makers in media justice to be open to be free and comfortable. Mentors are great and they make you feel comfortable. Go to every the workshops you can to learn about editing, and all the ImMEDIAte Justice because there is a lot to learn. Have fun, really talk about what you want to talk about. Make a film about what you want, about a great cause about anything you think is now going on that is good you think of it and you do it and they will help you through it. And have a great time!”

You may find out more about ImMEDIAte Justice by visiting their website.

Many thanks to Espie and her mentor Sylvia for taking time out to answer these questions and sharing her insight with all of us. A huge thank you to Sheila at Human Rights Watch for reaching out to me and providing me with an amazing opportunity to witness and share the new media being created by our youth!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Sex & The "Senior" Latino

Cross posted from my RH Reality Check blog.

I’ll admit that I love the idea of getting older. Acquiring knowledge, watching the world evolve, seeing how my body and image shifts as I age are things I find fascinating. I’m not one who dreads getting older, I welcome it! So when I heard that the AARP recently released another sex survey: Sex, Romance, and Relationships: AARP Survey of Midlife and Older Adults, I was the definition of ecstatic!

AARP definitely knows what’s up. One of their pieces was about sexting being a hit with the over 50 crowd! This I find fascinating because with all the hype and laws about sexting, we often forget and assume older people are not engaging in such activities. I then realized AARP focused on and valued the lives of older Latinos and Caribbean people living in the US when they released their Hispanic Workers Survey, which found that Latinos work later in life and live on average 3 years longer than their peers; they make less pay even in older age; and older Latinos can help fill a void in the job market. I also knew they were after my heart when they interviewed Sheila E in their Spanish language magazine Segunda Juventud. That alone made me tell my parents to get on the AARP bus! But I really became a fan of their research in 2005 when they published: Sus vidas y amores… (Their Lives and Loves…) Latino Singles At Midlife and Beyond. I mean why would I be worried about aging with data and findings like this?!

In their latest research AARP has found that Latinos over the age of 45 have sex more frequently than their counterparts in other racial and ethnic categories, and there is only a very slight difference between genders (with people identifying as men reporting more sex). I wondered how they defined “sex” for respondents and I’m just going to assume they mean penetrative intercourse (anal or vaginal) even though this assumption leaves out an enormous amount of sexual activities people can have and experience together. I also think the survey may be heterosexist, and that is an area AARP can work on improving. However sex is defined, the Latino respondents reported being extremely happy with the quality (not just quantity) of their sex life with 56 percent of Latinos stating satisfaction in comparison to 43 percent of all other respondents. The finding on quality and quantity being a value made a great connection to the discovery that Latinos place more value on sexual intimacy.

Again, I still wonder how these terms are defined. What do people think “sexual intimacy” means? How is it different from non-sexual intimacy? What forms of affection would be on a list of such activities?

One of the ways this question on intimacy was answered was in the finding that Latino partners display more affection with and to their sexual partners, which results in more sex. Who knew people would want and crave affection even as we age? What can we learn from this data about the work we do and the relationships our clients/students/patients share with us? How can we use these findings and apply them to the work we do with youth? How does this shift the conversations we may have about healing and coping from sexually transmitted infections, sexual assault, rape, infertility, and other devastating and/or challenging experiences?

That means more Latino people over the age of 45 are having more great sex! This makes me extremely happy. I think of the testimonio by my friend Patti Murillo-Casa, a cervical cancer survivor who shared how her sexual experiences with her partner have changed after her diagnosis for the better!

There are two areas that concern me: 1. how is this data going to reinforce stereotypes about Latinos being oversexualized and 2. how are researchers/doctors/sexologists/caregivers going to continue to reinforce tired (and wrong) gendered stereotypes about Latinos?

I realize that my concern over issue number 1 of reinforcing stereotypes of Latinos being oversexualized is really connected more to number 2, how people working with us and who believe they are “helping” us interpret the data. In reading some of the responses, Dr. Manuel Gomes a clinical psychologist and certified sex and marriage therapist has been quoted by AARP as saying:

“It’s important to note that Hispanics are not a homogeneous group,” says Manuel Gomes, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and founder of the Washington Institute for Intimacy and Sexual Health in Lynnwood, Washington. Salvadorans, Colombians, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, Dominicans, and other groups respond differently to these questions—and responses would have been heavily influenced by where they were born and raised, what values their family emphasized, their religious beliefs or exposure, and their own individual situations concerning relationships. According to Gomes, survey findings may highlight the influence of cultural stereotypes.

Cool, I’m so down with challenging many of those cultural stereotypes. I like this Dr. Gomes! I’m going to look him up. But before I do I’m going to finish reading this article see what other kind of knowledge he has to drop. Then he drops this bomb:

“From a relational perspective, Hispanics value family and traditional gender roles. There is a complicated ambivalence of sexuality in Hispanics cultures where sexuality is openly valued and yet feminine virginity is promoted as well. This represents the duality of machismo and Roman Catholic influences.”

Can you hear my eyes roll? Haven’t we already been over this? What is it that we benefit from by projecting something that isn’t there onto people’s own comments, testimonies, narratives? Did the survey ask about virginity, Roman Catholic influence, or the big “m” word “machismo?” Oh, it didn’t? So then why are we talking about it if it’s not there? This I don’t understand. This is what causes me stress. This is why I do the work I do!

At the end of the day, are there others who are happy about these findings as I am? Is this research enough to alter and change the way we provide services and outreach to older populations? How can our work with people who have different abilities be informed by this research?

Sunday, June 20, 2010

This Is My Machismo

Cross posted from my RH Reality Check blog

It is rare to read about Latino men in the way I have known them. Even stories by Latino men seem to exclude the experiences and relationships I have come to experience and nurture with the Latino men in my life. For this Father’s/Papi's Day I want to share some of the ways I have come to know “machismo,” the idea of what it means to be a man, the idea of masculinity. I’ll warn you now, this is not going to be similar to what you have read in other places because my machismo comes from a space of love, respect, trust, and acceptance.

My machsimo is a pretty big deal. It looks like a six foot tall and three inch man who is in one word: huge. It is the kind of huge that we have been socialized to be scared of when we encounter, especially if we are alone, or it is dark. What my machismo knows is that my father speaks multiple languages, English being his third. He learned to speak English by listening to the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. He is an artist in every sense of the word and values paint, instruments, architecture, and the like. I grew up hearing music from all over the world and having every instrument available to me so that I could interact with and play it whenever I chose. There was art and music all around me growing up. Almost all of the art and music around me was created or produced by my father, his covers of songs, his attempts to learn the English language while still raising my sister and I with a sense of cultural pride for our community, language, and heritage.

The man that taught me about health and how to care for my body did it in ways that met me where I was at, my father the harm reductionist! As a child I had swallowed a peanut and had to be rushed to the hospital as I choked on the peanut. This resulted in a fear of swallowing pills and when I began to menstruate and needed to take ibuprofen for my menstrual cramps it was my father who would consistently every eight hours take a piece of foil, two pills, crush them with a spoon, pour them in the spoon, and feed them to me so I could experience some relief. It is the same man who taught me the breathing techniques he learned when my mother was pregnant with me so when I had the most painful of cramping he breathed with me. To this day I use those breathing techniques with the patients I work with as their abortion doula.

He also taught me the many pressure points I can focus on for relief when in pain. The day I passed my first and only kidney stone (that he profusely apologized for as he thought I inherited from him) he rubbed my bare feet as my mother rubbed my scalp. I knew then that there was something healing about having someone touch your feet.

He also is one of the most affectionate people I know. He’s taught me how important it is to give good hugs, ones that make people know you appreciated and enjoyed their company. The kind of hug that will make you feel good for giving and receiving such affection. He likes to tell the story that he learned this from his grandmother, and he is sharing what he learned from her with my sister and I. My Papi taught me how to laugh at everything and anything, but most especially myself.

My Papi has shared with me how to comfort someone when they are sad and crying. He cries with me on the telephone when he feels there is nothing more he can do to help me but I still remain in pain and/or in need. He allows me to hold and comfort him when my grandfather died suddenly. Followed by his concern for my extended stay in Puerto Rico after the funeral when the FBI shot and murdered Filiberto Ojeda Rios and he called to tell me not to leave the hotel.

He is the man who taught me how to value popular culture because he believes that you must “watch a movie in the theater because that is how it was created to be seen.” His ideas of media and how to consume it has impacted and influenced how I interact with and critique the media for the work I do today. He is also the person who taught me how to properly present and hang a piece of art on the wall: it should be at eye level of the viewer, but since he and I are both over 6 feet tall, we have to bring eye level down to a few inches lower. I learned how art is a form of activism from him.

It is because of my Papi that I don’t know how to cook and I’m okay with this. He was what some would call a stay-at-home-Papi in the 70s and 80s caring for my sister and I as my mother had the full-time job. He made sure my sister and I got to school on time, that we were showered and fed. When he took a job we were latchkey kids but he always came home before my mother. He cooked almost all our meals. It is like an art form and piece of art to eat his cooking. When I go home to visit I ask him to cook me my favorite Caribbean porridge dish and he obliges. It’s also because of him that I adore men who do know how to cook and who will share their cooking with me. I think it is one of the most masculine things a person identifying as a man can do: know how to feed himself and others.

My machismo calls me and leaves me voicemail messages that are serenades on my cell phone accompanied by his guitar, or singing to me whatever message he has in whatever accent he is trying to use to cover up his own accent. He taught me that vanity is all right as we age when he asked me to buy him waterproof black mascara to cover up the stray grey hairs that were emerging in his beard. He taught me that taking care of my make-up brushes was important so they last longer and this was important. He supports my expression of being femme in ways that challenge him as well.

What I learned the most from my Papi’s machismo is the difference and importance between calling him “Papi” and a lover “Papi.” He never told me that was a title just for him, instead he taught me how to know who has earned such a title in my life and how they vary. I learned this from him calling me “Mamí” as a term of endearment and giving my lovers consent to call me “Mamí.”

My machismo taught me about consent. My machismo loves me, gives me life, and continuously amazes me. That’s the machismo you won’t hear about but that many of us experience. My machismo is centered in love and I love my machismo.

Friday, June 18, 2010

The Power Of Our Jiggle: Jiggly Boo Dance Crew

Cross posted from my Media Justice Column

The past several months have been amazing! Not only have I had a rewarding time teaching some fabulous students, and engaging with people here at Amplify, but I’ve also made 6 stunning new friends! In January of this year I saw a call for fat dancers at my friend Joe’s blog. When I heard about the Jiggly Boo Dance Crew (JBDC) it was like my life finally began to make sense.

I not only was I immediately interested, because I love to dance, but because this was a space that people were seeking to create with dancers who are often excluded from dance communities. The call stated:

Jiggly Boo Dance Crew is a much needed project for exploring the intellectual and creative potential of the fat dancing body. Within the Western performance context, fat bodies are systematically excluded or typecast into demeaning or ancillary roles.

Within this framework, Jiggly Boo Dance Crew (founded by Alice Fu and Kantara Souffrant) will run a series of workshops which will culminate in a performance. These workshops will create a space in which other self-identified female “fat” dancers, movers, and performers, can dialogue about the following questions: What is a "fat dancing body"? How are fat bodies read, understood, felt (emotively and viscerally) and represented? What does it mean to identify oneself as a “fat dancing body” and what are the political implications of identifying oneself as such? How can (re)presentations of fat dancing bodies be understood alongside critical discussions of race, gender, sexuality, and the political movement of bodies that have been traditionally marginalized and invisibilized within Western stage dance?

Regarding their use of the word “fat” co-founders Kantara and Alice write:

On the usage of “fat”: Jiggly Boo Dance Crew intentionally reclaims and uses the word "fat" as opposed to other euphemisms (i.e. "plus-sized" or "big-boned") to explore the politics of size-deviant bodies. Our reclamatory gesture also pays homage to area studies, such as queer studies, that have viewed the reappropriation of words as part of a larger political process of creating visibility and challenging hegemonic discourses and systems of oppression.

I knew I wanted to join. Every part of my body and mind and spirit needed this. I even began to shamelessly plug the crew to my friends, encouraging them to join with me. One of my current homegirls, Sparkle, who I’ve mentioned before, decided to go for it and signed up for an interview. When we first met Kantara and Alice at the NYU campus, of which I graduated from 10 years ago with a masters degree but still got lost, I knew it was love. Not just love like puppy, butterflies-in-the-stomach love, but love in all the most revolutionary ways. Love for our bodies, love for how we move, love for what we bring, love for simply surviving in a world that doesn’t love us back in the same way we love the world.

A few weeks later we all met and started to move. We had Jiggly Boo Journals and a syllabus and exercises. Each of us gave voice to what we needed the space to be for us, how we could commit to the project and one another, how we could create a communal space for healing. Our first session was devoted to logistics, how we could make and sustain a collective, what we would be interested in leading the group in a communal movement, and what we planned for a final event/workshop/performance.

As with many collectives and organizations there were challenges with regards to time. There were some scheduling challenges for all of us, I mean life happens: some of us got sick, some of us got jobs, I missed my Sunday Caribbean Book Club, and there were times when I didn’t have enough money to even get a metrocard to go to a session. It was also winter and we had several snow storms as well. Plus, I have active sweat glands and had to wear sneakers or really thick socks because I was worried I’d slip on all my sweat under my feet (was that too much information? Oh well, it’s true!)

But we all moved. Even if we were not all together we moved. I knew I could move more than I had before joining JBDC because my Boo’s have my back! There’s something about being in a dance crew that gives one a sense of being 3D! And sometimes we really are 3D through dance crews.

We even had our own photographer! Sherley Camille Olopherne joined us for each session and documented our movements, processing, and planning.

Our first few sessions were a challenge for me because when I thought of dancing and movement I never thought about my voice or throat. Kantara led us through a voice/throat exercise that was intense and extremely healing. We made noises and grunted and felt the vibrations in different parts of our bodies, how we moved, how that sound was released from our body. Then we made communal sounds together that reminded me of the ocean.

Each of us led other sessions on yoga, imagery , African dance movements, folk dancing, Dancehall and art therapy. We had homework of reading texts by Frantz Fanon and Audre Lorde and coming up with movements to share with the group. We did activities where we thought about parts of our bodies we think too much about, and parts that we never think about and how they would speak to one another. We shared with the group and created movements about each. I think too much about my lips/mouth and if they are glossy, or if the red lip color is still on or if it’s bleeding, or if I have lipstick on my teeth, or something in between my teeth. I also rarely think about my wrists. We then used those parts of our body to communicate with other people’s body parts they shared. Another of my favorites: we were blindfolded one by one and had to dance/run across the room that we had created some barriers in and all the Boos had to make sure you didn’t get hurt by protecting the blindfolded person from the barrier with their body. This was a special challenge for my Boos because I was the tallest Jiggly Boo and my arms are long too!

The first homework I remember doing, and that still speaks to me today, was about how we police our bodies. How we limit our movement. I shared how I limit my movement to only doing dances that don’t require a partner, which is kind of a no-no when dances such as salsa, merengue, cumbia, and partner dances in general are important cultural practices in my community. I don’t want someone holding me and telling me where and how to use my body. Plus, I’m 6ft tall and fat with bushy hair, it’s rare to find a partner that’s even close in height to me. And even when I do they may try to spin me and it’s always possible my hair could get caught in something they have on: a watch, a bracelet, a ring, cufflinks, anything! And, if they are too short, it becomes an opportunity for them to rest on my breasts and that is really uncomfortable. I shared that the only partner dance I do is zouk, a dance done in the Caribbean.

My main concern in joining JBDC was that my disability would be triggered and I wouldn’t be able to dance. I have a back injury that I’ve been living with since 2005 and it is something that has challenged and helped me evolve as a person living with a disability. When I was moving from one apartment to the other in late March and early April and hurt my back and could barely move, my Boos surprised me and we squeezed into my small apartment and they all cooked me an amazing dinner. To this day the memories of having them come to me (I live in a land far far away called the Bronx), and waking up the next morning to a full refrigerator of delicious fruits, vegetables, and soup homemade by women who love me is my best memory of 2010!

I share my time with my Jiggly Boos because I think we are media makers. We are using our bodies in ways we have been told we should not. In ways that we are told nobody wants to see; that challenges and redefines movement, as we know it today in this country. There are multiple ways of creating media and being media makers. Dancing, I believe is one of those forms. It is also a form of art, which is something I believe and define as creating knowledge. The past six months I’ve been a part of working with amazing activists to create art, knowledge, and media. We want to engage with more people to do something similar.

Today, Thursday June 17, 2010 we are hosting our workshop: Power Of Our Jiggle: Body-Positive Movement. If you are in NYC and want to come join us it’s not too late! You can still register online or just come down to the Judson Memorial Church in the NYU area! Registration is sliding scale or you can bring a beverage to share. There is childcare offered and we are so excited to have created this opportunity to share all that we have worked hard to create and heal! I’ve had some people ask if you have to identify as fat to attend, and you do not. This is a space for “non-traditional” Western dancers or people who have been told they can’t and should not dance because of what their body looks like.

All fotos are of JBDC dancers and sessions by Sherley Camille Olopherne.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

World Cup & Racism

I'm all about watching the World Cup in South Africa when I can. To the surprise of no one I'm always all day already TEAM AFRICA! That's right, I was on team Nigeria, team Ghana, team South Africa for the past several days. I do claim PanAfrican ideologies as important to my identity and understanding my place in this world. For those of you who can't seem to understand this check this video out below for some background and to contextualize the World Cup

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Communal Responses To Violence: The Puerto Rican Day Parade Controversy

Cross posted from my RH Reality Check blog

I’ve been tweeting stories about the Puerto Rican Day Parade here in NYC for a few weeks now. The Parade is one of the largest events centered on Puerto Rican nationality and ethnic identity and pride in the city. People plan for the event all year, and some even travel across the country to attend. Although I have only intentionally attended one time, as I’ve become claustrophobic as I’ve aged, I can say that many community members find the event important to the transmission of our cultural practices and is considered a rite of passage for many.

The most recent story that has been at the center of discussing the Parade this year is the chosen “godfather,” actor, singer and model Osvaldo Rios. Huge controversy surrounds his presence at the Parade because of his history of violence against women. This controversy began back in May of this year when the announcement was made. In 2004 Rios spent 3 months in a Puerto Rican prison for abusing his partner at the time. Part of the controversy that has begun was when council member in Spanish Harlem Melissa Mark-Viverito stated:

"It's not a positive role model for my people, for my community and for our children. I personally will not march in the parade and I will ask other elected officials to consider doing the same thing.” Not everyone agreed with Mark-Viverito and believed that people “deserve second chances.”

Following Mark-Viverito’s statements, the Marshal for the Parade, Chicago Rep. Luis Gutierrez quit and Verizon pulled its sponsorship earlier this week, the first full week of June. This has resulted in Rios making a decision about his presence and participation at the Parade. Rios recently announced he has chosen to not attend the Parade. He is quoted in the NY Daily News as saying:

"After discussing this issue with my wife, my children and Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, to whom I'm grateful for her wise words, my family and I have decided ... not to attend the parade and promote the unity and the consensus between the Puerto Rican people at such a great event."

I have to admit that I am one of the people who believe this is a good decision to not have Rios be the “godfather” at the Parade, this year or any year for that matter. I’m proud to have read that several representatives and sponsors recognize that women’s bodies, Latina bodies, Puerto Rican women’s bodies, Caribbean women’s bodies, LatiNegra bodies are important. That the abuses our bodies endure are not ones that can be easily rectified. That our bodies have endured so much already, physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually and that our lives matter too. I hope this will be an opportunity for community members to consider a communal response to ending violence within our communities. I know I will be using this story and other forms of media in my classroom this summer and next semester as I discuss rape, sexual assault, and violence.

UPDATE: It has recently been announced that singer Marc Anthony is the new "godfather" of the parade.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Participants Needed for Study on Black Women’s Spirituality and Hip-Hop Music

Please help out my homegirl Anaya! I took the survey, as a LatiNegra this topic speaks to multiple parts of my life!

Click here to go directly to the survey.


My name is Anaya McMurray and I am a graduate student at the University of Maryland, College Park. As a candidate seeking a PhD in Women’s Studies I am conducting research to explore the impact of spirituality on black women’s processes of creating and interpreting music. My goal is to learn more about the meaning and significance of spirituality in the lives of black women in the hip-hop generation.

I am especially interested in the generation of black women born in a year from 1971 through 1982 and raised in the U.S.

If you are interested in learning more about this study visit my site for a more detailed description of my project: ‘THE WHOLE AND NOT THE HALF OF IT’: BLACK WOMEN’S SPIRITUALITY AND POPULAR MUSIC IN THE HIP-HOP GENERATION.

Participation in the current phase of research would require anonymously completing a survey. This survey is designed to gather opinions on spirituality and music from black women in the hip-hop generation. If you are interested in participating and you are a black woman born in a year from 1971 through 1982 and raised in the U.S. please visit, complete and submit an online survey.

If you would prefer to complete a paper copy of the survey, it can be downloaded at, printed, and mailed to Anaya McMurray P.O. Box 29104 Chicago, Ill 60629-0104. If you know someone who may be interested in participating please forward this message and/or direct the person to the following link.

Thank You,
Anaya McMurray

Celebrating Hip Hop & Sexuality Messaging

Cross posted from my Media Justice column

It’s not often that we celebrate what goes on in Hip Hop. Speaking solely for myself (and maybe for some of my homies) watching the BET Awards is really about who can have the more witty commentary about how to diss the show. As someone who used to identify as a “Hip-Hop feminist,” and still identifies as a “Hip-Hop activist” I still understand the importance and need of the community and its cultural practices and artifacts. For that reason, I’d like to focus on and celebrate some amazing songs that really do connect for me and that I use in my classroom when discussing sexuality and sex.

One of the first songs I began to really use in my classroom was by the group Dead Prez. This song was only one I enjoyed in my personal life and when I introduced it to my students when I began to teach their response was extremely favorable. The next time the song came back into my working-professional life was when I was doing interviews with Puerto Rican men living in the US between the ages of 18-30 and asked them what cultural images, artifacts, songs, poems, narratives, etc. One of them shared that the way they learned about intimate sexual relationships that they defined as “healthy” was through the Dead Prez song “Mind Sex.” If you are not familiar with the song take some time to check it out below. I’d suggest you listen to the song first then watch the video to see the difference:

This video gives a different impression versus just listening to the song. In the video there is more of a “why would I not have sex with you on a regular basis? Oh because I’m incarcerated.” However, I can still find ways to use this video and song as a way to teach abstinence in the classroom. I really adore the line: “for me making love is just as much mental. I like to know what I’m gettin’ into.”

Needless to say, when I heard that Dead Prez has a new single out that was released just in time for Mother’s Day I had to check it out. The song “The Beauty Within” is along the same lines of affirming and supportive lyrical content and delivery, yet the focus is on body image and beauty. Although this is another heterosexist example where a Black man is speaking just to Black women, I find it extremely affirming. The line: “real Black girl I salute your existence” alone gives me chills. I mean when was the last time someone, anyone, saluted your existence? Check out the song below:

I’m also loving all over again Blackalicious’ (they existed BEFORE Beyonce and her “Bootylicious” song) song “Purest Love.” I like the entire Blazing Arrow album, yet these lyrics really bring it home for me: “The two realest cats I know? My two older brothers/The most beautiful woman in the galaxy? My mother/The strongest black women raising kids alone? My sisters/The best part of my future is my present love interest/The most important time? Right now and ever after/The greatest expression is love, happiness, and laughter.”

Then there are the amazing forms of media and music surrounding “safer” sexual activities by young men of Color. My homegirl and sister sexologist Mariotta Gary-Smith, whom I’ve mentioned before, shared a video early this week. Mariotta wrote:

My co-worker, Solamon Ibe, works with young men around safe sex, responsibility and decision making skills. Here's their video. Good work, Solamon!

The video synopsis reads: “A6 (African American Aids Awareness Action Alliance) and The Jefferson Young Men's Academy along with 503tv brings you a fun yet educational video about the importance of safe sex.” Check the video out below.

One of the things I love about this video is that it centers boys of Color. Far too often people think they are working with young men of Color, but really they are not. It is actually pretty scary what some men think they know about sexuality, birth control, contraception, and sex in general. This is a fabulous video of using Hip Hop and creating social change among young people of Color around sexuality and sexual health.

What other examples can you think of to add to the list?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

(VIDEO): Dancehall and Infertility: No Less Than A Woman

Cross posted from my rh Reality Check Blog

I’ve had this post on my mind for quite a while now. It’s not often when Danchall music, a genre that I adore and love to dance to out of any other dances in the entire world (I’m not even exaggerating!), addresses some really personal and intense issues around reproductive health. One of my favorite aspects of Dancehall are the slack lyrics, and when Lady Saw came on the scene I was immediately in love! She discussed topics that, at that time, were considered “crude” for a woman to discuss (i.e. gender differences, sexuality, use of condoms). Yet this is exactly what fueled my love for her as a female Jamaican deejay (which is a term synonymous with what we in the US would call “female MCs”).

In Lady Saw’s last album, Walk Out, which was released in 2007, two of her top songs in the US and Caribbean included “No Less Than A Woman (Infertility)” and “Chat To Mi Back.” Her song “No Less Than A Woman (Infertility)” is an amazing discussion of gender expectations, motherhood, reproductive health, adoption, worth, value, and how that intersects with class and women living in the Caribbean. Check out her video for the song below:

As a woman of Color and a Caribbean woman who has made a conscious decision not to have children, this song speaks to me on numerous levels. I did grow up with the fantasy of wanting to be a parent when I was a child, however, today, as I know what this responsibility means--to mold someone else’s life, and knowing how I want to live my life-- not having a child is a priority for me. When I share this with people, the response and reaction are immediately assuming that I’m infertile or have some kind of reproductive health issue that results in difficulty becoming pregnant or carrying a pregnancy to term. This may stem from the fact that these people know I'm still sexually active.

Often I try to shift these conversations to my birth control choices over other options available to me, but now I'm thinking otherwise. As if being a Latina and a Caribbean woman who does not want children is such a taboo! Add to that a Caribbean woman who often partners with men, and I instantly become some complex puzzle people feel the need/desire to solve. The conversation that is lacking in our communities: how women who choose not to have children have actually thought about it, and sometimes even more so, than some women who desire to be parents; yet we are believed to be “wrong.” As Lady Saw sings, there are multiple ways for us to give love, there are numerous children who we also care for and love, but that does not, in any way take away our femininity.

I really appreciate how Lady Saw talks about gossip, attempts to debunk people’s reputations, and challenges people face when they do not have children, yet other people think they should have them already. If I could sit here and tell you all the times my parents asked me when they were getting grandbabies I’d be out of breath and have cotton mouth! The best thing is that I’m not the only person this song resonates with. Some of the responses to the song have included the following (some responses are in patois and I am not going to alter or edit them as it is a valid form of expression for people in our community):


I stay[e]d a virgin til I was married. Me and my husband have been dating since the 9th grade. After our wedding we tried to have a child for more than a year and a half. I was afraid of the possibility of me being infertile. I finally went to a doctor and found out I can not have children. I was hurt of course, but instead of giving up I decided I would have a child. I have a s[o]n named Darius and a daughter named Layla today. They may be adopted but they are min[e] regardless.


dis song speaks to my soul in a soothing way..Thanx Lady Saw...i hate the look people gimme coz i dont hev and i hate the feeling of worthlessness thats constantly riding me..hev got to the point where i dont want my husband close to me coz im always thinking wots the point...wonder why God chose me..i am really that bad that people who dont want get yet i cry myself to sleep everyday coz my arms feel empty get....I'm jus made me very bitter..


lord ave mercy, tear just roll down my face.... got the all clear from breast cancer 2 months ago to which I thank jah for mi 2nd chance, but with the smooth come the rough, cos a mi treatment, children are no longer possible naturally fi mi so to hear this has really bought it home..... jah bless to everyone x


me and my man been tryin for more then 5yrs & yet nothin but i say to myself only god no why but this song gives me hope to never give up they are more ways to share your love and become a mother to a child that needs a home blessings to all the mothers out there


Some people want careers and have things they want to accomplish before they have kids. And some people have fertility problems and cannot have children and as lady saw says it does not make them any less of a woman, nor does that make them wrong or strange or different.


I admire her openess and constructive response to a very taboo subject within the global community but especially in the Black communities, RESPECT Lady Saw. X

What are your thoughts regarding this form of media? Are there other forms of such media that address this topic? When will we, as my homegirl and doula mentor Sparkle says, “stop plotting on folks' reproductive capabilities, abilities, and desires”?

Friday, June 4, 2010

Media Produces Knowledge

Cross posted from my Media Justice Column

The past few months and weeks have been an incredibly busy time around social justice issues in the US and abroad. Sometimes when multiple topics are occurring it's difficult to get a good grasp of what is going on without being distracted, at least that’s how I feel about current events at times! One of the ways I've come to love learning and staying on top of current events are through “traditional” and “non-traditional” media makers.

One of the many issues that has been on my radar for several months: SB1070, the Arizona law that has legalized racial profiling and violates our 4th Amendment rights. I believe that regardless of where you stand on the topic of immigration reform in the US, there is absolutely NO reason for us to give up our constitutional rights. Often, people don't realize how we give up our rights on a daily basis because we don’t know what our rights are to begin with!

One of the first pieces of media that I came across was The Pinky Show regarding Immigration in an episode called "How To Solve Illegal Immigration." The Pinky Show website states that they:

The Pinky Show is the original super lo-tech hand-drawn educational TV show. We focus on information & ideas that have been misrepresented, suppressed, ignored, or otherwise excluded from mainstream discussion. Pinky presents and analyzes the material in an informal, easy-to-understand way, with helpful illustrations that she draws herself. Episodes are available on the internet for free at

That sounds like my kind of show! Plus I find the imagery (although not always the language and vernacular used) extremely accessible. As a child of immigrants, I’m not a fan of the term “illegal,” but as an educator I am a fan of the approach. The gender non-conforming names of the characters, the youth-friendly symbols and imagery, and how humor is used. Check out the video, it’s about 15 minutes long.

Shortly after seeing The Pinky Show, a friend posted a video by rapper Talib Kweli of a new single he released regarding Arizona. This is not the first time that the Hip-Hop community has created media and messaging about what Arizona has done. In 1991 Public Enemy created the song "By The Time I Get To Arizona" when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday was not celebrated in Arizona. Kweli's song "Paper's Please" samples the Public Enemy song and I love when he says “Stopping you in the streets, demanding identification. If you of the brown persuasion, maybe you could be native, maybe you Mexican, it’s whatever you not Caucasian so you have no place in this country. Illegal immigration got them scared of losing their faith, they fearing assimilation. Give us your tired and your poor and your huddled masses, we’ll be havin’em serving another master homeless and under passes.” (thanks to my homeboy Hugo for helping with the lyrics) Have a listen:

Then, Shakira was interviewed by Ryan Seacrest for his site and radio show. He asks her why she is going to speak to the Mayor of Arizona regarding SB1070. Shakira has an eloquent statement regarding her motivations and convictions, which as a child of immigrants to the US, I find interesting. Shakira acknowledges that she was not born in the US and does not live in the US (full-time) but recognizes that "nobody should be detained in the streets become of the color of their skin." Hear her interview below:

Then there is still oil being pumped into the Gulf Coast and I just can’t take it! I’m the type of person that can’t stand when people litter (yes I live in NYC), but it's one of the biggest pet peeves and turn-offs to have someone I know or am interested in getting to know litter. So when the oil spill occurred I have yet to really be able to stomach a long conversation or look at many images because it really does frustrate me in ways I have yet to learn how to cope with. However, a new collaboration between several musicians, Mos Def, Lenny Kravitz, the Preservation Hall Band, Trombone Shorty, and Tim Robbins is basically giving me life right now. The song "It Ain’t My Fault" was created for Gulf Aid to help people affected by the oil spill and the video states:

"It Ain't My Fault" benefits Gulf Aid, a nonprofit created in response to the oil spill off the Louisiana Coast. Check out the video above and if you're interested in donating to the cause, please visit

Check out the video below:

Personally, I love it when the media I’m constantly interacting with keeps me up to date on current events, especially ones that are frightening and frustrating. Are there other forms of media you have come into contact with over the past several weeks that help?

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Cervical Cancer, Relationships and Divorce

Cross posted from my RH Reality Check blog

I was recently reading an article at The Daily Beast that discussed 15 signs of divorce. Written by Anneli Rufus who found research that has been published mostly in peer reviewed journals her article “15 Ways To Predict Divorce” piqued my interest as someone who studies intimate sexual relationships among communities of Color. Of the last several items listed was this: “If you've been diagnosed with cervical cancer, your likelihood of getting divorced is 40 percent higher than standard rates; it's 20 percent higher if you've been diagnosed with testicular cancer.” I found this especially specific and went to look at the original research article. What was most fascinating to me was this sentence: “Perhaps the most relevant factor, Syse proposed, is that cervical and testicular cancers mostly affect younger people.”

I wondered what this meant with regards to youth, relationships, and ideas of family. I then started to wonder what the women in my life who have survived cervical cancer would think about this information. Would they have a different take, approach, experience? I had never thought there would have been only one cancer for men and women that would be the most devastating to a marriage. My perceptions were that any type of cancer would be devastating and a challenge. I have witnessed my aunt, the only aunt I was raised with as the rest of my entire family lives on the mainland of Puerto Rico, survive her breast cancer diagnosis last year. Several of my friends have had parents and other close family members who have also been diagnosed with cancer. And then I know very well two women who both have survived cervical cancer. I immediately sent them both a note.

Several years ago I met survivor, journalist, and activist Tamika Felder through a college friend. Tamika, a cervical cancer survivor who was diagnosed in 2001 and had a radical hysterectomy when she was 25, was looking for dedicated people to help her build and sustain a non-profit organization dedicated to educating all people about cervical cancer and HPV. Tamika wanted the organization to most especially provide survivor support in various capacities and work with/educate men. We hit it off and I became the Director of Sexual Health and Education for the organization several of us co-founded: Tamika & Friends, Inc. a national organization.

Since Tamika & Friends, Inc. was established we created House Parties of fiVe (HPV Parties), which incorporated grassroots efforts and communal testimonies as a form of education. These were a huge success and remain one of T&Fs many forms of education and outreach. T&F also planned and executed the first Walk for Cervical Cancer. The first walk was in Washington, DC and today there are chapters and walks in New York City, Atlanta, Charlotte, North Carolina, and Columbia, South Carolina.

As I moved to New York City I had to give up my position as Director of Sexual Health and Education yet have remained active in some capacities. There is a New York City Chapter that has been recently established under the leadership of Patti Murillo-Casa, a survivor of cervical cancer. It was Patti and Tamika that I emailed about this story/finding.

Both Patti and Tamika were not surprised and had heard of this statistic. They both discussed the stigma attached, and for both of them this statistic was discouraging. Patti was diagnosed with cervical cancer after she was married. Tamika has not been married and has a different interaction with the finding. Patti and Tamika agreed to have me share with you their stories and their comments we had about this statistic.

Patti was the first to respond to my note and shared that she had heard of the statistic and that Tamika often talks about it and had recently done so in a Summit earlier this year. She writes: “Fortunately for me my guy has become more gentler and patient with me.” She shares how the intimate and sexual experiences with her partner after her diagnosis and treatment resulted in them finding “a new normal.” Patti even shared that she enjoys her experiences with her husband even more now, post-cancer. She and her husband have created an experience together that is more “tender and gentle” and I interpreted this as them honoring and sharing one another’s bodies in ways they had not before.

Hearing Patti’s testimonio warmed my heart and made me smile. It still does! She not only offers a narrative that challenges stereotypes around "machismo" in the Latino community, but also that expands our understanding of Latino families and relationships in general.

Tamika shared that she always, every time she speaks, talks about this statistic.She shared that “[cervical and] testicular cancer patients/survivors have the highest incidence of divorce. So sad for me. I already had man problems before cancer!”

When I read Tamika’s testimony and commentary it reminded me of the process of healing and coping and how this is a life long experience. Finding someone who you trust and believe will honor your healing is crucial and difficult to find, and I say that as someone who is single and dating, it’s hard! I felt the exact same way when Tamika asked me to write an article for the website on scars and how to cope with our scars as survivors of anything that has left us with a physical scar. As women, our scars and scarring may be different to accept in comparison to some scars that people who identify as men may cope with accepting.

I’d love to hear what survivor’s thoughts are about this statistic, and what the lived realities are as survivors. There are many ways that Tamika’s story and experiences intersect with some of the common statistics about Black women who are single, which my homegirl Omi calls “The Black Love Crisis” and rarely, if ever is surviving cancer included in those discussions!

If you are in New York City I encourage you to join us for the Walk for Cervical Cancer. You may register here. If you are interested in getting involved in various ways, finding support for a survivor in your life, learning more about HPV, finding information on what to do as the partner of someone who is diagnosed with HPV or cervical cancer, or interesting in starting a chapter in your state visit the Tamika & Friends, Inc. website.