#NWNW & the Easy, Sexy Silence of Privilege

Cosby Koolaid Anyone? (H/T @divafeminist for this reference)

In case you decided to forego the interwebs today (or you’re still recovering from the #EddieLong Twitter bonanza that was last Sunday’s social media brunch special–see Jelani Cobb or Dr. Goddess for the recap), last Wednesday saw the internet launch of the No Weddings, No Womb Movement.  The site can feel a bit confusing in part because the founder, Christelyn Denise Karazin is doing a commendable and blog award worthy job of posting both criticism and support–the woman is braver than most Twitterati and I applaud her for it.  But if you want a quick rundown, you can find the FAQs here, the initial announcement here, and follow the citizen-bloggers listed on the site here.

Plenty of critique has been levied at the No Weddings, No Womb “movement.”  Two of my favorites were written by Bené and Sister Toldja but just throw the #NWNW hashtag into a Twitter search and you’ll get slammed with responses.  Nothing gets the blogosphere buzzing like the action going on in a black woman’s womb.

There are also a number of supporters–like Sophia Angeli Nelson who wrote a lovely, non-judgemental post for the Grio.  Some aren’t even turning a pro-marriage stance into an excuse to re-hash old Moynihan-esque arguments full of single mother stigma.  Or offering chastity belts & promise rings to fourteen year old girls to be returned upon completion of their wedding ceremony.

Unfortunately, over the course of the last week, the conversation grew increasingly vicious.  Twitfam were getting blocked and swarmed, misconstrued and misunderstood.  The vitriol came from both sides (Note to Self: Is “Google it if you want to” the new “Meet me outside”?) and none of it is fostered productive and healthy debate.  So I’m going to suggest something unusual and unnatural in this brave new world of 24 hours news and 21st century cyborgs.

Let’s.  Slow.  Down.

Yes, I know:  Your timeline is full of words like #wedding, #marriage, #womb, #singlemother, #blackfatherlessness, or #wedlock.  And I know that when those words appear alongside #black, #African-American #woman or #woc it causes some of you to break out into hives, scream invectives at your computer screen and run to your local library for a copy of Gutman’s, The Black Family in Slavery & Freedom, or perhaps E. Franklin Frazier’s The Black Family in the United States.

And yes, I know:  You are the daughter of a married couple who have remained so despite X number of obstacles –or– you are the daughter of a single mother who made it do what it do despite X number of obstacles.   This issue is personal for you–I hear you.  And yes, I do recognize the extent to which the black/African-American community’s post-civil rights movement-traumatic stress and betrayed expectations of same are feeding into the intense, emotional and physical reaction we are having.

But there have got to be some things we can agree on without jumping down each other’s throats, making personal attacks or using our considerable, 140 characters worth of wit and sarcasm to discredit each other.

For example, and just for argument’s sake, let’s all agree that the “movement” in this case is the health, welfare and well-being of all children born under God’s yellow sun.  Equal access to a safe, quality education.  Equal access to opportunities and resources that will lead them down the professional path of their choice.  Equal access to housing, to communities free of violence, to safe bodies and minds (no rape, no incest, no street harassment) and while we’re at it, we can throw in full bellies in those bodies, literacy to fuel those minds, confident images of themselves and their future in the world, a support network of kin (elders, parents, siblings and all other kin, fictive and real) who are completely committed to their just and whole development.

Is that a decent enough baseline to start with?

If so, the question becomes what did #NWNW leave out that may be causing such a ruckus?  And is there a way for the #NWNW movement (or something similar) to assimilate the things that are missing–or is it just what the detractors are saying it is?  (#Solutions)

Like….

1.  Where are the men? This one is easiest.  The #NWNW FAQs clearly state:

Continue reading

Day 9 Catch Up: Kismet Discovers Fania All-Stars

One dark and stormy night, @Latinegro founded the 30 Day Latino Blog Challenge. He scheduled it to coincide with Latino/a and Latin American Heritage Month (I hate the word Hispanic) which began today and ends October 15th. And, hospitable fellow that he is, he’s invited any Latino blogger to join in.

Since I can count on one hand the number of fellow Afrolatina bloggers I know, I think I’ll take the plunge. After all, I haven’t written a post specific to Latina or Afrolatina issues for awhile now. For 30 days and nights, I owe the interwebs at least two paragraphs on the topic o’ the day. To follow along (or backtrack) click the tag “latina/o heritiage month.” Today’s topic(s): Talk about Music related to your culture

I love Nuñez Mom. I do. But I swear she does stuff to put my non-Nuyorican-ness on blast.

So one day she comes home and she says, “You ever hear of Fania All-Stars?”

I, of course, am like, “No. Who are they?”

*big sigh* *big huff and puff* Until finally, Nuñez Mom pulls out a CD. Fania All-Stars. She bought it at Starbucks.

Cue the #wereminisce, black and white scenery as Nuñez Mom goes into how she and Nuñez Titi used to listen to Fania All-Stars on the radio. How the big band concept was so spectacular and so Puerto Rican. How Celia Cruz sang with them and the sound reminded her of being back in New York, in the South Bronx, dancing salsa and merengue in the friggin streets.

Cue me putting that sucker in the machine (anything to get closer to a colorful past that I knew nothing about):

Try and tell me she isn’t fabulous? Before Beyonce, J-Lo or Ga Ga there was…Celia.

Day 8 Catch Up: I Refuse (#EnFuego)

One dark and stormy night, @Latinegro founded the 30 Day Latino Blog Challenge. He scheduled it to coincide with Latino/a and Latin American Heritage Month (I hate the word Hispanic) which began today and ends October 15th. And, hospitable fellow that he is, he’s invited any Latino blogger to join in.

Since I can count on one hand the number of fellow Afrolatina bloggers I know, I think I’ll take the plunge. After all, I haven’t written a post specific to Latina or Afrolatina issues for awhile now. For 30 days and nights, I owe the interwebs at least two paragraphs on the topic o’ the day. To follow along (or backtrack) click the tag “latina/o heritiage month.” Today’s topic(s): Latino Racism

Pedro Pietri, “Puerto Rican Obituary,” 1973

via Terry Carlton, “The Chicagozamos & the Nuyorican Movement,” Sep 2010

Latinegro might not like this but I’m going to speak my mind.

I’m not the biggest fan of this prompt.

I know, I know.

The prompt makes sense if you aren’t already afrolatina or preoccupied with race and racial configurations in the United States (or both).  Because if you aren’t, then you might be missing the ways that narratives of mestizo or mestizaje obscure structures of race and power within the Chicano/Mexican community, obscure the long tenure of slaveholding in the once-upon-a-time Spanish landscapes of North America, a captive population descended from the flood of African slaves in the Americas that began as early as 1492.  If you aren’t, you might have been miffed that the 2010 census did not include a “race” for you outside of white and black/African-American but might also not be cognizant of how, on a more regular basis, you accrue all the benefits of light skin privilege.

Without this prompt, you might be a scholar, journalist, professor or student of Latina/o studies and not even realize that calling this Hispanic Heritage Month glorifies our colonizer more than the struggle against genocide, enslavement, colonialism and everyday state violence of globalization that is the reality for peoples of Latina/o and Latin American descent in the Western hemisphere.  You might be a scholar, journalist, professor or student in a Latina/o Studies Program that is really a Chicana/o Studies Program that is really a program about the indigenous struggle in the west that maligns the history of Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Cubans, Haitians, and those of mixed-Latina/o descent on the other side of the Mississippi River, in the urban enclaves of the North and along the waterscapes of the Gulf Coast.

In fact, without this prompt, you might not ever stop to think that Haiti is a part of Latin America too.

Or that J-Lo is not the average Puerto Rican.

Or that speaking Spanish doesn’t MAKE you anything except a Spanish speaker.

Or that my Latinidad is more than just a big booty fetish and a preoccupation with my nappy hair and don’t you dare look at me sideways just because you have the dubious benefit of several generations of white rape and white brainwashing.  Where do you think all that mestizaje came from?

Without this prompt, I’d got to bed less angry that the only way to get some of you gente to think twice about your own color and race privilege is to force a prompt on you, a prompt like this, a prompt that is probably only going to garner some superficial complaints about not making it in corporate America because of your last name when doors shut in the faces of your darker brothers and sisters while fingers point around the back to the servant door.  (Or some lip service to violence between African-Americans and Latinos, come to think of it)

Without this prompt, I might not even have gotten some of you to even check out this blog because you had to search #race #latino #ism before you put two and two together that we are all in this together and you have no right to question my loyalty, affinity and/or love of my black or brown people just because you don’t like the shape I came in.

So I won’t answer this prompt.  The violence of my experience deserve more than one isolated blog post in dedication.  Besides, hell, if this is the first you’ve heard of Latino Racism, you should just stop drinking the Koolaid and engage in some #machetebehavior instead

*drops mic*


Day 7: Please Allow Me to Get a Little Taíno On You….

One dark and stormy night, @Latinegro founded the 30 Day Latino Blog Challenge. He scheduled it to coincide with Latino/a and Latin American Heritage Month (I hate the word Hispanic) which began today and ends October 15th. And, hospitable fellow that he is, he’s invited any Latino blogger to join in.

Since I can count on one hand the number of fellow Afrolatina bloggers I know, I think I’ll take the plunge. After all, I haven’t written a post specific to Latina or Afrolatina issues for awhile now. For 30 days and nights, I owe the interwebs at least two paragraphs on the topic o’ the day. To follow along (or backtrack) click the tag “latina/o heritiage month.” Today’s topic(s): Post a picture about your culture and explain its significance

As soon as I saw this prompt, I knew exactly which image I would choose:

Above is a petroglyph of the cemí representing Atabey, Taíno deity of fertility, motherhood and sexuality.

According to José R. Oliver:

“…the Taíno-language term cemí refers not to an artifact or object but to an immaterial, numinous, and vital force.  Under particular conditions, beings, things, and other phenomena in in nature can be imbued with cemí.  Cemí is, therefore, a condition of being, not a thing.  It is a numinous power, a driving or vital force that compels action; it is the power to cause, to effect, and also denotes a condition or state of being.”  (Oliver, Caciques and Cemí Idols:  The Web Spun by  Taíno Rulers Between Hispaniola and Puerto Rico, 2009, 59)

For the Taínos, the original inhabitants of the islands of Puerto Rico and Hispaniola, the supernatural occurred on a daily basis.  Oliver gives the example of a tree moving its roots.  But a better explanation might be how my friend once described the literary genre magical realism:  “It’s like, say you’re cooking in the kitchen and a rooster walks in through the back door and starts talking to you.  And you talk back.”

According to Oliver, any individual could have an occult experience–dreams, visions, or trees moving their roots before your eyes–but only trained practitioners could interpret the meaning of those experiences.  Through ceremony and ritual, these practitioners gave shape to the moment, giving it a name, voice, personage all embodied (with artisan help) in an actual, physical manifestation.  The result was the cemí, an interpretation, a hypothesis, a reading which represented that experience risen to the level of extraordinary human perception by the sorcerer/shaman/priest/scientist who then took it further and lifted it to the level of ordinary human understanding as a carving in wood or stone, a petroglyph.

The petroglyph (or other “iconic object”) was therefore a bridge between the specialized knowledge of the shaman and the individual’s personal experience, triangulating by its very existence into something that could be shared by or within the community and society as a whole (placed on a personal or communal altar, prayed to, left offerings for, etc) (Oliver, 61).

Atabey is one of the oldest, most revered and iconic of the petroglyphs that have passed down to us today.  She is understood to represent the female side of their supreme deity, is associated with water and childbirth, and is seen as a founding or “universal mother” of the Taíno tribes today.  You can also find her inspiration, whether intentional or not (although I think Yasmín Hernandez is too fabulous not to have done this on purpose) in Puerto Rican women’s art, poetry and activism:

Todas Mujeres, 2005 by Yasmín Hernandez

Shameless Plug

Day 6: A Poem

One dark and stormy night, @Latinegro founded the 30 Day Latino Blog Challenge. He scheduled it to coincide with Latino/a and Latin American Heritage Month (I hate the word Hispanic) which began today and ends October 15th. And, hospitable fellow that he is, he’s invited any Latino blogger to join in.

Since I can count on one hand the number of fellow Afrolatina bloggers I know, I think I’ll take the plunge. After all, I haven’t written a post specific to Latina or Afrolatina issues for awhile now. For 30 days and nights, I owe the interwebs at least two paragraphs on the topic o’ the day. To follow along (or backtrack) click the tag “latina/o heritiage month.” Today’s topic(s): A Poem (original or quoted)o

Whew!  I’m glad this one is easy because it is damn near midnight.

How I’m feeling these days.  Affirming myself, my body, my profession, my writing, my spirit, my anger and my lust.  Massaging and loving every part of me–and sharpening my knives as I do it.

that anger bone mal mama
that rattle painted red, painted fresh blood, slaughtered enemy
hung with strong feathers, guts of vipers
I’ll knock down this old long house this weary war horse
these dry rituals called
how are you
I want that brown thigh bone
carved with eagle beak
that club dig it out of the dirt
mal mama spirit stole my bones put them in her burying jug
sealed me up in wax and ashes
I crack out
arrange my bones in their naming places
I take what I want
shaking my sacred hair dancing out taboo
I mark out the space I am
with knives

~Chrystos, “Give Me Back,” This Bridge Called My Back: Writings of Radical Women of Color, 197 (1981)

Chrystos

Day 5: Love is Wealth

One dark and stormy night, @Latinegro founded the 30 Day Latino Blog Challenge. He scheduled it to coincide with Latino/a and Latin American Heritage Month (I hate the word Hispanic) which began today and ends October 15th. And, hospitable fellow that he is, he’s invited any Latino blogger to join in.

Since I can count on one hand the number of fellow Afrolatina bloggers I know, I think I’ll take the plunge. After all, I haven’t written a post specific to Latina or Afrolatina issues for awhile now. For 30 days and nights, I owe the interwebs at least two paragraphs on the topic o’ the day. To follow along (or backtrack) click the tag “latina/o heritiage month.” Today’s topic(s): A story about growing up Latino

When I think of growing up Latino, I think of my aunt’s house.  She lived in Wrigleyville, a stone’s throw away from Wrigley Field.  She’s a rabid Cubs fan & we are a Cubs family–I was watching games on TV with Nuñez Abuela before I could speak.  Both Nuñez Mom and Nuñez Tía worked full time.  Abuela watched me, Little Sis and my cousin at the Wrigleyville House until we were old enough to watch ourselves and stay home.  They days ran like clockwork–créma for breakfast, café and toast at ten, lunch (sandwich) at noon, a hard boiled egg as a snack before naptime and then a larger meal for dinner.  Sometimes, Abuela took us grocery shopping–I learned the CTA schedules early in life–and sometimes we’d visit family friends around the neighborhood, sitting on plastic covered couches and fingering doilies while Abuela gossiped with small, wrinkled, brown women who smelled like talc and cooking grease.  When my mother would pick us up, she might arrive with my aunt or alone and we’d wait for her.  Then, for a brief moment, everyone would be together.

It took me a long time to realize not everyone grew up that way–in a kind of puppy pile of warmth & love interspersed with the biting critique and minute insecurities that seem to haunt companies of women in any context.  I look back and those days are refracted through bursts of Puerto Rican/Chicago Spanish, battles over hair and hair texture, school projects that did not meet my grandmother’s approval (I once brought home a worm colony and she made me flush the entire thing down the toilet in disgust; I sobbed for the rest of the day) and gender wars between me and my sister and our near-white boy cousin who could sneeze and throw Abuela into hysterics of concern.

At no point did I wonder if the women in my life loved me enough.  At no point did I feel neglected because my father also worked all day and, slowly but surely, disappeared from me and my sister’s life.  Why should I?  I had Abuela.  I had my aunt and mother.  I had my sisters and my cousin.  Only later did I realize that there were people out there who were looking at me, my mother, my grandmother and the line of women we came from as social problems that needed to be fixed. #Reaganbaby

And at no point did I wonder about speaking two languages or eating platanos at every meal or drinking coffee at age eight.  To this day, I keep away from café au lait and white, buttered toast–I will tax six slices a sitting as though I’m still a metabolizing tween.

I’ve written before (see Y Tu Abuela Part 1 over at my last place of residence) about what it’s like to grow up a black-brown girl in America.  In a lot of ways, that’s what this blog is about.  And I’ll give you the summary:  It’s hard.  You get placed in boxes of #actright and if you don’t play your role you can be ostracized as #notenough.  Not political enough.  Not activist enough.  Not proper enough (or not hood enough).  Not brown enough (or too brown).  Not kinky enough (or too kinky).  Not bilingual enough.  Not Catholic enough (or too much).

Outsiders don’t understand how you can be both and never contradict each (a fact of my DNA, #sorry).  You fall into familiar traps of internalized racism and worry about everything from ozone rays to where to find the perfect Dominican blow out to whether or not your nails are long/red/sparkly enough.  That’s right; I affirm the superficial here because navigating a version of femininity that empowers all aspects of yourself is as much work as reading Toni Morrison’s Bluest Eye.

And don’t be queer. #doubledoubletoil&trouble  And don’t be transgender.  #fireburn&cauldronbubble

The narrative here isn’t unique to being Puerto Rican and black.  As a result of my liminal identity, I’ve gravitated towards women from all tracks of life who are edgy in their own ways, who are also stepping out of bounds or trying to figure out how to do so.  Some are also of mixed race (and I don’t mean the folks who run around excited about being some mestiza-melangé where interracial sex occurs in some vacuum of power and is only about the purpoted transcendent power of love–I’m not a believer.  i.e., Barack is black).  Others, having pulled themselves into the upper echelons of the middle class despite the pitfalls of intergenerational poverty, wracked education systems and general stigma, discovered to their chagrin that the so-called progressive (black) elite is less than enthusiastic about sharing the stage with contemporaries who are “loud,” “dark,” etc.  Some are Bad Black Girls who eschew marriage, traditional gender roles and affirm their right to an aggressive and robust sexuality.  Some are survivors of rape and sexual assault who, galvanized by a violence that should not have occurred, never look at the world the same way again.  Some are all of these at once.  And I love them all.

But…

on the other hand…

for the most part…

…when I think about growing up Latino, I also feel  like “Nikki-Rosa” (1967):

…and I really hope no white person ever has cause

to write about me

because they never understand

Black love is Black wealth and they’ll

probably talk about my hard childhood

and never understand that

all the while I was quite happy.

Days 3 & 4 (Two for Price of One!)

One dark and stormy night, @Latinegro founded the 30 Day Latino Blog Challenge.  He scheduled it to coincide with Latino/a and Latin American Heritage Month (I hate the word Hispanic) which began today and ends October 15th.  And, hospitable fellow that he is, he’s invited any Latino blogger to join in.

Since I can count on one hand the number of fellow Afrolatina bloggers I know, I think I’ll take the plunge.  After all, I haven’t written a post specific to Latina or Afrolatina issues for awhile now.

For 30 days and nights, I owe the interwebs at least two paragraphs on the topic o’ the day.  To follow along (or backtrack) click the tag “latina/o heritiage month.” Today’s topic(s): Favorite Spanish food & What Latino Blog I recommend

Arroz con Gandules recipe available @ ElBoricua.com

Favorite Spanish Food:

Like most Puerto Rican grandmothers, Nuñez Abuela is famous for her cooking.  Back in the day & once upon a time, my now adult cousin (@lcm1986) played Little League.  Once a year, during the summer, and around his birthday, the parents of the players would get together in Horner Park in Chicago and have a huge barbecue.  This being baseball (hell, this being Chee-ca-go) the majority of the players were of Latino descent, Mexican and Puerto Rican especially.  That meant a whole lot of goodness got thrown down on these picnic tables:  arroz con gandules, pernil, arroz con pollo, platanos (maduros, please), potato salad, macaroni and cheese, ribs, hamburgers, hot dogs….and somewhere in there a salad or two (lechuga, tomate, and cucumber with some aceite, salt and vinegar to dress).

Every year, Nuñez Abuela would make two or three huge trays of arroz con gandules for the picnic.  Succulent, warm, with a rich, savory flavor that just burst all over your tongue.  It was a meal in and of itself–but of course you had to have it with some pernil and platanos.  And you were lucky if there was any left by the end of the day.  People would ask months. in. advance. about Abuela’s arroz.  So that when @lcm1986 got too old to play, people would still come around and ask my aunt to get some of Abuela’s arroz for this or that wedding, bar mitzvah, birthday party, christening, funeral…anywhere that families and friends were gathering and celebrating life, Abuela’s arroz would be there too.

Abuela has stopped making it so often.  She is older now and the various fêtes over the years have served their purpose–children are now adults, adults are now married, babies are baptized and loved ones have passed on to the tune of her cooking.  But whenever I come back into town, even on short notice, I am guaranteed to visit her and smell her arroz cooking on the stove.  As though I never left.  And whenever I leave to head back across the country, around the world, wherever my travels are destined to drag me, it is always with a covered Tupperware, sometimes still warm from the stove, filled to the brim with arroz.  A little bit of home to carry with me and a reminder of a love waiting for me to return.

What Latino Blog I Recommend:

I know, I know.  Since I am participating in @Latinegro’s blog challenge I should nominate him.  I’ll just let that go as a matter of course–because you should go visit his blog, Inside My Head.  The man is an artist in the best sense of the word:  a writer & a poet, a social media architect who has held down and continues to hold down afrolatinidad and Latism(o) on Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr, helping to create a blogeando community over the years.

But sicin’ him up is just too easy (sorry :).  And having to choose between the other blogs I love is really hard.  But I’m going to recommend a blog by a blogger who blew me away and continues to blow me away since I first embarked on the digital publishing scene in 2007:

I first ran into BFP (brownfemipower) on her blog “Woman of Color.”  I’ve always been attracted to digital media as a way to express ideas, to write and to engage with the world.  I was on AOL Chat (the pre-Twitter) and LiveJournal (the pre-WordPress) before they became cool, joined Facebook when it was still restricted to 12 colleges and universities, experimented with creating websites that might capture the futuristic fantasy novel landscapes in my brain in grammar school.

But I wasn’t sure about blogging.  It felt too public, too exposed.  The commenting platform was terrifying–the idea that not only was I putting rough (in my opinion) material out in the world for all to see but that people might actually talk about how rough I was just struck a real nerve in my insecure, future-Octavia Butler heart.  Like most writers, I wanted my voice out there, I wanted to be heard.  But like most writers, I grew manic at the idea that “they” would hate me, condemn me and stick me in a box.  Then burn it/drown it/[insert worst torture ever here].

Then I ran across Woman of Color Blog and fell in love.  Here was a blog that did everything I wanted to do–theorized race, gender and sexual identity in deep, intense and informed ways, offered information to a world that needed to see woman of color intellectual production, introduced readers to Lourde, Anzaldúa and Moraga by redistributing their work along the interwebs and circumventing censors, firewalls, $$-walls and the false distance Ivory Tower academe had created between them and the women they represented (illegal #machetebehavior to be sure).

I bought This Bridge Called My Back that year because bfp spoke so much about it and it is now on the short list of books that have quite literally changed my life.  And when I bought two more copies (one for each of my sisters) I discovered that it, like so much work by Third Wave and Third World feminists of the 70s, 80s and 90s, is now defunct.  Out of print.  Unpublished.  “Protected” by the firewall of the Archive.  Which made me furious and delirious and grateful to bfp and the other Radical Woman of Color bloggers for their intercession.

Through her blog, I met Suky, @profsurro,@hermanaresist@mamitamala and others…and I watched the blogosphere explode with corporate backing, watched white privilege force what was already a palenque of radical, queer, black and brown feminists writers defending themselves in a swampland of trolls & detractors sharpen the palisade, forge machetes through mother wit and defend their very existence against so-called liberal, “professional,” white feminist writers, thinkers and activists.  This digital Second Wave backlash and upheaval that didn’t quite Katrina the RWOC blogosphere…but for a long time things went very quiet.  I watched them step back, self-care, lick wounds.  At the center of the storm was the Woman of Color Blog and I watched it disappear, reappear, and disappear again–this time for good.

But bfp did not stay away long.  After a brief Twitter presence, she returned flip flopping for joy.  It’s a blog that I won’t try to characterize.  It does everything.  Brown issues, immigration in particular, have a special place but so does alternative healing & radical medicine (see the (re)thinking walking series).  The occasional 80’s YouTube video is interspersed with biting commentary on classist critiques of Rhianna and Eminem.  It is a space that I can always go to and feel accepted without betraying any part of my identity–not my color, my ethnicity, my race, my urbanity, my sexuality, my fantasy and sci-fi tendencies, my anger at violence against women, my optimist and futurist dreams for a better world.

And to the woman of color who has withstood bloodier & messier internet wars and swarms than I hope to ever know: Happy Brown Party Month, mujer.

arriba, abajo, afuera y adentro

*drinks*


Day 2: Cuba

One dark and stormy night, @Latinegro founded the 30 Day Latino Blog Challenge.  He scheduled it to coincide with Latino/a and Latin American Heritage Month (I hate the word Hispanic) which began today and ends October 15th.  And, hospitable fellow that he is, he’s invited any Latino blogger to join in.

Since I can count on one hand the number of fellow Afrolatina bloggers I know, I think I’ll take the plunge.  After all, I haven’t written a post specific to Latina or Afrolatina issues for awhile now.

For 30 days and nights, I owe the interwebs at least two paragraphs on the topic o’ the day.  To follow along (or backtrack) click the tag “latina/o heritiage month.” Todays topic:  What Latin American Country/Island I would love to go to.

I don’t know when I first discovered Cuba, first imagined it as a place I’d want to visit.  As a kid, I knew that Latinos and Afrolatinos came from Cuba because my aunt’s best friend, my cousin’s madrina, is from Cuba.  Like many Cuban immigrants here and their children, she is a white Latina.  As a teen, my aunt told me about Madrina’s initiation during high school into Santería, a branch of the transnational Yoruba system of spiritual belief that found its way to Cuba and Puerto Rico through the creative  resistance of African slaves, and afterwards to the United States through late-nineteenth, early twentieth century migrations of people from those islands to places like New York and Miami.
Back then I didn’t know that Santería was anything more than “devil worship,” which is what many African-Americans believe even today.  I certainly didn’t connect the religion to a longer history of afrolatinidad and #machetebehavior in the Caribbean.  But something about a religion speaking directly to an Afro-diasporic experience kept Cuba on my radar.  Besides which, Nuñez Abuela loved her some Celia Cruz–and they don’t come more latinegra and fabulous than her!  (And never will again #bendición)

My first real sense that Cuba was a place I should  seriously consider visiting began a few years ago, during a run of guest teaching and lecturing for a summer course on the prison industrial complex (along with violence against women, this is my other activism).  My task was to teach a crew of engaged, idealistic and ambitious undergraduates Assata Shakur’s autobiography, Assata: An Autobiography (1987).  Assata was a Black Power activist and is currently living in exile in Cuba under suspicion of murder and attempted murder, among other charges.  But the facts of her case, the validity of witnesses and the evidence, and the culture of violence and espionage that permeated the existence of leftist organizations in the 1970s (earlier this week @NewBlackMan tweeted an article by Marc Perrusquia that exposed Ernest Withers, famed civil rights movement photographer, as a COINTELPRO informant) make it likely that Assata was a victim not a perpertrator.  And yet, as recently as 2005, Assata was listed as a domestic terrorist and a reward was offered for her extradition to the United States (Cuba has refused).

Assata’s story, her childhood, her growing gender awareness and the sophistication of her gender analysis, her fearless, on-the-ground organizing experiences amazed me–but it was her escape to Cuba that really drew my attention.  At this point, I was well aware that black people in the Caribbean came in other flavors besides English and Dutch.  I knew more about Santería (mostly from a college roommate who converted to its Candomblé manifestation on a trip to Brazil) and I was beginning to wrap my mind around an island that was majority black and of Spanish and indigenous ancestry.

But I had no idea Cuba represented something special in the eyes of black Americans.  African Americans have found everything from asylum (Assata is only one of the well-known black exiles to the island though she may be the first high profile woman; men from Robert F. Williams to Eldridge Cleaver preceded her)  to a 2009 Congressional Black Caucus visit to Cuba, blacks in the United States have felt a real affinity toward the island.

A place like that, a place that can inspire the imagination and the ire of people of African descent across the diaspora, is a place I need to see in person because its true nature remains shrouded in everyone else’s dream of what they want it to be.  These are the facts: Cuba is a black island and the majority of the population that remains and does not emigrate to the United States, is black.  And by black I mean of African descent.  Let’s visualize this for a moment:

[Rumba in Havana, Cuba.  Clip from the Boogalu Productions DVD “Rumbon Tropical.”  Courtesy: YouTube/Boogalu Productions]

But this is not what the average American thinks when then they imagine the island.  They hear torture, repression, and terrorism.  Not while they are listening to their iTunes salsa mp3s or eating carne asada at the local Latin@ diner (then they think of kitsch dance movies like Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights where you can’t find a single actor darker than a paper bag) but that is what they envision politically when they imagine Cuba.  At the same time, Joe X Your Neighborhood Black Radical also may or may not duly criticizing the repressive strategies of the island’s government.

Like New Orleans, Cuba is a place invisible and hypervisible at the same time.  Which is fine–if I need to visit Cuba for myself to get at the “truth”–well so be it.

[Edited at 9 am/ET, because my grammar and conceptual thinking fails at life when my clock hits 12 midnight.  Sorry fam]

Day 1: Y Tu Abuela…(Part Two)

Bomba is a traditional Puerto Rican dance w/ heavy African influence (Image: Soy Negra Productions)

One dark and stormy night, @Latinegro founded the 30 Day Latino Blog Challenge.  He scheduled it to coincide with Latino/a and Latin American Heritage Month (I hate the word Hispanic) which began today and ends October 15th.  And, hospitable fellow that he is, he’s invited any Latino blogger to join in.

Since I can count on one hand the number of fellow Afrolatina bloggers I know, I think I’ll take the plunge.  After all, I haven’t written a post specific to Latina or Afrolatina issues for awhile now.

For 30 days and nights, I owe the interwebs at least two paragraphs on the topic o’ the day.  Todays topic:  What I Love Most About Being Latina.

This is easy and it is what brought me to academia in the first place:  I love our complicated relationship with race.

When I go home and look in the mirror, I see the face my father (Alabama by way of Chicago, son of Deep South slaves) and my mother (Chicago by way of New York, daughter of Taino and African peasant farmers who were probably also slaves).  My father’s African ancestry is obvious, but my mother’s is much less clear.  Puerto Ricans still grapple with accepting and internalizing the fact that slavery ended on the island in 1886, years after it did in the United States (1865).  And as opposed to a civil war, it was a gradual process, not a civil war,  began with the Moret Law of 1870 (freedom for slaves born after 1868, slaves who served in the military, slaves over 60 years old) and ended with abolition of the island’s remaining slaves in 1886.  The growing numbers of freedmen and freedomwomen added a complicated dynamic of class and status to a brown-black population already divided by ethnicity (Spanish-descent versus Haitian/French or British transplants from nearby islands), gradations of color (which the Spanish recognized, literally according special privileges lighter skinned people of color), religion, African origin, type of labor and residence (urban versus rural) and chastity (this last for the women, of course.  the men were supposed to be philanderers–how far we’ve come).

My grandfather’s surname was Nuñez, a Portuguese name in theory but given the influx of slaveowners to the island as a result of a series of revolutions beginning with the 1791 slave revolt in Saint-Domingue/Haiti, and the gradual emancipation enacted in first the British then Dutch sugar islands in the 1830s and 1840s, it is possible that some Portuguese mainlander or creole-descended slaveowner found his way to the island.  It is possible he brought with him his slaves–or purchased some.  It is also possible that “Nuñez” drifted into the mix through the Portuguese slave trade which lasted into 1840s…which might mean some of my people are Nigerian or Congo-Angolan….

The result? Though my mother looks, for all intents and purposes, like stereotypical Taina (the island’s original inhabitants were the Tainos, the Caribs and the Arawaks, though the naming process creates artificial boundaries between the groups that may or may not have existed), her sister looks as brown as I am.  Because their father, Nuñez Abuelo, looked like…well…my father.

And yet my grandmother does not describe either of her daughters as black.

Acceptance and denial at the same time.

But I respect how complicated the situation is for my family and for our people, the Boricua diaspora sprawled across the United States.  Our inability to see race in stark terms of black and white, one drop or none, is part of what I love about our heritage.  Unfortunately, our inability to grapple with our own racism is also what I hate most about our heritage.  It’s a hard legacy to fight, teach, learn and grow up a black girl in.  #reasonfortheseason