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.
on the other hand…
for the most part…
…when I think about growing up Latino, I also feel like “Nikki-Rosa” (1967):