Things that Latinos Are Tired of Hearing and Explaining

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9 Things Latinos Are Tired of Explaining to Everyone Else

Via FLAMA

Why are Americans so angry? Angrier? Republicans (61%) and white people (54%)

Latinos Rock! Iowa’s Latino voter turnout scored a victory

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SOURCE by David J. Dent, associate professor of journalism and social and cultural analysis at New York University, edits the blog, bushobamaamerica.com, and is the author of a forthcoming book on swing counties. His is also the author of “In Search of Black America: Discovering the African-American Dream.”


Last Monday, a group dedicated to boosting Iowa’s Latino voter turnout scored a victory far more certain than Hillary Clinton’s win over Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.

More than 10,000 Latinos caucused, up from roughly 1,000 eight years ago. And the group, The League of United Latin American Citizens of Iowa, has Donald Trump’s rhetoric on immigration to thank.

The overwhelming majority of Latinos caucused as Democrats, but it was that notorious Republican who motivated many of them to caucus at all.

“I decided to caucus, because I don’t want Donald Trump to become the president,” said Tania Fonseca, 23, a Mexican American who caucused in Marshall County, a swing county in central Iowa that voted for George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004 and President Obama in 2008 and 2012. “I want to learn a lot more about what the presidential timeline looks like.”

Fonseca, like many Mexican Americans, has voted in general elections, but caucusing always sounded a bit intimidating, especially for registered Democrats. The Democratic caucuses require everyone to publicly announce their choices, while the Republican votes are private.

However, Fonseca could not resist the lobbying calls from Latino community leaders to caucus, thanks largely to a Trump rally at Marshalltown High School, located about 50 miles northeast of Des Moines.

It was just one week before the caucus that school officials closed the school early to make room for Trump and his supporters. Fonseca helped organize and advise the student protests that greeted Trump when he arrived. Every Latino voter I spoke to in Marshalltown mentioned the rally and the fear it created among Latinos in this small town of 27,727.

“It’s terrifying but not surprising, because I feel like the tension has always been there.” — Veronica Guevara

“To me, it’s terrifying but not surprising, because I feel like the tension has always been there,” says Veronica Guevara, 24, who grew up in Marshalltown but moved to Des Moines months ago to serve as director of Latino Outreach for the Iowa Coalition on Domestic Violence. “I feel like now, the more front and center it becomes, the more chances we have of actually confronting these issues straight on.”

When Tasnia and her husband, Erich, entered the cafeteria at Fisher Elementary School in Marshalltown, Iowa, on Monday night, they felt like they were confronting a new world. They saw two big crowds huddled together — one side sporting Sanders paraphernalia and the other with Clinton signs.

Then there were the two other small pockets of people in corners of the room who were undecided voters or supporters of former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, who finished third and dropped out of the race the next day.

Erich and Tasnia joined the Sanders crowd. In fact, of the 207 caucus goers at the precinct, 26 were Mexican Americans. They all stood with Sanders, helping him win the precinct with 103 votes to Clinton’s 102 and carry Marshall County.

“Bernie’s track record on immigration is great, and Hillary is not the best on that issue,” said Jacqueline Guevara, a first-time, Mexican American caucus goer who supported Sanders.

Like many Mexican Americans with citizenship, Guevara has relatives who are undocumented and live in fear of being deported — a concern that has only gone up in response to Trump and the GOP primary field’s rhetoric on immigration. “We can no longer sit out on any part of the process,” Guevara said.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF PUERTO RICO’S STATUS, 3 VIDEOS

puerto-rico-map-physical

Puerto Rico (English /ˌpɔːrtə ˈrk/ or /ˌpwɛərtə ˈrk/Spanish: [ˈpweɾto ˈriko]locally also [ˈpwelto ˈχiko; ˈʀ̥iko]), officially the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico (Spanish: Estado Libre Asociado de Puerto Rico, literally the “Free Associated State of Puerto Rico”), is a United States territory located in the northeastern Caribbean. Puerto Rico is an archipelago that includes the main island of Puerto Rico and a number of smaller islands. The capital and largest city is San Juan. The territory does not observe daylight saving time, and its official languages are Spanish, which is predominant, and English. The island’s population is approximately 3.4 million.

Puerto Rico’s rich history, tropical climate, diverse natural scenery, renowned traditional cuisine and attractive tax incentives make it a popular destination for visitors from around the world. Its location in the Caribbean, combined with centuries of colonization and subsequent migration, has made Puerto Rican culture a distinct melting pot of Amerindian, Spanish, African, and North American influences.

Originally populated by the aboriginal Taíno people, the island was claimed in 1493 by Christopher Columbus for the Kingdom of Spain, enduring several invasion attempts by the French, Dutch, and British. During the four centuries of Spanish rule, the island’s cultural and physical landscapes were transformed, with European knowledge, customs, and traditions being introduced, especially Roman Catholicism and the Spanish language. In 1898, following the Spanish–American War, Spain ceded the island to the United States under the terms of the Treaty of Paris.

Puerto Ricans are natural-born citizens of the United States. Puerto Rico does not have a vote in the U.S. Congress, which governs the territory with full jurisdiction under the Puerto Rico Federal Relations Act of 1950. As a U.S. territory, American citizens residing on the island are “disenfranchised at the national level” and may not vote for the President and Vice President of the United States. However, the territory operates under a local constitution, allowing its citizens to elect a governor.

2012 referendum showed a majority (54% of the electorate) disagreed with “the present form of territorial status,” with full statehood as the preferred option among those who voted for a change of status. Following this vote, the Legislative Assembly of Puerto Rico enacted a concurrent resolution to request the President and the Congress of the United States to end the current status and to begin the process to admit Puerto Rico to the Union as a State. As of 2016, Puerto Rico remains an unincorporated U.S. territory.

SOURCE

Rep. Gutiérrez: ‘Take the Heel Off the People of Puerto Rico’

PUERTO-RICO

SOURCE by Hector Luis Alamo is a Chicago-based writer and the deputy editor at Latino Rebels. You can connect with him @HectorLuisAlamo.

On Tuesday, Congressman Luis Gutiérrez of Illinois joined a hearing of the House Committee on Natural Resources on the financial and economic crises in Puerto Rico, which currently faces a $72 billion debt that Governor Alejandro García Padilla says is “not payable.” Before blasting Washington for making the Puerto Rican people dependent on government aid, Gutiérrez, the Puerto Rican pit bull of the lower chamber, prefaced his comments by pointing out that Puerto Rico is a colony of the United States, and therefore at the whim of Congress.

ORGULLOSO DE LO QUE DIJO ESTE BORICUA EN EL CONGRESO - Tienen que ver esto, de verdad. Compártelo, dale share, hazle saber a la gente que aquí no hay inocentes...Hasta los bonistas que le prestaron dinero a un gobierno irresponsable sabiendo que lo era... Así que tiene toda la razón, hay que buscar el desasrrollo económico y si esos cabilderos estuvieran pidiendo herramientas para crecer la economía en vez de paga y punto ya hubiéramos logrado salir de este debate... repito... aquí no hay inocentes. Recuerden que pueden ver las noticias mas importantes del día todas las mañanas en mi pagina de internet http://jayfonseca.com/2016/02/noticias-mas-importantes-del-dia-3-de-febrero-del-2016/

Posted by Jay Fonseca on Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Full hearing of the House Committee on Natural Resources

I’m tempted to leave it at that, since I’m not aware of any speech given by a voting member of the U.S. Congress that more accurately or forcefully describes the root crisis in Puerto Rico — the crisis from which all others spring forth — colonialism. As Congressman Gutiérrez explained, Puerto Rico has belonged to, but hasn’t been a part of, the United States since the Spanish-American war, though I must correct him on one point. Far too many of the Puerto Rican people did welcome the U.S. troops who landed at Guánica, believing the first and greatest democracy of the modern world would either secure Puerto Rico’s independence from Spain or grant it statehood in a few years’ time. It’s been 117 years, six months, and 10 days.

The New York Times published a story on Puerto Rico earlier in the week, in which the island’s economic woes are blamed in part on Puerto Rico’s government-owned power company, PREPA. Founded in 1941 by Rex Tugwell, the last presidentially appointed governor of Puerto Rico, PREPA provides free electricity to… well, just about everybody in Puerto Rico — except the average Puerto Rican citizen. To underscore its point, the Times features the northwestern coastal town of Aguadilla, which boasts “19 city-owned restaurants and a city-owned hotel, a water park billed as biggest in the Caribbean, a minor-league baseball stadium bathed in floodlights … a waterfront studded with dancing fountains and glimmering streetlights,” and even an ice rink “complete with a disco ball and laser lights.” All 78 municipalities and many government-owned businesses receive electricity free of charge. So do a few private businesses. But very little is actually free in this world, and now PREPA is staring down the barrel of a $9 billion debt.

PREPA is merely one symptom of over a hundred years of U.S. colonial policy in Puerto Rico, one that allowed Puerto Ricans to spend and borrow to their hearts’ content while Wall Street played the island’s economy like a rigged game of craps. U.S. creditors allowed Puerto Rico to sink deeper into debt, knowing its constitution prioritizes the repayment of debts and that, since 1984, Puerto Rico has been without Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection (actually, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments concerning the second issue in late March.)

Hence, why solutions to Puerto Rico’s economic and financial crises are joined to the question of its political status. The federal government discussing ways in which to stabilize the Puerto Rican economy and fix Puerto Rico’s finances is no less absurd than parents talking with their child on how best to spend her allowance. As human beings, the Puerto Rican people are guaranteed a few basic rights, but all other rights and privileges flow from the power of the U.S. government. Puerto Rico can’t do anything for itself that Washington doesn’t give its consent to. It’s Congress that steers the ship, and should Puerto Rico run aground, it’s Congress that decides how best to salvage it. The only thing Puerto Ricans can do is flee.

***

SOURCE by Hector Luis Alamo is a Chicago-based writer and the deputy editor at Latino Rebels. You can connect with him @HectorLuisAlamo.

A Brief History of Puerto Rico’s Status

The Noose: An American Nightmare-Warning Six Graphic Videos

THE-NOOSE

noose is a loop at the end of a rope in which the knot slides to make the loop collapsible. Knots used for making nooses include the running bowline, the tarbuck knot, and the slip knot.

The noose, a symbol of hatred from America’s dark past, has resurfaced. Why is it back? CNN’s Kyra Phillips investigates the shocking history of the noose and its re-emergence across the United States.

Vintage Film of one of the greatest, Ismael Rivera a.k.a. “Maelo”, a Puerto Rican composer and singer

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Ismael Rivera a.k.a. “Maelo” (October 5, 1931 – May 13, 1987), was a Puerto Rican composer and singer of Puerto Rican music.

Early life

Rivera was born in Santurce, Puerto Rico, a sector of San Juan, Puerto Rico. He was the first of five children born to Luis and Margarita Rivera. His father, Luis, was a carpenter and his mother a housewife. As a child, Rivera was always singing and banging on cans with sticks. He received his primary education at the Pedro G. Goyco Elementary School and then went on to learn carpentry at a vocational school. He also shined shoes to help his family financially and when he was 16 years old, he worked as a carpenter. During his free time he would hang around the corner with his best friend Rafael Cortijo and sing songs. La Fundacion Ismael Rivera In 1948, Rivera and Cortijo joined El Conjunto Monterrey, where Rivera played the conga and Cortijo the bongos. Rivera was unable to work full-time as a musician because of his work as a carpenter.

Musical career

In 1952, Rivera joined the U.S. Army but was quickly discharged, because he didn’t speak English. When he returned to Puerto Rico, he went to work as a lead singer with Orquesta Panamericana, thanks to the recommendation of his friend Cortijo. With Orquesta Panamericana, Rivera recorded and scored his first hits with the songs “El charlatán”, “Ya yo sé”, “La vieja en camisa” and “La sazón de Abuela”. However, an incident between Rivera and another band member, over a girl, led to his departure from the popular band. In 1954, he joined Cortijo’s Combo and recorded the following songs, which soon became hits in the American Latin community:

  • “El Bombón de Elena”
  • “El Negro Bembón”
  • “Juan José”
  • “Besitos de Coco”
  • “Palo Que Tú Me Das”
  • “Quítate de la Vía Perico”
  • “Oriza”
  • “El Chivo de la Campana”
  • “Maquinolandera”
  • “El Yayo”
  • “María Teresa”
  • “Yo Soy del Campo”

Amazing footage of one of the greatest. Ismael Rivera a.k.a. "Maelo", a Puerto Rican composer and singer of some of the Best Salsa out there.

Posted by Utah Salsa on Monday, January 18, 2016

El Sonero Mayor

Cortijo’s Combo continued to gain fame and so did Rivera’s reputation as a lead singer. Rivera was named sonero mayor by Cuban producer Ángel Maceda, owner of club Bronx Casino in New York; this is based in an interview done to Ismael.

The band went to New York City and played in the famed Palladium Ballroom, where the orchestras of Tito RodríguezTito Puente and Charlie Palmieri also played.

Rivera married Virginia Fuente in 1951. He also had relationships with other women like Gladis Serrano, who was the wife of Daniel Santos. Rivera had five children: Ismael, Jr., Carlos, Margarita, Caridad, and Orquídea. In 1959, Rivera, together with Cortijo and his Combo, participated in the European produced movie titled Calipso, starring Harry Belafonte. He traveled with Cortijo’s Combo, which also included Rafael Ithier and Roberto Roena, to Europe, Central and South America.

Rivera was arrested for drug possession after a trip to Panama with the Cortijo combo. According to later reports, various band members regularly concealed illegal drug shipments, but this time the Customs inspectors were waiting for them. Rivera took the fall, sparing other members. But this event led to the break-up of Cortijo’s Combo. Shortly after, Rafael Ithier regrouped some of the former members and formed El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico.

Upon his release from jail, Rivera formed his own band called Ismael Rivera and his Cachimbos. This successful band lasted for eight years. Rivera reunited with Cortijo and recorded “Juntos otra vez”. Later, Rivera went solo and did well with the recordings of “El Sonero Mayor” and “Volare”. He scored his greatest hit with “Las caras lindas (de mi gente negra)” written by Tite Curet Alonso. On May 14, 1974, Rivera participated in a concert at the Carnegie Hall which was recorded live. Rivera sang a song from Bobby Capó called “Dormir contigo”. One of his last public performances was in Paris, as an opener for Bob Marley in 1978.

Later years

Rivera was a faithful pilgrim of the Black Christ procession in PortobeloPanama, from 1975 to 1985, and even wrote a song about the Black Christ, known affectionately as “El Nazareno”. Rivera was baptized as the “Brujo de Borinquen” in Panama.

The death of his childhood friend, Rafael Cortijo in 1982, affected him emotionally to the point that he couldn’t sing in the tribute to Cortijo celebrated at the Roberto Clemente Coliseum. Rivera was actively involved in the creation of a historical museum which depicts the contributions made to the cultural life of Puerto Rico by the black Puerto Ricans.

Ismael Rivera died on May 13, 1987 in the arms of his mother Margarita, from a heart attack. He was buried at the Villa Palmeras cemetery in Santurce, Puerto Rico.

Legacy

On October 5, 2008, Puerto Rico’s governor Aníbal Acevedo Vilá signed a proclaim stating that every anniversary of Rivera’s birth will be celebrated as “Día Conmemorativo del Natalicio de Ismael Rivera”.

On September 27, 2001, the Puerto Rican Senate approved the law #134 declaring October 5 as “Ismael Rivera Day”. In Villa Palmeras, Santurce, Puerto Rico, there is a plaza named “Plaza de los Salseros” which has a statue and plaque dedicated to Ismael. Celia Cruz recorded a tribute to Ismael Rivera and so did Dario y su ComboRican.

Discography

  • De Colores (1968)
  • Controversia (1969)
  • Lo Último en la Avenida (1971)
  • Esto Fue lo Que Trajo el Barco (1972)
  • Vengo Por la Maceta (1973)
  • Traigo de Todo (1974)
  • Feliz Navidad (1975)
  • Soy Feliz (1975)
  • De Todas Maneras Rosas (1977)
  • Esto Si Es lo Mío (1978)
  • El Sonero Mayor (1980)

Compilations

  • Con Todos los Hierros (1967)
  • Juntos Otra Vez (1974)
  • Eclipse Total (1975)
  • Llaves de la Tradición (1977)
  • Oro (1979)
  • El Sueño del Maestro (1980)
  • Sonero No. 1 (1982)
  • Maelo… El Único (1992)
  • Legend (1992)
  • El Sonero Mayor Vol. 1 (1992)
  • El Sonero Mayor Vol. 2 (1997)
  • El Sonero Mayor: Latin Roots (1999)
  • Maelo: The Fania Legends of Salsa Vol. 8 (2001)
  • La Época de Oro Vol. 1 (2002)
  • Historia Musical de Ismael Rivera (2004)
  • Salsa Legende: Best of Ismael Rivera (2004)
  • La Experiencia (2004)
  • Mucho Corazón (2005)
  • Su Época Dorada Vol. 1 (2007)
  • Su Época Dorada Vol. 2 (2007)
  • Dos Grandes de Siempre: 16 Éxitos (2008)
  • Grandes Éxitos Vol. 2 (2008)
  • La Herencia (2008)
  • Historia de la Salsa (2009)
  • Greatest Hits (2009)
  • La Esencia de la Fania (2009)
  • A Maelo (2011)
  • Selecciones Fania (2012)
  • El Sonero Mayor (2012)

Further reading

  • Ismael Rivera, el sonero mayor (1993) by César Pagano (Colombia)
  • Salsa, sabor y control!, sicologia de la musica tropical (1998) by Ángel G. Quintero Rivera
  • Dos libros sobre Maelo
  • Dialogo (1998) by Francisco Cabanillas U.S.
  • Bailando en casa del Trompo (1999) by Lil Rodríguez (Venezuela) and
  • Ismael Rivera, el sonero mayor by Rafael Figueroa Hernández.
  • “El Entierro de Cortijo” by Edgardo Rodríguez Juliá.

SOURCE

Coming Out As Black, When You Were Hispanic

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Teen Elaine Vilorio spent years trying to make sense of her racial identity. She describes herself as Hispanic, but other people see her as black. Vilorio speaks to guest host Celeste Headlee about her recent HuffPost Teen blog, ‘Coming Out As Black.’


CELESTE HEADLEE, HOST:

This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I’m Celeste Headlee. Michel Martin is away. Coming up, a celebrity chef shares some tasty summertime recipes and juicy stories about his clients. But first, we’ll turn to the issue of race and identity. The question of, what am I, is one that a lot of teens ask themselves and the answer can be quite complicated for multiracial kids.

It’s something that Elaine Vilorio has thought a lot about. She’s a high school senior, originally from the Dominican Republic. Over the course of her life, people assumed she was black and that bothered her. But two years ago, after she stopped chemically straightening her hair, the change in her appearance made her rethink her roots. She wrote about that in a Huffington Post piece titled “Coming Out as Black,” and Elaine Vilorio is now here to tell us more. Welcome to the program, first of all.

ELAINE VILORIO: Thank you, I’m happy to be here.

HEADLEE: First of all, let me ask you, why did you phrase it that way, coming out as black?

VILORIO: Well, people have always asked me, you know, like you said, you know, if I was black consistently, and I’ve always denied that. So I thought that was a very fitting way, a very dramatic way to say that I finally have admitted, you know, this Afro identity, so to speak, when it’s always been there. Coming out, I finally can say it out loud, and I can finally explain to people, yes, I have African roots in me and that’s okay.

HEADLEE: Well, when you talk about racial identity, it’s something you’ve written about quite a bit as well.

VILORIO: Yes.

HEADLEE: What is racial identity for you? Is it about the way you see yourself or how others see you?

VILORIO: I mean, it’s a combination of both. I think people perceive me and they separate Afro-descendancy from, you know, the Hispanic identity. Hispanic identity doesn’t really take into account that African racial root. You know, I see myself as a predominantly black Hispanic. And then other people, you know, they just see a mixed person, just mixed. Blackness isn’t really, you know, acknowledged.

HEADLEE: You know, the Dominican Republic has kind of an uneasy relationship with race and…

VILORIO: Yes.

HEADLEE: …and the darkness of one’s skin. What did you learn about this issue, black versus Latina, during your time in the Dominican Republic?

VILORIO: When I came here, you know, I was really, really small. I never had gotten the question of what I was. I never really understood what that was. So when I encountered, you know, other kids who had grown up here more than I had and they asked me, you know, what was I?

And I was a little confused. I was like well, I’m from Dominican Republic and you know, they always said, oh well, you know, I thought you were black. And I had never gotten that. I’d never, for you know, for Dominican kids it’s always, you know, you’re Dominican. So national identity was placed above racial identity, whereas here I found that racial identity was pinpointed first.

HEADLEE: Although Dominicans, they identify – if you want to talk about black, they usually identify black as equivalent to Haitian.

VILORIO: Yes.

HEADLEE: And that’s not seen as a positive thing. Being black is not considered to be positive in the Dominican Republic. How did that attitude affect the way you answered that question?

VILORIO: I had never consciously thought about it until a couple years ago when I stopped chemically straightening my hair. But I had always, you know, grown up with those subtle phrases like, stop being such a Haitian and you know, that’s an equivalent to, let’s say, stop being so stupid. The other day, I came home really, really tan and my mother was like, oh my goodness, you look like a Haitian, this is horrible. So you know, my mother was…

HEADLEE: What did you say to her?

VILORIO: Oh, I was like, oh my goodness, mother, you know, it’s not a big deal, I’m just a little tan. But I was – it’s something that I was used to. And I was thinking about this. I was like, man, you know, this just keeps coming up, this whole, you know, subtle racism type of thing. I’ve seen, you know, Afro-Latinos to use that phrase, Latinos who have obvious, you know, Afro descendancy separate themselves from blacks by putting them off, you know, using stereotypes like, oh my goodness, they’re so uneducated and blah blah blah.

And I’ve always thought, well, you look like them. And they’re referring to, you know, American blacks. I’m just thinking, so you look like them. You’re putting these people in, you know, this category but what about you? And that’s always been something that’s bothered me.

HEADLEE: Well, when you say you acknowledged it, last year you actually wrote an article, “Another Latina Nerd Tells Her Story.” In that, you talked about the confusion you’ve had over your racial identity and you identified very proudly, very firmly as Latina and Hispanic.

VILORIO: Yes.

HEADLEE: This year, you wrote another very firm, very confident, again, article, again in the Huff Post, in which you say, I am black.

VILORIO: Yes.

HEADLEE: So what changed?

VILORIO: I mean, I still identify strongly as a Hispanic because, you know, that is my culture. I – you know, my parents raised me on the values that they grew up with. And then also I had, you know, growing up in America and in the American school system. So I had, you know, that bicultural influence. But racially I’m black. You know, I can say that I’m black. And being black and being Hispanic, Hispanic being a culture and black, you know, being associated with a culture, yes, but also with a race, you can be racially black and you can be, you know, culturally Hispanic. And that was something that I wanted to combine and that I want to explore further and talk about more.

HEADLEE: I’m glad to hear you say explore this more, Elaine, ’cause, I mean, as a 40-something mixed race person, I can tell you that your journey into the world of racial identity is just beginning. Where do you go from here? What’s your next step in kind of determining this? Or is there going to be a point at which you say, look, call me what you will, I know who I am?

VILORIO: I would like to educate people and breaking down, you know, a little bit of the stereotyping and the racism that goes on with people that are Hispanic and are racially black but then try to separate themselves from, you know, other black people here in the United States.

HEADLEE: Are you about to graduate, Elaine?

VILORIO: I am, yes. This June.

HEADLEE: Well, congratulations.

VILORIO: Thank you.

HEADLEE: Moving on to college?

VILORIO: Yes, that’s right.

HEADLEE: Well, good luck in the future.

VILORIO: Thank you.

HEADLEE: Elaine Vilorio, a high school senior, for just a few more days, from New Jersey. She was kind enough to join us from our New York bureau. Thanks so much.

VILORIO: Thank you for having me.

Copyright © 2013 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.

SOURCE

RACE, IDENTITY & PERCEPTIONS: This Latina Wants You to Stop Denying Her Her Blackness

IDENTITY

This Latina Wants You to Stop Denying Her Her Blackness – Because Race Is Complicated

(Content Warning: racial slurs)

Originally published on Vanessa Martir’s Blog and republished here with the author’s permission.

I’d been in Wellesley for all of a few weeks when it first happened.

It was the fall of 1989, my first year in boarding school. I was walking with another ABC (A Better Chance) student back to our dorm on the outskirts of the Wellesley College campus.

We were the “scholarship kids”— her a St. Lucian girl from Flatbush, me a Boricua-Hondureña [Puerto Rican-Honduran]* from Bushwick. We were walking along Washington Avenue, the main street that runs through the town, past the Town Hall that looks like a castle, and the duck pond.

I don’t remember what we were talking about or if we were even talking, but I remember his face, bloated and red and angry.

He stuck that face out of the truck that slowed down as it passed, then he threw a lit cigarette at us, two teenage girls – her 16, me 13 – and said, “Go home, n*ggers.”

We jumped away to avoid getting burnt and stared at the truck as it sped off. She started crying, a quiet, blubbering cry that shook her shoulders. I stayed quiet the rest of the walk home.

The following year, a black girl who was all of a shade darker than me told me I didn’t know prejudice – “because you’re not black.” She pursed her lips and shook her head. I thought back to that lit cigarette and that bloated, red face.

***

In the summer of 1985, my mother took us to Honduras for the first time.

One morning, my brother Carlos and I were picking naranjas [oranges] off the tree whose branch extended out into our family’s patio.

We were just kids – I was nine, Carlos was 13. We just wanted some oranges.

Suddenly the neighbor came running out of her house screaming. She called us malditos prietos, thieves and criminals for picking fruit off her tree. She said she’d rather they rot than have us eat them.

My brother pulled open an orange with his fingers, put it to his mouth and sucked on it while he stared at that woman. She sneered and called him, “un prieto sucio” [a dirty dark-skinned/Black person].

My brother laughed, juice dripping down his chin, grabbed my hand, and walked off. I gave her the universal fuck you sign – the middle finger.

***

I didn’t grow up talking about race. There was no time for that.

There were other more important issues – like keeping the fridge full and making sure that crack, the drug that ravaged our neighborhoods in the late 80s and 90s, stayed outside our doors.

It was hard enough keeping the family together, but I look back now and can see the ways that race influenced my life: in how my sister was always called the pretty one “con su pelo rubio” [with her blond hair]; that black girl in seventh grade who said, as my friends and I were walking by, “I hate these little Spanish bitches swearing they all that.”

Sure, there were some racial tensions in the largely black and Puerto Rican neighborhood I grew up in in Brooklyn, but the pervasive issue was poverty.

We were all poor.

We all lived in the rubble and crack that was 1980s Bushwick.

***

The summer before my senior year, I participated in the LEAD Business Program at UPenn’s Wharton School of Business for three weeks.

One day, we were talking about who knows what when I started talking about my sister, how amazing she was, how I looked up to her, how gorgeous she was.

“She has this straight blonde hair and light eyes. She’s just beautiful.”

A black boy I had a thing with said, “You talk like she’s all that because she’s white, Vanessa.”

I didn’t know what to say, but I look back on that moment as a key step in my awakening to my racial consciousness and the ways that the European ideals of beauty were instilled in me.

***

Years ago, my mother told me a story of when we kids were really little.

She went to a “face to face” (pronounced “fay tu fay”) appointment at the welfare office and brought us in tow – my sister, la gringa [the light skinned/white one] who then had almost-white-blonde hair; my brother, el moreno [the dark-skinned/black one]; and me, la india [the Indian/Indigenous/darker-skinned but not as dark-skinned person as morenos].

The case worker stared at us then back at mom. “Those are your children?” she asked.

“Seguro,” [of course] mom said, without blinking.

“Those are not your kids!”

The woman said we didn’t even look like we were related to each other, much less to her. She accused mom of trying to cheat the system, and even called security, threatening to bring her up on fraud charges.

Mom said, “Yo le quería meter en la cara con las actas de naciminto de ustedes,” [I wanted to hit her on the head with your birth certificates]. And if I know my mom, she would have done exactly that, smack that woman upside her head with her paperwork.

***

We hear so much about those Latinos who straight out negate their blackness.

Like my ex-boyfriend’s Dominican mother who whispered with pride that Trujillo was her distant cousin. I heard this woman say, “Yo soy india”  [I’m Indian/Indigenous] several times over the six year relationship I had with her son.

I remember staring at her full lips, wide nose, and coarse hair, her dark skin that she took caution with, staying out of the sun, walking around with an umbrella on especially beaming days, “Ay no, ese sol me va ‘cer prieta y yo no soy prieta,” [Oh no, this sun is going to make my dark/black but I’m not black.”

It all made sense when I learned the history of the Dominican Republic and how Trujillo would put make up on his face and hands to lighten his skin.

***

In an interview in the March 2015 VONA newsletter, Mat Johnson wrote:

I thought the mixed race advocates were sellouts at first, just trying to run away from their own blackness. Over time, though, I began to feel that by just saying I was black I was denying half of my family and my own cultural influences. Also, I was being forced to fit into an archetype that visually I didn’t fit. The constraint and struggle of that started to wear me down, so I had to reexamine my identity.

Your proclaimed identity should fit you, not the other way around.

I’ve been thinking a lot about race, as a Boricua-Hondureña[Puerto Rican-Honduran] who identifies as both black and indígena [indigenous], because I am both and neither is mutually exclusive.

Here’s the thing, I’m all for conversations about blackness. They are necessary. But to have a complete conversation, we need to talk about how some people, African American and even my own Latino people, have denied me my blackness because “you don’t look black,” they’ve said.

The issue is that people like me do not fit into their construct of what race is.

I’m writing this as I stare at a picture of my deceased brother and I to the left of my computer screen. When you negate my blackness, you deny him as my brother. I can’t have that. I won’t have it. I will respond viscerally.

I get that this essay is going to get some folk riled up and shifting uncomfortably. I’m cool with that. These conversations are necessary and long overdue.

Yes, I am black. I am also indígena.

It is not up to the world to decide my identity for me. Seriously, what’s good with this policing of one’s racial and cultural identity? To say that I have a “choice” is to say that I can “choose” to deny my black brother and my black aunt and my grandmother and my great grandmother and the long history of blackness in my blood.

Not gonna happen.

This construct of race is much more layered than people want or care to admit.

I’m cool with dialogue. I am not cool with some cualquiera [whatever] claiming dominion over my identity.

You can take several seats with that pendejada [bullshit]. I’ll open an auditorium full of seats for you, if you wish.

 ***

I had someone, an academic, try to impose the label of “afro-latina” on me. Friends have asked me, “Why don’t you call yourself afro-latina?”

It’s an accusation.

They are saying I am denying my blackness.

Here’s the thing: Yes, I am black, but that’s not all of who I am.

It’s problematic to impose an identity on someone. It’s problematic when my blackness is denied of me because “you don’t look black.”

Because my hair is curly and my skin is that of my Mayan ancestors, because, see, I’m not just black, tambien soy indígena [I’m also Indigenous]. One does not negate the other. Why does it have to?

I think of my great-grandmother Tinita, her skin brown like the frijoles [beans] she shelled in the patio for hours, her waist-length hair pulled back into a braid that hung over her shoulder.

When she heard about what the neighbor had said to my brother and me, she laughed her toothless laugh and pulled us into her chest. “Si somos prietos, y que?” [Yes, we’re dark-skinned/Black, and so what?]

Then she sat us down and served us tortillas and frijoles with her specially made crema and the white cheese she soaked all day to remove some of its saltiness.

***

One time, when I was in my mid-twenties, I went to a barbecue at my mom’s house with my boy, an African American writer.

Mom greeted him politely and showed him how to climb out the window of her first floor apartment into the backyard where the grill was already on and people were milling around eating and sipping on beer.

When he was outside, Mom pulled me aside and said: “Tu no estaras con un moreno, Vanessa.” [You are not going to be with that black man, Vanessa.]

I gasped and said, “Ma, you know we’re black, right?”

She rolled her eyes and went back to seasoning the meat.

***

When was eight or nine, I was playing with a black boy from around the corner named Damon. We were playing scully in the street with the bottle caps we filled with wax.

My second mom Millie, a Boricua straight from the campos [rural area] of Lares, was sitting on the stoop of our building peeling an orange with her pocket knife.

She called me over, feigning to offer me a piece.

When I reached for it, she pulled me closer and whispered, “No te atrevas enamorarte de uno d’esos prietos, ¿oistes?” [Don’t you dare date one of these black guys, you hear?]

I ate that orange slice slowly, trying to hide my frown.

When I was done, I told Damon that I had to go inside. I didn’t play with him much after that.

***

Race is a complex thing.

It’s been a unique experience for me as a Latina who looks more like her indigenous roots, but who is one of only five light-skinned people in my family, my mom, my sister and me, and our kids.

Once, when I was pregnant with my daughter, my daughter’s father said some shit to me that still shocks me ten years later.

We were on our way home after having dinner at my grandmother’s house with the rest of my family. I was rubbing my huge belly when he looked over at me and said, “Our kid could be black, V.”

He sounded exasperated.

An “Oh my God” lingered in the air like one of those fogs in scary movies that portends some shit is about to go down.

“And?” I said, all Brooklyn attitude and what the fuck.

“Nothing, I’m just saying, ma.” He knew he was in trouble.

“You know your mother’s black, right?” I said and glared at him.

He sucked his teeth and rolled his eyes. “Ay, forget it,” he said.

We never talked about it again, but I wondered what crossed his mind when he saw our daughter for the first time. I wonder if he said a silent prayer thanking God for her having inherited his lighter skin.

***

This essay has been simmering in me for a long time, but I knew I had to write it when the other day a black poet attacked VONA for not including any black alumni in the line-up of a faculty-alumni reading at an AWP event entitled Consequences: VONA/Voices Generation One.

There are multiple issues with the accusation (including an assumption of maliciousness without knowing how the alumni were selected), but this essay addresses one: the negation of my blackness and that of another Latino writer on the line-up.

This woman talked about the invisibility of blacks without realizing (or perhaps, not caring) that she too was imposing invisibility on Latinos like me who have time and again been denied their blackness.

I took that rage and put it into this essay.

Race is such a layered, complex thing.

I won’t pretend to have all the answers. I won’t pretend to know fully how to confront and talk about race in ways that will make everyone happy.

I understand that my views on race are complicated by my experience being one of two or three Latinas in the entire boarding school I attended, at a time where race was polarized into white and black (which is still very much is).

I had too much melanin and was too Latina to fit into the white world, and I was poor to boot. I didn’t have enough melanin to fit in with the black kids, so where did I belong? I didn’t.

I had to learn how to pave my own path. Create my own little niche, which largely meant solitude. That solitude gave this rage time to gestate.

This is what I know at almost 40:

1. I cannot and will not deny my indigenous blood to fit a construct of race that’s not inclusive of the layers that make me me, especially since my appearance is clear evidence of that Mayan blood.

2. To deny a Latin@ her blackness just because she doesn’t “look black” or has a different experience because she’s not African American, is to be ignorant of history.

There were millions more Africans taken to the Caribbean and Latin America in the African slave trade. You think racism is bad in the US? Go to Latin America, and then we can talk.

This attempt to erase my history and my blood because it doesn’t fit into your construct of race is problematic on numerous levels, and must be included in these oftentimes uncomfortable conversations about race.

3. I’m done being politically correct and trying to tiptoe around these conversations because I’m often attacked or dismissed. That shit’s been happening to me since I was a kid, and I’m tired of it.

I have my story and you have yours. A dialogue is possible, albeit probably uncomfortable, but for you to impose your view of blackness on me is a single story, and we already know what Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has to say about that: it’s dangerous.

This is why I penned this here essay: because I’m tired of the divisiveness within our own communities.

I counter and confront it in the way I do best: by writing about it, screaming and raging and crying on the page. Es con hablar que nos entendemos. [It is by talking that we understand each other.] I’m ready to talk when you are.

SOURCE


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