Thursday, August 4, 2016

Mujeres Fronterizas: Putting the Focus on Women of Dajabón, Dominican Republic

When I decided to do research on women in the Dominican-Haitian border, I sought to focus on identity, especifically racial identity. Nothing would prepare me for what I learned, what I saw, the diversity and similarity in the stories of the 25+ women whom I interviewed mostly from Dajabón, Dominican Republic but also from Ouanaminthe, Haiti. The topic of my research was changed by these narratives.
Gloria Anzaldúa writes about borderlands as a place of violence, pain, and una “herida abierta”. She wrote of the border as parallel to her own body as a woman: her body is a place of violence and pain too. The Dominican-Haitian border divided by el Río Masacre—a name that signifies a deep wound still fresh in the elder’s minds—is no different than this. The women of this particular border have their own stories too, their own stories of the type of violence that is very specific to women, and their own stories of resilience.


During my time in Dajabón, I met women coming up with amazing and creative ideas to get ahead in light of the economic hardships that they face on a daily basis. There’s a group of women doing artesanía with the support of different local organizations. While I was there, they held a fair presented to outsiders as being put together by different Centro Puente, La Secretaria de Cultura, y el Cluster de Turismo, to insiders the fair was actually erected by the artesanas themselves who put in the hard labor to make it happen. This fair was precisely to showcase their art, and also to sell. With recycled materials, mostly plastic bottles, they make candlestick holders, figurines, pencil holders, etc. With natural materials like higüera, they made lamps.


There’s also the women from El Centro de Madres in El Pino, who are growing, producing, packaging and selling peanuts, and a bunch of other projects in local towns led for and by women.


What attracts thousands of people to Dajabón though is the bi-national market that takes place every Monday and Friday. Bi-national because it takes place right on the border in order for vendors from Ouanaminthe, Haiti to also attend. At a glance, one can deduce that many if not most of the women are Haitian or of Haitian descent. Whether Haitian or Dominican, they’re certainly almost all women, though it is rarely described or acknowledged as such. The market itself is in bad conditions, with an immense heat, and a lack of hygiene brought on by the huge amount of people cluttered in a space that has become too small. A fire in April of this year destroyed more than 40 vending spots. And yet the cheap prices and the amazing finds make it the place to be in for people from all over, and for locals to both buy and sell. Some Haitian women shared with me during their interviews that they don’t have a choice but to sell items for very low prices in the bi-national in order to sell more, and that in the market in Ouanaminthe they actually sell the clothes for more expensive prices.


The thing that is sold the most here is “pepes”: clothes donated internationally to Haiti. The selling of “pepes” wasn’t really legalized until the early 1990’s by an organization called ASOMUNEDA of mostly Dominican women with some Haitian members. The women  would go to Haiti to buy the packs of clothes (“pacas”) and sell them in different parts of the Dominican Republic.

The President of ASOMUNEDA
The need to shine a light on the border via a women’s studies lens is ever-present, being in Dajabón marked that for me even more. On a personal level, words don’t exist to describe my experience listening to so many stories, but also being accepted by so many in the community so quickly. Dajabón is a tight-knit community with love and passion used as its thread. The people of Dajabón too offered me an ear, a hug, café. I couldn’t have had a better host, ally and friend than Nancy Albamiris del Rosario, or better people to work with than folks like Arelys Rodriguez, Luis Recio, Stevenson Jean Pierre or Dania Toribio who served as a friend.



There are gender-based issues that will never get any spotlight in a male chauvinist society that focuses greatly and often unconsciously on male-dominated fields and issues, whether that be the military or politics: two things that are important to the border. Still, while women are involved in both (and all), and while there are women-specific concerns, women’s narratives or concerns are still majorly excluded. A clear example was the topic of sexual trafficking of young girls which was mentioned in a conference in Pedernales, RD which I attended last week. This conference, the Fourth Annual Gathering of Cross-Border Networks of Protection for Boys, Girls and Adolescents (Cuarto Encuentro Interfronterizo de Redes de Protección de Niños, Niñas y Adolescentes), addressed the need to protect children from commercial and sexual exploitation. A less clear example is the conditions of the market itself.


With this research, I hope to shine a much needed light on the lives of women and women’s issues that exist in border towns, issues that often don’t get as much attention from activists outside the zone. I will return to Dajabón and present to local activists and organizers and to hear their thoughts, feedback and ideas. The border has el rostro de una mujer. It has the face of a black woman. During my interviews I always asked the question, "How would you describe Dominican women?" and "How would you describe Haitian women?" Almost everyone responded without hesitation “courageous”.










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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

I Write To Survive


I took this photo in Prague, Czech Republic 

I write because if I didn't write, my entire life might suddenly disappear before my eyes. I write to make sense of my existence.


There's this anxiety behind my writing, as if my ideas will expire from my head so I have to expose them before they disappear.

As if my life needs to be documented so that I don't fall into oblivion.

Lately I've been writing more, and posting less. Except for this one instance- right now. I've been feeling more. I've been feeling anger, desperation, fear, frustration, pain, anxiety. I have wanted to switch my life completely, let go of everything, I've been wanting to give up.

The truth is I'm exhausted. I'm exhausted of performing day-to-day life in the internet and in person and the constant competition to be right. I'm exhausted from day to day activities. I want to sleep. And be outside. I want to plant a tree and grow a garden. I want to do more work with youth. I want to dance. I embody dance and light.

And I feel hope.

I write to document my emotions. As if I can only make sense of my experience through words.

Or perhaps it comes from a place of power. Because I also write to end the silences, my own silences. This blog was once called "Born 2 B Loud" to fight back against those who told me I was too loud.

This is art. This is power. I write to preserve my full self. To survive. To tell the world that I am here. For self-empowerment. To tell myself that I am here. And when I do, I give up a piece of myself. Some folks believe photographs can capture parts of us and our spirits--writing is the same. After writing, purging, I have to reenergize especially if it's made public. Please, don't take a writer's work lightly. Don't take this lightly. This train of thought is running through my head and landing on this page with fierceness that I can't contain.

This is energy that is often harvested for a while. I write to survive. I write to let go and hold on. To share and keep. To hold on to love and let go of despair. You see, there's hope in typing these words.
And there's also pain.

In every word that I write there's a thousand myths breaking about a little girl who's ideas don't matter. In every word that I write, there's a scream excited to take up all the space that it needs to take up.

I write to knit my love into the fabric of society like my mother and her mother and my dad's brothers and sisters, who's knitting expertise happens in small apartments away from the lights. I write to make sense of my own mortality, expecting words to live beyond me today and in the future. I write to survive.




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Sunday, April 3, 2016

Brujas and Sisters Who Encourage Us To Heal

Art by Kassandra De Jesus (https://www.instagram.com/rebirthyoursoul/) as seen in Brooklyn, NY. 

I encourage myself to believe the answers I seek are within me, though this isn't always easy. As women, we have been taught that inherently we aren't enough, that we have little-to-no worth on our own and that even caring for ourselves shouldn't be a priority. We are taught that we are not whole. Even from a spiritual perspective, we are taught that God is inherently male, and feminine images were very-much stripped of their power or full complexity during the times of colonization and other processes, with only some spiritual practices (which are often afro-indigenous and seen as non-credible) maintaining examples of complex non-male deities or feminine and or non-binary spirits. Therefore, as women, the process of healing and considering ourselves full-human beings can be a difficult. You see, representation matters. (There's a great essay on the importance of representation and specifically Santería written by Elizabeth Tracy for her graduate school thesis here.).

I've written about friendship as a way of healing here, but I also wanted to take a moment to highlight bloggers who challenge these concepts of women as not being whole. Please note that not all of these write of spirituality but rather healing (hence why the title of this piece is brujas *and sisters*). By healing I mean finding inner validation, by healing I mean working to maintain self-love.

All are women of color (most Afro-Latinas). Some I know personally, others I've never met and have been recommended by friends. Check them out:

Tatianna Tarot: 

She's a tarot card reader and ritual practitioner based in Brooklyn, NY who posts general readings that folks can follow daily, and also does a reading through YouTube midway through the month. I took a dancing class with her and did an in person reading-she's so on point. I like that her daily readings are very encouraging. They feel like a daily boost of energy and reminders that we're one with the universe. 

Website: http://www.myurbanillumination.com/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/tatiannatarot/
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCIFsaGXPW7mIx8l6XJP_a8w

Ynanna Djehuty: 

She's an afro-latina midwife vessel of knowledge and strength. In her blog she writes about reproductive and feminist issues. She also does reiki and in person healing sessions that are truly transformative- book her if you can. She recently wrote a piece about Dominican medicinal knowledge with some tips over at La Galería, check it out here. 


The Hood Witch
The Hood Witch seeks to honor timeless knowledge that has either been forgotten or ignored. On her site you can find astrological insights but also a shop for various tools. The best part is that if you shop from her you're supporting a small business. 


Reclaiming Isha
The author of this blog is a courageous and inspiring afro-dominicana who I personally have learned a ton from. Through this blog, she is "Learning to love myself one self care act at a time." She uses this space to write about her own healing process and throughout the way gives insight into healing practices while encouraging us to stay strong. Her writing is on point as she reminds us to take time for ourselves.

 Website: http://reclaimingisha.com/


Fearless Leon
This is a website started by an afrolatina for the woke woman searching to live a fearless life. Fearless Leon led by Ghislaine Leon features writings by women on self-care and healing, as well as music. They also highlight other Fearless women with their series "Fearless Leonas of the Month". 


Who do you follow for healing or encouragement? Let me know, comment below.

*These are a suggestions, what resonates with one person might not work for you*. 


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Friday, March 25, 2016

Andre Veloz: La Bachatera Transforming the Genre


Photo by Rachel Rednor

I recently interviewed the all-around bad-ass Andre Veloz for La Galería Magazine. As a fellow Santiaguera, meeting her felt like reconnecting with home. During the interview, she shared how bachata brings people together in the diaspora even if it wasn't always recognized within the Dominican Republic, she shares her drive and process, and some of her own personal life story. 

Here's an excerpt:

La Fosforera is actively seeking to shift the narrative through her music. In one of her songs she wrote: “In an unequal world that censors women/ the dicha of being born a girl brings about a difficult task/ And even though everyone was once a woman’s child/there are those who forget and torture a woman”(translated from Spanish)
Andre Veloz explains that she resents the lack of women and women’s narratives in bachata. There are very little women and it seems that even when there are women, they’re partnered up with a man.
 “Did you notice that in bachata there’s no woman alone? And when there’s a woman it has to be next to a man? Like Monchy y Alexandra, Carlos y Alejandra, and now Monchy y Natalia. The role of women is, ‘oh you’re good company, back-up singing and eye candy’ but very few are female leads, solos artists, or band leaders” she explains. “Because I take pride in being the boss” she added with a smirk. “Yeah, when I’m the boss, a few musicians have already called me a bitch so I know I’m doing something right”. The artist Alexandra did go solo after separating from “Monchy y Alexandra”, though her career has yet to become mainstream. “I admire Alexandra, we haven’t done her talent justice”, she says of La Reina de La Bachata, “I believe her talent needs to be more recognized.”

Read the full interview here. 

Andre Veloz performs at Tilila. Photos by Amanda Alcantara for La Galería Magazine

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Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Violent Backlash Against Dominicanas

"Amor sin violencia" a campaign by the government against domestic violence.Photo by Amanda Alcantara, Santiago de Los Caballeros, Dominican Republic, August 2014




To be honest, I don't even want to write about it. Patriarchy is very real. It is in our face as femmes everyday, and it is emotionally draining to address every single instant. But this time I can't remain silence. I don't have that luxury.


I'm disappointed at the response to that video of a Dominican woman being forced to walk down the street naked. The victim-blaming is absurd. With it, I'm also reminded of the painful truth that, within our country and even as we leave, Dominican women simply aren't safe. I personally haven't even been able to watch or read any reports on the incident because it hurts.

To be clear, by patriarchy I mean a belief that makes women second-class citizens. A belief that women somehow have to respond to men's needs or are only there for the benefit of men. A belief that women are owned by men. A belief that women are supposed to be santas y a la vez putas. A belief that you gotta be a lady in the street and a freak in the sheets.

There is a large history of patriarchy in the Dominican Republic (and globally), including the sexualization of Dominicanas, and what I believe is a new wave of backlashes against them in the face of sexual liberty. You see, this isn't the first time a backlash against Dominicanas has happened.


The sexualization of Dominican women as mulatas (light and dark-skinned) as well as historical dehumanization, create an inevitable market for sex workers.



Dominicanas as Prostitutes


I read recently that prostitution rose during the very first U.S. occupations in the Dominican Republic and it seems that this dynamic with white men hasn't changed at all today given sex tourism being so popular. During this time, there were a lot of changes also happening in the arena of women's rights with Afro-Dominicanas like Evangelina Rodriguez and Petronila Angelica Gomez at the forefront.

As feminism was growing the women who preached it were told that they were pro-occupation since they were benefitting from the so-called freedom that the occupation was giving to women. These women had to navigate being anti-occupation and pro-feminism.

Indeed, they were deeply criticized for daring to enjoy these benefits. A newspaper in the Dominican Republic at the time noted the following (taken from Personal Occupations: Women's Responses to US Military Occupations in Latin American by Alan McPherson):

“Nine things which our women have learned in six years: To show their legs more than they should. To go marketing playing the role of servants. To become typists and neglect the kitchen. To go out riding in automobiles or in airplanes with whom they think best. To become chauffeurs. To marry for business. To cross their legs in public places. To wear excessively low-cut dresses and to dance in cafes and restaurants.” 

Today, the market for Dominicanas continues to thrive.

When I was in Buenos Aires, Argentina, I was asked if I was a sex worker. Apparently most of the cis-women of Dominican descent who had gone to Argentina especially during the 90's had been sex workers. I was also taken aback by this elder who casually told me when I shared that I was Dominican que las mulatas son mas ricas because we have the sexuality of the black woman and the white woman.

There are Dominican sex workers in Haiti too. They are coveted because they are light-skinned; being lower class puts them in a position to become exploited. Many sex workers prefer Haiti because it means that they can work so far away from home that no-one will know, and close enough that they can travel there easily. This increased after the 2010 earthquake because of the influx of international aid workers (gasp!). Even for voluntary prostitutes, the experience was of exploitation and feeling unsafe--clearly an indication that there needs to be a safety net for sex workers. Some might say that these are light skinned tears, crying for being light-skinned in a society where proximity to whiteness is celebrated. But in this instance, that dynamic is turned on its head: These women are mulatas, in that identity they are whole. What makes them overly sexual if not that they embody blackness and are therefor considered property and exploitable as they have been throughout history as an inheritance of slavery? This coupled with whiteness makes them more acceptable bed-mates in a status quo society that rejects dark-skinned black women. 

Unfortunately, child sexual exploitation is also a thing, a secret that no one discusses in DR but that everyone knows about. "Oh, ese tipo, el va al campo de vez en cuando buscando niñas", they'll say. 


Chapiadorismo, Relationships, and the Elimination of the Middle Man

At the other side of this are chapiadoras. Chapiadoras, in short, are women who get into relationships with men for money. Apparently the word was first mentioned in a song by the artist Chimbala. I can't help but think that the word Chapiadora or Chapeadora, and the word Chapa which means ass, come from the word "chopa" which is short for "shopping girl". Those were women who worked for wages during the 1916 U.S. occupation and who were disliked for gaining independence. From chopa comes the word chopear.   

Much like the "chopa" during the U.S. occupation, chapiadoras are actually disliked by society as much as people want to humor that word. Men are warned to stay away from them. Women are told that it is wrong and immoral. And yet they signify a sexual revolution happening- that to be frank has already in various ways existed in the culture- where women are taking back their power. I can't help but realize that the popularity of the word chapiadora has helped normalize sex in the Dominican Republic for everyone, not just the specific amount of women who do this. The word chapiadora was, actually according to this site, the most used word in the Dominican Republic in 2014.

So it comes to no surprise that there is a backlash now. We saw it against abortion rights in the Dominican Republic in 2015. Imagine the outrage in these meetings were laws were being written! The social and political respectability institutions must be losing their minds with so many women having sex out of wedlock and buying contraceptives and finding independence. 

And recently, the backlash is becoming more and more violent. By January 11th of this year, 7 women have already been murdered by their partners. The statistic by mid-2014 was also higher than it was in the previous year of 2013. 

We're seeing it in la Diaspora too in moments that remind us that our bodies aren't meant to be ours. 

And the way that this ends up being interpreted when the backlash happens is absurd and suggestive of how systems of oppression are perpetuated. People are suggesting that the woman in that video enjoyed being forced to walk naked down the street, that she should've fought back, that she deserved it--why is accountability being misplaced? Who are we protecting? Why is it so difficult for Dominican people to acknowledge sexism when it's in their face? 

The same is said about some of the feminicidios. There's warnings that women need to be careful with men. That "ella se lo busca". That if a man invests so much [money] in a woman then he owns her, she can't just leave him. Many feminicidios are ridiculously romanticized only to be justified as crimes of love. Meanwhile, the outrage for the homicide of men (which rarely happens) even after women express being brutalized by them is quadrupled. Poor women's stories don't always make it to the papers though they happen at staggering rates. 

Shifting the Narrative

Dominican women are coveted and hyper sexualized. And it seems that this entire time it has been okay, except now when many are using this to their advantage and without a male boss or system in place that makes it easy to navigate for men, and enjoying their time doing this as the sexual revolution continues. Women are even becoming front and center even in the music genre of dembow where they sing of sexuality. You can't tell me that a chapiadora or simply the women teaching each other sexual tricks at salones isn't somehow a testament of their ownership of sexuality (in a similar way in which men teach each other "how to get a girl to fuck you", which I bet they do, and are probably rapey as fuck about it). And yes, there are tensions in using sexuality as a mode of power when many are fighting for women's upward mobility to come via other forms. Still, shaming women for choosing sexual agency and using it to their advantage and pleasure is too a problem. 

Masculinity is attacked when patriarchy is attacked, and that becomes more apparent when women take ownership over anything. She has you agarrao by the balls and you don't fucking know how to handle it.

The resistance to this sexual agency by Dominican men--like that previously mentioned story--has historical ties dating to the commodification of women. And yet, it is also a painful example that with every action, there will be a reaction. And that old habits die hard. As a dominicana living in the United States, the over-sexualization and criminalization of my body follows me. And it follows us as a community wherever we go reminding us that this problem is global as well as internal. How can we process this violence against women when Dominican women have already been so hyper sexualized that sharing that video or story doesn't even seem out of the norm? How can we combat patriarchy when our voices are seldom even heard? Our brothers need to step up their game, while femme voices need to be centered. 

We must keep healing and speaking up and fighting to dismantle this racist capitalist hetero-patriarchal society that we live in. In the meantime, mujer, take time to process as these stories and realities come up. Continue building sisterhoods en los salones, en el trabajo, and other spaces--that individual support won't undo these oppressive structures on it's own, but it is key to healing and survival. 

Updated for clarification at 8am on January 22nd.
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Tuesday, December 22, 2015

20 Lessons I Learned This Year

I'm struggling to find the words to introduce these lessons. You see, I had an amazing year. Easily one of the most beautiful ones of my life. It was a year of adventures, blessings and growth. And it was fun.

Pero it was the inner healing that really made this year a memorable one for me. Because with those adventures came challenges, like deciding to go out the next day after almost being robbed in a foreign country; like letting go of whatever fears were holding me back. With those blessings came self-doubts about my worthiness to receive them, like having my article shared by two of my favorite authors or getting a promotion at work. And with that growth came pain, like reliving some traumas in order to release their hurt or finding ways to deal with high levels of anxiety. And there are countless more examples.

So here are my personal lessons for this year, take them or leave them. Also feel free to comment below with whatever you might've learned too.

1. Your value isn't measured by anything except for the reality that you are alive (or once lived). Somos seres humanos, no haceres humanos. (We are human beings not human doings).

2. It may be harder to forgive yourself than it is to forgive others, but you must. Do whatever ritual it takes, whether it's lathering yourself with coconut oil and giving yourself some love, writing a letter forgiving yourself, saying it in the mirror/singing it out loud. Let that guilt go.
Reading, PA

3. Being in love isn't as important or realistic as actively loving. Being in love comes from this idea of "falling in love", when in reality we need to love actively not fall in it. That's how relationships and bonds grow and are cultivated once we fall out of love--which can happen.

4. Love is about sacrifice. Unless that means sacrificing your integrity, your self-worth, your self-respect, your truth. Then it becomes about dependency.

Acción Poetica in Toronto, CA

5. The revolution is a jog, not a sprint. Self-care is important if you're in this for the long run. And so is commitment.

6. You can't lead others or give others love, support, and basic needs if you don't first do that for yourself. And this isn't a call for [capitalist] individualism, but a reminder for those of us who invest time in movements because we feel investing in ourselves isn't as important.

Running through the 6


7. Some people don't like getting called out. And they will resist, and they will block you, delete you, ostracize you, make fun of you... They might even be able to make you feel like shit once you do by gaslighting or getting defensive. These things happen specially if they are in a position of power or if they are more popular. And you will see them hanging out with other people in your crew and wonder if they talk bad about you even though you feel that you can't talk bad about them because if you do, people will pick sides and they might pick them. For that, I'll say what Rosa Clemente recently said in a radio interview, It's about integrity and consistency. If you're true and honest with yourself, you have nothing to worry about.

8. Some people will call you out and sometimes what they say won't be true, other times it will be. Reread what Rosa Clemente said on point number 7. Listen to them, learn, and don't do it again. Fucking up doesn't take away from your worth as a human being.

9. Always valuable: Friends are there for a season, for a reason, or a lifetime.

Villa Soldati, Buenos Aires, Argentina


10. Traveling is okay. So is the fear that might come with being a new place. Be patient with yourself when you try out new things. Be kind. But don't be afraid to push the limits.

11. Making yourself vulnerable is okay whether that be via your art, your work, or an adventure, unless your gut tells you otherwise. Be patient if your gut does tell you "not yet", the time will come to try again.

12. Fuck what other people think. That includes that little voice in the corner of your brain telling you that you're not enough.

Carnival at Port-of-Spain, Trinidad


13. Talents need to be cultivated. If you love writing, don't just say it: do it. Same with dancing, singing, cooking, etc.

14. Something I learned from a workshop at the Sankofa Sisterhood Writer's Retreat: you see those people in your life that make you feel shitty just by thinking of their name. Yeah, cut them off.

15. Jealousy is a human emotion. There's no shame in having it. Let go of the guilt that comes with feeling jealousy, as long as it's not going to affect the other person. Don't be afraid to unpack it and understand it's roots. And don't let it get in the way of what might otherwise be a great relationship.

16. You don't have to fight every battle.

17. Actively search for tools to help you center yourself, calm down, or to simple feel good. Scents really work for me, so I carry around agua florida and keep a lavender spray at home and work.

Buenos Aires, Argentina

18. I heard this one somewhere and it's become my motto: The easiest way out is through.

19. Sometimes we hate on people for no reason. Challenge yourself to appreciate them, sometimes they're a reflection of you. (Also note capitalism makes it seem like we're always in competition, we don't have to be).

20. You deserve all the good things that happen to you.

New York, NY

That's all. What lessons did you learn this year?





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Wednesday, December 2, 2015

20 Things That Do Not Determine Your Worth

1. What happened to you.
2. Your past
3. Your mistakes
4. Your successes/accolades/merits
5. Your lack of successes/accolades/merits
6. How you cope with mistakes (or don't cope with mistakes)
7. Your mental health
8. The amount of things that you do--To be clear, this includes how much organizing you do. How much writing or art you make. How much work you do. How healthy you eat. How healthy you don't eat. Etc.
9. The amount of things that you don't do
10. The amount of friends that you have
11. The amount of haters that you have
12. The amount of people you have sex with or have had sex with or don't have sex with or have not had sex with (AKA body count)
13. The amount of people who love you
14. The amount of heartbreaks you have or haven't had
15. Your relationship status
16. If in a relationship, the perceived worth of your partner--Are they cool? Are they hot? Are they
popular? Do people like them? What are their accomplishments?
17. Your looks or whether people perceive you as beautiful or not
18. Your gender or gender expression
19. Your favorite color
20. Your level of intelligence/expertise/talent/abilities/etc.

I'm writing this list because as a woman of color, I've been told by society from my baby days (literally) that I somehow don't have worth. I can give you clear examples and yet I will not name them because this blog is not about that; If you don't understand the ways that women of color are degraded, then this post isn't for you. If you don't understand the ways in which women of color are degraded, then you must not be listening to us. 

Sisters, femmes, friends, comrades. I have pretty much used all of the above as ways of determining my worth at one point or another, always to come out empty handed because the truth is that neither for yourself, nor others, will any of these determine our worth. For those of us at the intersection of femme and color and poverty, humanity is denied to us so we internalize this feeling that we must somehow prove our humanity.

But we don't have to. And of course, understanding the above will not change what others think, nor will it fix the systemic oppression against us. But it's good for us, on a personal healing level to know this. 

Like one of my mentors says, Es ser humano, no hacer humano. We are human beings, not human doings. 

Worth is something that we are born with. Que se jodan those who think otherwise.

Anything else that should be on this list? 


If it helps, pretend I'm drinking tea

--
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Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Las Hermanas Mirabal: History that we live and breath

Last year, I was offered a very brief reminder that in every corner of the Dominican Republic, there’s a bit of history that often goes untold. Una historia que vive en el mismo silencio impuesto por la represión. It happened on our way back from a trip to the beach. El chofer showed us the place where the Mirabal sisters were murdered.

--

From Santiago de los Caballeros to Puerto Plata beaches, there are two roads: la carretera or las curvas. I remember that whenever we’d go to the beach from Santiago--where I grew up-- we'd all get in back of my uncle’s red van and almost always choose “las curvas”. Las curvas were a road that could barely fit two cars and edged mountains and lomas. Despite the danger and deaths that occurred and that we all heard of by way of word of mouth, porque allá todo se sabe, it was the fastest way...and also the most beautiful.





This was during my childhood and my early-to-mid teenage years growing up en El Cibao. I came to this country at the end of fifteen, and have visited the Dominican Republic about three times since then. The gap between the second and last time was the longest, it took me about 4 years before going back, and things had changed including myself. Yet things also remained very much the same...except that the curvas weren’t really a thing anymore. At least I thought that they weren’t. During my last weekend there, in one of mami’s work trips, we went to the beach (talk about having a fun job!). We went through las curvas, and even my mom who lives out there, was surprised that people still used that road. “Yo pensé que la gente ya no iba por ahí”, my mom said. Apparently, some people did. The driver, who was an older Dominicano, knew the road. I was excited to go on this journey that reminded me so much of my childhood.


On our way back from a relaxing day in Playa Dorada, before passing by a side street, he goes “Por aquí fue donde mataron las hermanas Mirabal”. I was so intrigued and also shocked. El lo dijo como si na. Como si eso fuera lo mas sencillo. Matter of factly he stated that this was were the Mirabal sisters had been killed. I remembered having been told this story before too. Nosotros pasabamos por ahí every time we returned from the beach. Though we weren’t reminded of that every single time. He slowed down as we passed by the side road.


“Si mira, las llevaron para allá y la mataron a golpes, y despues las tiraron por ahí”, he added as he pointed past the side road.


In the area, there’s no monumento, no highly visible memorial. There’s only the oral history that still roams the consciousness of many Dominicans of older generations. A legacy that those of new generations, myself included, carry with us and must continue to remember but also heal from. I wonder, as less people use las curvas, which is probably a good thing since they're so dangerous to drive, will this dark place be remembered by anyone else but those who live in the area?


Las Hermanas Mirabal, Patria, Minerva and Maria Teresa, are a symbol of resistance against the dictatorship of Rafael L. Trujillo. They organized to take him down, and were horribly murdered by his men. It is said that their death brought about the end of the Trujillo regime. This is possible since they had become symbols at the time. As the daughters of wealthy farmers, their story unlike that of many others, did not go unnoticed. And yet we must not reduce their importance at the time as being attached to just wealth, but as rather something that occurred because they represented women’s resistance also by virtue of their efforts. That the dominican people can point to some women is and has been powerful. As a teenager, I dressed up as Maria Teresa once with a braid to the side for a school function. For some reason, I could always relate to her. Probably because in pictures she seems to be the one with the closest skin complexion to mine.


At the same time, like the stories of Las Mirabal lives in our culture, that of other women like la Dra. Evangelina Rodriguez who was the first woman to become a doctor in the DR (a gynecologist), must be remembered. Dr. Rodriguez was assassinated by the regime for opposing Trujillo’s dictatorship. Mamá Tingó, a woman who fought for farmer’s rights, must also be remembered--she too was murdered, not by Trujillo, but by the Joaquin Balaguer regime which followed in Trujillo’s footsteps.


My family and I once went to visit el Museo de Las Hermanas Mirabal. We saw where they lived and some reliquias that are being preserved.



The Mirabal home (Wikimedia Commons)


The nicest part of the day though was when my stepdad said that we should see if Dedé was around. We went to a house that was close by, and she actually was there. Dedé Mirabal is the fourth sister, who I was always told stayed home to care for all the children while her sisters were out fighting. She served us coffee (or at least my parents and sis, yo estaba joven), and she took us to her giant backyard where she handed us a fruit from the cacao tree. This fruit is delicious, once you open it, it has balls inside that are soft and have a soggy paste, almost like limoncillos. As a child, this was the most vivid memory of the day for me. As an adult, the most vivid memory of the day when I visited the beach last year, was passing by the place where they were murdered.



Inside a cacao fruit (Wikimedia Commons)



After Dedé's death last year, I also remembered that day and the mechón blanco that she always had in her hair. My step-dad told me about it before he saw her. She was a bad-ass y’all.


Belgica Adela "Dedé" Mirabal (pchonorsiii.blogspot.com)


I visited Buenos Aires recently, and met with a feminist organizing collective, their name was Las Mariposas, named after Las Mirabal. Indeed, they have spoken beyond the Dominican Republic and have inspired women across the globe so much so that today, Día Internacional Contra La Violencia de Género, exists to mark the reminder of the day when they were murdered and to remember that the fight against la violencia de género must continue.

For us, the new generation of Dominican women and activists, the legacy of Las Mirabal and other women who preceded us lives and it must live and continue to be celebrated.

Minerva Mirabal is quoted as saying, “Si me matan, sacaré los brazos de la tumba y seré mas fuerte”. Indeed Minerva, yours and the resistance of your sisters Maria Teresa, Patria, and Dedé lives.


Las Hermanas Mirabal (jmarcano.com)




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Monday, November 23, 2015

Guilt

the world will not end if you take the load off your back and let the lightness of your soul lift you.
you won't be forgotten if you suddenly decide to stop filling the many voids of the earth with your sweat
the one void you must fill is the one that tells you to breath
and to sleep
and to feel joy instead of worrying about it's length
they say people die twice, the first time is when their body dies
the second is the last time that someone says that person's name
so say your own name
for what difference is there between letting the body die and dying inside the body
if not the ability to utter your own name
and live
sister, reach the end of your rainbow gently
let your body do what it needs to do










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Monday, September 28, 2015

I See Me: Un-Learning to Be Apologetic

Today, as I rode the subway home,  I started daydreaming about the past, and things I should've said, and could've done. This is something that I do often. That's when I had a sudden realization... I'm too apologetic.

I've known this for a while. I basically apologize for existing. Yet it was nothing like the moment that I had today where I noticed that it goes beyond constantly saying "I'm sorry". It actually manifests itself in my hesitance to defend myself, in my ambivalence in making decisions, in my anxiety, in my posture, even in my writing. 

And I'm so damn tired of it. I'm tired de andar encojiendome like I'm supposed to make space for other folks. Like only I get to determine whether an interaction goes well.

This year has been a year of realizing this more and more.

Taken at the Movimiento Afro-Cultural, in Buenos Aires, Argentina


I recently went to Buenos Aires on a work trip. During the day, I would work on a project, and at night I would try to get to know the city, and go home and write. The entire trip was actually a challenge. You see, I often feel invisible, and not enough of anything. Not pretty enough. Not tall enough. Too black to be Latina. Too Latina to call myself Black. Traveling alone felt like a way of sitting with that invisibility. I barely spoke with anyone on nights or weekend. Yet the invisibility wasn't always there. There were few interactions that initially felt like human connections based on interests and storytelling. Pero these fun and innocent encounters with men who were usually vendors and maybe double my age, always somehow ended by them either hugging me for too long at the end, or trying to make a move.

It honestly hurt. It hurt that I couldn't connect with anyone outside of my work projects beyond the scope of being seen as a sex object. Sometimes it was obvious, "Las mulatas son las mejores para hacer el amor". Other times it's sneaky and subtle, "oh, ya te vas linda?"

I ran away from these encounters, without confronting them or asking why they felt the right to sexualize me.

Recently while speaking at a large event, the man who was helping me get mic'ed up touched me inappropriately.

I was wearing a long dress with my cleavage showing. As he mic'ed me up, he put his hand under my top, and his finger tip caressed my nipple. I cringe just by thinking about it. When it happened, I knew his finger lingered too long, I knew that his hand didn't even have a reason to be there, under my bra. But I was paralyzed and couldn't say anything right away.

Later I tried to address it, "Usted como que se aprovecho", I said. I said this slowly, softly, fearfully, with embarrassment. I was being apologetic. He acted like he didn't know what I was talking about. I let it go, though I didn't want to. I knew that I was angry, but this was a big night. A huge night! I wasn't going to let this minor thing get in the way.

There are so many moments like this in my life. But I wasn't always this way.

I remember as a kid, I used to stand up to people. I used to tell people things to their face. Sin pelos en la lengua.

I was nine, living in this big house that my mom owned for a while. It was in a secluded neighborhood that was just starting to become an urbanización. Our house was one of the first to be built. Right next to us, there was this gigantic hole in the ground with trees and all types of creatures that would end up in our backyard. And I mean, maybe 1 or 2 miles in diameter. It was un arroyo, with a giant pipe that cut across and reached la UAPA- Universidad Abierta Para Adultos.

When I was left alone in the mornings, since I had school in the afternoons (before you freak out about neglect or whatever, this is normal in the Dominican Republic), I would go play near the giant hole with two kids from a close by neighborhood. The boys were going to public school in a barrio close to ours. My mother struggled to put me through private school. But that barely mattered to us kids, though part of me knew my mother would disapprove.

One day they tried to grab me and I ran off. I ran towards the house as they chased me and instead of locking the door- which was clearly the smart thing to do- I went in the kitchen and grabbed a knife. I then ran back outside, ready to fight them, knife in hand. When I realized that they didn't bulge, I went for the door...That's when they grabbed a broomstick and put it in the between the doorframe and the door, right before I was about to close it. At that moment, I started crying while using the knife to try to cut the stick as they pushed. One of them started yelling "Te vamo a violar, te vamo a violar". "We're going to rape you", he said. The other noticed that I was crying, and after several minutes--or maybe long seconds--he gave me a glance and pulled the stick from the door.

I called the neighbors and my mom, I was crying hysterically. I lied and said that I was just going outside to get the newspaper when some stranger tried to get in.

I never played with those boys again.

When I was fifteen, we were at my aunt's house saying goodbye before we came to the US. She was the matriarch in the family, especially since my grandmother was already here. As we spoke about our move to the US, she told us that I had to be careful because I liked to tell people to truth to their faces. She said that I didn't hold back. Hearing this from someone that I looked up to affected me, deeply.

She was right to an extent. I didn't always speak so loosely to people, but I also never thought before saying something. And speaking so loosely could get me in trouble with strangers. Women are often taught to take stabbings, and never fight back. As time progressed, I lost my backbone and have been fighting to get it back ever since.

Two years ago, after Christmas, a man in my family started harassing me via texts and phone calls. At first, I wasn't sure about what to do. I went to the women in my family for guidance. Two of them laughed it off, one told me that I had to get used to it, as a woman. I never confronted him, and not that I think that I should have. But how good would it have been to pick up and tell him to fuck off. It was a difficult situation because that could've also set him off, made him want revenge. Made him get the attention he sickened for. The anxiety from the entire situation led me to stay at my sister's place for several nights. I would walk home afraid to find someone had broken into my studio. Afraid that I was being followed.

I solved the problem by changing my number, and filing a police report.

After that incident, and others with strangers in my building, I also decided to stop living alone.


As women, the process of shrinking, or rather being shrunk, happens gradually.

I remember exactly why I first started saying "I'm sorry" a lot then told that that wasn't enough. It was during interactions with my sister. She was the oldest daughter, the difficult one. La malcriada. The one who wasn't apologetic. Whenever I did something wrong, she'd yell at me. This started happening very often. Maybe I ate all the candy. Maybe I dropped something. Maybe I was watching TV too loudly.

Recently, I finally spoke to her about the pain that her always "correcting" me caused me as a child. She said she was co-parenting which made so much sense. My mother was a single mother, and my sister was the first one. The experiment. The one who she couldn't always protect. Recently I came to understand that I had two mothers, one who was too young and the other too alone. One who I could yell back at (my mom), the other who frightened me to the core (my sis).

I wonder where did the old Amanda go. The one ready to fight back with a knife, the one who would tell people exactly what she thought. The one who wasn't apologetic and who didn't shrink. Did she realize her strength was nothing in comparison to that of boys? Was she silenced by the family matriarch? As we send women messages that they need to protect themselves and take a step back, we must simultaneously teach them, us, to speak up and fight back. Though I wasn't in the best neighborhoods or schools, I did manage to stay away from trouble while growing up in working class spaces in Santiago, to avoid confrontation at all cost, to never pick up cues by people who threw shade at me. My mother made sure to not treat me or my sister as she was treated--though I have only confirmed these stories via my aunt.

It probably was good that I never fought anyone, that I never let other's energy get to me. Except that it did. I internalized a lot of what was said about me, and often ended up feeling hurt by silly jokes, lo cojía muy personal. At the other end of this is the story of women, girls, who grew up surrounded by violence and unable to escape it. Raquel Cepeda and Vanessa Martir write about this. Cepeda shares the stories of violence and confrontation in her book, Bird of Paradise, while Martir writes about it in her text, "Violence you cannot unwear". That shit can make you or break you. And in the end, whether we are confrontational or not, we must undo what is taught to us about how much space we can occupy, about what needs an apology and what doesn't, and we must learn how to demand respect. Above all, because no matter how much we fight we can never really escape the violence inflicted on us until the system is dismantled, we must learn that what happens to us doesn't define us.



I know where that confrontational, fearless Amanda is. I found her in my willingness to go out in Buenos Aires despite my anxiety over being in a new place and feeling completely overlooked. Sometimes she surges when fighting for justice. Sometimes she resists when she's being overwhelmed at work though these moments usually result in the apologetic-self that I identified before. "Maybe I was being too mean, maybe no one will speak to me because I'm somehow not enough. Maybe I should write an email apologizing for- basically- standing up for myself."

A few days before leaving Buenos Aires, I decided to go out for dinner alone at night. People in BA have dinner really late. I went, and sat at a table in a bar at 9pm, then asked for the menu. No one served me once the menu was placed in front of me. I almost wanted to cry because I felt that I had crossed some sort of threshold. You waited too much by this point, they clearly think you're waiting for someone. You can either leave, or demand to be served.

I walked up to the bar, basically swallowing my tears, and placed my order. The waitress looked at me embarrassed. I ate, then went home.

It was dark and quiet, so I decided to take a cab. Once I got to my building, I remembered that there were several bars very close by. Despite my instinct telling me to take care of myself, and go home, I went. As I turned the corner, a fair-skinned woman, with short blond hair and no jacket, though it was cold, approached me and asked me for change. "No tenés unos pesos?" "No disculpa, lo acabo de gastar". "Es para el colectivo", she insisted, frustrated by me. I told her that I didn't have any money.

Then, I felt a sudden strong instinct to go back home. Not going back in the first place had been clearly a bad idea. I took out my phone to pretend I was waiting for someone. The woman spoke with a guy who was with her, then started walking towards me while formulating a question, "oye, no sabés donde queda...?" before she finished, I knew she was trouble. I could feel it in my bones. She approached me, got too close, and grabbed my phone though I didn't let go. The scuffle for the phone probably lasted minutes, or very long seconds. She started saying, with hate on her voice, "Te voy a robar el celular, te voy a robar el celular". Her eyes were piercing, she got really close. And she did try to take my phone, as she gripped it really hard. But I was gripping harder. I snatched it and started running, and screaming.

I turned the corner, and got to a bus stop with some people. I started crying, hysterically. I went inside a bar right across the bus stop. I was so scared, I thought they would follow me. The bartenders, both women, looked at me with a side eye. They must've thought I was here to cause trouble. I wonder if they would've helped me had I been white. I wondered. But at that moment, I didn't have time for that.

I left the bar and asked a man who was walking in the same direction that I was supposed to be going to walk me home. He did, he was nice. Until he started asking a lot of questions. I ignored most of them, I reached the doorstep and said goodbye.

In retrospect, I wonder if there was any racial tension between the white woman who tried to mug me and her reasoning for choosing me. I know it was probably the phone. I know I probably looked lost. Yet, had she gotten the phone, would she had bragged about taking it from a morocha? A morena?


That night I finally felt like a badass after a while of feeling like I was letting others push me around.

And I'm not saying we must stand up to every man on the street who catcalls us. I'm not saying that it is our jobs as women to confront those who oppress us or try to hurt us. What I'm saying is that this has affected me personally in other environments. This has shown up in relationships with loved ones, friends, colleagues and my relationship with self.

Pero ya.

I'm tired of that. I'm tired of validating the world's negation of my existence as a woman of color with this thing called internalized oppression. I am so fucking done.

I know that I am present, and worthy of the space that I occupy, whether others will see me or not. And I'm learning to not be so apologetic or fearful. The day after the incident in Buenos Aires, I was patient with myself. I walked to some places, but took a cab to many other spots out of fear and probably some minor PTSD. While on my way home before nighttime, a band of young rock artists was playing in front of La Casa Rosada- Argentina's White House. They were setting up to protest against police brutality, while singing about other issues like violations by Monsanto. I approached them for an interview and ended up making an incredible connection with them based on our interests, politics, and transnational solidarity. That night, Buenos Aires started feeling like home. I was somehow safe again.


Did you know that I am made of human flesh?


Did you know that my existence is golden?


Fuck the world for not seeing me.


I see me.


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Friday, August 7, 2015

The Pineapple Diaries: The [present and] future of television

After having been away from computer access for about a week, I finally had a chance to watch La Gringa Loca's Productions mini-web series, The Pineapple Diaries.

I learned about this web series when it's creator, Paloma Valenzuela, wrote a piece for La Galería Magazine about the series and her reasons for embarking in this project. Just from the piece itself, I was sold: "As Latinas, we are so multi-faceted and complicated and we can be all of those things on TV too. I wanted to create a show that was “real” to me. Something that felt like my reality, and that’s what I’m hoping to accomplish in this show."

Before tuning in, my expectations were already incredibly high. I was looking forward to a show that I could somehow relate to, that showed the experience of a Dominicana in the US...and upon viewing it's pilot, I was not disappointed. 

Maité, the lead character, is an intelligent and seemingly hardworking woman in her late-twenties who struggles with many identities: Latina & black, American & Dominican, independent with demanding parents, Bilingual but not really. The first episode shows her struggle on what seems to be a regular day when she has responsibilities with her Spanish-speaking mother while trying to keep up with her friends and simply get to work on time. I can't tell y'all the times when I've experienced something similar, the time pace in the US is different than in DR but Dominican parents just don't get that. And I too have had to call some extended relative (often while on public transportation) to sing Happy Birthday en Español. 

I caught myself criticizing the dialogue as being too eccentric between Maité and her friends, and some encounters also seemed a bit like the creator was trying too hard...and yet once I took a step back I realized that other comedy shows with female leading characters like The Mindy Project and New Girl also rely on this mix of hyperbole and wittiness as a formula for comedy--and the audiences love it! And for this low-budget yet visually colorful show, the formula completely works. A scene closer to the end where Maité's two roommates explain what they have been up to all day is an example of just that, a minor yet very real exaggeration that makes the show's jokes accessible and relatable.

The show is also sensitive to some of the political and identity issues that exist within our society. Valenzuela was right when she mentioned in her article that Latinas are multi-faceted and complicated--pero television shows rarely show that. Why would they? Latinas are marginalized in the US, and often forgotten. On TV they are often portrayed as maids, or oversexualized, and both are often just there for comedic relief. Yet in The Pineapple Diaries, these barriers are broken. For example, on the second episode of the series (Yes! There's already an episode 2!) Maité reminds us that Latinas are at a higher risk of suicide than any other population. Also, shout out to the team for showing some Haiti-DR love on screen. 


Screen grab taken from The Pineapple Diaries


The Pineapple Diaries comes at a time when complex women of color characters are getting notable recognition, from award-winning Gina Rodriguez as the leading character in Jane The Virgin, to Shonda Rhimes' primetime hits. Even outside of television, mini web-series are becoming remarkably successful, and The Pineapple Diaries' pilot isn't too far in terms of production from a show that became a YouTube hit: Issa Rae's Awkward Black Girl. The Mis-Adventures of Awkward Black Girl started on YouTube and became viral, it also started off as a low-budget show and the production became better as the show progressed, now its creator is working on a pilot for HBO. As these shows continue to be successful and the public continues demanding more characters of color as well as accurate representation (see #BoycottStonewall), shows like The Pineapple Diaries provide a glimpse of what television would look like if the industry wasn't owned by conglomerates. It is unapologetic in its portrayal and diversity--just like our communities are. I'm excited to keep getting to know Maité and her friends. 

Episodes are available here

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