Radical Latina

A blog by Amanda Alcantara

Monday, September 25, 2017

Why As A Feminist Dominicana I Love Cardi B: A Confession


Still from "Bodak Yellow" music video

Cardi B's single "Bodak Yellow" hit No.1 on the billboard Hot 100 list, making her the first Dominicana to achieve this feat. This has folks talking about her more than usual, sparking up the same conversation as always, with those who hate talking about her, and those who love her celebrating.

Hating on Cardi B, particularly within Dominican culture, is easy for both the sexists and the feminists.

Sexists will say that she’s a slut, that she sleeps around and climbed in her career by oversexualizing herself, that she is ugly, and disgusting, that her music is trash.


Feminists will say that she’s oversexualizing herself, that she’s using her body and not her mind to get ahead, that her music is trash and she uses the word “bitch” too often.


When feminicidios in the Dominican Republic made it to the forefront of the conversation again, I honestly felt like the feminists. I was angry at a culture where killing women was okay, and angry at the women promoting centering men in our lives, promoting the male gaze, promoting oversexualization. I was angry at how economic oppression and sexism in the DR means that women of all classes in fact, get ahead with chapeo because it is the only way, and I was angry at how Cardi B’s song in Spanish, which I believe is the chapeo anthem, further promoted that. I was angry at all of sexism.


And then I realized that my love for Cardi B, which is unlike any admiration I have felt for any other artists ever--except for those who I’ve met or known personally--is precisely because she represents so much of what we’re supposed to hate about women. It was my own internalized misogyny that made me angry at her--though it literally only lasted a day--because we’ve been taught to blame ourselves and never point to men. To love her is to love everything about women, to love high femininity in a way in which we’ve been taught to hide from. To love her and admire her is to understand that the burden of oversexualization is a burden black women carry as a result of colonization, and that it isn’t solely on us to undo it. To love her is to understand that this burden of being oversexualized means feminismo to us has looked like hiding from our sexuality at the fear of promoting our own bodies and further objectifying ourselves, as opposed to having the freedom to be free in our own skin. Her love for herself, her openness with her plastic surgery, her ownership of her way of speaking, is love of femininity in itself. And for us to love her is the most feminist thing we can do, and within our culture, because in the end, she’s just being her goddamn self and choosing not to be responsible for undoing this burden. She has often said when folks attempt to call her out because “imagine the little girls watching” that that’s not on her, because these aren’t her kids. That the responsibility is that of the kids’ parents. This is her defending her right to be carefree. Her openness with using men for money is unapologetically leaning in[to] the one thing women can use to get ahead--without blaming women for doing it, making it something open. In a culture where men begin to feel ownership over women’s bodies particularly when they financially support that woman, her message is imperative: paying my bills because we’re fucking, because I give you love, because I give you emotional support, doesn’t mean you own my body. (An ownership tied to feminicidios). It’s personally made me more demanding of the men in my life. Her openness with plastic surgery is necessary in Dominican culture where everyone has gotten something in their body modified or knows someone who has, where people go under the knife constantly but don’t say it out-loud. And yes, her openness about this particular topic as well is also necessary in a culture where so many tías get their tummies tucked on the low or breasts implant but shame other women (including trans women) who's surgeries may be more pronounced ("It looks so exaggerated"). Her openness is necessary in a culture where so many doctors do botched up surgeries and take advantage of women’s desires but women can’t speak openly about it or recommend what’s best to one another because of the shame tied to plastic surgery.


I grew up in an aspiring middle class home in DR (which in the US didn’t mean anything fyi) meant that we didn’t want to be seen as poor anymore so at home everything had to be perfect and respectable, like we had to hide a part of us. So to me she also represents the freedom I never had growing up in a home where I was critiqued day after to day for speaking too loud or too fast, freedom that can be found in spaces away from white supremacy, spaces where culture outside the system happens, culture that white folks then appropriate. To love Cardi B is to understand that womanhood in all its shapes and forms is amazing--even the womanhood that is considered the worst because it’s the one with make up, the one with weaves as opposed to natural hair, the one that abides to patriarchy and the male gaze according to what is supposed to be respected in women. I’m honestly tired of the ways in which everything from our deaths to our day-to-day decisions to survive falls on our shoulders. I’m most carefree when I’m running around with no make up, looking messy but feeling fly nonetheless while tanning under the sun in a random park in NY. I’m also most carefree when I dress sexy as fuck and wear heals and twerk my ass off on some guy while drinking a corona away from so many who I’ve met in woke spaces who look down on sexuality for the sake of “protecting our energy” or some other ideology that shames me for being me. To be liberated should mean to be able to do it all without worrying about being looked down upon, raped, or even killed.

Beyond all of that, she's a fly beautiful woman who's funny, witty, empowering, inspiring, and just great to look at. Watching her videos or listening to Bodak Yellow just makes me happy, it makes me feel empowered, and makes me feel like I'm THAT BITCH. It is baffling that we've been taught to hate on someone who can be all of that at once.

[Added 9/26/2017 at 3:58pm] *I'm also aware that she's made transphobic comments in the past, and that she herself does need to be critiqued for that and held accountable. While she did apologize, one can only hope that she did more work to understand not only that what she said was a slur but also why it was wrong, dangerous and unacceptable. A feminist narrative that doesn't include trans women is a narrative that isn't inclusive of women in general, period, no matter how dope Cardi B is. I'm currently reflecting on this further. My hope is that those cis women who resonate with this article hold ourselves accountable for dismissing Cardi's remarks (if we did) and think of how to leverage our privilege to push for trans inclusivity always.*

Cardi is open about it all, just this morning she posted a video saying she hadn’t even showered but wanted to thank everyone for making her single number 1. It’s easy as feminists to love the hood girls who find mentors that teach them to love themselves as they are, while wearing flowers on their hair and performing in long dresses and big hair do’s and singing about not needed a man. There’s definitely a disparity in how these femmes don’t make it to the mainstream, and that cannot be denied. But when we deprive other women of that love, particularly women like Cardi B who got ahead with her wit and not because someone signed her right off the bat, particularly women like Cardi B who are easy so to hate, we give into misogyny too.

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Thursday, August 31, 2017

I have died and been reborn so many times this past week

I have died and been reborn so many times this past week. So much is being asked out of this body that I inhabit. I have had to rebirth myself many times, and hold myself and cradle myself to sleep, to feel like I am my own mother and can provide the love my inner child hadn't felt.



It started even before the eclipse. This anger filled me, I wanted to break everything. Things were great, it had been two weeks since I left my job to pursue writing full time, then suddenly misunderstandings began to happen (I see you Mercury Retrograde), and my living space became smaller because I was sharing it with someone for about a week.

I'm not surprised all of this is happening now, before during and after the solar eclipse. I've always related to the sun. My first birthday, my madrina dressed me up as Ra, the Egyptian sun god. Actually, for several birthdays, I had a yellow dress on. And I even have a tattoo of the sun on my hips. The sun provides us with energy, in a way beyond being a child of the Caribbean, we all need sun. It wasn't until this eclipse that I noticed this though, these moments when rebirthing (or birth celebrations) has meant a nod towards the sun for me, how the sun becoming covered seems to have covered a part of me, to let out another. Pero, I am tied to the moon too.

After the eclipse, things haven't been okay. My room seems to have gotten smaller, and even when I go out, I feel invisible, tired, exhausted, honestly, just depressed. It's like months, actually about two years, of shitty interactions are reaching their peak now. Friday night I had a meltdown, alone. Alone from feeling alone. I knew I was either going to check myself in or go out dancing, so I went dancing, found healing in the dance floor and re-birthed myself after having felt dead. I've been stuck in my own thoughts since I was a child. I've always known too much was going inside my head, and have yet to find a safe way that works for me of slowing it down.

To top it off, someone I was becoming close with accused me of taking their idea and posing it as my own. At first, like I learned to do whenever I get told I'm behaving in a messed up way, I took it in, apologized, realized if it happened, it must've been unintentional but I seemed to have done it nonetheless. Then, as I reflected to tried to do better, I revisited the entire thing, and realized it wasn't true at all (thank technology for receipts). What I said had been my words. I believed it because the child in me still thinks it's always wrong.  But it wasn't only that that hurt me, it was the person, someone I was opening up to, someone I had shared with. It was also that they turned one instance and seemed to have assumed it was a set of habits basically trying to undo my entire existence, "do you rip off other people's work to stay relevant?". I'm still reflecting, nonetheless. Learning from the whole thing.  

Still, I had to cry it out, and be reborn, yet again, away from the assumptions. The pain had began out of feeling alone, feeling like I'm living inside my head. Feeling abandoned, desperate. (And I won't even get into the mess that was Afropunk). 

Why do I call this death? Why do I call this dying? How dare I make that comparison? Well, for one, those deep negative thoughts that physically want to hurt the body I'm in come up. But also, two, it signifies a death to feel like you don't matter, to become so small, so unforgiving to oneself, to lose gentileza, to lost softness and self-love, and become completely immersed in thoughts that reek of hate. When you don't matter to yourself, you give in to society's intentions to make us worthless unless we are benefiting capitalism and someone else's gain. Living like a zombie, tied to the very history of that word, coming from Haiti.

Healing is hard. And building with others who are hurt is hard too. It's like searching for mothers elsewhere, when she is inside us. And that doesn't feel like enough. Sometimes, we want to actually be held. But the way society works, that kind of affection is only reserved for romantic relationships. Or at least that's what we've been taught.

This eclipse came with hardships because my inner sun saw itself covered. As a day person, having the night take that away created a shift. But, well, I'm a luna llena too. And I pay my respects to la luna.

There's an image going around, saying that healing isn't linear. And it's hard as hell to believe because coño, I want this to have an end somewhere. And yet, I'm committed to rebirthing myself over and over again. If I fall a thousand times, I'll get back up 1001. And I'm committed to be as alive as I can be, each time. A silent resistance.




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Wednesday, May 17, 2017

You Deserve it Hermana: How the Sankofa Sisterhood Writer's Retreat Helped Me Find My Voice



Two years ago I was struggling to find my voice as a writer, struggling to validate my own truth as a writer though I have been writing since I was 7 years old--which is literally when I learned how to write. Then I heard about the First Annual Sankofa Sisterhood Writer's Retreat and it felt like a calling. A part of me knew that I had to go, why? I don't know completely. Maybe it was the Latina part of the title. Maybe it was the Sankofa part of the title and this idea of going back to our past to help us move forward. Maybe it was just this gut feeling that told me and tells us that we deserve to treat ourselves even when another part of us that sits in the back of our minds screams that we are unworthy.

I graduated from Rutgers University with a Bachelor's in Journalism and Media Studies in 2012. I had completed two internships, worked at the school newspaper, tv station and radio station, and took on leadership roles on campus, yet at that point I found that I still hadn't secured a job after graduation. A part of me that still believed in the American dream that got me to return to the US in 2006 told me that if I did everything right, if I was the perfect student, worker, daughter, everything, things would just work out. Yet the job writing as a journalist didn't come no matter how much I kept applying, after graduation I worked retail for several months before finding a job at a nonprofit.

As I struggled to really find my place and build platforms in a society where women of color are rejected, I wrote a piece on my blog that I still go back to titled, "No Place for Women in Journalism of Dissent". In this piece I wrote about my struggle being the only woman, sometimes only person of color, sometimes both in journalistic spaces either covering stories in the field for NY1, or working in an office setting during my internships. I ended this piece by writing "I am new to the field, and I bet there are some bad-ass Latinas out there writing some amazing stories and receiving tons of support from different websites and independent news sources. Women, sisters, if you really are out there, wait for me…I’ll be joining you soon."




Attending the First Annual Sankofa Sisterhood Writer's Retreat became one of the places where I found these fellow bad-ass Latinas who were killing it. At the retreat we had activities, we laughed, we cried. We discussed everything from the writing, what compels us to write, what is our voice and the importance of our voice, to the logistical aspects of writing like how to get published and how to not sell ourselves short as writers. Iyawó Alicia Anabel Santos calls herself the writing doula and she is, she helps you give birth to something that already lives inside of you. Months after the retreat, in December of that very year, I sent an email to those who donated to a campaign that I put together to pay for the costs of the retreat, which listed all of my accomplishments and milestones as a writer following this amazing weekend of building sisterhood and trust with others but also with ourselves and the different women that live in me/us:

I had a piece, the most popular so far in that year for my blog radicallatina.com, and got it republished on HuffPost Latino Voices (see it here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/amanda-alcantara/my-story-why-we-need-to-stop-teaching-women-to-apologize_b_8799836.html)

I started doing #PoetryMondays on my Facebook page for Radical Latina (https://www.facebook.com/RadicalLatina/?fref=ts). My writing got published on Telesur, Remezcla, and Feministing. The writing for those news sources is journalistic with some crucial experiential narrative and it has been well received. And that year I also submitted, for the first time, an essay for consideration for an anthology.

The retreat also helped me overcome the little voice in the back of my head that tells me I'm not worthy because somehow, I knew I wanted it so bad that I had an Indiegogo campaign to fund the expenses for attending. It was embarrassing and I was ashamed but I did it anyway. I successfully raised $500 which covered the weekend and transportation. I had to give up and renounce that negative voice in order to realize that I'm so fucking worthy, and $500 is nothing and it sucks that as women of color we can't give that up so quickly. I'm not one to posit self-care as always being resistance when sometimes it is sold by larger corporations as a way of giving into the capitalist machine, but this is an investment in you and in the women who plan this retreat who also deserve to be well compensated. This isn't money going into a white-man owned organization, this is money being redirected to other hermanas behind the retreat, to serve the meals at the retreat, and to guests invited to facilitate workshops at the retreat.

Hermana, you deserve this retreat. The organizers deserve to have your voice there. You matter.

Now, two years later and with many more articles published, poems written and new pieces to myself, I can easily say that the retreat was essential in my path to finding my voice and confidence.

I'll leave you with this quote which I included in my IGG campaign before attending this retreat:

"Why am I compelled to write? Because the writing saves me from this complacency I fear. Because I have no choice. Because I must keep the spirit of my revolt and myself alive. Because the world I create in the writing compensates for what the real world does not give me. By writing I put order in the world, give it a handle so I can grasp it. I write because life does not appease my appetites and hunger. I write to record what others erase when I speak, to rewrite the stories others have miswritten about me, about you. To become more intimate with myself and you. To discover myself, to preserve myself, to make myself, to achieve self-autonomy. To dispel the myths that I am a mad prophet or a poor suffering soul. To convince myself that I am worthy and that what I have to say is not a pile of shit. To show that I can and that 1 will write, never mind their admonitions to the contrary. And I will write about the unmentionables, never mind the outraged gasp of the censor and the audience. Finally I write because I’m scared of writing but I’m more scared of not writing." Excerpt from "An Open Letter to Women Writers of Color by Gloria Anzaldúa"
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Sunday, March 5, 2017

My Anxiety Is Not An Excuse


The first time someone said the word anxiety to me was my doctor. I had just returned from having been in Paris for 4 months. I was supposed to stay for another month, but I changed my flight to come home early. There was this fear in my chest that I couldn’t get rid of, and a light headedness I couldn’t shake off. I thought I was sick. While travelling in Greece for 4 days, I ended up in a doctor’s office and told them that I must’ve had diabetes because it ran in my family, that thyroid disease ran in my family too. That maybe I caught an STD. Something was wrong. The Greek doctor took my pressure, checked my blood sugar. He had me rest quietly in the one-room clinic with open windows  before showing me that my blood pressure was fine, charging me 10 euros, and sending me back to the beach, to enjoy my vacation. "It's all in your head", he said while smirking.

But I couldn't just continue vacationing like nothing had happened. You see, I had just had a very real anxiety attack before going to the hospital. My anxiety isn't just in my head. My anxiety is not an excuse.


Mykonos, Greece, 2011


During my anxiety attack, I thought I was going to die. I didn’t know that it was anxiety, I just knew that I wasn’t okay. When I returned to my temporary home in Paris, I knew I had had enough and that’s when I called my mom to ask for money to change the flight date and return home sooner than expected. Back in my doctor’s office in Jersey, I told him my symptoms, and he said it just sounded like anxiety. He sent me home with some “calmantes”. I can’t remember the name of these pills, I just know they made me sleepy.

Since then, this thing I was suffering from had a name and I couldn’t escape it. It’s become like this character. This presence in my life underlying everything.
It’s telling to think that it unleashed while studying abroad in Europe, the continent that caused the demise of my ancestors and entire generations. It was the place where my anxiety was triggered to the extent where I couldn’t escape it. That, and perhaps that I had smoked several times to the point of getting a panic attack while under the influence as well...those events brought out this part of me that had already manifested itself in many other ways before.

--

There comes the anxiety again, literally standing in the way like a giant block that can’t be removed, so I must climb over it, or walk a long distance to get around it.

I watched I Am Not Your Negro this weekend, and it reminded me of my own subjectivity as a woman of color, of black descent, living in the Western world. When I returned to the United States to live here permanently after living in Santiago for my entire childhood and formative teenage years, a change happened. Yes, of course it did, I moved to another country. But it was more than that. I stopped being surrounded by people of color reinforcing white supremacy on one another via racial stratification and aspirational whiteness, and went to a country with a majority white population. In the United States, I became the other. I was in a country with white folks who directly benefit from the violence that is enacted upon populations of color. And even while being in a high school where most of the students were Latino, Dominicans were black. We were [are] vilified, seen as ugly, as loud, as disrespectful, as speaking bad Spanish, as stupid, as criminal. We are hated, made fun of, and often the butt of jokes.


I Am Not Your Negro reminded me of my own experience, and made me see the racial politics of this country and its impact on the lives of black and brown folks in a way that I somehow still hadn't been able to fully absorb before.

It showed me that my anxiety doesn’t even have to be ancestral, that my trauma doesn’t have to be ancestral...I’ve been living and going through shit now. I say it showed me that about my anxiety because not acknowledging my anxiety has gone hand in hand with not acknowledging how my own reality as a black woman has affected my day-to-day American life, not at least at a “deep level”. I’ve ignored this very real thing that is my anxiety, and often felt that I was just using it as an excuse when the truth is I really hate not handing in work on time, staying home as opposed to going out (especially on a nice day). And it has come to affect the relationships in my life in ways I have yet to understand. For example, I’m difficult to live with which is probably the most hurtful realization to come to, only because any task can feel so daunting that they paralyze me.

Not acknowledging racism's effects in my life goes hand in hand with not acknowledging my anxiety because we're taught to be super women, to fight through the obstacles, to not complain, to meet challenges in the face. How dare I feel entitlement to anything? Especially if that anything includes somehow asking others to accommodate for me, to accommodate my own anxiety. I would never be worthy of that.


As a part of moving here, something else, particularly in high school: I was heavily discouraged in a way in which I hadn’t been before from pursuing knowledge and intellect.


Sometimes I think that I exaggerate when I acknowledge how being in this particular body has impacted my life outcomes, but listening to James Baldwin’s words reinvindicated my own reality. And my own truth. It also has made me realize how little I have been able to absorb of the readings I’ve done these past couple of years, because I was so heavily discouraged whether directly or indirectly from speaking up. Not only do I feel my own vocabulary fails me, but I have seen the progression in these past few years from being a very outspoken woman when I started my undergraduate career, to being afraid of speaking up in class or any environment now. And of course, I still participate, but apologetically so.


I really just feel dumb.

And while I know that I’m not, listening to Baldwin made me realize how my own hunger for knowledge was completely replaced by a hunger for something else, a hunger to gain humanity, a hunger to survive. My 10 years living in the United States have been underlined by an exhaustive amount of work and a ridiculous competitive drive, and it breaks my heart to know others without documents, in situations of further marginalization, who aren’t able to get a degree for example, work even more, at very strenuous jobs.


The way in which we read decolonial texts in academic environments, whether that be Fanon, Cesaire, Said, always require complete objectivity; I felt ridiculous centering my own experience in some of these texts although I often saw myself in them. The conversation felt too elevated. I remember for a class that I took on International Relations while in undergrad (a class that thinking back to it was ridiculously conservative), we were supposed to do talks on US interventions. I did mine on the US intervention in the Dominican Republic, and felt afterwards that perhaps had I presented on a subject that wasn’t close to home I would’ve been taken more seriously. And I see this happening a lot, where students apologize for studying subjects related to their own life, whereas a white student presenting on the Dominican Republic would be seen as interesting, and in clear pursuit of intellectual growth. Furthermore, I never fully read these texts, while in undergrad I was also working part-time, and dealing with the very anxiety that I’m speaking of in this post, so getting through readings that are often dense is nearly impossible. Now in grad school I’m working full time, and going to school part time. I’ve been too busy trying to survive, to heal, trying to compete in the journalism field, and trying to carve spaces for myself in this busy life that I lead in New York City, trying to build sustainable relationships that just continue to fall apart whether that be with friends or partners. So no, I can’t give any book it’s adequate time.

As a woman (here I go, centering my experience again), I feel even smaller, invisible, as if these thinkers weren’t even writing for me. And so I’ve read Audre Lorde, and I’ve read Gloria Anzaldua, and I’ve read bell hooks, and I’ve read Danticat and Alvarez and Arundhati Roy and Angela Davis. But to bring up these texts by women of color in intellectual spaces feels once again like I’m centering myself, and I’ve learned that we’re not allowed to do that. But dammit, I will.

I Am Not Your Negro reminded me that I must. I reminded me of my soul. And it reminded me of the horrible legacy of colonialism on my body, and the bodies of people of black descent particularly in the United States, but that can translate to the entire diaspora.


--

I sign up for projects that sound exciting, promise articles to different publications, and when it comes time to get to it, I freeze. I can’t describe the feeling. I only have metaphors for it. It’s like a rope tied in my chest that fills me with paralyzing fear over whatever that task is, and I cope by running away. Sometimes I write a blogpost, sometimes I eat and watch tv. Sometimes I lay in bed and think about the future. Anything but that task. Until the deadline has passed, until I have to apologize for being late, until I build up the courage to untie the rope. And building up the courage is not even the word because the courage is there, but the rope feels too literal. It doesn’t feel imaginary. It’s as if a force was choking me, stopping my fingers from doing what I have to be doing. And when I start doing what it is, my hands tremble. I make swift movements with my fingers, lazily with expectations already set too high, with incredible fear of failure, lifting each finger to type, to grab the sponge and clean, to get out of bed, with a giant wait that makes every step slow, until I give up and pat myself in the back for getting through some of it today, even if it was just coming up with the title, even if I only rearranged the mess, even if I’m 2 hours late to work. The patting in the back has to happen, because otherwise the anxiety of feeling like a failure will make it impossible to continue doing anything.

Until recently, I really felt that it was an excuse. “My anxiety this, my anxiety that”. But midway through this week, I had a sort of epiphany that made me see just how much it got in the way of everything. It’s a mental health condition. It’s undiagnosed because I currently don’t have a therapist since I had to fire the last one, and finding a new one that takes my insurance requires work that, well, my mental health condition itself doesn’t let me do. As soon as something becomes a task, and doesn’t just happen naturally, it is daunting.

And yet I admire my bravery for doing everything that I do knowing I do it all in constant fear. Knowing writing is my passion, even if sometimes it’s scary, so I still do it. Es que I have to do what I have to do. There’s no way around it. I’m a pendeja con coraje.

I think about what the source could be all the time, trying to find a cure, and I come up empty handed. There’s no clear source.

As I write this, I have a twitch in my right eye, it’s been like this for weeks.

--


The most difficult part lately has been accepting that life never stops being hard and that I can fight to cope but it might not go away. I can only keep learning to love myself, to nurture myself, to be gentle with myself.

Because capitalism slowly kills us so I have to remind myself that I’m worth more than my productivity. Even though if I don’t produce, I won’t survive. So I get tired. And stop caring. And start caring again. And start giving. And sometimes I have to remember stop dreaming or yearning so much.

But...without stopping the dreaming or yearning completely. Some hopes must remain that make us keep going at it.

I’m writing this while fighting sleep because sleep means I have to do this tomorrow all over again. I don’t want to do this tomorrow...all.over.again. I wish i didn’t have to work, and that I could dedicate myself to writing, to intellect. To art. Let that be my work. But when it becomes work, will it then become a source of anxiety?

And I keep feeling that the moment when that’ll be my life is going to come, but it just doesn’t. Bills have to get paid.

As I write this, I feel anxiety about going back to edit it. Because I’m tired.  because it’s tiring. And I’m afraid. The truth is I’ve been writing this for two weeks because I wanted it to be perfect, but it can’t be and it won’t be. It is this. I want to revisit the whole thing with I Am Not Your Negro, it was such a fantastic film. It was life changing. It made me pick up reading in a way in which I hadn’t again...without that being a source of anxiety. It was the last piece of a puzzle in connecting needed to help me see the United States for what it is, validating my experience and thinking through what that means for me having just “celebrated” being here for 10 years straight.


There’s more. There will be more. But I’m trying not to let this become another source of anxiety. And that's okay. Because my anxiety isn’t an excuse to not do something, it’s a real thing.
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Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Descolonizando el afecto


Really, this photo is unrelated to the post. I just want y'all to see how fly I look with my new hair cut. 

Se me pierden las palabras en la ansiedad de decir lo que quiero. Y de querer decirlo claramente.

Es que quiero escribir sobre la soledad, sobre la falta de afecto, sobre un reguero de cosas, pero las mismas cosas de las que quiero escribir son las que no me permiten continuar. Es como si mis palabras se desaparecieran.

Can you live without physical affection? Without touch?

Tengo gripe. De esa que dura días para irse del cuerpo, así que toca levantarse y seguir porque los bills no se pagan solos. De esa que crees que se fue hasta que te das cuenta que sigues medio...groggy. I have a tick in my eye too, the right one. En verdad me duele el cuerpo. Me duele to. No puedo dormir bien. No puedo usar el baño bien. And I really feel like writing this in Spanish, but someone told me my Spanglish is better and my exhaustion is just making me forget my own voice.

Tengo miedo de escribir que cuando te tomé de las manos el otro día fue cuando me di cuenta que lo que me falta es afecto. Tengo miedo porque contrale! Why does everything has to be about boyzzz? Yo sigo de pendeja, sufriendo. And now I'm realizing how much of that is tied to wanting afecto, afecto físico. Not just so-called Daddy Issues which society assigns some pendejas like me.

What makes us want afecto? Is it innate to all humans? I don't think it is.

Una vez en la universidad tenía una resaca malísima. No me podía parar de la cama. Me quería morir. No paraba de vomitar. Ósea, yo 'taba vuelta un tollo. Y una amiga vino y me comenzó a acariciar el pelo de la forma más casual. Ella en verdad era más amiga de mi roommate que mía, y estaba ahí visitándola a ella. Pero se puso a hablar conmigo y al jugar con mi pelo, se me quitó la resaca. Con eso me sané. I even said it. Like damn, love really does cure everything.

Ahora, con toda esta mierda de Donald Tron, el afecto me hace hasta más falta. And how nice would it be to have a friend just come play with my hair...But would that send a mixed message? Would I develop feelings for her? Can I have a guy over with a promise of just cuddling and not guilt myself into thinking I owe him sex? 

Dije, en inglés, que sería chulísimo tener a una amiga que viniera a jugar con mi pelo, como la vez esa cuando estaba en la universidad. Pero no sé si sería posible hacer eso. Ni si quiera sé si pueda invitar a un muchacho a que venga a acurrucarse conmigo, sin la promesa de tener sexo. 

¿Cuantas de esas cosas fueron aprendidas en el proceso de colonización? ¿Se puede descolonizar el afecto? ¿Querer a un amigo como se quiere a un amante? Pero después entonces el amigo se volvería amante ¿No? Cuz that's how people fall in love right? Maybe this is beyond afecto then. 

Me estoy desapareciendo. Little by little me desaparezco. En verdad no, pero eso es lo que a veces siento. Así se siente cuando el aire del heater, que está tan seco que te hace sangrar por la nariz, es lo único que te arropa. A veces duro horas debajo de la bañera, dejando que me caiga el agua caliente encima. The spontaneity of the water drops which I can't predict the same way in which I can predict my fingers helps to imagine I'm being loved. Coño...que vaina mas triste.


This might or might not be part of a larger series on pendejismo which started with this post
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Thursday, January 12, 2017

Untitled



It’s only week two and already I’ve got a bit of writer’s block.


I drink my shot of liquor that la señora from Dajabon gave me, and get to writing. Vocal chords dripping from the side of my lips as I try to manifest words unto the page, speaking them out loud, I wanna sound like a poet but what does a poet sound like?


Black keys on the keyboard staring back at me.
White words on them. Just like they try to paint on us. Paint their words on us. Descriptions on us.


I just wrote a line and erased it cuz he would've known I was talking about him.


This is what pain sounds like. Trying to fit a sentence into a breath as if it was the last one. I’ve never had a writing ritual before. I write on trains and as I'm falling asleep before going to bed. But tonight feels different. Cuz the moon is full and for the first time in a long time I'm writing for me.


This is my gift. To my skin. Take back those words and make them black, like ink.


Speak through me I ask.
But I'm only speaking to myself, because I am them and they are me.


I wonder if I’ll erase this after I post it. I wonder if it’s making sense.


I stop myself to think instead of letting it just come out. Did u know that I wanted to write about Barack Obama and the bullshit that it is that I cried during his bullshit speech cuz his charisma is so strong and our hearts are so weak right now desperately searching for a way out?


I think about Cuba and news around Cuba and how somehow my family ended up here through a Cuban connection. And that means I'm antillana. And I'm negra. And I'm dominicana. And I'm not negra enough. And I'm not dominicana enough. And I'm just Amanda. And I have to write this year. I said I was gonna write, dammit.


Do I really want the world to know I'm a pendeja? That’s what I asked myself before writing a story last week precisely about how pendeja I was, and now hundreds of reads later, my small world knows it and it feels like a revelation. Like a release. Para tener coraje primero hay que tenerle miedo a algo. Let me translate. To have courage you must first have fear of something.


I wanna write more. More. moor. Myrrh. I heard that’s what the three Kings brought Mary after she gave birth to what many considered the greatest story ever told.

I wanna show y’all this trick I’ve been learning but it’s not coming through right now. My magic is failing me right now. My magic is words. And y’all haven’t even seen everything I can do yet.



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Thursday, January 5, 2017

Pendeja



Acción Poética, Santiago de los Caballeros, República Dominicana


I wake up and immediately look through my texts. Did he send a message while I was asleep? 

I see a message from someone, and I start reading with excitement. Contrale, maybe el muchacho came through, por fin!

I look at the sender y nada que ver, el buen ridiculo no me mandó na. Era un mensaje de mi tío, de esos que mandan a un reguero de gente en Whatsapp. I swear those chain messages should've died when hotmail died. I deleted the message knowing that I was now condemmed to mala suerte por 10 años, and went back to sleep.

I have been oversleeping these days. Es que it's easier to wait while being asleep.

I'm not really waiting though, more like trying to forget, more like trying to ignore, more like continuing on with life knowing I have this disease called pendejismo. El pendejismo es cuando uno tiene miedo. Pero no es así de sencillo, el pendejismo es también cuando uno se deja coger de pendejo, o cuando a uno lo cogen de pendejo. Basically, cuando creen que uno no se sabe defender y se aprovechan de uno. When they think u can easily get played. Not to be confused with Pentagonismo which is how the Dominican Republic let(s) itself become la pendeja de los Estados Unidos.

In this case, my pendejismo, is where I stick around for dudes who don't deserve me. Where I patiently believe their every word, and even in knowing they could totally be lying, I believe them porque sí. 

I wonder if he'll read this. Because even as I'm writing this, I'm hoping he'll check this out. Is it good enough? Should I talk about something he might be interested in? I hope he's impressed because this is in Spanglish and not proper Spanish/English, so like super cool and artsy (he's not an artist, he has a regular job like any regular person but he wishes he was an artist, his drawings are so cool...so I guess of course he's an artist) (I say that and yet my stomach fills with butterflies cuz he's like such a fly artist). 

Coño! Pero e' verdad que yo soy pendeja. 

I mean, in reality though, I'm not. Because he does like me, whenever I ask why he doesn't text me he comes up with a legitimate excuse. Being busy is legitimate. Having a 9 to 5 and sometimes more than 5pm is legitimate. Having kids to tend to is legitimate. Having una mujer to tend to--he's not with her though, I promise--is legitimate. Listen, he's into me, he just doesn't show it how others do. Y le creo.

And I'm totally getting something out of this. A veces le mando una foto super sexy, y el me responde que me veo "tan linda". Reminds me of the words I craved as a kid. De niña, I'd bring notas buenas a la casa para que me digan que inteligente soy, busting my ass every year in school, only to hear "Amandita is so smart". I knew being told pretty couldn't be earned, I was born with this cara and skin and skinny legs and round nose. But praise for being smart, that could be earned, so I earned love that way.

Now I take sexy half nude photos looking fly just to hear the pride come through in them texts from them boys, pa' que el me diga "que linda" "bella" "I want you".

Coñazo. Ni cuantos dique traumas sin sanar.

Anyway, I'm legit not trying to end this though. Because like I said, I legit believe in him, which is the whole thing with pendejismo.

My thing is, what if he's saying the truth and I'm really just a nice person who believes him. 

You know when people ask "who hurt you?" I've never been asked that, because I'm too trusting. Yo me muthafucking entrego. Completamente. Hasta a los pendejos fuckboys que se creen que estan mas bueno que el culo y que me van a coger de pendeja. I know their game, I just fucking pretend not to know and then end up falling for it como una pendeja pariguaya coño. (The irony, pariguayo comes from "party watcher", a result of US intervention in the DR which gave birth to pentagonismo, not to be confused with pendejismo, though pariguayismo is el hermano del pendejismo) (Amandita is so smart). 

Back to el muchacho, he's not a fuck boy. Y en verdad si el quisiera pussy, yo se lo diera sin todo el decorations and shit cuz I'm independent and I can fuck whoever I want without strings attached. 

Back to pendejismo, I remember the first time someone called me pendeja. It was so fucking hateful too. Man people are fucked up, why do I trust them so hard?


Anyway, I was maybe 8 years old, with Mami en una clínica waiting to get a shot. I was terrified, I hated having blood taken out. I still do. Estábamos ahí, y me iban a sacar como 7 tubitos de sangre. They always pick the same spot too, a protruding vein in my right arm that looks like the veins they draw on cartoon's foreheads when a white cartoon gets angry. I was fighting, crying hysterically because I didn't want to get a needle put inside of me. Then una muchacha ahí, she must've been maybe thirteen, looked at me and said "que pendeja". She was making fun of me, but the hate in her face was so hard that I even remember it now. She was showing off that she wasn't afraid to get a shot herself. I remember I told Mami I felt bad about it, and I forgot what Mami said. Creo que me dijo como que no le diera mente, she laughed "eso no e na".

I kinda feel like crying thinking about that moment, I wish I had had the backbone to walk up to her and smack her. Of course she was way bigger than me, but still que estúpida. I was a kid, I was allowed to be scared, buena babosa. 

Sigh. 

Look, what I'm saying is, I'm a pendeja who knows I'm a pendeja therefore I'm not a pendeja because acknowledging it means I'm aware and awareness voids the thing from actually existing, right? Cuz el pendejismo no se elige, y yo lo estoy eligiendo. 

Damn, look at how clever I am. (Is he reading this?)

Still, knowing is not enough because knowing no lo cura. But then, cuál es la cura? Is there a rehab center for pendejismo? Where can I get the will power or support to dejar las pendejadas que me tienen pendejiando como una buena pendeja?

Okay, but fuera de relajo, I know my worth. And I know that all of this is tied to needing some sort of validation from men. Cuz I grew up believing my humanity was tied to that. But I'm already 26 years old, ya está bueno de estar dealing with that internalized oppression bs. How do I heal from that shit? 

I try to curarlo, I drink té de rosas to love myself more, té de lavanda for the anxiety from realizing I can't stop thinking about him, and I touch myself every night (every.single.night) to remind myself I don't need him or nobody for sex. And I have my healing stones, and I've learned to travel sin compañero. And I'm independent, to the point where me dejo coger de pendeja by offering to pay for shit these dudes should be paying for, only cuz I don't wanna feel I owe them anything (but really, I think I just feel bad letting anyone pay for me). Pero en verdad, those new age medication shits can only do so much. Yo necesito una buena galleta de una amiga que me diga "mira coño deja las pendejadas, do you not know your worth?!" Don Omar himself needs to come through singing "Pobre Diabla" to me. Shit, I heard Nicki Minaj left Meek Mill and I'm just like yassss girl, pero yo aquí con uno que me tiene hanging by a string, cuz a string is all he can afford to give me, though I got la fucking soga que le da la vuelta tres veces a la luna for him, and it's as thick as the thickest tronco de un árbol en el caribe- cuz I love dudes the same way la Madre Naturaleza loves us, sin nada a cambio. She's there dying, being burned alive, but still loving the shit out of us. 

He's not just any dude though. 

He's telling the truth, I don't have a reason not to believe him, and I kinda wanna support him. And I know it makes me sound like a pendeja, but he makes me wanna write more. He inspires me. Having him in my life then is good for me right? Does it have to be a transaction? Can't I just care about him? Why do our relationships have to be transactions and not just like connections based on similar likes and goals?

See, I told you I was clever.

Shit though, I'm still sitting here, waiting for a goddamn text, como una pendeja. 



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Friday, December 30, 2016

2016: Connecting to My Ancestors in Letting Go


Last week, I was in un balneario en Dajabon, especifically el Balneario del Salto en Loma de Cabrera (pictured above). It’s a river, with un salto, and when we got there a bunch of boys were jumping from this place that was pretty high up. I knew I wouldn’t jump when I got there: there was no need to...I just wanted the calm of the river, to feel the wind, to feel connected to this land where my ancestors are from.


Bueno, in the end, I made the decision to jump (of course), but I didn’t jump from the highest mount (ni loca), instead the smallest one. It was so close to the water, like the water was right there. But my fear of heights made me feel like my body just wasn’t going to move to make the jump happen. I wanted to move my feet but they wouldn’t respond to my brain’s command, I pictured the leap in my head but couldn’t make it manifest. The boys around me were yelling “brinca” “tírate ya!”, some of them offering "to help" (smh). It was kind of hilarious and felt like community somehow. I was away from the individualism of the US, where everyone is on their own, where you cheer for yourself and maybe some close friends join you. In this moment here, I had everyone cheering for me.


So, after what felt like an eternity, I took a step forward, and leaped into the water. I lifted my knees to wrap them around my chest while in mid-air but not enough for them to fully reach my chest (reminding me I need practice), and because my knees weren’t close to my chest when I dove into the water, my toes gently graced the floor. This made me wonder how these kids jump from much higher spots without injuring themselves, clearly experts (could Olympians do this here as opposed to in perfect pools that guarantee enough depth?). My knees did reach close my face under water, my body completely giving in to gravity before my arms pointed upwards, my muscles remembering better than my brain the swimming skills I learned from doing this a bazillion times as a kid and teenager. I swam up, and breathed. Feeling this euphoria. I had faced my fear, and jumped. I was surprised that it finally happened. I thought I couldn’t make my feet move enough, my arms felt limp when I was standing on top of the rock staring at the water. And yet no importó, I jumped and it was glorious.


People cheered, some called me pendeja. I was totally being a pendeja, hasta yo misma lo dije “diablo media hora pa tirarme de ahí”. To think I was used to jumping from places that were so ridiculously higher up only 10 years ago...que pasó? Where is this new fear coming from?


I jumped again, quickly. This time without putting too much thought into it, knowing I could do it. But the second time, my feet touched the ground much more and the fear of jumping a third time kicked in again. But I already felt accomplished, so I didn’t jump anymore. (Also, the water was freezing, ya taba bueno de andar metida ahi adentro).


2016 felt like a lot of that for me. Overcoming fears. And respecting my own boundaries, even if it meant some would hate me for it.


This is the year I learned the importance of to letting go and giving in. Letting go of expectations. Letting go of illusions. Letting go of fears. And I know that these are ongoing lessons, and maybe next year will be a lot of the same. But in 2016 this felt especially pronounced.


When the year started, I was in a relationship with someone who I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life with. Now I’m walking out of the year single. While this isn’t my first break-up, it feels like the hardest one among many things because we were living together, thankfully we ended on good terms, making the transition smoother though not any less abrupt for me. I was terrified of being single, I felt that staying meant things were going the way that they were supposed to in my life: I was in a stable relationship, stable job, stable career growth. But it was more than just the stability, it was the comfort of knowing I was loved and in him I had community after having lived in the US for 10 years and feeling like my community became too staggered over the years after college to really feel like it existed at all. I had turned him into my rock, from someone to take care of me when I was sick to someone that provided validation in a society where our worth as women is still attached to our relationship status and the size of that cis-male partner’s wallets. Leaving him meant letting go of those expectations, realizing maybe I too will break from tradition and marry older or never marry at all and/or have kids older. And while many will read this and side-eye me because “26 is young”, please understand that there’s pressures to settle down starting from a very young age. Turning 26 for me right when all this was happening, felt like I was getting close to 30 without control over my family life. To think I picked my marriage dress as a child before picking a career (to think too that I made that distinction when picking a career is also something that shouldn’t be forced upon us...we live in a world where our worth is tied to our ability to produce - and for women re-produce-for capitalism)...what a mess!


To make the transition into singledom a bit more difficult (though ending a relationship is never easy), my therapist had been urging me for quite some time to not leave my now ex-partner until I graduated from my Master’s program because he claimed that my ex provided the stability necessary for me to push through. THE FUCKING NERVE. Anyway, I believed him for several months, until I finally made the decision to break up independently of his advise, and I walked into his office, and fired him too. He was basically creating the very thoughts that kept me from believing I could do well on my own: this idea that stability and truly human worth comes solely from our ability to think “like a man” (really like the social construct of what we’ve been taught is masculine thought). He was wrong in assuming 1. I couldn’t handle my shit. 2. That things considered “feminine” don’t also bring stability like love, nurture, etc.


I left the home that we were building to move into a shared apartment in a new neighborhood, and in my new home I have found myself alone but never happier to be in this position. The relationship I was in helped me find this peace I’m in now.


I love the new space that I’m creating, and I love that I’m building a home in myself first. I’ve also been re-learning what stability means. Sometimes stability also exists in daily rituals, like writing or going to the gym- it doesn’t only have to exist or be based upon the realms of relationships and finances.


I’m actually holding back tears as I write this, because goddamn this year wasn’t easy but everything was worth it. From having led the planning for two huge events at work, to my research this Summer, things have been beautiful and real.


This year I also created boundaries, and let those boundaries exist. Boundaries for myself, to protect myself, to prevent my triggers. I let myself feel the pain and fears that come with ending relationships, realizing I was giving so much and not getting what I expected in return. This year I realized I have parts of me that are bad too, parts that I need to work on. I’ve hurt, I’ve said hurtful shit, I can be messed up and selfish. In the past, whenever I realized this, I would hide from accountability. Instead I would surrender to negative thoughts and quite literally get close to surrendering to life. I wasn’t ready to stop being a victim to ways in which I myself have been hurt. Now that I’ve healed from that stage in my life (with a reminder that healing isn’t linear), I can focus on being the highest version of myself, instead of solely focusing on not feeling at my lowest.


I’m writing this from Mami’s apartment in Santiago, waiting for my dad and Alcantara family to pick me up to go to Cabarete. While I’m sad to be spending Christmas away from the people I normally spend it with, my mom and maternal sister, I’m happy to be spending time with papi’s family in my home country.


I haven’t spent the holidays out here in a very long time, so it feels like a return to warmth, and a reminder that I’m not on this path alone and that where seeds were planted, trees have grown here, in New York, and beyond.


I’m writing this knowing that it will be the last post on Radical Latina for 2016, and knowing that it will be the last words on the pages of a book that I’ll be printing of all my blog posts (for myself, not to be published), and if I have something else to add from a larger angle is that somehow in all this, I feel I have reivindicado and reclaimed my innate worth not in having a partner nor in having a perfect life, nor in needing validation, but in simply being here as a testament to the resistance of my ancestors. The work that I’m doing for myself spiritually and the community work I did this year is inherently decolonial. In coming back to the Dominican Republic, in hearing the stories of black women in Dajabon from the Dominican Republic and Haiti doing amazing projects, in writing few articles for other publics but all three about black femme musicians reclaiming unapologetic blackness (Carolina Camacho, Beyoncé, Andre Veloz), in letting go of fear and in being willing to check myself, I have felt more powerful and connected to my blackness and brownness than ever before...Because so much of our learned behaviour is a result of our reality as colonial subjects, in healing I'm also decolonizing. To the point where I’m contemplating shedding the Latina label because of its inherent connection to Spain and white supremacy.

Makes it beautiful then to be back en Quisqueya to bring in the new year. And while I know that new year goals are a social construct, meaning that it is never the wrong time to let go of things that are hurting us, or to start new and better habits, it does make it way easier to do this work of restarting collectively. I invite us all to keep letting go, or to jump into the depths of our individual and collective liberation dreams, even when we’re afraid and feeling like pendejos.
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