A blog by Amanda Alcantara

Sunday, December 22, 2013

45,000 lights for Prisoners in Guantanamo Bay and the US

On the evening of Friday, December 20th, 2013 a group of activists brought attention to the issue of solitary confinement and Guantanamo Bay at the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree. The activists peacefully marched to the front of the tree while singing a remixed version of "O Come, All Ye Faithful". The caroling began at the East entrance of 30 Rockefeller Plaza where tourists and families were gathered taking pictures of the Christmas tree, and ended on the South side of the street after security asked the protesters to move.

Six of the activists wore orange jumpsuits to represent different detainees from Guantanamo Bay. These activists said 2 to 3 lines that were repeated using people's mics, detailing the conditions and stories of the detainees whom they were remembering that night. For example, Shaker Aamer who was sent to Guantanamo in 2002 and has been cleared for release; or Saifurah Palacha, who used to own two businesses in New York City and has never been charged with a crime. Both have illnesses that are being left untreated.

Two of the activists led a powerful mic check that outlined the reasons for the group being in that location. The mic check brought attention to the 160 prisoners held in Guantanamo, men and women held in deportation centers and the 80,000 prisoners who are in "the box". The mic check brought specific attention to a culture that ultimately allows torture while it indulges in holiday festivities. The lyrics of Christmas songs were changed to remember that this is a time of the year when solidarity is needed the most. If we must sing, let us sing to those who society has forgotten. If we must pray, let us pray for those who have been forgotten. If folks choose to celebrate their love of life more than ever during this time of the year, then let us also choose to celebrate and fight for those whose right to celebrate life has been taken away. The activists sang the songs listed below to bring light to this injustice. As the mic check said, How does solitary confinement rehabilitate people in our community? 

President Obama broke his campaign promises of closing the prison. We are demanding that the government closes Gitmo and that the prisoners are treated with humanity, justice and respect during that process. We demand an end to torture, an end to solitary confinement, and the closing of Guantanamo Bay!

While hundreds gathered in front of a tree that holds 45,000 multicolored lights, the prisoners in Guantamano had nothing but scraps of paper to create a blue lantern. To them that lantern was a way of sharing their light to the world. One of the songs, a remix to "Silent Night" asked the prisoners "When was the last time you looked at the stars?". The Blue Lantern Project is determined to continue shedding light on the issues of criminalization, torture, and injustices; especially in cultural spaces through art and direct action. The Blue Lantern Project does this as a way of signifying that Americans are complicit in allowing our government to commit atrocities in our name. We may not indulge in a culture of consumerism and festivities without acknowledging that there is also a deep seeded culture of torture in the United States.

Below find the lyrics to the songs and ways to take action:


"O Come All Ye Faithful"

Oh, come, all my people,
All we want is freedom!
Oh come ye, oh come ye
Stop torture tonight!

"Silent Night"

Silent night, violent night
As we sing, as you fight,
Round your people free from those bars,
When was the last time you looked at the stars?
When will justice be born?
When will justice be born?

Silent Night, violent night,
As we sing, as you fight,
Muslim brothers with you we rise,
Close Guantanamo, close it tonight, 
When will justice be born?
When will justice be born?

Here's what you can do:

About Guantanamo: Call or email your congressperson to ask them to sign on to Rep. Jim Moran's (D-VA) "Dear Colleague" letter to President Obama.
Chuck Schumer: 202-224-6542
Kirsten Gillibrand: 202-224-4451
U.S. Southern Command: 305-437-1213

About NY State: Write to the Governor at,

The honorable Andrew M. Cuomo, 
NYS Capital Building
Albany, NY 12224

Visit nycaic.org for information on NY State.

Stay updated and joint the movement:



On Facebook: The Blue Lantern Project 

For more information on this action, please contact Amanda Burgos at mandieburgos@gmail.com 

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Monday, November 25, 2013

Letter to the Sister who Called me the "S" word

Dear sister who told me to stop being a slut while we were out dancing that one time,

I get it. I was tipsy, and wearing a bodycon leopard print dress that left nothing to the imagination. My curves were on fire as I took the dance floor and when you asked me if I was having a good time, I started talking about the guys who I was dancing with.

I write this with a little bit of regret already for typing these words. You see, I've always been told that certain matters should be kept private. I grew up fearing my sexuality. Scared to speak up for myself, my desires, and my needs. But thankfully a lot has changed. It took readings, experiences, and meeting a lot of bad-ass radical women and folks who are open about having sexual fluidity for me to appreciate my body, understand it, and listen to it.

And so I'm still typing.

Sister, I get it: I wasn't sitting around waiting to be asked to dance. I held a man's hand and took him with me. My instincts guiding my way, like a lioness with my leopard print dress, I became a beast on the dance-floor. Giving my body what it wanted: some music, y un tipo to hold my waist while I was at it. I danced salsa, merengue, bachata, de todo.

Sister, I get it. We aren't told to be that way. Women have to be proper and look cute and slowly let our foot tap to the music while desperation eats at us wondering who's gonna ask us to dance. And somehow, how much attention we manage to get determines our value. Well, I don't wait. I go to whom I wanna dance with. I determine my own value by saying that I deserve to give myself as many songs as I want.

Sister who told me to stop being a slut, I'm sorry that my sexuality intimidates you. But I understand where you're coming from, I've been there too. Gossiping about another sister and the dudes that she's been with. Realize that by doing that, by devaluing a woman, we are taking away from her sexual agency. Turning her into prey again and again. And I'm not saying that it's your fault, or my fault, it's simply what we've been told.

Society turns us into prey with its contradictions...we have to be both good and bad. Both "pure" and virgins pero experienced: "una señora en la calle y una fiera en la cama". I'm done with that. I'm healing with every song that I dance, every glance that I give. And I invite you to heal too. Give yourself what your body needs, whether it's music, passionate nights, or no-sex-at-all-ever. And freedom to pick who you want to be with.

When those vile assumptions came out of your mouth, I felt like I was punched in the ribs. We can't be sexually free if there's no freedom from false assumptions and degrading labels. If you aren't free, than neither am I. Maybe that's why being called a slut will continue hurting until we challenge the patriarchal narrative behind it. That word comes with so much pain and shame. I'm not a puta, I'm not sumisa... I am a woman.

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Friday, November 22, 2013

La Yegros

Take a second to enjoy this beautiful song by La Yegros.

Mariana Yegros is a singer/composer from Argentina. She released her album Viene de Mi in June of this year, and it's been totally kicking ass in Europe. She mixes Argentinian Chamamé with some modern electronic beats and Colombian Cumbia with some rap. Whatever she does, she's awesome. Hopefully she stops by NYC soon.

In a separate video she describes how she appreciates being able to contribute her femininity and color to the male group that she's been working with. La Yegros described this song in an interview in Spanish as "speaking not of something that comes from me, but rather a light that comes to change your life and transform you...a light that comes, goes through you and changes you".

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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

On 5 Pointz and Decolonization

Calle 13 says it better than I can in the band's new song "Multi Viral"

"Si la prensa no habla
Nosotros damos los detalles
Pintando las paredes
Con aerosol en las calles"


"If the press doesn't speak,
We give the details
Painting the walls 
With aerosol in the streets"

This week the battle to keep 5 Pointz from being demolished seems to have been lost after the building's owner, Jerry Wolkoff, had it's beautiful walls painted over with white paint. After the incident, I've gotten into some discussions with friends about Wolkoff's right to do this, the meaning of graffiti, and whose side to take. 

At a glance, it may seem difficult to take sides in this situation because, although 5 Pointz made Long Island City and the ride on the 7 train much better, technically Wolkoff does own the property...Right? In an interview with Daily IntelligencerWolkoff almost comes off as a descent man talking about how he allowed artists to paint there, and how the plans for the new building include a 60 foot wall for "them to come in and express themselves". He admits to crying while the building was being painted over with police protection and says that it'll be better for everyone: "I had tears in my eyes while I was doing it. I know it seems like a bitter pill to take, but it's medicine. I didn't like it, but it's going to get me better. It's best for them, and it's best for me."

Well, the problem here isn't who is good and who is bad; according to the indoctrinated mindset that most of us grow up in, the factory is his property and he can do whatever he wants. The problem here is that the essential core of that argument supports capitalism and the colonial mindset that we are all brought up in. People own property, and that makes it rightfully theirs despite what others who borrowed that space may have done with it. The 1 percenters have a ton of wealth, and we can't really just take it: we have to work for it. So even if we'd like a piece of that wealth, most of us simply give up and assume that it's just the way it is. 

But once the process of decolonization and radicalization begins in a person's mind, then the picture becomes clearer. You realize that those owning so much property have generations of wealth accumulated through free labor of slaves, a history of theft and genocide of Native-Americans, and corrupt laws to account for that property. They don't pay the amount of taxes that they should be paying, their wealth continues to grow thanks to our cheap labor, and through the process of gentrification, they are taking over streets that were once ravishing with culture of lower-income communities who have to steal corners of the earth to build their spaces, express their art, and simply be themselves. 

Once we begin to understand why the rich are rich and the poor are poor, then who-owns-what becomes irrelevant. 

In an ideal society, communities decide what is best for their communities and a place like 5 Pointz would stay alive. 5 Pointz was more than just a place for folks to paint walls. It was the only museum in New York City that was for the people and by the people. It was one of the only places where artists who cannot afford the privileges that land you in the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the MOMA could have a space to be showcased. 

Just like Calle 13 said, the media doesn't tell our stories so it is up to us to tell them. And the walls of 5 Pointz may be covered in ugly white paint, but our stories are still hidden beneath. And when those walls fall, with each bang a story of pain and deprivation will be remembered. Those stories will leave a red trail that will forever haunt the two buildings that will replace them. We have to bleed and put our bodies on the line to keep spaces open. Examples of this exist everywhere, at CCNY two students face one year in prison for protesting the closure of the Shakur-Morales Center, also The Rebel Diaz Art Collective was forcefully evicted in February from the old factory where it had found a home. 

Wolkoff's power over the walls of 5 Pointz are yet another reminder that we must continue fighting for our right to claim back what should be ours. Communities shouldn't be owned when ownership and wealth are in itself privileges that have been denied to lower-income people through cuts to our educational programs, cuts to welfare and public assistance, massive unemployment, systematic racism, mass incarceration, criminalization, and a painful history of oppression. We cannot shine when the means to do so are denied to us. Therefore, we will continue to take these places and put our bodies on the line for them because they mean more than just property. They mean art, love, and an ever-growing passion to heal as a community. 

Taken from 5 Pointz' Facebook Page

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Friday, November 8, 2013

Happy Birthday Mama Tingó! A Leader in the Dominican Agrarian Movement

On November 8th, 1921, a woman who very few Dominicans know about yet who is very important to the history of resistance in that country was born. Unlike the story of the elite Mirabal Sisters, I never learned about her in school. I actually learned about her on the internet. I was in 4th grade in Santiago de los Caballeros and for the International Day of Women, our teacher wanted us to go home and look up the story of a woman who was important to Dominican History, then do a presentation on her. This was back when internet was dial-up. So, I went home, did a search and decided to write about Florinda Soriano Muñoz, aka Mama Tingó. A dark-skinned Dominicana who's story is a hidden treasure of strength, resilience and the power of women.

She was a militant who became a leader and representative for the campesinos back in the 1970's. During that time, a landowner named Pablo Diaz Hernandez claimed the land of Hato Viejo as his. He claimed that he had bought them. Of course, he was lying. But few people were there to represent and fight for the lands of the 350 poor families who lived in that area. Mama Tingó became a leader in the Liga Agraria Cristiana to take on this role. Despite her age, she led the fight against these so-called "landowners". Diaz Hernandez destroyed the land of these campesinos with bulldozers and the protection of armed men. He insisted that the lands were his, but Mama Tingó stood her ground. 

A trial was set on November 1st, but Pablo Diaz Hernandez didn't show up. When Mama Tingó went home she was told that the ropes had been cut off from some of the pigs that she had in her backyard. As she went to tie the ropes, she was shot and killed. She was 60 years old when this happened. 

Before her death, other youth were injured and a woman had an ear cut off. This is not an isolated event. Just like we have seen in many other Latin American countries, lands that belong to those of lower income and Afro-Latinos are constantly taken by corporations with the government doing very little to protect these farmers. This year, in Colombia, we saw the incredible amount of resistance that can grow from an organized movement. It really is time to demand an end to all Free Trade Agreements and corporations who disrespect and take advantage of men and women in rural areas (i.e. Monsanto, Chiquita Bananas, among others)

Unfortunately, the story of Mama Tingó and other luchadoras isn't as popular as that of the Mirabal Sisters because the issue of agrarian reform is still very very real and relevant today. The last thing that the government in the Dominican Republic needs is students relating to a hero because their parents might be facing similar challenges. She was also a black woman, and Dominicans face too many issues of internalized oppression to look up to someone who actually looks like many of them do.

Nonetheless, statues were built, songs were written and poems were shared after her assassination. Here are some of those:

A song performed by Johnny Ventura after her death in 1974: 

This is one of many paintings:

by Juanita Pichardo

A statue:

Some links where you can get more info (en Español):

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Tuesday, November 5, 2013

You Will Hear Us Roar

I feel it. The barriers that are so deeply embedded in the framework of our society are bringing me down. Us down. I cannot break them because I cannot afford a hammer. I can only hope for a miracle to allow me to fly over that wall. I guess that's why so many of us believe en Dios. I believe in our human power.

My skin, my height, my hair, the curves on my body, the way in which I move and speak, the way in which I carry myself, they all mean something in this white privileged patriarchal society.

I might listen to American music sometimes. I might have lost my sense of belonging in Dominican circles. I might speak English most of the time. I might have the privilege of having attended a university. But I am not white. Therefore, I even doubt my own talent in writing, journaling, public speaking, videoing, organizing, emailing, communicating, etc. These are not things that I am supposed to be. And that idea is engrained on my mind from the moment when a teacher in DR said that he pictured me walking around in a skirt as secretary even though I thought I had potential to be President.  I've felt it since I had to argue with other kids that I was able to do the same thing as boys and one of them made me notice that women aren't able to carry as much physical weight as men. I've felt it from the moment when my High School teacher told me I should go to a smaller private college because I needed special attention.

We are not supposed to make it. Men remind us of this as they yell things at us while walking down the street. They remind us that we're seen as property.

And the streets of this country, with their commodification of our bodies, with their prisons where our bodies are sterilized, with their closed doors and constant rejections, remind us that we're still not welcomed and that the American Dream is a myth.

My only privilege is to have an American passport and a birth certificate from here, but that only allows me to stay not to move up. Comprehensive immigration reform for those without this privilege can't come soon enough.

Sometimes I wonder how much of all this is true. Is sexism real? Is racism real? Yes, there are numbers  to prove them. But I wish I knew how much these attitudes have affected in my life. How much of all this oppression have I internalized? I can tell you that I've internalized a lot. I think of myself as awesome but I do feel that others see me as less capable, less trustworthy. Almost as if I'm permanently too young to be good enough for anything.

Well, I love my browness. I love my curly hair. I love who I am and everything about me. And I don't care if you don't. I don't care if you don't think that I'm capable. I'm tired of having to prove myself to you, America. In the Dominican Republic I was always considered one of the best at anything, sexism was the only thing that pushed me back. But there, even as a woman, I was valuable. Yet that country is "third world". It is third in the rank of importance set by some abstract global concept that becomes real with unjust corporate practices. Here. In corporate U.S., I'm not worth shit.

A white man born to a well-off family who graduated college is worth way more than a poor Latina who graduated from college in the same place. Even if she speaks three languages. Even if she has lived abroad. Even if she has had two internships, real work experience, decent gpa, and well-rounded view. Even if she is mature. Even if she straightens her hair for interviews.

But it's okay. The world will hear me roar.

I can hear my roar in activist spaces where folks view everyone in the room as equal. I can hear it among other sisters, all of us with our strong minds and voices and talents ready to take on the world with our mixed tongues that you fear so much. We're rising in pockets of the internet, in organizing spaces in apartments in Queens, in the first row of college lecture halls, in the front lines of protests holding signs that say Huelga. Our lives aren't secondary. Our countries aren't tertiary. The weight that many of us have carried on our shoulders since the moment of our births proves that we are stronger than you can imagine.

Dolores Huerta
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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Amazing Spoken Word just in time for Halloween

This spoken word piece is fierce, especially coming from young girls. What do you do when you grow up and realize that Halloween costumes for women just get smaller and smaller?

This is a must-see for every woman who hasn't decided what to wear for Halloween. Spoiler: You can wear anything, as long as it's your choice! 

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A Feminist Guide For Overcoming Rejection

Last night I got an email saying that I didn't get this pretty exciting job that I had applied for. That's the 3rd job rejection I've had in less than a month. That rejection and a recent heartbreak have left me feeling like shit.

Overall, I am confident in my capabilities. I think that every employer should want me. So I get overexcited every single time that I submit a resume. I also don't have a problem telling a guy that I like him. I mean, really? What would possibly go wrong? I'm smart, talented, and I look good! (I'd post a picture but that would be too much).

Anyway, something could go wrong: he could reject me. Just like I've rejected guys who I just wasn't "feeling". And when these rejections happen, I'm left hurt and whining about nobody loving me.


Well. Unlike men, women aren't taught how to handle rejection. Instead we get words of encouragement that might seem spiteful and that undermine the other party as oppose to empowering us: "he doesn't deserve you", "they're idiots for not hiring you", "it's their loss", etc. And not that these are useless, but they just don't cut it when you honestly felt that it was not about whether they deserved you but about you deserving them. AND YOU TOTALLY DESERVE ANYTHING THAT YOU WANT.

Luckily, these let-downs have made me a bit well-versed in the art of getting over rejection. So here is some advice for all my feministas out there who are struggling to get over that awesome job opportunity that didn't come through, or that perfect-sexy-feminist-lover that you thought didn't exist and once you found him/her/they, that person just didn't want you back:

Don't let it get to you: Initially, you may feel like you're not good enough and like the rejection was all your fault. Some thoughts that pop up in your head: "Maybe I came on too strong." "Maybe I should have sent a  follow-up email 2 days rather than 3 days after the interview". Well, it's too soon to look back at the should've's and could've's.

Recognize that there are moments when a connection just isn't reciprocated. There have probably been times when you've questioned your own reasons for rejecting someone because, although that person seemed perfect, there simply wasn't a "click". So, just because someone whom you were attracted to rejected you, doesn't mean that you're less awesome, it just means that you weren't his/her/their type. And for this I will say to simply move on to the next! You don't need to objectify or undermine that person by saying that he/she/they're less awesome. Simply accept that he/she/they disagreed with your point of view on how good of a catch you are, and move on.

Same for jobs. It's a disagreement on your capabilities. And with unemployment still at a high 7.2 percent, (the unemployment rate for black women is at 10 percent), there is tons of competition out there and someone with years upon years of experience might have applied for the same job as you.

It's okay to be sad: "Okay, I understand that I can't let it get to me...but I still feel like shit".

That's perfectly fine. You were really excited about this opportunity-- you might have even bought things to decorate your new desk! So, take a few nights (a couple of days please- not more), to just mope.

Eat a whole bucket of ice cream or chocolate or whatever makes you feel good; Watch movies that make you sad; Stay in your PJ's for the entire weekend; Drink some wine and sing to your favorite heart ache tunes. Here's one:

Just let yourself be sad for a couple of days...but, on a serious note, don't drive yourself into a depression. If you do feel like it's getting too far, and like you've been moping for weeks or even months, please make sure to call a relative, a friend, or your doctor.

Pamper yourself: Ok, it's time for the good stuff! Get off your PJ's, put on some clean panties and go do some of the things that you love! If you're broke, consider borrowing some money to really invest in yourself. Go get your nails or hair done. Go have some drinks with your friends. Go dancing! Whatever it is that you love doing, just do it.

And if you use your imagination, you might not even need money. For example, I taught a my first ever belly dancing class for free, and joined Facebook's Guerrilla Feminism network by starting they're New York City page. Go self-empowerment!

Be creative: If you're agnostic like I am, then the statement "God has something better for you" or "Maybe it's not your destiny" might not really cut it. In this case, creativity is key. Those who view God or destiny as an answer for moving on understand something crucial: when a door closes it simply means that another one will eventually open. There are other jobs! There are other fish in the sea! Now might be the perfect opportunity for you to change up your career and try something new. Or you can finally try online dating and see what all the fuzz is about.

You can also just go back to enjoying being single and loving yourself. Read bell hook's All About Love. Also, here's a recent blog post on my thoughts on romance and love. 

This is a perfect time to be creative when moving forward; especially since you feel pampered and energetic and got all those tears out of your system. Now is your opportunity to think outside the box. If you dare, it might also be a good opportunity to look back at the rejection and learn from it. Maybe there was a typo in the last email that you sent your employer. Maybe your resume needs some dusting-off. Or you might be surprised and find that there were no mistakes made and it truly was just a disagreement.

Either way, accept that you have the ability to look forward and continue pushing through.

Sister, it is tough out there. Feminist men (or whomever you're into) and good jobs are difficult to come by. But just know that soon enough a good opportunity will catch you because (believe it or not) awesome people like you are difficult to come by too.

Have any tips or thoughts on how to overcome rejection?Leave a comment below!
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Thursday, October 24, 2013

Problems of a new activist (originally on instagram so sorry for the typos)

This is me today. It was 1pm and I was still in bed. That's what happens when u have zero motivation to get up because u can't find a good job. Your friends have become distant because of busyness and change of interests. I've changed a lot too. I've become too radical for a lot of people. And even though I've met awesome new people who r politically involved and filled with beauty and strength, it's not the same as those good old friends who now feel so distant. What would u say if I told u that I dont believe in God but in spirituality and that I respect your beliefs in Him as long as its not hurting you (I'm pro-choice)? That I don't believe in romance or marriage as much as I believe in relationships? That gender pronouns can be self-determined? That I won't become intimidated if you call me a slut (I'm all for sexual freedom)? That I don't believe in words but in actions? That I dislike Obama.  That I believe in mutual growth rather than competition? That I think I'm pretty awesome and I'm tired of fear of being told that I'm conceited for acknowledging that I'm beautiful, intelligent, talented and that all women should feel that way rather then try to be humble and let others say it?

These feelings are prevalent in a lot of people who've just become political. Once you let go of the mainstream ideas and start questioning everything from movies and songs to food labels, you can become distant. It is difficult, but it is not an end. It is rather a transitioning period. Right now, unlike other times in my life, I at least know a lot about myself, my potential and what I want.

And what I want is a loving work environment, loving friends, and just loving people around me. It takes time, but those spaces exist. All we need is patience. 

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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Here's another sketch and a quote

By Yesenia Cortinas

"Out of the huts of history's shame
I rise
Up from a past that's rooted in pain
I rise"- Maya Angelou
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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Awesome art by awesome people

I love this drawing done by my sis Yesenia Cortiñas. She's been drawing a lot of sketches for a bigger mural that we're painting in Queens. If you'd like to participate via donations or on the actual painting day, visit the facebook page Radical Arts Collective !
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Monday, October 21, 2013

Thoughts on romance, loneliness, and #cuffingseason

Life has become so dull that my weeks are all compiled into what feels like one long day. Reminds me of the fact that we have to put life in years if not they feel shorter (read that in Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer).

I guess it has to do with the fact that my most recent love interest (because I just don't want to get into how awesomely beautiful it was) is over.. And so the little excitement that my life had feels gone.

But why can't I feel excited about other things? 
I'm leading a belly dancing/body image workshop on Saturday. And although finding the motivation to go through with it is hard, every time I work on it I heal. My mind relaxes. I dance and hope to bring this healing to other women through dancing too.

I'm also waiting to hear back from work opportunities. And if I don't get either one then I'm moving on to get a master's degree.

I guess things are going well!

And yet, life is just dull. I think it's a result of living alone. I dread going home, it gives me too much room to think. I feel forgotten. Alone. Lonely. Waaaahhhh. 

Is it because it's #cuffingseason?

Ugh. This brings me to the question: how do you begin wanting a partnership without the possibility of being set-up for failure? 

I wouldn't mind a partner. And saying that doesn't mean that I'm not strong, or that I'm not capable of being on my own. Unlike this silly comic strip:

Saying that I wanna be pampered doesn't mean that I'm not an independent woman. In fact, I understand that my worth isn't determined by society or a male partner, but rather by how I view myself. And I deserve to get what I want, and right now I want somebody to cuddle with. And to share space with. And to connect with. And to complain about society with. And to read with. And to eat with. Shit, I wanna get taken care of. 

And yet a balance is necessary. If I simply sit around and wait for this person to come and don't seek to move forward on my own then that just leaves space for disappointment and feelings of worthlessness. 

Forget if your older tía keeps asking you if you're seeing anyone. Forget that so many of your amigas are getting married and having babies. Marriage feels like the obvious next step because we were brought up to think that way. 

I have personally granted men the power to make me feel beautiful. And alive. And just better when I'm down. Sometimes better than I can make myself feel. So I'm working toward giving that power to myself. I grew up in an environment where everything that women do is framed in terms of our marriage-bility. For example, at least in my cultura, when a women learns to cook everyone says "ya se puede casar" as a huge compliment (it means "you're ready to get married").

So now, even if I don't want to, my brain just finds it easier to feel happy when it distracts itself with thoughts of a significant other rather than thoughts of new projects, ideas, friendships, news, etc. Is it because picturing romance is simply easier? Unlike positive thoughts and words of encouragement that so often lack in women's lives, we know what romance looks like because we've seen it in movies, in music, all over pinterest, on Facebook...everywhere. El romance esta en todas partes. 

When is female empowerment going to be everywhere? When are positive images of women who handle their own--not for the purpose of impressing men but for their own fulfillment--going to be showcased? Without (!) needing to repurpose their lives if they do find a partner. Even most of mainstream's attempts at showing women as independent are meant to impress men... there's this underlying "show-him-what-he's-missing" theme. Why not write a song about just being a woman?

Okay, I'll stop there and take a second to remember this--a song that got me through high school:

Anyway, these songs aren't the cultural norm. They aren't the norm but rather the exception, even if coming from pop artists like Christina Aguilera. 

We need spaces where women can learn to feel strong, empowered, talented, and worthy of all the love that they receive- especially the love that they're able to grant to themselves through self-care, patience, and inner-growth. A space where women feel free to just be.

I'm worthy of mad love. No matter where it comes from--me, friends, family, or a romantic partner.

Ah, writing this helped me feel so good! The fact that I'm alive and able to indulge in some late-night reading with wine is exciting! Tomorrow, I can wake up and do a bunch of other things. Wooo! Go self-empowerment! Go being! Go women of the world who kick-ass! And thank you forces of the universe for giving me another day! I am alive! 

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Google celebrates Celia Cruz! Uepa!

Thank you Google for celebrating today what would've been Celia Cruz' 88th birthday!

Like many other Latinas out there, I grew up listening to Celia Cruz. Her music brings me back to simpler times when my abuela was also still around.

Although she got some criticism for not using her music to express issues of poverty, or disillusionment of Latino lives in the US like some of her peers did (i.e.Willie Colon, Ruben Blades, etc), she's still a symbol of strength, talent and beauty for Afro-Latinas in Caribbean Spanish-speaking countries. In fact, looking back, Celia Cruz' image and marketing was based largely on her voice and her sazón. 

Azucar! La Reina vive! 

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Willow Smith's "I Am Me" has the potential to be every girl's new anthem

Putting aside the fact that Willow Smith was born to a wealthy Hollywood couple, and is therefore able to afford singing and dance lessons, and to pretty much develop her talent in ways that many other young girls in different situations can't, this song is kind of awesome. And so is she.

I love her personality. I love how she dresses. I love her natural hair. I love how her persona shines throughout this video. Her personality comes out so beautifully. I also love that she encourages her listeners to also be themselves and to learn to love and live in harmony.

Young black Hollywood girls are subjected to a different kind of criticism than their white peers, something that we saw earlier this year when The Onion called Quvenzhane Wallis the c-word, and some even resorted to calling her "little q" because they "couldn't" spell her name. Outside of Hollywood, black girls and Afro-Latinas get constantly criticized for not fitting the norm. Examples: a student in Oklahoma got sent home for rocking some awesome dreadlocks; and Dominican women grow up in an environment where they learn to deny their black heritage and straighten their hair. So seeing Willow Smith shine in this video can definitely continue shaping her into an awesome role model for all girls out there. Mainstream media desperately needs more Willow.

I'll leave you with these words from Jada Pinkett Smith where she defends Willow's decision to shave her head:

This is a world where women, girls are constantly reminded that they don't belong to themselves; that their bodies are not their own, nor their power or self determination. I made a promise to endow my little girl with the power to always know that her body, spirit and her mind are HER domain. Willow cut her hair because her beauty, her value, her worth is not measured by the length of her hair. It's also a statement that claims that even little girls have the RIGHT to own themselves and should not be a slave to even their mother's deepest insecurities, hopes and desires. Even little girls should not be a slave to the preconceived ideas of what a culture believes a little girl should be. More to come. Another day.
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Saturday, October 5, 2013

The Case for Love

Malalai Joya spoke at CUNY’s Graduate center on October 4th about the impact that 12 years—some say more—of U.S. presence in Afghanistan has had in that country. Joya was joined by Sharmin Hossain, a student activist at CUNY,who is organizing to get CIA war-criminal David Petraeus out of the school where he is currently teaching a course.
Malalai Joya was a member of the Afghan parliament.
She singlehandedly challenged Afghan
warlords backed by US political power.  

Many things can be said about the discussion and how both of these issues are connected. The "War on Terror" has spawned a lot of hate that allows for U.S. intervention and for the general public to support CUNY's choice in inviting Petraeus to teach an honors class at the school. Joya spoke of her experience in parliament, of the dangers of being a woman in Afghanistan, and of the U.S. funding of warlords. She showed some pictures of young girls (as young as 4) who had been raped and killed, their murderers still free.
 Joya also called for the need to allow the people from Afghanistan to liberate themselves. The U.S. cannot save someone else she said—and indeed "saving" the people of Afghanistan is not the goal of the military presence in that country. Like in many other places, the "War on Terror" and national security are only an excuse for the use drones,  Guantanamo Bay, military intervention in the Middle East, FBI spying on Muslims in New York City, and many more violations of human rights. All of these issues can be tied to an even bigger problem of criminalization of people of color. We have the largest prison population in the world. This population is comprised mostly of African Americans and people who committed non-violent, drug-related crimes. CUNY, as Hossain pointed out, has been heavily policing its campus, and allowing Petraeus to teach a class only normalizes the militarization of our schools and of our streets.

Sharmin Hossain is a youth mentor and a student activist organizing
to oust David Petraeus out of CUNY. 
To that we may add the criminalization of immigrants who are constantly under the threat of deportation. As a first-generation Latina from the Dominican Republic, although I was born here, I still don't feel that I rightfully belong here. Almost as if I was criminalizing myself. Yet when one reads about the history of U.S. intervention in Latin America, one realizes that corporations are the ones to blame for the desperate need that pushes families to come North. It's a terrible cycle: U.S. corporations interfere with the sovereignty of other nations by essentially stealing resources using "free commerce" as an excuse, which results in corrupt third world governmental systems that disengage politicians from the needs of the population. The NSA spying on the Organization of American States (OAS) is no surprise. And what happens when you make people poor by taking their resources away? They come to the one place that symbolizes a beacon of hope: America.

In the midst of all these violations committed by the American government, the public says nothing. There was an outcry over Trayvon Martin's death, but except for the occasional attention that George Zimmerman gets, that seems to have died down.

And so our hands feel tied. To continue fighting, and to feel that our voices are actually heard is difficult in times when even small victories are cut short—like Herman Wallace who was finally released so that he may spend his final days with loved ones, and still he was re-indicted by a county prosecutor (!).

Malalai Joya's meeting was intense despite the small turnout. Although she was tired from days of no sleep after a long flight, she was still available to speak, sign books, and spread her anger among those of us who were present. This raises the question, how does someone like her find the strength to keep fighting when there seem to be no victories? How do we, the activists who everybody hates, keep fighting when it seems like we're so few and so weak among so many uncaring people?

Behold the answer:

"At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love." –Che Guevara

Wow. Saying that love is the answer is so cheesy. I wish I had a better response but as a young revolutionary who is just learning the ropes, love is the main thing that guides me. I noticed it today. My coworker told me that it's Thanksgiving in Canada, and for some reason we both laughed. I responded "Well, they have healthcare to be thankful for, but we have a government who's taking a break just to get away with not giving people the American version of healthcare". His reply was that he has a lot to be thankful for. He said that at least he's not enslaved, in prison, or sick.
In that moment, after hearing his answer I realized that although I'm grateful because I too am not in prison or sick, or arguably not enslaved, I am not actually okay. And that is because someone somewhere is hurting as a result of capitalism. The only way in which I can express my gratitude for the things that I have is by standing in solidarity with those who can’t fight back.

I guess solidarity is a synonym of love.

bell hooks tells us in All About Love that "“When angels speak of love they tell us it is only by loving that we enter an earthly paradise. They tell us paradise is our home and love our true destiny.”
The neoliberal ideology of "survival of the fittest" leads people away from love and into a place of selfishness and, essentially, a loss of their own humanity. That’s why our earth is far away from being a paradise.

One time, when I was probably around 11 years old, I was walking down a busy street in Santiago de los Caballeros, Dominican Republic with my mother when we saw a Haitian man being dragged by the arm by several men. He was sweaty, scared, and clearly trying to run away. If I recall correctly, I believe that he was wearing no shoes and his chest was showing. I asked my mother what was happening, and she replied nonchalantly "oh, he probably tried to steal something". Then she added that those men were probably going to beat him up. She said this as if it was nothing!  As if it meant nothing. And no one in that busy street seemed to care either. This is what the system does to people: it strips them of their humanity and of their ability to love. Because of the racism against Haitians and negritude tied to global anti-blackness which Dominicans are victims of as well--a racism that is a symptom of white supremacy, a racism that many Dominicans are fighting against--the Dominicans in that street viewed that man as less than human.

Although my memory of that moment is faint, my emotions aren't. I do recall feeling sad, and I do remember thinking of that man for several days. But no adults were around to tell me that my confusion was completely understandable because that man's rights were being violated.  Children are too young to be deeply corrupted by the underlying racist ideologies of the capitalism system.  Adults aren’t always safe of this corruption.

In moments when we are unable to stand up for what's right, our humanity is violated. And it is violated mainly because we are stripped away from our power to love.

bell hooks explains this process very well in the following excerpt from her book:

The growing number of gated communities in our nation is but one example of the obsession with safety. With guards at the gate, individuals still have bars and elaborate internal security systems. Americans spend more than thirty billion dollars a year on security...

Culturally we bear witness to this madness every day. We can all tell endless stories of how it makes itself known in everyday life. For example, an adult white male answers the door when a young Asian male rings the bell. We live in a culture where without responding to any gesture of aggression or hostility on the part of the stranger, who is simply lost and trying to find the correct address, the white male shoots him, believing he is protecting his life and his property. This is an everyday example of madness. The person who is really the threat here is the home owner who has been so well socialized by the thinking of white supremacy, of capitalism, of patriarchy that he can no longer respond rationally.
White supremacy has taught him that all people of color are threats irrespective of their behavior. Capitalism has taught him that, at all costs, his property can and must be protected. Patriarchy has taught him that his masculinity has to be proved by the willingness to conquer fear through aggression; that it would be unmanly to ask questions before taking action. Mass media then brings us the news of this in a newspeak manner that sounds almost jocular and celebratory, as though no tragedy has happened, as though the sacrifice of a young life was necessary to uphold property values and white patriarchal honor. Viewers are encouraged feel sympathy for the white male home owner who made a mistake. The fact that this mistake led to the violent death of an innocent young man does not register; the narrative is worded in a manner that encourages viewers to identify with the one who made the mistake by doing what we are led to feel we might all do to “protect our property at all costs from any sense of perceived threat. " This is what the worship of death looks like.

Indeed, those of us willing to fight for a better future for society are simply fighting for love. And love is within every human being. One of the tasks of each activist is to pretty much wake the people up and unmask the loving human being beneath each person.

If love guides us, then we'll never stop fighting. Just like Malalai Joya keeps fighting. Just like Sharmin Hossain keeps fighting. Just like Herman Wallace fought till the end.

I'll leave you with this very inspiring poem written by Herman Wallace:

"A Defined Voice
They removed my whisper from general population
To maximum security I gained a voice
They removed my voice from maximum security
To administrative segregation
My voice gave hope
They removed my voice from administrative segregation
To solitary confinement
My voice became vibration for unity
They removed my voice from solitary confinement
To the Supermax of Camp J
And now they wish to destroy me
The louder my voice the deeper they bury me
Free all political prisoners, prisoners of war, prisoner of consciousness."

May Herman Wallace rest in power. His voice indeed remains loud. 
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Thursday, August 29, 2013

Embracing the (fake) shittyness

I feel like shit. I guess as of right now I have nothing going for me- at least not by society's standards. So all please prepare for a long blog entry on feeling shitty over #firstworldproblems. Hopefully by the end of this I can regain some of my reputation and not come off as a spoiled American child.

  • I have no sustainable job...in fact I have a part-time job that I dread going to everyday. 
  • I have no energy whatsoever to do anything, and this ranges from things like hitting the gym to going out with friends at night. Both of which require money even though I doubt money is what's holding me back. In fact, I sleep 'till noon everyday. Even if I don't want to. Even if I place my alarm to 8am, I hit  snooze and snooze until I eventually give up.
  • I had a relationship, it was beautiful, and it only lasted 'till summer so now I'm going through a weird stage of missing someone and learning to say goodbye while embracing this awkward stage of being broke, and with no energy to do anything. And I have no interest whatsoever in being in a long-term relationship at all. I love being single and I'm tired of hearing shit about it.
  • I have student loans that I'm already paying for. 
  • I guess I should add that I have no kind of wealth waiting for me anywhere, everything that I have is borrowed- from the apartment that I rent, to the lack of security in my job, to the money that I earn that is already spent before it hits my bank account. The most permanent thing I have right now is the college diploma hanging on my wall, cuz shit, even life ain't permanent but that piece of paper can last hundreds of years inside that frame.
  • News lately has been making me sick: Shut up about Miley, Obama stay out of Syria, and the list goes on.
Okay, I guess my problems aren't too bad. But I still feel sad. And searching for job only adds to the pressure. But what if I wanna be sad? What if for one day I wanna just let myself be weak...I can't take a vacation because I can't afford it, so can I just take an emotional vacation?

Okay, technically I can't. Because that's not what I've been taught in the America that we live in. I mean, just listen to what Barack Obama said yesterday in his speech on the 50th anniversary of the march in DC: 

"Racial politics could cut both ways as the transformative message of unity and brotherhood was drowned out by the language of recrimination. And what had once been a call for equality of opportunity, the chance for all Americans to work hard and get ahead was too often framed as a mere desire for government support, as if we had no agency in our own liberation, as if poverty was an excuse for not raising your child and the bigotry of others was reason to give up on yourself."

No, I will not do that...I will not be lazy and ask for some sort of government support nor will I give up on myself... Instead I will work tirelessly and if I end up in an even darker hole- like homelessness, living off my parents, or doing some illegal shit- than it will be for the same reason as the rest of my fellow lower class Americans: because even if I try I kind of just have to accept that there haven't been enough job opportunities for people, especially people of color (oh well, too bad); also women just keep making less; and shit just happens, like traumatic experiences or straight up unexpected expenses (including stuff that I should totally see coming like Hurricane Sandy); and many other things that I kind of just have to suck up.

Clearly, as an American, I should not make excuses and just accept that if 1% earners of the country own 40% of the wealth than it's because those CEO's are working 380 times harder than an average earner (and I probably make less than an average earner already). Clearly, as President Obama and many others have insinuated, it must be some lower-class people thing that the gap between us and the rich has widened...We are not working enough people!!! 

Still, for tonight, I'll let myself be that lazy American in order to get tons of energy tomorrow. I'm gonna eat pizza, drink wine, finally watch Orange is the New Black, and probably cry for a bit. For tonight I'm gonna let myself become just a little poorer and embrace the shittyness of the lack of excitement that there is in my existence right now, and I say excitement not success because success isn't my thing right now: survival and enjoying what I'm doing while being true to myself are. Hmm, maybe I should really just start blaming myself, who says life is about living anyway

So I'm gonna mope for a little bit, it's what a true individualist self-centered American would do. I mean, I'm super lazy and I really don't care about anything that shit that makes me feel good anyway! 

Lastly, when it comes to the news, I'm gonna connect the dots a bit and say that I just need to not pay any attention to the conditions of people besides myself: Who cares about all the atrocities that are happening in the world? Who cares about those on a hunger strike in GITMO and California prisons? Who cares about drones being sent to Yemen? Who cares about war on Syria? Who gives a shit? It's not like they're using my money to do it...wait, ugh, nevermind!
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