A blog by Amanda Alcantara

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"


Translation:  

"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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