A blog by Amanda Alcantara

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

#BlackLivesMatter: The Importance of This Movement

They're holding hands on the subway station, trying to figure out what we all need to do to get back home. Do we take the D or the F? At that point, I'm just going to follow them. I'm too deep in thought to figure it out after having left a meeting about ongoing protests and what we, as community organizers who support and love each other, can do to support and love the teenagers leading in the streets. I watch as my friend holds her hand and I wonder, will he become the next target? What will the cop say about this young boy, younger than me?

I cringe. And shake those thoughts from my head. Then I look at both of them again and begin to grasp the depth and the importance of this moment, of this movement. 

Ever since the shooting death of Michael Brown, the conversation on racial issues in this country has been non-stop. This was spiked when a grand jury of only three black people out of twelve made the decision to let Darren Wilson go without an indictment. Since then, the reaction from the black community has really been incredibly fierce. Protests and actions have taken place across the country, and there seems to be no end in sight. Just as I begin typing this, demonstrators are staging a die-in at the Barclays Center where the British royal couple, Prince William and Kate, are viewing a basketball game; the theme of this action is #royalshutdown. At that same game, Jay-Z and Beyoncé are to greet the British couple. At that same game, team players are sporting "I Can't Breathe" t-shirts. (Disclaimer: I could care less that Jay-Z gave them those t-shirts).

As a result of these amazing actions, the conversation is everywhere. Ferguson is everywhere. I hear the conversation in community spaces where it wasn't before, and I hear it in my workplace. I see people feeling compelled to take sides rather than just brush it off.

Photo taken by José A. Lora 

And though it has been cathartic to have such a relevant conversation become mainstream, it is also showing just how ugly America really is. Facebook has become a non-safe space that is polarized between those who stand with Ferguson and those who many of us didn't realize were racist (!), the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag was counteracted with the #AllLivesMatter hashtag, and people are even using images of Martin Luther King Jr. to condemn alleged looters although he did say that "a riot is the language of the unheard" (also...MLK was shot). And let's absolutely not forget the hate crimes and the lives that have been lost since these protests began (Rest In Power DeAndre Joshua) . 

For many of us, this experience has been traumatizing, and overall emotionally draining. The "blood memory" and inter-generational suffering of our ancestors is burning with the new flames of this movement. And we can feel it. I felt it today while talking with co-workers about young men of color and suddenly feeling like I couldn't hold my tears. I felt it when I looked at my friends holding hands on the subway station and I understood that although both of their individual stories will be forgotten, the movement as a whole will be remembered just as we try to honor our ancestor's resistance against colonizers. It almost feels as if this had already happened, and in reality it has.

When Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat, she wasn't yet aware that it would result in the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Although she was an activist in the community, on that night she claims that not giving up her seat wasn't an orchestrated event, she instead claims that she was actually "tired of giving in". 

"I didn't have any idea just what my actions would bring about. At the time I was arrested I didn't know how the community would react. I was glad that they did take the action that they did by staying off the bus"-Parks' response when asked if she thought her actions would have such far reaching effect.
Rosa Parks, like many others who didn't give up their seats including the less-known Claudette Colvin, are not the movements themselves, but rather crucial pieces that formed the Civil Rights Movement as a whole.

And in this very moment, all of us are part of this lucha that is essentially bigger than us as individuals and as people living in this particular moment in history.

The decision to not indict officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown was announced on the same week as this year's Black Friday. Consequently, a campaign was launched to #BoycottBlackFriday. Sales went down by 11%. The correlation between this decrease in shoppers and the campaign to boycott Black Friday is clear; One certainly must have happened as a direct result of the other, especially after knowing that unemployment rates have decreased. Furthermore, an African American Shopper Analysis shows that "African Americans are more likely to be deal seekers than average." Still,  The New York Times [mis]attributed the low shopping numbers to a loss of interest on the part of consumers rather than to the boycott itself. This lack of publicity almost serves as a way to discredit the boy-cotters. And yet that drop in sales is a reminder that African Americans have power, especially when being strategic about how to use it. The African American community is showing that a difference can be made when acting in numbers.

This is not only visible in the drop on Black Friday sales, but also when out there chanting on the streets, together, in solidarity. One thing that has been amazing to me has been witnessing the strength in our youth today. High Schoolers have been walking out, and folks that I've been seeing in protests are chanting "We're young, we're strong, we can do this all night long!" Many believe that the number of protesters is going to be difficult to maintain, especially with winter and Holiday season well on its way. Yet at this very moment in time, we know that the anger levels are high and so is the energy. Last year during this season, I participated in an action at the Rockefeller Center where we sought to bring attention to the prisoners living in torturous conditions in Guantanamo Bay. This particular group planned actions every month despite the small response that we were receiving. I felt disheartened at times until a friend said that he does this so that when the history of this particular struggle of  closing Guantanamo Bay is written, the future generations will know that we were there protesting. So whether it's dozens shutting down the Staten Island Expressway, or thousands shutting down three New York Bridges, all resistance is important.

Photo taken by Julian Guerrero

Protesters in the snow. Taken by @jchoi_li

At least 76 unarmed men and women of color have been killed by police since the murder of Amadou Diallo in 1999. At least 3 more cases of shootings and deaths by cops of unarmed black men, and boys, have occurred in the past four weeks. At least 7 minutes passed while Eric Garner's body was left on the floor after officer Daniel Pantaleo choked him. And only one indictment was made in Eric Garner's case, and that was for Ramsey Orta, the man who filmed the moment when Garner was killed. 

So we must stay present in the streets, in organizing meetings, in educational spaces that we can either create or join in order to fight these blatant injustices. We must stay present in this movement. We must keep fighting for this moment to remain important and to create radical change. 

Audre Lorde says the following lines in her Poem, The Black Unicorn:

“and when we speak we are afraid
our words will not be heard
nor welcomed
but when we are silent
we are still afraid
So it is better to speak
we were never meant to survive.”

As people of color who were brought to this side of the world through slave trade - as people of color who have been through generations of genocide, we were never even meant to survive. Hence our survival is already a symbol of resistance, and our lives are incredibly valuable. Let's make them count even more. 
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Friday, December 5, 2014

Poem: For Mothers Who Don't Want Their Daughters To Protest

This poem is titled "Painful Red". I wrote it in light of all of the powerful protests and actions happening after the non-indictment of Darren Wilson
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Sunday, November 9, 2014

I inherited my dance moves from my abuela: Honoring our ancestors

They say ancestors live through us. They say that ancestors' resistance is present in our culture. I always understood what that meant, yet never completely. I almost took those statements for granted. Until last night.

Recently I've been letting myself become more spiritual. I grew up Catholic but decided to let go of that, first because of lack of belief and proof of the existence of God and Jesus and saints. Also because of the patriarchal ideals that are sown into the make-up of the Church. Now, I've stopped believing in Catholicism because of the history of that religion and how it was brought to the Americas. I cannot follow the Bible when it had to be beaten into my ancestors. Desmond Tutu said
When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land. They said 'Let us pray.' We closed our eyes. When we opened them we had the Bible and they had the land.
Well, in the fight for the land and my identity, I've decided to return that Bible.

Lately, I've been trying to learn more about the practices of my ancestors, and about other ways of pursuing spirituality. I've been following the phases of the moon and understanding the different ways in which our ancestors live through us.

And to my surprise, I've been thinking of dancing as a way in which our old selves can honored. How beautiful that one of the things that I love to do the most can also become a celebration of those who came before me! And last night, at a party, I realized that my 'talent' for dancing merengue, bachata, and other rhythms is how they live through me. And I mean this in a very literal sense. We aren't "just born" with certain talents, we inherit them. And dancing música de nuestros ancestros, like palo, merengue ripiao, sarandunga, and other beats from outside of Dominican Republic like salsa, cumbia, etc are things that we inherit. Not everyone inherits the same things, but the fact that we love these rhythms and bring them with us when we leave our native lands is resistance.

In a society where assimilation is necessary for survival, keeping our traditions is probably one of the most important forms of resistance.

Dancing brings joy into my life. Poetry brings light into my life. And to others painting, singing, making music, etc. brings joy and light into their lives. My hips just know what to do, my feet know what to do, my hands know what to do. I only have to close my eyes and follow my instincts.

As I continue battling with depression and anxiety, I realize how key it is to take moments to learn about ourselves both present and past.  Suddenly, learning to get in touch with those who came before me seems so easy. I knew how to do it all along. 
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Thursday, October 9, 2014

La Galeria: Open Mic

I'm interrupting my regular writing to bring you this:

El tiempo ha llegado para contar nuestras historias!
The time to tell our stories is here!

We officially invite you to:
*La Galeria: An Open Mic*
A safe space where you will tell and hear stories of struggle, resistance, color, and regrets from Quisqueyan@s living in the Diaspora. 

Some of our featured artists will be: 
Frank Antonio López from The Peace Poets https://www.facebook.com/ThePeacePoets
Ynanna Djehuty
Stanley Rosario from Los Leones NYC https://www.facebook.com/LosLeonesnyc
Ama http://www.radicallatina.com/

And more to come...

The Dominican Republic is the place that brings you merengue, mangú and a culture that strives on community.

And yet it is also a place that harbors anti-haitianismo, machismo, corrupción, and a story of how these beliefs came to be. We hope that this open mic will be a place to reflect on some those issues as well as celebrate our ancestors who originally named the place Quisqueya.

We will also be announcing a new project that is under construction:

**La Galeria Magazine**

An online venue to read about all things related to Quisqueya's diaspora. Through this event, you will be able to network with the team, tell us about what topics you would like to read, and have a necessary conversation on resistance and community building here in New York.

Join us as we begin nuestra conversación!
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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

A Las Reinas: a poem

 A Las Reinas

They say you’re worthless
They call you chapiadora
Gold digger
They say you’re heartless
They call you by your skin
Sometimes they call you mami

They don’t know how much you’re worth
But I think you do.
They call you gold-digger
But that’s cuz your mami said
Que no le des el culo hasta que te construya una casa

You have love!
That love from that time that boy from el campo
Gave you your first kiss right after he drove you around in his older brother’s motorcycle.
You have love
That love from that time when you wanted to kill your best friend’s dad
When you saw the bruises on her cheek.
You have love
And it is cointained.
You control it so well because you know it won’t put a roof over your head
Or shoes on your feet.

Oh, but it’s more than just survival.

I think you know how much you’re worth
I think you know that you carry the world on your back
You walk with security that shows on your hips
Feeling the rhythm of the breeze
With your dark hair that resists
So you tame it at el salon every week

They call you by your skin
Sometimes they call you mami.

You told me “Men are like children”.
You told me “Give him candy only as a reward”
You told me “Make him feel like he can’t have it and he’ll want more”
You told me “Give him rules and he’ll want to break them all”
You grab patriarchy by the balls
That’s why they’re trying to tame you

My grandma once said
There were no FEMICIDES back in her days
And that’s cuz an enemy can only be killed when it is a threat.

They’ll say you’re worthless
They’ll call you a chapiadora
A puta
A malvada
A gold digger
They’ll say you’re heartless.

Pero tu
You know your worth
You know while you’re alive
Tu eres una reina
And you won’t give him el culo hasta que te construya una casa. 
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Monday, September 8, 2014

I have an American life: reflections on my trip to Dominican Republic

I got back from the Dominican Republic a little over a week ago and have yet to write about my experience. I've begun handwriting some of my thoughts. I wrote a poem to the powerful Dominicanas whom I reconnected with that I'll be posting soon. I've written on my journal. But somehow it's not an experience that I can synthesize into a blog post.

I cannot write about the beauty of my country, but rather of the pain of having to leave. I can write about the feeling of nostalgia as I took in the scenery and realized that these views of my once everyday life were now Instagram pictures; images that I want to share with my American friends: this is me eating a coconut, this is El Monumento, this is a Presidente Light, these are my High School friends, this is the street I grew up in.

I felt nostalgia as I remembered the kind of things that I didn't expect to remember, like the butter brand (Dorina), mom's smoothies, the kids cleaning car windshields, the fact that you have to light the stove yourself, and that moment when you're in the beauty salon and the power goes out so you have to wait for them to turn on "la planta".

I felt loved everywhere I went. I was taken care of everywhere I went. It was like I had never left, and yet obvious that I soon was leaving again. My high school friends did a welcome get-together for me, they took me dancing during the week, then they did a goodbye spaghetti party that consisted of splitting up chores just like when I was in school. The two-week experience was so busy that it could've easily been the activities a Santiago citizen did in the three months of summer: I visited all families and friends during the day and went drinking and dancing at night; I spent an entire weekend at the beach then revisited the beach two more times; I got my hair done at el salon three times and even went to Moca to have "el mejor mofongo de todos" (it was very good). Did I mention that I ate a lot of good food? I think Dominicans do that every single day.

Then there was the romantic kind of love I received: the guys that I met and was too afraid to get-to-know even further because I knew that a heartbreak would ensue. Why must Dominican men be everything and nothing at once? With their incredible sazón and sexy dance moves, with their sun-kissed skin and yet their unwillingness to listen "como asi que tu tatuaje significa feminista?". I know that they're not all that way, but two weeks wasn't enough time to go on a scavenger hunt for my future partner-in-crime.

I left my heart in "La Ciudad Corazón"
Santiago De los Caballeros, República Dominicana

I won't reduce my experience there to an "analytical" blog post about Dominican life because all I have is the life of a visitor, the life of a Dominican York. I have an American life.

While waiting for the plane to board on the night when I was coming back, I began to cry. I hadn't cried in a long time. It felt good to know that I had these feelings still, that that person is who I am. It was good to recognize that part of my anxiety is simply the feeling of not being home. But we all know that once you come to American you can't go back. My struggle now is not of a Dominican woman living in the DR dealing with comparison to women with lighter skin, dealing with sexism and patriarchy. My struggle now is of a Third World woman living in the US dealing with racism and sexism here. My struggle now is to connect with others here, to build here, and to somehow influence American and first-world economic policies which basically lead to immigration into the US in the first place.

I am the diaspora. I am a piece of displaced humanity and I am living with others like me. It is difficult to admit that this is what it actually looks like, but I have an American life.

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Friday, August 8, 2014

Pain becomes suffering: occupied by experiences

I'm finally starting to feel alive again. It's taken a lot of bumps, checking-in at hospitals, seeing different clinicians. It's taken revealing a lot of pain to myself and realizing that some my life experiences actually constitute trauma. It's taken a lot of talking, and a lot of searching for people who will listen.

But I am finally starting to prefer being awake over sleeping my days away. And it's left me with a lot to say on what recovering from depression and dealing with anxiety --or at least beginning that process-- looks like. One of the first lessons being to do what you want when you want it, even if that means being that boring person that leaves the party early or that person who keeps cancelling on people.

Self-care is so important. And it looks like being easy on yourself and doing the things that you love rather than the things that you want to love. It looks like letting go of goals just for one second and setting a new goal: be happy with who you are before wanting to grow even more.

Last weekend I went on a 2 day trip to Philadelphia for a friend's film premiere. I went to the movie premiere on Saturday night, then spent almost all of Sunday roaming the city on my own. There's this awesome place called the Philadelphia Magic Gardens where artist Isaiah Zagar created a mosaicked visionary art environment.  It was created in a street in South Philly that was going to be demolished by the state to make room for new developments. Zagar, who was returning from volunteering with Peace Corps for 3 years in Peru, bought the place and transformed it. I learned that Zagar had been suicidal and was encouraged by his therapist to stop limiting his art to perfection and to simply let go. And Zagar did, building this incredible place.

This has inspired me to take my creative writing to another level. I decided to let my words flow out of me as they come, with no particular order or meaning. Here's one which is mostly about immigration and my experience in being here:

I'm no visual artist, which is probably why this has been so therapeutic. And fun. It is something that I now look forward to every-single-day. What I love the most is the lack of expectations that I have of this, unlike writing for this blog, writing poetry, or even writing in my diary, this project has no outlined goals. It doesn't need to make sense. It doesn't need any explanation.

It's been difficult though, as I wake up from the nightmare that has been happening in my own head, humanity enters it's own nightmare of wars, genocide, and overall injustice.

Eric Garner
Child Immigration
Hobby Lobby

How will the people suffering directly recover from all this? Our emotional pains are incomparable to theirs. As we suffer inside, their bodies burn. Their bodies are erased. People are dying as a direct result of this white supremacist capitalist racist sexist system. Our brown and black and poor bodies are deemed worthless.

In Audre Lorde's essay Eye to Eye, she writes about the difference between pain and suffering. Pain is an event that hurts us, suffering is the consequence of that pain and not dealing with it. She writes of this from an individual level, and it has come to help me understand why I need to deal with my pain rather than keep shoving it in the background.

Lorde writes:
Suffering...is the nightmare reliving of unscrutinized and unmetabolized pain. When I live through pain without recognizing it, self-consciously, I rob myself of the power that can come from using that pain, the power to fuel some movement beyond it. I condemn myself to reliving that pain over and over and over whenever something close triggers it. And that is suffering, a seemingly inescapable cycle.
As I deal with pain, I can begin healing from all the experiences that have occurred to me as a result of being the child of an immigrant, as a result of being a woman of color. I can begin seeing myself for who I am rather than what has happened to me. This process can be applied to our society, to our movements. People have been hurt, they have been stripped of agency, they have been colonized, invaded, bombed, raped, beaten, killed. In order to begin ending the suffering and the cycle of violence and move forward with love, we must deal with this pain and begin repairing it.

Everyone needs to begin living their cultures and being who they are, rather than their experiences of oppression. We must end all occupations.
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Friday, June 27, 2014

transforming silence into action

Hi there,

Thanks so much for reading this, for visiting my blog, for the minutes that you're lending me and my words.

I've been writing a long essay for the past 2 weeks on how women are taught to relate to men. On the effect that growing up in a machista society can have in one's soul. On the effect that telenovelas that show rape and violence against women as flattering can have in one's psyche (from a very young age). I've written about how my obsession with boys dates back to my earliest memories. About how being constantly reminded of the lack of a male figure in my household and the need for a male figure in order to have worth became an obsession in the environment that I was in.

I've been writing about how a recent breakup can push my already high level of anxiety to the edge of almost falling into abyss. It was the trigger that made everything that I was suppressing burst. That experience made me realize that pleasing men takes up too much, too much, space in my brain. I've been wanting to reflect on the roots of this obsession so that I can uproot it and plant a new tree. I essentially want to be reborn again.

I resorted to feminist thought years ago because I recognized the power that existed in sisterhood and the need to protect each other as victims. And transforming was beautiful. I felt valuable, worthy, beautiful, powerful. I was so powerful. But this transformation is often a process of regurgitation: our bodies will reject it when it is being fed with so many other things by so many other forces. Our bodies will reject it because it has already been polluted with left-over destructive principles.

My therapist says that self-destructive behavior is common among women after ending a relationship. And learning this caused me so much more pain. My sisters also suffer for this, and I can't imagine seeing someone I love feel as low as I do now. I never imagined that I would be here: unable to live with my anxiety and resorting to medication, as my therapist told me, because I "deserve to be happy". Because I deserve to feel intelligent, talented, beautiful, and important again. I deserve to know that I have value and that my life has value.

Asking for support has been a painful and embarrassing process. We're constantly told that being strong is a virtue. But what happens when we're taught that being "too strong to ask for help" is actually a good thing?What happens when we need to support just to validate ourselves?  Through this I've realized how little people I have to go to. And once I go to those few people, even fewer will respond. It's almost like a filter. The fact that my perspectives on life and my views of religion (I'm agnostic) have changed so much have made it even more difficult. As a close friend told me, "those who don't get it are there, and those who do get it aren't there". That same close friend has been talking me through my depression almost every day, and for that I'm so grateful.

I read a quote recently, "It isn't healthy to be adapted to a society that is profoundly sick". I'm surrounded by people who resist adaption, and there is beauty in that. It is a community that is constantly transforming and finding ways of healing ourselves while collectively building to the find remedies to the problems in our society. One of those problems being patriarchy and machismo.

The title of this post is "transforming silence into action" because I was mostly inspired to open up completely and write about this by Audre Lorde's essay "The Transformation of Silence into Action". In it, she writes about the fear that keeps us in silence about our experiences. She says "Your silence will not protect you. But for every real word spoken, for every attempt I had ever made to speak those truths for which I am still seeking, I had made contact with other women while we examined the words to fit a world in which we all believed, bridging our differences." My long essay on machismo will be coming eventually, but I needed to put this message on my own emotional and personal health out there first to recognize that my story as it is right now still matters, and to acknowledge that it is also shared by others.

I don't want to be too afraid to ask for help. I don't want to be too afraid to become more radical. I don't want to be too afraid to speak up. I don't want too be afraid to reveal myself anymore.
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Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Solange Knowles, Jay-Z, abuse and the problem with masculinity

The world of celebrity gossip and TMZ can easily reveal the most problematic issues in our society. Celebrities are fat-shamed, slut-shamed, objectified...and the patriarchal narratives behind these stories are simply disturbing.

The video of Solange Knowles hitting Jay-Z in an elevator is the perfect example of the problem with entertainment news. I’m feeling many ways about the video leaked and the response, especially in terms of what it means to have defined gender roles and what this says about transphobia, homophobia and hate towards women. An article on Policy Mic describes how this video is actually violent although it is being laughed at all over the internet.

The author writes:

"Media narratives matter, and this reaction is hugely insulting to the whopping 835,000 men who are victims of partner violence each year. Men are less likely to report their abuse due to the perceived stigma that surrounds being a male victim, and it's no wonder that many feel uncomfortable coming forward when their ordeals are routinely trivialized by pop culture."

This is true: we shouldn't laugh at violence EVER, because this is violence.

Nonetheless, I'd also like to add and clarify that our inability to view this as violence is not a reflection of misandry (*snort*) but misogyny. It exposes our inability to take women seriously whenever they claim any sort of power, especially if that power is performed in a way that is considered hyper-masculine. The narrative of the weak female and strong male hurts all genders.

This also connects to transphobia, homophobia and people's perceived idea that they have permission to commit violence against black queer people (actually, it seems that they do). Black queer women are seen as a threat because they transcend these gender lines and refuse to be objectified. Black trans*women are too often victims of violence at the hands of cis*men who refuse to accept their gender performance. As Laverne Cox told Katie Couric:
"The preoccupation with transition and surgery objectifies trans people. And then we don’t get to really deal with the real lived experiences. The reality of trans people’s lives is that so often we are targets of violence. We experience discrimination disproportionately to the rest of the community. Our unemployment rate is twice the national average; if you are a trans person of color, that rate is four times the national average. The homicide rate is highest among trans women. If we focus on transition, we don’t actually get to talk about those things."
People are too worried with genitals to acknowledge the life of trans* people. Therefore trans people's lives are devalued.

This also reminds me of Chris Brown revealing that he "lost his virginity" at 8 years old--social views of masculinity deprive men from realizing those moments when they are actually stripped of any agency and abused; while the female abuser is turned into a caricature and, in sexual relations, they are turned into objects that only exist to assist boys in becoming men: (i.e. Stacy's Mom).

So, with this, I invite you to be critical when looking at the video of Solange Knowles and Jay-Z: why exactly do you think it's funny? 
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Thursday, May 8, 2014

This isn't writer's block

I want to write.

I want to write about feeling like my emotions are more alive than ever, about how now more than ever I want to organize and dedicate my life to the movement.
Yet my brain feels dead.

I want to write about how I have so many arguments to make yet they all feel lost in this web of ideas connected to one thing: despair.
I want to write about feeling exhausted and not having any cohesion to turn my thoughts into conversation.
I want to write about these thoughts.
I want to write about the weight of being the one brown person in the room in most spaces.
I want to write about the savior complex in #bringbackourgirls.
I want to write against the argument for naturalización of haitianos in DR and instead argue for restitución.
I want to write about how I'm starting to dislike the term "Latina" because of it's exclusion of blackness.
I want to deconstruct the feelings inside me that make me want to hate on Junot Diaz even though he's pretty awesome.
I want to write about why I feel like I will be judged for having "I" and "want" on a post so much.
I want to write about anxiety, hetero-normative partnerships in our lives, and so much more.

How do we re-awaken creativity when our bodies are deprived of any autonomy during 9 hours of the day (or more)?
How do I fight to form these words when I've found safe communities yet am at loss of hope in society as a whole.

My brain feels static. Like it's floating somewhere detached from itself and my ideas are unable to be caught. It is in state where it can only be distracted by cute people, nice clothes, TV, food, nights in bars, mornings trying to throw in one last cuddle session with the pillow before the day begins. I guess this explains my recent purchases of stuff that I don't need.

In many ways, the lower-class has been conditioned to perpetuate its own block from leading a life where we have time for creativity.
Yet we need creativity.

I want creativity.
I want to write.
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Monday, March 31, 2014

6 Word Memoir

Yesterday I went to an absolutely awesome and necessary event titled Yeah, That's What She Said, for their workshop "I Am A Worthy Subject". It was a workshop where we had the opportunity to talk about ourselves and create a "selfie" using carbon paper. In this #feministselfie we wrote a 6 word memoir. Here's mine:

I had two memoirs: "I was born in an altar" and "Beautiful and whole, like strong communities". 

Let's always remember that we are born complete and we need no one to validate our beauty. 

What's your 6-word memoir?

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Monday, March 24, 2014

"They Are Trying to Kill Us": On Rituals and Sisterhood

A wave of pain took place within me this past week. Pain that I soon realized was shared by my brown sisters. Pain that once overcome will only result in massive growth, love, understanding and hermandad.

I'm usually not spiritual but I do practice certain "rituals" in order to feel better and help calm myself, probably out of habit. For example, I started praying again as a way to reflect on my day rather than as a way to ask for something from some sort of mythical higher being. I started doing little things such as lighting candles while writing, using incense to calm the energy in the room, saying daily affirmations as a way to cleanse my mind from all the "toxic" that is thrown its way.

But sometimes, these healing rituals aren't enough when performed alone. Last week I was having a physical reaction to the changes happening in my life: I was anxious throughout the day. I felt scared, alone, in pain, forgotten, nostalgic, confused and unable to keep my composure. I knew that the solution was to reach out and ask to be held. And this brings me to write about the importance of rituals and sisterhood.

On Thursday night, I reached out to some hermanas who revealed that they too were feeling pain. We got together and opened up about being tired of harassment, about being tired of dealing with the bullshit of life. We held each other, and cried in each other's arms. That first night, as my hermana held me in her arms in that coffee shop where we met, I felt safe, warm, loved...and not alone. And that in itself, that sisterhood is revolutionary in a society where we're told that we can only be held by men for their own sexual pleasures.

The next night, we met up with another friend, Camila, who also opened up about her recent experiences. For the first time I heard the truth as I had never heard it before:

 "Didn't you know? They are trying to kill us".

Camila was saying, as women of color, we are not even supposed to be here. We shouldn't even be alive.

Our cultures have been forgotten, erased, invalidated. Our ancestry has been wiped out. We spoke of wanting to read about Taino culture or about Mayan culture, but most of the accounts left are all given by colonizers. There is almost nothing coming from within. And the marginalized native communities that have made it to today are in constant struggle to keep their land. In Open Veins of Latin America, Eduardo Galeano writes about "the nobodies", he says that according to the current mainstream narrative, these are people who:

"Who don't speak languages, but dialects.Who don't have religions, but superstitions.Who don't create art, but handicrafts.Who don't have culture, but folklore.Who are not human beings, but human resources.Who do not have faces, but arms.Who do not have names, but numbers.Who do not appear in the history of the world, but in the police blotter of the local paper.The nobodies, who are not worth the bullet that kills them"

And as women who are part of this "nobody", we live in constant struggle: we make less, we are sterilized in prisons, we are fetishized, we are essentially turned into commodifications; we are harassed even in spaces that are supposed to be safe and the burden to overcome this harassment falls on us.

As I reflect on my own life, my own struggles, and my mother's struggle, and my sister's struggle, and my grandmother's struggle, I am filled with anger but also respect. We have overcome so much.

I felt so guilty about being in the U.S. when I first came here: Who was I to come to a foreign land in pursuit of better opportunities? Why couldn't I stay in Dominican Republic and pursue opportunities there? I had been conditioned to think like a nationalist conservative, and these feelings and lack of understanding of the history of colonization and U.S. imperialism were essentially killing me from the inside. The religious Catholic beliefs that I grew up with--that life is about suffering and that I had to marry a man, and that I was to wait until marriage to have sex, and the virgin-whore dichotomy--were killing me and stripping me of any autonomy over my own body and my own life.

They are trying to kill us sisters. And yet we survive by virtue of our strength. And we must make this survival a collective process. We must include healing practices in our activist spaces and in our communities.

Yes, healing can be messy and nobody wants to deal with it. It comes with tears, with physical pain, with internalized guilt, it comes with addiction and it comes with shame; and we must be able to rely on each other to help pick up these pieces together rather than continue carrying this burden inside.We must not apologize for acknowledging this pain and seeking help. There is so much strength in asking to be held.

As I hugged my sisters who are with me in this struggle, as we held each other, the narrative became one of empowerment.

Don't tell me that I need to be satisfied with what I've earned. Don't tell me that I cannot be sad. Don't tell me that I'm ungrateful. Don't tell me that I am broken or sick for feeling depressed.

I am not broken. I am not ungrateful nor needy nor incapable.

I am powerful and completely aware.

I know what I need...I need to be held. I need to feel another person's breath. I need understanding. I need patience. I need empathy. I need support.

And so, in the midst of Spring Solstice,

We rose in strength as we felt each other's pain.
We rose in love as we felt each other's pain.
We rose in knowledge and courage as we felt each other's pain.
And we will continue not just surviving, but also resisting and fighting.

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Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Waiting for the virus to leave

I write to turn my pain into something beautiful. I write to record my pain on ink, on a computer screen.

Today I'm sick in various ways and have decided to write about it.

I have a cold, I've had it since Friday night.

At first, when I woke up on Saturday morning with a stuffy nose and pain in my throat, I was actually pleased. You see, the entire week my back had been hurting. I thought that the pain in my back was caused by stress from switching jobs, by stress from life, by lack of exercise. But now I realize that the pain was a pre-symptom and on Saturday morning I welcomed the cold as a relief. I stayed in bed most of the weekend until work came Monday. At work, everything was fine but the cold symptoms started coming back: I was losing my breath while talking on the phone and I was coughing incessantly. That night I went home, drank soup and hoped that the next day the cold would be completely gone. I was wrong, so I called out of work and because it was actually my last day working there, I was told that I didn't have to make up for it.

Now it's Wednesday, and I'm supposed to be going to Florida tomorrow to sulk under the sun. But this cold won't go away. I've tried every medication, I've also had soup and OJ and tea and teaspoons of honey with salt pero nada. So, I stopped by my local Duane Reade, told them everything that I've been having and was told that there's nothing more that they can recommend. Then the young pharmacist said:

"It might be viral."
"What do you mean viral?", I asked.
"It could be a virus so you just have to wait for it to leave your body."

Now, as I'm sitting here I'm surprised by the story that I've just told. I thought I was going to write about the pain of disillusionment. I thought I was going to write about how I'm tired of feeling like I have to be strong, and like I have to uphold myself so that I don't crumble into pieces because of pain and sickness that comes with rejection.

Now I realize that in deciding to move on, I let go of the back pain and now my heartache is like I virus. It doesn't matter how many times I try to escape it by going out dancing, or drinking. It doesn't matter how much I try to practice healing through reading poetry, writing, listening to music, opening up with friends.

This pain is like a virus:
Sometimes I can live with it, and I forget that it's there.
Other times I can't.
Other times, the pain is blinding.
Other times I just want to curl up and be held until it goes away.
And it will leave.
It'll leave when it's ready
It'll leave when my body has processed it.
It will definitely leave. But it needs time. 
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Friday, February 14, 2014

Dear Bad Love: It’s Over.

“Just because somebody doesn’t love you the way you want them to doesn’t mean they don’t love you with everything they got.”
Umm. No.
That statement basically justifies being in an abusive relationship because, although it’s hurting you, it’s okay if that person is in love with you. It justifies abuse, because although the other person causes you pain, it is permissible as long as he/she/they love you. And somehow, if you can’t accept his/her/their way of loving you then that is entirely your fault for not understanding love.
Well, I say we look at “bad love” in the face and say no más! Because just like with sex, we must also consent to love.
I grew up with a list of things that I was constantly told I had to fix: speak slower and lower, stand straight, think before you speak, watch your figure, etc. It wasn’t until college that I discovered what a loving environment had the potential to look like. I felt comfort in an all-women’s campus where accepting ourselves as we were was reflected in our inter-personal relationships. So when summer came and I had to go live back at home, I noticed a huge difference and recognized that getting criticized all the time was actually not okay. I recognized that certain things are constructive criticisms while others were things that people in my Dominican family said out of their own insecurities and self-hatred—which was probably brought on by the need to assimilate into white Anglosaxon urban American society. bell hooks writes in All About Love about what it means to have a loving relationship with your children. She argues that parents use authority to punish children, and sometimes abuse them, which becomes confusing for children when this authority is used as a synonym of love.
Unfortunately, our society is far from healing from this cycle of abusive relationships. As women we are taught to tolerate our parents when they body-shame us for being too fat or skinny, not feminine enough, or for choosing to define our own gender and sexuality. We are taught in some religions that God shows his love by making us suffer. We are taught that we have to surrender autonomy over our bodies if we become pregnant. We are taught to accept patriarchy and dynamics of power that result in many women being abused by their partners and then blaming themselves for not recognizing the abuse or for not firmly taking a stand against it. We then imprison some women who do stand up to their abuser. Furthermore, our society shames victims of abuse and dismisses date-rape.
Therefore, from an unsupportive criminal justice system where victims of domestic violence feel-little-to-no-escape, to parents using the “I-do-it-out-of-love” excuse to say hurtful shit, this principle that we should take love in whatever shape it comes defines how many of us perceive intimate relationships. And I believe that self-love is the revolutionary step that can become one of the driving forces to fight against this oppression.
After I finished college, I knew that I had to live on my own immediately. Although I love my family, I realized that I needed to remove myself from that negative environment not just learn to love myself, but also to step back and figure out how to begin a process of reconciliation.
Dynamics of privilege based on the intersections of gender (both defined and perceived), race, class, disability, and sexual orientation create barriers that prevent us from recognizing what it even means to love ourselves and therefore to permit ourselves to pursue not just any love, but the kind of love that we deserve. On Twitter and Instagram, with #feministselfie, we have reclaimed “selfies” and turned them into a way to appreciate ourselves. As a WOC from a low-income single-parent household, self-care isn’t something that happened by instinct, as I’m sure it doesn’t for many others who simply don’t have time to devote to their emotions. But now I am learning to recognize what feels good and what is the kind of love that I want to receive. To me, positive love is a relationship where the other person actually listens. Positive loves means being complimented more than criticized. Positive love means not just hearing “I love you” but also “I support you”, “I want to understand you”, “let’s decide together”. Positive love in a sexual relationship means listening to each other’s bodies. Positive love means caring for the other person’s needs both in the short term and in the long term.
Once we are able to claim the kind of love that we want to receive in personal relationships, then we can also gain confidence to claim the kind of care that we deserve from society: let’s fight for an end to violence against women, let’s fight for the right to abortion, let’s fight for benefits for homemakers and stay-at-home-moms, let’s fight for higher wages and for affirmative action. Let’s fight for an end to this oppressive system that prevents us from loving each other as much as we can. So, what kind of love do you want to receive?
This post was originally published on Guerrilla Feminism [ still by yours truly ;) ]
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Let Lido Pimienta Spice Up Your Day

I cried watching this video. You see, besides the awesome beats & lyrics that definitely took me back to places (uh oh), I kinda think I look like Lido Pimienta. And I don't mean that in an "OMG, She's so  hot, I wanna look like her" type of way (although I wouldn't rule that out); I mean it in an "Yes, finally someone who represents women who look like me" type of way when it comes to age, skin tone, hair type, body-type, height, etc. Lido is from Barranquilla, Colombia but she currently lives in Canada.

The first time I listened to her I didn't fall in love immediately, but I wanted to so badly that I kept following up on her work, and saw that she had dropped this.

In an interview in Spanish with Panamerika FM, they asked her to state what the following words meant to her:

"Colombia: My Life
La Rata: Bad government- consumer society
Progreso: Working collectively

Amor: My son Lucian"
She's awesome, so enough talking, here's the video that I'm talking about. Sigue brillando hermana!

Reza Por Mi Feat. Lido Pimienta - Atropolis :: Music Video from Jon Agua on Vimeo.

(Also, she just tweeted about #freepalestine, fuck yes!)

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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

How I Lost My Accent

I can't tell when it happened, yet the realization that it did smacked me across the face. Like a sudden accusation made by an invisible finger. "I recognize that accent", I told myself. The first time I noticed that Dominicans too have a distinguishable way of speaking Spanish was while sitting with my mom in our old green couch back in Santiago watching "Don Francisco Presenta". Jackie Guerrido was being interviewed this one time, and she started imitating different accents during the interview. She did Colombian, Cuban and other accents then announced that she was going to speak in a Dominican accent. I remember that I immediately laughed, "Dominicans don't have an accent!" I said. But they did and on that day I found that out after hearing Guerrido's transition from country to country and recognizing the one  that I undoubtedly sounded like. However, in that moment, it wasn't really an accent to me, but rather a part of my culture--it was completely natural.

Now an invisible finger is pointing at me asking me where my accent is. Now, I can only really hear it in others and though it warms my heart and takes me home, it no longer emanates from my garganta as it once used to. My "bolsas" moved on from meaning "balls" (yes, testicles) to bags. My laziness went from "haraganería" to "pereza". And at my job I've been told that I sound like I'm from Central America or somewhere indistinguishable. I leave Spanish speakers whom I meet for the first time confused in my Afro-Latino features yet unaccented speak.

I lost my accent. It was lost somewhere between the many times when I made sure to add "s" at the end of plural worlds and rolled r's in words like "comer". It was lost behind the shame of knowing that somehow every word that I spoke devalued me in the ears of those who've been taught that we can be defined by how hard we pronounce our "z".  It was lost in the shame of knowing that my value could be defined by how soft my "y" is when I say "yo". I lost my accent while trying to assimilate in a society where Spanish comes in second but Dominican Spanish, with it's afro-roots and refranes campesinos, can easily come in last. I lost my accent the moment that I started seeing it as an accent and not simply the way in which I speak... just like when being Dominican became something to identify with.

And yet, when I'm in pain I beg "Ay dio, quítame e'te dolor". When I'm sufriendo de mal de amores I beg para que el asfixie se me quite. When I hit myself, the words "la creta"slip out of my mouth as if I can only feel pain in the language that I spoke while feeling my first heartbreak, my first moment of despair, my first fall as a child that was always followed by an adult saying "no llores, eso e' pa crecer" ("don't cry, that's so you can grow"). My Dominican Spanish can be found in the club coming out of my lips as I mouth a bachata song, in my lamentable "ay" when I'm feeling worry. It resonates behind the "ha!" sound when I say "cahrro" instead of "carro".

Those are moments that I can't control where my native tongue sings in beautiful resistance. And yet when I speak intently and with every sentence preceded by an idea, I'm filled with regret in realizing that somehow I might no longer think in Dominican Spanish. 
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Monday, January 20, 2014

The strength in letting go

Sometimes we confuse practicing self-care with practicing strength. Or at least I do. Whenever I recognize that I'm at an emotional low, I immediately go into rejection mode: I think of practicing self-care as sitting down and writing more goals, as fantasizing about a better future, as drilling into my brain that I am a strong and independent woman who doesn't need anyone to validate her worth.

And every time that I react that way, I ultimately end up resorting to some sort of short-term solution for my pain: anxiety, eating too much, physically escaping by leaving the situation, etc..

One of my friends sent me a quote by bell hooks in hopes of making me feel better: "Knowing how to be solitary is central to the art of loving. When we can be alone, we can be with others without using them as a means of escape." Well, no. I tried being alone for a couple of minutes. I sat on my bed, staring at the quote. "I don't wanna use my friends as an escape," I thought. Then the tears really came pouring down. And so I decided, or rather recognized that I didn't want tough love. I didn't want to be "strong" and handle this on my own. I needed people. So I reached out and before I knew it, I had built for myself a support group of friends to remind me that I'm worthy of love.

And that's pretty much where the failure was for me in the past: I felt that in letting myself actually feel sorrow, I'd become less worthy of love. I ignored my needs in order to not have to share feelings that I was ashamed of, and I somehow felt that keeping things inside was the strongest thing to do.

But there's so much strength in realizing that we're human and, even though we may be ashamed of our own emotions, even if we find ourselves not being able to fully lift our heads, we are always worthy of love.

So today I'm practicing self-care by sharing those things that I consider weak-emotions with close friends and by having patience with myself. Also by recognizing that letting go of pressure to be good all the time and allowing myself this space is an act of resistance in a society that shuns those who dare say "No, I'm not good."

"Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare." -audre lorde

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