A blog by Amanda Alcantara

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

20 Lessons I Learned This Year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Acción Poetica in Toronto, CA

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

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

Running through the 6

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

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

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

Villa Soldati, Buenos Aires, Argentina

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

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

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

Carnival at Port-of-Spain, Trinidad

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

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

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

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

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

Buenos Aires, Argentina

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

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

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

New York, NY

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

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Wednesday, December 2, 2015

20 Things That Do Not Determine Your Worth

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anything else that should be on this list? 

If it helps, pretend I'm drinking tea

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Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Las Hermanas Mirabal: History that we live and breath

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Mirabal home (Wikimedia Commons)

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

Inside a cacao fruit (Wikimedia Commons)

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

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

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

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

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

Las Hermanas Mirabal (jmarcano.com)

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Monday, November 23, 2015


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

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Monday, September 28, 2015

My Story: Why We Need to Stop Teaching Women to Apologize

I’m too apologetic.

I’ve known this for a while. I basically apologize for existing. Yet the realization has become clearer recently where I’ve begun to notice that it goes beyond constantly saying “I’m sorry.” It actually manifests itself in my hesitance to defend myself, in my ambivalence in making decisions, in my anxiety, in my posture, even in my writing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When I was left alone in the mornings, since I had school in the afternoons (before you freak out about neglect or whatever, this is not uncommon in the Dominican Republic), I would go play near the giant hole with two kids from a close by neighborhood. The boys were going to public school in a barrio close to ours. My mother struggled to put me through private school. But that barely mattered to us kids, though part of me knew my mother would disapprove.

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

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

I never played with those boys again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few days before leaving Buenos Aires, I decided to go out for dinner alone at night. People in BA have dinner really late. I went, and sat at a table in a bar at 9:00 p.m., then asked for the menu. No one served me once the menu was placed in front of me. I almost wanted to cry because I felt that I had crossed some sort of threshold. You waited too much by this point, they clearly think you’re waiting for someone. You can either leave, or demand to be served.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pero ya.

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

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

Did you know that I am made of human flesh?

Did you know that my existence is golden?

Fuck the world for not seeing me.

I see me.

This story was previously titled "I see me: Un-learning to be apologetic. Title was changed on March, 2017. 
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Friday, August 7, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Screen grab taken from The Pineapple Diaries

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

Episodes are available here

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Monday, July 20, 2015

They Come and Go: A Look at the Friendships in My Life

Con mi hermana y unas amigas
Sometimes I wonder if I'm more insecure about my friendships than my romantic relationships. You see, throughout my life I have been able to control the latter more than the former. Whenever I didn't like a guy, lo botaba. If I was super in love with someone who didn't love me back, at least the attachment never existed (except for in my head and broken dreams). But because of my experience living con un pie aquí y otro allá as an immigrant, and the many schools I attended, I became super possessive of my friendships--not in a jealous way (dique) but more in a, "why haven't we talked in so long? omgwhatdididowrong doyouhateme" kinda way.

La primerita amiga that I ever had was una gordita. I can barely make out a complete memory except that I was in my very first grade in school (I think kinder) in el Colegio La Zurza in Santiago. It is easily one of the earliest memories that I have. And I didn't actually like her. She always wanted to play with me but I really just wanted to be left alone- believe it or not I am an introvert at heart. But she insisted. I can see her silhouette, blue uniform, and a memory of me crying and her taking me to the teacher. Then, I was changed to another school porque La Zurza was right next to a giant hole, by a bridge, and mom always feared que eso se iba a derrumbar- that it would fall. I went from there to El Colegio Sagrado Corazón de Jesus and met otra amiguita. I actually liked this one. She was way taller than I was, and seemed older. I still remember her face clearly. She was indiecita with textured hair, and had some missing teeth (I mean, we were like 6). During this time, I was also friends with a bunch of kids on my neighborhood, especially Rosa** who was a year older than me and in a different school. We used to play de todo en el vecindario. Rosa and I were the only girls among the whole group except for Jennifer*** who left the neighborhood a couple of years before I did.

Then there was 2nd grade, the year that I did here, in the US. I came here with my older sister, and unlike in past years where we only stayed for summer vacation, this time we were left with our grandparents for the school year. And it was intense. I went to Number 1 school- La "numbal wan" like grandma used to say. It was a cold building, with a lot of floors. We had to make a line inside before going to the classroom upstairs. Everything seemed to be dull colors, either gray, brick red, or a dirty beige. The weather was dark, so even though there were a lot of windows, the bright white lights always needed to be turned on as if we were in a hospital. The desks here were different too- they were kind of cool. We even had a little space under them to store stuff. Mrs. Zaldaña was a white looking lady with blonde hair but she actually wasn't our only teacher. I used to love art class and I was the best at math- even have a little certificate to prove it. I was in something called ESL because I needed to learn English. This time, I didn't really have any friends in school. Aside from the Lunchables buelita used to get me, the food was cool too-even though I ate alone. One time, we were playing catch and I was It. I was following this boy from my class and he ran into the boys' bathroom and I almost ran in but I didn't, however I did stick my head inside the door before realizing what I had done. All the kids then started making fun of me. Apparently I had peaked into the boys' bathroom. Once we were back in class, me chibatearon! One of the kids told the teacher, who already didn't like me because I was pretty much getting in trouble every day, that I went into the boys' bathroom. She yelled at me, then let it go. I was still mortified.

After that school year ended, we returned, and I jumped schools for several grades before ending up in El Cardenal Beras, then El Colegio Padre Emiliano which was a new school that had many of the same students as the previous one. There I met girls who have stayed in my life for a while. I mean, I've known some of them since 4th grade. The friendships I was forming felt deep, positive, and like sisterhoods. Especially because we were going through 6th and 7th grade together which are messy years. I gave my first kiss during that time.

Then 8th grade happened. Half-way through the year we went to the US for economic reasons. I didn't go back to numbal wan school, instead I went to number 6. Imagine that. In the middle of eight grade ending up in cold-ass West New York, NJ with a bunch of kids going through puberty and giggling through sex-ed class. Thankfully it was the last year before they opened the middle school right next to the high school, so I didn't have to deal with [predatory] older boys.  This time though, I was in regular English-speaking classes.  It was a very difficult experience. I initially was talking to everyone and trying to be friendly. During my first week, two girls from another class started talking about "the new girl." They came over to me, one of them already knowing who I was pointed me out, the other one looked at me up and down then simply walked away while scoffing, like I wasn't worth it. This hurt, a lot. But I was still seemingly making friends. I was hanging out with everyone, both the popular kids who sometimes accepted me and then the seemingly unpopular kids who were actually way better. Then, one time, during my lunch hangouts with popular kids one of the girls asked "Amanda, who do you hang out with?", I didn't understand the question- como asi?- She explained that sometimes I hang out with other kids and other times with them. Her question was obvious, basically I had to choose. And I chose the unpopular kids although I am not sure if that was a choice as much as the way things happened naturally. Two of them particularly were really great to me, Ana and Jessica. Both Latinas (like most of the teens at my school), Ana was Dominican.

I was getting ready for High School, and actually excited. I even attended 8th grade prom where I was told by one of the popular kids that I looked beautiful. But la familia decided it was time to go back to DR. My sister wasn't doing too well in school, and I was heartbroken as hell about having to leave-- almost as much as when I first came. I cried for days, saying goodbye to the Journalism class I had to practically beg my teacher to vouch for since my English wasn't very good looking yet.

When we returned, all my friends were still here. I may or may not have corresponded with my Ana or Jessica. Es que there wasn't any Facebook or MySpace at the time and kids in the US were using AIM while I only knew how to use MSN Messenger. I was a bit obnoxious en esos tiempos, wanting to be the very best student, and reminding everyone that I had spent a year in the States. Still, after the American-yorkness passed, Primero y Segundo de Bachillerato (Freshman and Sophomore year) were filled with adventures, and my friendships were pretty much unscathed by my trip to the US. Or at least I thought they were. When the decision was made to return to the US to pursue a better education for my sister and myself, my best friend Marta looked at me, and told me without showing any sadness or pain, "I'm not surprised".

I guess the wounds from my having left the first time were still there for my friends and myself. My blue passport loomed over my head throughout my childhood like a taunting reminder that I would return to that place with dark weather, and grey walls. Los primeros años of being new in Memorial High School were pretty sad except for my good grades. I actually begged not to go to that school so that I wouldn't have to see los muchachos from 8th grade. To this day, American public schools feel like haunted buildings for me. I did see Jessica, but we never even really said hi to each- she had changed a lot. She had lost a lot of weight, and was dressing like those kids who we now officially call hipsters. Ana la Dominicana moved to Pennsylvania with her fam. In high school, I had some friendships but none that really stuck except for the three years I spent with my high school sweetheart. I used to take long trips back home from Rutgers University for to visit him at home every weekend- in the end it didn't work out.

I have been in the US since I was sixteen, and one of the hardest lessons to learn has been that friendships will still continue to come and go even if I stay in this country. I don't talk to my high school friends anymore, and in college I made many friends and lost some as well. I remember my counselor telling me the best advise I could ever hear at that moment "Friends are for a reason, or a season". Nonetheless, I did end up meeting two of my best friends in college and just like in the DR, I was in a trio. And the trio remains though we've had to work for it to stay active and survive- the fact that one of them is now engaged so we're talking about wedding plans makes it even easier. I've also gotten closer with people from college who I hadn't actually shared much with before. I guess it should be noted all of these women are Dominicanas.

Facebook makes it easy, even though I question the genuineness of Facebook friendships and often find myself talking more to people who I don't really even have actual friendships with. I was actually inspired to tell this story because I was looking for photos of friends who I had made over the last years since moving into the city and becoming really embedded in radical organizing work. These were friends who I built sisterhood with, who were there when I was going through heartache, who helped me grow during the difficult transition from college to real-ass life. And now I find that again my close circle of friends has changed and it freaks me out. Apparently, it's because my life has changed since last year - when you have a regular 9-5 job, you hang out with folks who also have 9-5 jobs. When you are in a monogamous relationship, you gravitate to people who are also in similar situations. My therapist says that in the end, many of these people are no longer in my close circle yet that doesn't mean they aren't in my life.

Right now, my sisters from the magazine that I co-founded are in my closest circle. And my partner is in that circle too. And yet the paranoia comes around when I see people from my past enjoying life without me--just like it hurt to see my fellow high school classmates graduate without me. I actually tried really hard to stay in contact with them during my transition. I would call all the time, send messages and emails, but eventually I couldn't keep up nor relate. As an immigrant, this is an experience that many of us share: the feelings of missing those whose lives continue after we leave them, and the guilt when the question of "cuando vas a visitar?" is brought up.

Aun así, last year my friend Martha was visiting the US and needed a place to stay, so I offered that she stay with me in the tiny studio I was living in in Jersey City. At first, it was hard as hell. Actually, the entire living arrrangement was just difficult. And yet we created great new memories. We both were so different, yet similar to who we were in grammar school. Since she left, we have stayed in pretty close contact. Turns out there was another part to that saying that my college counselor left out: "Friends are there for a reason, a season, or a lifetime".


** Names have been changed.
*** You know what's crazy? I was by the Rutgers Student Center one time when I saw her walking on campus. I walked up to her like "Jennifer? Is that you?" It was one of those [many] moments that showed just how small the world really is. 
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Saturday, May 16, 2015

Light as a feather

This past month has been about confrontations. I have confronted loved ones, friends, and even colleagues. Apparently, these confrontations are happening as a result of moving in with my partner very soon--it's almost like part of me knows that I must either end or fix my relationships with others before creating a new nucleus that will become the center of life. I must build a new home without bringing fractures from ex-homes with me.

And this has brought on a lot of emotions of anger, guilt, frustration and lack of empathy.

Some might think that ending is harder than fixing, that ending relationships comes with more pain than fixing some. I wish this was true. I wish that purging was harder than digesting. Yet it is not, because the relationships that need fixing are those that we can't simply throw away. The relationships that need mending are those that are so closely tide to our inner circles that releasing them would create more pain and harm than keeping them. Healing relationships is a painful process because it means opening wounds that others might not even know existed, wounds that have been buried so deep that healing them requires creating new injuries in order to reach the deeper ones. As a result of this, I have had to confront my own mistakes and insecurities, and I've also been reprimanded and told that I'm not good enough. This calling-out within personal spaces has been received with attacks on myself, and a lot of defensiveness. And yet I feel more loving than I have in a long time because the truth is out. At this point, I can only hope to continue the conversations, to show that I am coming from a place of love and respect. And yes, I'm also coming from a place of self-care. Our relationships with loved ones must be safe, and I have felt much more connected and safe around these people now, even if wounds have been opened.

As for purging, esa vaina feels so damn good. There are friendships and feelings that I have been clinging onto for a while as a result of insecurities stemming not just from having had relationships that felt validating because of the other person's popularity, but also from a place of fear in being left alone if I didn't somehow cling to every single one of these people. Yet, this past week, in trying to fix or revisit some of these friendships I recognized that relations change as our own lifestyles change - and that it's okay to just let go. This load also included wanting to make others regret their decisions about you: that well-known feeling of showing off of how well things are going for you to those who rejected you in the past. We all know this feeling, from Beyonce's "Single Ladies" to Kendrick Lamar's line in King Kunta "where were you when I was walking?", we're supposed to enjoy making others feel shitty for rejecting us and there's nothing really wrong with that.  Yet believe or not, that is a desire that once released makes us feel lighter than ever, and truly human.

And that's what I'm feeling right now, light as a feather.

Because I have been letting go of the desires for validation, as well as the fears that prevented me from confronting the people in my life, I am also not surprised that I have decided to take a break from organizing outside of projects within my inner circle, I've even taken a break from Twitter. You see,  so much of my energy has been invested in the movements mainly around racial equality that I haven't invested time in other places that desperately need them. There were two loses in the family this week that reminded me of the need to rebuild from within. The 3-year anniversary of my grandmother's death was also this week.

Pero summer is almost here, so are new beginnings. And for the first time, I feel like I'm embarking in this new beginning with the kind of bravery that I've never had before. I feel like I'm embarking in this new beginning with the selfishness that I have needed in order to let go of fear of what others think or others want. The selfishness that I have needed in order to let go of some self-imposed responsibilities and focus on creating and building.

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Friday, March 20, 2015

Welcoming Spring with a blank wall

Something about yesterday and today feels special. Maybe it's just the coming of Spring. But I felt compelled to put away some drawings that I had created as therapy from my wall, in order to leave the wall blank and make space for new ones.

 I actually completely changed everything in my tiny room. I got rid of two full bags of clothes, changed the direction of the bed, threw out old things that I no longer use. And I let myself take a good amount of time to do these things. You see, cleaning is also a form of self-care. It's like getting rid of all the clutter in your life. And within that clutter I hope to get rid of destructive thoughts and practices, painful memories, and things that I no longer wish to identify with.

We must never forget where we came from, but we must also not let our past pain define us.

Last month I went to Trinidad and Tobago for carnival, and it was amazing. There were people there of all shades and shapes wearing beautiful costumes, dancing to lively Soca music and marching down the street with ownership over this particular experience. We were Gods and Goddesses for a day. And yet what stayed with me wasn't the carnival experience in itself, but rather the feeling of being in a black country that actually identifies as black. From the moment I boarded the plane with Caribbean Airlines I noticed that everyone was black or brown: the cabin crew, airport workers, cab drivers, restaurant workers, customer service folks; this highlighted the ways in which African Americans are oppressed in the United States as a result of co-living with white Americans. It is undeniable that there are colorism issues in Trinidad, and that white and lighter skinned people tend to be the wealthier ones with privilege as well as the ones who run government. And yet it is also undeniable that black people in the United States have been excluded from the experience of autonomy and self-determination that I saw manifested in many ways in Trinidad. I wondered if this is what Malcolm X envisioned when he advocated for black nationalism. The pride that I saw in Trinidad as well as the confidence was palpable, and these are denied to black America because of the U.S' racial history and the stereotypes that are perpetuated by the media and culture about African Americans (ranging from lack of education to lack of ethics). So, what happens when you are surrounded by black peers and very few white privileged folks to be compared to?
Women from Trinidad Carnival 2015

Women from Trinidad Carnival 2015
Looking back- Trinidad Carnival 2015

Again, I reiterate that racial tensions exist in Trinidad, and that I was actually only there for a week, but being there did made me want to fight more for the need for self-determination and autonomy within our communities.

Physically, I come from parents who are from the Dominican Republic. I come from years of indoctrinated anti-blackness, slavery and it's repercussions, imperialism, and more wounds that are embodied not in my beautiful brown skin, but in the perception and stigma of that brown skin.

Emotionally, I am emerging from a place of self-injury in more than one way.

And throughout this time of healing, I have been trying to justify my recent wins, including the opportunity to go to Carnival in Trinidad & Tobago. Somehow it feels as if I don't deserve it. It feels selfish to enjoy these gifts in my personal life when not everyone around me is receiving their own gifts. And then, in a beautiful moment of clarity and healing, I noticed that precisely because of my questioning of those gifts is that I needed to empty that wall in my bedroom. Those questions came from a place where I saw myself as defined by my pain, sorrows and misfortunes. This is what happens to communities of color in this country: we are unable to celebrate our gifts because we live in a battlefield where the priority is to survive. We must survive the consequences of gentrification, we must survive police brutality, we must survive living within these systems of oppression perpetuated by capitalism and it's close friend: white supremacy. Communities of color can barely make room to acknowledge our existence as beautiful people because we are trying to prove our worth to others and to ourselves. But we are so worthy of our joys, and more.

So this Spring I encourage us all to start off with a blank wall to fill with self-determination, light, power, and steps moving forward. What are some aspects from #BlackLivesMatter that we want to bring with us and reignite this season? What are some of the moments that we won't allow our movements to be defined by?

I acknowledge that I have been hurt but not broken. I acknowledge that some of my wounds have stopped bleeding, and that all that's left of them are scars. I define myself by my spirit of resistance and not by my oppression. I am a powerful and uncontainable soul.

Channeling my inner Goddess

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Monday, February 2, 2015

Ibeyi: Twin sister making music in English, Spanish, and Yoruba

My ears were in joy when my friends introduced me to Ibeyi. Ibeyi is a French/Cuban musical duo composed by twin sisters. They sing in English, Spanish and the language of Yoruba (brought to Cuba via slave ships from Nigeria and Benin). They are named after the santería orisha twins. Ibeyi, a word that means “twins” in Yorub, sing to soft tunes that mix electronic with piano and drums. The twins described their music to The Guardian as “contemporary negro spirituals”. 

And yet learning about the duo didn’t only bring joy to my ears but also to my soul because of their acknowledgment of their Afro-Latino  roots. Seeing women who look like me perform performing simply gives me life like nothing else can...probably because even when Latinas are winning, those Latinas don't really look like me.

Las gemelas, Naomi and Lisa-Kaindé Díaz, are the daughters of Miguel 'Angá' Díaz, a well-known Cuban conguero. Lisa-Kaindé told The Guardian that the music they create helps them address pain, “It’s like living your pain again, but winning. At the end of every song I’m like, ‘I won the war, I won this pain, this is over’” she said. In an interview with Nowness, Ibeyi revealed that their debut album will be about family and prayer. Both are open during concerts about their black spirituality.

This is evident in their song “Mama Says,” where they sing about their mother’s pain over losing their father. The music video for this song actually featured their mother and a chant which all three of them, mother and daughters, sang in unison. In many ways, I’d interpret this song as a form of feminist power and resilience.

Ibeyi signed with XL Recordings, the same label that released M.I.A.'s Kala. They will hopefully gain more attention once their debut LP  is released on February 16th, 2015. 
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Sunday, January 25, 2015

My pain was so valid

I'm grateful. I'm so grateful for the changes that have occurred in my life these past couple of months. I'm grateful for having an entire community of people that love and support me. I'm grateful for being in the process of falling in love with myself like I never have before.

Last year was intense. I was in a very dark place in my life despite everything going so well. After years of financial struggles, I finally had a great job that I loved; I also made the move from Jersey to New York. I was supposed to be happy. But instead I fell into a deep depression. Apparently, when you've been struggling all your life just to survive, you don't have space to deal with any past trauma that you were or are experiencing. Finding myself in a space where I could actually live comfortably, allowed me the mental space to deal with past traumatic experiences. When explaining this, I always refer to the "hierarchy of needs," coined by 20th Century psychologist Abraham Maslow. This pyramid details the different needs of human beings as a pyramid, with physiological and safety needs at the bottom and love, esteem, and self-actualization at the top in that respective order.

As soon as I stopped worrying about food or making the rent, I started living above those two needs, and so I found myself having dreams from my childhood and having levels of anxiety that were beyond my control. I essentially felt small, and insignificant. I wanted to disappear.

I can't believe the harm that I inflicted upon myself at that time. And yet I can. Hospital bills from when I was taken to the emergency room prove that it happened. I was so ashamed of the pain that I was feeling. So many people were telling me that I was blessed and lucky, that I had no reason to be sad. So many people were telling me that I needed to try harder. And taking anti-depressants only added to this shame. Now, working with mental health clinicians have taught me that the phrase "what doesn't kill you, makes you stronger" has been proven incorrect. The more trauma someone experiences, the more difficult it will be to live and the more likely that person is to resort to harmful ways of coping with emotional pain. Therefore, we must stop making people feel ashamed of their feelings. If you cut me, yes I will bleed. And those anti-depressants that I was taking at the time and that so many people told me I shouldn't take saved my life.

So many people tried to invalidate my feelings, but my pain was so valid, even during the times when I didn't understand it. As I sit here, in tears, I know that the pain and anxiety are still lingering, and yet they are no longer taking over my life. And I'm beyond proud of myself for having come this far. I'm proud for having overcome that time when I had been so lost.

And now, I'm determined to live more fully and more truthfully.

You see, I am living for more than just the person who I am at this very moment; I am living for the many ancestors who survived so that I could be here today. I am living for more than just the person who I am at this very moment, but also for who I was last year, and for the insecure little girl that I was while growing up.

Throughout my life I felt so small and now all I wish to do is take up space. I want my presence to be felt in the room when I walk in. I want my words to resonate in everyone's ears. I want to be able to talk about my accomplishments without feeling like I'm inadequate or don't deserve them.  I also want to remind myself constantly that I'm beautiful. So much importance is placed in women's beauty, and so many standards of beauty are based on whiteness that I somehow had never felt whole. And now I want to feel that every aspect of me is beautiful, not just my figure and hair, but also my skin, my eyes, my lips, my nose, etc. I am beautiful. And I want to celebrate every aspect of me because every aspect is so damn worthy of celebration. 
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Sunday, January 18, 2015

Poem: Like Branches in a Tree

Listen on SoundCloud

My Hair is not like water

It doesn’t Flow
It can’t be molded into a container
It doesn’t move with the breeze
It doesn’t caress my cheeks
like the water caresses rocks on the beach
It doesn’t stay still when calm hits
My Hair doesn’t sit like water in a pond or in a cup of tea

Instead My Hair is solid like branches in a tree
It grows upward
then falls
like giant leaves in coconut palm
It is textured with the security
of an entity that knows its wants and needs

My Hair is solid like branches in a tree
It is grounded in mother earth
and it gives birth
to curls
that tell stories of mothers wrapping their children across their chest
My Hair is like a permanent nest on my head
It gives life to knots
Some branches thick, some branches not
It can hold ornaments beads and rocks
or trap lovers’ fingers as if to remind them of who’s the boss

My Hair is solid like branches in a tree
In the summer in glows like a crown
transforming me into a queen
Don’t tell me to tame it
Don’t tell me to straighten it
Cuz you see
My Hair is autonomous
It needs none of your support
And when I do iron it, it resists
Then your only compliment tends to be
“I like how your hair gets curly in the tip”

My Hair is not like water
It doesn’t Flow
It can’t be molded into a container
It doesn’t move with the breeze
Yet it brings a nice shade when the sun hits
It doesn’t disinfect your wounds
But it is the antibiotic for colonial views
And when the drums hit,
It dances with the moon
And prays for us to be free

My Hair is always reminding me
of my history
Of strength and beauty
You see, You may have stolen our tierra
You may have uprooted us from the mother land
But our ancestor’s roots are still growing in our heads
And We won’t be pushed into any container
You see, we are not moldable like the water in the sea

I said, My Hair is solid like branches in a tree. 

-Amanda Alcántara
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