Race-work, Race-love

2013 Fascinating Latino Story 3: How Exploring Racism & Latino Identity Can Help Us Leave This World Better Than We Found It

In Uncategorized on January 1, 2014 at 11:08 pm

Because the U.S. Census does not consider Latino/Hispanic a racial category and because Latin Americans over time have consistently tried to move further and further away from Blackness, the question “Who is Latina/o?” and “Can Latinas/os be racist?” are very much intertwined. As I mentioned in my first post, George Zimmerman was immediately called “not a racist” because he is of Peruvian descent, even though there have been claims that his Peruvian mother and other family members have revealed anti-Black sentiment. Thus, it continues to be important, and remains a relevant topic of discussion, to analyze not just Latina/o identity but also the characteristics that we as a society use to define a racial identity. Furthermore, these discussions also reveal how important the exploration of race is to understanding how racist feelings manifest itself in people of color. It is important that we begin to  specify “racism”  by connecting it to “White Supremacy” in order to help us understand that people like George Zimmerman and his mother could in fact live out White Supremacist values that affect their decision making in how they perceive as “positive” in our society and in this case, who is worthy of a life.

I begin this section by exploring the events or people who have caused us to question “Who is Latina/o?” Pope Francis has become increasingly more popular for his anti-capitalist views and his service to the poor. But, for Latinas/os, he has also crept into our Latina/o collective consciousness for his racial/ethnic identity. Born and raised in Argentina, Pope Francis is also of Italian descent. While he is hailed as the first Latin American/Latino Pope, many have questioned how Latino he really is because of his Italian heritage.  A very interesting conversation indeed, but what outlets do Latinas/os have to have full discussions about this very important topic?  The point is not to find an answer or come to a conclusion about Latina/o identity; the point is to help bring forth the conversations that many are having but with very little educated facilitation of these questions.

In Reality Show news, the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (RHOBH) has a new cast member, Joyce Giraud Mojica, who is a beauty pageant queen and actress from Puerto Rico.  As with most predominantly White casts, racist comments and colorblind racist events are bound to happen, particularly when there is ONE cast member who identifies as a person of color. In one instance another cast member told Joyce that she was a Black person because Joyce didn’t know how to swim. This racial microaggression heard around the Bravo Twitter world caused a bit of a stir (as it should). Because people generally do not know how to respond to such microaggressions, I must admit, I thought Joyce was going to turn around and consider this an insult. Instead, Joyce made it very clear that she actually is Black because Puerto Ricans do have African heritage. This was a whole new moment for me in Reality Show television. I never heard any Reality TV star clearly delineate Latino heritage and I would imagine this was a first for some  people who have none or minimal awareness of who Puerto Ricans are. In one sentence, Joyce gave RHOBH audience a lesson on Latino heritage whether some may agree or not that this is what being Puerto Rican means. BRAVO to Joyce.

Then, of course, there is Zoe Saldana and Nina Simone. The news of Zoe Saldana playing Nina Simone broke in late 2012 but her response (or repeated responses) came in 2013. Critics are largely unhappy with the Zoe as a choice to play Nina Simone, and Zoe has openly claimed that she does not have time to worry about whether she is “Black” enough to play Nina Simone. This leads to the other question that many Latinos face – what does it mean to be “Latino” enough – particularly if you largely see yourself in different racial categories. For example, AfroLatinas are still largely unincorporated into the Black imagination, even though many AfroLatinas will tell you that people will often see them as Black first. Thus, there is clearly still a large miseducation of who Latinos are not only by non-Latinos but also, sadly, by those of us who identify as well.

(Side note: I wish Zoe would realize that this is not just whether she is Black enough but whether her “lighter skinned, more European appealing traits garnered her a role over a Black woman [AfroLatina or not] who didn’t appeal to a more European aesthetic and if she was REALLY doing it for her “sisters” as she claims she would realize this…but this conversation is for another blog post. Entirely!)

(Another side note: As I reflect on this piece, I continue to be dismayed that at the heart of figuring out Latino identity, there is so still much anti-Black sentiment. This is an important topic to place at the center, one which I will continue to focus on, which other blogueras and other racial analysts should explore as well.)

Unfortunately, this year we saw much structural and interpersonal racism come alive and targeted to Latinos and Latin Americans. In November we saw how dangerous the intersection of immigration status and race can be when the law is used to legally discriminate against a certain population. In the Dominican Republic, we learned that the DR made a whole new class of undocumented immigrants by ruling that those born after 1929 of parents who are not Dominican born, specifically, Haitian parents, would find themselves without Dominican citizenship. It’s horrifying to think that this can happen in the 21st century, but, if we follow the interpersonal racism steps that could lead to or maintain the justification of legalized racism, then perhaps this may not be so surprising. Good articles to read about this are found here and here. In solidarity, four prominent authors (Junot Diaz, Edwidge Danticat, Julia Alvarez and Mark Kurlansky) wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times that can be found here.

Social Media can be great for many things like sharing information but it also helps allow racism to rear its ugly head.  Along with hatred spewed by racism is also the ignorance that is often displayed by racist individuals. In July, we saw how ignorant people are about Latinos because Latinos are still not considered Americans. Case in point: Marc Anthony sang God Bless America for the MLB All Star Game. Once he stopped singing the racist tweets came in: “Why is a [insert all words describing non Americans here] singing the national anthem?”

Oh, boy. Some Americans need to go back to school.

For one, Puerto Ricans are not immigrants, and two God Bless America is NOT the national anthem of the U.S. Yet, people INSISTED on showing their racist, ignorant selves on Twitter and got caught for making these stupid remarks.  Interestingly,  some Latinos responded in a weird fashion, as well. While some were vehemently reacting back to these racist responses, others were responding with anti-Mexican and anti-immigrant sentiments, too. Puerto Ricans have the privilege of being U.S. citizens while other Latin Americans do not have this automatic birth privilege. What both kinds of critics failed to realize is that immigration status or our parents’ orgin of birth does not make us any less American, either.  Yet, many Latinos continue to participate in some kind of anti-Latino sentiment that was completely inappropriate by vehemently claiming that Marc Anthony is not an immigrant and they would understand the anger if he was. WHAT??!! It might serve us more if we (yes, Latinos, talking to you) begin to understand the complexities of Latinidad, one of those being immigration status. At the end of the day, Marc Anthony  should be able to be invited to sing a song even if he wasn’t “American” not just because he has US citizenship!

Another example of public social media displays of racism happened in June to 11-year-old Sebastien De La Cruz who sang the national anthem for an NBA finals game. These interpersonal cyber racist attacks are becoming the norm and IS the new stage for White Supremacy. Thus, it is of high importance to explore social media racism and its discontents.

Speaking of stages for performing Latinidad or anti-Latino sentiments, in October we witnessed the birth of Fusion. Fusion is meant to target younger, Latino viewers, but they neglected to mention that many of the reporters are White Latinos mirroring the class, gender and racial regimes that reign supreme in Latin American television such as Univision and Telemundo. One commentator (a Greek reporter) when describing the network said that Fusion was what happens when you marry Univision and ABC.

Ok. Did we mention that both networks are really very White? So what does that make Fusion?


You can find more critiques of Fusion here and here.

Thankfully, there are venues that have seen the light of day but has been a long time coming!  The AfroLatino Festival in New York saw its birth in June.  They are in fund raising mode to ensure a second festival is in the works.  Read about the festival here. Happily, Seattle, Washington seems to be ahead of the game in this area. Check it out here.

As with my earlier posts, I need to recognize the importance of platforms for artists, educators, reporters, social media activists, and others to discuss Latinidad.  These platforms have the important responsibility to nurture these individuals and also create a community among these individuals interested in the exploration of Latinidad in the US and beyond.  I wrote this piece on the sixth day of Kuumba, the principle for Creativity, which helps us reflect on creative ways to work toward a world better than we found it. In this second year of my writing Fascinating Latino stories, I think it is time to expand this to a larger platform and create a community discussion around these issues.  Therefore, I am thinking of a master plan… who knows what will be in the works for 2014!  Stay tuned…

2013 Fascinating Latino Story 2: Finding Purpose Through Latino Film

In Uncategorized on December 30, 2013 at 6:30 pm

The first entry in my 2013 Fascinating Latino Stories was about #LatinoLit. For the second one, I would like to focus on Latino Film. (Side Note: One of my students, an aspiring film director, told me that she believes there is a difference between movies and films: movies, she says, are meant to entertain while films are meant to educate. I never thought about the difference between movies and films but when she mentioned it, I couldn’t help but wonder about the impact Latinos have on film, or how film impacts Latinidad.)

There were notable moments. One example is the documentary Latino Americans, a three part series on PBS, because it provided some very interesting historical facts about the Latino community, how it was formed in the US, how Mexican Americans and other Latinos have been systematically betrayed and discriminated in order for Anglos to take land to expand the U.S., and the future of Latinidad. While there were some interesting facts unearthed, as I will add at the end of this post, the documentary had some pretty interesting critiques, one example that you will find here. One question asked on media outlets promoting the documentary that I personally thought was NOT appropriately asked since there was no context is the following: “Do you feel more Latino or more American?” This question suggests that we have accepted a White European model of who Americans are/should be and separates Latinos from Americans. While I understand that Latinos live in what sometimes is described as living in two worlds within the same country, I reject that model as a native New Yorker born of Ecuadorian immigrants. I don’t see American as “White” or “Anglo” especially since America’s original inhabitants are Native/Indigenous peoples. This leads me to wonder: how are we defining what is and who can be an American? Are Latino films that are supposed to be about the Latino experience addressing this question? There are moments in the film that I was very disturbed by, particularly the stories that somewhat glorified an assimilationist perspective of the Latino experience which led me to think about the following: are Latinos shaping definitions of “American” or are we still trying to incorporate ourselves to a systematically constructed White American model that has been difficult to break? Thus, while the film is important, more work about Latinos need to be created, more with gendered, race-d, class-ed perspectives. We must also consider the audiences we want to write for and consider my final point about the film: Why are we STILL trying to prove to [White and Black] audiences that we are American?

Taking into consideration these last questions, there are several Latinas/os who are responding to these questions in interesting ways. They include DreamTown, El Barrio Tours, and Negro: A DocuSeries About Latino Identity. Each provide a glimpse into the complexities of who Latinas/os/Latin Americans are, who we are becoming, and the spaces we inhabit.

Beyond the actual creation of films centered on Latinas/os, we must also think about venues that provide a space to view and think about these kind of films. Unfortunately, one of the most popular of these venues, the New York International Latino Film Festival (NYILFF) ended their 13 year tenure showcasing Latino films that were very rarely shown in mainstream theaters. I am a bit angered that a collective could not push this really important system in Latino media forward. At the very least, I hope a new generation of Latino theater venturists would be inspired to reignite another of its kind, again.

In future Latino Film moments, the new Cesar Chavez film will open and provide a new generation of Latinos and others with this very important part of Latino history. Who knows, maybe someone will be inspire to do a movie on Dolores Huerta or Celia Cruz! In a past Latino Film moment, Eugenio Derbez’s movie Instructions Not Included set a record “as top-grossing Spanish language film of all time in the U.S.” I haven’t seen this film yet but I do hope it is setting records for positive reasons and not for a reliance on stereotypical Latino tropes that seem to be more successful in the U.S.

Of course, this is not an exhaustive list of moments. To get all your information on Latino Film and other forms of art, please follow El Blog de HOLA. You can also find the blog and other work about Latino Film and art by following the hashtag #SupportLatinoWork. Find the origin of the hashtag here. Shout out to A.B. Lugo for all the important work he is doing in this area. Pa’lante!!

So, here is the interesting Latino History Fact that I learned from the documentary Latino Americans: Did you know that the space Lincoln Center in New York City inhabits once was home for Puerto Ricans & African Americans? According to the documentary Latino Americans, the policy named for removing them from the area to build Lincoln Center was called “Spic Removal”.

Did that settle in? Spic. Removal. Helped create Lincoln Center.

Who knew we were walking around a cemetery that holds much NY Latino history…

Film and other forms of art is how we visually document our histories and actively construct new narratives. Artists are quite often thought of as people who hold the dreams of our communities and help shape our people’s purpose. Not coincidentally, today is the fifth day of Kwanzaa – Nia. Let us create the spaces for our Latina/o artists to help shape our people’s purpose as the Latinization of the U.S. continues.

2013 Fascinating Latino Stories – Writing Latinidad in #LatinoLit Moments

In Uncategorized on December 27, 2013 at 11:06 am

Last year, around this time, Latina magazine identified George Zimmerman as part of their “fascinating Latino story” feature. I was so angry that I was inspired to write my own version of fascinating Latina/o stories for my blog found here: Open Letter to Latina: The Year of the Latin@ Intellectual. I wrote a total of 5 entries for my version of Fascinating Latino Stories for 2012. And here I am about to do the same for 2013.

As I see it, there is a huge problem in the way we conceptualize “fascinating” Latino stories…media outlets often do not go beyond indentifying Latinos physically, racially, and ethnically. As was the case with Latina magazine last year, I was angry about their Zimmerman feature because they provided no context to why Zimmerman was a Latino story. They just indentified him as Latino. There was no mention of what actually was fascinating: the debate about why Zimmerman chose to identify as Latino to justify that there was no racist intentions involved when he murdered Trayvon Martin.  The “Why are you Latino now?” story was fascinating for multiple reasons: for one, while I gag at the thought that Zimmerman identified as Latino when it was convenient, it DID make people wonder: “Who are Latinos?” Secondly, it encouraged us to think further about racist motivations and the question that often persists – can people of color be racist?

Thus, I conceptualized my fascinating Latino stories as events that pushed us to think about Latina/o sociopolitical experiences, explore Latina/o identity, and imagine, caricaturize, or create narratives around Latina/o lives in the US.

On a personal note, I wish Latinas/os had more outlets to discuss identity and politics — magazines, online or print, that provide us with more depth than what they would like to demonstrate and sell. But, since Latinos are not deemed intellectuals, we are therefore not intellectualized, and ultimately we are not considered beyond the Vergara stereotypes. It is in this spirit (which, coincidentally is the second day of Kwanzaa when the second principle – Self-Determination – is honored) the spirit of Latina/o intellectualism and intellectualizing Latinas/os that I reflect on those events for the next couple of days of who Latinas/os are and who we are becoming. 

 “In the beginning there was the word…” So, I will begin with my fascinating LatinoLit Moments in 2013.

In 2013, readers saw three major autobiographies from three very different Latinas – Sonia Sotomayor, Rita Moreno, and Jenni Rivera. Sonia Sotomayor and Rita Moreno could not be more different – one is a trained lawyer and now Supreme Court judge and the other is a trained actress. Yet, they both share a Puerto Rican background, both tell tales of being raised by migrant parents and growing up in the US. They both followed different tracks (one academic, the other artistic) but they both were groundbreakers. Rita Moreno is one of the ONLY people in the US to boast a Tony, Emmy, Grammy and an Academy Award.  Sonia Sotomayor is our first Latina Supreme Court Judge.  They came of age during a time when they were quite literally the first Latina everything – and that alone is worth following their journeys. 

Then there is Jenni Rivera who pretty much summed up the second reason why everyone should read these autobiographies:

“I am a woman like any other and ugly things happen to me like any other woman. The number of times I have fallen down is the number of times I have gotten up” ~ Jenni Rivera

How did these Latinas get back up after crippling medical illnesses, racist experiences, abortion, sexual and physical abuse, and life threatening heartbreaks? What did it mean to be Latina in the different areas they fulfilled their hopes and dreams in during the different social eras they grew up in? All three stories are about how powerful these Latinas are and how they have each gotten back up – like many of us have – and are not only living to tell but triumphing over these falls.  Additionally, autobiographies written by Latinas not only help those of us who identify as Latina connect with literature, but they also provide testimonio of Latina lives.

Please. Go read these books.

Notable also in the Latina/o literary scene was the most recent interview between Toni Morrison and Junot Diaz, where Junot had the honor to ask Toni Morrison questions about her work, her thoughts on race and the literary imagination, her work as an editor who has worked with people like Angela Davis and others. Junot writes that his writing, like many of us, continues to be shaped by Toni Morrison’s writing which speaks to many things…but interestingly, when Junot Diaz says to Toni Morrison, “You’re one of us” — he speaks to the larger Black diaspora in which Latinos are included – but, an aspect of Latino identity that continues to be erased or ignored not just by non-Latinos but many within our community as well. To hear him say “You’re one of us” probably confused many or maybe was ignored by others because “Latino” and “Black” are not seen as one identity. 

Another fascinating story in Latino Lit moments was Ricardo Blanco, President Obama’s 2013 inaugural poet. The first Latino to receive such an honor, Blanco as a “Latino” choice came with some controversy. To date, President Obama has deported close to 2 million people in his tenure. Thus, some believe that Blanco was strategically placed to symbolically represent values of the Obama presidency. 2013 marked a time when Latinos were symbolically used to represent awareness and consciousness among politicians, but the facts prove that awareness and consciousness do not add up to power to protect and serve the most vulnerable of our people.

It would be a mistake to not add the role Social Media plays in sharing information about Latino Lit. Julio Varela recounts how the #LatinoLit hashtag was born and why Latino Literature continues to be important today in this article. The hashtag, while used for many purposes, is primarily used to form and determine social media communities. Today, Latina/o writers continue to be marginalized; thus, social media has provided an interesting counterspace to those spaces of privilege and White dominance. Check out #LatinoLit! 

On a personal note, I am happy to have made some impact in the Latino Lit moment in 2013.  In the summer of 2013, I was asked to conceptualize and coordinate a panel for the Brooklyn Museum where the topic would center on the future of Latino Literature.  I moderated a panel that included Sofia Quintero, Daniel Jose Older, and founder of La Casa Azul Bookstore, Aurora Anaya-Cerda. Since that talk, we have been discussing plans for future events that focus on the Latino Literature. Check us out in 2014!

In closing, as we meditate on the principle of Self-Determination, let us reflect on the ideas and images that have defined Latinas/or, have the courage to think beyond these images, and blaze through like the Latino Intellectuals we are. All we need is a pen (or keyboard) to write what our Latina/o future can look like.



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