Race-work, Race-love

Archive for October, 2010|Monthly archive page

Thoughts on “abUSed: The Postville Raid”

In Uncategorized on October 27, 2010 at 12:26 pm

I have a blue passport. I never really questioned this until I saw green and red passports amongst family members. Some passports identify you as a citizen of another country. Others suggest that you are resident of the US and not a citizen. And then there are others who do not have any passports at all. In my family, we had all types.

Our conversations were sometimes dominated by issues of immigration. We discussed who was next to get the blue passport, who should obtain dual citizenship as Ecuadorian Americans, and who was trying to get to this country by any means necessary. Some of us often wondered why some individuals want to leave their country so desperately. All I knew then was that family members left their homes and what they are familiar with because the US was the land of hope and their mother land had no more hope to offer. Their motherlands nurtured them as much as a homeless parent can to his or her children. Surviving on the bare minimum, some have the will and the strength to leave their countries. The majority stay. But a few leave risking everything including their own lives. And I was privy to those stories.

Some wonder why our mother lands or home countries are not doing enough to keep these few who decide to leave. Some forget that these countries were raped, pillaged, overturned by more economically dominant countries – The United States, Spain, England. Many want us to forget this colonial and imperialist past and make us believe that the structures left behind just magically appeared.

Such is the case with Postville, Iowa. Here is the story of a small town that comprised of over 3600 residents whose economic base was centered on a kosher meat-packing plant. Postville attracted a large population of Guatemalan citizens to work in the plant. The community of Postville became a small microcosm of first and second generation immigrant culture from Europe and Central America. Part of this immigrant culture consisted of people who were undocumented citizens. Along with this status come a number of issues that are part of this immigrant culture: fear of deportation, economic, sexual, and physical abuse from employers, bullying from peers, and mistrust of authority figures to name a few. These immigrants come with one purpose: to work and feed their families here in the US and back in their homes. US politicians have a different set of values and reaction toward the undocumented immigrant population. In the name of these values, the George Bush administration orchestrated the largest mass detention and deportation of undocumented citizens of Postville, Iowa in 2008. This was the focus of the film “abUSed: The Postville Raid” by Luis Argueta.

When Roberto Lovato described our current anti-immigrant climate as the Era of Juan Crow – he was not kidding. This film exemplifies the Juan Crowism, legal racial discrimination, that currently exists today in the US. Argueta demonstrates the way undocumented citizens of Postville were treated during this mass raid of the plant. Makeshift temporary detention centers were set up and ready made convictions were given out to 389 undocumented immigrants who went in one day to work and left that night to sign over their American lives and families away. Deportation was in their fate. Mass deportation unlike we have ever witnessed in this country will permanently stain our history in the ways US politicians and the federal government treat people we consider an “other”.

Men were chained together, women were sexually and physically abused, children were left alone. Mothers denied having any children for fear that their children may get picked up by ICE. This isn’t reminiscent of Juan Crow. Now this is reminiscent of slavery. Families torn apart. Children taken out of schools. Fathers detained.

When people found out that a raid was possible, they started knocking on people’s doors warning them of what they were told would happen. But it was too late. Close to 400 undocumented citizens were detained, held up, abused, coerced into pleading guilty for a number of crimes, arrested then deported. Some women were given GPS ankle bracelets. Dog tagging. Except in this country we treat animals better than we do Brown undocumented immigrants.

One has to wonder why George Bush’s administration chose a kosher meat packing plant and not a larger corporation like Tyson or Purdue. One has to wonder about the message they were trying to send to everyone in the US – did they think we were going to look at this act as heroic? One has to wonder when the next raid will occur – and what we can do about it when we get a call that a raid is going to happen. Like Harriet Tubman and her Underground Railroad, we have to figure out ways to warn our people of this potential harm to themselves, their families, and the communities at large. And then we have to get together and demand for greater attention to this issue, a humane approach to handling issues of immigration.

Some people when watching the film exclaimed “What is our society coming to?” But this is where the US has been – and we are returning to a past that has marred our history forever, its relics permanently staining our educational, political, and social structures. Is this the culture of the US? Is this what we have to offer?

Today, Postville’s population dwindled down to about half since 2008. About 1800 people now, the town will forever be remembered for the Raid, children left motherless and fatherless, educators deeply affected by the roles they had to assume forever after, church administrators who were called to duty and house many scared individuals, and a community that is working hard to make sure that their residents feel safe. But who can feel safe in such a harsh anti-immigrant climate?

I left the film feeling disappointed and overwhelmed. All this supposed power that a blue passport and all my education are supposed to have – and I had no idea how to start invoking the spirit of Harriet Tubman. What kind of Underground Railroad needs to be constructed to aid our people today? Is protest enough? What about states like Arizona and Florida who continue to work against Brown people?

I am a native New Yorker, born of Ecuadorian immigrants. I was born and raised in this country. I was taught to love this country because my father and mother taught me to love this country. But this country is exhibiting wicked behavior. This country is reverting back to days of slavery and Jim Crow. We are forgetting that history repeats itself because we have not learned the lesson.

Thus with my blue passport and all this education, my first defense is to testify and provide witness to this destructive behavior the US is engaging toward our most vulnerable population. So I begin to write. Write and share. Share and plan. Plan and execute. So stay tuned. You may be getting a call soon.

To Cerebrate or Celebrate: Music and the Race-Worker

In Uncategorized on October 22, 2010 at 3:11 pm

This week I have been listening to a lot of music that inspires me to continue doing the work that I do. I believe this sub-genre of music is called “conscious music”. Much of what I listen to comes from hip-hop and rock en español and neo-soul. For today’s post I will provide some examples of music that drives me to continue the path of race-work and the arduous path of dissertating.

There’s something in your heart
and it’s in your eyes
It’s the fire, inside you
Let it burn
You don’t say good luck
You say don’t give up
It’s the fire, inside you
Let it burn

The Fire – The Roots featuring John Legend

I first heard this song on a CD created by a friend who saw me struggling through thinking of a topic for my dissertation. I was numb – enduring a broken relationship – my relationship with myself was starting to break as well. But music, certain music, has the ability to restore a fire that was beginning to burn out. Writing has the ability to keep that fire going.

It is perhaps that reason that I felt I needed to be on a path leading to a doctorate. The act of dissertating – or the process of creating new knowledge, a rebirth of old topics, the twist you give to the topic with your own experiences and your extraction of prior knowledge is an arduous and messy task. As if wading through mud, one attempts to find a way to explain to others what you are doing, why you spend so much time staring into space, and why you seem to disappear although physically you are present.

Sometimes, as you dissertate, you forget why you were doing it in the first place. For some of us race-workers, we dissertate because we were allowed and privileged with the space to think creatively, use academic tools, and discuss ideas among other dissertators. But in our gut, race-workers also do it because we want to know ultimately why some people mistreat others based on their racial background. This question has driven me nuts since I was a kid. And sometimes as you dissertate, you forget that question because of “too many minds” like Bruce Lee said. John Legend sings it well when he says that the fire is in our hearts reaches our eyes and we have to let it burn. Broken relationships, the academic hazing process, and racial battle fatigue are all determined to put that fire out. But we have to finds ways to let that fire burn.

“no tengo por que tener miedo mis palabras son balas
balas de paz, balas de justicia
soy la voz de los que hicieros callar sin razon
por el solo hecho de pensar distinto, ay Dios”

Matador – Los Fabulosos Cadillacs

People forget how powerful words can be. Or perhaps we do know – and it is why we have been trained to cower through academic language, through families who have endured political strife in their countries, through the punishment we get at work, school, homes for speaking our minds. But we owe it to our ancestors who have spoken on our unborn behalves to live more peaceful lives than they have to pick up their words where they have left off. Stated in an earlier post regarding Miguel Piñero, these spiritual mentors and ancestors give us one more piece to the puzzle to figure out this crazy maze we call life. Mis palabras son balas – my words are bullets – and they can be used for peace, for racial justice, to recover the Racial Divine. Conservatives have learned this in the most artful manner – they are masters of re-framing political injustice to sound eerily like true Race-Workers like Dr. King and Chief Justice Thurgood Marshall. We need to learn the same.

Now this is time to free your mind and your soul
Yo our official story has never been told
Ladies you got to demand what you want
And what we want is respect, right
Come and take a walk with me a closer walk
With thee see what only I can see
Sisters check this, watch this
Freedom – Various Artists – Panther Soundtrack

After we learn to use our words we can then provide a glimpse into other realities (i.e. men of color), other marginalized voices (i.e. women), other politically powerless voices (i.e. undocumented immigrants). To make the puzzle more complete, these stories must be told, change must be asked for and demanded. We must take our brother and sisters who may not agree with us for a ride with us on this journey by any means necessary.

Bring wings to the weak and bring grace to the strong
May all evil stumble as it flies in the world
All the tribes comes and the mighty will crumble
We must brave this night and have faith in love
Cold War – Janelle Monae

And while the words may ultimately hurt us, like bullets, we must also realize that our words can help those – and ourselves – in this Cold War…Some of us are too afraid to speak our minds. Others are so strong that when we speak, our words are misconstrued for hate. Wings and grace is what we must develop and combine to work on the self as the cause and THE CAUSE for all the selves in this world.

Nothing left, he stole the heart beating from my chest
I tried to call the cops, that type of thief you can’t arrest
Pain suppressed, will lead to cardiac arrest
Diamonds deserve diamonds, but he convinced me I was worth less …
I was blessed, but couldn’t feel it like when I was caressed
I’d spend nights clutching my breasts overwhelmed by God’s test
I was God’s best contemplating death with a Gillette
But no man is ever worth the paradise MANIFEST

 Manifest – The Fugees

The fire in your heart, when taken, can seem difficult to recover once you realize who took it in the first place. Lauryn Hill acknowledges this and realizes that who ever took that fire cannot be held accountable. Instead we hold ourselves accountable. We turn to death – spiritually, emotionally, and sometimes physically. Despite knowing that we have a fire that shines bright like diamonds, years of cumulative messages calling your fire crazy, hostile, incendiary, insatiable – you believe these messages and begin to shut that fire down. You pray. You act. And the hope is that you come to a realization that you have to seek your own redemption. Think – why are you God’s best? Why are you like a diamond? How can this be manifested through your work?

One love, one game, one desire
One flame, one bonfire, let it burn higher
I never show signs of fatigue or turn tired
cause I’m the definition of tragedy turned triumph
It’s David and Goliath, I made it to the eye of
the storm, feeling torn like they fed me to the lions
Before my time start to wind down like the Mayans
I show ’em how I got the grind down like a science
It sounds like a riot on hush, it’s so quiet
The only thing I hear is my heart, I’m inspired
by the challenge that I find myself standing eye to eye with
Then move like a wise warrior and not a coward
You can’t escape the history that you was meant to make
That’s why the highest victory is what I’m meant to take
You came to celebrate, I came to cerebrate…
The Fire – The Roots

That is what the fire sounds like – a riot on hush – the sound of your heart – and inspiration comes. Broken relationships, colorblind people, crazy-makers, abusive partners, institutional racism – all of that becomes challenges that inspire you to act and not get you down. And in that your paradise becomes manifest – in that you hold yourself accountable for the history you were meant to make.

And then we join others who understand this – and we “cere-brate” not just celebrate our redemption. In this cerebration – our fires together – we make Race-Work. We make Race-Love.

Rebuilding Racial-Trust and Racial-Love Between Men and Women of Color

In race, love, Uncategorized on October 21, 2010 at 12:29 pm

Racial trust. Often when you are a race-worker you identify strongly with others who share the same racial angst, love, or work. There is an immediate attraction when you find an ally, a friend, a lover, a partner who can share these moments of racial recognition. Sometimes it is a look, a knowing smile, a grimace of “Can you believe she just said that?!” – those moments of intimacy that racially conscious people have are precious. They make you feel part of a community and less lonely in a colorblind world.

This racial trust, racial recognition has, as of late, been fueled with thoughts of issues of gender. Over time, I have learned that racial trust can be broken when we speak on issues affecting women of color. What does it mean to be a race-woman in a violent world toward all women? What does it mean to love a race-man under these circumstances? When I think about gender and race, I am reminded that our long history of systemic violence and relationship abuse against men and women of color affects our race-work, our race-love.

I recall a conversation I had with a former partner. At the beginning stages of our friendship, we had many of these race-talks. We shared a love for the commitment to racial justice as taught by our spiritual ancestors like Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. At the time, I discovered that my beloved hero of racial justice, Dr. King, had several extra-marital affairs. I explained to my friend at the time how deeply hurt I was by this knowledge. How could a man so committed to racial justice be uncommitted to his race-woman, to such gender injustice? I could not grapple with the irony of Dr. King’s commitment to racial and social upheaval and the way he treated women. I felt this cut very deeply.

And this is where these questions of women’s rights to feel safe in their relationships breaks the back of racial trust. At least with this particular person.

The man I was speaking with became livid. He yelled, “How could you be so insensitive about one of our heroes – one on MY heroes? Does cheating several times on his wife obliterate all the work he did toward racial justice? Next time, you need to be more careful about how you talk about people’s heroes!” He kept wailing, yelling, shouting, telling me that I can be perceived negatively if I continue to say such things by people who can’t understand race-work. In the end, he apologized and thought maybe we just shared the same passion for race. Perhaps this is the reason why we were both yelling, he thought.

Still, I cried. As a worker toward racial justice, I felt like I betrayed this racial trust. Yet, at the same time I felt like I was betraying women of color. Women who have felt the brunt of that kind of anger from their men because of slavery, lack of immigration status, racism. Where did I side in all of this? I cried because I felt like a traitor. I felt like I broke racial trust.

Of course, at the time I did not know that this person also had extra-marital affairs. At the time, I allowed him to blame me for his anger. I did not realize that this became a personal matter for him, not just as a race-man, but as a man in general.

Extra-marital affairs. Verbal abuse. Emotional abuse. Physical abuse. Sometimes at the hands of the ones we most trust – our race-men – as I claimed in an earlier post – anger acting out. So as a woman, as a race-woman, I took another path. This moment in my life led me down a different road than the one he told me I should take—the one where I should ignore abuse toward women to protect race-work. Instead, I went down a path of exploring what being a race–WOMYN meant, not just a race-worker. I reviewed the works of Angela Davis who reminds us that misogynist violence is legitimate to study and address. I reviewed the works in This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color. I remembered Oprah Winfrey disclosing her own abuse. To be sure, violence against women cuts across all racial boundaries. To be sure, violence against women encompasses the subtle and the overt forms. To be sure, often the cheating accompanies verbal manipulation, emotional distortion, and the demise of MUJER. WOMYN. Where do we go from here? Why did this happen to me? How could this happen to some of the strongest womyn I know?

And then I think of Celie in The Color Purple by Alice Walker. Do you remember? Celie’s husband is angry that she decides to leave him. He yells, he barks, he reminds her that he always thought she was ugly. Finally when none of that worked, he attempts to hit her. Celie swings around, turns and triumphantly says “Everything you done to me, already done to you.” She knew a secret that many of us have yet to uncover.

That brings me to the present moment. Could all that abuse we endured be occurring because men of color have been cheated on, manipulated, violated too? Kevin Powell, author and activist, admits to his own violent past and the ways social structures reinforce these violent acts. Powell discloses this to the world so that other young men can understand how the subtle can build up to the overt and become anger acting out. On the Oprah Winfrey show, Tyler Perry discussed his own anger acting out as he publicly disclosed abuse by four people in his life, all before he turned ten. Perry discusses how this abuse, then, was acted out toward the women in his life. But he also reminds us that many young men, young men of color, are ignored, abused, battered, violated by members of their household and community – but in a way he reminds us that these children are ignored, abused, battered and violated by a racist society. No they do not mention race – but one cannot ignore that he is a Black man. That his influences came from the Black Church. That he was helped along by a Black woman named Oprah Winfrey. No need to ignore that. This is race-work. This is race-love.

At this time, I must reinforce that this revelation does not excuse the abuse women of color have received over time by their men, sometimes race-men. This revelation only wants me to do more race-work. I implore our men committed to racial justice to face the truth in their own lives. To remember that the race-women in their lives have hearts and body parts that break too. Women have been writing, researching, discussing, acting upon, crying about, marching against the ways we have been treated. But we need our brothers and hermanos in the struggle to help us with telling your own stories of abusive pasts and triumphant recoveries to help other hermanos out too. Some may say “Why? Cheating isn’t violent”. Tell that to the woman who has been called crazy, been yelled fuck you, or been hit as a result of an accusation. Nothing works in isolation.

Still, I believe that all pain can be healed with love and a lot of work to recover that love. Part of that work includes forgiveness. Both Powell and Perry talk of forgiveness. And it is in this where we recover the racial trust we have slowly broken between men and women of color. And without racial trust – we can’t achieve our Racial Divine.

Our Racial Divine has been hurt not just by the society in which we live but also at each other’s hands. To recover our Racial Divine – we must work on rebuilding our race-love – to continue this race-work. To the outside world, the abuse in our communities is our own self-destruction. But to us Race-Workers, we know it is much more complex than that. It is time to build racial trust between men and women of color. We must do it if we are truly committed to being race-men and race-women.

I (finally) Love My Hair

In Uncategorized on October 20, 2010 at 11:44 am

I don’t have “wash-and-go” hair like the girls in the commercials. Growing up my hair caused me many problems, as I am sure it has for many little girls. But the kind of problems I had were not just that I didn’t have the right bow to wear, or that maybe I didn’t like the way it happened to look that day. No. My hair just didn’t know itself. Junot Diaz’s character Yunior in Drown may have had Africa running through his hair, but I had Africa, Europe, and Quechua (Native American) running through mine – and my hair was just all confused.

When I was younger, family members called me “sambita” because I had curlier hair than my mother and sisters. I had no idea what this term meant at the time. All I knew was that it meant “different” to them and it meant “no one knew how to help me take care of my hair” to me. So for years I would spend my time pouring over magazines like Teen magazine, magazines not meant for girls of color, to figure out ways to straighten my hair to look like the women in my immediate family. “ESTE PELO!” my mother would exclaim trying to get through the African and Native American in my hair – and it all just turned into one ball of a frizzy mess.

Until one day I went to Ecuador. I was 16 years old and it was my first trip back since I was three. There I met more women from my family, more Ecuadorian women. These women didn’t have tight curls – they had frizzy curls like me but they looked healthier. They didn’t have straight hair like my sisters did – their hair was definitely curlier. That in-between state of hair – that mixture of people – evidence of our heritage – was stated plainly in our hair and on our lips. And for the first time, looking at them, I felt normal.
So I asked – “How do you keep your curls? I brush and brush, use water, pull it back at night, pull it up in the morning—I feel like I tried everything and nothing works!”

My cousin looked at me like I was crazy. She said very pointedly – “Stop brushing.”

Lightning bolt.

What?! Could it really have been that simple? Stop brushing?! For years, I saw Marcia Brady brushing her long blonde hair 100 times a day and I thought something was wrong with me!

For years, I hated THE BRUSH. Who knew a brush was a tool for my own oppression!

During that time, although I was racially aware, I was not racially conscious. I was, however, mad that I had this “kind of hair” and that I had to learn this late in the game how to “manage” it. Even the term “managing” seems so oppressive. As we “manage” diversity on our college campuses or corporations or celebrate “difference” rather than discuss the inequalities that those differences represent. At a very micro-level I was learning about the ways women of color have been oppressed for years – through our hair.

A revelation is only the beginning of acceptance. From then on I looked to magazines that were dedicated to women of color – Essence, Ebony – even though I was not a Black woman they were magazines that more closely addressed my issues with hair. Latina magazine popped up in my late teenage years and that helped this mission to destroy THE BRUSH a little more.

Despite all these discoveries, I still had my struggles with hair – all issues of acceptance of course. I went through my hair-straightening stage. When I thought I would be accepted more in college if I had long, straight hair. Then I went through my curly hair stage, when I chopped my hair off and realized the curls bounced back and my hair seemed happy. This stage was really my ‘I don’t care what you think” era. I was more politically active on campus, I was more outspoken, and I didn’t spend money on a brush. A curling iron instead was used to push the European strands of hair to join the rest of the curls.

I can’t say I loved my hair growing up. The tugging, pulling, straightening, moisturizing, moussing, brushing – all of that my hair endured – just to help it finds its place. All because I didn’t feel like I had wash-and-go hair.

Today is a different story. I appreciate my hair now. I can curl it when I want. Straighten it when I want. Both are still long processes but I have learned that this is just my hair. Putting myself in the world where women have similar hair also helped. After all, who can help teach you how to love your African and Native hair – except for other women who have African and Native hair?

Today I don’t hate the brush – that much. I understand now that it is used as one of those oppressive tools – teaching some of us from jump that some of us have Marcia Brady hair and some of us don’t. So when people around me say that children don’t see color – I laugh.

What’s lovely about today is that we no longer just have Marcia Brady to teach us about hair – today we have people like Natasha Tarpley, author of I Love My Hair and Camille Yarbrough’s Cornrows, Lucille Clifton’ poetry and many others. And in following this tradition of race-work, I hope to expand this by adding my own testimony of what it means to be a little Ecuadorian girl with frizzy hair growing up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan – and my mission to use THE BRUSH for race-love and not for race-evil.

There is a lot of race-work to do out there!

PS: I look like the little girl in this video when she wears it up in a ponytail 

Down With The King: A Personal Conflict Between Race and Religion

In Uncategorized on October 19, 2010 at 11:06 am

I was raised a Catholic Ecuadorian girl. When I entered a Jewish sponsored university, I wore my scapularies or escapularios that either had a cross or a picture of a saint. These were relics of a religious past that my mother gave me as a form of spiritual protection while I was away from home. In her absence, she saw these symbols as important and functional while I was far from home and away from her supervision.

But once I arrived to campus, I saw how unwelcoming some people on campus were about anything Catholic. My favorite story is the time when my friends and I attended a barbecue our freshmen year. We split up to get food — I was asked to get the hot dogs for the group. Once I finally arrived to the beginning of the line, the young man serving food very specifically avoided me. At first I thought my minds were playing tricks on me. Did he not see me at the front of the line? Maybe I didn’t make myself heard. “Excuse me – can I have some hot dogs?” I asked louder. When my friend Beth saw what was happening, she pulled me out of the line and said “Let’s go.” As I turn to leave, I hear him say to his friend, “What is this, Jews for Jesus?” For some reason, I looked down and see my little wooden cross on a string around my neck and realized I was a Catholic girl on a kosher line. And before anyone asks, no there was no sign. I was the only one with a sign around my neck.

At this realization, I turned around and I yelled, “No you fool, this is food for people!” Being a first year student on a predominantly Jewish campus, I had no idea what kosher was, the limited quantities kosher food is made, and why I couldn’t participate in the kosher food experience. All I wanted was to be informed properly. But I wasn’t. And today I write about it.

Over time, I stopped wearing my cross. I found that in the classroom, religion was not very accepted either. Unless you were in a class that specifically focused on religion, the topic of religion was regarded as totally subjective and without rationale. I met Marxists who felt that religion was “the opiate of the masses”, atheists who could not even fathom the thought of a God, and people (like me) who were grappling with the concept of a god or multiple gods — particularly those of us who were raised in intense religious environments.

I began to separate my ideas between God and religion. I learned about the history of the Christian/Catholic church toward my people. I read in the Bible about the ways women and Black people were subjugated. And my academic self separated from my personal beliefs. How could I, as a woman of color, participate in this organization that has done such damage to so many people?

Growing older, your experiences become deeper, more tragic, occurring more often. One event after another, and no healing, and at a moment of loss, heartbreak, or life shattering moment, you break, you lose, you feel shattered. And when you are stripped to this level, the teachings come back. Things you learned as a child – the Passion of Christ, the voice of God, whatever you call it, whatever I learned came back. And you feel the need to go back home.

I think about the back breaking work my parents and grandparents have made to ensure that my sisters and me were born and raised in the US and not a farm in Ecuador. They invoke the healing words of what they have learned on their spiritual journeys. I learn from African Americans whose family legacies often include the experience of slavery: their spiritual teachings passed along generation after generation replete with inspiration and triumph. I am reminded of the film “Stand” by Tavis Smiley. In it, Dick Gregory reminds us of the role the church played in the lives of African American people during a time of legal segregation, where the Black church was the only place they heard good news about Black neighbors. How can I ignore this history?

But my brain wrestles with the fact that there are so many people still excluded from the church – gay people in particular. I cannot understand the role that the church played in stripping away the languages and religions of indigenous people in the Americas. I cannot understand the abuse inflicted to so many children who continue to suffer today. How can I ignore this history?

And I am asked how can someone who knows all this, still attend a Catholic church?

And I tell them quite simply, because it is where I learned about God. And God is the voice I hear when I am in trouble. And I don’t have to accept the damage people have done over time in God’s name to invoke some psuedo-power. I may be down with the King, but I am certainly not down with some self appointed chiefs in our kingdom. I fight those people – I question their interpretation, their understanding, their ignorance. Maybe, if they can be soldiers, I can be a soldier in this kingdom too. I can struggle for more Truth, more recognition of a sordid past, more race-work to heal those old wounds. And I also don’t have to believe that God is a King — because if I am made in God’s likeness, well then — Queen might be better suited…I digress..

Today, I understand that there is a force bigger than us, whatever you want to call that force. I believe that to consider human beings as supreme beings is to be quite arrogant – when we can learn from all things around us that are not human…I learned that I am willing to learn more about your teachings as long as you can respect what I believe – and let me know when I am on a kosher line, especially if I am wearing a cross around my neck.

So why do I believe in God? Why not?

Love letter to Miguel Piñero

In Uncategorized on October 18, 2010 at 10:49 am

My professor of Latino Literature, Roberto G. Fernandez, once told me “Blanca, your best defense is literature. Write it down, Blanca. Write it down.”

I started this blog with the idea of healing. Healing the racial battle fatigue. Healing the race-work some of us were destined to do. Healing the daily racial microaggressions we notice but don’t know how to confront. Healing the love that we have for the work we do, for the people we love, day in and day out. Healing. Healing. Healing. In the end, some of us “die seeking the cause” as Miguel Piñero puts it. But, as he continues, we find out that WE are the cause. In the end, I wonder, am I the cause?

If I am the cause, what can I transform in me that can be defined as a “cause”? I hide behind the academic cloak to gain respect for my opinions on education and race. But some of the people who I admire just wrote, just sang, just danced. Just marched. Just walked into segregated schools despite the harassment they received for being Black and Brown. Still, nothing in my life prior to entering college said that I should have been the one to continue on to a doctoral degree. This combined with a passion for race-work should be lethal. But what about the academic process dulls my Racial Divine? What about the academic process is helpful to transforming me from the “Angry Latina” to a Latina with a doctorate? Can I be both? Watch out now – she has a pen, a computer, and a thought that yes she may be the cause but that cause is similar to the causes of many others and by bringing out my voice – maybe I can help break the silence of other lives too. As many have done for me. As Mr. Piñero, you have done for me.

So where Miguel Piñero leaves off, I would like to continue. As a spiritual descendant of this great Latino poet, I want to say thank you for helping me get to this realization. By bringing out your voice, by helping us understand how you do your race-work, I can continue to further mine, my cause, your cause, OUR CAUSE.

If I am the cause, and I realize this early enough, then I cannot go down without a fight. Mr. Piñero you helped me and many others realize this by passionately describing this phenomenon, by telling us about your cause, by putting it down on paper and repeating it to the world. We pick this up and think, damn. This could be me. And perhaps there is a chance to save ourselves and in the process work with others who want the same thing. And if you helped us come to this realization early on, can you imagine what we can offer to the next generation of pen-holders, leaders of “the cause” ? Through you, we just may be able to get a clearer picture of what that cause is – some of us should know, because we have lived it. But in our need to get away from it – we lose ourselves and forget why we started this race-work in the first place.

By helping us redirect our understanding back to the self, my-self, then perhaps we can save ourselves earlier so that we may redirect our passion and our energy back to the race-work that so desperately needs us. Once we understand the cause to be “my cause”, once we get that healing in place, then we can look at the race-work that has yet to be done. Maybe we can even do both at the same time. Thank you, Miguel Piñero. Thank you.

Between the Racial Divine and the Racial Divide

In Uncategorized on October 15, 2010 at 2:28 pm

Between the Racial Divine and the Racial Divide

As I review my entries from my first week of blogging, I think about the many ways race-work and race- love have been misinterpreted, misguided, and improperly framed. For example, after years of fighting to abolish legal segregation in schools, today we endure cries of reverse racism. This “revere racism” group, often Whites, used the same rationale that leaders in the Civil Rights Era used. That is, that people should not be discriminated on the basis of race. But that rhetoric is based on preservation of privilege for Whites, whereas in the Civil Rights Era, the desire was for the academic, economic, and social survival of people of color, namely African Americans. The fear of loss of privilege was then projected on us race-workers. Those of us who do this out of love, not fear – that which I call the Racial Divine.

I believe it is this fear that kept me, and many I know, from writing about race. We have seen too many times the ways in which our love for racial justice has been distorted to make us feel bad for talking about race, writing about race, discussing race… could my writing be used by some White supremacist group, or some legal scholars who are against affirmative action? We have seen how people have mangled the words of Thurgood Marshall and countless others who proved that our institutions, and our states, and our nation in general have legally discriminated people based on their race countless times. And those same words today are invoked by anti-affirmative action leaders, anti-Muslim leaders, etc. Of course we are going to be scared to write about race. Of course we only talk about it on our barbershops, salons, in our offices, in our homes. We have allowed for our racial divine to be tarnished by pseudo-race-workers’ cry of a racial divide.

Our Racial Divine – lies in the truth of what we know we do out of love. Love for all people, because when a group in your society is unhappy – that energy affects everyone. Some of us true race-workers know this. Our Racial Divine is that we can speak about race openly and not be scared that someone will tell us to be quiet about that because we do not want to scare others off. Our Racial Divine is one of prayer – where we ask about our civil rights, where we question why are Black and Latino men disproportionately incarcerated, why do Latinas have high rates of depression, or why Black women have high rates of HIV? Our Racial Divine is one of meditation — when we are ready to hear the answers, read the research, hear others talk — and not just allow society to blame it solely on us. Our Racial Divine is, then, after we hear those answers that we march in truth, that we walk our talk, that we do our race-work in love and not the desire to step on other racial groups so that we may feel better. In this Racial Divine, we acknowledge that we do have White allies who want the same thing for everyone, not just out of fear that their kids got a spot at Harvard stolen from them from a Latina student, not just out of rage that their daddy didn’t become a police chief because of some Black cop, or that they don’t seem “cool” enough because their only white role model for “cool” is Eminem. This is not race-love. This is racial anger acting out. This is not our Racial Divine.

Our Racial Divine is lost. The pseudo race-workers are doing a great job at making us lose our Racial Divine. We have to identify those pseudo race-workers and acknowledge that they are the ones creating the racial divide and steering us further from our Racial Divine. We must learn to march in Racial Truth – of course, we can only do this if we are able to recognize the lies in our own lives – but I digress… and to march in truth is difficult. Some may have seen this happen in the morning show The View when Joy Behar and Whoopi Goldberg left the set after hearing anti-Muslim rhetoric. In the end, they get admonished by Barbara Walters, when the reality is, why should anyone have to continue to listen to anti-Muslim remarks? They marched in their truth – and they got punished for it. Made to look like children by Barbara Walters. Awful. And we buy into it, take it as a lesson, record it in our brains, and when we are confronted by a similar issue we cower because we might get admonished too.

We must reclaim our Racial Divine. We must understand that there is a difference between those involved in racial justice as race-work and the pseudo race workers, ones invested in self-preservation, maintenance of privilege, maintenance of “cool” — in essence the racial divide. True race work loves, educates, is compassionate, commits, is unconditional, is not exclusive. Our own Malcolm X learned this at the end of his journey of his own race-work — he found his Racial Divine.

We must learn to recognize the differences between the Racial Divine and the Racial Divide. We, too, must find our Racial Divine. This is race-love. This is race-work.

Racial Anger: the Angry Latina Woman

In Uncategorized on October 14, 2010 at 3:00 pm

“Anger is meant to be listened to. Anger is a voice, a shout, a plea, a demand. Anger is meant to be respected. Why? Because anger is a map. Anger shows us what our boundaries are. Anger shows us where we want to go. It lets us see where we’ve been and lets us know when we haven’t liked it. Anger points the way, not just the finger.
Anger is meant to be acted upon. It is not meant to be acted out. Anger points the direction. We are meant to use anger as fuel to take the actions we need to move where our anger points us. With a little thought, we can usually translate the message that our anger is sending us.” — Julia Cameron, Inspirations: Meditations from the Artist’s Way

Angry Latina woman. I have often heard this description about me during times of heated debate around issues of race. I used to feel insulted when I heard this description about me. Today, I view it from various perspectives: anger I have righteously felt, anger that was acted upon me, anger that I have witnessed acted out.

I have witnessed anger that has been acted out. As a woman, “anger acted out” is difficult to avoid. We feel it from different people, well-intentioned parents, policymakers who want to control our bodies, street harassers who desire to shame you for not giving them attention. The examples of how anger acted out on women are endless.

But it is a woman’s response to this anger acted out that is scrutinized. We confuse anger acted out and anger acted upon all the time.

The anger that is meant to be acted upon… when I hear this I think about the many times I have been called an angry Latina simply because I expressed, defined, and defended my racial boundaries. Some examples of this are I experience subtle racism. The older I get, the quicker I am with my responses. But, when I respond, I hear “stop being so angry” or “jeez, i was just kidding, why are you so mad?”.

A response to racism by a Latina is unacceptable, it seems.  The audacity of a response to racism is always scrutinized.

In the moment I experience a racial micro aggression, I think about how many other people the aggressor has the capacity to hurt.  My hope is that if I respond, they will think differently and not be so quick to make racist assumptions.  But I also worry that I just gave the aggressor another stereotype to use: Angry Latina.

Still, the love I have for my people impels me to respond and express my racial boundaries so that other Latinos/as, other brothers and sisters of color, don’t feel what I just did.

And, what I would like to point out is that in a way, subtle racism is an example of racism or anger being acted out by the aggressor. People who commit racial micro aggressions are in some way acting out the generations of racist knowledge they were given. Whether well-intentioned or not, racist assumptions are historical acting out of years of White Supremacist values. We see this when college students throw racist parties or use racial slurs against each other.  Racists and well-intentioned racists act our their racism all the time — And I am being called an angry Latina?

To describe my angry Latina status a little more, let’s take the song “Revolution” by Arrested Development. This song exemplifies what happens when anger acted upon breaks down. After years of racial hostility and violence, our people have fought and struggled for freedom, for civil rights, for the right to live peacefully. The struggle was done through the legal system, through conceptualizing Black and Latino studies, through providing free lunches for low income children, through opportunity programs. And while they are bearing some effect – we still see how systematically we are being incarcerated, miseducated, and now deported. The introduction of the song says:

Brothers and Sisters
Let me share with you some news
As I sit on my plush couch watching the news
There has been a rude awakening
That I have marched until my feet have bled;
And have rioted until they called the Feds
What’s left my conscience said?

What’s left?! We have tried the ways dominant populations want us to be “angry”. Some of us are lawyers, doctors, researchers, teachers, community activists –but I still see my students being told by their professors that they do not belong in that classroom or that college.

The fact that these incidents of racial conflict continue to exist should make us angrier. What’s left my conscience said?

Trust me. You haven’t seen me angry yet.

The song goes on:
Are you doing as much as you can for the struggle? (No)
Am I doing as much as I can for the struggle? (No)
Then why do I cry when my people are in trouble? (Yo!)
My ancestors slapped me in the face and said “GO!”
Harriet Tubman told me to get on up!
Marcus Garvey said to me, bro, you get on up!
My brother Malcolm X, need I say more
It ain’t like we’ve never seen blood before,
Come on, let’s talk Revolution, now!

But now Revolution has been characterized by the Right (and even by some racially conservative Left-ists) as being violent. Angry. A color blind society says that revolution is a “racial thing” – so we have to erase the terms “revolution” and “race” from our vocabulary.

Is it possible to express anger acted upon the racist regime we live in and do it in the name of love?

I believe we can. Love reconciles the ways in which we act out and act upon our anger. Being just angry is one thing. We can ask ourselves – are we acting out our anger or are we acting upon the injustices committed against our people?  So, now, when I am called ANGRY and LATINA – I use it to fuel my race-love. The kind that keeps my consciousness alert, aware, alive — and active. My race-love continues to fuel my race-work.  La lucha continues…

Why do I talk about race?

In Uncategorized on October 13, 2010 at 2:41 pm

Why do I talk about race?

For a long time, for as long as I can remember, I have been asked the following: why do you always talk about race? Why do you always have to make it a racial thing? Why can’t you stop thinking about race? Why does everything have to be so racial to you?

I have learned to take these questions seriously. There are historical, social, psychological, political responses to these questions. And at the end of the day, they are all personal to me in my Ecuadorian-woman-of-color-first-generation-college- low-income way.

Growing up in a largely Latino community near one of the most elite institutions of higher education in New York City provides for some great historical context to this question. Not only did I grow up in a Latino community, but more specifically, I grew up an Ecuadorian-American among mostly Dominican people. Here, between Amsterdam Avenue and Broadway, told a US history, a Latino history, and my Ecuadorian family’s history. How did I get here? Why of all places did my father who came to this country in the late 1960’s come to reside in the upper west side of Manhattan?

How does this relate to love? Well my father came to this specific part of the city because of the university and the hospital near him. He had a vision that all his daughters would be formally educated through college and that we would have great medical coverage. As a doctoral student at Teachers College, Columbia University, I am reminded of this every time I enter Teachers College.

Additionally, I am reminded of the struggles my parents endured to accomplish this vision. Being Latino meant that I was not part of the majority population in higher education. I was involved in programs that were dedicated to the success of students of color. My racialized path to higher education – to this doctoral stage – was born out of the love my father had for his family and his belief in education. That is race-love performing race-work.

Along this racialized path to higher education, I saw which students of color continued on the path and who did not. I grew up in a neighborhood where my friends’ parents worked at Columbia University, but none of their children attended as students. Having breakfast at diners in the neighborhood also proved to be a sociological experiment. As a kid, I would count the number of white people who wore Columbia sweatshirts. Brown people – zero , White people – at least ten every Sunday. And almost every time, I overheard some kid saying they were from out of town – not a neighborhood kid – yet Columbia was in my neighborhood! Why aren’t my neighbors attending as students?

Housing and education policies affect and quite often determine our fates in this country. These questions I asked as a child and as a teenager continue to plague me as an adult. I have made them my life’s work. These issues became particularly salient to me when I went to college and saw very few people of color on my campus. Today, I direct a program that provides access to college for students from New York City. Back in my neighborhood, I see the changes happening…but still see few Brown folk from the neighborhood wearing Columbia sweatshirts. I try to wear one every chance I get.

How does this all relate to love…how can it not? I love my neighborhood. I love my people. I even love my Columbia sweatshirts, despite what it may stand for – because while it has provided some of us access to higher learning the institution is still a symbol of racial and economic segregation. Yet, I still have a profound love for what it could provide to our young people. There is a lot of race-work to be done here…

So why do I talk about race all the time? The historical structures, the psychological perceptions, the sociological dimensions, and the political movements have all affected us in very distinct racial ways. These structures very much influenced my educational path — and the educational paths of everyone around me. Some of us knew we could never get to Columbia — perhaps get a job there — but nothing more. Of course this is going to affect us psychologically. It’s like the country club we often see in movies. But I digress…no one taught me to see things from a race-d perspective. In fact in our society we are told NOT to look at race. But when you tell a precocious kid NOT to do something … well the rest is race-work, race-love history.

Introduction to Race-work, Race-love

In Uncategorized on October 12, 2010 at 4:03 pm

I heard the term “race work” for the first time in a book called Race Work: The Rise of Civil Rights in the Urban West by Matthew C. Whitaker. In it, Whitaker describes the lives of Dr. Lincoln Johnson Ragsdale, Sr. and Eleanor Dickey Ragsdale, Black professionals who lived in segregated Arizona. Their work in Phoenix, their commitment to racial justice for descendants of Africans and African Americans between 1945 and 1995, and their love for each other inspired the author to explore the racial subordination and subjugation that existed (and continues to) in Arizona. In this book, Dr. and Mrs. Ragsdale were each identified as a “race man” and “race woman”, respectively, committed to race work. Additionally, Mrs. Eleanor Dickey Ragsdale was known to intersect her race-work with gender. As a Black woman in the 1940’s she understood that being a woman, in addition to being a woman of color, contributed (perhaps complicated, perhaps enhanced) to her race-work.

This race-work, one that has been passed on to me and many of my friends, colleagues, and even agitators, can only come out of what I call “race-love”. Thus, this blog is dedicated to that race-work and race-love that continue to inspire us to perform such work despite indications that we are crazy, threats via email or letters telling us to stop, and even our own racial battle fatigue. Specifically, I am interested in exploring what race-work and race-love means to Brown people, Latino/a individuals from the African and Native diaspora. As a Latina and self-identified race woman, I believe it is important to start documenting this tension between race-work and race-love particularly as it relates to Latinas/os people, but broadly to my Asian and Black and Native and White allies, brothers and sisters in the struggle for racial justice.

Aside from work on racial justice, I wonder about our work on love. For this blog, I explore how is our love affected by our race? And how has our race been affected by love? Inundated with messages about White-love – through movies, books, history – our particular knowledge of race-love is still largely unexplored. Why is this important? Well, to begin, I can think of few movies or books that focus on race and love and its impact on the community of people of color. Many of this work is focused on African-American heterosexual relationships and recently homosexual relationships as well. The Latin@ community has brought forth a largely Chicana lesbian perspective on race and love, but more work still needs to be done! Finally we know virtually nothing about the Asian-American and Native peoples’ experiences with race and love.

While movies like “500 Days of Summer” and series like “Sex and the City” have been executed well and help us begin a conversation on love and sex, many of us racially conscious folks begin to wonder “How is it different for us?” “Why aren’t we represented?” These are valid questions. Now is the time for some answers.

My hope is that you will explore race and love with me.

%d bloggers like this: