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Open Letter to Latina: The Racialization of Latin@s, Healthcare, & the Latina Warrior

In Uncategorized on December 31, 2012 at 1:31 pm

Fascinating Story Number Four: The Continued Racialization of Latin@s

Although Hispanic/Latino is an ethnic classification, Latin@s are a racialized people in the US.  Racialization is a process that occurs over time. Latin Americans have their own process of racialization and thus have their own brand of racism. Thus, it should not be a surprise that in the 2010 Census, Latin@s picked White as their racial classification of choice which helped increase the White population by six percent. However, if given the opportunity, Latin@s would choose “Hispanic” or “Other” as a race.  This has inspired the US Census to consider “Hispanic” as a racial category, removing the option to choose one of the traditional racial categories.  The racialization of the Latin@ population is not a new phenomenon; it is an ongoing process, one that still has many stories that have yet to be told and one that we should not expect to end.

Media provides a strong documentation of this process of Latin@ racialization. Interestingly, magazines like Latina and reality shows like Love &Hip Hop (LHH), Basketball Wives (BBW), The Real Housewives of Miami (RHOM) sitcoms such as Modern Family and the upcoming  biopic of Nina Simone have introduced different types of insights and conversations  about how Latinas are and continue to be racialized.  

Reality TV stars such as Evelyn Lozada (BBW) and Joseline Hernandez (LHH) raise questions about colorism:  while depicted as Black Women, neither has openly identified as AfroLatinas, despite passing as African American women on these shows.  The discussion of AfroLatin@s took a more overt and serious conversation when Zoe Saldana, (self-identified as AfroLatina), decided to take the role of Nina Simone, an African American woman. Saldana’s portrayal of Nina Simone is questioned not just because of her lighter skinned complexion (relative to that of Simone) but also in the varying differences and life chances that AfroLatinas may face as opposed to African American women, specifically dark skinned women,  in the US.

Joseline Hernandez (LHH) and Sofia Vergara (Modern Family) demonstrate how language aids into the racialization process of Latinas, as they hyper exaggerate their inability to articulate in English (to the point of damn near ignorance) exacerbating this (perhaps purposefully) with heavy accents. In fact, making fun of the ways in which Latinas speak English has become so openly acceptable and public that even Ellen Degeneres jumped on the bandwagon by openly making fun of Sofia Vergara (talk about White Privilege) in commercials and on her popular show “Ellen”.

Finally, many of the women of RHOM identify as Latinas but their heavy use of surgery and their exaggerated Whiteness with the exception of “subdued” accents (as opposed to Vergara and Hernandez) that hint at their being bilingual has some questioning how White are they, really? Sandra Bernhard makes that question clear here. Unfortunately, even George Zimmerman entered into our racial imaginations when he conveniently disclosed that he is of Latin American descent via his mother in order to prove that racism was not a motive for murdering Trayvon Martin. This mis-use of “brown-ness” and choosing “Latina by convenience” is just another story that needs further exploration.

These examples not only provide an insight into how Latin@s are racialized in the US (and how we are all complicit in this racialization) but these stories also uncover another story: Black-Latin@ relations in the US. More needs to be said about we come together as communities and build to produce more excellent coalitions – and increase love between our people.

In summary, the racialization of Latin@s is happening not just at the government level but also in our homes as we are introduced to these Latinas via various forms of media.  Resources like the AfroLatin@ Reader, AfroLatina documentarians like Dash Harris, tumblrs and blogs like AfroLatin@ Project  and many other Latin@ Warriors, are important to help us make sense of all the projections of how we are, and will continue to be, racialized.

Fascinating Story Number Five:  Latina Warriors and Healthcare

Latin@s are the least likely to have heath care insurance and three times more likely than Whites to be uninsured. Sadly, they are also often on the frontlines of recovery efforts when natural and man made disasters such as Hurricane Sandy occur.  The combination of the two is a cause for  policy concern. The impact of Hurricane Sandy, much like Katrina, proved to be more devastating than the actual storm: many questions are left unanswered as to how undocumented immigrants and other uninsured Latin@s will be able to access adequate health care while also aiding into recovery efforts.

At a more personal level, I want to turn our attention to author Sofia Quintero, also known as Black Artemis and self-identified Cancer Warrioress. Her story is an amazing one: as an author known for her insightful and amusing portrayals of Latin@ teenagers and young adults, her writing took a turn when she embarked on the quest toward health from breast cancer.  She began with announcing her news via videos to friends and family, and took her daily journey to Facebook, Twitter, and her blog.  There, we witnessed her grappling with Audre Lorde, who also took a public stance against breast cancer, her feelings about shaving her head after realizing she would lose her hair, and her tension with treatments and mastectomy. Her journey caught the attention of Cosmopolitan Latina, who published a four-part series of her story. 

Given the context described above regarding Latin@s and healthcare, it is not a surprise that illnesses such as cancer is not openly discussed in Latin@ communities. Not many of us know what to say, how to act, what to do, when a loved one becomes ill. Thus, by sharing her story, Sofia Quintero used her journey, her life, to serve her community. A once private illness, Sofia’s personal journey and road to physical and emotional recovery and taking this to a Latin@ public – merits a mention for fascinating Latin@ stories.

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Open Letter to Latina Magazine -The Fascinating Stories Missed: Librotraficantes, La Casa Azul Book Store, & La Diva

In Uncategorized on December 30, 2012 at 3:49 pm

Fascinating Story Number 2: Latin@s, Librotraficantes, and [Literally] the Ongoing Struggle to Make Fascinating Latin@ Stories

Arizona keeps hitting us with their racist heart.  On January 2012, the Tucson Unified School District were ordered to end their Mexican American Studies program (MAS) and if they didn’t, state funding would be withheld. The MAS program, which improved the retention and college going rates among their students, was deemed to “promote ethnic resentment” against Whites. Subsequently, Sean Arce, MAS’s director, was fired despite having won awards for being an outstanding educator. As any movement demonstrates, Sean Arce was just one of the fascinating Latin@ stories to emerge from this oppressive climate.

Meet Tony Diaz, self-proclaimed “book trafficker” otherwise known as El Librotraficante. Book trafficking is one response to banning books in TUSD, inciting new grammar for Civil Rights and a new revolutionary movement. According to the UK Guardian: “the group has been caravanning throughout the south-west holding readings, setting up book clubs, establishing ‘underground libraries’ and dispensing donated copies of the books that have been removed from Arizona’s public school curriculum.” Luckily, book trafficking spread outside of the Southwest, venturing out to the Northeast via several venues such as CBO’s, colleges and universities, and a little Latin@ Book Store in East Harlem, NY called La Casa Azul Bookstore.

While Arizona was in the business of banning books, a bookstore opened – dedicated to providing a space for Latin@ authors to flourish and inspire future Latin@ to see themselves as authors of “fascinating Latin@ stories”. Founded by Aurora Anaya-Cerda, La Casa Azul is not just a bookstore – it is also becoming a hub for Latin@ literati and a site of protest.  On September 21, 2012, La Casa Azul Book Store was one of the sites that held a “50 for Freedom of Speech”  event hosted by Charlie Vázquez  and Rich Villar.  Indeed, while this itself is a fascinating story, people like Sean Arce, Tony Diaz and places like La Casa Azul Bookstore protect the right to create truly fascinating Latin@ stories.  Salute.

Fascinating Story Number 3: Living in Two Worlds –  What Jenni Rivera’s Death Revealed About the Fascinating Story of Latin@ Reality in the US.

Jenni Rivera, Latina Banda super star, star of Bilingual Reality TV show “I Love Jenni”, actress and business woman and Long Beach, California native died on Sunday, December 9, 2012 in a plane crash that left her fans stunned and wondering why did another Latina role model have to die such a horrible death?  Her death was also the first time many Americans learned about La Diva, a story that highlights the cultural segregation that exists in the US as it pertains to Latin@s. Among those who observed this cultural divide in the media, fiercely pronounced by Rivera’s death,  included Gustavo Arellano who called the LA Times “the biggest sinner”  for completely ignoring any story on La Diva until her untimely death. This was not missed by many a Latin@ media pundit: Jorge Ramos tweeted the following: “La cobertura de TV en español x la muerte del Macho Camacho y Jenni Rivera no la entienden los medios en ingles…por eso caen sus ratings”.

The story of the two “parallel worlds” that Latin@s seem to live in, the cultural segregation that resides within the US, is just ONE REASON why magazines like Latina are so important: while it may not be in Latina magazine’s mission to provide accurate depictions of Latin@ life, they only seemed to cover entertainers like Jenni Rivera when there is gossip, both good and bad. Among the important pieces of gossip on which only Latina magazine seemed to pick up was the upcoming sitcom that Jenni Rivera was scheduled to star in – one reflecting her realities as a single mom working and fighting for her children’s socio-economic success.

The significance of her death, when understood in this way, merited an important reflection for media pundits, but most specifically magazines like Latina. Instead, this fascinating story, that provides an insight into how Latin@s are represented, was trumped by murderers like George Zimmerman who only recently found out he was Latin@ when accused of racism in the death of Trayvon Martin. Perhaps Gustavo Arellano should have included Latina magazine among the sinners for not just ignoring the lives of Latin@s completely (as he has acused the LA Times of doing) – but for also promoting the wrong kind of attention for the sake of a sale, a retweet, and  a Facebook like.

Open Letter to Latina Magazine -The Fascinating Stories Missed in 2012: Rosie Perez, the Castro Brothers, and the DREAMers

In Uncategorized on December 29, 2012 at 2:54 pm

Fascinating story number one:  El Voto Latin@

There It Is

by Jayne Cortez

And if we don’t fight

if we don’t resist

if we don’t organize and unify and

get the power to control our own lives

then we will wear

the exaggerated look of captivity

the stylized look of submission

the bizarre look of suicide

the dehumanized look of fear

and the decomposed look of repression

forever and ever and ever

And there it

is…

Latinos now comprise of over 16% of the US population and there is nothing to suggest that this will decline anytime soon. While this growth in population of a minoritized group captured the attention of media, another story that emerged concurrently was the political power of the Latin@ population. Not coincidentally, this took more steam during election time. Everyone, from media pundits, to consulting groups in advertising and media tried to “figure us out” – our most “pressing” issues and what mattered to our people. But, this was not the only reason why this was a missed opportunity for Latina magazine to highlight. Three reasons: Rosie Perez, the Castro Brothers, and DREAM’ers.

Rosie Perez – The Latin@ Vote took an interesting turn when Mitt Romney showed his true colors regarding his thoughts on Latin@s. After Mitt Romney campaigned with his own “fascinating Latin@ story” – that of having a pseudo Mexican heritage and using his children, who speak Spanish, to campaign for him – Romney was caught saying that winning the election would probably be easier for him if he was Latin@ (contradicting his own claims of a Latino heritage). While this created an uproar among many, the most memorable person to emerge from that mess was Rosie Perez. Using a sarcastic tone, she highlighted the differences between the “privileges” of being Latin@ versus being a white man. Her response was short and sweet and to the point and can be heard here.

The Castro Brothers – During the Democratic National Convention (DNC), we saw President Obama’s camp try to play defense with the Latin@ community. The Obama presidency has seen the most deportations in our nation’s history which has caused many Latin@ voters to wonder if any of the candidates would work for the advancement of the Latin@ community. The Obama campaign pulled many defensive moves, two of them being the Castro Twins, Mayor Julian Castro and his twin brother, now Representative Joaquin Castro. A political powerhouse, these two Latino politicians were given a national platform when they both were given the spotlight during the Democratic National Convention. Julian Castro, in particular, gave the keynote speech as did President Obama in 2004. Some saw this as a political maneuver to keep Latin@s happy while many others were enthralled with hearing familiar phrases like “Que Dios te bendiga”  and were provided with a some laughs when cameras shined on Castro’s daughter, Carina Victoria. While some were, and continue to be, skeptical about the positioning of the twin Latin@ politicians, their history, one that includes a mother who fought for Mexican American civil rights is an interesting one because it also highlights the complexities of Latin@ lives, one that provides just one story from the Latin@ experience, and in danger of setting a narrative for Latino exceptionalism – that of the Super Latino who can make it despite all the odds. This story has yet to unfold – but will be an interesting one to watch in the coming years.

DREAMers – El Voto Latin@ also increased national discussions on the impact of Arizona’s racist laws (SB1070, banning of Mexican American Studies in Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) and detainment and deportation of undocumented immigrants through programs like Secure Communities.  But nothing marked el Voto Latin@ the way the DREAM’ers and their allies did. Remember the DREAMersThe DREAMers are young undocumented immigrants who marched, (reminiscent of the Freedom Rides), across the country to protest the deportation of young undocumented immigrants who have lived here most of their lives in the US and seek to pursue higher education. They, along with Latin@ advocacy groups such as Presente.org and the NYSLC (to name just two) contributed to the movement of not only trying to bring an end to mass deportations of undocumented immigrants but also by inspiring underground educational activity such as Freedom University, a higher education institution dedicated to providing undocumented immigrants with a college education.

The DREAMers and allies have achieved a monumental breakthrough when President Obama announced the halting of deportations of DREAM Act eligible students on Friday, June 15, 2012. DREAMers made such an impact on our national imagination of the immigrant experience that many called for their nomination for TIME magazine’s Person Of the Year.  Despite all these milestones in the movement, there are still many things to keep working toward as we think about undocumented immigrants in the US. The DREAMers and their allies, provide us with the opportunity to disrupt the narrative of exceptionalism in the Latin@ community. In other words, the movement reminds us that no one Latin@ Super S/Hero is Enough – it takes all of us, collectively, to make changes in our society. Thus, making clear that  El Voto Latin@ is nothing to be messed with, reminding us that we are strong as a whole community. This fascinating story will only continue to unfold — perhaps even by sending a Latin@ candidate to the Presidency one day. Or changing the way we think about the voting process altogether.

Open Letter to “Latina” Magazine and Their Six Most Fascinating Latino Stories

In Uncategorized on December 28, 2012 at 8:38 pm

I write this on the third day of Kwanzaa, in the spirit of Ujima – that of collective responsibility or the understanding that everyone plays a role in the building of their communities. I write this in response to Latina magazine’s “The Six Most Fascinating Latin@ Stories of the Year”   in which George Zimmerman, Trayvon Martin’s murderer, is highlighted as second most fascinating story after Victoria Soto, a teacher who was killed after protecting and saving the lives of all her students in the Newtown, CT massacre.  I write this in the spirit of playing a role in the advancement of magazines such as Latina, one of the few magazines that centers on Latin@ audiences.  I write in the spirit of love for my people with the hopes that it will in some way influence how we use our social media outlets, perhaps more responsibly, in order to use our few magazines not just to advance the Latin@ community, but to educate those who are not Latin@ about who we are as a community.

That being said, I should recognize that this may not be the aim of Latina magazine. Thus, this piece is not written just as a social commentary or critique, but I will also provide my own list of “fascinating Latin@ stories” for 2012. For the next couple of days, I will post different stories, themes that have come up in the media. I may miss a few.  But I expect you, readers in the community, to help this list for future years to come.

Before providing my list, the first issue to address is conceptualizing the idea of a “fascinating Latin@ story”. What does this mean?  What criteria should be employed? Did Latina magazine accomplish their goal of providing a fascinating Latin@ story?

Latina magazine chose to represent a fascinating Latin@ story by using people who either self identify as Latin@ or Latin American or has been identified by the public in such a way. They describe these individuals without really describing why they provide fascinating Latin@ stories.  In so doing, Latina magazine creates the illusion that the individuals highlighted for this piece are “fascinating Latin@ people”.  This is highly problematic. If the sole criterion for having a fascinating Latin@ story is only to self identify or be identified as Latin@, then should George Zimmerman, who it seems, only recently became Latin@, be on that list?  And what of Dania Londono Suarez, Colombian escort to the Secret Service, highlighted as Latina magazine’s third story? Is the story fascinating just because she is Colombian? While I embrace this hermana as Latin American or Latina, I have to ask what is the fascinating story about her? Indeed, if Latina magazine is going to use these individuals to sell their magazine, then I am requesting that Latina magazine treat their audience with more respect: We enjoy a good story. If you are going to tell me that you are going to write me a fascinating story, then, I expect you to write a fascinating story. We are smart enough to handle it.  We don’t need you to throw us some words in Spanish or for you to write some sensationalized story about sensationalized people in order for us to read.  You caught the wrong kind of attention, Latina magazine, and many are fed up with the superficial ways in which you treat your readers.

The second issue to address is the use of social media as platforms for representations of the Latin@ community. There are few platforms that are dedicated to the Latin@ community. Latina, specifically, is a fifteen year old media outlet that, whether positively or negatively, has some readership in the Latin@ community. The lack of rigorous discussions that affect Latin@ communities are demonstrated in the ways Latin@s are constantly being overlooked as researchers, commentators, scholars, writers, and even owners of our own experiences and social realities.  We are not looked upon as Latin@ intellectuals capable of sitting next to other brilliant scholars when discussing politics, education, or other parts of society. While this is part of the mainstream imagination, I also place some responsibility for this lack of visible Latino intellectuals on our own media outlets – Latina  magazine, specifically, with its longevity, for not providing a more comprehensive picture of who Latin@s are; we are not just entertainers and athletes.  We don’t just sing and dance. We also teach, write, analyze, make sense of policies, and this is just to name a few things.

Thus, we must occupy this void.  Yes, I am looking at you — you wonderful, amazing, brilliant Latina/o scholars/ activists/writers/journalists/dancers/fashionistas/educators/etc. — we must be at those discussion tables, board rooms, policy decision making meetings, and even magazines like Latina. We cannot be satisfied with just being on the menu. We can no longer just sit while we hear others talk about us and make decisions on our behalves.  Latina magazine could be an interesting platform for issues that affect our community. Their foci on entertainment and fashion are fine – but why just remain there? In other words, there are very interesting and fascinating stories that could be written out of areas of entertainment and fashion – some I have highlighted in my own examples.  A fascinating Latin@ story cannot just have only one criterion – that of highlighting Latin@ people just because they are Latin@s, as Latina’s Top Six Stories demonstrate. Delving deeper, getting insights from thorough and thoughtful Latin@ writers to contribute to Latina magazine could prove to be a fruitful one – as the case with Ebony magazine demonstrates.

Latin@s have stories, yes, even the monstrous ones, that help us understand the fabric of our Latin@ lives and social realities – our past, our present, and our future. For the sake of our communities and our relationships with allies, we must be more responsible with what we publicly describe as representations of our people. Although I have no official affiliation with Latina magazine, in order for me to truly live in the spirit of Ujima, I must represent Latina magazine as much as Latina magazine represents me. In that spirit, I write these short essays, to provide a strong counternarrative to the poor taste and judgment that Latina magazine employed in their magazine. It is my hope that these conversations continue to not just improve magazines like Latina – but can also be a strong call for the advancement of our people and our community.

The following is a list of the summaries I will post over the next several days. I invite you to share my world, contribute your own stories, or even disagree with the few I highlight.

(FSN = Fascinating Story Number)

FSN 1:  El Voto Latin@

FSN 2 & 3:  Open Letter to Latina – The Fascinating Stories Missed: Librotraficantes, La Casa Azul Bookstore, and La Diva

FSN 4 & 5: Open Letter to Latina – The Racialization of Latin@s, Healthcare, and the Latina Warrior

FSN 6: Open Letter to Latina: The Year of the Latin@ Intellectual & the Fascinating Story I Missed – La Muerte de La Comay

Making Sense of the Power of Old School Racism

In Uncategorized on December 1, 2012 at 11:17 pm

Race workers are known to fight against racism, work toward ensuring racial justice for people of color, and make plain the complex ways racism works today. We fight the current era of microaggressions and color-blind policies. But we also try to make sense and fight old images of racism.

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I went to Los Angeles, California a couple of weeks ago and entered a shop that sold antique figurines. This is one image I saw. A closer look will give you an idea that this figurine has historical significance in the power of old school racism, then and today. Walter Lantz , mentioned in this image, helped in the maintanance of racist images, solidifying racist ideology (i.e. White Supremacy), of African Americans, specifically, African American soldiers.

The next image is also disturbing. You wonder what these people designing these toys were thinking. They make you reconsider the idea of “well-intentioned” people — or at least — you wonder when did racists go from “poorly-intentioned” to “well-intentioned”. These figurines are called Black Baby Nodders.

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By comparison, the white figurines tend to look gentlemanly and tall particularly when they are masculine figures. Black figurines very rarely look this way.

Of course, African Americans weren’t the only ones racialized and caricaturized through figurines and other images. Asian Americans suffered the same fate. Images of Fortune Tellers, mystic pagodas, and signs advertising for these objects as being from the “Far Orient!” were also a big part of old school racism. Coloring books sealed these images and gave children the ability to outline, color, and imagine individuals from the “Far Orient”.Image

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These images cannot stand alone. These images must have counterparts that uphold the other end of US/American/Western imagination. Images that solidify White dominance and our inferiority. Images through iconic figures and images such as Gone With the Wind, I Love Lucy, and others.

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I Love Lucy always confused me. While the show was amazing and the actors insanely talented, I was confused by Desi Arnaz, or Ricky Ricardo. I found out later that Arnaz actually exaggerated his accent to really accentuate his Cuban ethnicity. He still played the role of the musician, a role often played by men of color in media. On the other hand, for many, this show was the first time they saw a Latino character in an interracial relationship, who was mildly successful, who spoke Spanish and English, and was the breadwinner. And this is how they get us to be complacent.

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There are still images we battle or get confused by or wonder about. We take note, us race workers. We take note and make sense of these images. I am not a fan of giving these images a platform but at the same time, they are important to use as we try to explain to non-race workers why racism has such a strong hold on our consciousness and on our policies and on our imaginations. Even the most well-intentioned among us.

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These images and their ubiquity have a couple of functions. The first is the reminder that old school racism is a thing of the past and a way for us to pat ourselves on the back, helping us believe that racism is over. We can sit back and say “Phew. Thank God we don’t live like that anymore.”

Unfortunately, there is another function. Their ubiquity also continues to play in our imaginations. The existence of these figurines and images for sale reminds us that although we can say that these are things of the past — they can still be sold. Some of these images carry a hefty price, monetarily and socially. I am not advocating for their destruction because that would not solve the problem of racism and racial inequity. Instead, we have to learn where these images come from and how they play in our souls and in our policy making today. How today many Americans continue to use these racist images in place of very real ones — some we were able to witness in the first four years of Barack Obama’s presidency. These images, for some, represent the longing of the good old days. A scary thought, but a very real one if we use a critical race lens when looking at our country today.

For race workers, it takes a lot of love to fight these images every time they come up. For race workers, fighting racism is just another day at work.

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