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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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