Justicia and Cultura

How Will the Rona Infect TV?

With everything going on, it can seem pretty silly to care about TV. But here I am, daydreaming about my shows. Like the rest of the nation, Hollywood is shut down for the foreseeable future — meaning if an episode wasn’t already shot, who knows when it’ll happen. But it’s not just a question of when, it’s also a question of how. What will the effect of the Rona be on TV? Will shows incorporate it into their plotlines? Do we want them to? We at latinamedia.co aren’t sure but we’ll be exploring what to watch during and after this crisis.

Certainly, medical shows a la Grey’s Anatomy will have to do a Coronavirus arc. How could a hospital drama possibly resist? And for Grey’s, they can’t let dramatic medical news go to waste. I can only imagine how hard it is to come up with new theatrics for our favorite surgical department after sixteen seasons and here’s an unprecedented health tragedy falling in their laps. My only question is if it’ll be one episode or one season. Really, Meredith, Bailey, and the team could do so much.

Outside of hospital shows, family sitcoms are well situated to write about this time. One Day At A TimeBlack-ish, and The Simpsons, shows that already take place in the living room know how to squeeze drama out of the domestic. Watching our favorite TV families exploring what it’s like to be stuck at home for who knows how long could be therapeutic. At least, I’d expect some good laughs as Lydia runs out of makeup or Bo teaches everyone how to wash their hands (again). There’s joy as well as fear for those of us privileged enough to self-isolate and I’d like to watch my favorite TV families laugh and love and cry through it.

And of course, there’s the political show. Since Trump took office, many shows have failed to match the absurdity of reality, their out-of-this-world plots suddenly seeming tame in comparison to the actual headlines. The exception is The Good Fight — they’ve satirized and weaponized the Trump Administration’s failure to great effect, finding ridiculousness and humor throughout. Imagine Riddick Boseman suing the federal government for more ventilators. Defending the mostly brown and black people who will fall victim to the disease. Continuing to lampoon the failures of the White House, just now with a Coronavirus spin.

As great as that would be, the genre I think that’ll give us the most insight into our current predicament is science fiction. Hear me out. Remember when Battlestar Galactica did a whole season on the occupation in Iraq? It had more to say than most ripped-from-the-headlines plots because it was able to take on the whole story, unencumbered by the details. Instead, it focused on the human costs and the emotional reactions. And it totally worked.

So who will be able to comment meaningfully on this moment? My hopes are with dark and nuanced shows. Maybe the fourth season of Westworld could do it. It could be a computer virus or a biological one (or one the jumps from humans to robots). It could unite the two groups and divide them, creating new castes of those with the disease and those without. It could ask what is the moral way to respond and how much should we sacrifice for the herd (the eternal question around Maeve and her daughter). It could ask what we are willing to change and who we are willing to collaborate with. And it could continue to expose who is valued and who is treated as expendable — the show’s true forte.

There’s something about the fictional future that seems best able to handle our unprecedented present. Let’s just hope we get there.

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Four Times ‘Party of Five’ Made Us Cry and Take Action

Party of Five is a tear-jerker. The original show had its premise of orphaned siblings learning to take care of each other. With this reboot, the parents aren’t dead but deported. Layering typical teen storylines with the anger of being betrayed by your country, it is ripe territory. The first season made me cry all the tears, but don’t for a second think the show was just trauma porn. No, Party of Five inspired righteous anger and action-oriented empathy so let’s revisit the moments that meant the most.

1. The Pilot

No kid should have to go through what Val goes through

The Acosta parents get picked up by ICE, spend time in detention, have their day in court, and are bussed across the border in the pilot. I cried. A lot. The scene where they get picked up in front of their children was the thing of nightmares. As the mother of young kids myself, I am haunted by the pain involved in deciding to leave their baby in the States. But the moment that hist me the hardest was Valentina’s testimony. She’s just a kid, a middle schooler, and there she was, up on the stand trying to convince a judge that taking her loving parents from her will represent “exceptional and unusual hardship.” She convinced me.

Val pouring her heart out and the best immigration attorney in LA aren’t enough to convince the judge. He literally says “my hands are tied,” despite being the decision-maker. A white man seals their fate. It’s infuriating, especially watching it in an election year. We set the laws of this country. I vote for the judges in my county. We must do better and change these hurtful practices so the real-life Acostas don’t have to go through this agony.

Get involved with changing the courts.

2. Lucia’s Speech

Lucia’s words break my heart with their devasting honesty

“Cruelty is the point” has become somewhat of a refrain about the current administration and so it makes sense the phrase popped up in Lucia’s unplanned speech in Party of Five’s seventh episode. In “Speak for Yourself,” Lucia organizes a fundraiser for an immigrants’ rights group and one of the activists challenges her to tell her own story. Here’s what she says:

I was remembering how my father shaved every morning. No matter what. Weekends. Vacations. Even when he was sick. He used to sit me on the counter, so I could watch him use his gleaming straight razor. The detention center was the first time I ever saw him with stubble. And when I went to kiss him, his cheek next to mine, it felt like a stranger’s and stupidly, I said something.

And the next time, there he was — from a distance, his old self, clean-shaven. But up close his face was raw. Covered in tiny cuts. He laughed it off and said he couldn’t find a mirror. But these past few weeks, learning about the conditions in these places, I realized that he was lying. There was probably one dull disposable razor that made the rounds from cell to cell. From father to father. Each man afraid of his children not recognizing him. Every man ashamed of appearing to be just a creature in a cage, deprived of every necessity that allows us to feel human. It’s on purpose, of course. There aren’t supply shortages or inadequate funds. Cruelty is the point.

It speaks for itself. Help protect immigrants’ rights.

3. The Acosta Parents Separate

Our government nearly destroys this once strong American family

At the end of the penultimate episode of the first season, Gloria Acosta tells her husband she wants to separate. Losing her kids has destroyed her sense of herself, her role in her family, and maybe her relationship with her husband. She doesn’t want to be a wife if she’s prevented from being the mother she is.

Gloria’s angry and ready to burn the whole thing down and I don’t blame her. What made this revelation so brutal was not the divorce — parents separate all the time — but rather the complete devastation wrought by our government. All season, the Acostas had been fighting for their family, an imperfect but loving group who need and respect each other. With the parents’ impending separation, the dream, the vision, the narrative of this once strong family crumbles. Even if its members could reunite, there may be nothing to put back together.

Support immigrant families.

4. Emilio is Not to Blame

Emilio is doing everything he can for his siblings

Oldest brother Emilio spends the season adjusting to his role as a caretaker for his four younger siblings. He gives up touring with his band, hanging up his guitar in the family restaurant. He stops hooking up with random women and tries to build more stable relationships. But it’s not enough to transition this early 20’s Dreamer into the parent the traumatized Acosta kids need. Rafa gets lead poisoning. Val runs away, making it to the border before getting caught.

As a result, Emilio finds himself in state-mandated parenting classes in the season finale, listening to other parents identify what got them there. But as Emilio says, “I am not the problem. What this country, what they did to my parents, and to their children? That’s the problem. That’s never gonna get fixed in here.” And he storms out. If only we could opt out of the government’s disregard for our families’ well-being so easily.

If you share Emilio’s anger like I do, help overhaul the system.

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36 Years Since a Woman Has Won For Directing

It’s the first week of 2020, and as a new year begins, so does award season. As many of us are gathering our hopes and dreams for 2020, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association reminded us what we already know: we have our work cut out for us.

As has been widely reported, no women were nominated for director this year. Despite the amazing work that came from women directors in 2020, like Greta Gerwig (Little Women) and Lulu Wang (The Farewell), this decision brought the total to 36 years since a woman has won for Best Director. Fun fact it was Barbra Streisand for Yentl in 1984.

Not that it was all bad for women. Ellen Degeneres won the Carol Burnett award given to her by the incomparable Kat McKinnon whose heartwarming speech reminded us why representation matters. And the Television category proved to be  better for the ladies, with the comedic genius of Phoebe Waller-Bridge at the center winning the awards for: Best Television Series – Comedy and Best Actress in a Comedy Series. And while we’re happy and celebrate Fleabag, a favorite at Latina Media.co, it does reflect the lack of nominations for women of color at the Golden Globes.  

Only four women of color, Cynthia Erivo (Harriet), Ana De Armas (Knives Out), Awkwafina (The Farewell), Jennifer Lopez, (Hustlers), were nominated this year for an award and only one took home an award. Awkwafina made history by becoming the first Asian woman to win Best Actress in a Motion Picture — Musical or Comedy for her role in The Farewell. In a moving speech, she thanked director Lulu Wang. “You gave me this chance, the chance of a lifetime and you taught me so much and filming this story, being with you was incredible.” Awkwafina’s win was the highlight of the Golden Globes. 

While we also loved Michelle Williams speech about the importance of a woman’s right to choose and Patricia Arquette’s speech highlighting climate change, there was one statistic that was particularly disappointing: zero Latinas won. 
Despite Jennifer Lopez’s phenomenal work in Hustlers and Ana De Armas’s role in the thriller Knives Out, no Latinas took home awards. Side note Jennifer Lopez is the present we don’t deserve, see her outfit if you need further explanation it could not be more accurate. Despite Latino audiences historically having the highest rate of attendance at the box office, Hollywood has yet to recognize our contributions. There were many Latinas that were left without nominations despite award-worthy performances like Mj Rodrieguez in Pose and Melissa Barrera in Vida (and star of In the Heights coming in 2020). 2020 wasn’t our year at the Golden Globes, here’s to hoping the rest of awards season proves better (looking at you Oscars).

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Sleeping with Your Priest: From “Fleabag” to “El Crimen del Padre Amaro”

Pheobe Waller-Bridge created something rare and amazing with Fleabag — a show that completely inhabits a complicated (some may say “damaged”) woman’s perspective and finds humor and humanity. The second season won all the awards, and rightfully so, for its depiction of the relationship between our troubled protagonist and a Hot Priest.

Watching it, I was conflicted. Am I supposed to root for the relationship or want Fleabag to get the hell out of there? On one hand, the Hot Priest is in fact hot. He’s also adorable (see the thing with foxes) and really sees Fleabag (he’s the only one who notices her asides). But on the other hand, he’s not available! I mean, the man has taken a vow of celibacy. And he likes being a priest so it’s not exactly a surprise (spoiler coming!) that he picks God over Fleabag (although it’s not out of the realm of possibility that one might choose Pheobe Waller-Bridge’s incredible magnetism over the Catholic God).

No matter what side you fall on though, Fleabag is notable for how it takes you through the relationship from the (white) woman’s perspective. We are with her as she first meets the Hot Priest, checks out his congregation, learns a bit about the Bible, and eventually, even, has sex with him. From Fleabag’s perspective, we see the pain and the pleasure of another manifestation of her self-destructive behavior. Only this time, it’s more poignant because she finally manages to forge a real connection, even if it’s doomed from the start.

Catholicism is harmless, horny, and hilarious when seen through Fleabag’s eyes

In her relationship with the Hot Priest, Fleabag’s happiness is at stake and we want her to have it. To her, the Catholic church is an oddity, a quirk of her family. It didn’t help commit genocide against her ancestors, destroying their sacred places and building churches on top of them. It doesn’t still influence the politics, economies, and culture of her homeland, providing social services in failed states while also upholding patriarchal anti-abortion laws. It holds no greater power than to thwart her love life.

Obviously, that’s not true for many of us. So when the story of transgressing the vow of celibacy is told from the Latino perspective, it looks really different. Take the 2002 sensation, El Crimen del Padre Amaro. It also features a hot priest (who didn’t/doesn’t have a crush on Gael Garcia Bernal?) who breaks his vow, this time with Ana Claudia Talancón’s Amelia. This Spanish-language film won all sorts of awards too, even becoming one of nine films from Mexico ever to get nominated for Oscar’s Best Foreign Language Film.

But while the set up’s and critical responses are the same, pretty much everything else is different. For one, El Crimen is told from the priest’s perspective. We don’t learn much about Amelia, other than that she masturbates to Jesus (¡Dios mio!). And even that tidbit is meant to just make her more desirable for Padre Amaro. She’s the early aughts version of a priest thirst trap, a Bible-thumping virgin who Amaro literally dresses up as La Virgin. And of course, things don’t go well for her. She gets pregnant, gets a back alley abortion with Amaro’s help, and dies.

Male gaze much? Amelia as the perfect priest-sex-object in El Crimen del Padre Amaro

So while the stakes for Amelia are life and death, they exist only to illustrate how far Amaro has fallen. The young father starts out good but his ambitions get the better of him as he forsakes his moral code for career advancement, betraying Amelia, his mentor, and his broader community. Meanwhile, we see the Church supporting cartels, curtailing free speech, and ex-communicating the only priest who puts the well-being of his congregation first. As Padre Amaro falls from grace so does the church, making the whole movie a critique of the church as a power-hungry hypocrite without a moral compass.

It may be worth noting here that El Crimen del Padre Amaro set the box office record when it premiered in Mexico.

Hot priests sell. Rewatching the film in 2019, I couldn’t help but wonder how different it would be from the woman’s point of view. Fleabag only half-answers that question, flipping the gender perspective but also transporting us to the colonial power. Certainly, a Latina would tell the story differently. But our stories are so rarely told — we still struggle to keep critically acclaimed, feel-good family sitcoms (cough One Day At A Time cough) on air, let alone transgressive sexual narratives that risk angering the Catholic Church. So I may just be waiting a long time.

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Teen Gang Members on TV: “On My Block” and “Riverdale”

I don’t normally watch, let alone recommend, shows about gang members. Characters like that are over-represented, giving the false impression that people of color are all cholos. Yet, I found Netflix’s On My Block to be the rare show that manages to depict gangs without romanticizing or pathologizing them. And I particularly like how the show contrasts with the CW’s Riverdale, a similarly structured teen drama, where the main character who joins a gang is white.

Both shows feature a mixed group of four high school friends, navigating coming of age in their troubled communities. On My Block’s main characters are all people of color with the Afro-Latina Monse as the group’s lone girl, Cesar and Ruby representing diverse Latino experiences, and Black Jamal rounding out the group. They’re in Freeridge, a fictional South Central neighborhood of Los Angeles plagued by gang violence. In Riverdale, the central group is much paler with White Archie, Jughead, and Betty getting a bit of color with Latina Veronica. These four inhabit the titular small, picturesque town losing its innocence.

These shows have A LOT in common

On both shows, one member of the central quartet joins a gang — with vastly different results. On On My Block, Cesar’s gang membership is an obstacle, a blatant tragedy. His friends’ attempts to save him propels much of the plot. By the end of season two, he’s negotiating with his brother and gang leader Spooky to be excused from the gang’s violent duties. Meanwhile, on Riverdale, being a Southside Serpent gives Jughead power and purpose. He ends up the leader of the group, keeping his fellow gang members from dealing drugs and protecting them from gentrifiers along the way.

Take for example the initiation process. We learn that Cesar has joined the Santos gang by seeing the bruises on his abdomen, an ugly, painful sign of getting jumped in. He’s not proud of his wounds and the show doesn’t dramatize the process, letting the injury speak for itself. Meanwhile, we see each step of Jughead’s initiation, some of it silly (taking care of a cute dog, being stung by a venom-less snake), some reminiscent of joining a frat (reciting memorized group rules), and some classic hypermasculine “heroics” (surviving a punching line of fellow Snakes). In Jughead’s initiation, he stands defiant and strong, taking his punches while looking his peers in the eyes. This portrayal glamorizes the process, making the violence a chance for Jughead to show his strength of character.

Against all likelihood, Jughead becomes the leader of the Southside Serpents

In fact, violence generally is a way for the teens of Riverdale to prove themselves. They solve the murder of their classmate Jason Blossom and expose a drug kingpin in the process. They catch not one but two suspected serial killers. They cover up murders, attack people, and still run for student council. They may grapple with their “darkness” but the show portrays all this violence with the same seriousness as it does wrestling tryouts, keeping us from having to consider what it’s like to be a teenager facing violence.

On My Block has no such delusions. Its black and brown characters inhabit a place much closer to reality, where murder is not something a normal teen should have to think about. After Cesar and Monse are rolled up on by rival gang member Latrelle, Spooky tasks Cesar with killing this new threat. Cesar attempts it but in the end, balks. You see Latrelle may be a rival gang member but it wasn’t too long ago that they were classmates, peers. Not wanting to become a killer, Cesar tells Latrelle to leave Freeridge and never come back. The threat works for a while but (spoiler) Latrelle returns in the season one finale, shooting two of our principal characters, killing one.

This violence — the death of an innocent fifteen-year-old and near-death of another — does not take a single episode or arc to resolve. The horror of it gives Ruby PTSD and leaves all of our characters in mourning for the entire second season. Meanwhile, Cesar is further punished for his good deed, exiled from the gang and forced to sleep on the street between staying with friends. The adults here respond not by being impressed by the young teen’s action (like they are with Jughead’s) but rather dismayed by the circumstance. For a few episodes there, it felt like everyone was just repeating the sentiment that “no child should be in this situation.”

Cesar is literally the smallest member of the Santos

On My Block illustrates a fact — gang violence hurts the children in its wake. It does not lift them up a la Jughead becoming the leader of the Serpents. And the violence is shown for what it is — ugly, irreversible, and de-humanizing. It’s not the mystery of the week. And it’s not the defining characteristic for any of our young heroines. Monse, Cesar, Ruby, and Jamal may live in a violent world but they’re typical teens, as worried about their latest crush and parent problems as they are about the state of their neighborhood. You see in addition to gang violence, On My Block portrays a slapstick treasure hunt (with gnomes no less), the double standard around hooking up (boys get points, girls a reputation), and an on-going bit about masturbation (socks figure in heavily).

Cesar is not “The Gang Member” to his friends or the audience and neither is Jughead (whose whiteness makes this trick much easier). In fact, they’re both the only gang members in their group of friends, ensuring we see other parts of their identity. With its brown and black point of view, On My Block takes the responsibility of righting the traditional gang narrative. Meanwhile, Riverdale hyper sensationalizes and promotes harmful myths but avoids any major offenses, mostly by keeping its of-color characters out of the Serpents and positioning the group as a response to Riverdale’s classist Northside/Southside conflict. Together, these shows ask viewers to see gangs not as brown or black menaces but rather the result of structural inequality. And for that, I commend them.

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Only 1 Latinx Person Won an Emmy — That’s Just Not Enough

There were many beautiful moments at the 2019 Emmy’s. Michelle Williams demanding fair treatment at work for women and particularly women of color. Billy Porter becoming the first black gay man to win an Emmy and quoting James Baldwin in his acceptance speech. Alex Borsteinurging women to “step out of line” like her grandmother did to survive the Holocaust.

The best of these was certainly Jharrel Jerome winning best actor in a limited series for When They See Us. The first Afro-Latino to win an acting Emmy, Jerome is also the youngest person to win this category at just 21. In his acceptance speech, he dedicated his award to the Exonerated Five, spoke Spanish, and, of course, thanked writer/director/producer Ava Duvernay, who definitely deserved to win her own Emmy.

“I hope this is a step forward for Dominicans, for Latinos, for Afro-Latinos. It’s about time we are here” said Jerome and we agree. The Dominican, Latinx, Afro-Latinx communities have been passed over for too long, talents not given the opportunity to shine on the main stage. These words were Jerome’s response to a question from Remezcla reporter Manuel Betancourt, the first time the Latinx publication was credentialed for the Emmys. When Latinx are both at the podium and asking the questions, great stuff happens.

So while we take this moment to celebrate Jerome’s win (and Betancourt’s reporting), we are far from satisfied. It was great seeing Latinx multi-hyphenates Jimmy Smits and Lin-Manuel Miranda presenting but that was the extent of our representation. Not a single Latina graced the Emmy stage. Not as a winner, not as a presenter, not even as a nominee. This in the year that saw the final seasons of Jane the Virgin and Orange Is The New Black, original EGOT winner Rita Moreno in ODAAT, AND Vida. Latinas were not just absent but ignored.

This erasure happened despite the fact that we certainly know how to do awards shows. I mean JLo literally caused the invention of Google Images with her green Versace dress, now celebrating its 20th anniversary and still breaking the internet. The women of Pose(not nominated, not brought on stage, seated in the back) arguably won the red carpet. We know how to bring it.

Perhaps the Television Academy is scared of us. Remember the debacle they got in a few years ago when they literally put Sofia Vergara on a pedestal? Or perhaps they’re worried they’ll repeat the mistake the Globes made in confusing Latina actresses for each other. But maybe I’m being too generous. It could be they just don’t know what to do with women of color in general. I mean Sandra Oh’s never won despite all those years as the formidable Dr. Cristina Yang (not to mention her current role as the titular Eve on Killing Eve). They didn’t give Ava Duvernay the statues she deserved last night. In fact, they didn’t give any WOC awards. No black women won, no Latinas were nominated, see the note about Sandra Oh above.

And while white women won all of the acting categories, Phoebe Waller-Bridge was the only woman to win a non-acting category, thanks to her writing for Fleabag (which went on to win Best Comedy). It was a rough night for women in general, and particularly for women of color.

The Emmys have to do better. TV is more diverse than film and the Television Academy shows should celebrate, rather than shun that fact. At a moment where activism around media representation continues to make headlines, we should be further than this. Didn’t we learn anything from #OscarsSoWhite? What about all those studies from Annenberg? Yet, here we are, thrilled to be celebrating some firsts while huge proportions of our community get shut out. Again. It’s past time to make Latinas visible.

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Not Reading Elizabeth Acevedo? Here’s Why You Should

While the literary establishment generally ignores Latinas, last year we saw the door open (just a creak!), thanks to Elizabeth Acevedo. Her The Poet X won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature and her second novel, With the Fire on High, is showing that lightning can indeed strike twice.

I picked up The Poet X knowing nothing except that the author is Afro Latina and it won a bunch of awards. So you can imagine my surprise when the whole book turned out to be in verse. Poetry is not my favorite, so I figured I was in for a long, difficult read. But The Poet X delighted me. The language was powerful, the plot driving, and the characters fascinating.

Going in, I thought, a book about a Latina who expresses herself through writing? I’m going to see myself here (like I do with Jane the Virgin). But The Poet X’s Xiomara is a curvy bombshell, navigating her age-appropriate sexual awakening in the context of a working-class, abusive, Catholic family. And that couldn’t be further from my experience. I was a privileged, fair-skinned, beanpole teenager, confronting what it was like being outside the “spicy/curvy” Latina stereotype. My parents were loving and accepting and there was no strict religious doctrine in our household. I’m not even baptized! That’s not to say we didn’t have awkward conversations about sex or our own problems but our relationship is nothing like Xiomara’s with her parents. Where Jane Villanueva’s nerdiness and loving family resonated with me, Xiomara’s street cred and homelife felt foreign. But different doesn’t mean bad or even unappealing. It’s just a reminder that being Latina is just one part of our identities — it doesn’t define our entire experiences and we certainly aren’t all the same.

The Poet X is one of the rare books by a Latina to get attention from the literary establishment

By the time I finished The Poet X, the cover art for Acevedo’s sophomore work was out and I pre-ordered it. A few pages into With the Fire on High, I was a bit worried. The premise was eerily similar, only this time our young heroine expresses herself through food rather than words. Was this just going to be a carbon copy of The Poet X? Luckily no.

For one, it turns out the difference between Xiomara-the-poet and Emoni-the-chef is substantial. Where The Poet X is all in poetry, With the Fire on High is in prose with each section starting with a recipe (like the canonical Like Water for Chocolate!). It’s a powerful device supported by descriptions of Emoni experimenting with spices, finding surprising combinations, and cooking up flavor metaphors galore.

Emoni is also on a totally different journey than Xiomara when it comes to sex and relationships. When With the Fire on High starts, Emoni may be a senior in high school but she already has a two-year-old daughter. There’s no question about her virginity, no fight for her “purity” a la Xiomara. Instead, Emoni’s backed away from dating altogether — the boys in her school generally mistake her motherhood as a sign that she’s “easy,” when, if anything, she’s learned to by hyper-cautious when it comes to sex and her heart. Plus she’s super busy — raising a toddler, trying to graduate high school, and working to help support her family — it’s a lot.

One of the joys of With the Fire on High is its portrayal of motherhood. At the time of reading it, my daughter is the same age as Emoni’s and I can attest that some of that experience is the same, no matter the circumstance. Yes, I became a mom when you’re “supposed” to — as a married grown up in a secure financial position — and yes, that makes it a lot easier. But we’re all still reading Runaway Bunny and dealing with tantrums and feeling our hearts ache when we go too long without smelling that perfect, baby smell.

Acevedo’s second book is delicious

So much of the conversation around motherhood — teen and Latina motherhood in particular — is about a distinct contraction. Becoming a mother is often equated with going from having the world open to you to suddenly needing to prioritize a tiny, demanding human above all else. And that is true. But there’s a beauty and joy to it that’s left out of the dialogue when the mom is young or brown. It was powerful seeing a character who many would write off as a cautionary tale — don’t become the pregnant freshman! — given the same humanity and joy and problems as the rest of us.

As a mom and a creative, Emoni is her own person. With the Fire on High succeeds because she is so real, so distinct, and yet, so relatable. Her love story (not with the baby daddy) was particularly compelling, as she tries to find happiness and enjoy some of that normal, teenage head-over-heels joy that she was denied in her first experience. As Emoni navigates dating-post-baby, you can’t help but root for her.

The same goes for Elizabeth Acevedo, the author behind both books. I’m excited to meet her next heroine and would like to put in a request — can we meet a Latina who falls in love (and even has sex!) without consequence? Boys get to do it all the time. Even white women are starting to do it (see An EducationGirls, even Sister Carrie.). I’d love for Latinas to have a turn!

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This Latina Honors Toni Morrison

When Toni Morrison died, there was an outpouring of tributes. People wrote beautifully about the impact of her work, the strength of her character, the power of her insight. The tweets were amazing from President Barack Obama to local librarians.

As the love and mourning swirled, I was impressed by how much of the dialogue centered Black voices. Toni Morrison would have been proud. A quote of hers circulated: “Being a Black woman writer is not a shallow place but a rich place to write from. It doesn’t limit my imagination. It expands it.” A video of her went viral — in it, a white reporter asks when she’ll write “substantially” about white people and Toni Morrison responds with, “You can’t understand how powerfully racist that question is, can you?”

This is an author who for the entirety of her career showed what it was to not just center black women but how that choice reframes the entire American narrative. When you switch from the “usual” perspective of the white man to a marginalized, silenced, and ignored black woman, history changes. Our understanding of what it means to be an American, a lover and love interest, and simply a human — they all shift.

This is an author who for the entirety of her career showed what it was to not just center black women but how that choice reframes the entire American narrative.

The power of this experience is exponential. If you’re part of the group that is rarely centered, you can see yourself in a whole new light. You can value and love yourself in ways you didn’t know were possible, or even know you were missing. You can suddenly perceive all the previously invisible ways you were ignored, taught your experiences didn’t matter, and led to believe your perspective was wrong.

And if you’re not in the newly-centered group, there’s much to learn as well. I am not a white man so I don’t know what is to have the whole world structured to uplift my perspectives, preferences, and power. But I do have many privileges, fair skin among them. As such, reading and studying Toni Morrison has shaped my view of the world and made me a better person. They’ve taught me to listen, to question, to demand more of myself and others but that change wasn’t instant.

I was shocked when I got to college that other people read books like The Color Purple in high school. They were assigned books by and about black people? Gay black people? We did not have that. My high school was over a third Latinx but the only time I can remember reading an assigned book about the Latinx experience was Bless Me Ultima. It’s a good book. But it was the only one. I’m wracking my brain, trying to remember if we were ever assigned anything written by a black author. I don’t think so. We certainly never read anything from the LGBTQ perspective (or disabled for that matter).

Toni Morrison has shaped my view of the world and made me a better person. [She] taught me to listen, to question, to demand more of myself and others but that change wasn’t instant.

Now I’m a nerd from a nerd family (including a Chicano-studies professor dad and a woman’s history professor mom), so I read lots of great books. I remember being so impressed by Rain of Gold as a teenager and even, upon my dad’s recommendation, selecting Beloved for my independent book report project junior year. I don’t think my (white) teacher had read it. I certainly didn’t talk to her about Beloved. High school was not where you discussed books like those, at least not where I went

College, of course, was different. And not just because I could take classes like “Women Writers” and “Chicana History” but also because the experiences of black and brown people (including women!) made their way into the general curriculum. I took a class called “Literary Masters” and we just read Faulkner and Morrison. The power of telling kids of all backgrounds that these two voices are at the top of their craft, their ideas are in conversation, was monumental. The professor may have liked both authors equally, but I think I speak for all my classmates when I say Toni Morrison won. Her words, her moral authority, her characters sang in a way Faulkner’s don’t. Yes, they both earned the Nobel Prize in literature, but Morrison had to overcome so much more, be so much more excellent, to get it.

I was lucky to discover and fall in love with Morrison in school but I didn’t stop learning from her once I got my degree. After graduating, I stayed in dialogue around Toni Morrison’s work, part of a three-person book club (me, my favorite professor who just happened to be an esteemed Morrison scholar, and my roommate/fellow English major) who read literary theory and Morrison’s new works (as I said, I am a nerd). In addition to grappling with her work and words, letting them challenge and inspire me, I also tried to emulate her example. I became an activist, a cultural critic. In that role, I call for more and better representation of women of color, insisting we’d get better art and a better society if we diversified who we listen to.

In addition to grappling with her work and words, letting them challenge and inspire me, I also tried to emulate her example. I became an activist, a cultural critic.

Toni Morrison may not have written with me, a white-passing Latina, in mind. I am not the person most affected by her work or her legacy. I’m not even in that group. But I learned so much from reading her and learning how others read her. I am grateful that she did the hard work of becoming a writer, of insisting her words mattered, of valuing herself and those in her community.

She did so much for us. Let us honor her by using the space she created to push for more. More space. More voices. More black women at the center of it all.

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Dolor y Esperanza: Finding Hope after El Paso

To be Latinx in America has always been fraught. But in the last month, under Donald Trump’s “leadership,” our community has been under increased attack. The co-founders of LatinaMedia.co discuss what it means to be Latina in 2019, how we got here, and what we should do next.

NICOLA: On August 3, 2019, a 21-year-old white man drove 9 hours to El Paso Texas and killed 22 people and injured 20+ more. The man was targeting Latinos, rationalizing his decision in a manifesto using the terms “demographic displacement,” “white genocide” and “illegal immigration.” Like many people when I heard this news I immediately thought about my family, I cried, and that night I couldn’t sleep.

CRISTINA: I learned about the El Paso shooting from Facebook. One of my tias had marked herself safe, writing that she, all her sisters, all the kids, and all the grandkids were okay. It was both a perfect and truly terrible way to learn about another mass shooting. A shooting that took place this time in the city where my grandfather’s from, and the majority of my husband’s family still lives. The weekend before, we’d talked about going to the Gilroy Garlic Festival and I’d had to double-check that my brother-in-law didn’t go without us. This is not an acceptable way to live. In fear and frustration. Under attack.

NICOLA: I wasn’t surprised. How could I be? When the leader of our country has been saturating the news with racist language and actions towards the Latino community, especially Mexicans. “They are, in many cases, criminals, drug dealers, rapists.”

This is not an acceptable way to live. In fear and frustration. Under attack.

It’s almost been two years since Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico. Instead of using it as a moment to unify the country, Trump blamed the people claiming “They want everything done for them.” Not only is Trump playing into racist colonial ideas, he’s also perpetuating the narrative that even Latinos who are documented and born in this country must prove themselves worthy of this country.

CRISTINA: I’m not surprised either. There’s always been racism in the US — we’re talking about a country founded on slavery that still uses oppression as its primary engine for growth. A country that uses state-sanctioned violence to terrorize its black and brown citizens. A country that bakes racism into each and every one of its systems.

In reading the coverage of the El Paso shooting, I was struck by its location — a Walmart — and how those workers had been trained to deal with an active shooter. They don’t get paid enough for that! We’re living in a society where the Waltons are the richest family on the planet and they require their minimum-wage workers to risk life and limb. It’s sickening.

NICOLA: It is and it’s past time that we talk about it. Since 2016, I found myself in more arguments than I can count as we approach the 2020 elections. What is the future of our country? How can Democrats better tailor their message toward the parts of America that felt ignored and voted for Trump in 2016? How can we appeal to America’s better nature? Appeal to or nation’s conscience?

The media only hears us in the Latinx community when we perform our pain.

These questions have led me to be more conscious of how and when I answer these questions. Far too often, it seems like the media only hears us in the Latinx community when we perform our pain. Whether it’s sharing our individual narratives on social media or someone filming a crying child asking where their mother is, it’s exhausting to both consume and create these narratives just for the chance at acceptance.

CRISTINA: I hear you and I’m exhausted too — everything only seems to be getting worse. The FBI reports an increase in hate crimes. There are concentration camps on the border. Just this past month, there was the shooting in El Paso, the raids in Mississippi (which I believe were retaliation against the Latina workers demanding to be given a modicum of human dignity), and now new rules to deny legal immigrants access to government services. It’s no longer a leak, rotting the foundation of our American house. It’s a flood.

And what’s so frustrating to me about this particular flood isn’t the white people on the second (third and fourth) floor, asking what the problem is. It’s the third of Latinx people who support the President. They’re in the muck with us, pretending that because they have rainboots or whatever, that everything’s fine. Maybe they think aligning themselves with the powers that be, they’ll become (or already are) white. Other groups have done it: look at Italians and the Irish. They used to be othered but now they’re as white as white can get. So maybe it is possible. But it’s not preferable. These folks are comfortable leaving behind huge portions of our community (Afro-Latinos, our indigenous brothers and sisters), and leaving intact an evil, unjust system. I’d much rather ban together, Squad-style, with other communities of color and throw the whole thing out.

NICOLA: Agreed. It often feels like we’re fighting a losing battle. We’re sharing these horrific stories of children being separated from their parents and parents protecting their children during a domestic terrorist attack at a Walmart — but what story will change or alter the racist narrative of this country? That’s where I believe inclusion, especially in newsrooms, writers rooms, and in the halls of government, is where we can put the most hope. We will not see change until we are represented in both creating our nation’s culture and creating the laws that govern our country.

CRISTINA: Definitely. And like you, I’m lucky that I get to advance that particular cause and my politics in general for a living. The Monday after the El Paso shooting, I was working with Latinx and women’s groups on a response. In the weeks before and after, I’ve had a hand in encouraging more people of color, women, and young people to vote and make this flawed democracy work for us. I mean here we are, speaking out as the mujeres problemáticas we are, demanding the world be better! But it’s still hard to have hope, to channel my rage and frustration into positive action, to not feel like the forces of hate are too strong, too entrenched for us to topple.

NICOLA: As we say at the Women’s Foundation of California, those closest to the problem are the best equipped to find the solution. And as I see more women, especially women of color, trans, and nonbinary people writing our laws and leading the next generation of policymakers the more I have hope for our future.

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“Sabrina & Corina” Colors in Our Erased History

I’ve always thought of Colorado as a white place. Despite the Spanish-language name, the state has marketed itself as more like Kansas than New Mexico and it’s worked. I mean, my dad is a professor of Chicana/Chicano studies and I grew up steeped in Mexican American history, learning the ways we are erased and the consequences of that erasure. Having lived in all four border states (CA, AZ, NM, and TX), I’ve noted the differences between how Latinx culture is presented, perceived and lived. So if anyone should have questioned the white narrative of Colorado, it was me. But I didn’t — I fell for the whitewashed marketing of the state, never doubting my impression that Colorado is and has been gringolandia.

Fajardo-Anstine captures the empty, arid, barrenness of the desert, contrasting it with the book’s other settings and filling the silence with real people — your primas and tias and amigas, dealing with things you wish they didn’t have to.

That is until I read Sabrina & Corina. Kali Fajardo-Anstine’s debut book is a collection of stories each centering a Latina protagonist from Denver. The stories span decades, revealing different facets of Colorado’s history with rich and beautiful writing. Fajardo-Anstine captures the empty, arid, barrenness of the desert, contrasting it with the book’s other settings and filling the silence with real people — your primas and tias and amigas, dealing with things you wish they didn’t have to. Each story keeps you turning pages as it breaks your heart with accounts of gender-based violence, bad-parents kept and good parents lost, and the psychological effect of your history, identity, and family being systematically erased.

Sabrina & Corina explores these pressing issues with nuance and compassion. Take the treatment of sexuality: in the title story, we see two cousins, one uncannily beautiful and “fast” and another responsible, conservative, and normal looking. The beautiful one trades on her looks for quick escapes, relying on men for her sense of self and her economic day-to-day. She ends up murdered by one of her partners. The other avoids men, relationships, and sex, living alone and isolated, even losing touch with her favorite cousin. Neither is a good choice.

On the other end of the spectrum, we see Alicia in “All Her Names” use her sexuality to literally ensure her freedom, pretending to be mid-tryst to escape the cops after tagging a train car. And this serves as background for a character who has an abortion without telling her husband and spends the majority of her narrative with her sometimes-lover, reliving what it was to be young and reckless. Sexuality is complicated and Sabrina & Corinadoesn’t back away from that as it portrays the lived experiences of Coloradian Latinas.

Sexuality is complicated and Sabrina & Corinadoesn’t back away from that as it portrays the lived experiences of Coloradian Latinas.

Likewise, Farjado-Anstine’s debut captures what it feels like to be the object of gentrification. In “Galapago,” we see a middle-aged woman try to convince her grandmother to move out of the old neighborhood. She remembers the break-ins over her grandmother’s 60+ years in that house and the ways in which the family contorted themselves and their home to continue thriving despite the surrounding violence. That story ends and begins with the grandmother Pearla killing a nineteen-year-old intruder — it’s finally time to move out.

In the last story, “Ghost Sickness,” we see the gentrification of history, not just houses. Here our protagonist Ana is a college student in danger of flunking History of the American West. She just can’t merge what she knows of the area — what the events described in her textbook felt like from the indigenous perspective — to the White Man’s version of explorers, tamed wilderness, and manifest destiny. She’s also dealing with the disappearance and probable death of her live-in boyfriend. This story ends with a modicum of hope — Ana may just pass the class thanks to an extra credit question on the Navajo original story, something she knows in her bones thanks to that missing, Navajo lover.

Overall, Sabrina & Corina made me feel seen, silly, and sad. Seen because these women are women I know, women I’ve been, but women I so rarely get to see portrayed. The power of centering Latina’s perspectives cannot be overstated. I also feel silly for knowing so little about my sisters in Colorado — I mean, I didn’t even know they existed! This erasure isolates us, keeping us from knowing and working together. And lastly, I was sad. These stories are heartbreaking and make you feel for each heroine as she deals with the tragedy before her.

Our experiences are not your sadness porn. There is in fact great beauty, humor, and strength in being Latina.

I hope Kali Fajardo-Anstine writes and publishes many more books. Her voice is powerful and her focus on women of color needed. But scrolling through reviews of Sabrina & Corina, I was uncomfortable by all the white women praising it, not understanding that to be Latina is not just to be in pain or doomed to tragic circumstances. Our experiences are not your sadness porn. There is in fact great beauty, humor, and strength in being Latina. And I hope Kali Fajardo-Anstine uses her considerable talent and now thankfully-large platform to share the joy of our identity with the world too. With so much sadness, we need the moments of joy as well.

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