Tag:

Culture

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.

FacebookTwitter
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.

FacebookTwitter
Becoming Exceptional: What We Owe Michelle Obama and Beyoncé

I have been watching and rewatching the glory and salvation that is Beyoncé’s Homecoming. The over 2-hour film chronicles her historical performance as the first Black woman to headline Coachella. The film is everything and shows the strength and dedication of a woman who has reinvented so much of the music industry. Truly, there is nothing I can say about Beyoncé that hasn’t been said already, she is an icon, artist, visionary, activist, and the closest thing to a representation of God on Earth.

On the same day Homecoming came out, my mom and I saw Michelle Obama on her international Becoming tour in Amsterdam. I wore a graphic dark green dress with flowers cascading on the back and front. As we were leaving, my dad asked why I had chosen to wear such a nice outfit, “It’s not like Michelle Obama is going to see you.” I laughed and simply said, “It’s Michelle Obama.” The 17,000-person venue was filled to capacity with a majority non-Americans beaming eagerly to see a woman who stands as a symbol of hope.

Michelle Obama in the Ziggo Dome, Amsterdam. © ANP

Now, this might seem like just a coincidence — to have a single day where I was blessed with so much uplifting feminist centric content. But for me, it was as predictable as my morning coffee because Black women continue to be the chosen source of encouragement for millions, whether some admit it or not.

With our country at war with itself ideologically, Black women are consistently the ones creating poignant work consumed by the masses. Whether it’s Oprah, Michelle Obama, or Beyoncé, Black women are serving as the leaders we all look up to. I mean, how many think pieces did we read about Oprah running for president after just a short Golden Globes speech? These black women are without a doubt exceptional but we have to be careful. We can’t think of Black women as superheroes coming to save us. And we certainly can’t expect any one person to “save us” from this mess. (I’m looking at you white women)

Michelle Obama’s memoir Becoming has already sold more than 10 million copies, quickly becoming one of the best selling in history. In her book, Obama details the difficulties of being a Black woman in the White House, a historic monument built by slaves. Watching her on stage, I was inspired but at the same time, I recognized the work and incredible restraint it must have taken her to be as successful as she was as First Lady.

Michelle Obama and Beyoncé are not just motivational, they’re financial powerhouses. Netflix paid Beyoncé 60 million dollars for a three-project deal and watching Homecoming, I think Netflix got a pretty good deal. And her bankability is particularly impressive because Beyoncé does not let the audience forget who she’s constructing masterpieces like Homecoming for: Black women. It’s obvious in her lyrics, dancers, musical interludes, attitudes, and themes. Suddenly finding myself with a more flexible income, I went to my first Beyoncé concert after graduating college. I wanted to see the woman who had kept me awake as I studied for finals and reignited the power of the word feminist. I’d never seen a performer who more perfectly speaks to this moment in time. She spoke of the past but appealed to our present.

As I reflect on both Michelle Obama’s work and Beyoncé’s art, I am reminded of something we should all acknowledge: we owe Black women a debt that can never be repaid. They are the ones driving and creating our popular culture, creating work and activism (cough Tarana Burke cough) that captivates not only Black women but all of us.

Their burden is heavy, one of exceptionalism and brilliance. It’s not a coincidence that Black women continue to rise to the top of our cultural zeitgeist, they’ve worked the hardest. In a country that has continually told black women they are not safe, very few have made it to the top echelons of our society. It is this lack of systemic privilege that makes their work even more spectacular.

Michelle Obama and Beyoncé are two of the few Black women who have overcome the barriers society put in front of them. Not only do Black women continue to make 61 cents on the white man’s dollar, Black women continue to face the highest rates of maternal deaths, disproportionate rates of violence, and few positions of power. In recent years, I’ve found myself turning more and more to Black women for inspiration, and it’s clear we must support Black women whether they are a billionaire, a leader of this nation, or an artist. It’s the least we can do.

FacebookTwitter
Guilt, Heartbreak, and Hilarity in Episode 83 of “Jane the Virgin”

After the shock of last week’s premiere, The CW’s Jane the Virgin is out with its second episode. Chapter Eighty-Three centers on the idea of guilt — whether it’s religion or the internal struggle between right and wrong, our favorite characters all seem to be struggling with it. The founders of Mujeres Problemáticas discuss their thoughts on what to make of this episode of Jane the Virgin.

NICOLA: This episode had me from the start: guilt is definitely written into my family’s genetics. And there is something about guilt and immigrant stories that go so well together, like chile and cheese. My abuelita and my mom both had a story for each situation that would basically guilt me into doing what they wanted. But maybe that’s because I grew up religious what about you Cristina?

CRISTINA: Well, as someone who went to CCD, I know plenty about guilt, Catholic or otherwise! And as Jane experienced, sometimes it’s easy to throw your conflicted feelings on the church even when the guilt is really coming from inside you. It’s part of our culture, how we talk to our parents, how we talk to ourselves. But, of course, I loved the jabs at the church like when Rafael said, “I don’t want Mateo thinking he’s going to hell every time he’s done something wrong.” And Jane said, “That’s not what the church teaches… at first.” Dying!

NICOLA: I’m one of the only Latinx people I know who’s family is Protestant. Sorry Catholicism but when we immigrated, we left our religion. I still feel guilt has this unique relationship to religion, even if the majority of my guilt comes from trying to fulfill the expectations and dreams of my immigrant family.

Obviously, I imagine this guilt is NOT the same as you might feel when you find out your previously dead husband has come back to life with amnesia five years later after you already found happiness with another man who happens to be the same man who you had an artificially-inseminated baby with.

CRISTINA: Haha right, Jane’s guilt is a special case. It’s so extreme but that didn’t mean my heart wasn’t breaking all over this episode. That scene where we saw what both her and Rafael wanted to say but didn’t broke me. How many times does that happen in real life? Why are missed connections like that so devastating? And, of course, there was that moment when Jane thought Michael/Jason’s memories were coming back. That feeling of disappointment for something you’re not even sure you want — everyone can relate to it.

NICOLA: Agreed. I think Jane the Virgin’s writers give us an interesting life lesson through Jane. Oftentimes our society depicts decisions as very black and white, that there is a right answer and a wrong answer for everything. The reality is most of the time our decisions and experiences happen in a very gray area. I feel like this is where Jane is right now, she’s dealing with her unresolved feelings for Michael/Jason and her past with him and the current love of her life Rafael. And surprise — there is no right answer!

The person I really feel the most for this episode is Alba. Now that Jorge is able to get his Visa to see his mother, Alba is left to process all the feelings. For a character, that always played by the rulebook, it’s been refreshing to watch her come into herself. I think the Alba we met in season one would never have made a decision to get married in a matter of hours. But this Alba from season 5 feels more fearless and breaks the mold that TV often gives to older women. Older women can make mistakes, fall in love, and yes, also serve as a family’s moral compass. It’s great to see Alba have such a full storyline separate from being a grandmother.

CRISTINA: Agreed. Alba is amazing and her storyline this week was so poignant. Did Jane the Virgin always make us cry this much? Have I forgotten what it’s like to watch this show? So far, this final season has had SO MUCH FEELS. I need to prepare myself better to handle it!

Of course, it wasn’t all tears. There’s always Rogelio for comic relief and the craziness of the plot to keep things moving. In fact, I have a conspiracy theoryfor you. I think Sin Rostro was lying about why she gave Michael amnesia. I mean, she’s not exactly trustworthy, you know? I have no idea what she’s really up to but I think she’s using Jason to drive a wedge between Jane and Rafael. That line-dancing kiss was so awkward! And then he pretended his dog ate the divorce papers after just threatening to leave (not to mention the eyes he makes for Petra)?!?!?! I don’t buy it. Something is up and I don’t trust Jason/new Michael at all.

NICOLA: Me too! Maybe it’s because I’ve been comfortable on Team Rafael for too long but something seems off. I knew it the moment Michael/Jason took her line dancing. Then again, I don’t trust any form of forced dancing activities. The connection between him and Sin Rostro seems too clean cut and I can’t help but believe that a woman with face changing abilities would let Michael/Jason off that quickly.

The only person that centers me on this show is Rogelio and this episode didn’t disappoint. He unapologetically perfectly balances his vain and self-absorbed tendencies with his love and support for his family, creating the perfect character. I think Jaime Camil deserves an Emmy just for his eyebrow acting alone.

CRISTINA: Yes, Rogelio was hilarious. The kayaks, the extended whaaaaat, the part in his hair. He really couldn’t be more himself and I love it. People as fancy as the Atlantic and the New York Times have been writing about his new mode of masculinity and I agree. Sometimes it’s hard to look past how hilarious he is and see that he’s also so culturally significant. Damn, I’m going to miss this show!

FacebookTwitter