Social Justice y Mi Cultura

Content note: anti-immigrant, anti-Mexican sentiments, child abuse

This list brought back a lot of childhood memories (the tub of butter being something I do now but it bothered me when grandma did it) and things I had forgotten (Panky cookies! Now I must go in search of them!). It was mostly a nice trip down memory lane and reaffirmation of “Yup, I’m so Boricua”. However, two things bothered me. They’re something I’m constantly running across on Puerto Rican pride posts. Estas cosas me tiene’ harta and so here we are:

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(Image: Picture of a tanned woman, she has long black hair, is wearing hoop earrings. She looks displeased. White texts on the picture reads: How Puerto Ricans look when someone calls them Mexican)

This is implying something is wrong with being Mexican. It also speaks to the feelings of superiority that some Puerto Ricans feel towards immigrants. A perfect example is this T-shirt:
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(image is of a black t-shirt, with the Puerto Rican flag on it. It has white text on it which reads, Relax, gringo, I’m legal)

The joke is supposed to be that white people can’t tell Hispanics apart. But it pushes undocumented people under the bus. It’s saying, “hey don’t bother me! I’m one of the “good” ones”. Not to mention that no one is “illegal”.
I’m not exactly prideful or boastful of Puerto Rico being a colonia. Do you even know the history between Los United Estates and Puerto Rico? If you did, you wouldn’t think you’re better than undocumented immigrants. Also, someone explain to me why being confused for Mexican would be bad? I mean, Thalia, the food, the novelas, Selena (I know, she was from Texas but she was also Mexican) C’mon. The list is endless for reasons Mexico and its people are wonderful.

We’re all in this together. At the end of the day, Gringo isn’t going to care if I have a piece of paper or not. Racism doesn’t work that way.

And the second point in that list:

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(image of a medicine box, it has been digitally manipulated to say Bofeta, coco-taso flavored. Red text above the box reads, Trusted by Puerto Rican mothers, red text below the box, reads all over the world)

So, some translation is in order. Bofetada (in the Puerto Rican dialect the ending “da” is dropped) means “slap”. Cocotaso refers to a knock upside the head. Coco meaning coconut but in this instance it refers to the head.

Now, la chancla (the house slipper), la escoba (the broom) and la correa (the belt) are often looked back at fondly by Puerto Ricans as tools used by their parents for discipline. See, they were malo (bad) and needed que le rompieran la cara (literally: break their face, loosely; a beating). This glorification of child abuse is not something I can abide in mi cultura. I got la chancla and the belt buckle several times. I was constantly being beaten for being “malcri’a” (malcraida). Malcriada literally means that I was raised badly, but that meaning never seemed to bother the adults in my life who justified their abuse to me. I tried telling them and all it got me was a tapa boca (slap to the mouth). The abuse I suffered as a child is largely responsible for my being in abusive relationships as an adult. I believed I deserved the abuse. It was all I ever knew.  I under no circumstances condone child abuse. I don’t care if you say it’s a simple nalgadita (a spanking). I do not care if you claim it’s part of your culture. Machismo and homophobia are part of my culture too and I do not condone those either.

I love being Puerto Rican. I was born Stateside but raised in La Isla del Encato. I love las playas y la comida. I love that my hair and facial features easily speak of my African and Indigenous roots. Borinquen will forever be my homeland. I take the coqui’s song and the blue sky in my heart. I teach my daughter about la bomba y plena. Arrastro la letra R. I can talk to you about el campo y los Vejigantes. I am an atheist and I still ask grandma for la bendición. I consider myself Puerto Rican first, American second.

Just as I love my culture, I also repudiate it’s sexism, homophobia, it’s anti Blackness which seeks to forget Africa while wanting to eat una sopa de guingombo.

Acknowledging the parts of my culture I don’t like makes the love I have for the other parts stronger. I appreciate everything else so much more.
I’m proud to be a queer non-binary Boricua. La bomba y plena with it’s clear African influence makes my heart swell with so much joy. I hate the colorism that runs rampant in Puerto Rico and its diaspora. So con más gana’ muevo mis caderas and show off my big curly hair porque esas cosas son tan odiadas.
I’m a feminist and Latino Machismo is no match for me. Soy fuerte e independiente. A mi no me ganan. My daughter knows, unlike I did at that age, that she is just as important as the boys. She knows that gender is a spectrum and not a binary.

The day when child abuse and bigotry is no longer something celebrated in my culture cannot come fast enough. Yo soy Boricua, pa’ que tú lo sepa. But I’m also a social justice warrior and I will have my culture with justicia y concienca.

Header photo taken Sunflower Punk SJW, Puerto Rico 2014- Flamboyan tree

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Response to Disillusioned Leftists

Today I read this article and felt I needed to address a few things.

I do agree with the author that some folks do become pretentious about their activism. These “allies” seem to only be in it for brownie points.
But I disagree with their assessment of marginalized people they’ve worked with. The author claims:

one of the first things you learn is that they usually do not frame their worldviews in terms of academic theories you learned in gender studies classes in University. For the most part, they tend to not analyze their experiences in terms of systemic power and privilege, concepts such as “the patriarchy”, “white privilege”, or “heteronormativity”.

I’m aware that not all people are cognizant of how these forces affect their lives. However, I’ve been homeless, I’m a victim of abuse and I’m mentally ill. I absolutely think of my oppression in those terms. My social circle, which compromises of people dealing with several forms of oppression, also know their situations are due to patriarchy, power imbalances and such other concepts. We absolutely DO bother with policing our language. Marginalized people are capable of perpetuating bigotry. We absolutely do educate ourselves “on the intricacies of capitalism.” We do “sit around pondering the effects of “problematic behaviours” in radical communities.” We are concerned with checking our privilege. For one example, I have light skin privilege. While I do experience racism, my light skin is seen as non-threatening. I can easily find make up for my skin tone.
Yes, I am extremely busy trying to survive and get my family’s needs met. But I know the reason I have such a battle ahead of me with these things is because of systemic inequality.

Speaking of Fascism, there is also a disturbing trend on the left nowadays that involves rejecting free speech/freedom of expression as a core value, because that speech could possibly be hurtful to someone, somewhere.

Because we’d like oppressors not to have a platform to speak their bigotry is NOT an example of rejecting free speech. One recent example is Richard Dawkins being disinvited to speak at the Northeast Conference on Science & Skepticism. His right to have bigoted beliefs isn’t being taken away. The government isn’t taking away his Twitter account. So, his free speech isn’t being violated. He has a right to his opinions. I have a right not to listen to them.

Freedom of expression and the like does not mean we have to agree with what another person says…in fact, it means that when we do not, we certainly have the right to challenge it. But what myself and many others are seeing is the shutting off of dialogue entirely, for the purpose of “safety”. What could possibly be safe about censorship? What could possibly be safe about a group of people who claim to be freedom fighters dictating who can speak and what can be said, based on whether or not we agree with them? Study any kind of world history and you will find that censorship has never been on the right side of it.

I agree we don’t have to agree with what another person says. However, I do not want to engage with a bigot. And yes, that is entirely for the purpose of safety. My not wanting to speak to a bigot is not censorship. Again, see above for my explanation on free speech.

Now, the ending paragraphs of this article deal with trigger warnings and safe spaces. The author asks that we “stop with the trigger warnings and get serious about changing the world”. I am completely serious about changing the world, and one way to do that is to make it safe and accessible. Asking, for example, that a class syllabus have trigger warnings makes it possible for someone with PTSD to plan around their study time. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities. If a college class is then made inaccessible to someone with a mental illness, how is that not violating that person’s right to an education?

We are fully aware the world isn’t always going to be “fun and pleasant”. I mean, we have PTSD so, yeah we are more than aware. I am always scared but I continue with my activism becuase, pardon the cliche, I need to be the change I want to see in the world.

Author, you seem to think marginalized folks aren’t activists. Your article comes off as ableist becuase you’re asking for people not to ask for and use an accessibility tool I.e, trigger warnings.
Your tone comes off as condescending becuase you’re assuming marginalized folks don’t think about their situations as part of systemic oppression. Which is also classist because you talk about “university educated activists” as if marginalized people don’t also attend university. Or that university is the only way to become enlightened of these issues.

Six Months

Today is the sixth month anniversary of TJ and I leaving the shelter. Having my own apartment made me realize just how many things most people take for granted.
I no longer have to sign in and out to leave the building. 
I can have guests over.
I can stay out overnight. In the shelters, we had strict curfews and weren’t allowed visitors.
I don’t have to worry about unannounced inspections. It is such a great relief to be able to take a shower in peace and not worry that some case worker is going to barge into the room.
I can have all my possessions with me. The rooms at the shelter had limited space so most of our things were in storage.
I can cook proper meals. I have an oven. I was able to bake cookies for the first time in years. In the shelters we were in, we only had hot plates. Cooking a full meal on a hot plate takes time and a lot of patience.
 I can decorate how I want. The shelters prefered you didn’t put anything on the walls.
I can bring in alcohol. Alcohol wasn’t allowed in the shelter.
My daughter can have sleepovers, she can go to sleepovers. 
We can sleep in. The shelter preferred you spent the day elsewhere.
We decorated for the holidays. 
My daughter has loads of space to play and dance. The previous shelters were so cramped and uncomfortable.
I can buy lots of groceries and fill my fridge. In the shelters all we had was a mini fridge which didn’t have much space.
I have proper furniture! 
Privacy. So much privacy.
I’ve had less stress so I’ve been able to start drawing and reading again.
Depression saps your creativity and energy and I hadn’t been able to enjoy my hobbies in years.
I have a view! It seems trivial, but in the shelters I had one window and my view was the building next door. In the apartment we have several windows and on a clear day the view is pretty great.

Six months may not seem like a long time but it seems like forever ago to me. Every day the fear I’ll be homeless once again, becomes a bit smaller. My daughter tells me she hopes we never go back to “those tiny, yucky rooms in the shelter”.

I’ll make sure we never do.

 

Street Harassment and Me

CN: street harassment, catcalls, sexualization of young girls

 

 

I was 11 years old when I was first cat called. I remember it vividly. I was on my way to school when two men in a red sports car started yelling at me and honking the horn. I ignored them, they drove up to me and slowed down. They were commenting on my body and asking my name. I kept ignoring them. I was about 10 minutes away from school. I had my uniform on, I think at that time I was carrying my Rugrats backpack. I knew if I stopped walking they might have gotten out of the car. But if I kept walking they would know where I enter school. I was afraid they’d be waiting for me. I wanted to cry. These were grown men and I was just a little girl. I screamed that I was eleven. The guy driving said, “damn!” and then they sped off. They only left me alone once they realized they could go to jail.

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Clearly, a preadolescent girl in a school uniform carrying this bag was the ideal target for cat calls.(image is of a black, maroon and plaid backbag with three cartoon characters from the kids’ TV show Rugrats.)

I told mami and grandma later that day. They told me the usual; not to get in cars with strangers but to also not worry. I should worry once men stopped looking at me. That day I learned men’s pleasure was above my own safety.

I stopped telling anybody about the street harassment I got when I walked to and from school.

Up until I was fifteen, the harassment was just verbal. Then it became physical. It was Halloween and I was out with a friend. We walked past some men and one of them grabbed my arm and asked “trick or treat”. Ever since, I never walk past a large group of men. I usually cross the street or wait until the group has dispersed.

I would tell my friends and the girls would commiserate with me, but also tell me I was being overly sensitive. There was nothing we could do, so we might as well endure it. The boys would tell me they wished they got cat called by girls. I wondered if they really meant that? Did they want to spend extra time on an outfit to determine whether or not that particular pant or shirt would get them more harassment than usual?

As a result of the daily street harassment, I started hating my body. The men who cat called me would comment on my thick thighs, my big butt and wide hips. Once, a man told me “tanta carne y yo sin arroz” (literally “so much meat and I don’t have rice”). That man literally said I was a piece of meat. That’s how I felt too.
People told me that I shouldn’t worry about street harassment since nothing would happen to me becuase I was “jailbait”.

I wanted to believe that was true. When I turned 17 the big joke was that now I couldn’t cry “jailbait” at cat callers. I was on the train once when I noticed this guy staring at me. He got off at the same stop I did. He walked alongside me. He was asking me where I lived, what I did, if I had a boyfriend. I figured I would lie about my age and he’d leave me alone. I told him I had just turned 16. He said it didn’t matter, that we could still be friends. I told him I was too young. He said, “with that body it doesn’t matter. You could kill with that body”. I held on tighter to my messenger bag. I needed to get on the bus and was afraid he’d follow me. I lied and said I was on my way to my boyfriend’s house. He eventually gave up and walked away. I stayed on the station platform for about 30 minutes just to make sure he wasn’t waiting for me.

And again whenever I told anyone, they’d tell me to be flattered.

The harassment has only gotten worse as I age. I may have a “baby face” but my body’s shape gives me away. It took me a long time not to hate my body. It was those men and the rape culture I should hate.

Walking with my mom or grandma doesn’t stop the harassment. In fact, the men think if they’re nice to mami or grandma they have an “in”. Walking with TJ also gets me harassed. I’m asked if I’m looking for a daddy for her. Once a man commented on my dimples and said he was sure we’d make “beautiful light ‘skinded’ babies together”.
The only time I’m left alone is when I’m with other men. It pisses me off that I’m only respected as some other man’s property and not as someone autonomous. As stated above I’ve been taught the only feelings which matter are men’s.
“Be flattered!”
“Don’t be rude!”
“Say thank you! It’s a compliment!”

I’m not safe from any age group. When I was 14 some boys, no older than 10 passed by me and said something about my ass. When I was in collge, some teens hollered at me about how slutty my dress was. Another time, a man old enough to be my grandfather, told me I had a “great rack”. And yet another time, an elderly man actually used TJ to get to me. TJ was three years old at the time. It was a hot summer day. I was wearing shorts. The old man was walking towards us and said TJ was very pretty. I said thank you and kept walking. Then he said “she gonna be tall”, looks at me “just like her momma, she got legs for miles, hmmm”. I picked up TJ and ran away. I was disgusted and it got me thinking, how old will TJ be when she first experiences street harassment directed towards her?

Thinking about it fills me with dread. I don’t know what I will do, but what I do know is that she will know street harassment is unacceptable. She will most definitely know that her safety is paramount. She’ll know she can come to me and I won’t dismiss her fears.

Speaking Ill of the Dead

Growing up I was told it was rude to speak ill of the dead. I was told no matter how horrible the person was in life, we should respect them in death. I never questioned this until one of my grandma’s sisters died.

I got the news about my aunt and I felt like dancing. I thought I was being rude but then I thought, this aunt made my life miserable. Any chance she got, she reminded me how ugly and fat I was. She would tell me I would end up “jamona” (a spinster) because of how unattractive I was. I was 12. My grandma would tell her sister about my “bad behavior” and this aunt would say that what i needed was “un buen puño a la cara” (a good punch to the face). I was 7. She would make my school uniforms and I dreaded being measured. She always had something to say. “Oh, you’re so fat. You’re fatter than I am. It’s a miracle you fit through the door.”

She died when I was in my teens. I remember calling my grandma to offer my condolences. But I lied them. When I went to Puerto Rico, I visited my grandpa’s and another aunt’s grave. I left flowers for both of them. I didn’t ask to see that one aunt’s grave and grandma didn’t push me. I told my mother I was happy tia was dead. I would never say this to my grandmother. Not out of respect for that dead aunt, but for respect to grandma. That aunt never showed any respect to me, so I don’t see why I should respect her because she finally dropped dead.

I firmly believe it is OK and even cathartic to be happy someone died. If that person made your life miserable? Pop open a bottle. That person abused you? Merengue on that grave all you want.

My tia didn’t have any influence over legislation. Her opinions and ideas didn’t have the power to sway a population. Scalia on the other had opinions which hurt a lot of marginalized people. I will not judge anyone who is glad he’s gone. I’m sure no one is going to his family and saying they’re happy he’s dead, and I would never advocate that. But I don’t care for the for the posts I’ve seen chastising the people who are happy he’s dead.

“No hables mal de los muertos, que no pueden responder”. Don’t speak ill of the dead because they can’t defend themselves. Well, when she was alive I tried defending myself from her verbal abuse and I was told I was disrespectful.

Death doesn’t mean that person’s bad deeds are forgotten. Death doesn’t magically erase the pain that person caused. But death does guarantee that I’ll never have to listen to her opinions ever again.

We Don't Respect Children

I came across this meme on Facebook today. I was going to repost with some commentary but the commentary turned into this blog post.
CN: abusive parenting

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(image description: black text against white background reads: My 8-year-old just talked back to me. While she’s at school I’m logging into Minecraft and destroying her fucking village)

 

Look, I don’t care how annoying your kid’s behavior may be. I get it, I really do. But you DO NOT under any circumstances, destroy their things. Destruction of property is a sign of abuse. And yeah, I would count this as destruction of property. The kid spent who knows how long building the village and you’re going to destroy it because you can’t handle your kid standing up for themselves? There are ways to correct behavior that doesn’t involve hurting your child. Think of it this way, if I disagreed with my spouse, would that give my spouse the right to destroy something of mine?

Plus, behavior deemed “bad” is usually caused by some distress to the child. Figure out what it is and work through it. Talk to your kids. Don’t fucking do this. It disturbs me the amount of people sharing this on Facebook and commenting that this is something they’d do. We, as a culture, don’t see children as autonomous beings with fears and dreams like any adult. Why do we think treating children like this is OK and then act surprised when those children grow up to be maladjusted adults? Lots of parents think they own their children and treat them like property. Then when those children are adults who want nothing to do with their parents, those same parents act hurt. I see it every Mothers’ and Fathers’ day. I see children who feel pressure to talk with their parents. I see people shaming those children because we refuse to see parents as people who make mistakes. Some of those mistakes are too awful to forgive.

I get that that this is supposed to be humorous but honestly, where is the humor? Is it funny that I’m threatening my child with violence? (yes, violence, see above), is the humor in the fact that my child is supposed to be afraid of me? If I want my child to not talk back to me, how is doing this going to change that behavior? I’d like my child to respect me, but that won’t happen if I don’t respect her. And you know what? Sometimes kids will do things that will annoy you and down right anger you. It’s your job as the adult to set the example and regulate your emotions. If you feel you can’t handle the behavior at that moment, excuse yourself if possible. Take a breather and go back when you’ve calmed down. You can’t expect your child to exhibit certain behavior if you don’t model it for them.

This meme may seem innocuous on the surface but the people commenting how they’d do this reveal a deeper societal pattern. We just don’t respect kids. If we did, no one would find this funny.