20 enero 2011


Hola querid@s:

I've recently changed my Twitter to MendozaUCLA. I still have a Twitter located at Jacarandas which will be used for personal & gaming related tweets. The former will better accompany this blog and concern Latin@ social, political, and pop/entertainment issues.

09 enero 2011

Latin@ stereotypes

Día de los muertos

Disculpen por no haber escrito antes, I am always working! So I am clapping my hands together and ready for another entry. Latin@ stereotypes I wish I could change.

I included the photo above not only because I like to include photos, but because there is a misconception that Latin@ means something uniform. When asked questions such as 'What does it mean to you to be Latina?' I suspect we answer from incredibly personal perspectives. To be honest, not even language is something that ties us together. We are such different people that to discuss what it means to be Latin@ seems almost pointless.

One of the first misconceptions, as I said, is that we are a uniform group. This idea extends into our celebrations, our vocabulary, our food. For example, traditional dishes vary not only from country to country, but can also vary from city to city. You can even see this in Spain where the ingredients of paella vary according to the sort of meats and produce that are most easily available in an area. Additionally, being a traditional food does not mean that all people from an area have eaten it. The amount of Colombian traditional dishes I have not eaten is great. This is both because my mother is an atrocious, or at the very least lazy, cook. I am glad she will never bother to read this blog! Many of these dishes are also very beef or pork-centric and I consume neither.

There are also celebrations that vary from country to country. The most obvious would be those celebrations tied to each country's independence. I can also say that my family does not observe El día de los muertos (pictured above) nor did my mother have her own quinceañera. In fact, I have witnessed two quinceañera celebrations in passing (the girls and their families were dressed up and taking pictures in Orange County) and I am so removed from it that the entire scene fascinates me. It played as little a role in my own upbringing as would have a Bat Mitzvah celebration (having been raised Catholic myself).

The following are more concrete examples of stereotypes that at best irk me and at worst are harmful portrayals of Latin@s.

001. All Latin@s look similar and are brown.

My friend hates when I use the phrase 'Don't get it twisted' but I cannot help but use it. So - don't get it twisted, we don't all look the same. The Americas are filled with many different people and were populated by many different immigrants - sometimes forced. In Peru, as I've mentioned before, there was a large number of Chinese immigrants (which has led to some more delicious dishes in popular Peruvian cuisine). Much of the Americas, but especially the Caribbean, were the site of slave labour just as the American South. It's also important to remember that many Spaniards are white, which can explain the light complexion of some of those of us who are Latin@.

Similar to the idea of uniformity in Latin America, the notion that we are all similar makes invisible the reality of classism, racism, and colourism within Latin America and does a disservice to those who suffer from each.

002. Latinas are spicy.

We are women, not dips for your chips. Spicy, sizzling, fiery, lots of zest. No, that's how we describe food. Using food terminology to describe Latinas has only aided in the dehumanizing of us. And let's be honest, what the heck are you trying to say? That every single Latina on the face of this planet is feisty? I guarantee you that just like skin tones, we come with all different sorts of personalities.

003. We have 'Latin tempers'

There is a David Cross stand up in which he makes cracks about how white guys are just jerks but Latin men have 'Latin tempers.' Having a bad temper or being abusive is no more an integral part to the Latin identity than being a black belt is to a Japanese or Japanese-American. Come on, don't be silly!

These sorts of phrases and ideas about Latin@s perpetuate the notion that we are illogical, violent, or that our complaints have less to do with legitimate concerns and more to do with our 'inclination' to lose our temper.

004. We all speak Spanish

Les juro que hay muchas personas de origen latino que no pueden entender estas palabras. In fact, a few of my good friends and acquaintances never learned Spanish growing up despite being the children of Latin@s and Latin@ immigrants. There are varying reasons for this.

My mother worked in property management and real estate in the 80s (remember Reagan & Bush?) in Southern California & it wasn't uncommon that various immigrants refused to speak with her in Spanish and instead had their children speak English to her. Whenever the children (usually teens) would break into Spanish, their parents would scold them. There is still - sadly - a stigma with regard to speaking Spanish natively. This is why states such as Arizona can happily wipe away programs with an emphasis on Latin@s, and why states such as Missouri can enforce English only laws with regard to government documents.

There are many other stereotypes I suspect I will touch upon throughout this blog because they affect both me and my family personally and, as always, are politically relevant.

06 diciembre 2010

A picture about my culture

Despedida de Sarai 002

Dos de las chicas en la foto son de Europa - Italiana y vasca.

This is a picture that represents my culture. I could not think of any other because I fully believe that the whole of culture cannot be described by any image that is monolithic, though a singular image is monolithic in itself. I chose this photograph because these are my friends whom I love dearly and also because it represents a group of women who, for the most part, are Spanish speakers and who all look very different from one another.

This entry could also count as another topic on my list, 'Latin@ stereotypes I wish I could change.'

I discussed with my therapist (does this sound pretentious?) recently the problem of passing. Passing - what so many people aspire to do - gives access to privileges and spaces otherwise denied to those of us who are Othered. It guarantees us a level of safety that may not be granted to some in our communities. I am both queer and married therefore I pass as straight and have the privilege of not facing discrimination due to my queerness. I have to out myself for this to occur because my relationship does not out me.

The lightness of my skin does not out me as a Latina, my status as a born citizen of the United States means that I am not an immigrant and I have no accent that would mark me as such. I am White in any community, and am privileged in that sense even in Latin America, but more so, my heritage is invisible and even erased in the US.

So the problem of passing becomes a question of community identification. Where do I fit? If I am a woman raised by an immigrant, brown mother, and who was also raised by various brown immigrant women (eran criadas), if I spoke Spanish (I admit my resistance but similarly there was no other way to communicate with many of the women who raised me), if I traveled to Colombia regularly as a child and had a high concentration of family - still - residing there, then can I really belong to a non-Latin community? I am aware of myself as a Latina. I am aware of social problems facing various members of the community, be they immigrants or be they darker skinned (or both).

But here in California, latinidad becomes linked to the chican@, who is more often than not brown skinned. My identity is questioned by others who cannot recognize the diversity of Latin@s, and I am sometimes met with suspicion or skepticism. I am not a 'real' Latina, or I am not that Latina.

Similarly, my best friend (also pictured in above photograph), suffers from her own identity issues. She is physically marked and accepted as Latina, but she has expressed to me on several occasions her own qualms with regard to identity - her father is a white, non-Latino man from the Southern US. Even given her skin colour, she feels that she is only half of something, and I imagine that for her she feels that her identities are at conflict with one another. Maybe she wonders if her paternal side makes her latinidad 'inauthentic.'

Though I am white, it had not occurred to my spouse that I would not consider myself 'half' anything because both my parents are from Latin America and I had traveled there extensively as a child. Even someone who knew both my background and that of my friend, my own husband, to some extent did not think of my as 'fully' Latina in comparison to a self-identified 'half Colombian' because of the difference of colour of our skin.

Of course, I am not even certain what it means to be authentically Latin@ or half Latin@ considering the diversity of the Americas due to both colonization and immigration. What of the descendants of Chinese immigrants who live in Peru? To what extent do they feel Peruvian or Latin? Or have they formed isolated pockets and identify more as Chinese - even if they do not speak it - than Peruvian? My guess is that given the absorption of traditional Chinese cooking into Peruvian cooking, the lines of identity are blurred there too.

Another key moment in therapy that revealed my conflict was my constant switching of pronouns: 'We' I would say and then I would stop and say 'They.' This is for two reasons: the first is that I recognize a difference of privilege based on class, and the second is that I want to establish a difference based on immigration status. I am at conflict with this because I see myself as part of my family and my family are immigrants - therefore I say 'we' and then I realize that to some extent I am outside that experience and I quickly say 'they.' This linguistic going back & forth reveals just how confusing and unresolved I am about my identity.

04 diciembre 2010

a hiatus

That was my hiatus and while I am currently working on papers that have to do with the voice of the Othered, I am certain I will continue the meme and also discuss what comes to mind while doing research for my papers.

November was an especially busy month!

Ay Maricruz
I did recently get a new lens and have been playing around with it. You'll begin seeing the results often this holiday season in my blog.


01 noviembre 2010

¡A votar! California Props 19-23

Día de los muertos

A reminder to all of those registered to vote who have not done so - tomorrow is the big day! Get out there and vote!

There are many arguments as to why people do not vote: they do not believe in the system, they do not believe their vote counts, they are disillusioned by the act of voting altogether. However you feel about voting, though, not voting is not proactive. If you have complaints to make about the system and you think it needs to change then get out there and voice your complaints! And for those who are content with voting and feel that it is up to politicians to make sure the change we want comes to fruition - stop waiting around on others and take a more active role in the change you think is necessary for your community!

Tomorrow, California has several propositions on the ballot that you can read about at CalVoter.org and the Official CA Voter Guide. These are good places to access both pro and comments with regard to the propositions. My blog, however, will be biased because this is my personal and political opinion.
Prop 19: Allows people 21 years old or older to possess, cultivate, or transport marijuana for personal use. Fiscal Impact: Depending on federal, state, and local government actions, potential increased tax and fee revenues in the hundreds of millions of dollars annually and potential correctional savings of several tens of millions of dollars annually.
Yes yes a million times yes on 19. I've heard my fair share of people convey their hesitance when thinking about the possibility of their children or grandchildren having access to and legally smoking pot. Let's just clear this up though - they have access to it already. If they want it the only issue becomes when do they get it, not if. This is a substance so readily available I think my cat could bring home pot. Fortunately, the cat and I have already had a discussion about substances and substance abuse and I feel he's educated enough to make the right, healthy decision.

Yes, I'm being ridiculous when talking about my cat, but do think about it. Remember that right now the issue is not availability but whether or not this is a criminal offense. We do not need room in our prisons (and not more money spent on building more of them) for marijuana related offenses. It's also important to note that there are, in general, a disproportionate amount of people from communities of colour who are imprisoned for such offenses.
Prop 20: Removes elected representatives from process of establishing congressional districts and transfers that authority to recently-authorized 14-member redistricting commission comprised of Democrats, Republicans, and respresentatives of neither party. Fiscal Impact: No significant net change in state redistricting costs.
I'm voting no on 20. I just don't see the point in allowing an unelected commission re-draw the district lines.
Prop 21: Exempts commercial vehicles, trailers and trailer coaches from the surcharge. Fiscal Impact: Annual increase to state revenues of $500 million from surcharge on vehicle registrations. After offsetting some existing funding sources, these revenues would provide at least $250 million more annually for state parks and wildlife conservation.
Yeah, I get that people might turn their noses up at the thought of an annual $18 vehicle surcharge fee, but for me this seems like a no-brainer. Yes on 21. These are our parks and our conservation areas. You think parks are cool, don't you? I like parks. Hey, it pays for the admission to the parks too.
Prop 22: Prohibits State, even during severe fiscal hardship, from delaying distribution of tax revenues for these purposes. Fiscal Impact: Decreased state General Fund spending and/or increased state revenues, probably in the range of $1 billion to several billions of dollars annually. Comparable increases in funding for state and local transportation programs and local redevelopment.
A similar law passed in Missouri stating that revenue from roads & transportation was to go only to those particular areas. Many people thought 'Hey, this is exactly where the money should go! Keep community funds in the community!' It does sound good at first, but then you must realize why the state borrows money. The state dips in to these funds to put the money toward other state programs, such as education. While some amount of community funds go toward education, by & large it is the state that is held responsible for funding public schools and other state social programs. We need that money to circulate throughout the state so that it goes where it is most needed. Another thing to keep in mind is that the state is required to pay back any money borrowed from these community funds, and sometimes with interest. No on 22.
Prop 23: Suspends Air Pollution Control Laws Requiring Major Sources of Emissions to Report and Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions That Cause Global Warming Until Unemployment Drops Below Specified Level for Full Year.
23, the reverse of AB-32 (the law that would help regulate air pollution emissions). Another no-brainer, many groups across the board are voting no on this and I am as well. It should come as no surprise that this is a proposition backed by Valero (TX) & other oil companies like Tesoro (CA). Would you trust an oil company to dictate clean air acts? A gigantic NO on 23.

29 octubre 2010

A story about growing up Latina: Part 2 & a poem

Tú me quieres alba,
Me quieres de espumas,
Me quieres de nácar.
Que sea azucena
Sobre todas, casta.
De perfume tenue.
Corola cerrada
Ni un rayo de luna
Filtrado me haya.
Ni una margarita
Se diga mi hermana.
Tú me quieres nívea,
Tú me quieres blanca,
Tú me quieres alba.
Tú que hubiste todas
Las copas a mano,
De frutos y mieles
Los labios morados.
Tú que en el banquete
Cubierto de pámpanos
Dejaste las carnes
Festejando a Baco.
Tú que en los jardines
Negros del Engaño
Vestido de rojo
Corriste al Estrago.
Tú que el esqueleto
Conservas intacto
No sé todavía
Por cuáles milagros,
Me pretendes blanca
(Dios te lo perdone),
Me pretendes casta
(Dios te lo perdone),
¡Me pretendes alba!
Huye hacia los bosques,
Vete a la montaña;
Límpiate la boca;
Vive en las cabañas;
Toca con las manos
La tierra mojada;
Alimenta el cuerpo
Con raíz amarga;
Bebe de las rocas;
Duerme sobre escarcha;
Renueva tejidos
Con salitre y agua;
Habla con los pájaros
Y lévate al alba.
Y cuando las carnes
Te sean tornadas,
Y cuando hayas puesto
En ellas el alma
Que por las alcobas
Se quedó enredada,
Entonces, buen hombre,
Preténdeme blanca,
Preténdeme nívea,
Preténdeme casta.

por Alfonsina Storni, "Tú me quieres blanca" & for those of you who do not read Spanish, you can access an English translation of the poem courtesy of VivirLatino.

There are some days when a particular subject may be on your mind and suddenly everything relates back to it. This has happened with the topic about which I thought to blog with regard to growing up Latina.

Lately, I've been thinking about how significant my background has been for me and how my identity very much solidified after leaving California and moving to the Midwest with my mother as a child. I was, admittedly, very resistant with regard to speaking and learning Spanish as a child. My family would laugh whenever I said anything but as an adult looking back on it, I realize that they laughed because they thought I was adorable - or they were total hyper-critical assholes, either is possible. Moving, however, changed this slowly but surely as I watched my step-family ostracize my mother because of her communication style and accent. They would pull out her driver's license and declare it a fake, declare her age a fake, and there was always some sort of suspicion revolving around her age which, of course, is just another way of implying suspicion with regard to identity.

Her accent was enough to have some potential home buyers (she worked in real estate for a time) tell her to learn English before working in the US. She had lived here, at the time, for over fifteen years. Outside of the fact that she has an accent, her English is better than fine. I wonder what they would have said if we would have repeated the same whenever they pronounced 'wash' as 'warsh.'

Hearing my mother tell me that she wished she did not have her accent broke my heart. The shame she felt, and was made to feel, made me more rebellious against such racist & ethnocentric, anti-immigrant sentiment. I wanted to be strong for someone who had always been strong for me. And the truth of the matter is that accent or no, her immigration was imprinted on her skin and her experience of migrating. They would always find her problematic.

I spent more time learning Spanish in college than I ever did in any previous years. When I say 'learning' I mean the grammatical aspect of it. I learned why it was I said what I said because I couldn't tell you for the life of me why you would use 'por' instead of 'para' only that I knew what sounded best. I was a genuine heritage speaker. My accent wasn't that of someone learning for the first time but of someone who had a working grasp of the language since she began speaking any language whatsoever.

And then came grad school and then came California. Being more politically literate - and being older - allowed me to catch what I did not as a child growing up in Los Angeles. Perhaps that sort of animosity in the Midwest allowed me to read between the lines on the west coast whereas some of my friends who have spent their entire lives here might just read a comment as a normal part of speech. Anti-Latin@ statements have long since been incorporated into daily life in Southern California, as a border state, so much so that at times people might not even recognize it.

For as liberal as the population finds itself (the same state that passed Prop 8) racial tensions are fueled by jokes at the expense of migrant workers, the insistence on referring to immigrants as 'illegals,' the dismissal of Spanish as having a legitimate place in the country, the privatization of state schools making it more and more difficult for communities of colour to access higher education, and of course, the constant reminder of who is the 'model minority' and who just can't get it right. The latter, one that is always on my mind, is not too dissimilar from that age old talk of house and field slave - model or not, the key term is minority. No matter how favourable we are in comparison with othered groups, we are all, never the less, othered.

And this is what it has meant to me to grow up Latina. I am constantly aware that my heritage and language is under attack and I've been given the tools to recognize it and I've been given the support of my family (for the most part) and my friends (always) to fight it and to be strong.

Yesterday we talked about courses designed with heritage speakers - like myself - in mind. I've been told that according to many studies, Spanish heritage speakers have lower success rates as a result of feelings of inferiority with regard to culture & language. Hearing that made tears come to my eyes because I cannot tell you how often I've felt caught between two worlds, feeling inadequate linguistically, and feeling as though I must be true to one culture. That's just not the case, we don't need to feel that we have to pick one or the other, because our reality is a mix of cultures - lo mestizaje - and we need to embrace that with pride.

27 octubre 2010

A story about growing up Latina: Part I

I'm not certain if by 'story' I am meant to cite a particular, isolated instance that is related to my latinidad and that I, at that moment, identified as a 'Latin@ experience.' Instead, I'm choosing to talk about something that I did not realize at the time was shaped by my experience but looking back on it, I cannot separate having been raised Latina from my understanding of this text.

I think it was in my first or second year of college that I took a literature course in which we were separated into small groups and charged with the duty of acting out briefly a scene from Shakespeare's The Tempest. It was a very low level literature class, to say the least, and this seems a common way to engage students and to illustrate the difference of interpretation of a text. I was Prospero. I cannot remember which scene we were assigned but that I was Prospero and that one of my partners was Caliban and that when I read Propero's line, unlike the interpretations of my peers, my Prospero was an authority figure with a booming voice. He was not a gentle, wise, Dumbledore sort of a man. He was a master over other individuals. He was controlling and this somehow discomforted my peers. Why? He is knowledgeable in the text, of course, and they wanted to read him as someone who was very fatherly, but not at all cruel. How could I possibly read it the same way? How could I separate his love of knowledge from the fact that he was a man who had enslaved entities of the island? Of an island to which he himself was a foreign presence? Even if I was not aware of it at the time, or I did not have the words to articulate what I meant, how could I have seen Prospero outside the colonial sphere?

The contrast between the images of Caliban and Prospero have made me ask 'From whose perspective are we seeing?' Any quick read of Columbus's diaries about the islands will reveal not the truth about the people or the land, but his naming of it. He projects an image that to a very large extent prevents us from really knowing the land because the natives are not given the voice the self identify. Then I have to ask - is that also Caliban's reality? In an island where Prospero is the one who controls the individuals through his magical powers, is Caliban a would-be rapist? What role does Prospero have in that if he has the power to control Caliban?

Of course, the colonial reading of this play is nothing new, but I should emphasize that it was not something we had discussed prior to our acting in class. In fact, we never went over a specific colonial reading but instead discussed issues concerning Prospero's power (without mention of colonialism).

Thinking about all of this during a recent re-reading of the play caused me to ask myself and my spouse - the US has a colonial past like the rest of the Americas ('like' is used loosely), but is the American identity really tied to its colonial past as strongly as it is in the rest of the Americas? Am I imagining the discrepancy between the US and the rest of the Americas? Am I imagining the existence of a real post-colonial identity in Latin American & Caribbean countries? Is it that I am more familiar with texts on the post-colonial with regard to Latin America & Caribbean? It seems though that the figures related to colonialism, to betrayal, etc seem to be much more important figures in their respective countries. Take la Malinche for example. Is there a figure in the US? Are the revolutionaries of Latin America similar to those of the US? Sometimes it seems that there was a stronger sense of transculturation (thank you, Ortiz) at & around the point of colonialism despite the fear and avoidance of that bilateral cultural exchange. It's not that 'mestizaje' doesn't exist here, but it seems as though as an identity it is not as strong, but then again, this could just be me.