28 septiembre 2010

Drop the I-Word

I was recently directed to this website: Colorlines - Drop the I-Word. I encourage everyone to sign the pledge, 'I don't call people illegals.'

I wholeheartedly believe that such a term thrown around by politicians and media voices alike only furthers the dehumanization of immigrants - undocumented and documented. We are talking about human beings - living, breathing, bleeding, human beings.

Acts are illegal, immigrants are people.

What I love most about being Latina

This is a surprisingly complex question for me, because I often wonder if I can really attribute what it is I love about who I am to the fact that I am Latina, or if I simply associate certain aspects with latinidad.

Either way, I suppose what it means to be Latin@ varies from person to person though we tend to come across many similarities.

One of the things I most value is access to women with strong voices. Having a strong voice does not mean you can avoid being hurt or subjected to injustice, but the women in my life have always fought. My mother and her sisters have each been married and divorced, all partners of men who left them for other women. You would think that knowing this I would have had a rather fatalistic approach to all of my relationships, but I remained hopeful. This is because each of those women knew how to move forward and my mother always emphasized to me the importance of being able to stand on one's own two feet. Always make sure that you have a back up plan, she would tell me. Always be able to take care of yourself, because you never know what could happen.

Recently I read an excerpt from
Lesbians Talk Transgender in which a member of a women-only hiking group discussed their exclusion of trans women. She had said specifically that trans women had long benefitted from male privilege and as a result had the tendency to try to direct the conversation, were aggressive in communicating or overbearing. I personally thought this was a load of transphobic garbage and that it was yet another way of degendering trans women by implying (or flat out stating) that they were men. But that was not the only thing that struck me, it struck me that exerting one's voice was associated by this women with men exclusively.

In her reality, I guess women are regularly silenced even in their interpersonal relationships. This just is not true for me. Are we on the losing end of an oppressive system? Yes (though I would argue that there are no winners in oppression) but I do not think that all women have the same voices culturally. To be honest, this seemed like a White (not Latina) Feminist problem much like previous issues with regard to voting and the work place. Women of Colour have not, historically, had the class privilege that allowed them to stay at home while the male spouse worked (I am not trying to imply that class is solely tied to race, by the way).

In communicating with many different women, I can admit that I have had a tendency to be more aggressive. I do this with men as well and I am accustomed to it. My mother & her sisters have this same tendency which is why we have all been called bulldozers or something of the like. This is both a flaw and a wonderful trait to have and while some have found me too assertive or argumentative, maybe even stubborn, I've rarely felt that my voice was silenced within groups of men or women.

This isn't to say that Latina women are living in matriarchal society or anything similar - not at all. I would be blind to deny the machismo to which we are subjected that is tied to Catholicism, colonialism, racism, etc, but I do think that in general we have had more space in which to participate and be heard. I simply cannot imagine feeling the need to seek out a group for women because men have often dominated conversations in which I was involved or tried to be involved.

Again, I think that the comment by the woman in this particular excerpt has more to do with degendering trans women, denying them womanhood, and transphobia.

Latino Heritage Month Challenge

I am so late (LATEina) to this one, & as a result I am not going to end up doing every single day challenge. Instead I am going to look through the list and address the ones that most interest me in part because I cannot write a blog entry about my love of Pitbull & Shakira, but also because as a graduate student & Spanish instructor I don't have the time to catch up and update the blog daily.

This sounds like a lot of excuses, right? Yeah, they are excuses, but that's the way I roll!

The 30 Day Latino Blog Challenge. 30 days, 30 blogs, 1 message to celebrate Latino Heritage Month. I challenge myself and any Latino blogger to write everyday for the next 30 days. The rules are simple. The blog must be at least 2 paragraphs on the selected topic, although there are 2 entries for poetry. The blog can be written in anyway chosen.
Here are the topics I hope to address:

Day 1 – What I love most about being Latino
Day 2 – What Latin American Country/Island I would love to go to.

Day 4 - What Latino Blog I recommend
Day 5 - A story about growing up Latino
Day 6 - A Poem (original or quoted)
Day 7 - Post a picture about your culture and explain its significance

Day 8 - Latino Racism

Day 12 – Do I speak Spanish?
Day 13 – Afro Latinos you see everyday

Day 17 – Why I love Latinas (or Latino Men)
Day 18 – Latino Art

Day 20 – Latino Stereotypes I wish I could change

Day 21 - What Latin American Country/Island I have been to.
Day 22 – Do you consider yourself more Latino than American?

Day 24 – Should Puerto Rico be a State?
Day 25 - Post a picture about your familia and explain its significance

Day 27 – Favorite Latino Author
Day 28 – Family Ancestry
Day 29 – Latino Politics – What affects you?
Day 30 – What I learned in the last 30 days...

23 septiembre 2010


With my mother - I was 18 or 19.

I think this works across the board, or rather, across nationalities and languages, that there are certain colloquialisms that we just do not pick up in a region as a result of our parents' immigration. In my last years as a graduate student, I took a course in which we read about various myths & superstitions, folklore & cliches. What struck me was that when placed a group with three other students and given a colloquialism, there was not one of us who had heard it used within our families or could tell you when would be an appropriate time to use it.

We all happened to be the children of immigrants - my Colombian mother, another woman was the child of two Greek parents, the child of Italian parents and the fourth I cannot remember.

Colloquialisms are not just the marker of your familiarity with a language, they are also a marker of how you are socialized, or how often you socialize with others.

I was an only child who spent much of her time on the Internet. I like to point at this, rather than stupidity, as the reason it took me until my first year in college to realize that the phrase was 'a grain of salt' rather than 'a grain assault.' My husband often laughs at this asking me to explain the latter, but I don't think that many colloquialisms can be explained by those using them now. Why is the phrase 'A stitch in time saves nine?' Why is something the 'cat's pajamas' (admittedly, not many people use this but my husband ADORES it).

More recently and with some awkward pause I had to stop my mother on the phone as she complained to me that the company with which her husband would soon be contracted was 'jerking him off.' For my mother, there is no real difference between 'jerking him around' and 'jerking him off' but I imagined her saying this to one of the parents at my siblings' school and that parent staring in horror.

To date, however, my mother's most misused phrase is 'pickers can't be choosers.' Each time I explain to her that pickers are choosers and she immediately responds, short and irritated, 'Well, whatever, you know what I mean!'

12 septiembre 2010

Latin American artists & Latin@ artists

I first want to start by saying that I love the art of Frida Kahlo. As commercial as this sounds, I even have a light switch plate with her art on it because I am very touched by it. I love the photographs I have seen of her and I can see that although my students have wrinkled their nose at her facial hair, she was such a strong woman whose presence I imagine would have been so powerful. It comes through the photos. She's a storm, and a woman like me admires that, loves it.

Apart from her art on display and reproduced in books and other prints is her home. The home is a work of art that is constantly in a state of progress - I say this as a home owner who regularly has her eye caught by something: a dresser, a picture frame, a lamp, a set of tiles. When I first saw Frida's kitchen, I looked at my own and thought '¡No la aguanto más!' Her beautiful kitchen highlighted how claustrophobic mine feels and now I am dead set on this section of my own 'work of art.'

Before I stray any further from my original intention, let me say that while I love and admire Frida's art, I have noticed that there are a good many people whose knowledge of Latin American & Latin@ artists stops with Frida. Maybe I notice this because I teach Spanish entry level courses at the university & any chapter on art focuses on (1) only paintings and (2) mostly Spaniards. They know Goya (sometimes), Picasso, & Dalí. The books almost always include Velázquez's
Las Meninas but beyond the Peninsula there is little attention given to Latin American artists. I'm sure someone will offer counter examples, but with regard to the books I've been given to use in the classroom and those I've had as supplementary materials, the focus was generally the same.

I'm not necessarily asking that Spanish teachers be held accountable for being a walking catalogue of Latin American artists. Trust, I've met some secondary & elementary Spanish teachers (OK, and some in college too) who had to work on their knowledge of the language before anything else. Still, it would be nice if more people knew something about art. Art may not be everyone's passion, but I'd think that peole studying & eventually teaching language would be some of the most likely to learn about it. If art is used to represent or question societal values, as a form of protest, or even as a form of documentation, one would think teachers would jump at the chance to incorporate it into their classrooms. But I guess another problem is who is - or isn't - teaching teachers. In many cases it seems we are left on our own to 'discover' art.

A particularly memorable instance for me was meeting a college student who was studying art and Spanish who said that Latin America was lacking in artists. Whether she was referring to painting, ceramics & pottery, photography, etc, I don't know, but none of it was - or is - true. I wonder if she remembers her statement; it is one I will never forget! What is lacking isn't art, it's exposure to that art. Were there even any professors in that small Missouri college town offering lectures on Latin@ artists? How many universities - even liberal art schools - do just that? Where are our Latin@ contemporary artists represented?

In Los Angeles we are very fortunate to have access to Latin@ specific museums such as MOLAA (Long Beach) and The Latino Museum (Downtown Los Angeles) but even with these museums specializing in Latin@ art, so many are unaware of their existence. They are not MOCA, LACMA, the Getty, the Hammer, or any other enormous, well-known museum located in the 'cultural hot-spot' of West Los Angeles. At the very least we have them, which is more than I've been able to say about other locations in the US.

What is promising is that currently The Latino Museum has an exhibit from now until the 14th of October that features various up & coming artists including yours truly and the exhibit is free. If you are in the Los Angeles area, please do check it out! The address & list of artists can be located here on the museum website.

Anyway, it's not an entry about Latin@ artits without some name dropping & links to enjoy! Here are the names (and some websites) of artists I've admired:

Lucía Pizzani, Mayra Barraza, Keiko González, Elmar Rojas, Oswaldo Guayasamín, Fernando Rodríguez Falcón, Carlos Montes de Oca (cubano), Pedro Coronel, Manuel Felguérez Barra, Lilia Carrillo, Miguel Ángel Ruiz Matute,Wifredo Lam, Antonia Eiríz, Marta María Pérez Bravo, Noemí Ruiz, Gego, Santiago Cárdenas, Fernando de Szyszlo, Maria de Lourdes Martins Pereira de Souza, Antonio Bandeira, Flávio Shiró Tanaka, Jorge Guinle, Enrique Arnal, Osvaldo Salerno, Luis Solari (uruguayo), Luis Camnitzer, José Balmes

Additionally, the Latin Art Museum website provides a number of examples of different Latin American artists and is a great resource when considering the fact that many artists alive and deceased have not had their own websites.


02 septiembre 2010

I'm not a Mexican...

On Monday, while standing over his son as he placed the wooden piece at the threshold of our bathroom, the man responsible for fixing our doors begin to converse with me about what it is I do at the university.

'You teach Spanish? Are you Mexican?'
'No, my mother is from Colombia actually.'

He rolls his eyes, 'Oh, you're
Hispanic. When my son was younger and in Boy Scouts all the boys there were Mexican but one of the boys was adamant in telling everyone he was Colombian. I guess it's one of those better-than-them things.'

Immediately in my head the scene from Clueless came up in which Cher tells Lucy to speak to the gardener because she speaks 'Mexican' though Lucy is from El Salvador.

Now I have to admit that I've never taken a class on geography. I don't even know that we had that option while I was in elementary or secondary school, but I have a working knowledge of it because of my insane access to maps (check it, Miss South Carolina - Google got that on lock!).

Look, I acknowledge that there is a sense of racism, colourism, and for sure nationalism throughout Latin America, and yes, I can't deny that there are -for example- Argentinians who turn their noses up at Bolivians (my grandmother). As evidenced by the poverty among the indigenous communities, Latin America is certainly guilty of discrimination.

But maybe the kid was adamant on his Colombian-ness because Colombia is an entirely different country than Mexico. If you ask me if my family is Mexican, I don't say no because I harbour some ill will toward Mexico, but because to say that they are Mexican is not at all accurate.

They are not even on the same continent (given you consider the Americas separate continents). In fact, I'm willing to bet that in many regards Southern California has much more in common with Mexico than does Colombia - Mexicans, for example. Because let's face it, I am going to find many more Mexican immigrants & children of Mexican families in California than I would in Colombia based on proximity alone. Add this to the fact in Central America & in Mexican much of that migrant labour moves up toward the US.

So before shooting off your mouth about how I said my mother was Colombian because I dislike Mexico, instead consider that it is because she is actually from Colombia and I recognize them as two different countries.

Or maybe to a guy like him there is no difference. All of Latin America is Mexico.