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.

25 octubre 2010

What Latina blogger I recommend

It seems that whenever I set a task for myself and vocalize it to anyone - and it is a non-academic task - it is always the first at which I fail. I will excuse myself though and say that for this Latina, every month is Latin@ Heritage month. Why shouldn't we celebrate our families and heritage on a regular basis? This is true for anyone!All right, maybe it is not a convincing excuse, but here I am continuing with the themed posts. Today is about the Latina blogger I recommend and I can never settle on just one.

The first is probably the most popular: http://www.speakhispanic.com/

Elianne Ramos's blog covers Latin@s in the media, in politics, in business, which I understand are all tied to one another. Thus far she's provided some of the most and best coverage with regard to that angle, and she tends to be very up-to-date/timely, which if you know anything about journalism (or can guess) is incredibly important. The truth is, her blog contains a lot of information that is otherwise ignored by popular media/larger blogs and it's important that we support those sources that provide us with information about our communities that may otherwise be ignored.

Another blogger with a much different themed blog is http://gabrielaskitchen.com/

As the name suggest, the blog is cooking-centered. Gabriela's recipes are mostly related to Mexican cuisine, but her knowledge of cooking is by no means limited to this cuisine. What's great about her site is that she also covers drinks along with main courses, and for those of us who avoid red meat or pork, she provides vegetarian recipes as well. Add all this to amazing food photography - I can't stress enough how great a cooking blog she has & how you will undoubtedly feel hungry the minute you surf through her site. If you are trying to learn how to cook, check this blog out, make some of the recipes, and impress your friends with your sudden talent.

03 octubre 2010

Latin American countries I'd like to visit

Am I supposed to name only one?

The first is Colombia which for me is the most obvious. I've visited this various times in the past and would like to continue to do so because my family is there. We have only stayed within the capital but recently my aunt Clara purchased a house in Cartagena on the beach & I have always heard that it was a beautiful city.

I'd also like to visit Mexico. This seems ridiculous to say that I'd love to go to Mexico because it is a country that is so within reach because I live in Southern California, but a surprising amount of people here have never been to Mexico. I went once to Cancun which I swear is filled with more American tourists than with Mexican citizens. Currently one of my close friends from DF has been living back in the city & I'd love to go visit her.

I'd love to go to the Caribbean as well. The easiest place, I suppose, would be Puerto Rico because it does not require a passport from the US & I have friends from there & living there as well.

Honestly, I could go through every country in Latin America and think about something I would want to see or someone I would want to visit from that country!