Come to the Fun Home

This panel probably inspired the chorus of the song Telephone Wire

I saw the musical Fun Home this past summer, and just now finished the graphic novel: Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic., and wow it’s good.

When I saw the musical months ago, I didn’t share the reaction of my partner and the friends who were with us. We all loved it, and were very impressed with the musical and the actors. But while they were more moved with the emotional rollercoaster that was Fun Home, I was happy. I’m no sadist, but while I empathized with the tragic parts of the musical, I felt joy afterwards (even though, as my boyfriend keeps emphasizing, this is not a ‘happy’ musical despite its ironic name).

So I listened to the musical, and the source of my joy became clear with two songs from the musical: Ring of Keys and Changing My Major. Those two songs, written from the perspective of a white cis-lesbian woman, are powerful in evoking how I felt as a young baby queer.

Ring of Keys reminded me of my (great great) uncle Billy. No one has told me that he was gay; he was though. While I don’t share the semi-romantic feelings that the song conveys about the butch delivery woman, I did share the sense of community in seeing an adult –a respected one at that– who was like me. At the time Billy was single, effeminate, and fabulous to boot. He had a circular bed, a huge sombrero on the wall, and such gaudy decoration. I loved visiting with my mami. I also think that my mom’s views on homosexuality were definitely shaped by him. He provided my parents with their first apartment –above his house– and the first home I knew as a baby. There were other moments with queer/gay men a la Ring of Keys: the designer/tailor couple that made my aunt’s –and later on my sister’s– queen of the carnival gown. They’re still around in my town. I remember them as effeminate, and one of them even had long painted nails. There were others like me.

It’s probably conceited to say,
But I think we’re alike in a certain way

-Ring of Keys, Small Alison

Changing My Major was exactly like college. After my mom died, I felt a need to live life as quickly as possible, because who knew if I was also going to die at 42 like her. That first intense crush, though not reciprocated. My first lover, who became my first boyfriend. Making my whole life around that person. This song feels like validation. What a strange finding!!! My queer experience is something some of us share, it’s not mine alone!!! I was not alone, and I guess I never was. I found others who were like me; friends, lovers, strangers…

I don’t know, but I’m changing my major to Joan.
I thought all my life I’d be all alone,
But that was before I was lying prone in this dorm room bed with Joan.

-Changing my Major, Medium Alison

A recurring theme in my conversations –as well as this blog– is how representation is important. Stories from a diverse group of people keep informing my experiences, and enriching them. Which is why I don’t get why students from Duke were refusing to read it for moral reasons. Sometimes the voices of others –even those of white women– don’t sit too well with patriarchal canons. In the end, I’m glad this story is out there and that is getting recognized the way it is.

Thank you, Alison Bechdel.

Colonized mind

Yesterday, I saw a conversation happen in front of me at the metro, and all I could do was cringe. I tried to speak up, but my voice failed me; I failed to call them out. Maybe it’s because I’m exhausted of brown and minority folk tearing each other down.

White supremacy, the patriarchy, capitalism; the systems and ideologies in which we operate, were not designed to allow a bunch of us attain success through whiteness, maleness, and the 1%. We obtain some and unfortunately tear each other down when we have the illusion that success in these systems is just slipping through our fingers. As if we “just tried harder we could _________”.

Unfortunately these circumstances beget structural violence and inequality; we then reproduce that ethos of supremacy, patriarchy, and whiteness within our own groups, and as we interact with other minority/oppressed groups we discount others’ experiences to prop our own.

I want to keep learning how a decolonized anthropology can aid with issues of solidarity and intersectionality.

I conclude this short post with this Fanon quote:

“I, the man of color, want only this: That the tool never possess the man. That the enslavement of man by man cease forever. That is, of one by another. That it be possible for me to discover and to love man, wherever he may be.”
― Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks

Several scattered thoughts on the debt crisis, the 4th of July, and Puerto Rican identity

Last weekend I got asked about how I felt about my upcoming move away from DC. I will miss this place so much. I am leaving friends and moving on from the life I have known for the last 7 years. Furthermore, moving to the mainland allowed me to have access to rights that I couldn’t attain when I lived in the island; citizen and all.

This article from the Guardian summarizes really well the diversity of opinions regarding our political status in Puerto Rico. For me, the question of our status has never been an easy one to answer, though every Puerto Rican has an opinion about it. Lived experiences permeate what we make of our island, and our political status. Politics permeate so much of our lives: I remember being toted around to political rallies by my abuela when I was barely five. The discussions in my grandma’s house were very passionate, since my abuelo (who was a veteran) was very pro-statehood and abuela (Nuyorican) was very much pro-commonwealth. In hindsight, these are silly distinctions in regards to the political parties on the island. They focus so much on our territorial status, yet in 63 years of our official designation as an Associated Free State (aka the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico) little has changed.

Rita Moreno in West Side Story (1961)
Much like the song America from West Side Story (the best song worth listening to in that musical), boricuas have a diversity of opinions about what we have left behind and how we currently feel now in the US. This song is as relevant today as it was when the musical came out in 1957.  I have read so many posts on social media from fellow boricuas giving their take on why they left or stayed on the island (given the current debt debacle and the circumstances that led us to this crisis).

And then there are our experiences on the mainland. Every Puerto Rican experiences living in the States differently, depending on their socio-economic background and how much can they pass as white (or other passable images of Latinxness). These experiences are not unique to the mainland, since the island has a colonial heritage that is based on racism and colorism which is all about mejorar la raza.  Yet not all Puerto Ricans experience the mainland in the same way; it’s really hard to talk about the shared experience of a group of people who have had a history in the US since the 19th century (our flag was born in New York), have been citizens since 1917, and are transnational to a certain extent. The closest comparison I can think of is Hawaii, but I have to learn more about that.

Throughout the years I have been racialized in ways that I was not prepared for; my insular vision didn’t help. The diversity of experiences among fellow Puerto Ricans means that you will find people that will validate your experiences, and others who will shut you down because your opinions do not fit into their views/experience in the US.

I thought of this on the recent 4th of July weekend. I reflected on what it means for me to hold a celebratory space for this holiday. I thought of Juneeteenth and I thought of the upcoming 25th of July holiday on the island; when we celebrate the creation of our current territory status in 1952 on the same day that US troops landed in Puerto Rico during the Spanish American war in 1898.

These thoughts took me some time to distill. I hope that discussions about Puerto Rico’s current debt crisis lead to both reflection and action about the need to transform our political status as a territory of the US.

Rankism

The other day a renowned anthropologist told me I was not her colleague. Her reply came moments after I had told her that I defended my dissertation less than a month ago.

(Let that sink in)

This happened during a lunch where anthropology graduate students were sharing their feedback about our department with visiting faculty. The three anthropologists were there as reviewers of the program. A routine department evaluation apparently happens every couple of years. During the lunch, I shared concerns on the career and professional development of our department. I expressed regret given that aside from a few professors/advisors, the department as whole, is not preparing PhD students to be the faculty’s colleagues. As I sat on a faculty search committee last year, I didn’t see myself as competitive with the candidates we interviewed. The department replicates many structural barriers that privilege some students above others. To which she said “But you are not my colleague”.

In the past, I have expressed reticence about my future involvement in an academic setting. This incident served as the last drop in a serious of microagressions in the last seven years.

I got fed up. I’m not here for a white medical anthropologist to tell me that I am not her colleague; that I am not part of her club. Because this has happened one too many times and is too frequent for me to let it go. Like last year’s SfAA (Society for Applied Anthropology annual conference) where a White Anthropologist (badge from the conference and all) asked me if i was his taxi driver, despite me not being remotely in the vicinity of a yellow vehicle. I was merely existing in the lobby of the hotel.

I knew I wasn’t trained for the club. But this future colleague broke the fourth wall of academic double-speak that ‘encourages’ minorities to be part of the faculty’s ranks. Especially for a person of color like me who is a member of an underrepresented minority in higher education. A study last year showed that prospective graduate students–applying to graduate school–who were women and/or belonged to racial minorities received fewer email responses from faculty than White men in most disciplines. How discouraging is this?

What does it take to be a colleague then? My clue is that it lies in being a tenure track professor. Every other career path–although similar in nature in regards to research–is not the same. Even adjuncts, with similar work loads, are as liminal as some graduate students in the academic culture. I resist such rankism; it reeks of eurocentrism in western institutions.

So how do I keep decolonizing my experiences as a PhD recipient from a Research I university of the US? Because I still go back to the experience that spurred this post, and I think… what else? What else could an academic want from me? I jumped all the necessary hoops to receive the highest attainable degree in my discipline.

Still, my work should lie on important issues. I hope that my future career demonstrates a commitment to decolonize anthropology as well as to conduct applied research that matters.

La cosa está mala en Puerto Rico…y no vuelvo

Una de las preguntas que muchas personas me hacen por acá en Maryland, es que si  volvería a Puerto Rico cuando me gradúe. Cinco años atrás, esa pregunta me daba trabajo contestarla con sinceridad; principalmente porque una de las razones principales por las que vine a los EU fue por educación (falta de programa doctoral en Antropología en Puerto Rico) y no por razones económicas. Este último año, una de mis amigas mas cercanas y yo, hemos hablado mucho de la situación de la isla. Los dos somos ex-alumnos de la yupi, y los dos estamos estudiando antropología en los EU. Siempre mencionamos como la cosa está mala en Puerto Rico.

Y la cosa está mala por muchas razones, pero una de las circunstancias que nos concierne a ambos es lo politicizada que está la educación superior en Puerto Rico. Lo peor del caso es que nosotros vinimos a los EU sabiendo que la cosa estaba mala en las universidades. Que para ser profesor o catedrático en la Universidad de Puerto Rico, hay que tener pala. También aprendimos que el sistema superior en gringolandia, al menos tiene una antifaz que pretende igualdad, y técnicamente es más fácil obtener empleo por acá con un doctorado en las ciencias sociales, que en la isla del encanto.

Han habido tantas noticias en los últimos años sobre la sobre llamada fuga de profesionales de Puerto Rico a los Estados Unidos. Al igual que muchos egresados de la UPR que vienen a los EU, yo no pienso regresar más allá del peregrinaje a piñones y visitar a mi familia. ¿Y me pregunto porqué es que no volvemos? Yo tenía tantos ideales cuando estaba en la yupi, y pensaba que algún día regresaría para ser un agente de cambio. Cada día que pasa me decepciono con tantas cosas, y se me hace difícil pensar en un futuro en mi querida isla. Y sé que decir esto es tabú, y muchos despreciarán mi postura, pero sé que no soy el único que piensa de esta manera.

En mi caso mis circunstancias han cambiado, y pronto emigraré a Australia para estar con mi pareja; al menos los prospectos de empleo allá se ven bien para mi nivel de educación. Pero a Puerto Rico no vuelvo, porque las cosas siguen malas y mis panas me dicen lo mismo: “Está difícil encontrar trabajo con estudios y sin pala”.  Aún con estudios avanzados, mis amigos me cuentan como tienen supervisores  que no tienen su equivalente de su nivel de estudio, ni experiencia, y ni siquiera las destrezas para manejar su empleo. Las historias que escucho de lo que sucede en el Departamento de Salud por ejemplo, me causan ira (salud, porque ese es mi enfoque de investigación).

La maldita pala…y todavía nos preguntamos porque la economía está como está.

Pues la economía está así por los políticos que seguimos eligiendo. Y la economía sigue así porque estamos complacidos. No hacemos protestas por la economía, pero sí  protestamos por creencias retrógradas en contra de la equidad sexual. Pero luego una minoría protesta para el beneficio de todos, y el pueblo los critica. Como nos tiene Big Brother.

#UPRenMarcha – La #UPR diciendo #NoRecortesUPR y #NiIVANiRecortes

Pues anteayer los estudiantes de la UPR fueron parte de una manifestación en contra de los recortes a la educación pública. Los comentarios que leí en Facebook una vez más me enseñaros que el puertorriqueño es su peor enemigo. No se difiere con respeto, si no que se ataca la intelectualidad y la educación del estudiante. ¿Cómo se atreven esos estudiantes a aplicar su conocimiento a problemas de la vida real?

Y este una de las razones que me dan más pena, y por las cuáles no puedo regresar; el anti-intelectualismo de la isla es tanto, que inclusive me abruma participar desde la diáspora. Tanta gente educada, y nadie nos escucha. Muchos se creen expertos en todos los temas, pues la democracia del Facebook nos da autoridad.

Igual, el mismo puertorriqueño te bloquea  cuando tus opiniones no son los que otros quieren escuchar… aún con doctorado y to’.  La página Puerto Rico Historic Building Drawings Society me bloqueó de sus comentarios por ofrecer mi opinión sobre lo que pienso son desvaríos fuera de su misión, que lo que hacen es des-informar al puertorriqueño sobre nuestra evidencia arqueológica y etnohistórica. Ni a los antropólogos nos respetan en nuestro campo de expertise. (e.g. este post titulado  La gran mentira del genocidio español en América trata de desmentir lo ocurrido con el contacto colombino sin ninguna referencia científica o histórica; o este otro post en el que se perpetúa la romanticización de la población indígena de Puerto Rico).

El anti-intelectualismo es tanto, que para hacerse escuchar en PR hay que hacerlo a través de programas de bochinches y farandulería (como el caso de Jay Fonseca). Jay tiene mi respeto, porque yo no puedo y desgraciadamente no vuelvo. Fuerza y apoyo a aquellos que están en la lucha en la isla, y los ayudaré en sus esfuerzos desde la diáspora.

Teaching about #Baltimore and #BlackLivesMatter

Minneapolis rally and march to support the people of Baltimore

I teach an introduction to social cultural anthropology and linguistics course, and I have made sure that this course presents current societal issues that anthropology can best contribute to. As such, this past Tuesday, instead of talking about globalization (which was the topic of the day) we talked about what was happening in Baltimore. The reading for the day was Monster, Terrorist, Fag: The War on Terrorism and the Production of Docile Patriots, and even though we didn’t get a chance to discuss it, it was very appropriate for the discussion that we had.

The ground rules for the discussion were based on the concept of safe space. We were going to talk about sensitive issues, and I emphasized that opinions should be respected:  “let’s argue, but do so respectfully for the purpose of learning”. I also emphasized that if someone became uncomfortable and wanted to voice those feelings, they should bring them up; if that happened we would move on.

So we started the discussion by talking about the role of the media and how protesters are being characterized. We talked about coded language with racist undertones to describe Black protesters who were engaging in peaceful demonstrations.

We talked about systemic issues of poverty at the intersection of race given the socio-historical context of the city of Baltimore.

We talked about the difference between #BlackLivesMatter and #Alllivesmatter, and how the latter deviates the conversation and does not address systemic inequality.

We talked about the Stanford prison experiment and the psychological implications of people who hold positions of power. We also discussed empathy in the context of a research project that showed that White people thought Black people felt less pain.

We talked about Power (with capital p) and Institutions (with capital i). We talked about the role of the police as a representative of the government. In this case we have noticed that the government has been responding violently (to the point of murdering Black people for seemingly innocuous offenses or qualitatively different reasons than White individuals committing said offenses) when a particular group of people is perceived to challenge the superiority of its law enforcement.

We talked about how the Police should protect its citizens. The current contradiction is that the individuals who are supposed to protect us, are seemingly not doing so. We discussed the rationale of brown and Black folk not trusting the police (given the high profile cases of white policemen killing Black people being aprehended); similarly how women are enculturated to fear the night (given the grim statistics on sexual assault).

We talked about how if this were happening in another country, we would be concerned that the government was disproportionally silencing (killing) an ethnic group inside its borders. Think of civil war scenarios in Syria for comparison’s sake… or Rwanda…or…

As I hold a position of power, I felt the need to engage in this conversation. Anthropology students should be in a position to analyze what is happening 20 something miles away from us. Some students need to hear that their fears and concerns are real, and that there are some of us in temporary positions of power that can ackowledge that. Other students need to hear what their peers say and how their thoughts differ. The rest need to be challenged, so that they don’t stay silent and reproduce the racial discourses that sparked the current situation and continue to maintain inequality in Baltimore…in Chicago…in Long Island… In Ferguson…

identities

One of the few things I didn’t problematize in my fieldwork was the concept of Hispanic and Latino. As a Puerto Rican born and raised in the island, I have always been more comfortable with the noun/adjective of Latin American (if needed) after Puerto Rican.

I guess I could consider myself Latino, now that I have been living here in the US for almost 8 years. In contrast to queer, gay, or bisexual (labels which I don’t dwell too much on), I do think often of what it means to be Latino. Is it growing up here? Is it that I am originally from a Latin American country? I still don’t know. I know for certain that I am not Hispanic, since I don’t feel comfortable with that label.

I did notice that while we as researchers sometimes worry about labels like this (and we should when power laden language has real life repercussions) people are using them interchangeably for multiple purposes. Sometime in 2012 I found myself at this festival called Langley Park Day. Among the health fairs and the food, there were dances like this picture shows.  

Langley Park Day 2012

The Panamanians in this picture are dancing a traditional (folk?) dance from Panamá. Aside from noting similarities in their clothing with Puerto Rican folk dances, I concluded that all of these people were there for fun and were likely not inclined to be bothered by my thoughts on pan-american blanket identities that seem to erase individual and indigenous heritages.

So I kept enjoying the dances. Just me, a regular neighbor for now, eating my pupusa, and taking pictures of the cool dances and posting them on Instagram. I don’t think that anyone that day cared about the problems of these identities, since everyone was showing off a little bit of their own heritage. They get it. I guess I (eventually) got it too.

Just some thoughts…

[Originally presented at Anthroplus 2015]

Hiatus

I’ve been a bit quiet lately because of my dissertation. I written several drafts, and will defend this Wednesday. 


I still think about the function of this blog, and what was I getting out of it. Hopefully, I’ll continue its mission after my defense. 

Best of luck to myself. 

#Scififorall

This year I did my first New Year’s resolution ever, and that was to make an effort to consume more media by Women, PoC, and other folks who don’t get to present their art as easily as others can. I’m happy that so far I have been successful especially with the books I have read this year (for every book by a mainstream white male author that I read, I also read one by a PoC/Woman/Queer/etc). What this made me realize is that there is tremendous amount of diversity out there that is amazing in itself.

It also made me realize that I don’t need to consume media that does not accurately represent the world as it is today. Why? Because Sci-fi is amazing. Sci-fi takes me to unimaginable places, and allows me to expand my imagination by going to such great lengths. Yet, I don’t understand when some artists create sci-fi that is only white. Why go to great lengths to imagine new future possibilities, and make them centered about the experience of a people with a particular skin color? I know most of these choices are under the level of awareness of overt racial discrimination, but that does not mean they were done outside of the realm of racial politics. And it’s not wrong or bad in itself, but when this is what you see all the time, it gets a bit frustrating for non-white folk when all they see in the movies is just that.

Where does that leave me? Are people with my skin tone not imagined in the future? Are we going to be extinct?
I’d rather not consume them then…
#scififorall

The Citizen Scholar…

Engaging politically in the university community and trying to make a difference beyond the constraints of tenure.

I recently read Foley and Valenzuela’s book (ref below), and it invigorated me in the middle of my dissertation writing. It felt so validating! Reading this in conjunction with Faye Harrison’s Critical Ethnography made me reflect even more on what it means for me to engage in critical anthropological research, while also avoid being trapped in the academic machinery of alienation from real life problems. So how do I balance such an effort, when I am such a service inclined individual? I want to focus on me, but I also want to acknowledge that my path has not been an individual one; I’m here because others balanced scholarship and advocacy within those racially marked lines and helped me get here, and I want to give back.

Faye Harrison said it best:

“Whether we like it or not, race is an enduring principle of classification and organization within academe, relegating some people to outsides within. Putting colored people in their place through racially marked circumscription, often layered with meetings related to gender and class, may be subtle, but it is, nonetheless, real. In order to negotiate,resist, and adjust to its most humiliating and hurtful forms, racially marked intellectuals often find themselves deploying energy that might otherwise be invested in furthering their scholarship”

There is a lot to be said from folks like us, but meanwhile the rest are not disturbed…the rest; the white folk, and the other  minorities who are not underrepresented in higher education.

They are working, their scholarship does not get interrupted. When I advocated towards certain things that affected all of us anthropology students, the rest were working without being perturbed by that advocacy, but also benefitting from it. While I spent my time complaining about the state of things, as well as trying to collaborate as to how these issues could be addressed with the help of a few allies, the rest were working. The thread seems to be that:

  • They keep working while they were called out on sexual harassment in their department (Link) and still be invited to deliver a keynote speech at a major conference.
  • They keep working even when there are studies that show that male privilege does not foster welcoming environments to women in academia: Link
  • They keep working even when studies show that Faculty were shown to have racial and gender biases in mentoring: Link

They are working, while I am exhausted and mentally drained. They are working, while I am struggling for security and a sense of belonging in an environment that doesn’t fully understand (or welcome) a post-colonial anthropologist (my department is pretty White yo!).

But then again, activism and advocacy won’t get me employed in academia. As Faye Harrison mentioned, we academics of color (especially those of underrepresented groups) spend time giving back to the community; because some of us feel an inherent sense of duty. We spend so much of our time and energy trying to be engaged scholars. Very few allies know how draining this is. And the rest don’t know at all, don’t care, and frankly, probably won’t be affected by it. Our White colleagues are spending the same time writing, receiving grants at higher rates, researching, getting tenure, etc.

There is no true answer to any of what I just wrote, but I nonetheless wanted to put this out here. Just in case there is another Citizen Scholar in training like me, and is looking for community.

I want to finish with a Maya Angelou quote that helped me find peace with all of this while I brainstormed about the issues of engaged anthropologists/scholars.

“We understand that these prejudices, these walls have been built over centuries, and we must not be disheartened that we can’t knock them down in three months or four years,” she said. “We must understand we need some heavy artillery.” Leaning in closer she said, “So we mustn’t run out of steam. Sometimes young women think ‘Dammnnn, I’ve been doing this nine years and I don’t think anything has budged.’ But keep plugging away. Nothing succeeds like success. Get a little success and then just get a little more.”

But be kind to yourself, she reminded me. At this point, it was more like a grandmother talking, trying to relay important knowledge.

Whenever I’m around some who is modest, I think, ‘run like hell and all of fire,’” she said. “You don’t want modesty, you want humility. Humility comes from inside out. It says someone was here before me and I’m here because I’ve been paid for. I have something to do and I will do that because I’m paying for someone else who has yet to come.”

 

References

  • Foley, Douglas and Valenzuela, Angela (2005) Critical Ethnography: The Politics of Collaboration. Sage Handbook of Qualitative Research. 3rd edition. Eds. Norman K. Denzin & Yvonna S. Lincoln. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, 2005: 217-234
  • Harrison, Faye (2008) Outsider Within: Reworking Anthropology in the Global Age. University of Illinois Press.
  • Dawn, Reiss (2014) Why Maya Angelou Disliked Modesty. The Atlantic. http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2014/06/why-maya-angelou-didnt-believe-in-modesty/371965/
  • Schuman, Rebeca (2014) Hands Off Your Grad Students! Slate. http://www.slate.com/articles/life/education/2014/07/professors_and_advisers_having_sexual_relationships_with_grad_students_hurts.html