The #OscarsSoWhite Problem Is Very Personal To Me

Representation in the media means a lot to me for selfish reasons. Being a trigueño (a word that has euphemistic connotations of anti-blackness) Puerto Rican man, I just didn’t see myself represented often in the media. In Puerto Rico anti-blackness can be very subtle, but to bring the topic up in public contexts is to invoke spirited (and misguided) 19th century discourses of mestizaje (racial miscegenation) and post-racial soceities.

When I was young I could easily count the number of Black and dark skinned people in local Puerto Rican media. Then, they slowly disappeared altogether, with the advent of multinational (American) television companies that bought the local networks and supplanted local programming with shows from the US. Watching local programming dwindle, while US film and TV came in large droves, had a profound impact on the creation of my ‘self’.

As an adolescent, I rejected many elements that I thought of as “Puerto Rican” and felt alien to me; I adopted an ‘alternative’ identity with elements that were foreign (American) to boost that identity. I can now tell that the elements I rejected were mainly gendered roles I felt uncomfortable with. I just saw myself as an outsider anyway, since others would easily throw around pato or maricón (a faggot). How was I, as a queer dark skinned nerd from the hood supposed to form any parallels with what I was seeing around me, and even less so in film and media that rendered not only me, but my whole Puerto Ricanness, invisible?

That empowered me for a bit, until I came to the US and realized those elements that I had adopted were up to be questioned, given my skin color. Because whiteness works that way. I remember an acquaintance asking me what Star Wars character I would like to be.

Him: So would you be Lando?
Me: …I always thought of myself as more of a Jedi.
Him: Oh, Mace Windu then?
Me: … no. More like Obi-Wan. He’s my favorite.

This was just months after having arrived in the US. My racialization had started, and at the same time, Whiteness was reclaiming back the elements that I had borrowed. Those cultural touchstones were not mine. I wasn’t allowed to be anyone I wanted in Star Wars, I had to be one of the only two Black characters in the six movies.

One thing is to be underrepresented, and another is to be ignored completely. Invisibility renders you below the treshhold of attention. So when one of the most respected film awards fails to nominate (or, presumably, even consider) media that reflects diverse topics, characters, and stories, then that invisibility is reinforced by power. That’s why it is important to note the issue with #OscarssoWhite.

Others have asked “why should we even care about the Oscars?” To me it matters because of the inherent economic and social power that Hollywood and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences wield. The Oscars have a place in US and the global landscape; movies that are Oscar nominees and/or winners go on to be released to wider audiences, the filmmakers are more likely to receive attention from investors in the future, and the actors attract more promotion (reputation) and accolades.


When I came to mainland US from Puerto Rico for grad school, I realized that I carried a lot of biases and prejudices against African-American/Black people. Moving to the Maryland suburbs of Washington DC forced me to reflect on these biases and re-evaluate them. All that I knew about African-American/Black people was based on what I had watched on TV and movies (much like the example from the tumblr link above). I honestly did not have another frame of reference outside of visual media. This was pre-Twitter and pre-Tumblr. I was only exposed to very particular and narrow narratives involving Black people and that definitely shaped my thinking.

Media exposure is important in itself to showcase different and diverse perspectives. Those of us who are inclined towards studying culture can’t keep silent about the individual and social dangers that cultural supremacy can have in erasing differences and diversity. There is also the argument that the Oscars can’t justly be considered the top accolade in the film industry, when they are only considering a fraction of movies being made. If the same films with the same stories are being made and awarded year after year, where is the space for more diverse stories beyond Black pain and slavery?

PS. Please also read this post by Dr. Waren from Texas A&M University. He draws parallels between the issue of Oscar nominations with a similarly pervasive case of institutional practices in higher education.



A resolution for 2016: Self-Care

These past two years I have made two resolutions: in 2014 I wanted to read more people of color (PoC), and in 2015 I wanted to  read books exclusively written by people of color (or non-white). Those resolutions led me to a great journey as well as serving as relief  given the grim everyday life we PoC face. These authors gave me a way out, and often I saw myself in their stories
As such, 2016 is my year for self-care. The news are grim: my brothers and sisters are dying everyday as victims of institutionalized violence perpetrated by the American police.

Thus self-care. Here is my first try towards this goal. Music is everything to me, so I wanted to share my first playlist that is helping me in not losing myself these days. 
The playlists are here in Apple Music format and Spotify. Enjoy!
Ease on Down the Road on Apple Music

Ease on Down the Road on Spotify

When I was catholic…

A little over a month ago, we baptized my nephew on my last visit to Puerto Rico. This was a rude awakening as to why I left the church in the first place. The church is too static, and unchanging.

I grew up catholic and spent my teenage years being an uber-conservative practicing catholic. Catholicism permeated everyday life for me as a child. This everyday was further complicated by our colonial history, in which West African influenced syncretism–in addition to Espiritismo and Santería– were also present: I visited many Botánicas as a kid with my grandma. She didn’t (and still doesn’t) see any conflict between catholicism and her beliefs in the Orishas. I used to judge her for it, and shared said judgment with her given my beliefs, and snotty holier-than-thou attitude. Sorry Abuela, I shouldn’t have. 

Like then, Catholicism nowadays seem to constrain, rather than guide people into their own salvation. Even though I left the church, the dogma is that you can’t actually leave the church. Once a believer, always a believer, it goes—no matter what you call yourself. 
And that’s what we did to my nephew, we made him join this religion. We gave in to the constant worry of one of my grandmothers that my three-and-a-half-year-old nephew wasn’t baptized. Again, demonstrating how much these beliefs permeate my family’s everyday lives, even though they aren’t practicing catholics. I am the kid’s godfather, and according to the class I had to take for this purpose, It will be part of my job to provide this boy with depth and context to whatever journey he decides to take on as a religious person; to fully indoctrinate him in the catholic dogma. My family knows me well enough to be aware that I’m not ideal for how the church envisions this role, and yet they still wanted me to be the godfather.

We went to mass the day of the baptism, and after more than 10 years of attending mass I remembered all the movements, the words, the rites, and when to kneel. Leave it to mass to demonstrate how committed one is to being structured and unchanging. This made sense to me then since a lot of times in my life I found myself seeking structure; I used to love the structure of catholic school, which was weird. And yet I was simultaneously always looking for ways to bend the structure, when I thought it needed to be more flexible.

During the homily, the priest discussed the (then recent) announcement from the Pope regarding priests now having the authority to pardon women who had sought abortions. He explained what that meant both in regards to dogma, and bureaucratic practice to the institution of this local church. 

Of course he shared his views regarding when and how life begins, as well as the equivalency of Plan B contraceptive as an ‘aborticifent’. Following mass, and during the announcements, he reminded the congregation that next week’s collection would go to the Knights of Colombus, who want to pursue a similar strategy as their counterparts in the US (link): but instead of donating to Pro-life non-medical pregnancy centers, they want to have a car equipped with an ultrasound machine, and park it in front of ‘abortion clinics’ (or family planning clinics, he said in air quotes) to discourage women from getting abortions. 

Although the Pope is trying to drag the church through its vestments out of irrelevancy, this is not enough, when women’s choice to abort is still regarded as a major sin. The church’s attempt to soften this view is to promote ‘forgiveness’ towards women for their right to exercise power over their bodies during this year; the so called ‘holy year’. 

My family and I talked about this briefly during the lunch after the baptism. My dad had left with his wife, and only women remained (aunt, sisters, cousin, grandmas) aside from my nephew and I. I don’t think the women in my family are necessarily against choice, they just don’t like the idea of abortion; and I think this is a necessary caveat given that many catholic women use contraception despite the church’s teachings and beliefs in regards to family planning.

During mass, the priest let everyone know that Family Planning is a taboo term. Family Planning, he said, is a coded term for abortion clinic. My family’s lunch conversation concluded by agreeing that it was easy for a cis man who has not and will never marry, who has authority and power over a community, and who does not understand his position in the systematic regulation of female sexuality and reproductive choices, to shame women about their decisions.

Unchanged… it seems that women should just be having kids, or use the rhythm method. 

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.