#YoNoMeQuito

No quiero desacreditar la discusión que los proponentes de esta campaña han comenzado. Sólo quiero añadir a la conversación y ver que hay más allá de la campaña mediática y las camisas. Porque, aunque no conozco mucho del movimiento, tampoco he podido encontrar mucho en la red. Conociendo muy poco lo que es #YoNoMeQuito, me pregunto, ¿Cuál es el próposito de este movimiento? ¿Cuál es su constitutición, sus objetivos, sus metas a corto y a largo plazo?

Al principio lo tomé como un afronte a la decisión de muchos que se han ido, porque el lenguaje dice mucho; el decir yo no me quito en Puerto Rico denota contraste de algo o alguien que sí se quitó. Pero imaginé que el propósito era otro, y le di el beneficio de la duda.

Pero aun así, me pregunto: ¿De dónde salió esta campaña y dónde está el diálogo para transformar esta campaña y hacerla nuestra? Porque si ven, Adreline Group está promocionándose a sí mismo por cada #Yonomequito como ven en el gif arriba.

Y creo que el diálogo es importante debido a que hay que articular el nivel de envolvimiento con el trabajador puertorriqueño más allá de un hashtag. De nuevo, ¿A quién está dirigido este mensaje? ¿A quién está esta campaña convenciendo? ¿Cuál es el fin? Estoy bien confundido y un poco molesto, porque la gente ha seguido trabajando mientras sigue sufriendo las consecuencias de la crisis; ¿Quién se está quitando entonces?

Me pregunto porque #YoNoMeQuito me suena a distracción. Distracción que aunque bien intencionada no resuelve mucho. Pero tampoco no es criticar por criticar, porque hay ejemplos de movimientos que sí están movilizando a la gente y tratando de hacer cambio. Un buen ejemplo es #BlackLivesMatter. #BlackLivesMatter no sólo tiene un presencia mediática, si no que tienen metas a corto y a largo plazo. Incluso hay gente nominándose para puestos políticos como DeRay McKesson en Baltimore, mientras que otros están obligando a los candidatos a presidente a articular su política pública respecto a la inequidad racial que está resultando en la muerte de Afroamericanos en manos de la policía.

Quisiera ver más, porque si usted como votante no se quita, tampoco se van a quitar los políticos haciendo y deshaciendo a cuesta del pueblo. Los políticos nos llevaron a este hoyo que es la crisis, y es bien triste que muchos los vayan a re-elegir por sus intransigentes ataduras políticas.

Quisiera ver más, porque si usted como votante no se quita, tampoco se van a quitar los políticos haciendo y deshaciendo a cuesta del pueblo. Los políticos nos llevaron a este hoyo que es la crisis, y es bien triste que muchos los vayan a re-elegir por sus intransigentes ataduras políticas.

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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.

 

 

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. 

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.