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

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Books of 2015

I read so many great books this year. It truly paid off to seek out books and works outside the US and people of color.I truly enjoy reading more diverse stories that better reflect the world we live in both in the stories, and their authors. 

So this is a short post, and as such here are my list of books. The stories include People of Color, stories of past-migrations and speculative future ones, real queer stories of fitting in, queer people once again in speculative contexts, stories of love set in revolutions, aliens, and the nuance of what it means to be human. 
 

Books I read in 2015

  1. Ōoku: The inner Chambers, vol 1 by Fumi Yoshinaga
  2. For Colored Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Still Not Enough: Coming Of Age, Coming Out, and Coming Home by Keith Boykin
  3. The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin
  4. On Race and Medicine: Insider Perspectives by Richard García
  5. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel
  6. Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics by bell hooks
  7. All You Need is Kill (graphic novel) by Hiroshi Sakurazaka
  8. The Stars Change by Mary Anne Mohanraj
  9. Como Agua Para Chocolate (like water for chocolate) by Laura Esquivel
  10. The Book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor
  11. Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor
  12. The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro
  13. Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan
  14. Ink by Sabrina Vourvoulias
  15. Bloodchild and Other Stories by Octavia Butler

 

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.

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.