Friday, October 18, 2013

My Identity, Her Heritage.

As we leave Hispanic Heritage Month & El Dia De La Raza behind this year, I've started to reflect on my identity once again. Not for me, but for my daughter. Identifying myself as a Latina but also as an "American" was difficult.  However, the environment I grew up in aided in creating a strong sense of identity -- Latino parents, growing up in the most diverse city in the world and peers with similar background. On the other hand my daughter will grow up under different social conditions.  And this is where my reflection lies...will I be able to instill our heritage enough where she can have a strong sense and confidence of her identity?

Having Latino immigrant parents and born in the United States exposed me two two worlds very different from one another. It gave me two languages and sometimes completely different cultural customs. From food, music, art, literature and even manners I had to live in two worlds all at once. While there were feelings of frustrations there was also a sense of pride. Looking at the world from a broader lens gave me the sense of being proud of being bicultural. Coming from an interracial family, my daughter is already exposed to two worlds + one -- the Latino, American and bicultural world. Her first years she will see the world in many shades and hopefully this can aid her to build a strong foundation and sense of pride in where she comes from.

Growing up in New York City and living there the first 27 years of my life gave me the gift of diversity. A gift which gave me the sense of loving who I am, for who I am! The children I played with, to the places I dined, shopped and simply lived my life were of different backgrounds. The varying socio-economic structures of the City gave me a sense of confidence in which I was not brought to hate myself or reject who I was or where I came from. Instead it taught me to embrace and love my diversity because I represented what New York City was all about. With an unfortunate level of gentrification in New York City, this diversity has been pushed more toward the suburbs, rapidly. While still predominantly white (54.7%, according the U.S. Census), Long Island is rapidly shifting away from a monocultural way of life. Presenting a positive and more contemporary environment for future generations.

Peers of a similar bicultural way of life, definitely aided in comforting and strengthening me throughout the years. I was growing up in two worlds and regardless of race, sex, gender, or ethnicity there were others who could relate . A sense of solidarity and comfort grew through these friendships. The unfortunate and inevitable pace of New York City's gentrification, brings upon a new light on suburbs of the Long Island area. People of diverse socio-economic backgrounds, contribute to all ages.

On a positive note, the environment my daughter will be growing up in seems promising. However suburbia's monocultural reputation perpetuating xenophobia and prejudices towards anything different from the "America way of life" does seem to be an obstacle she might have to face. Living here three years I have met, heard, seen, experienced the negative part of old suburbia. And I cannot keep myself from wondering will this "old school" way of thinking be passed down to future generations, including my child's? Will she be shamed away from her roots as I've met and known other Latinos in the area to do so. Or will my skepticism be proved wrong and change truly be present throughout her life.

All I can do for now is celebrate, educate and bring her heritage to life through family and what I've known and experienced living in more than world. Hoping that one day she too will embrace her Latinidad and represent it the way she chooses with pride.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

A Xenophobic and Racist Elephant in the Closet

In the past few months words like -- "Un-American", "Spic", "Mexican", "Immigrant" , "Illegal" have been circulating social media websites, describing people from the Latino community. In response to public appearances of two individuals singing both the National Anthem and "God Bless America". While these words held no effect on both these individuals, it has had an effect on me. It has brought about a pretty obvious problem that in the recent years have come to light towards our community and that is when you add ignorance and fear of the unknown, it equals hostility and violence.

Technology has not only closed gaps amongst societies, it has also brought the cat out of the closet. It has brought about problems people in this country might have neglected to accept. It has brought about issues people chose to sweep under the rug after certain Civil Rights Laws were passed. While policies can be reformed in order to control hate, government cannot so easily erase it from peoples' minds and way of life.

This country was founded by immigrants. Composed of immigrants. These immigrants were European individuals seeking change, acceptance, equality -- a better life. Throughout this country's history, there were different groups of European immigrants who came to this country seeking the same. At first, these groups were isolated, regarded as second-class citizens. However, they shared this status with people of color which quickly incited "Americans" to accept these white immigrants and create an accessible individual mobility for these groups. Their color became key to their social acceptance. And in return this groups quickly left many of their cultural values. To me, that was a heavy price, but as the saying goes, "to each their own", I can respect that.

Fast forward to the 19th, 20th and 21st Centuries and you have different groups of immigrants. Immigrants of color, different races, different customs, different religions. These groups seeking pretty much the same thing the first groups of immigrants sought after when they landed in these soils. However, these groups were not of white race. And to make the scenario a bit more complicated, they did not migrate the same way many of the first group of immigrants migrated. No longer could these communities work their way through society as the prior group of immigrants of the 16th, 17th & 18th Centuries. These groups had obstacles both social and economic. These groups were cast aside as second-class citizens. One of these groups are the Latino community.

A community rich in culture & diversity, not even I can say this is how my culture fully functions. But I can full-heartedly say it is a culture filled with acceptance & tolerance. I say this because we are a culture of diversity ourselves. There is no black/white scenarios to our values and way of life. But one thing is certain many of us hold these values to heart, regardless of what number of generations are living in this country. Our language, our history, our values all form our community. And as a large and growing population in this country it is seemingly scary for many "Americans" in this country. Scary when individuals such as a little boy, Sebastian De La Cruz, sung the National Anthem in a Mariachi Outfit. Scary to know that while he is proud to be born in this country, he is also proud to not leave behind who he is just to be accepted and tolerated. Scary that a young boy like him will grow up as himself and will not bullied into conforming Scary as Marc Anthony, a popular singer, native New Yorker who is proud to sing God Bless America and yet identify himself with his community by being famous for singing in Spanish and yes in English.

They don't fully hold blame for their ignorance. Their ignorance silently resonates through fact-less based media sources, peers, family, even the primary-education system. All these resources lack the proper education on a group of people that have contributed and continue to contribute to this country on all facets of its society.

In the recent years I have fortunately or maybe unfortunately faced a rude awakening. Racism, xenophobia, discrimination has not been abolished regardless of the policies in existence.

I constantly read, see or hear individuals speak of Patriotism. Its a word thrown around the national anthem, supporting troops, fighting terrorism. It is also a word thrown around to excuse hate, violence and perpetual ignorance.

"He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it." These words were uttered by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. As a proud Latina, many have labeled and called me un-Patriotic, amongst derogatory names simply because I am part of the community which will not bargain with its values and culture in order to be accepted. What makes this country unique from others around the globe, is it's diversity. A country founded by immigrants, composed of matter what color we are ALL immigrants or have descended from such. The only difference is that some of us choose not to conform to the norm, but to be who we are in a diverse country. And believing that core value is what makes one Patriotic.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Womyn Should Not Be Shamed Into Society's Norms

In our society today words such as "slut", "hootchie", "whore" are applied on an everyday basis for many girls and young women today. Words that have become acceptable because they turn into headlines in the media, topics for policy reform within our education system; Words used as an excuse to an enduring oppression for women of all ages within our society. A new method of checks and balances as to how and what we should like. And if we don't conform to these norms then we pay the consequences b being labeled these words that are perceived as derogatory.

School policies banning strapless prom dresses in New Jersey or body shaming policies in Stuyvesant High School in NYC enforce a silent message to theses young students on body shaming that will persevere throughout there lives after their academic years and onto adulthood. Not only do these policies send out the message in which young girls bodies are ruled not by themselves but by someone else's, they send out message of insecurity perpetuating a sense of inferiority simply because we're are women. As if being a woman one has to already abide by the approval of others. And if one does not abide by these norms then we would be labeled slut or invite negative actions towards us such as rape.

I clearly remember growing up in a similar culture during my high school years. Where if I wore a mini skirt in High School I'd look like a hootchie. Or if the girl next to me wore a low cut shirt would be slut. One  would be shamed away from wearing what we desired to wear simply because certain outfits would be labeled negatively by our peers. Now if we add today's policies implemented by academic administrators, we are marking a bullseye on young girls today. More victims of bullying, or a legit reason to dignify certain rape cases where "she was asking for it" may be used simply because our institutions have labeled dressing a certain way against the rules.

One does not escape the eyes of critics when we grow up. If anything I'd it becomes worst. In a recent headline, singer/performer Jennifer Lopez was criticized for wearing an inappropriate outfit for her performance in Britain's Got Talent. Labeled as family friendly, critics were on her case as to not dressing more modestly. This brought upon the question as to what a woman should dress like in order to represent modesty amongst a family.

Coming from the city, there was never a definition of what a mom looked like. There was no dress code or any form of socioeconomically labeling a mom in the city. On the other hand a suburban mom can also be known as the soccer mom. Maybe a depiction of a Stepford wife came to mind, but today less 1950s and more SUV, running to play dates, where dressing comfortably was the outfit of the day everyday. Maybe making a generalization but you get the idea. If one decides to move away from the monotonous stereotype of a mom in suburbia one attracts the perpetual body shaming we as women have endured since we were young. Once again the norm of what a mom looks like and what we have to conform to even if we might not agree continues to oppress us on an individual level.

Body shaming simply perpetuates the notion that women's appearances are valued over what we contribute to our society on a social and economic level. School policies surrounding itself on body shaming simply enforces and teaches students body shaming is permissible. This notion extends itself post academia and onto other steps in their lives. We should be able to wear and carry ourselves however we want. We should be able to celebrate our diversity as women not attack each other or enable ways and methods of oppression amongst us. There should not be a specific definition of what a girl should look like or a mom should look like or any woman should look like. We should not look over our shoulders for approval. We should celebrate our differences and our ability to choose what we want to be because it makes US happy.

Friday, March 8, 2013

A Reflection on International Women's Day...

Today is International Women's Day and a day of reflection for many, if not all of us. I will not rant on how we are Divas and Goddesses of the world. Instead I will rant upon my reflections as a woman and the legacy I have followed and hope to pass onto my daughter.

Today I reflect on the women in my family and some of the women I've met throughout my life. Today I reflect on what I hope to pass onto my daughter. How I hope to empower her. How I hope she can empower herself in a world full of gray complexities. A world in which empowered and enriched my identity.

While I think of all these women everyday through my decisions, my writing and thoughts....I'd like to point them out today.

A mothers love and care for her family is impacting and never leaves a daughter's thoughts no matter how old she is. As the oldest in my family I remember my mother's sacrifices. Her three hours of sleep were enough for her every day, working over eight hours and still having the energy caring for us. Sacrificing her desire to be with my brother and I at all time in order to provide for us alongside  my father. Yet still making time to be with us even for a few hours. Today she is a doting and wise grandmother who passes down her wisdom and surprises me everyday on all things she knows.

I never met my grandmother. But it really doesn't matter due to the legacy she left behind. I saw it everyday growing up as my father would tell us stories of my grandmothers strength. Stories my aunts and uncles would tell would simply reaffirm that she was my version of Wonder Woman. I was named after her and till this day I feel it's a name I hold dear and heavily. She became a mother at thirteen and mothered eight children. With the help of my great great grandmother she became a strong business woman and sole provider of her family. She died young but her name lives on through stories of fairness, devotion and love not only with her family but with people she helped through her good fortune.

College was a transforming experience for me. After high school I thought I knew it all, I thought I knew myself...but I was wrong. Who knew taking a Latina Women course would change my life forever.  As an elective I thought it would be a breeze to take yet it proved to be one of the most difficult it was a course which wasn't based on what I would learn from a textbook. Instead it was a course which I was forced to learn about mysel and who I really was. Through Professor Elizabeth Garcia's course I faced the complexities I was exposed to and was taught I actually had choices within them. Following her two additional courses in college I grew to learn about myself and understand in depth where I came from and how it formed me to be the person I was. I felt liberated, accepting of myself for all the gray areas I had. I embraced my identity as a woman, as a Latina, as a human being. I met other young Latinas such as myself and realized we all navigated through a gray area in which only we would understand. And while it was hard it empowered us for hit ever lied ahead.

As a new mom, I'm scared. Scared to fuck up. Yeah I know all parents say or think the same. But I am scared to not continue passing down this sense of empowerment to my daughter. I don't want to teach my daughter on how to be a little diva. I don't think of manis and pedis or dress up--- who knows if she'll even like that!! Instead  I want to pass down love and humanism. I hope to pass down a sense of activism and pride for who she is. And not for what this society expects her to be. I want to pass down strength and love for education and the wisdom her ancestors have passed down. I hope to teach her tolerance of diversity in the world.

Being from the city, living and now raising a child in suburbia, an unkown culture, I know all of this might be hard. Briefly being exposed to a culture obsessed with image and status I have come to realize I will be working overtime exposing her to a world beyond one single environment. A world that while it might be complex to navigate through, its worth doing so.

I hope to teach my daughter everything these women in my life have taught me. I hope to teach her what I learned and continue learning  on my own. I hope I will never teach her hypocrisy. I hope she has the opportunity to meet amazing human beings as I have had the privilege to.

I hope many things for her...the list could go on. But to sum it up I hope she will always find fulfillment on the three pillars....spiritual, physical and mental.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

A Latina Whom Attained a College Degree & Stayed at Home

As I took in my fill of daily news from vast resources, I toppled over a depicting article on the record number of Latinas attending College and staying at home. An article which sparked a sense of nostalgia for me as I can understand this observation.

According to the Pew Hispanic Center -- 611,000 Latina Females are enrolled in two year colleges. Unlike African-American and Whites, there are further and deeper factors to approaching and attaining a College Education.Based on the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute in 2003, factors of family, cultural tradition and community factoring in a young Latina/o's decision on where to attain a College education. The sense of familismo, personalismo, machismo, marianismo all factor in (of course, on different levels according to individual experience).

Not only am I first-generation Latina in the United States, I am also the oldest in my family. As the oldest, I took on many responsibilities. Taking care of my brother, helping my two hard-working immigrant parents in every aspect. One can say I grew up rather quickly; at eight years old I spoke English and Spanish fluently becoming my family's advocate in all aspects of life. I learned of the importance of family in order to succeed in this world and thus it resonated (still does) through everything I do.

Education is an important pillar of my family. Attaining it was and is the best inheritance my parents could have instilled in my brother and I. Be that as it may, attaining it had its differences compared to many of my peers in High School.

My senior year was crucial as the question of whether or not I would continue my education was fervently present! I did not come from a top-tiered high school. It was actually a poorly funded school. We had a small prospective graduating class and many of the same were already struggling enough in trying to stay on a passing scale. Many of us came from struggling social and economic backgrounds so the idea of College seemed far to most.

However, an opportunity opened at the start of my last year. A scholarship to DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana!!  Out of eight candidates, only two scholarships were available and I was offered one of those opportunites. My hard work in school and support from my family helped me get there. The question was, would I take it? One signature of acceptance would grant me the opportunity to attain the education my family & I desired.

Reflecting upon this question, unlike other cultures, as a Latina I was not able accept the scholarship. Not only for my family who did question as to why would one have to travel in order to attain an education; but for myself. My family's support was pivotal in my success in academia and moving away from that, I was confident it would only hinder my goals to attain a College degree. Instead I chose to attend a CUNY College and pursue my Masters within the CUNY system as well. A decision rewarding me with amazing and inspirational Professors and peers.

Looking back to this decision, I have no regrets. At first it was difficult as boundaries of understanding were established between my family and I. We relied on each other but they established a support system in which helped me attain a standard GPA and willingness to pursue an advanced degree in Political Science. Yes, I still was my family's advocate but THEY were my foundation to attaining something no one can ever take away from me.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

In Two Worlds, Love & Life Turn It Into One

What we assumed to be a routine doctor’s appointment for my husband and I, turned out to be a life changing point in our lives on May 9th, 2012 – we were pregnant! Both excited with the news, we knew our lives would forever change.   

After notifying both sides of the family, our cultural differences would evidently be present in the next chapter of our lives. And while it all has been positive, my husband, our families and I would have to again, re-acquaint ourselves with our cultural differences.

Living and interacting with women in my suburban community has led me to observe a difference in which Michelle Fine and Lois Weis stated on their book, The Unknown City: The Lives of Poor and working-class young adults.  A perception that good mothering was mostly present in a circumstance of money, time and excess; what I have recognized suburbia to be, to a certain extent. Despite this broad perspective of positive mothering, Latina mothering would challenge this concept through its cultural values of familismo.

While a mother/father’s economic capabilities are essential within any cultural realm, family is equally as important. Coming from a predominantly Latino neighborhood in Queens and growing up with a vast amount of Latino peers, family was recognized as a core foundation to growing up. Most of us might have been part of large families, with a low economic background nevertheless, there was always mamita, papito, ñañito, tio/a, abuelito/a; among many other family members to raise us, instilling values education, morality, spirituality augmenting our cultural traits.

Our parents represent these two separate but equally important perceptions of what good parenting would be. And while many new parents might have a huge checklist to cover on preparing themselves to be a parent, our parents seem to be providing much of it.

My in-laws have been very much present in this journey they have been so helpful in making sure our home is ready to welcome a baby. Home repairs have been the order of the day from my father in law and an essential commodity check-list from my mother in-law has been and I know will be useful in months to come.

On the other hand, my parents are equally as amazing. As a first time mom-to-be, there are vast amount of changes that I have been going through – psychologically, physically & spiritually. My mom has been a great mentor and adviser. Her love, example and words have been encouraging and essential from day one to both my husband and I. My fears and concerns are comforted by her maternal experience and love. She brings my Ecuadorian roots to life with home remedies, embodiment of maternity and motherhood and self-empowerment.  My dad’s words of experience and sense of openness as a parent provides a foundation for us, as parents to be.

According to an African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child” and in our case, it seems as such. Our parents bring two important aspects essential to soon to become parents such as my husband and I. And we are both confident and ecstatic there are grandparents, parents and even a loving uncle that await to bring two worlds together into one unique and exciting adventure!

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Monday, August 27, 2012

In A Fast-Growing Latino Student Body, The Importance of Ethnic Studies is Essential to Both Latinos and Non-Latinos

Being around other Latino peers such as myself throughout the first five years within the New York City Public School system, made me overlook that we, as a community were a minority within society. It was not until Junior High School, where I realized how small of a student body Latinos were in the public school system.  

The lack of ethnic studies only added to the perpetuated social isolation within the primary and secondary public education environment. Somehow the rich history of Latinos within the United States got lost among Pilgrims, Ellis Island and World/Cold Wars. We were lost among a richly Euro/White-centric academic curriculum. And thus, we as students were lost, only trying to find our identities in a society that kept us as foreign.  

According to the Pew Hispanic Center for Research, between 1972 and 2011, Latino public school students K-12 rose from 6.0% to 23.9%. One in every four students are Latino present day, and in twenty-five years it will be one in every three.

Parallel to this rapid growth, certain States have adopted a method to empowering and recognizing the Latino community. One example would be the Tucson Unified School District, like other Districts in other states have adopted some form of ethnic studies program designed to include and thus educate students within a diverse community. While empowering their sense of identity, students learn of the rich history their communities have within this country.

As of January of 2012, the governing board of the Tucson School District banned this program, claiming it was unlawful and dangerous to this country’s security. However, last time I checked history should not be selective in providing facts.

It wasn’t until I enrolled in College where I found a sense of self-identity and empowerment. Ethnic studies, history and political science were some of the many courses that opened my eyes to facts left out of the primary and secondary public school system. No one can say history is pleasant and I will agree, much of what is left out is history of oppression, marginalization and subjugation.  

Nevertheless, these facts are an important part to learn as both a Latino/a and non-Latino/a. Contrary to what many conservatives might fear, knowledge of the truth does not promote hate towards the society we live in.  It provides a sense of self-identity and worth within this country. A sense of responsibility to move forward, away from mistakes that may have been committed due to lack of knowledge and tolerance. As well as an appreciation to what our ancestors contributed to U.S. History.

We are the largest growing minority in the United States, thus society has to accept this rapid change and instead of isolating our community through hateful policies and bans on ethnic studies programs; they should recognize us, as Latinos. As many immigrants before us, we have our own history, identity and way of life. We cannot be forced to live through other communities’ histories nor identify through their way of life and how they assimilated to this country. For if we continue to be isolated, this fact too, will resonate throughout history. Perpetuating a division within a country that is rapidly changing its demographics, isolation will simply create the animosity that conservatives fear if policies of tolerance and diverse education were implemented.