WOC

Full Time Woman of Color Returning Student Blues

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I’m in my second semester as an undergraduate student. It’s not my first second semester. It’s been almost 17 years since I first attended college as a fresh eager young adult and I can remember my second semester of my first year at a New England liberal arts school as a scholarship student also working three jobs on campus. A lot of the stressors are the same. I didn’t find the work particularly difficult, there was just a lot of it back then. I had to balance papers, readings, class discussions with work back then. Now, I’m juggling a full course load while with a few freelance gigs here and there, while balancing taking care of a family and a home. There’s a reason why I think it’s good to go to school when you’re younger. You generally have more energy. The physical drain of going to classes is felt so much more in my 36 year old body.

But there is something else. The first second semester of my undergraduate education felt hard because I felt isolated as a student of color from the city in a mostly white  suburban environment. I was dorming with roommates who felt threatened by my involvement in political causes like the working against police brutality and speaking out about the Puerto Rican political prisoners. My dorm room altar to the ancestors and Orishas scared them. My music annoyed them. It didn’t feel safe for me the way they felt unsafe around me and my ethnic markers.

Privileged white students bothered me then, when I was 18 and 19 years old I wrapped myself in the comfort of my community in New York City that I could always return to and who would send me care packages of news clippings of rallies and other events I was physically missing but was connected to.

Here, I am far from my home of New York City again but by choice. My community here is my little blended family in our house in the hood, my small circle of mostly women of color friends, and my years of experience as an activist and writer which I always draw strength and inspiration from.

It’s funny though, how in higher ed, even if its a community college setting while I wait for my old credits to transfer over so I can finish my Bachelor’s degree at a four year college, things haven’t changed that much when it comes to the low expectations set for students of color and the blatant display of privileged temper tantrums coming from certain students when confronted with the ugly reality that has always lived outside their sheltered doors.

In my journalism class, where few know of my extensive work as an independent media maker, I was told, in front of my class of mostly young Chicano students how ambitious I was for daring to say I intended to transfer to a private university. In that same class, I was given a backhanded compliment, told my writing was so good they had to check and make sure it wasn’t plagiarized because of my extensive vocabulary. When I’ve gone out to do interviews for the student newspaper, I am complimented on my professionalism and on doing my homework when asking questions. These compliments have come from professors and students alike.

Is so little expected of certain college students that good work is praised in a coded way that repeats stereotypes of what students of color are capable of?

In English class, where we are having discussions on privilege, today there was a small backlash from some white women who resented having to read texts that critiqued the growing gap between classes and how that was connected to race, gender, and sexuality.

They actually defended the idea that not every child could have clean, safe playgrounds and protested what they felt was an attack, by a woman of color author whom they met only as ink in the class textbook.

“It’s not my fault I have a $500 bag.”

“It’s not my fault my parents gave me a car,”

“There are so many opportunities for single mothers like food stamps and financial aid.”

“What do you mean every parent can’t buy their child a microscope to play with?”

I thought that as a 36 year old woman these things would be easier to hear coming from the mouths of young students. Part of me just wanted to shake my head and dismiss the above actual comments as a result of youthful privileged innocence. But as a 36 year old woman, I also know better. I know the adults some of these students will become. They will become the politicians, the pundits, the doctors I take my kids to with my their Medi-Cal card who speak down to me assuming I won’t understand their jargon.

I want to do a better job at documenting these experiences. There is so much talk about ensuring that young students of color succeed in higher education without real consideration about how lowered expectations and stereotypes do so much damage that cannot be fully measured in dropout and retention rates. I want to document these experiences not just as a therapeutic exercise for myself, as my writing always has been, but also as a call for reflection and discussion among students, academics and would be  higher ed students.

My teenage daughter and stepson are both looking at colleges with excitement and I’m sure a little bit of apprehension. I want good, challenging experiences for them that will raise them up, not make them further doubt themselves.

People don’t say poor students of color can’t do well outright. It’s much more coded now in the language of common core standards and long standing practices of underfunding now hidden under the guise of school choice and new tracking that asks students to deny their languages and cultures.
I’m privileged to be experiencing higher ed again but as an adult woman of color with a rich arsenal of experiences under her belt, I can see things that so many can’t or won’t. Out of this privilege comes a sense of responsibility to speak up and shine a light on this system. I don’t know what will come out of it but here I go.

Loving Each Other Harder in Academia and Beyond

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The view from one of my classes last semester.

The view from one of my classes last semester.

There is no other choice. 2013 reminded us of that. Projects like #FemFuture, roundtables where absence shouted louder than words, forums that threatened the bodies, hearts and minds of women of color affirmed what those of us connected in person and through keyboards have known historically, have historically carried in our blood, that loving one another and ourselves as hard as we can at any given moment is our very survival.

When I tweeted to my dear herman@ BlackAmazon in April of last year that we needed to love each other harder in the face of the violence of erasure and making invisible, those were more than words. It is a practice. It is negotiating complicated relationships with one another and the world we have to face everyday. It’s more than just public love letters back and forth. It’s everything in between. Everything that is not seen or not publicized. It is aching feet from retail battling with itchy hands wanting to write, tongues anxious to speak.

Now those words – chosen carefully: loving each other harder is an event, The 2nd Women of Color Student Conference (formerly the Women of Color Student Summit) of the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities Campus.

This raised so many mixed feelings in me. I was honored and humbled that my words and feelings were connected to something larger.   I was a student of color in a four-year university environment. I remember how hard it was. My survival there was based on relationships that I built with other women of color. Those women were fellow students and there were also faculty who faced discrimination from students, from faculty and from the administration.

While it was not the hostile environment that ultimately caused me to leave that institution it certainly played a role. As a first year student in the New England liberal arts college I was harassed because of the music I listen to because of how I spoke because of where I came from and because of people’s perception of all the aforementioned. The fact that I chose not to shrink back into invisibility, the fact that I chose to fight back through being active on the campus by being outspoken by creating events and performing poetry, by defending professors of color who were not given tenure, by hosting events on colonialism including the Puerto Rican political prisoners and my hourly manifesting in my dorm room my culture, my history, and my spiritual beliefs and practices made me more target. I was a threat. I was so much of a threat that my roommates essentially got me kicked out of my dorm at the end of my first year. I left after the first semester of my second year.

From the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities Campus:

Loving Each Other Harder will continue and expand upon those themes, and provide an[MO1]  opportunity for attendees to examine these ideas in the context of intersectionality. What are the multiple identities of women of color? How do they affect the learning, leading and living experiences of women of color students, particularly at predominantly white institutions (PWIs)? How do these identities affect how women of color see and work with one another?

16 years later I returned to school to continue where I left off. I didn’t return to a four year, predominantly white institution. I returned to a community college that was predominantly people of color. Right now I am applying to transfer to a four year predominantly white institution. I wonder what that will look like for me – my multiple identities: NYRican, mami, returning/non-traditional/not young, working etc. How will I work with and see the other students? How will they see me? The fact that the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities campus is hosting such an event, for the second year in a row, shows me what I have heard from so many others, that little has changed for women of color since I left college 16 years ago.

I know I am not the only one with these questions, which is why I welcome the space that the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities is creating. I hope that the space will be replicated beyond a once a year a conference and be integrated into the daily work of that university and others. It is needed, for me, for others.

On Making Lists and List Making

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Whenever a new year begins media makers put out lists of trends and people to watch. These lists deal with fashion, politics, films, art and increasingly social media.

I’m no stranger to these lists. In my over a decade of being a Latin@ media maker for fun and profit I have found my name and my work on a number of these lists. This year started with me being named one of 8 Latinas You Should Be Following on Twitter by Cosmo for Latinas.

I never know quite how to react when I make these lists. I’d be fronting if I wrote that I don’t like the ego stroking, the momentary attention that comes with being named. As an independent Latina media maker who has never shied away from controversy, the affirmation, however ephemeral, feels good. I’m always also humbles when I make such lists. While making the Cosmo for Latina list probably has something to do with a feature article I wrote for their upcoming Spring 2014 print edition, it also has to do with years of hard work and constantly putting myself out there despite not being “traditional” and constantly challenging the idea that mujeres como yo do not deserve space, a voice, a spotlight. On this particular list I find myself sharing digital space with the heads of non-profits and “feminists”, titles I don’t claim.

When I make these lists, of course I share the information. I express my gratitude. Things I’m supposed to do. Then I do what I’m not supposed to do: delve a little deeper.

I look at this list and others and note who gets named and who doesn’t. Looking at the label “Latina”, it’s mostly white or white looking Latinas, straight and cisgender Latinas, college educated Latinas who have followed the “correct” path of upward mobility, and visibility in their field. I think of all the Latin@s I know and love, the women of color, the AfroLatin@s, the mamis who have had my back and vice versa when we are hot but most importantly, when we are not – which is more often.

It’s never been a goal of mine to be on a list, to represent or speak for anyone else except for my lived experiences and myself and things I have witnessed, heard, held down conversations about, studied, analyzed. When I joined Twitter almost six years ago, like when I extended my life online way before then, it was for me and it still is very much for me and it’s been good for me. I tweet about politics, live tweet significant and insignificant events. I’ve gotten work through twitter. I’ve made deep friendships through twitter.  I’ve found love through twitter.

Being on a list though – any list – doesn’t mean everything or anything though. Being “known” especially as a woman of color doesn’t mean I’m well paid. In fact, at this very moment I don’t have a steady, full-time job. I worry about where and when my next paycheck is coming from.

I am not a malagradecida though. I’m very grateful for each and every moment I live and share, online and off and the people who have been with me and the new people I find and who find me in all my complexities, with all my greatness and all my flaws.

Why We Can’t Ignore Being Ignored or Accused of “Sniping”

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I cannot count the number of times I have sat across a table or beside BlackAmazon, how many times I have texted, emailed, or said on the phone to her “You just need to ignore them. Don’t give them so much of your precious energy”. The conversation has been repeated for as long as I have been on the internet and even before. Who are the voices that get heard and how do they get heard? How can people hear/see me and my experiences.

Before I moved to Los Angeles, one of the last things I did was watch Beasts of the Southern Wild with BA and when it was over the two of just sat next to each other. She was quiet and I was stifling sobs. Not because it was a “great” movie but because the two of us, as two very different women of color felt so much for Quvenzhané Wallis, as a character and most importantly as a little black girl. And we knew, with all the clairvoyance that history and our lived experiences give women of color, what would happen.

Ignore it. Don’t give it your precious energy.

And then #FemFuture

Ignore It. Don’t Give it your precious energy.

But I did. My peeps were talking, writing and responding. It wasn’t that I was jumping on the band wagon. But like WAM! Like Seal Press, all the other invites, tokenizing, reports, books, conferences, blogs non-attribution, lack of solidarity, this was about work love, love work, love and work being diminished, pushed aside, misnamed as hate, jealousy, sniping. This was and is again about selective memory and history.

We can’t ignore it. It is our precious energy.

When I met BFP for the first time I reached out and touched her. I told her “somos carne” – we are real flesh, not just what we choose to write about, share, make money off of, get our degrees on, get grants to present and travel. This is about three mamas, Noemi, Fabi and I, sitting in a room in Detroit, children playing at our feet, eating out of a cooler and us laughing so hard until we cried. Crying so hard until we laughed. It’s about a hand rubbing Rose’s back at a conference table as she spoke in the face of transphobia masked in “good intentions”. It’s about sitting in TK’s living room with her worrying about how her daughter will go to college. It’s about hearing BA sing, watching Nadia recite into a mic, seeing Anna with my teen, witnessing Lex dancing, recording voice with Moya, and chopping vegetables with Adela. It’s about visiting Stacey’s hotel room with cupcakes. Making sure the house has a ramp. Making sure your friend has a bed to sleep on even if it’s in your living room. It’s about Karla and I ordering room service and going to the gym with Jun-Fung. It’s about two Mariposas telling me I belong. It’s about Bianca sending me coffee and giving books to my teen and Lenee introducing la Mapu to Turquoise Jeep.

It’s not new and that gets old. Every few years something will rear it’s ugly head at us and remind us that everything we did and do for each other doesn’t have value in someone else’s version of the future. This is not a debate about “feminism”. I’ve given up on that easily and without an ounce of shame. It’s about how we as women of color, trans people of color, gender non-conforming people of color, our familias, our kids have been making a future everyday online and off.

You can’t ignore our precious energy. It’s what we give unto the world everyday whether we are working long ass low paying hours in retail, getting our Doctorates, making movies, writing poetry, skyping, making websites, breaking or building relationships, curating fashion shows. We are constantly communicating our lives, making media that reflects the path behind us and sets the stones for the road before us.

The future has been here all along. Choosing to ignore that, not cite it is to erase our precious energy that is our very being. And we will not allow it.

We Love Each Other Too Hard.

Single Mami’hood and Sexuality Under (Wed)lock & Key

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Yesterday two states, Michigan and Arizona, held their Republican presidential primaries and my womb apparently is on the campaign trail. At the last GOP debate in Arizona, all of the candidates took a lot of time to blame single mothers, especially brown single mothers, for many problems in the United States. The mainstream media, including a front page New York Times article, has fallen in line attacking single mothers of color and our kids for the poor state of the economy, crime, failing schools and the threat of nuclear weapons in Iran. Ok maybe not what’s happening in Iran but the arguments are just as ridiculous.

This revived attack on brown single mami’hood is just another front of a war of anti-Latino sentiment. It’s root is that same that led to anti-immigrant laws like SB 1070 in Arizona and HB 56 in Alabama. It doesn’t take a big leap to move from targetting anchor babies to calling my being a single mother of two a “social catastrophe”. It’s not hard to say that poor brown people with uteruses shouldn’t choose the type of families they want to create when in some states it has already been determined what books shouldn’t be put in the hands of our youth.

As Bianca Laureano points out one of her recent RH Reality Check columns, the cultural and sexual habits and values of Latin@s are still read through old, racist narratives like Oscar Lewis’s La Vida and  Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s The Negro Family. Rich Lowry, who was given a whole page to trash brown single motherhood in the same issue of TIME that highlights the power the power of the Latino vote, cites the Moynahan report as just the beginning of how a problem of “the underclass” (people of color) has climbed outside the realm of race. In other words, brown loose morals are catching. According to the editor of the National Review (full disclosure : I went to high school with the online editor of the NR), us poor, people of color just aren’t following the example of the upper classes who cling to marriage as a class rite of passage. Marriage, according to Lowry, is a way to climb the social ladder, if only we poor single moms would get on that ladder and find ourselves a good man. Lowry goes so far as to suggest a public service campaign in favor of marriage mobility with First Lady Michelle Obama as its spokeswoman.

There are quite a number of problems with the arguments presented by Lowry and by all who point to single mamis as the downfall of modern society. The whole family model relies on the invented notion of a whole, nuclear family that only really exists in the realm of 1950’s sitoms. I took enough sociology and history classes to know that The good ole days were never that good. The family model we are expected to aspire to leaves out extended families and families of choice including LGBTQ families. The assumption is that because I don’t have a ring on my finger that my kids are not inside a warm, loving home with multiple people caring for them. It assumes that the only legitimate relationship comes with a certificate. It assumes that it is better to be in marriage that contains violence than it is to be single it also assumes that women of color don’t have a right to control their sexuality.

It’s not that women of color have more sex than white women, it’s that the state has always intervened to control when and under what circumstances we will have sex and what the outcomes will be. Slavery, sexual violence via colonialism, forced sterilizations, rape, forced abortions, forced child birth, childbirth in chains, non-consensual medical prosedures and experiments have all been used as ways to control our allegedely uncontrolable sexuality. Women like me, unmarried women who haven’t achieved a certain academic or economic status, women who aren’t white – well we are just expected to keep our knees locked unless told or forced to do otherwise. Enjoyable sexual experiences are not for us.

We, women of color are blamed for having children out of wedlock and then having those children have more children. Forget the fact that according to a recent report by The Guttmacher Institute
the teen pregnancy rate dropped by 37% among Hispanics. The fact that the rates of teen pregnancy among black and Hispanic teens remain 2–3 times as high as that of non-Hispanic white teens isn’t blamed on a failing healthcare system or a failing education system (have you seen what passes for sex ed?). It’s blamed on our hot blooded culture. A large body of research has shown that the long-term decline in teen pregnancy, birth and abortion rates was driven primarily by improved use of contraception among teens. But instead lawmakers like Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) want to pass laws that limit access especially to poor people of color.

I am sure that many would love to use my picture, my life, my story as a poster for what not to do. A Nuyorican twice single mami, without a college degree, struggling financially. It’s easy to give a white man like the editor of the National Review a page in a major magazine about my poor values than to ask someone like me how I am making it. It’s easier to have a major magazine run a feature on how important my vote is as a Latin@ than to confront the reasons why my vote is more important than my right to decide when and what goes in or comes out of my body. It’s easier but that doesn’t make it right and it doesn’t mean that while people are trying to lock my knees together, I should lock my lips.

Mamis Are the Movements : The New Mythos Tour

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Mami is a core part of my identity, my life. It seeps into every letter, every post, everything I breath out and take back in. I am proud to announce that we are a part of The New Mythos Tour that is jumping off next week and ask all VL readers and supporters to extend their love and support as well.

Gloria Anzaldua says: “By creating a new mythos – that is, a change in the way we perceive reality, the way we see ourselves, and the ways we behave – la mestiza creates a new consciousness. The work of mestiza consciousness is to break down the subject/object duality that keeps her prisoner and to show in the flesh and through the images in her work how duality is transcended. The answer to the problem between the white race and the colored, between males and females, lies in healing the split that originates in the very foundation of our lives, our culture, our languages, our thoughts. A massive uprooting of dualistic thinking in the individual and collective consciousness is the beginning of a long struggle, but one that could, in our best hopes, bring us to the end of rape, of violence, of war.”

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Who’s Your Mama : Event at Food for Thought in Amherst on November 13th

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Cross-posted from VivirLatino

223I met the organizer of this event, TK, at the Allied Media Conference this past summer. Another amazing mami media maker puts together an amazing event. Those in the Amherst area represent and support.

NOVEMBER 13, 2009 * 7PM
Food for Thought Books

Please join us for a very special evening of women’s voices and responses to benefit To Tell you the Truth. Featuring Who’s Your Mama: Unsung Voices of Women and Mothers (Edt. by Yvonne Byone) Contributors: JLove Calderon (We Got Issues!/ That White Girl), Marcella Runell Hall Hall (Hip Hop Education Guidebook) and Marla Teyolia (Empowered Mama!). On site childcare provided.

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A Favorite Latina on the Web Needs Our Support

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Crossposted from VivirLatino:

I’m really honored that Guanabee named yours truly one of their favorite Latinas on the web.

Some deal explicitly with Latino issues, some don’t. Some are funny, some are creative, some are activists, all are uniquely amazing, inspiring women who, we think, are some of the best at what they do.

I am especially honored by some of my company on the list, including dear mami amiga, Noemi Martinez of Hermana Resist. As a single mami media maker, I appreciate what Noemi does and understand the struggle it is to express yourself in a given medium with no source of funding and with kids yelling, learning, laughing and getting sick as your background soundtrack. Which is why I am asking you to help my mami hermana.

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The Story of Angeline Hassell : The Double Victimization of Survivor’s of Domestic Violence

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Cross-Posted at VivirLatino

Angeline Hassell’s struggle to assert her mami rights and her struggle against violence perpetuated first by her partner than by the family court system here in NYC is something I’ve posted on before.

Here’s Angeline, in her own words, with her own voice speaking about domestic violence and not from a place of theory but from her own personal experience. Angeline goes back to court here in Queens, NYC on October 19th.