My Abuela: Mariana Gonzalez

She was a typical Puerto Rican woman in so many ways that pain me to explain:

  1. She never went to school and was illiterate.
  2. She had ten children and raised them alone.
  3. She lived in Brooklyn, NY in her adult years.
  4. She was taught to serve men.
  5. She sacrificed her entire life for her children.

 

My grandmother was a warrior. A luchadora. She passed from pancreatic cancer when I was 11 and therefore I really don’t know much about her. I’ve been taught that she had a difficult life but she always kept a smile on her face. She believed that no matter how little you have, you always have a plate of rice and beans to give someone. That’s love.

As I transition back into NYC, the place my grandmother called home for so many years, I’ve decided that I have to collect her story. I will go back to her old apartment in Downtown Brooklyn and find neighbors who remember her. I’ll book a flight to Arecibo, Puerto Rico and learn about her island years, the years that shaped her beginnings. I will write her story because she deserves to have it known to the world.

 

I love you, Abuela.

 

 

Stay tuned…

 

 

Gabrielle G.

Mezcla by Gabrielle Krystal Greiner

Growing up biracial in upstate NY was like living in two different worlds that ignored each other: a white world and an “other” world. The white world consisted of the Italians, Germans, Jews, Irish, and other European descendants. The “other” world housed…everyone else: Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, East Asians, African-Americans, Indians, Pakistanis, etc. We were all lumped into that suffocating group called “other.” That word always baffled me and it still ticks me off when I see it listed on governmental forms that ask me to tick off my “race.” What is other? What’s “other” to me may not be “other” to you, and vice versa. It just seems like it’s a word with no weight: it’s empty.
In my household, my brother and I had parents from two different worlds that loved each other: “German white man” and “Puerto Rican other woman.” My last name is very German and since my first name isn’t Maria or Carmen, most people assume I am completely white before they meet me. I imagine prospective employers glance at my name on my resume and think, “Oh she’s white. Let’s call her.” Maybe that’s my own insecurity, but maybe not. I wonder if the interviewer is disappointed to see that I’m not fully white. Or maybe they’re excited to see that I am a person of color, so I can help them appear to be “diverse.” It’s something to ponder.
Since I grew up in a suburban neighborhood, this means that I grew up with white kids. Most of my friends from my childhood were white and I saw nothing wrong with that. The concept of ethnicity, I hate the word “race”, never really impacted me. Yes, my parents are of two different skin colors, but what does that signify?
Unfortunately, when I was around fourteen, my notions of ethnicity shifted and I felt pressured to give in to cultural stereotypes. The other Latinas at my school, none of them my friends, silently pressured and persuaded me to drop my “white girl act”, and start speaking in Ebonics. If I were to wear earrings, they must be massive hoops. My jeans must be so tight that my stomach bulges over top and my t-shirts must be equally tight so my body looks like it’s in sausage casing. My preferred music choices, namely the Beatles and Edith Piaf, had to change. Now I was to listen to Daddy Yankee and Marc Anthony. Oh, and the fact that I’m not fluent in Spanish? Huge problem. I should learn Spanish because I’m not Puerto Rican enough without the language constantly flowing off my tongue.
All of these things I could pretend to enjoy for a short while, but one thing made me realize that I was indeed “other” and no amount of reggaeton or Apple Bottom jeans would change that: I had light skin. You see, prior to this point, I always assumed that my skin was a caramel shade of brown. It was compared to my white friends, but the other Latinas were darker than I. In my mind, to be a Latina, you had to be dark. One winter day, meaning one day when I was especially pale and yellow, my father drove me to school and I asked him to buy me a self-tanner.

“Why do you want a self-tanner? You’re already tan.”

“I know, Dad, but I’m not dark enough. I want to be darker because I feel like I look weird. My skin is so light but my other features are very Puerto Rican. I just want to look…normal.”

My dad was quiet for a long time but his silence said everything that he could not say to his vulnerable mixed child.

Finally, he said, “I’ll buy you that if you want it.”

What I realize now is that my hatred of my skin was actually a form of hatred of him. If not hatred, then rejection. By rejecting my light skin, I was rejecting my father and his German blood that rushes through my veins. I was telling him, “I’m ashamed to be related to you. My conception was a mistake. Now I’ve got to fix that mistake you’ve created.” Perhaps I’m being a bit melodramatic, but you get the gist. After much prayer and careful consideration, I changed my mind. I didn’t buy the self-tanner and I thank God that I didn’t. I still struggle with accepting my skin color. Some days, I wish I were darker. Others, I wish I were lighter. I know that it will take my entire life to understand who I am as a woman, a Puerto Rican, a German, and a Christian.

But, it’s a process that I aim to enjoy as best I can. Everyone has an opinion on my ethnic identity but mine is the only one that matters. As a person who is Ricandeutsch, yes I coined my own ethnic term, I have allowed myself to enjoy eating rice and beans while I watch Jane Austen films. I can sip on the sweet coconut syrup from a piragua, a Puerto Rican snowcone, while vehemently arguing why When Harry Met Sally is the greatest film ever made. I don’t adhere to anyone’s definition of Latina or “white.” I create my own definition and dance through my own world, knowing that I’m breaking the borders society built around me. I pray that while I walk in freedom, I can bring this liberation to so many other young girls and boys who are told they are not enough, simply because they were born in between.

Strands and Roots

She combed my hair. I screamed, warning my elder brother to stop his mocking or he was seriously going to feel my eight-year old’s wrath. Tears streaming down my face, I cursed this black, curly mop atop my tender head. Why did it have to hurt so much? Why couldn’t my hair comb out gently like my friend Heather’s? Her auburn waves swished from side to side as she walked. My hair never moved; it defied movement. My favorite time of the day was when my hair was wet and in a ponytail. Although it dried to a curly poof, when it was wet, it swished for a few minutes. I felt pretty when my hair swished and immediately felt unworthy when it dried.

“Gabby! Look! You have blonde and red strands in your hair.” Sniffling and snotty, I ceased my sobbing. “I do? Where?” My mother pulled them over my head so I could see them and there they were. Indeed, this brown-skinned girl had blonde and red hair on her head. “But why?”

“That’s because your father is German and Irish, Gabby. See?” At that age, I wasn’t aware that red hair is actually not as common in Ireland as we all think it is, and I was swept up into the mystery of it all. My seemingly homogeneous black curly head was invaded by these straight blonde and red strands and I decided to find out where they started.
I used to study my face in the mirror next to my parents’ bedroom. Their union had created me, mixed me. I could clearly see that my skin resembled my mother’s although her tone seemed more of a true brown and I could glimpse traces of yellow and white in mine. My eyes were definitely hers: large and dark brown. I’ve been told that I have “mysterious” eyes. I think the only mystery is that you can’t see through them, like you can with blue and green eyes. I’m grateful for my dark eyes. My eyes hide the secrets I dare not tell. My hair I always assigned to my beautiful Puerto Rican mother, although her curls were looser and softer than mine had ever been. The day that my mother pointed out the different colors and textures of my hair, my mixed hair, I began to feel different.

Instead of studying my face, I began to spend time pulling my hair apart, separating the black coils from the blonde strands, desperately looking for the root. Where did this madness all begin? I could not explain it. There they were: different colors, different textures, co-existing on the same head, my head. This new discovery excited me! I used to look for evidence of my father in my features. I’d look in the looking glass and see brown, only brown, all over me. Now, I saw my father’s roots in my roots, even though the evidence was small. It seemed like only I could see these blonde and red strands. They were a private secret I kept inside. If anyone discounted my Germanic claim, I had the evidence in and on my head.

As a woman, I reflect on experiences like these and I think about the deeper significance of it all. What was eight-year old Gabrielle searching for? When people made jokes about her father, claiming that she wasn’t actually his biological child. She couldn’t be. She was brown and he was white. When people became investigators, picking apart her features and announcing which were “white” and which were “Puerto Rican”, as though the two are mutually exclusive. When people asked her why her name was Gabrielle and not Gabriella. When people made fun of her last name, Greiner, and asked why she had such a harsh name for a Latina. Oh she’s German? Maybe she had Nazi blood in her.
What was fifteen-year old Gabrielle searching for? When she got her first decent haircut of her life because none of the hairdressers in upstate NY were aware that curly hair exists. When she feared going grocery shopping with her father, lest the other customers think he was her sugar daddy or something. She made sure she always called him “Dad” and talked about “Mom” who was home cooking something delicious for Sunday dinner that night. When she faced questions as she got off the bus with her elder brother, her brother with the light skin. Her brother with the straight hair. “Is he your boyfriend, Gabby? Oh, your brother? You don’t look alike at all.” When she faced the daily micro-aggressions from white people and was rejected by Latinos at the same time, leaving her with her small family as support.

What is twenty-three year old Gabrielle searching for? When I check out travel books on Germany from the library. When I endeavor to learn German and end up laughing at how silly I sound, although this language is the language of half of my ancestors. When I make mistakes while speaking Spanish and feel such disgusting shame like a black cloud, hovering over me. They ask a lot of questions. “Oh, you don’t speak Spanish? What are you?” With every question, the rain drops fall quicker and thicker on my head, soaking my hair and impeding my vision. When I plan trips to Germany and Puerto Rico, even if I can never afford them, because I’m desperately searching for something. I think about eight-year old Gabby pulling apart her hair, searching for her roots, investigating for the evidence of her whiteness. That’s similar to what I’m doing now. But, I feel different. I’m not looking for my roots to prove myself to anyone, not even myself. My identity rests in a higher place, with my Heavenly Father. No, I’m looking for my roots because I can. I’m free to explore every aspect of myself. Even if I never learn German and my Spanish remains at a beginner level for a while, I am and will always be proudly Ricandeutsch, with my various colors of hair swirling atop my curly mop.

I Am Biracial (¡Guau! ¡No Me Digas!)

I am biracial.
Two races.
Two groups of people claim me as their own, or maybe they actually reject me.
I try to squeeze into the boxes you’ve placed in front of me, but somehow I can’t fit in.

Maybe it’s my hair that coils and springs freely.
My hair that moves wildly like an ocean wave crashing upon a Puerto Rican beach.
“Oh, girl you’re such a fiery Latina!”

Or perhaps it’s my skin color,
That mezcla of brown, yellow, and white.
“Your skin is so light, if you straighten your hair, you could pass.”
For white.
So you’re a Nazi.

I’m sorry, but I didn’t know this was a test. And what’s a passing score? White?

If so, I guess I’ve failed, because I got 50%.

And if this is a test, I was doomed to fail from the start.

Starting to think about my ethnicity the more you play games with it.

“What are you?”

What am I? A beloved daughter of the King.

You toy with my identity like we’re on the playground but half of me is on the wall waiting to be picked.

Which half? Depends on who YOU are.

People of color love to reaffirm my Puerto Rican “sassy” flavor.

And Caucasians are thrilled when they hear me speak. You see, I’ve been told I “speak well.” Speak well for what?

What do you think this is? Is my identity something malleable that you can stretch and stretch to fit your preconceived notions of what you think I should be?

Because I want to know when my ethnic identity became in any way related to our dependent upon you.

You need to know that I decide how I express my cultures. I choose which to identify with.

But you know, maybe I identify with both! That’s something we both know is unsettling to the idea of me in your head.

But, thankfully, even if I claim both cultures equally, shocking I know, you can still choose how you see me.

Because I am biracial.
Two races.
Two groups of people claim me as their own, or maybe they actually reject me.
I try to squeeze into the boxes you’ve placed in front of me
But somehow I can’t fit in.

And I don’t want to anymore.

I Saw Them (Mi Gente)

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a blog post about an incredible and brief encounter I had with a young lady at a famous restaurant in Atlanta. She saw me and stood by me.

You can read about that here:

https://parakajol.wordpress.com/2017/07/16/she-saw-me/

Just yesterday, I had the opportunity to perform this same service to a pair of young Latino men in a Quik Trip parking lot. 

I’m constantly amazed at how God uses random people to ignite passion in me, to comfort me, and to challenge me. However, I always doubt that I’m actually “good enough” to be used like this for another person. 

Well God isn’t satisfied with that. Yesterday afternoon, my mother and I made a quick trip to Quik Trip, as my mother is obsessed with the fact that you can get free water there. While she pulled into a parking spot, I saw two young Latino men exiting the store and heading toward their white pickup truck. They both had white t-shirts on and white ball-caps on their heads. If I had to make an educated guess based on their clothing and car, I would assume that they were day laborers, or at least men who worked outside for a living.

Throughout my day, almost every day, I see Latinos working outside. They blow leaves, trim hedges, mow lawns, fix fences, construct buildings, and essentially keep everything running smoothly for us. When I see these people, I immediately feel a deep sadness while a fervent passion simultaneously sparks inside my heart. I see them and think:

“I wonder how many people talk to them every day.”

“Does anyone greet them as these Latinos work so hard for us?”

“We’re in Georgia, so there are few Spanish speakers here to converse with them.”

“I should say hello!”

I try my best to greet every Latino immigrant I see throughout my day. I am well aware that 99% of the time, no one else does. So, yesterday I saw these men, obviously hard workers, enter their white pickup truck that was so conveniently parked next to my mom’s car. (I see You, God.)

As I left the passenger side of the car, I glanced up at them sitting in their seats and simply said, “Hola.” They both smiled and replied “Hola!” I walked into the Quik Trip and saw them watching me go.

Now obviously I’m beautiful and I’m sure they were looking at me for that reason. But, I also believe that they were so happy to greet me for a few reasons:

  1. I saw them as they were.
  2. I recognized them as equally human and as part of my own group.
  3. I deemed them worthy enough of a greeting in their native tongue.
  4. My greeting showed them that I was for them and with them.

You guys probably think that I think entirely too deeply about these things, and normally you’d be right. But today? No way Jose! (see what I did there?) 

Imagine living in a country whose government is against your existence. The President has referred to you as a rapist, a drug dealer, a criminal, uneducated, an animal. You’ve heard of neighbors and friends being deported for lack of documentation. You walk around every day with the knowledge that the majority culture looks at you as a leech upon the economy (oh, how it’s totally the opposite!) and upon society in general. At the very least, they look at you as “other.”

They don’t speak your language. In fact, the way they speak English makes you wonder if they’re really speaking English! (sorry, Southerners but it’s true.) You know that any moment, a Caucasian man with power can strip you of the life you’ve created for yourself and your family here. He can even rob you of your life on this planet and will most likely get away with it. So you keep your head down. Make little eye contact. Speak only to those who will understand you. Live your own life apart from these Americans who don’t trust you on sight. 

But, today, an American looked at you. She looked like a Caribbean Latina, but she was certainly as Latino as you. She greeted you in your language, with a smile. For a brief moment, you felt a little less unnoticed. You felt a little more important and welcome. You thought that you could become an equal part of the greatness that does exist in this country. For a second, you were seen. And it felt good. 

 

 

THIS, my dear readers, is why I’m passionate about Latinos in this country. Because I can’t imagine walking around every day with this heavy weight on my shoulders. But our beautiful Latino immigrant neighbors do and so I will honor them with a proper greeting and conversation, if possible, to show them that I see them. I am with them. I am for them. I am of them. 

 

 

Blessings,

 

Gabrielle G.

 

 

Picture from The New York Times

When Satan Comes At Night

At my most vulnerable, at my most fragile, he comes. When I allow the doubts to creep in, he makes his presence known. He doesn’t come in the form of a terrifying fallen angel. Oh no, he comes in the form of a lover, an amante, a desire, a forbidden passion.

As I walk around my quaint neighborhood, admiring the clusters of houses and little gardens, he comes to mind:

“Maybe you should text him.”

“Perhaps you were wrong to reject him before.”

“God could have sent you to show him the Way, couldn’t He have? God can do anything, right?”

 

Washing my hair and listening to Latin music, I picture us dancing to the tune. I don’t change the song.

Hearing the Spanish love songs I adore and imagining him wanting me like the singer wants his muse.

The sky falls, the sun drops, the stars peek their heads into the wide God-fashioned expanse.

“Text him. You can’t stop thinking about him, so it must be a sign from God.”

Five months had passed since we last spoke. His ridiculous romantic advances were disgusting to me and I had rejected him.

But, the connection.

But, the feeling.

But, the passion. 

We exchanged pleasantries for a few moments before the former flattering words spewed forth from his mouth. 

“What do you want?” I asked.

“All of you. I want to know everything about you.”

Now, this man doesn’t know Christ and he is almost 40-years old. Everything in me told me not to respond to that, but I did. Why did I? He promised love. He promised passion. He promised fire. His words stirred the desire in me that I had suppressed for so long.

After a night of forsaken sleep and fervent text messages, the Holy Spirit spoke clearly to my heart by giving me a feeling of utter disgust with this situation. I felt it in the pit of my stomach and it gurgled up to my throat. I texted the man and restated that I’m not the one for him.

Not today, Satan. Not today.

When Satan comes, he doesn’t come as a figure of fear or destruction, WHICH IS WHAT HE IS. He comes as your greatest fleshly desire. In my case, it was romantic love and physical passion. Remember that Satan is the father of lies and all he wants to do is steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10). He prowls around, looking for someone to devour (I Peter 5:8). Who does he want to destroy? Believers. He hates us with an everlasting hatred because we are God’s beloved, and he hates God. 

Brothers and sisters, there is hope. That hope comes in the person of Jesus Christ, fully man and fully God. Through His sacrifice on the cross, we no longer have to identify by our sins and shortcomings. I am not Gabrielle, the girl who succumbs when a man sweet talks her in Spanish. I am Gabrielle, daughter of the King, furtherer of God’s kingdom, and heavenly princess. Your sins do not define you if you believe in Jesus Christ. Accept His free gift of healing, liberation, and peace. This gift is something we believers must accept every day. Every day we have to say NO to identifying by our sins and say YES to identifying by our God. Preach yourself the Gospel every day. Lord knows I need His Good News every moment.

You will be tempted because you are human and prone to sin. We all are. But, God promises to give us a way out of temptation. That is through Himself. (1 Corinthians 10:13).

 

Be encouraged. You are NEVER too dirty or too much for God. He made you and He LOVES you!

 

Blessings,

 

Gabrielle G.

Being a Bruja Isn’t Cute

Dear readers, there is a disturbing trend going around the young Latino community: Brujeria (witchcraft). Now, brujeria has been in Latino culture since the African slaves came to the various Latino countries and brought it with them. Latinos have mixed brujeria and Catholicism together, culminating in a different religion called Santeria (still witchcraft). I have a previous blog post on Santeria, which I’ll link here:

https://parakajol.wordpress.com/2017/07/09/restoring-distorted-family-legacies/

 

In this post, I want to discuss the trend that is becoming popular lately. Young Latin women are “reclaiming” the word “bruja” (witch) and using it as a way to identify themselves. To them, “bruja” means a strong, assertive, culturally-aware femme. Some of these women may participate in brujeria, but some may just use the term to describe themselves.

Readers, being a bruja isn’t cute. These modern-day brujas have turned withcraft into an aesthetic they can try on for a while, but they are certainly not prepared for the intense spiritually evil ramifications that come with this “play”. They play with crystals, tarot cards, and Ouija boards, thinking that they’re connecting with their culture.

To be frank, if a person calls themselves a bruja and they engage in brujeria, they are inviting demonic spirits to inhabit their bodies and ruin their lives/the lives of those around them. Even if the person claims to practice “white magic” (magic for the benefit of people), magic is magic. Magic is evil. Magic is wrong. Just because a culture claims it as a cultural practice does not mean that it’s beneficial for you or for anyone around you. The spirits may be your friends in the beginning, but they will turn on you and abuse your mind and body to get what they want, which ultimately is human destruction.

If we’re honest, we have to admit that not every aspect of every culture is beneficial or positive. I’m sure no one would argue that the gender inequality in the Middle East or South Asia is acceptable because “that’s just their culture.” So, why are we accepting witchcraft as a potential pastime for Latinos just because it is a part of our culture?

Whether you believe brujeria is real or not, whether you think the spiritual realm exists or not, I pray and hope that you understand that brujeria is not the way to get what you want. It is not the way to find the peace your soul seeks. We all want control; we want to feel like we have some say in what happens to us on Earth. This life is so hectic at times and we wonder what the purpose of it all actually is. Readers, the only One who can give you peace beyond human understanding is Jesus Christ. 

Jesus Christ says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” – John 14:27

 

Here’s what the Bible says about witchcraft:

https://www.gotquestions.org/Bible-witchcraft.html

I pray that you read this article with an open heart and mind. If you’re caught in witchcraft or know someone who is, call out to Jesus to set you free! He will answer those who call on His name in earnest.

 

Here’s the story of one Latino man who was caught in brujeria:

 

 

Blessings,
Gabrielle G.

Dear America: My Father is White (And That’s Okay)

This weekend has been jam packed with hospital visits and emergency surgeries, but I finally have a few moments to sit and breathe.

For those of you who don’t know, I’m “biracial.” My mother is Afro-Puerto Rican and my father is German-American. In other words, my mother is brown and my dad is white. Their union created me, ethnically ambiguous me, and I enjoy looking so distinct. Although my mixed heritage has been difficult to embrace at times, mostly because of others’ reactions to me, I love who God made me to be. I’m blessed to not be stuck in one culture and one mindset. Because I’m mixed, I can easily move between many cultures and believe that this will help me win souls for Christ. 

While being different is fabulous, there are aspects of the mixed life that are annoying and, at times, disturbing: some people think I’m my father’s wife. Yes, some people see me, a brown-skinned, curly-haired 23-year old woman out with a white 57-year old man and assume that any relationship between us must be of a sexual and romantic nature. Are you vomiting yet?

Growing up, I instinctually knew that society would perceive us in this way and when I became a teenager, I would make it a point to call my father “dad” or refer to “mom” whenever we were out in public. My fear of being mislabeled was profound. As a little girl, no one thought that anything inappropriate was happening between my father and I; we were just father and daughter. But, as I grew older, I knew that doubts would arise.

I could see it in people’s eyes when my dad and I shopped for groceries. I could feel their judgement on my back when I would hug my dad in public.

“Who is this little brown girl?”

“Is she some mail order bride?”

“That’s disgusting.” 

This fear subsided for some time because I lived in New York, and people were liberal. It was not inconceivable for a white man to have a brown child in New York. However, moving to Georgia has shown me a different side of America. Here, I go out with my father with the constant fear that someone will assume that our relationship is not familial. The other day, we went to Walmart (I hate them, but my dad’s a sucker for a bargain), and at the checkout line, we engaged in our typical witty banter, much to the amusement of the beautiful and sweet African-American cashier. When my dad left the checkout line to wash his hands (he got chicken blood on them -__-), the cashier asked me my age.

“I’m 23.”

“Oh, wow! I was going to say 17!” she laughed.

“Yeah, that’s just because I have my glasses on.” I replied, smiling.

. . .

“Are y’all close?”, she asked.

I was taken aback. In what way was she asking this question? I hope she knows he’s my dad.

“Yeah, we are…he’s a good dad.” I answered. Good job, Gabby. Clarify the relationship.

“Really? Aw, thats great. It’s hard to find good dads these days.” she said, with a little sadness in her tone.

Amen, sister.

When my dad came back, the cashier remarked to him that I said he was a good father and he in turn commended me as a daughter.

We left the store and I couldn’t stop thinking about the woman who saw my father and I together and immediately knew what our relationship was. That is rare.

 

This feeling didn’t last long. The next day, my father was rushed to the ER with what he thought were heart attack symptoms (turns out it was a panic attack), and the EMT who arrived at our house referred to me as my father’s wife. My dad immediately corrected him and he apologized.

Blunders like that happen often, but I asked myself why does this happen so often to us? It’s clear that my dad is almost 60 and I’ve been mistaken for a teenager countless times. Does anyone seriously think we’re married? If so, why?

I believe there’s only one reason that some people don’t understand our relationship: my skin color. If I were completely white, no one would doubt that this almost 60-year old white man and white 23-year old girl were father and daughter. In fact, if the genders were switched, I highly doubt that anyone would assume an older white woman would be in a relationship with a young brown man. They would see him as her son, wouldn’t they? No one would question it. But, because I have brown skin and I’m a woman, suddenly the relationship is not clear. This should not be so.

We live in an era where people freely marry people of other cultures and have babies with them. These babies grow into young adults and then adults who must deal with society’s perception of them and their parents for their entire lives. It is so damaging to a mixed person to be perceived as so incredibly “other” that we must not be related. We must be some young bride. Some sugar baby. Isn’t that the picture they have in their heads?

I wish this would stop. A girl shouldn’t fear going in public with her father simply because she’s of a certain age and different skin tone than he is. So, yes my dad is white. He’s my dad and will always be my papa bear. I’ll hug him in public and let them think what they will. He’s my dad and that’s all that matters.

NEGRA by Gabrielle Greiner

I never knew I was black.

Growing up, my blackness wasn’t taught to me, like how I wasn’t shown how to do my hair.

When I raised questions to my elders, “Why does my hair grow out? Like sideways, not down. And why is it so curly?”

The response glossed over centuries of relaxed history, denied the blackness in me, and simply was “Because you’re Puerto Rican.”

But, the Boricuas I saw on TV did not resemble me, rather they looked like they stepped out of a commercial for Pantene.

So, what does this mean?

I made my first Latino friend in college, when I was 19.

She was Mexican-American, with indigenous roots I could see.

See, the Latinos in high school did not like me.

I was too white, too educated, thought too much, and wanted too badly to be free.

Free from the stereotypes that the oppressor laid on me.

My back was tight and I could barely just be.

I was contending with my identity

Because I have the blood of both the oppressor and the oppressed inside of me.

I realized I was black just before 23.

Studying my Isla’s history had removed the blinders from me.

The Spaniards murdered the Tainos and through violent indigenous rape, eradicated them from our present reality.

They forced this foreign tongue down our throats and balked when we didn’t like the taste.

Spain did the same to my African ancestors, denying their humanity, refusing to set them free.

They claimed ownership of the black body, through slavery and forced intimacy.

Thus, a Puerto Rican came to be.

I think about my blackness and wonder, “Is this how the country sees me?” As black?

We all know what that means.

Or, am I midway between the binary? Inoffensive light skin. Beautifully standard English flowing off my tongue.

Oh, but that hair. Wild. Unprofessional. Must be tamed.

I doubt my blackness. My skin isn’t dark enough. My ancestors were slaves on an island, not here. I have privileges that my Jamaican-American friend will never have. But, she sees my blackness. She calls it out of me, nurtures it, sings to it while it grows.

My blackness cannot exist without my brother and sister. My blackness is a lover I call out to. My blackness follows the question marks. My blackness propels me toward eternity and calls to me throughout history.

Culture Can Be a Problem

Happy Monday, readers! Another day of life. Another day to help another soul on this journey. What a blessing.

As I took my mid-morning stroll around the neighborhood today, I listened to music on my iPhone, as I usually do. My music is an eclectic blend of Latin, Indian, Arabic, Christian, secular, and classical songs. The majority of the time, I listen to Christian music in English or Spanish and look around at the beautiful earth that God created. He made the bee that’s trying to stab me with its butt. He made the green grass that covers the ground, providing a cushion for my puppy’s paws. He constructed the clouds and forms them into various shapes for us. He’s pretty creative.

Since we’re made in His image, that means we’re also creative. God developed our minds to create insane things! I’m typing in a man-made language, on my laptop, while I’m connected to WiFi, as I sit on a couch in my house. All made by man. Incredible.

While I love creativity and thank God that He gave me the gift of writing, I recognize that our creativity can lead us down distorted paths to destruction. That escalated quickly. But, it’s really a problem for those of us who want to live Christ-glorifying lives. While I write words of life, another person is sitting on his/her laptop and writing erotic fiction which will channel lust in his/her readers. Some people sing worship songs that exalt Abba and others sing about sexual desires and activities they’d like to participate in with a total stranger they see on the dance floor. You see what I mean?

Now, typically it’s very easy for me to refrain from listening to sexual music. In fact, I refuse to listen to English pop songs if they have sexual undertones (which they typically do), but I’ve noticed something about my Spanish music choices. I’m half Puerto Rican which means I love Salsa and Bomba music, but I tend to enjoy my Dominican neighbors’ Bachata music as well. Listening to music in Spanish makes me feel connected to my culture and my Latino hermanos y hermanas (brothers and sisters). But, it becomes a problem when the sexual songs that the Latin music industry pumps out begin to reignite old flames of lust within me.

Let’s take a gander at this popular Latin song:

  1. The number one song in America is “Despacito” by Luis Fonsi (he sang at my mom’s friend’s wedding before he made it big #NoLie) and Daddy Yankee. Both of these Puerto Rican men are well known for their music and I was initially THRILLED to see two Rican men reach the number one spot on the charts! Yes! Representation! All good, right? Not quite.

“Despacito” infects our brains with its catchy tune and delightful rhyming, but the lyrics prove to be pretty dangerous to a person struggling with lust.

Spanish:

Despacito 
Quiero respirar tu cuello despacito 
Deja que te diga cosas al oído
Para que te acuerdes si no estás conmigo

Despacito
Quiero desnudarte a besos despacito
Firmo en las paredes de tu laberinto
Y hacer de tu cuerpo todo un manuscrito (sube, sube, sube)
(Sube, sube)

 

English:

Slowly
I want to breathe your neck slowly
Let me tell you things in your ears
So that you remember when you’re not with me
Slowly
I want to undress you with kisses slowly
Sign the walls of your labyrinth
And make your whole body a manuscript
Turn it up turn it up….. turn it up, turn it up

When a song has a catchy tune, it’s really hard to resist listening to it. It’s even harder when you feel pressured to engage in this practice because it’s ascribed to your culture. This blog post isn’t fully about the sexualization of Latin youth culture, because that would take ages to write, but I’ll touch on it here.

When you think of a Latin woman, what do you think of? Does this woman have a college degree? Is she kind, compassionate, Christ-serving, and humble? Or do you think of a curvaceous figure, a wild temper, and fiery passions? I’ll assume the latter. This stereotype occurs in our minds because of the way the worldwide media has portrayed Latinas.

We’re sexual objects. We exist for the pleasure of men. 

We may not outright say these things, but the songs we sing about Latin women say otherwise.

So, songs like “Despacito” are not just fun dance songs. They add to the painful and dangerous rhetoric that Latinas are only good for their bodies and that we enjoy being objectified in this way.

 

In addition to objectifying women, this song and countless others that are similar actually reignite old lusts that you may be trying to kill, with the help of the Holy Spirit. When you hear those sexual words, you may remember old trysts you had before you knew Christ. You may imagine dancing sexually with your crush to these songs. You may actually become physically aroused.

While walking around the neighborhood, listening to “Despacito”, “Safari”, “Propuesta Indecente”, “Solo Por Un Beso”, and “Hasta El Amanecer”, I began to slowly realize that the youth in my culture are hyper-sexualized. We are force fed these songs until we no longer need to be forced to enjoy them. We openly indulge in these sexual songs and we wonder why so many of our young girls are becoming pregnant and our young boys are becoming fathers before they turn 18. These songs have infected the culture so deeply that they are now synonymous with Latin culture. So, for a young Latina growing up in New York, I knew that to be Latina meant to be sexy, to dance, to wear tight clothes, and to be free with my sexuality, using it to emasculate men. These songs encourage that behavior. 

Because I follow Christ, the Holy Spirit in me rejects these songs and the portrayals of sexuality that they offer. Yet, breaking with them has been so difficult because they are indeed connected to my culture. Of course the Puerto Ricans of the 1960s would never have promoted a song like “Despacito”, but something has happened to the youth in these recent times. They are now dictating the future of our culture and it terrifies me.

I love culture and will always give a cultural practice the benefit of the doubt, unless it clearly goes against Scripture and human rights. We’re all different and that’s a thing to celebrate. But, my spiritual eyes have been opened to this aspect of my culture and even though it’s so enticing, I must break with it. In this respect, my culture is a problem. The Lord’s word supersedes Puerto Rican culture and I must honor Him first. I am Christian before I am Puerto Rican.

 

Blessings.

 

Gabrielle G.