“Black Power!” (Self-Discovery as an Afro-Latina)

A couple of weeks ago, I viewed an exhibit called “Black Power!” At the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. This Harlem library has extended this exhibit until the end of March, so if you’re in NYC, take a trip uptown (or downtown, in my case), and see it! More about who this Schomburg man was in another post…

The exhibit is a powerful and bold celebration of the fight for black liberation in NYC and around the world. I enjoyed the exhibit with my friend Saida, my black sister with a Haitian background. There stood two black girls who come from different linguistic backgrounds, with different skin colors, hair textures, and ethnic labels in this country,  but we stood together. We both emotionally and spiritually identified with the exhibit. While surveying the pictures of the Black Panthers and Young Lords in their signature beret hats, we both exclaimed, “I want a beret!” (I still do, by the way. Berets are dope.)

Regarding the Young Lords’ presence in this exhibit, I was shocked to see them presented as participants in the struggle for black liberation. While it may be obvious to those more informed than me, I had never even heard of the Young Lords until a couple years ago in a Puerto Rican culture class at my university. That’s right, the only Puerto Rican history or culture I learned about in school was through ELECTIVE courses at my university in NYC. I can guarantee that the majority of universities around the country have no such courses, not even as electives. Does anyone else find that odd? Puerto Rico has been a U.S. colony for over a century. We’ve been citizens for a century. Why isn’t our history taught alongside the brainwashing ahem ahem whitewashed version of history that’s forced on us? But, that’s another conversation. The Young Lords were an incredibly important part of the fight for black liberation. These were black Puerto Ricans luchando for their people and I was thrilled to see them included!

I’ve written before about my experience as an Afro-Puerto Rican woman in this country, but I truly felt the dissonance I’m accustomed to while viewing this exhibit. As I studied posters advocating for Angela Davis’ liberation from prison, posters that advertised Malcolm X’s talks around the city, and posters that just celebrated black beauty and the black family, I realized where I stand in this battle for black liberation.

Before this point, I had already felt a disconnect with other Latinos since childhood, especially if they were not of African descent. I think the language barrier was a big issue as well, but I definitely did not relate to most Latinos. In fact, I still don’t. Whenever I try to connect with Latinos, my lack of Spanish skills is immediately unearthed and shamed/questioned. My ambiguous looks raise questions about my ethnic background. My distinctly upstate New York accent is seen with contempt from a Washington Heights girl’s side-eye.

So I do the best I can to connect while recognizing that I will never entirely fit in to their world. However, there is a group of people I find extraordinarily accepting of me and my blackness: non-Latino black Americans. Before I realized that I have every right to call myself “black” and identify myself with the movement for black liberation, my black friends pointed out my blackness to me. My hair is afro-textured. My grandfather is a dark-skinned Puerto Rican man. My ancestry is African. These friends absolutely welcome my blackness and encourage it. It’s never questioned by them at all. My Latino identity is not challenged by them either. They completely accept me. I’m not sure why they accept me more readily than my fellow Latinos, but I think language has a large part in it. Putting language aside, I know that it’s rare for a Latino of African descent to proudly proclaim their blackness. It’s actually quite uncommon.

So for me to galavant around Inwood, where many Dominicans live, and shout out my blackness is jarring! I wear my hair in its natural state. I don my coat with pins that say things like “YLO” (Young Lords Organization) and “Pedro Albizu Campos” (a famous Puerto Rican freedom fighter). Most of the older generation don’t identify as black. The younger generation typically follows in their footsteps, by religiously straightening their hair and calling themselves “Latina, not black.” The two aren’t mutually exclusive, people!

I suppose what I’m trying to say is that while I would love to be welcomed with open arms into the Latino community, I am not. The non-Latino black community is more than welcoming to me. I understand that as an Afro-Puerto Rican and German-American woman with strong ties to India and an affinity for all things British and French, I will not fit in with any one community. I find myself easily weaving in between various cultures and groups of people. I thank God for this ability because the majority of people feel confined to their one ethnic group. God chose to create me to be a cross-cultural woman and I thank Him for that.

 

Blessings,

 

Gabrielle G.

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Christianity and Rape Culture (A Glimpse)

Readers,

Do you ever read something or watch something on TV that so disturbs you that you’re filled with anger and you feel the need to tell someone about it? That happened to me yesterday.

I read an online post about the 2018 Golden Globe awards and the writer criticized these stars for wearing black, thereby protesting sexual assault/harassment, while still dressing “immodestly” and “allowing themselves to be objectified.” She went on to say that women of Christ should dress “modestly” because it “respects and loves our brothers in Christ.” Jesus said that whoever looks at a woman with lust has committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:28). Essentially, by covering up our bodies, we help our brothers in Christ stay away from sexual sin.

I’m hesitant to dive right in to this topic because there are so many layers and different opinions. I can’t say that my opinion is absolute truth. I’m sure there are areas that need to be illuminated by someone else with a wider view of the issue, but I must share my thoughts on this because this type of rhetoric is incredibly damaging.

 

Growing up in a semi-Christian environment, I was taught that my body needed covering. If I wanted to be a “good Christian girl”, I needed to cover my breasts, thighs, and butt. Why? Because Christian men might become aroused by my tight dress or pants. I wasn’t allowed to wear shorts that came above the knee. Because I developed breasts at such an early age, my mother was hyper-aware of how I dressed. There were many shirts that would fit my body normally if it were not for my breasts. Everything I wore was deemed borderline inappropriate. I never put two-and-two together and realized that the clothing wasn’t in the wrong; my body was. If I were thinner and smaller chested, would my clothing choices be such an issue? Absolutely not. So essentially we are saying that curvy women should hide their bodies because men will be attracted to them because of their curves. 

 

I grew up with the mentality that my body was naturally sexually suggestive and would always need careful guarding. I was bustier than every other girl I ever knew and would therefore have to cover up a little more. This way of thinking was further enforced by a staff worker on my India trip. In India, I was thrice sexually assaulted by strange men on the street. My breasts and butt were touched against my will. What was I wearing? Not American clothes, that’s for sure. I was dressed in Indian clothes. I was “modest”, according to Indian social rules. But, I was still touched. In fact, I was touched the most out of my team of ten women. While thinking about and mourning these assaults, I decided to rebel a little. No longer did I want to wear my dupatta over my breasts, after seeing how my female teammates neglected to wear them before leaving the apartment. If they could go without one, why couldn’t I? I asked my staff worker and she grimaced a little. I could see what she was thinking. She said, “Gabby, they don’t really need to wear one. But, you really should…” My eyes probably gave away my initial angry reaction. She followed up with, “Because they work in the city and you’re more in the suburbs, the slums. Things are different there.” Okay, she was right about that. I’ll give her that one. But, I also know that I was initially forbidden to go without a dupatta because of my breasts. But, even when I wore a dupatta, which was every day, I was still looked at and touched. Did the dupatta actually do anything for my protection? Absolutely not.

Let me just say it here once and for all: A WOMAN’S CLOTHING DOES NOT INVITE SEXUAL ASSAULT OR JUSTIFY A MAN OR WOMAN’S ASSAULT ON THAT WOMAN.

It also does not disqualify a woman’s protest of or thoughts on the topic of sexual assault in the workplace. A woman could stand in front of a crowd stark naked, speaking out against sexual assault, and her words would still be valid. Why? Because her worth and contributions to the discussion are not determined by her clothing. She is valid because she is human. 

Let’s go back to what Jesus said about looking at a woman with lust. He said it equates to having sex with her. That’s pretty intense. The Lord knew that men are visual and will easily engage in mental fantasies with an attractive woman. But, let’s be honest, men can sexually assault a woman, a man, a child, an animal…anything. We’ve seen this. We’ve known this. Many of us have personally and painfully experienced this.

Note that Jesus did not mention that women should cover themselves in order to avoid the male gaze. Not once did Jesus talk about anything remotely related to the whole “Modest is Hottest” movement that has been so strong in our churches. In fact, the only mention of women’s dress in the New Testament, which is the new covenant that we are under, is a mention of women dressing modestly in terms of expensive clothes.

“I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes” (I Timothy 2:9).

Clearly Paul is saying that women should not arrive for fellowship time dressed in the finest clothes with the most decadent jewelry and elaborate hairstyles. Oh wait, this actually sounds like most of our churches today. Don’t women try to look their best on Sunday? This means the best clothes, the nicest jewelry, and every hair in place. Have we misunderstood Paul’s words here and actually behave like this during our church services? Many church women who are decked out in designer clothes have looked down on a woman whose skirt was ‘too short” or whose dress was “too tight”, unaware of the fact that she herself is offending Paul’s cry for modesty in dress by how expensive her clothing is. 

Also, cultures greatly differ on what’s appropriate and inappropriate. When I was in India, I could’ve rocked a sari every day, showing my stomach and back. That was appropriate. In my culture, American and Puerto Rican culture, that is absolutely not modest at all! I remember watching some Indian women work one day and thinking, “My God they’re showing so much skin. But, that’s modest in this culture.” I swear my mind was blown to Mars and back at the thought that stomachs and backs are acceptable but breasts, butts, and legs are not. Indians take great lengths to cover the breasts with a dupatta and their shirts are loose and are as long as knee-length dresses, effectively covering the butt and legs. In American and Puerto Rican culture alike, showing cleavage or wearing a tight skirt is not inappropriate. See how the cultures vary? There is no such thing as a standard way of modest dressing. In fact, in some cultures, women can walk around topless and that’s the norm! What do we do with women of those cultures when we evangelize? Do we tell them to put on a bra and a loose t-shirt after they’re saved? No we don’t. That’s a colonialistic way of thinking. Tear it down.

If we keep this rape culture narrative going, it will spiral. If a woman is assaulted or cat-called, she’s asked:

“What were you wearing?”

“Why did you go out that night? Why did you go alone?”

“You knew men would be attracted to you, didn’t you?”

“Why did you accept the drink he offered if you didn’t want him?”

“Why did you drink so much?”

Readers, a woman’s behavior is no justification for a man’s actions. We firmly plant all of the culpability on a woman’s shoulders by repeating this lie to ourselves and each other. Countless Christian and non-Christian women have had shameful coals heaped on their heads by family members, friends, and church leaders in this way. Stop it. This is evil.

A woman can wear whatever she wants, but a Christian woman should honor God with her clothing. She should honor God in all she does. When I get dressed, I ask myself a few questions that I hope are helpful to other women who want to dress in a God-honoring way:

  1. Why am I wearing this?
  2. Am I wearing this to attract men/use my femininity to get something from them?

If my answer to the latter is “yes”, then I either change my outfit or rewire my thinking. I remind myself that I like how this red dress fits my curves. I like the way this red lipstick makes my lips look. I do it for myself and not for men. 

 

 

I’m going to close out this brief glimpse into Christianity and Rape Culture by including my comment to this person’s blog post:

I think if a woman chooses to wear a dress that’s see-through in certain places or has a slit, that’s her choice. How a man reacts is his choice. Yes he will immediately be drawn to her, but what happens next is on him. Our brothers in Christ can literally be attracted to anything. Some men get turned on by feet, for example.

Also, regarding cultural sensitivity, there are certain cultures where dressing in fewer garments is actually the norm. In India, for example, women show their midriffs and backs every day. Here, that would be considered “slutty.” There, it’s modest. In Korea, wearing miniskirts is totally normal. Here, it’s seen as “slutty.” So if we should dress a certain way to help our brothers in Christ, then how should we dress? Because I don’t think it’s the same all around.

Regarding the women, each woman has an individual story and belief system regarding her femininity and what that means/how to express it. We can NEVER judge people who behave in the way they’ve been taught to behave. This is what women are taught. I can guarantee that 99% of the women on that Red Carpet do not know Christ. Why are we expected to hold them to the standard of a woman who has been walking with the Lord for years? It is unfair to judge them in this way.

The fact is, a woman could be walking around naked and A. be dressed appropriately in some cultures and not asking for it or B. if it’s not appropriate, still not be asking for it.

Asking women to cover up their bodies before talking about sexual assault is giving in to the patriarchal mindset and rape culture narrative that women are indeed asking for it. Why don’t the men cover up? Bulging muscles and tight pants draw attention to their bodies as well. Why are women blamed for being women and having curves? This just plays into the old rhetoric of the female temptress.

Gabrielle G. 
And, yes, I chose that picture of myself very intentionally. 🙂

2018 Goals (NOT Resolutions-I’m Human)

Readers,

I hate the concept of New Year’s Resolution lists. We never stick to them! We tend to drop them during the first week of the year. So why do we even write them? I don’t understand why but the urge to write one hangs on my shoulders every December 31st.

So, because I’m a rebel, I’m not going to write a list of New Year’s resolutions. I’m going to write about my goals for 2018 and explain them, rather than just rattle off a list of things I want to accomplish.

Alright! Here are some of my goals for this new year:

1. Work on my blog and a book I started last year. My blog is where I am free to write about whatever concerns me (and many things do indeed concern me). The book I started is about the most romantic experience I’ve ever had. It’s been difficult to write about because a part of me still yearns for that same person/experience.

 

2. Work on my Spanish. I’m passionate about ministry to all people, and I’m particularly burdened for South Asians and Latinos. I find my ministry abilities stunted in the Latino community because my Spanish isn’t at the level I want it to be. How can I preach against Santeria if I can’t explain the Gospel in Spanish? Read my thoughts about Santeria here:

https://parakajol.wordpress.com/2017/12/14/why-i-reject-santeria-as-an-afro-latina/

 

3. Return to India. My heart beats with India. My soul yearns to taste its food, explore its landscapes, and be at home with my wonderful family over there. Each time I’ve been to India, I’ve gone to Kolkata (Calcutta), but this year I want to travel to the South. Read about my heart for India here:

https://parakajol.wordpress.com/2017/10/03/kajol/

 

4. Spend some time in Puerto Rico. My island was devastated by Hurricane Maria. I’ve previously written on this topic and I’ll link those posts here:

https://parakajol.wordpress.com/2018/01/01/still-dark-in-puerto-rico-my-first-protest/

https://parakajol.wordpress.com/2017/12/15/the-truth-about-puerto-rico-told-to-a-white-audience/

https://parakajol.wordpress.com/2017/10/08/self-denial-and-your-calling-puerto-rico/

https://parakajol.wordpress.com/2017/09/26/hurricane-maria-and-puerto-rico/

 

5. Get healthier (physically, mentally, spiritually, emotionally). SO many people say they want to become healthier as each new year ticks around. I’ve said it countless times in the past and never stuck to it. As a result, I’ve been a bit chubby most of my life. Now, I’m not focusing on losing weight for aesthetic purposes. I know that I’m extraordinarily beautiful and God made me this way. He made me beautifully. But, I know that obesity runs in my family on both sides. Diabetes is rampant on my mother’s side. I refuse to let that be my fate as well. I’ve started eating healthier and working out in a fun way! I’ll post the workouts I follow at the end of this post. They’re amazingly entertaining.

I also want to focus on my emotional, spiritual, and mental health. Last year was rough for me. I lost a lot and came out feeling like Job in the Bible. Defeated. Lost. Ready to die. Hopeless. Angry with God. Well, praise God that I don’t feel like that anymore, but I must admit that because of all of the trauma I experienced last year, I always expect that at any moment, I will receive a call with bad news. Maybe something happened to mom or dad. Perhaps my brother was in some type of accident. I never know anymore because of how many freak things happened last year. I expect the worst at all times, knowing that the worst could happen. 

This is a type of thinking I have to submit to God minute-by-minute. I cannot hold it on my own and I’m not supposed to. God wants to redeem what I’ve experienced and lost. He wants to teach me a valuable lesson (or five) from what happened to me. I just have to let it go and allow Him to be God.

I started a new book last night called Uninvited by Lysa TerKeurst. One passage that struck me and brought me to tears was when Lysa said that we have to ask ourselves three questions when we doubt or are afraid:

  1. Is God good?
  2. Is God good to me?
  3. Do I trust God to be God?

 

Hint: The answer to all three is a resounding and holy YES!!!

This is what I want to learn more of and tangibly experience in 2018.

 

Lord, I submit these desires and all of the hidden ones in my heart to You. Take my life and run with it. I trust you, Papa.

 

Blessings,

 

Gabrielle G.

 

My favorite workouts:

 

Still Dark in Puerto Rico: My First Protest

Friday, December 29th marked 100 days since Hurricane Maria attacked Puerto Rico, leaving the island completely without power or water. Medical attention was next to impossible, as the hospitals had no electricity. Even getting to the hospital was unimaginable, due to fallen trees and the lack of gas for cars.

 

After Hurricane Maria initially struck the island, all communication ceased for a few days. Family members desperately tried to contact each other both on the island and the mainland U.S., but found little luck. I personally did not hear about my family for several days and when we finally received word, we heard that they were safe, yet had no food, water, or power. Initially my first thought was, “They have to leave the island! Let’s get them off!” I consulted my mother and we determined that I could house four people in my apartment and she could house some in hers. After concocting this plan, we learned that no one wanted to leave the island. Not even parents with young children. I could easily discern that Puerto Rico’s immediate recovery was going to take an extremely long time and schools could be closed for a while, if not shut down permanently. Why wouldn’t a family with young children move to the mainland for a better life if a positive future in Puerto Rico was impossible? Well, I guess the people of Puerto Rico have more faith than I do because, although many of them left the island, many stayed behind.

 

One of my aunts in Puerto Rico regularly uses her Facebook page to update her friends on life in Puerto Rico. She typically writes brief status updates: “No hay luz. (There’s no light)” “No hay agua (There’s no water).” “No tenemos comida (We don’t have food).” Each status update brought new waves of despair over me and I felt completely helpless. At times, she posted that they had electricity and water only to post again a few hours later that they lost it. With my current financial situation, I’m pretty unable to tangibly help my family in Puerto Rico. Literally the only thing I can offer is prayer for everyone and everything affected by Hurricane Maria. But, I try not to doubt the power of my prayers. God moves mountains when those who love Him pray to Him and ask for His intervention.

 

As the days have passed, mainstream media has completely forgotten about Puerto Rico. While the media initially remarked on the damage, the number of deaths (we’ll return to that in a minute), and Trump’s idiotic and tone-deaf response to the island, coverage has diminished. It’s only natural; other news stories take precedence, I suppose. But, people on the island are still suffering. Many people still do not have power or water. People don’t have food. Yes, these are people and are valuable because they are image-bearers of God, but they are also American citizens. How can American citizens suffer in this way when the U.S. can do whatever they want? The U.S. has absolutely everything and its disposal, yet has not used that privilege to expedite help to Puerto Rico. In fact, it seems like more than just neglecting Puerto Rico after the hurricane, they are taking steps to lie about how damaged the island is. One facet of this cover-up is the death toll. We were first informed by mainstream media that a few dozen people in Puerto Rico died from the hurricane. Questionable as that statement was from the beginning, I thought, “Well, even the Puerto Rican government is saying this, so I suppose it must be true. Certainly the Puerto Rican government wouldn’t conceal the true death toll. They want aid!”

We’ve just learned that the death toll is over one thousand people, most of them dying after the hurricane. This means that because the U.S. didn’t act expediently, people died from its negligence. People undoubtedly died because of lack of water, medicine, and food. The U.S. has Puerto Rican blood on its hands, but this is definitely not the first time that has happened.

 

On December 29th, many Puerto Ricans and supporters gathered in Union Square Park in New York City to protest this ridiculous response by the U.S. government. I was one of those Puerto Ricans. Standing outside in below 15 degree F weather was certainly not my idea of a good time, but as one of the speakers, Rosa Clemente, said, “Standing outdoors in the cold for two hours is nothing compared to what our family and friends have suffered on the island over the past one hundred days.” Since it was my first protest, I wasn’t sure what to expect. When I arrived, protest organizers handed me a sheet of paper with the Puerto Rican national anthem and some chants as well as a few articles about the truth that the U.S. government doesn’t want us to know about Puerto Rico. My toes and fingers ached with cold and my ears cried to be covered. But, I felt so proud to stand there along with different generations of Puerto Ricans as one cohesive unit. No matter our borough or language, we were one. Spanish-speakers, English-speakers, Puerto Ricans, Caucasians, African-Americans, former Young Lords members, people in their 20s, parents, and teens all gathered together. The solidarity in the air was incredible. We sang the Puerto Rican national anthem together and while most people didn’t know it, I did and I sang it with solemn pride.

 

The protest finished out with drum playing and joyful victory chants. We believed in a victory that we couldn’t yet see. That’s faith. My first protest was a cold and serious experience, but I thought about everyone who couldn’t be there that night. Rosa Clemente said that each person standing there represented a hundred people who couldn’t come. That deeply resonated with me. I stood there, in New York City, one Puerto Rican among many, yet representing my mother, my grandmother, my great-grandmother, and on and on until we reach our Taino, African, and Spaniard ancestors. I knew that my grandmother would have beamed with pride if she were alive today and knew that her granddaughter was woke, passionate, and committed to Puerto Rican restoration. My grandmother was a strong Puerto Rican woman. My mother is a strong Puerto Rican woman. This is the stock from which I’m made. I will continue to push forward, writing the truth each step of the way, praying that it sets someone free. Pa’lante. Siempre pa’lante.

 

 

Blessings,

 

Gabrielle G.

 

Thoughts on a Plane

I need Christ. I need more of Christ. I need more of His regenerative power. I need to trust Jesus and His plan for me. I need the Holy Spirit to change me more and conform me to the image of my Lord. I am tormented by my sinful nature. Like Paul said, “I want to do the right thing, but I can’t. I always do the wrong thing.” And yet, I don’t feel that God is angry with me. I feel that His heart breaks for my brokenness.

If only I would offer up my heart and mind to Him for divine healing…If only. It’s so hard to come to the cross of Christ and offer up my life to Him. I must do it every day. It’s much easier to hold onto my past traumas and current pains. Releasing it all into Christ’s hands would be so liberating…but it requires much faith.

And who would I be if I couldn’t identify by my pain anymore? What kind of identity does Christ have for me? I sense Him pulling up these traumas and pains and separating my identity from their twisted roots. They’ve mangled their way around my little heart, squeezing and hurting me.

The Lord’s operation hurts as well, but I know that it’s best for me. Others can call this rotten growth up and smooth a salve over it, but none can extract it, thereby healing it. I’ll gladly repurchase the salve, increasing the thickness each time I apply it, satisfied for the moment. But, a complete removal is too costly, too painful, too risky. It’s an investment.

Lord, help me to make that investment and take that risk. I know who my Doctor is. He is the One who formed my body and fashioned me in my uniqueness. I can trust Him with my body. I can trust Him to honor and respect my body even more than I can. My body is His home. My sinful self houses my Lord, yet He does not point out each dirty corner and piece of old furniture. He simply changes it all. He tears it down to build a mansion of little old Gabrielle G.

 

 

Relating to Latinos as an Afro-Latina (My Blackness Doesn’t Fit In?)

Readers, can we just take a moment to appreciate Angela Davis’ aesthetic in this picture? The afro, the glasses, the pins…I love it.

ANYWAY

The more I grow in understanding my blackness, the more I feel a disconnect from other Latinos. The only Latinos I feel a connection with are other Afro-Latinos. If a Latino resembles our Spaniard ancestors, I find it hard to relate. What do we talk about? Will they understand my experience in this country as an Afro-Latina? Do they even know abut our black ancestors? I admit that I make immediate assumptions that they aren’t as “woke” as I am or that they aren’t interested in my struggles as an Afro-Latina. This is something I have to work through.

So since I feel that I don’t fit in with typical Latino culture, where does that leave me? Well, the group of people who are more understanding and accepting of my blackness are African-Americans. All of my non-Latino black friends easily understand that as an Afro-Latina, I am black and have my own distinct experience in this country. I’ve had dark-skinned black friends tell me I am “just as black” as they are. That’s something I hesitate to claim because I know that as a light-skinned Afro-Latina, I have it much easier than a dark-skinned black American. I’m well aware of that. But, I appreciate the validation.

As a writer and reader, I devour books as soon as I get my little brown hands on them. While thinking about the books I can most relate to, I realized that I can’t really relate to Sandra Cisneros or writers in the same vein because I am a Caribbean woman. My specific experiences are so vastly different. I don’t have immigrant parents. Citizenship has never been an issue for me, because I’m Puerto Rican. While I can sympathize with Central and South American immigrants’ stories, I cannot really empathize. Our experiences are just so distinct.

Therefore, the books I read that speak to my soul aren’t written by Latino authors, save for one: When I Was Puerto Rican by Esmeralda Santiago. That book touched a deep part of my existence. Except for her book, I find myself reading books about the black woman’s experience in America and intensely resonating with the words I see on the page. I feel understood and accepted when I read those books. The book I’m currently reading is Women, Race, and Class by Angela Y. Davis. Davis documents and dissects multiple aspects of the black female experience from slavery to when she wrote the book, the 1980s, in a way that puts the reader in the shoes of each woman she talks about, whether that’s Sojourner Truth or Ida B. Wells. Davis also mentions the various ways that Puerto Rican women have been abused by the U.S. government, which is something I wrote about a few weeks ago. I’ll include a link to that performance below. Davis acknowledges Puerto Rican women’s blackness more than many Latinos do. 

As I learn more history and deepen my understanding of what “black” is and how I live move, and have my being as a black Spanish-speaking woman in this country, the texts that teach me the most are texts written by and about black American women. Are there texts written by Afro-Latinas about the Afro-Latina experience? Honestly, I’m not so sure. I haven’t heard of any. Maybe that’s because we are just now openly talking about black Latinos and our various experiences. If such literature exists, please direct me that way! I’d love to read them.

But, until I find them, I feel most understood by black American texts, not typical Latino texts. My black American friends are more accepting of my Afro-Latina identity. This is not the ideal. I’d love to be united with my white Latinos and indigenous Latinos, but it’s difficult to actually find them where I live, and even harder to build a rapport. For one, they’re told they can’t be Latino because they’re so white. Afro-Latinos are told they can’t be Latino because they’re so dark. We really can’t win, it seems. I think it’s time we changed the rules to this game because it seems like we’re not supposed to win.

 

Blessings,

 

Gabrielle G.

 

Performance about Puerto Rican history:

New Yorkers and Homelessness

How to be a typical New Yorker when a homeless person comes on the train:

1. Look away
2. Scoff at their personal story as they’re sharing it
3. Roll your eyes
4. Move away completely and act like they don’t exist
5. If you give something, give out of pity and give a dollar or your leftover food

I’ve seen this behavior from followers of Christ and non-believers alike. Followers of Christ, do not think you couldn’t be in their position in a MOMENT. Do not become so secure in your earthly possessions that you look down upon those who lack possessions. Do NOT forget that Christ had nowhere to lay His head and He repeatedly told us to give away our possessions and care for those in need. If you typically do any of the above things when you see a homeless person, check yourself.

 

I think this behavior is so rampant and so identified as a New York thing because we, as New Yorkers, have become so cynical. We see homelessness every day as we commute to our jobs or schools. I probably encounter 10-15 homeless people each day, whether that’s on the train or on the street. As I took an early bus yesterday to the LGA airport in NYC, a homeless woman came on the bus and asked for money. That was my first time seeing a homeless person on a NYC bus; I think it’s easier to get onto the trains.

New Yorkers have witnessed so much evil in human hearts: the 9/11 terror attack, the ways Wall Street has flaunted its wealth and taken advantage of people, and the segregation of people of color in our neighborhoods and schools. We’ve witnessed too much evil. Almost every day we hear about some type of terror attack or stabbing or shooting or rape or mugging or embezzlement and it just becomes exhausting.

So we disengage. We look away. We keep our money in our wallets, because we don’t believe the homeless person’s story. We are on high alert at all times, knowing that at any moment a person, homeless or not, could pull out a weapon and end our lives. A bomb could explode in the train station. So much could happen. Therefore we ignore each other, distrusting every person we see, especially the homeless.

Lord, redeem this. Ignite our hearts for the homeless. Help us take risks in the way we extend love to others. Even if we get duped while giving a dollar to someone who invents a false personal history, does it really matter? I believe the Lord looks at the heart of the giver. No matter, what we give, whether that’s money, food, a sympathizing glance, or encouraging words, we must give it all with joy and love.

“You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. ‘For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.'”  – II Corinthians 9:7

Find some practical ways that you can love your neighbor. Because that homeless person on the train or street is your neighbor. Be the hands and feet of Jesus. Behold, He is coming soon. Let’s be ready to meet our Lord and regale Him with tales of our devotion and action. Jesus is calling.

 

Blessings,
Gabrielle G.

Typical “Women’s Ministry” Fails Women

Readers,

I am absolutely fed up with typical women’s ministry as it’s practiced in church settings. Typical women’s ministry is best understood as groups of women who gather together to discuss their difficulties as mothers and wives. Or, we’re subjected to Scripture study of very specific books like “Ruth” and “Esther” and the primary idea to be grasped is that we have to be Godly women, wait on the right man, and our Boaz will come along eventually. 

Too often, women’s ministry encompasses the following topics:

  1. How to best support your husband as he leads you and the family
  2. How to be a Godly mother
  3. How to balance your time and your duties in the home
  4. How to serve at the church (typically behind the scenes and with children, if there’s a children’s ministry)

In case people don’t know, not all women are wives and mothers. Some of us don’t even want to be wives and mothers. That does not diminish our womanhood or femininity. We’re not incomplete as women because we’re single and childless. We are able to offer just as much to the kingdom of God as any man, no matter our marital status or the state of our wombs. It is not the end goal of a woman’s life to be married and have children. That is a patriarchal way of thinking. Tear it down.

Let’s consider the multiple ways that the Lord Jesus Christ and His apostles treated women. First and foremost, Jesus Christ is the best feminist ever. He fully supports equality between the sexes. A man is not greater than a woman. A woman is not greater than a man. Both equally reflect the image of God. Both have value and purpose in this life. We see how Jesus responds to women multiple times throughout Scripture, whether that’s saving the woman caught in adultery,  gently forgiving the woman with several husbands, showing kindness toward the Gentile woman with great faith, and healing Mary Magdalene of all of her demons and accepting her as one of His followers. By follower, I mean that she quite literally followed Jesus, right alongside Peter and John. She left everything she knew to serve Jesus and followed Him. Luke 8 tells of the several women who financially supported Jesus’ ministry. Clearly, the Lord loves women!

Now, as far as His apostles go, there is often talk of the Apostle Paul being misogynistic and backward in his way of thinking about women. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Everything that the Apostle Paul had to say about women must be understood in the proper cultural context. For example, when Paul said that women should “remain silent” in the church, he did not mean that women should literally never speak. He was pointing out a problem that happened during church services. Women would hear Paul preach and, during the service, ask their husbands what he meant. Paul says that this should be reserved for the home, because they were simply interrupting the service and distracting everyone.

The Apostle Paul is the one who famously said, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” – Galatians 3:28. Here, Paul is not saying that the differences between men and women don’t matter, or that we have no differences, but he is saying that the old way of thinking, the patriarchal way of thinking, has been abolished by Christ’s sacrifice. In heaven, we are all equal and because we are citizens of heaven living on Earth, we must be equal here as well.

Let’s consider then how we should approach women’s ministry. What can and should women contribute to the King’s work on Earth? Well, pretty much everything. Although I agree with Scripture’s prohibition regarding women serving as senior pastors, women can serve in virtually any context. Worship leader? Yup. Small group leader? Definitely. Missionary? Yes, please! We need more of you on the mission field. Outreach and evangelism? Absolutely. Prayer coordinator? No doubt.

You get the idea.

I want to be a part of a women’s ministry that is focused on training women to be better image bearers of Christ. I want to be taught evangelism. I want someone to show me the best ways to do outreach. I want to be trained as a missionary! Let’s gather together and talk about theology, doctrine, and apologetics. Let’s discuss how we can serve the world with our incredible gifts as women of God. Let’s talk about our own struggles with pornography. Can we get into how hard it is for WOMEN to be sexually pure?

Ladies, we are not defined by a ring on our finger or a baby on our hip! We are defined by Christ Jesus alone and we have as much responsibility to bring more of God’s kingdom on earth as any man. We will be held accountable for our actions on earth and I’m not just talking about sin. When we behold the face of Jesus, the last thing we want is to ask ourselves, “Why didn’t I do more for Him?” You are a Kingdom-chaser and a warrior for Christ. Let’s start acting like that, husband or no husband.

 

Blessings,

 

Gabrielle G.

 

 

Observing Systemic Poverty (An Outsider’s PoV)

Both of my parents were raised in poverty. My mother’s type of poverty was systemic: she is a Puerto Rican who first learned Spanish and was raised in Brooklyn’s projects. By God’s grace, my mother was able to leave the projects and she raised my brother and I in Upstate New York, in a beautiful house with a lush green yard and a puppy. Because I grew up in the suburbs, I attended fantastic schools and received a first-rate education. There was never a question of my attending college, although no one else in my family had done so before me. I could attend college and live at home. I wasn’t forced to work at all because my parents were able to provide for my financial needs throughout my college career.

 

Post-undergrad, I’ve had some bouts of poverty in my life. Jobs seem to come and go, or are part-time and can’t provide for all the financial needs I have as a young woman living in New York City. I’ve had seasons of surviving on canned tuna fish and bread and moments of being able to purchase steak and wine regularly. This experience is not singular; most people around my age are in similar circumstances. I see myself as an odd type of poor: I have an apartment (granted I can’t afford the rent), I have an iPhone and a MacBook Air (both gifts from my parents), and I eat three square meals a day (and tons of snacks, let’s be honest). These things typically signify a person’s wealth, or at least economic stability. But, I am not economically stable at all. I cannot afford most things, and by most things I mean rent and my bills, and there’s nothing in my savings account. I’m that odd type of poor where I can sit in this Upper West Side Barnes and Noble, sipping on Starbucks green tea, typing on my laptop, and yet have absolutely no financial stability whatsoever. I recognize that my type of poverty is not systemic. This poverty I experience is due to a few factors, the greatest of them being that I live in the most expensive city in the world, and full-time jobs in my field (education) are extremely hard to come by. I fully understand that my poverty could be eradicated if/when I get that great full-time job and move into a cheaper apartment. My money problems could then be easily fixed by using the budgeting tools I was taught in school and if I have any issues, I have a father I can turn to for advice, guidance, and pocket money. I have immense privilege in this regard.

 

Unlike me, there are those of my same ethnic background who do not share my type of poverty. Their poverty is systemic and it’s extremely painful to observe. I have several family members who live like this and most of my neighbors do as well (I live in the Inwood/Washington Heights area). Regarding my family, I will refrain from revealing exactly who they are in the event that they read this post, so I’ll just refer to them as “my family member.” I have two family members who are a type of patriarch and matriarch of a large part of my Puerto Rican family. Both growing up in poverty themselves, in New York City, they deeply understand the mental pain that arises from feeling trapped in a life from which no one wants you to escape. Yet escape they did, in some regard, by moving their nuclear family further upstate. This is how I perceived their move, as an escape from New York City poverty. During a recent visit, the realization that my previous perception was completely false washed over me and I found it difficult to process. They may live in Upstate New York now, a typical beacon of middle-class life, but they have certainly not escaped from the poverty they were raised in. Looking into their fridge, I found little fresh food and hardly any vegetables at all. Their cupboards were all but bare. The largest and most expensive material good in their house was their television, which was watched most of the day. Both of these wonderful people are disabled and unable to work, so they receive government assistance. As they have no job to occupy their time throughout the day, the television is of utmost importance and it’s how they connect with visitors and each other. In fact, there are several televisions in the home and at least one is always on. Perhaps the sound drowns out the stifling and suffocating silence they endure every day. During a previous visit, this wonderful matriarch was playing games on her iPad when she suddenly stopped, looked into my eyes, and said, “These things are a distraction from real life.” My heart sank. She confirmed my long-held suspicion that she recognizes her lonely state as unhealthy and not the ideal and therefore escapes into games and television to protect her mind from falling into dark, hopeless thoughts about the future.

 

As Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said, “Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty.” She certainly spoke the truth with that statement and I have seen this poverty play out in many family members’ lives. There’s a young woman in my family who is a single mother of a child with special needs. That alone is a difficult burden to bear, but to add onto it poverty and mental illness is unimaginable. I don’t think I could bear such a life and my heart breaks for her. This young woman is my lovely matriarch’s daughter and, like her mother, was born and raised in New York City poverty. She had the chance to attend college, but found herself unable to keep up with her peers and dropped out. This is most likely due to the condition of New York City’s public schools and the fact that among the poor, encouragement toward an educational goal is hard to come by. Parents can’t help with the homework because of language barriers or ignorance of difficult material. Parents don’t see getting an education as a priority, because money needs to constantly flow into the home. Food must be purchased every week. Bills have to be paid on time. Why waste time with a book when you can be working and supporting your family? That is the type of work that is valued when human survival is at risk.

 

I am certainly not saying that this was my family member’s parents’ reaction to her decision to attend college. I don’t know anything about that. What I do know is that this type of thinking exists and it’s a thought pattern that is extraordinarily difficult to break. If an individual believes what I’ve written above, that person is not incorrect or mean-natured. They are actually correct. Eating today matters much more than studying. But studying and earning degrees will ensure that the need to eat need not be so desperate. Working in an office or owning a company pays much better than working as a cashier does.

 

This young family member confided in me during my last visit. At the kitchen table, over cups of coffee and hot chocolate, she revealed some of her financial struggles. “Gabby, I only had enough for a loaf of bread, a gallon of milk, and a dozen eggs. How am I supposed to feed my son on that?” She ended up having to feed her son an entire loaf of bread in a day to ensure that his belly was full. Thankfully her welfare check came in a few days after that experience. When she shared this information with me, her eyes were full of shame. Here was a twenty-nine-year-old single mother with a child with special needs and no one to help her other than the government that was never for her in the first place. This family member revealed that she has been unemployed for quite some time and as each potential workplace rejects her applications, she becomes more and more dejected. She said that she could not even get hired as a cashier, although she does indeed have a high school diploma, which is the requirement for that type of job.

 

Now, as I reflected on the type of poverty I observed during my visit, I began to feel more hopeful about my own financial situation. Yes, I may be struggling and, at times, desperate, but I have infinitely more resources than my family members do. I have people I can turn to in times of crises. I have my own personal knowledge about options I have for my life. I have a Cum Laude Bachelor’s Degree that no person may take from me. I always present myself in a way that fits in with the majority culture, as I was educated in institutions founded by the majority culture. I know how to speak like them, work like them, and even make small talk like them. These are tools all people of color have had to learn if they want to advance in this country, as it is quite clear that this country will never bend its traditional ways of doing business and behaving in the workplace. This is something I’m sure my family members will most likely not be able to do. Now, I’m not saying that people of color should intentionally alter their way of speaking or behavior to fit in with the majority culture in the workplace. I’m saying that we all do this and it works. Take from that what you will.

 

Although my poverty can easily end with a great job, the type of poverty that my family experiences will not be so easily eradicated. It is a mental and spiritual condition that will take the Holy Spirit’s power to break free from. I do not have all the answers; I have not studied this enough to be considered a credible person to glean wisdom from in this area. However, I do believe that with more social programs, free access to mental health care, knowledge of healthy food choices, and so many more things, those who are stuck in systemic poverty can break free. Granted all of the systems are set in place to prevent this from happening. But, dammit, we must have a fighting spirit if we want to be emancipated from the shackles that the oppressor has so systematically fashioned around our ankles.

The Truth about Puerto Rico (Told to a White Audience)

Puerto Rico

Isla del encanto

Land of arroz con habichuelas y mofongo

Exporter of Marc Anthony and Rita Moreno

We’re well-known for what we give, aren’t we?

 

But, what about what has been taken from us?

 

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

They forced their foreign tongues 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.

 

Puerto Rico. Tiny island, somewhere in the Caribbean

Not sure what their government’s like

Not sure if they can vote in our elections

Wait, aren’t they Americans? Why?

 

Why. This question turns in my head often

Why Puerto Rico has never been free.

Black bodies passed from Spanish hands to American hands

Different linguistically but still pale and cold hands.

 

Autonomy has never been known to the Puerto Rican.

Liberty to choose an identity was never for us.

So, yes, we are Americans. By force.

We became one of you in 1917, right when WWI was heating up.

How convenient.

 

The U.S. military has used Puerto Rican bodies for their wars

And yet has consistently denied us our freedom.

Freedom to think, to protest, to fly our flag.

Freedom to have babies when we want to, or even at all.

 

During the 1950s, “la operacion” became a household word

Amongst the tragically ignorant housewives in Puerto Rico.

A promise was made: better family size; more money.

And women were cut: they were sterilized against their will

By the U.S. government.

 

Scratching and clawing at this situation,

Like a tourist’s bad sunburn,

We wanted to resist, to peel it,

And let our natural, sun-kissed skin grow.

 

Pedro Albizu Campos led this resistance.

A Harvard-educated man, he was a polyglot

And his linguistic capital gave him the ability

To feverishly speak to anyone who could help Puerto Rico become free.

 

This fiery passion would become his downfall.
Much like MLK or Malcolm X, Campos became a threat.

Independence. Our own flag. Women’s rights to their own bodies.

The U.S. wasn’t ready to talk about that during the 1950’s.

 

Pedro Albizu Campos was murdered, through medical experiments and torture.

The U.S. channeled the Nazis they had just vehemently fought against

In order to subdue this “angry Puerto Rican man.”

The independence movement flickered out, with embers still aching to be noticed.

 

During this movement, my grandmother was one of the many women who fled Puerto Rico

To avoid sterilization, and she found herself in the projects of downtown Brooklyn.

Here she raised almost ten children on her own, without any man.

Nueva York seemed to be the land of opportunity for so many like her.

 

But that opportunity came with terms and conditions,

That my grandmother couldn’t read, let alone sign.

If you don’t speak English, your future in this country is dim.

Citizen or not, Spanish, at that time, did not get you far.

 

And so she remained in downtown Brooklyn,

Feeding her children using food stamps,

Hoping that one of them would leave this place

And fulfill the dream she had had, as a twenty-something coming to the mainland.

 

Puerto Rico was and is unable to promise the growth that New York does.

Much of that is because the U.S. created Puerto Rico to be what it is.

It’s a vicious cycle, isn’t it?
And one feels shame, begging the oppressor for better opportunities, knowing that their hand has always been closed to you.

 

But, this country was not for my grandmother. No one rooted for her. She learned little English, despite her best efforts.

Literacy was completely unknown to her. She could not advance in life, so one of her children did.

My mother, from her childhood, knew that she wanted more than this life

Of simply eating government cheese, playing on the needle-ridden streets, going to dilapidated schools, and waiting to die, in Brooklyn, the borough that has become so hip lately.

 

Through her tenacity and fierce commitment to her education,

My mother was able to leave the projects

And when the time came for her to choose to have children,

She had two and raised them in Upstate New York’s quiet suburbs.

 

I stand here as a creation of God and a reflection of my island’s past.

The U.S. has hurt Puerto Rico immensely and continues to do so

With its disgusting response to the island’s cries, post-Maria.

Lares esta gritando and this isn’t the first time.

 

I must openly speak what is true, while I have this platform.

 

Americans love to dance to “Despacito” and swoon over our women,

Yet most of you do not know that Puerto Rico is a colony of the U.S. and that we have been citizens for a century.

You love to eat our food, move into our neighborhoods, and visit our island’s resorts,

Yet you know next to nothing about our history, our pain and how it affects us today.

 

Puerto Rican history is American history.

If you neglect this part of your ancestors’ past,

You are bound to repeat it.

My people will suffer from your lack of knowledge.

 

The U.S. government and its citizens have deeply wounded Puerto Rico.

In all honesty, I’m not sure we can totally recover.

But what has to happen, is an attitude change, a heart shift.

Begin to see the Puerto Rican as your fellow citizen, your fellow human,

And you will become righteously indignant.

Speak up for us, because when we speak, Washington, D.C. chooses not to hear us,

Even though we speak the language they forced on us.

 

Gabrielle G.

 

“Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” – I John 3:18

 

How to Help Puerto Rico:

https://www.unidosporpuertorico.com/en/

https://secure.savethechildren.org/site/c.8rKLIXMGIpI4E/b.9535647/k.A2B9/Hurricane_Maria_Childrens_Relief_Fund/apps/ka/sd/donor.asp?msource=wexgphca0917&gclid=EAIaIQobChMIjum-0tyK2AIViI-zCh3qHgP1EAAYAiAAEgIMwPD_BwE