“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.

 

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:

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

Self-Denial and Your Calling (Puerto Rico?)

Readers,

I’m sure you’ve been keeping up to date with the news on Puerto Rico, as we all should. Although the President says that the government’s relief efforts have been extraordinary, the faces of the people in Puerto Rico are telling me otherwise. The incredible mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulin Cruz, has given passionate pleas for Puerto Ricans, using such strong words like “dying” and “genocide.” Wow, and that’s the capital city.

So if those in the capital city are suffering so viciously, we must accept that there are many in the campo (countryside) who are worse off. They have no water, no electricity, no food, and no medical supplies. I’m certain that the death toll is much higher than the government believes it to be. I have no doubt that there are many Puerto Ricans in the campo who have died in their homes and relief workers simply haven’t found them yet.

This disastrous hurricane has raised so many feelings inside of me. I’ve been turning various options over in my mind, trying to find how God could be calling me to respond in the wake of this tragedy. The Lord knows that my Spanish isn’t the best and I don’t have enough work experience to convince myself that I can make a difference in Puerto Rico.

While many Puerto Ricans are leaving the island, as recovery is likely to take decades, there are countless others who have no such luxury. They cannot leave the island. They must stay until their dying day, which may be quickened by the terrible conditions Puerto Rico now suffers from. 

How can I get involved? What are my talents? Well, I can teach English. I can work with children. I can hand out supplies to those in need. I can be a mentor to teenage girls.

What are my spiritual gifts? I have the gift of exhortation, empathy, teaching, and faith. NO DOUBT God can use those.

But, what do I lack? Language skills. I know that on my own, without the Holy Spirit’s help, it will be incredibly difficult to share the gospel with anyone in Spanish.

This is what keeps me from moving to the island and investing in my fellow Puerto Ricans. Funnily enough, a lack of language skills hasn’t deterred me from thinking about serving God in India, because I’m not Indian. No one would expect me to know Hindi, Bengali, Malayalam, Tamil, etc. But, because I’m Puerto Rican, I face some backlash for not speaking the language as well as I’d like. I face shame. I face rejection, I face questions about my upbringing. 

I think of Moses. When God called him back to his own people, the people he wasn’t raised with, he kept complaining that he wouldn’t know how to speak to the people. God gave him Aaron for that. I hope to find my own Aaron along the way to be my mouthpiece until I can become fluent in Spanish.

Will I move to Puerto Rico? Perhaps. Do I want to? Hell yeah. To go back to the island my grandmother called home would be an honor. To return to my roots and invest in my people would be a gift. I pray that the Holy Spirit helps me get over myself enough for me to actually do this.

 

I don’t want to meet the King of Kings face to face and say I never left New York City because I was scared to be rejected. I want to tell Him that I left all I ever knew, planted myself in a poor country where I hardly spoke the language, and loved the people well. All for Him. It’s all for Him. It’s time to pray.

 

Blessings,

 

Gabrielle G.

 

Hurricane Maria and Puerto Rico

It is very hard to be a Puerto Rican, which is to be an American, and to read some of the nasty comments people post online about how the US government should or should not help Puerto Rico in Hurricane Maria’s wake.

I have read many racist comments about Puerto Ricans, saying that we are unintelligent, incompetent, rude, white-haters, etc. These people tend to be the first to island hop throughout the Caribbean, tasting the delights of the islands, while simultaneously hating the black and brown hands that serve them Mojitos on the beach.

My mind is blown when I read these comments, but it should not be so shocking. Most Americans are terribly ignorant of the fact that Puerto Rico is a colony of the US. Oh did I write “colony”? I meant “commonwealth.” (We’re really a colony.)

When Spain and the US fought over our island, we were shifted from Spanish hands into American ones. America granted us citizenship in 1917, oh how convenient. Right when they needed men for WWI.

The US is the country that denied us the right to fly our flag and to govern ourselves for quite some time. It is also the country that forced sterilizations on Puerto Rican women, most of whom were completely ignorant of the operation and the repercussions of it.

Why did they sterilize us? Well, it was an effort to “help” us, they proclaim, yet we know the truth. They were tired of using their precious money to care for poor, colored Puerto Rican children. They thought that sterilizing us and testing birth control on our women would rectify that situation.

So, does the US owe anything to Puerto Rico in terms of humanitarian aid? You bet your ass they do. They stripped us of our autonomy and our right to be free. US taxpayers should pay for the restoration of a land that so many Beckys enjoy during Spring Break.

Puerto Rico is a beautiful island, filled with resilient, intelligent, colorful, joyful people. I am one of them, although I was born in NYC (Puerto Rico #2). We are teachers, doctors, mothers, sisters, nephews, shop-owners, preachers, and above all, people. We are people. We are American. Help us.