“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.

Advertisements

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:

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

We Saw Each Other

Yesterday morning, I woke up with intense stomach pain. I knew I needed to be seen by a doctor soon, but these NYC doctors weren’t taking me seriously. Thankfully my mother offered for me to fly down to Atlanta and get the medical care I needed there.

Nothing that morning was going right. Instead of diving into the underground, I saw a bus headed toward Penn Station, where I needed to catch the NYC Airporter. I swiped my MetroCard and plopped down in a seat, waiting for my stop. Two hours ticked by and the bus still hadn’t reached Penn Station. Next, I get the notice that the bus would only stop at 42nd street, not 34th street. I dashed off the bus and ran to 34th street, praying that the Airporter would still be there. It was. Thank GOD!

I lugged my backpack into the Airporter and sat directly behind the driver, a tall black man in his 40s or 50s. He ended his phone call and demanded, “Who are you?” I replied, “Gabrielle. Who are you?” “Ray.” he said, confidently.

I could tell that he wanted to chit chat with me so I put my headphones in my bag and prepared myself for whatever he wanted to discuss. During the fifteen-minute bus ride, he told me a big chunk of his life story. Here’s the essentials: he’s from NYC and moved to Maryland recently to save some money and start a new life. Unfortunately, no one would hire him in Maryland. He discussed the various reasons for that:

  1. He’s from NYC and they don’t like New Yorkers.
  2. Black people down there have a “slave mentality.”

I don’t know if that’s true, but I know that his experience is valid. So, he wasn’t able to find a job in Maryland and had to come back to NYC last winter, the absolute worst time to be down on your luck in the big city. In order to survive, Ray stayed at a homeless shelter and worked as a street cleaner, sweeping streets and changing garbage bags.

While he told me all of this, I thought about my own life. To me, a retail job is demeaning. I couldn’t even imagine myself doing the type of labor he had to do for his survival. Who do I think I am?

Now he drives for the Airporter and he rents a room in NYC, although he has aspirations to move outside of NYC. He never thought he’d be in this situation at his age, but he’s not giving up hope. His friends tell him that God is testing him, and of course I put my two cents in at that moment.

After describing everything I’ve been through this year, I added that maybe God is teaching him to learn to rely on Him. Maybe God wants him to appreciate what He’s given him. I don’t know what God’s doing in Ray’s life. But, I do know that God loves Ray deeply. He cares about his life. He wants the best for Ray.

Ray gave me some good life advice. He told me to never give up. He told me to hang in there. I’m young and my whole life is ahead of me.

After the bus ride, he tried to give me a high-five and I tried to give him a tip. He refused to take it. I insisted and he said, “You need it more than I do.”

I looked up at him and said, “This is for the life advice you gave me. From a sister to a brother.”

Immediately his eyes flushed with tears and he hugged me and called me his friend.

 

God bless this man. What a God experience.

 

Gabrielle G.

Mezcla by Gabrielle Krystal Greiner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Strands and Roots

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Am Biracial (¡Guau! ¡No Me Digas!)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What are you?”

What am I? A beloved daughter of the King.

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

Which half? Depends on who YOU are.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I don’t want to anymore.