I’m Betraying My Culture? My People?

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans. I made a decision when I booked that one-way flight to India, which I don’t think I fully understood at the time. I made a deliberate decision to pursue holy overseas work in India, not in Puerto Rico or any other place. Sometimes I feel a little bit guilty about that, especially considering what has happened on the island in Hurricane Maria’s wake. There is a severe shortage of teachers. There are hurting women, men, children, and teenagers. There are a lot of suicides happening in Puerto Rico. The U.S. government won’t openly admit this, by the way. Those who can leave are leaving the island in droves. It’s completely falling apart even though the U.S. government has a responsibility to provide for Puerto Ricans just like they would for white people in the states. BECAUSE WE ARE CITIZENS, DAMMIT.

 

Yet I didn’t go to Puerto Rico. I absolutely could have. For a while, I was in talks with this organization that sends people out to do holy overseas work. We extensively talked about Puerto Rico. Instead, I chose to come to India, a place where I’d have to learn multiple new languages, change the way I dress, eat differently, behave differently around men, and say goodbye to my favorite American/NYC things. Oh, and I said goodbye to my family and friends, too. I said goodbye knowing full well that I had no intention of returning in the foreseeable future. The only way I will return is if God audibly speaks to me and tells me to leave India or if everything completely falls apart, leaving me with no one to help. The former may happen and the latter is  borderline impossible.

 

Some may say that I’m betraying my culture by doing what I’m doing. Why am I not focused on Puerto Rican suffering? Instead I’m intentionally immersing myself in a culture I was not born into, changing so many things about how I present myself to people, and even changing the way I spell my name (although I hate it), because I want my name to be better understood and pronounced by the Indian people. I will belt out “Jana Gana Mana” in a heartbeat but will never again sing “The Star Spangled Banner.” You don’t have to reject your home country completely in order to do this type of work, but I just intensely dislike the U.S., so that’s me. Sometimes I pull my hair back into a bun so that my afro isn’t so striking. I try to stay in the sun for a bit every day to steadily darken my skin. I’m intentionally getting darker, which baffles every Indian I talk to about being tan. They tell me that my color is good and not to get darker. I tell them I want to get dark. They stare at me in amazement. I don’t see any of this as a betrayal. I see it as beautiful. I think of Amy Carmichael who went to Tamil Nadu from IRELAND, basically one of the whitest places on Earth. She wore Indian clothes and was one of the first overseas workers to do so. She stained her skin with coffee so her light skin wouldn’t be too shocking to the Indians she served. She had a strong cultural background as well and she gave it all up to be His hands and feet in India.

 

For now, I have traded arroz con habichuelas for rice and dal (chicken curry as well if it’s a good day). I have put the t-shirt and jeans aside in favor of salwar suits. Jhumkas jingle in my ears and chudiyan sparkle on my wrists. I have just about given up the hope of finding many people who speak Spanish, although the Lord has blessed me with one here who is learning Spanish! She calls me a “chica bonita”, a “pretty girl.” I probably won’t see my biological family for quite some time. But, to me, it’s all worth it. He’s worth all this effort, which honestly doesn’t feel like much effort at all. It’s all so easy for me, which I thank God for. To be frank, I don’t really see what I’m doing as very different or special. To me, this is the only way I know how to live. But, while writing this, I heard God say to my heart, “Do you realize the magnitude of what you’re doing?” I really don’t! I pray that He shows me. Just like for those who came before me and for those who will come after me, it’s all for Him. This is what I want to be remembered for: loving Him and loving His creation.

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

Why I Reject Santeria as an Afro-Latina

As more Latinos claim their African ancestry as a point of pride and call themselves “Afro-Latinos”, I have begun to see a resurfacing of acceptance of Santeria and other types of Brujeria (witchcraft). This spirituality is typically practiced amongst women who call themselves “Santeras”, although men, “Santeros”, practice it as well. In their opinion, they are bringing healing and prosperity to themselves and others, by tapping into the strength of their ancestors and the gods of their people. For many Afro-Latinos, to claim Afrolatinidad means to embrace the religious and spiritual practices of our African ancestors. I am here to boldly claim that I do not accept any part of Santeria or any other religious/spiritual practice other than the way of Jesus Christ. I am not less Afro-Latina because I reject Santeria. Santeria is a dangerous practice that injures its followers’ minds, bodies, and most importantly, their souls.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Santeria, I’ll briefly explain what it is and what it means to its followers. You may use the beautiful resource that is Google to learn more if you’d like. Santeria, per Wikipedia, “is an Afro-American religion of Caribbean origin that developed in the Spanish Empire among West African descendants. Santería is a Spanish word that means the “worship of saints”. Santería is influenced by and syncretized with Roman Catholicism. Its sacred language, a variety of Yoruba, is the Lucumí language”. 

Essentially, when Africans were brought to the Caribbean islands as slaves, they were forced to become Roman Catholics, as the Spaniards were Catholic. These Africans absolutely did not want to give up their religious practices, as religion is a massively important part of any culture. Therefore, they worshipped their African gods in secret, masquerading them as Roman Catholic saints. As the Catholics prayed to the saints, and still do, the Africans managed to maintain their religious practices while pretending to be Catholic.

Santeria has deep roots in my Puerto Rican family. My mother told me this summer that her mother used to force her to pray to little statues and photos of gods and to give them sacrifices and offerings, like food, money, and perfume. Also, because my grandmother often saw my mother as “bad”, which meant precocious and opinionated, my mother experienced a cleansing of sorts. An ancient ritual, intending to rid her of evil spirits, was performed on her in the bathtub and it disturbed her. As a child, my mother questioned these practices and saw them as fruitless. To her, these statues and photos were just pictures of dead or fictional people who held no power over her life. This tradition of Santeria was passed down to my mother much like the Spanish language or the practice of eating rice and beans. It was and is simply in our culture to worship the gods.

Thankfully the Lord has had His hand intensely upon my mother throughout her entire life and as a young girl, she developed a deep faith in Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior. Through her knowledge of Scripture and the Holy Spirit’s power, my mother became instrumental in leading her own mother to faith in Jesus Christ. My grandmother renounced all ties to Santeria. Since then, no one on my mother’s side has been connected to Santeria, to the best of my knowledge.

There is another person in my family who has practiced Santeria and has confessed to me that she saw spirits sometimes and that her daughter reported seeing spirits as well.  These spirits included an old woman and a young girl, who apparently pressed her face immediately against my family member’s when she appeared. Whenever she discussed these apparitions, she claimed that seeing spirits was “a gift.” I learned these things through her stories.

These are all personal anecdotes of how Santeria has harmed my family. You may be thinking, “Well, they just didn’t practice Santeria correctly. This doesn’t mean you have to reject it. Others can freely practice it without experiences like these.” You’re absolutely right. Every human being has a choice in what they believe and practice. God will not force Himself upon any individual; He is a gentleman. But, I hold the Bible to be the only true religious text and therefore must completely reject Santeria as a viable spiritual practice for myself and for anyone who is seeking to know the One True God.

Let’s take a look at the person of Jesus Christ. Historians agree that such a man named Jesus certainly existed. Whether or not He is the Lord, the Messiah, and the Son of God is the question. Many religious texts and practices agree that Jesus was a good teacher and some even go so far as to claim that He was a great prophet, but nothing more. What’s perplexing and should bring pause is that these religions feel they need to answer the Jesus question. Jesus is so singular that they cannot ignore His existence and ministry on Earth. His teachings are radical and confusing. Readers, you can reject Jesus as God, you can believe in Him as just a prophet, you can merely enjoy His teachings about helping the poor, but there is one thing you cannot do. You cannot ignore Jesus Christ as a person. If major world religions, such as Islam, have an answer for Jesus while still denying His deity, you must form an opinion about Him. Many people have said that Jesus is either Lord or an absolute nut/fraud.

Jesus Christ made some authoritative claims about Himself that have never been made by another person in history. Here’s one of them: “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.'” – John 14:6

Wait, what? Jesus claimed to be the only way to know God, and also was God Himself. Who else has made such an outrageous claim? Mohammed claimed to be a prophet but certainly did not claim to be the Messiah or God Himself. All religions claim to point to the way, such as through a specific diet or abstaining from things like music and sex, but no one else has claimed to be God. This is a claim that we must investigate and take seriously because if He is correct, then all human life hinges upon this claim.

So let’s say that Jesus is just crazy and/or a fraud. What do we do with His other teachings and behavior? Jesus was a 1st century Jewish Rabbi. In His culture, associating with women was forbidden and a Gentile woman was like a dog. Jesus made it a part of His ministry to specifically reach out to women, even Gentile women. Two examples of Jesus showing love to Gentile women are found in John 4 and Matthew 15. To Jewish women, Jesus saved one of them from being stoned in John 8 and allowed a sinful woman to anoint Him in Luke 7, much to the shock of all of the religious leaders around Him at the time. As far as His teachings about the poor go, one simply has to read Matthew 5 in its entirety to see a man committed to societal equity and loving those who are vulnerable.

We cannot believe that Jesus is crazy while also accepting His teachings and praising His kind and forgiving behavior. The two are absolutely mutually exclusive. So if Jesus is not crazy, then who is He? He must be Lord, because He claimed no other title.

I could write for hours about why I believe the Bible to be true and why Jesus is God, but that would turn into a book. Note to self: write a book before you die.

Jesus claimed to be the only way to God and I accept that claim as the truth. If I accept Jesus, then I also accept the Hebrew Scriptures He preached from and referenced. The Bible is full of warnings against witchcraft or spiritual practices that don’t center around Christ. God warns us that we are not safe with mediums (psychics) or witches. He tells us this quite forcefully in Leviticus: “Do not turn to mediums or seek out spiritists, for you will be defiled by them. I am the LORD your God.” (Lev. 19:31) and “I will set my face against anyone who turns to mediums and spiritists to prostitute themselves by following them, and I will cut them off from their people” (Lev. 20:6). Scripture clearly states that if a person is to know the One True God, the God of the Bible, they cannot have anything to do with witchcraft. It results in loss of relationship with God, which is what He wants with us. We cannot serve two masters. How can we claim to worship Jesus, who professed to be the only way to God, while also worshipping African deities? We must choose. I am not saying this. Jesus says this.

What will your choice be today? If you’ve been living life as a Santera or Santero and you want to talk more about Jesus or if you want to leave that life, please reach out to me! I’d love to talk about this more in depth and pray for you.

 

Blessings,

 

Gabrielle G.

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.

 

Moving Back to NYC! (#Adulting)

Well, it’s been a week since I’ve been back in NYC. I’ve done so many things:

 

  1. Saw Miss Saigon (I’m obsessed. See it NOW!)
  2. Indulged in happy hour at a hipster bar in the gentrified part of town (it’s still cute, doe)
  3. Got my first massage (I’ve been missing out!)
  4. Frolicked around Spanish Harlem (PR food is the best)
  5. Ate lots of arepas (#VenezuelaLibre)

After all of this fun, with my friends back to their normal schedules, I’m left sitting on my new bed, a couch in an apartment that belongs to a friend of a friend. I have no private space of my own in this place, but I like it. It’s spacious and in a “good” part of Washington Heights. “Good” means there are fewer PoCs and more hipster bars.

As I dash about the city from doctor appointments to job interviews to laundromats to Target (I need cheap furniture), I think about the past few months. My life was essentially on hold while living in Georgia. I was stripped from all familiarity, so to come back to NYC, my home, should be thrilling right??

Yes and no. I love NYC. My heart beats with the chug chug of the A train as I zip uptown to Wash Heights. I enjoy buying pastelitos and piraguas from the street vendors. (Support Latino street vendors!) I love being with my friends again.

But, something has changed.

I’m older now, not in number but in wisdom. I’m wary of this city. I know this city has the power to build but also to destroy to the point of desperation. I was there.

I pray that this city is kinder to me this time around. I ask God to expand my friend groups and to grow my faith community.

I’ll keep you guys updated.

 

Blessings,

 

Gabrielle G.