Sunday, June 5, 2011

Your Silence Will Not Protect You

At some point one has to declare a cease-fire, be it by choice or not. Some will declare it after deep reflection, others through surrender and others, having waited too long, via death. Today I declare a cease-fire on my active state of being partially purposeful and partially responsible. No one is such a thing. No one can be partially anything when dealing in a revolution, especially this revolution, our bottomless well of a revolution. This revolution being the very same one our ancestors participated in and fought for but which now bears new faces, newer dimensions and many more missed opportunities. It is the revolution of naming an action, capturing the image and documenting the present.

In my absence, I became a random star floating in a vast galaxy. I become a mere pixel assisting in the whole. I am among the many who forgot their role, who ignored their own value and lost sight of what was important. I am one among the many who believed that existing could be enough; that my action of nothingness caused no harm until I realized that the revolution continued despite me, affecting my offspring in ways I hadn't fathomed possible; that the revolution was losing ground by my silence and inaction.

Neutrality is a farce. We all have an opinion. We all have a reaction. We use the term 'being neutral' as a defense. We are scared. We are hiding from the fear of not harboring the popular thought. We are hiding from publicly being wrong or perhaps, we're not hiding at all. Perhaps we're just plain lazy. Whatever the reason, we are failing. We are failing the cause. We have consciously put down our arms and allowed our enemies broader range into our spaces, into our minds and into our lives. We have allowed them easier access into mass persuasion. Essentially we have been, I have been handing over my power.

Is it not true that a picture does not stop being a picture if one pixel becomes obsolete? And is it not true that the galaxy will carry forth despite the absence of another stars beam? Therefore, it is true that the issues will continue to manifest from the palms of trouble makers (intentional or not) despite the absence of a fallen comrade. THIS comrade has decided to get up. THIS comrade rises, grabs her weaponry and while she may be incapable of stopping the bullets from being fired, she can certainly join the front line alongside her fellow bloggers. Sir William Shakespeare once wrote "many wearing rapiers are afraid of goosequills." Well I say, be very afraid! I have risen and have decided to right my wrong by rejoining the revolution. I have a voice, therefore I am obligated to respond, to teach and to document.

I am making a "come-back" because it is needed, because there is a circus of situations feverishly showing their heads like some surreal Jack-In-The-Box that just won't quit. I spent my days observing from the sidelines as sideshow after sideshow developed. I witnessed the arrival of SB1070 and HB87 and did very little about it. I witnessed earthquake after earthquake torment our brothers and sisters in Haiti, Chile and Japan and all I did was change a Facebook status. I did the same with the news concerning the growing epidemic of homelessness and cholera outbreak in Haiti. I followed quietly as police rattled the lives of innocent civilians here in the states and caused havoc on teachers and students in Puerto Rico. I followed the news of questionable budget cuts and continued injustice against both women and children and of politicians gone drunk with power and on and on and on and nothing. I watched and read as children continued to fall through the cracks of the public school system and just simply felt sad. I watched families struggle with the idea of assimilation when they didn't need to go through it at all. Why have I stopped teaching? Why haven't I taught survival was possible bi-culturally? Why wasn't there talk of acculturation instead? I can no longer stay quiet. My silence does more harm than good. It protects no one. It helps no one. It betrays.

To witness and follow is not enough. Indeed it is a wise move to be informed, but with knowledge comes responsibility and I need to get my act together concerning the latter. This post is not only a confession and promise, it is also a call for all my fallen comrades! Pick up your quills!

In the words of Audre Lorde, "Your silence will not protect you." You WILL be held accountable, if not by me then by your own child, your neighbor, an elder, your sister, your mother, your best friends father, your neighborhood baker, your community members, the whole. Let us be the Whitney Young's, the Alberto Korda's, the Pedro Albizu Campos and the Juan Antonio Corretjer's of our generation. Perhaps those are tall glasses to fill but fill it we must, be it through photographs, media, essays, protests and/or literature.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

On Not Being Black Enough

This here is another case of not being "Black" enough for the African-Americans and not being "Spanish" enough for the Latino's. I discovered this at one of the colleges I attended some years back (a brief stint), where the majority of the student body was mostly Latinos and African-Americas with sprinkles of everything else. I being a dark-skinned Latina am no stranger to people assuming that I am African-American, that is until the Spanish language started spilling out of my mouth. Once that had happened, I was no longer a valid specimen and my Latino counterparts did not find me to their liking due to the fact that I did not speak English with a Spanish accent. It's true, I don't say jes; I say yes. I'm not saying that to knock anyone, simply that's just me. Can I be an individual? Can I be me?

This here is a rant. I don't know why I let down my guard. It appears that letting down my guard is only good for letting something or someone bite me on the rear. So here it is again. Years later after having mentioned the upcoming release of the movie "Black Dynamite", all hell broke loose and that all too familiar spasm of "I'm Black and your not" has resurfaced.


Fuming, I would first like to say that anyone can go to the movie theater and watch whichever movie they so desire regardless of race, color, creed, national origin, ancestry, sex, marital status, disability, religious or political affiliations, age or sexual orientation (in case you didn't know). Second, I would like to remind you that some of the smartest people on the planet never sat a day in their lives in a college classroom, yet college graduates walk around absolutely clueless on a daily basis. You may be one of them. Therefore, my lack of sitting in a classroom that discussed Blaxploitation films does not mean I am beyond understanding the "real" meanings laced in movies like "Black Dynamite". I can understand your wanting to claim certain things under your ethnic group, trust me I do. I myself am guilty of said action and am always happy to say "and she's Latina" or "she's one of us" type remarks, to show pride and ownership of things I feel proud of. So yes, I get where your coming from. However, that does not give you the right or the pass to act the fool. This Latina is quite aware of the ghetto, drug dealers, ethnic slurs, and yes, even pimps. Believe it or not, I too watched Foxy Brown and I too know about the "five on the black hand side". But those truly are trivial things. I would like to think this wasn't as big a deal as you had made it. I was simply talking about the release of a movie come this Friday.

And yet that is still not enough.

You tell me that I don't know what it's like to be Black in America. Oh but how I do! When most people see me, they see a Black face in America. They do not think that this dark-skinned woman is Afro-Latina (and take note: the 'Afro' in Afro-Latina, but I won't go into that). They do not see a Mexican in America. They do not see a Panamanian in America. They do not see a Colombian in America nor a Puerto Rican in America. The see my skin and there have been times, many in fact that I am treated unfairly because of it. I never attribute this to being treated Black. I attribute this to being treated lesser than. I attribute it to being treated like the minority. While I am not telling you that you should see it my way, I am saying that I do know what you are talking about. I am saying that I do get treated like I'm "Black", but what the hell does that have to do with the type of movie I decide to watch? What planet do you hail from that you would believe that the Japanese are the only ones going to see anime or that the Russians are the only ones that go to the ballet? Do you really believe that belonging to a particular ethnic group means you automatically have a complete and thorough understanding of your own culture? Really, do you?

Finally, I do want you to understand that I am not boxing in your ancestors struggles or your struggle or the struggle of the Black person in America into the one huge box with that of the Latinos. I am aware that there are differences, but just keep in mind that the struggle, each struggle of each "minority" (minority being quite debatable in this day and age) group should not be working against one another, but working at least towards the same goals. I dare take you back some years and remind you how this idea isn't new nor unheard of. As a matter of fact, I dare say it's still worth it's weight as far as being an excellent strategy. Remember the Black Panther Party (Oh yes, I know about that too), it at one time was the only organization that Latino's knew about. It was and became the model for the Young Lords Party. While separate, they fought the same battles. Hence, I dare you to do the same and put aside the petty thinking of whether or not a Latino or Italian person can see a movie such as Black Dynamite and join in on the bigger issue at hand.

Side note: I never intended on seeing 'Black Dynamite'.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

My Lord, I loved Frijoles and Celia - Poem

Every now and again one must stop to give thanks. Even with all the "ugly" laced in life, one has to admit that the charms far exceed the repulsions. I think we all agree that the "bad" is necessary in order for us to see just how great the "good" truly is. With that being said, allow me to bring your attention to one of the "good" things in life.


I recently came across a picture book that had me absolutely tickled! I was so taken with the book, that I called two girlfriends of mine and read them the book in its entirety. The book was titled "Celia Cruz: Queen of Salsa", by Veronica Chambers. Veronica Chambers did an excellent job in talking about Celia Cruz's upbringing in Cuba and in the United States. She spoke of the challenges Celia faced, her singing and her love for Pedro Knight. (I smile as I think of Pedro Knight and su cabecita de algodón).


The illustrator of this gem is Julie Maren. Julie did a magnificent job capturing Celia in all her colors! Celia Cruz was well known for her vibrant colors and breathtaking wigs. She was known for her flamboyant sense of style which was depicted beautifully in the artwork of this book.


There is a poet by the name Czeslaw Milosz who wrote a poem titled, "A Confession". The first line of the poem always makes me smile because, it's funny and odd to think that if one should be placed in front of a higher power or the Lord, that the first thing he'd say was how he loved strawberry jam as part of his confession. Below is an excerpt of that poem:

My Lord, I loved strawberry jam
And the dark sweetness of a woman’s body.
Also well-chilled vodka, herring in olive oil,
Scents, of cinnamon, of cloves.
So what kind of prophet am I?

Well if I were placed in front of the Lord to confess of the things I was most thankful for and loved, I'd certainly think of this book as part of my list. I'd begin like this:

For Celia

My Lord, I loved frijoles negros,
the guaracha of her walk
the azuquita of her voice.
I fancied the colors of the rainbow,
the banging on congas,
the hunger of Salsa.

My Lord, I loved pan Cubano
con strawberry jam.
What does this all mean?

Frijoles negros
(literally "black beans" in Spanish) is a nutritious dish made with black beans, prepared in Cuba, Puerto Rico, Mexico, and several other nations in Latin America.
Pan Cubano - Cuban bread
Guaracha - The guaracha is a genre of Cuban popular music, of rapid tempo and with lyrics
Azuquita - sugar
Su cabecita de algodón - his head of cotton

Friday, July 10, 2009

Afro Puerto Rico

I found this great video while on my cyber "travels" that easily fed into my love of the African influence in our Puerto Rico culture and the history of slavery on our island. Orlando Abreo, a guide at El Museo de Nuestra Raiz Africana (the Museum of our African Roots), did a fabulous job at explaining the many ways African culture has contributed to our rich Puerto Rican culture.

So enjoy, digest and share as you see fit..... :-D

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Relearning La Borinqueña

You know how you know a song but don't really know it? Thanks to my eight-year old daughter who is now in the "inquiring minds want to know" phase, I realized through a series of questions that I hadn't known 'La Borinqueña' (Puerto Rico's national anthem) as I thought I did. Time to do homework! Time to relearn La Borinqueña.


I'm proud to say I knew a good portion of the lyrics, the authors of the song among many other details that I was happy to be have in arm when "the short one" demanded answers from me. It always feels good when I have the answers buried in my skull for immediate retrieval (it makes me look, however I make sure that she understands that looking things up and researching are also marks of a smart and great thinker. In attempting to teach and explain the anthem to my daughter (who is also learning Spanish as we go), I discovered I had some of the words wrong. So we worked on it together and she is slowly committing it to memory as am I. In the meantime, I gave her some background information as to the creation of our national anthem and this is what we learned (cause I learned a few interesting facts myself):

- It is unclear as to who originally wrote La Borinqueña. Names like Francisco Ramírez Ortíz was said to have written and constructed the song for his lover. It was then said that the Catalan Félix Astol Artés made changes to the song and it's title. Félix Astol Artés changed the name of the song to La Bella Trigueña . Some time later Puerto Rican poet Lola Rodríguez de Tió was inspired to make a patriotic rendition of the song that supported the Puerto Rican revolution. And finally we have Manuel Fernández Juncos who also played a huge part in changing the lyrics of the song as well as Ramón Collado who also changed the melody to the one we know today.

- It was in 1952 that the government of Puerto Rico approved the music of 'La Borinqueña' and the words in 1977.

- I was disheartened when I came across this piece of information, but I should of known to expect it...FACT: Puerto Rico is a Commonwealth of the United States therefore its "official" anthem is "The Star Spangled Banner", but of course that is rarely if ever sung by the people on the island. WHEW!

- This I found really interesting. Lola Rodríguez de Tió has been credited for her suggestion that Puerto Ricans use the Cuban flag with its colors reversed. (Seeing how she lived in Cuba for so many years. Lola and her husband were deported from Puerto Rico for their separatists efforts).

- The title La Borinqueña refers to the aboriginal Taíno name for the island of Puerto Rico, `Boriken` or `Borinquen.`

- Regardless of which rendition of La Borinqueña was declared as Puerto Rico's national anthem, all of them are well known and still sung on the island.

La Borinqueña
Lyrics: Manuel Fernández Juncos (1846-1928)

La Borinqueña (march)
Lyrics: Lola Rodríguez de Tió

La Bella Trigueña (danza)
Lyrics: Félix Astol Artés (1813-1901)
The actual lyrics to the above renditions can be found at:

Helpful articles:

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Father You Are Like the Great Yukiyú - Poem

My grand protector/
my safeguard against the storms/
I am blessed today/
for your benign arms guard like/
Yukiyú from El Yunque.

Written by R.L.L.

According to a Taino legend, Yukiyú was known as a protector and guardian (very much like we see our fathers today). Yukiyú was said to reigned high in the midst of the tallest mountain in El Yunque surrounded by clouds on a mighty throne. He was said to have been there to protect the island of Puerto Rico by diverting hurricanes from hitting the island. The legend also states that Yukiyú (also known as Yucayu, Yuquiyú, Yucahú and Yocahú) fought with Huracán (the god of hurricanes) to protect the people.

El Yunque is a rain forest in Puerto Rico with numerous mountains. It is known as El Yunque National Forest (formerly known as the Caribbean National Forest) and it covers the municipalities of Canóvanas, Las Piedras, Luquillo, Fajardo, Ceiba, Naguabo, and Rio Grande.



Finally, this poem I wrote in Tanka form (Japanese form of poetry consisting of 31 syllables in five lines 5/7/5/7/7) is dedicated to the many wonderful fathers that go beyond the call of duty. Are our fathers not like the great Yukiyú? Have they not done their best to protect us, love us, shield us and guide us?

Happy Father's Day!!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Majestad Negra/ Black Majesty

After having spent much of day with my face in the books, I've decided I'm closing the evening with the wonderful cultural words of Puerto Rican Poet Luis Palés Matos. Luis Palés Matos is a poet whose main genre was creating poetry that was/is considered Afro-Antillano. For those of you who know me, I'm sure you find it no surprise that I think so highly of him. A poet basking in his complete heritage and culture. A poet, fearless with his words, spreading forth the bold, beautiful African features we use in our language, dance and so forth....Ah I do love thee.....

I found this wonderful YouTube video that I thought was worth sharing....Enjoy!

Majestad Negra

Por la encendida calle antillana

va Tembandumba de la Quimbamba

-rumba, macumba, candombe, bámbula-

entre dos filas de negras caras.

Ante ella un congo -gongo y maraca-

ritma una conga bomba que bamba.

Culipandeando la Reina avanza,

y de su inmensa grupa resbalan

meneos cachondos que el gongo cuaja

en ríos de azúcar y de melaza.

Prieto trapiche de sensual zafra,

el caderamen, masa con masa,

exprime ritmos, suda que sangra,

y la molienda culmina en danza.

Por la encendida calle antillana

va Tembandumba de la Quimbamba.

Flor de Tortola, rosa de Uganda,

por ti crepitan bombas y bámbulas,

por ti en calendas desenfrenadas

quema la Antilla su sangre ñáñiga.

Haití te ofrece sus calabazas;

fogosos rones te da Jamaica;

Cuba te dice: ¡dale, mulata!

Y Puerto Rico: ¡melao, melamba!

¡Sús, mis cocolos de negras caras!

Tronad, tambores; vibrad, maracas.

Por la encendida calle antillana

-rumba, macumba, candombe, bámbula-

va Tembandumba de la Quimbamba.

Luis Pales Matos 1898 - 1959

For a more thorough biography of Luis Pales Matos click here:

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Bomba Bug Got My Baby!

There are moments in our lives when our children do things that will blow our minds. They will do things that will have one feeling like a balloon on the verge of bursting. The amount of pride, happiness, love, complete giddiness and awe had me feeling like my heart had expanded double its original size. I was drunk with motherly pride. Yesterday, my child showed symptoms of having been bitten by the bug. The Bomba Bug!

The minute I saw her I knew she was up to something. I'm used to her expressing her creative fashion, but something was different about this getup. My eight year old walked into our tiny living room in "dress-up" gear. The hot pink, fleece blanket she's been sleeping under for the past two weeks, was meticulously wrapped around her tiny waist. It flowed effortlessly straight down onto the carpeted floor. Holding her "skirt" in place was a flaming, florescent aqua scarf she had picked out during one of our shopping adventures. She wrapped the scarf around herself and tied it into a big knot in front and on top of the blanket where her belly button is located. She wore a thin brown spaghetti strap shirt, which she purposely put on for this occasion. Her nightgown was nowhere to be found. My child looked absolutely ridiculous (but who am I to knock her sense of creative flow?) and while my first reaction was anger that she had went through all of this just five minutes before she was suppose to go to bed, I smiled and gave her my attention anyway.

After finding herself a descent spot on the "dance floor" she then turns to me and says, mommy let me dance some Bomba for you. The kid knew what she was doing. She knew this would make me smile. She looked at the computer I was sitting in front of and waited for me to find the appropriate music so she could commence. Now that I think about it, I find it funny that she stood there requesting her desires as if the possibility of me saying "no" was something that couldn't happen. Thus, I went and found one of my favorite YouTube videos. I slightly raised the volume and had Alma Moyo's 'Socio' in the background. I'm still chuckling with glee at yesterdays "show".

My daughter started dancing. She had apparently been paying attention to the dancing and music I had been watching on a daily basis. She began by putting her balled up fists at the sides of her waist and swayed back and forth as the drums filled the corners of the room. Cute yes, but here is where she took the cake! Homegirl got busy with that "skirt"! You know she was bitten by the bug because the markings were all over the flair of her "skirt"! What was even more impressive was that it seemed like she was really in tune with the subidor (the drum with the high pitched sound that responds to the dancers movements). Every time she made a crisp move with her "skirt" it was in unison with the pounding of that drum. I regret not having taped it but aaahh, such sweet satisfaction to a days end.

....And now to further investigate Bomba dance classes.....

Sunday, May 17, 2009

May That "Itch" Spread Forth Like Wildfire!

I don't know if anyone's been watching the miraculous change that has occurred over the past eight to ten years and I am not talking about the ever popular, never ending topic of "Obama", his athletic wife and dog "Bo". What I'm talking about is the new face of assimilation or lack there of. Assimilation has been lowering it's head in shame. It has been hiding behind the bill of it's cap, peeking ever so often to see if there are any takers left. This miraculous change that I'm referring to is a history of immigrants coming to the states and feeling like they had to give up a lot in order to live a "better" life, but that are now evolving and exploring ways to preserve who they are, their roots and traditions. It is a most beautiful thing!

I am a living testament to said change. I remember when I got my first "itch". I think I was about thirteen or fourteen, I was still rocking my fro and I was hating school. I was a bright young lady, yet excelling only in the fine art of exiting the school building without getting caught. I remember there was this one time I couldn't get anyone to ditch school with me. I didn't know exactly where I was going, but I knew I was getting on that train and letting it take me to wherever my feet desired. I don't remember what train station I got off at, but I remember walking a lot and I remember where I ended up. Would you believe that I cut class to end up playing hooky at the Library? I mean, who does that? Anyhow (chuckle), I remember the smell as I turned the corner of 110th street and Lexington Ave. It smelled and sounded like a party being thrown at my Madrina's house. It was a savory smell of Latino food mixed with the sounds of my father's late 8-track collection. Johnny Pacheco's flute and the tropical sounds of La Fania walked me down 110th street like a bride being escorted down the aisle and then, I stopped in front of her. The Aguilar Branch of the New York Public Library. Her Doric style columns welcoming me like a motherly embrace and when I opened her doors, an orchestra's symphony bellowed for my entrance. Okay, perhaps that's a bit much, but you get the gist of it right?

I remember walking in there thinking how small of a library it was, but how different it felt from the libraries I was used to. The size of the library was just a small thing compared to the quality of literature I found there. There on the shelves were books about me. There on the shelves were books written by Spanish people! There on the shelves were books about Puerto Rican people! I was shocked. I recall looking around, wondering why were all these people so calm. Why weren't they as excited as I was? Did they not know? Did they not see the treasure before them? I laugh now at my very juvenile thought. They had already discovered the treasure and were now sifting through it, trying to find what was of value to their personal agendas. I remember feeling like a failed pirate. I thought back to the libraries that I was familiar with in Sheepshed Bay and Brighton Beach and I remember thinking I was like a pirate digging up empty holes in the wrong part of the ocean. I couldn't recall ever seeing anything even remotely related to the variety of literature that was currently shining like bars of gold in my hands. I might be over exaggerating. There may have been a book or two titled something like, "The Complete Latino History", some forty or fifty pages long or something similiar to today's Complete Idiot's Guide titled something like, "The Complete Idiots Guide to Caribbean History" with a page or two on the Island of Puerto Rico. Maybe or maybe not. That's what it was like then. It was a challenge to get that information. It was a challenge to be who you were, to be a product of your ancestors and be "American".

Today more and more Latino's are more likely to preserve their Latin culture than ever before. Today you tend to see more Latino events spread nationwide. You will find more Latino literature available at your disposal. The libraries now carry more than one or two books on us! You will find more Latinos in movies and not only the big Hollywood movies, but independent films and documentaries dedicated to handing down our heritage. Today more and more Latino children are being taught the Spanish language and history. It's not just Anne Frank and Christopher Columbus anymore. While teaching our history in school is an area that continues to lack in improvement, you will find that one rare teacher, who is sending your child home with poems written by Julia de Burgos. You will find that one rare educator who is telling your child about the African's in Puerto Rico or who is handing out copies of Don Pedro's speeches about Puerto Rican Nationalism. In the meantime, we should continue to acknowledge and scratch that itch in order to preserve lo nuestro and when assimilation comes a-knockin', let it know there are no takers here anymore!

May that "itch" spread forth like wildfire!

...And to get a dose of our heritage, to join in the celebration and further scratch that itch, join me and mis hermanos at the Puerto Rican Day parade on June 14th at 11am.
Parade Route : Fifth Avenue from 44th to 86th Streets

A 1970's Ismael and Johnny

Que viva la musica! Ay pero que orgullo!!