As a double major in Criminal Justice and Political Science, my main focus in both majors is racial issues and colonization. With that being said, I have to be in touch with American history and American politics more than your average person. I am going into my third year of college and I have only seen my ethnicity mentioned ONCE. A strong piece that was written by Assata Shakur on Black and Puerto Rican women in prison. A piece that was written to raise awareness on the mistreatment of women of color in U.S. prison. Anyhow, I have always ached for a piece of literature that would mention my people or the Latino community (as a whole) about how we have contributed to the United States. But U.S. academia has drowned our voices and made them white. My struggles as a Puerto Rican woman are being told by a white person. My history is not taught in school because it is not part of the curriculum. I was not taught about the history of my other peers of color because it is not a part of the curriculum. Then what IS part of the curriculum? The morphed belief that 99.9% of intelligent people in history were white? That whiteness is the only thing that can create something good? That my history, the history of people who look like me is not worthy enough to be taught? The fact that little latinx and black children have to open up a book INDEPENDENTLY and see that they HAVE contributed something to the United States because U.S. academia will never teach them that they have? That most of us have to learn about our history from our family members?
On the flip side, what I did learn from U.S. academia is that my ethnicity was destined to create crime, to be incarcerated and ridiculed like my other fellow black and brown brothers and sisters. I was never taught in a classroom about figures such as Frida Kahlo, Assata Shakur, Cornel West, and the many others. I had to learn at the age of 20 that Rosa Clemente was the first Afro-boricua to run for Vice President of the United States. I learned that it takes years to find out and realize that my ethnicity is beautiful and has done much for this world. I have learned that for a long time I was getting a colonized version of education. My voice is not white. My voice is the voice of the resistance, the struggle, the hurt and the pre-destined, the smart, the beautiful, and the rich culture. My voice is not the voice of the white men, my voice is not the voice of white-washed academia. It should never have taken me so long to find representation in education. My voice is not white.
Two days ago I said goodbye to my homeland, Puerto Rico. Each time hurts the same as the first. But this goodbye was slightly different. The reason being was that I went in a moment in which the island needed more help than ever before. Walking through my hometown, Aguada, I encountered a sea of political posters demanding sovereignty. All I could think of while walking through town was that my country screams for an answer to this question about its political status. One-half yells for independence and putting an end to U.S. imperialism while the other tries look away from the horrors while raising the American flag. As if by raising the American flag makes them less Puerto Rican and more American. All while white-America laughs and gives their back to my people like they have done so time and time again.
When I passed by my island’s beaches I would admire the beauty. My land is beautiful, my land is resilient. My land sometimes chooses to ignore the sounds of its chains or maybe it drowns that sound with the sound of the waves. While I admired the beauty I could see the thousands of university students protesting against these violent budget cuts. I could hear the arguments of independence vs. statehood. I’d hear the arguments so loud in my head that I would go under the salt water to ignore it all for a bit. Knowing I did not want to stay under water forever. Understanding that I had to eventually come up to surface and fight for what I believed in the most, the sovereignty of my island.
On a Thursday night, my family and I went to Rincon, another city in Puerto Rico. In the heart of the city, artists get together to exhibit their art every Thursday night. While I was there, two men sat on the stairs and took out a guitar and a conga. As they played music and sang, people around them began to dance, laugh and sing along. Watching them all dance was a quick reminder of how happy we are as people. How much we love the rhythm of our music and how for a split second we can be in bliss. It makes me wonder if people are willing to have our culture watered down? If people are willing to assimilate to a certain extent? If people are willing to ignore the thousands of enslaved and slain bodies done by the colonizers? If people are willing to adopt a history that ignores us? All questions that are not meant to be offensive but questions that should be considered. I left my island knowing two things were certain. One, I would come back, I would help my island no matter how difficult or tedious it might be. Two, I am just as resilient as my ancestors. I have decided that I will not only fight for the inequalities I and other people of color suffer through in the United States but I will help my island of Puerto Rico as well. I will never stop being Puerto Rican. Remember que la lucha sigue.
Lately, I am suffering from an identity crisis. What do I mean?? I mean that I am in a gray area. I left Puerto Rico when I was 13 years old. Since then, people in the United States have made it their job to constantly remind me that I am not and never will be fully accepted here. On the flip side whenever I go visit my homeland, my family and others have taken it upon themselves to isolate me. “You’re a gringa now.”, “You are a traitor to your country!” All these things that are beginning to take a toll on me. If I am not accepted here nor in my homeland, where do I go to feel accepted? Because I am in the United States does not make me a traitor to my country. I am not a “whitified” Puerto Rican woman. What makes me a “gringa” now? That I had no choice but to perfect my English? That I have chosen to pursue a higher education? That I cannot move back to my country because I am still dependent on my parents? Which one makes me a gringa?
Then, on the other side, I am worthless, lazy, and/or an illiterate person because I am not white. I get called “spic”, “beaner” and “arroz con habichuelas”. They constantly remind me that I am different from what they accept. “Take your nasty language back to wherever you came from.”, “You are in America! Speak English!” and “We do not want you here!” If they do not want me here and my homeland isolates me, where do I go? Where do I fit in? Even though I am living stateside, I still have chosen a path that entails me fighting for my homeland’s independence, fighting for our people’s rights. Bettering myself to move back to my home, a home that is beginning to deny me slowly. They want to transform me into a foreigner in my own home. I know that I am not the only person of color that feels this way, I know I am not the only foreigner who is suffering from this. I write this to let you know that I understand you. I am here for you. You are not alone. We will get through this.
Last week I had to hand in a seven-page paper on what it meant to be my ethnicity in the United States. Like all things in an academic setting, there was a list of questions the professor wanted to be answered. One of them was “What does it mean to be your ethnicity?” There are multiple ways to answer this question depending on who you ask. In my case, being Puerto Rican meant a variety of things. Being Puerto Rican meant we are a mixture of Taino, African, and Spanish. We carry our African roots in our foods, our language and even in our music. When you hear the timbales your legs and hips come to life. When you hear the voice of the legendary Hector Lavoe, you cannot help but want to dance and sing along. When you realize that everything sounds better in Spanish half the time. When abuelita waits for you with un cafecito and pan con mantequilla. Being Puerto Rican meant you feel when your heart is going to explode whenever Puerto Rico wins a medal or participates in worldwide sports. Being Puerto Rican meant understanding that our island has a completely separate identity apart from the United States. Anywhere you go, Puerto Rico is heard of. Understanding that our ancestors had a non-stop fight in trying to gain independence and how our youth is still carrying it out today. Being Puerto Rican means you understand we come in all colors but our skin has the ability to withstand the blazing sun. Dreaming of our clear crystal blue beaches and wondering how did you get so damn lucky to be born in a place like this? Being Puerto Rican means that I am part of Paradise. I was born and raised where the ancestors of colonizers vacation. I was born and raised on enslaved soil. I was born and raised on a soil that is much stronger than it’s oppressor. I was born and raised in Puerto Rico, I carry the language on my tongue and the culture on my back. That’s what being Puerto Rican means to me. Yo soy Boricua, pa’ que tu lo sepas!
There is no denying that I am a very picky woman when it comes to romances. Especially now that I lived stateside. I have noticed that men hypersexualize me because I am a Latina. It is sickening to think about all the relationships I have terminated before them even blossoming because of this. I remember being 14 years old and having this crush on a boy who was two years older than me. I barely knew how to talk let alone flirt. While we are both exchanging “flirtatious” messages he said, “You being Puerto Rican makes you ten times hotter.” For some reason, I was totally offended. I asked him, “why?” and he said,”Latin girls are hot. Who doesn’t wanna be with a latin girl?”. So, was he talking to me because I was this fetish for many men in the present day? Was he speaking to me because he liked me? The answer was I was a fetish to him and many other men. I remember feeling uncomfortable because all the flirting became completely sexual. It became a comment about my “Puerto Rican lips”, my “Puerto Rican hair” and my “Puerto Rican, Jlo looking butt”. After that faded out, I had many other encounters with men and again, all of them commenting and making slick comments about how I must be fantastic in bed. I would always ask, “Why is that?” and the response would always be the same, “You’re Latina. You women are amazing in bed.” That was my queue to abort the mission. In high school, one of my male friends made it clear to me that he wanted to sleep with a Latina and then, asked me if I was willing. As if my ethnicity is a marketed sex appeal. Then, I began to realize it was. I knew girls who would pick and choose when to say they were Latinas. They always chose to say it when it came down to being more attractive to a guy. It would work like a charm, in a few minutes he would be asking you if you preferred a bed or the inside of his car.
Not only is this something that is just assumed, but us Latinas are portrayed this way even movies, music. In one of Drake’s hits, he has a verse that goes, “Lips so french, Ass so Spanish.” In movies, we are either the sexy maids, the sexy Spanish teacher or the sexy nanny. Everywhere we turn Latinas are oversexualized. There is no escape to it and it carries out to our personal relationships.
“Call me ‘Papi'”, Latinas hear that phrase more than we would like. Plot twist, my language is not a tool that you can use to exploit me for your sexual pleasure. My ethnicity is not your fetish. My culture and my ancestry is not something you can cross off your bucket list as soon as you ejaculate. I am not an object.
Lately, I have found myself thinking profoundly about the schools I applied and got accepted to at the end of my senior year in High School. How many of them accepted me because I am a Latina? How many of them accepted me because of my 3.6 GPA, AP courses, honor roll and extracurricular activities? As I continue my journey in higher ed I begin to think that I was accepted into these schools because of Affirmative Action. A way of saying, “We need to meet some standards, we pick you!“. I go to a university where I can count the number of Latino students who attend. I live on a campus where the Latino community is underrepresented. Most times I am the only Latina in my classes. I have noticed patterns in which I am looked at as a circus attraction. “You’re from Puerto Rico, give us an example?!” or “Share your experiences with the class!“. As if my culture and experiences are a tourist attraction. I have noticed professors testing me to see how “smart” I am. When I achieve something my college does back-flips and immediately send me an email about ways to honor my successes. In reality, they are using me as a marketing tool. “We present you with a Latina! We have diversity!” Since when is my personal success a marketing tool for White America? Since when is my ambition and passion to help my Latino Community and my island of Puerto Rico a tool to use for your school’s success rate? They honor what I have achieved but not the reason as to why I am achieving it. If my school accepted me because they knew I was smart, none of my accomplishments would be plastered on the hallways or on the school’s website. Unfortunately, I am a student who was chosen due to Affirmative Action. They chose me because I am a statistic. One day, I will become more than just a statistic.
I have decided to continue this blog, I will be focusing on how it is to be a Latina in the scholarly world and in White America. What challenges I face and other latinos face. I will periodically post about historic Latinx figures in education. However, I want to keep this blog real and relatable. Latina Nina is back and is here to stay. I hope you all continue to follow along with my journey. La lucha no para.