latino voices

“Quédense, unos minutos con nosotros…”

“4 and 3 and 2 and 1”..

It’s the street where we grew up. It’s the block where we came from.
To the people who look like us, who talk like us, that grew up just like us.
No matter what people say. People can’t help but think we are all the same.
We are loud in the quietest of places.
We are overly expressive in the sounds of the oppression.

We are the bad bass on every street corner. Playing the same played out Chente song.
Big banda, cumbia, salsa, ranchera songs that your heart can’t help but mimic into heart beats.
Watching your head sway as your feet mimic the beat in your Nike Cortezes and your Converse Chucks.

It’s Domingos in the church in our Sunday best.
Clutching our Jesus pieces and praying tomorrow would be better day.
Light a candle to guide your way, because Mañana is another day to be extraordinary.
As we rush through the rituals and sign of the cross at the entrance of the wooden gates.
Paciencia y fe, as we look to the cruz.
Paciencia y fe, because we have nothing to lose.

We are bright colors on your plain unmarked white walls.
We are Graffiti on your pristine street signs.
We are Old schoolers playing oldies as if time never skipped a beat.
Los viejitos on the front lawn in their lawn chairs with the same stories of what could have been.

We are big hoops and bright red lips.
We are the loud printed fabric that clings to our every curve.
Ladies with the big bags walking on the sidewalks in the sunshine.
Always places to go. Always places to be seen.
Walking out the streets like this week’s Vanidades cover.
Even when you mocked us. Even when you said we were too much.
Mucho mas y todo eso.

We become your aesthetic.
We become your mood board.
Your own reflection of cultura that you seem to know more about then me.
We become what every young person thinks they know about but they never truly lived through. Because if you knew what we lived through can’t be taught, until you lived through these breaks. You can’t scream out our words in the attempts of filler space.

Latino and Proud isn’t a t-shirt you can put you.
Latino and Proud isn’t this seasons look in this month’s Vogue magazine.

You ask me where I am from.
You ask me where I am going.
We all beg to leave but afraid we stay.
We can’t be proud.
We can’t be who we are.
Unless it better fits your mood, another look to add to this month’s pinterest board.

So, when I tell you I am Latino and proud. I watch you shiver in places in your newly bought huaraches. Hiding behind your $99 dollar serapes that the urban commercial markets be capitalizing on.

You want to be like us.
You want to act like us.
You want to take everything from us.
But don’t let us be proud of who we are.
Until the next season fad shows up.
Another culture to add to your bookcase.

When the chorus comes in, don’t forget where you’re from.
Latino and Proud, then on to the next song.

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Two First Names.

My Mom has two first names. Not a first and a middle name like we do in American culture. But two first names. She rolls them off her tongue with such ease that it intimates people around. She hates when people  use only one name. She hates when they call her “Rosa” or “Rose”. The names that remind her of being reprimanded by her Mami or reminded her of family members with the same name.  The way people over enunciate the name once they see her last name. “Row-za”, just the thought of it shoots a shiver down her spine.

That is not her name.

She speaks clearly and firmly, and repeats herself often. It’s uncommon to have two first names. Even though there are names like Anabel, Isabella, etc. Names that look so beautifully together. It’s almost too hard to comprehend that she was so special she needed two first names.

The name field is never big enough for her. Always cutting off half way through the second name. Having to remind every person she does business with that her name is composed of two names. Not first and middle name, but a full strong fuerte first name.

I didn’t understand it when I was younger.

“Why does it matter what they call you?”, I would say.
“Porque no es mi nombre”, she would reply.
Because that is not my name, she would say.

I didn’t understand why it was such a big deal. She is “Rosita” at home in Mexico. She is “Vieja” or “Honey” to my Dad. She is “Martha” to people who know her best. Why one name made such a difference. Why was it so important.

It was in the way people say her name. In the way people hesitate and question as soon as they read off her last name. They way people break down each name into individual entities. How people acted forgetful when they said her name. Then later annoyed when she corrected them. It became this battle between what was right and what was culturally correct. Another chance to Americanize her with what they think is right. It was taking something away from her that was a part of her. Taking away her name that she fought hard to protect all these years.

When she got sick, I understood. It was me correcting the doctors. It was me telling the nurses to re-do her paperwork correctly. It was correcting people who called her by one name as she walked into the office and watching them roll their eyes when I corrected them. It was correcting every single one of their hesitations and even correcting how they enunciated her name. Something that for years I thought wasn’t important, until I understood what it was like in her shoes.

Stop calling me by a name that is safe to you.
Stop trying to correct me as if I don’t understand you.
Stop hesitating the minute you see my name written in front of you.

I think back to the times I would argue with my Mom about it. How she needed to let it go, that people would never understand. Now that I am older I realize how important it is to her. How much it truly means to her.

My Mom has two first names and everyone should be okay with that.

 

 

 

Latino Representation.

 

A year ago, I read an article on Remezcla about a Gala that was dedicated to Hispanic Achievements in the Arts. Each guest was asked about the First Latino they saw on television. While the guests replied, Rita Moreno, Desi Arnaz, Freddie Prinze Sr., etc.  After reading everyone’s responses I started thinking to myself, “Who is the first Latino I saw on television”. I came up blank. I could name a dozen Latino actors that are killing it at the moment. But the first Latino actor I saw on television,  I couldn’t think of anyone. I could remember the first actor I saw on TV. I could remember the first cartoon I watched. But I couldn’t remember the first Latino I saw on television.  For some reason that question struck a chord with me. I spent the last two weeks after reading that article thinking about that question.

How could I not remember the first Latino Actor I saw on Television? In the span of two weeks, I asked my fellow Latino friends if they remembered the first Latino actor they saw on television. We each went over every sitcom we grew up with. We talked about the Latino film scene, actors on the rise, even the late night circuit of Sabado Gigante and Siempre en Domingo. But to remember an actor on American television, we each came up empty. After a few back and forth conversations, it finally dawned on us. The first Latino actor we ever saw was Sonia Manzano.

Sonia Manzano as we all greatly remember is “Maria” from Sesame Street. Sesame Street was big in the 80’s, I don’t need to go into detail that  Sesame Street was ahead of it’s time. Being at the forefront of groundbreaking television and being first and foremost a children’s program. I grew up on Sesame Street as well as many other children from my generation.  I remember very clearly how big of a deal it was that Sonia was on the show. Every time she would come on the screen my Mom always made a big deal about it. “That’s Maria, mija. Ella es Puerto Rican/ She is Puerto Rican.”. I didn’t understand what that meant at the time. I just knew that when I looked at her, she reminded me of my Mom. How gentle she was with all the characters and how much patience she had explaining letters and lessons to each person. Even after I stopped watching Sesame Street, it took me a long time realize how important the character Maria was. Maria was our neighborhood. Maria was our community. Maria was our Mom that comforted us and took care of us. It took me a long time to understand why my Mom always pointed her out. Why she felt the need to say that she was Maria and she was Puerto Rican.

Growing up, I watched a lot of television. I grew up with the 90210, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which later turned into the Sex and the City, and 30 Rock, etc. As much as I loved those shows and commented how I was a “Brenda” or a “Carrie”, I realized that I wasn’t any of those characters. Shows would come out yearly that would generate buzz and be marketed toward my age group, but I found myself disillusioned with them. They were the same faces, the same flawed characters, the same unlikable people, but none of them were me. While people around me were applauding the groundbreaking characters and direction, I just couldn’t do it. Not that I was trying to be difficult but I wasn’t these girls. I just wasn’t these white characters. Characters that as entertaining as they were with their beautiful hair and hilarious one liners, I wasn’t any of them.  If anything I was the complete opposite of these characters. I found myself re-watched my old favorite shows. Soon realizing that as much as I loved these shows, I stopped relating to these characters.

I think back to Maria. How my Mom would point out that her character’s name was Maria and she was Puerto Rican. How honored my Mom felt as a Mexican woman living in the states that this character, a latina of Puerto Rican decent was on a highly popular children’s program. It made me think  back at all the shows I watched and how I lacked a character of my own. I lacked families that mirrored my own, I lacked a sense of diversity, I lacked a sense of color. I realized why it was important to point out characters like Maria on Sesame Street, to show that we latinos could be on any of these shows. I spent year watching countless shows come and go on TV. The House of Buggin, George Lopez Show, Freddie, Ugly Betty; shows that showed a fraction of what it was like growing up in a Latino household. As shows would be cancelled and a new wave of shows would start, I would scan the trailers and hope to see characters that looked like me. Characters that reminded me of home, of my own family. Shows that I could point out and say “Mira Mom, that’s Maria. She’s Puerto Rican”.

Latino Representation isn’t just a gimmick. It’s not our way of pushing other characters aside or saying how our values are more important. It’s showing that we can play characters that are flawed, broken, and misrepresented. We are more than just sidekicks, vixens, and thugs. We are more than just the maids that clean the houses. Our families are more than just some comedic relief to generate cheap laughs. Latino Representation is everything. It’s seeing a new character on Star Wars and hearing his accent that reminds me of my Mom’s accent. It’s seeing the Abuela on Jane the Virgin and seeing the face of my friend’s Mothers and Grandmothers. It’s watching George Lopez’s standup “Why You crying” and remembering stories your Dad told you of his youth in LA. Why Princesses named Elena and Sofia are important, because they’re the names you grew up with. It’s more than just ratings and shiny award shows. It’s seeing faces that look like every member of your family and feeling a sense of home. It’s showing that we each have a story to tell and they’re just as funny and as entertaining as everyone else. It’s pointing out the characters and saying “That’s Jane, and she’s Puerto Rican”. “That’s Oscar Isaac, and he’s Guatemalan”. It’s pointing out that character and saying “Hey, that person is Latino. That’s character is like me”.

Every year I am thankful to a new breed of shows that showcase Latino actors. Every season I sit and watch through the trailers and see how my culture is represented. Every season I hope for a new batch of characters that remind me of people I grew up with. Characters that remind me of home. Every time I see a latino character, I won’t stop pointing out the characters and saying they are Latino. Because that’s what Mami would do.

 

Loud.

They called me L O U D.

I don’t talk like normal girls.
I use my hands to express myself.
I talk an octave higher than everyone else.
I express my emotions when I am happy or upset.

Girls always said they could hear me a mile away. “You’re so loud.”, they would say. That’s the first impression I give people.

I never understood why that was bad. Why people felt the need to silence my voice because their voices quivered in comparison. Why it always left me feeling like I had done something wrong.

“Porque gritas? Aqui estoy.”, is what my Mom would say. Why do you yell. I am right here.

Minutes later she would grab the phone and talk to my Tias. In a voice louder than a whisper. I would hear her laughing and talking into the phone as if she was screaming to me from another room. But she’s talking to her sisters.

“Mami, why do you have to yell on the phone?”, I would ask.
“No estoy gritando. That’s how I talk!”, she’d answer defensively.

I am not yelling. That’s how I talk.

I find myself shrinking myself for a lack of a better person. Shrinking myself into a shell of who I used to be. My voice becomes softer than a whisper and causing me to mumble in places where I should be talking.

They call me “Loud”, when I express myself. “Loud” in places where I should be whispering. “Loud” when all I am doing is talking.

If I can’t be me, who should I be? I should stay quiet for the fear of what people will think of me. I should speak no louder than a whisper for people to find me delicate and gentle. But that’s not who I am. I am tired of shrinking myself to make other people feel better. Instead I speak louder than my voice. Causing shakes through my bones. Opening waves through the dark corners and making cracks through the pavement.

I would rather speak an octave higher than everyone else. I would rather express myself through hand gestures to get my point across. I would rather be LOUD, then ever be told to speak no louder than a whisper.

Loud is who I am.
Loud is how they see me.
Loud is what separates me from everyone else.

But I am not Loud. That’s just how I talk.

 

 

 

Somos Mas Americanos.

Me gritaron mil veces que me regrese
A mi tierra por que aqui no quepo yo,
Quiero recordarle al gringo yo no
Cruce la frontera la frontera me cruzo.

To the man in the expensive suit, who thinks he knows my story. Who has walked a mile in my shoes. Worked the jobs that I have with the variety of diverse people I have known. Whose idea of hard work is barking orders and instilling fear into his colleagues to do his own job.  You do not know me, you do not know my story. You haven’t experienced my failures nor my struggles. You look straight into my vulnerabilities and believe you know everything about me. Everything you say is right, everything I do is wrong.

To the man who has told me to not speak my native tongue. Who has bullied my family, my friends, my peers for speaking in the tongue that comes naturally to them. Who has made speaking a foreign language  a burden more than a blessing. What gives you the right to judge a person by the language they speak? Who are you to create a burden of a language barrier, because you fear change. My language has nothing to do with you. My language is my way of communicating with my peers, my friends, my family, and in no way is it threatening or offensive. You have no right to take that privilege from anyone.

To the man in the expensive suit who believes that screaming out scare tactics will get a point across. That fear and hate will drive a wedge between my past and my present. Who believes building walls will separate ignorance from fear. Your fears are becoming more juvenile then a toddler’s tantrum, and I just won’t stand for it.  You are nothing more than a boy that cried wolf. Screaming every single one of your ignorant fears to anyone and everyone that will listen. People are listening, but they are also ready to stand up for what they believe in. No amount of screaming and crying will stop the truth from coming through. The truth always comes out.

To the man who has told me to go back to my home country. For I am a criminal, a trouble maker, a hoodlum, on the basis of my race and last name. This is my country. This is my home. I was born here, 33 years ago and you cannot take that away from me. You cannot take away the struggles my parents have gone through to have a better life. Do you think it’s easy to leave everything that’s familiar to you? Do you believe it’s easy to move miles away from your home country, to learn a new language completely foreign to you? Do you understand whats its like to speak a tongue completely foreign to you, to have native speakers looking at you as if you are slow or stupid? I have worked hard to prove who I am to far more fearful people then yourself. You will never know the struggle to have to prove to multiple people that you are more than your last name. More than your struggles and your failures, without having to use scare tactics to get a point across.  I look at you in your expensive suits, driving your expensive cars and expressing your hateful rants. Your dream of making America great again. The same man who is a by product of living an american dream. Whose family is a product of immigrants who fought hard to obtain their status and dreams reality. The same dreams we share. I would gladly go back to my home country, because my home country is here in the United States of America and there’s nothing you can do about it.

The American dream is the ultimate underdog story, based on immigrants of all different races. People who have done everything in their power to make a life for themselves regardless of circumstances and setbacks. Neither of us is perfect but we all strive for the same dream; to make a better life given the circumstances we have been raised in. I am proud to be an American, but I am also proud of my roots that grow deep into the Mexican soil. The same soil that raised my parents into the hardest working people I know. No man can ever take that away from them. No man can ever take that away from anyone. You cannot scare a spirit that has been broken before. You cannot take away our past because you are fearful of the future.

So I say, to the man in the expensive suit, who is a by product of living the american dream. Whose own family is a product of different nationalities. Are we not the same instead of different? Don’t we all deserve the same right? Are we not all americans in our own right and reason?

Piénsalo, Mijo. I am sure you would realize that in the end, we are not so different after all.

 

…Somos mas americanos que
Todititos los gringos.

 

Somos_SpanishTwitter

Se Habla Espanol.

I speak Spanish.

It’s not a sign I wear often. I don’t scream it from the rooftops. It’s not perfect, but when I need the language to communicate, it amazes me how it rolls off the tongue. I don’t advertise it on my skin, but I do wear it like a badge of honor. In an English dominated country, I find myself torn between the two languages. I am very proud of my languages, my cultures, and my roots. I am very proud to be of two different and very diverse cultures. Even prouder to be able to have my heart in one country and my roots in another. The past couple of months have been a wake up call to my heritage. I am watching people whom I have considered friends and family, turn around and speak against the very foundations of my language. It’s only cool to know the Spanish language when people see fit to their needs. When a holiday comes up, or after a few drinks, and everyone thinks it’s funny to say a word or two. I have watched people make a mockery of my language in a series of comedic jokes and racist rants. I have sat and watched my peers ask me the correct pronunciations of words, to later mock someone speaking in their native tongue.  These are my languages that I speak to communicate with everyone. English or Spanish, Espanol o Ingles. I may not always get the words right, I may fumble and mispronounce sentiments, but these are my words.

My language is not here to intimidate you.

When I speak in a tongue that is not natural to you, I am not here to intimidate you. There are many misconceptions about knowing two languages, but I use my language to communicate with my gente (my people)–my familia (my family), my friends, my colleagues. I am not observing you, I am not judging you. I have nothing to hide from you. I speak passionately, poetically and profusely about my life, in a tongue that is natural to me. Using my hands, speaking an octave higher than most, because that is how my language expresses itself. My first language, my second language; voices that come from me in the moment that I need to communicate to a variety of different people. How can a person who doesn’t know me at all, ask me to speak in a tongue that is natural to me? Both languages come naturally to me, and I use them how I see fit.

My language is not a party trick.

When I speak the words you do not understand, it is not an open invitation to entertain you with. Yes, I know another language other than English. No, I will not sit here and prove to you that I know how to speak said language. I am not a magician. I am not pulling words out of a hat, while wearing a sparkly costume. My language is not a party trick, my language is my lifeline; it’s my alma/soul and my corazon/heart. My secret power that allows me to be close to my roots –to my ancestors, to my family, to people who understand me. I did not come here to impress you with my words that you will use against me. Telling lies of how my language holds me back from my peers; the same language you want me to repeat.

My language is not here for you to state “Say something in Spanish… It’s so much prettier in Spanish“.

Spanish, as well as English, is a beautiful language.  Both languages with written words have a poetry about them. Spoken in terms of endearment or passionately in a rage, but my words are not here to turn you on. I will not roll my “r’s” at you. I will not come at you in a rage of anger and speak obscenities for no reason. I am not here to fulfill your fantasies or desires of a certain cultural stereotype. I am not spicy, I will not call you papi, carino, amor, or any other stereotypical terms of endearment. I have a Papi, and he didn’t raise me to belittle myself to become a caricature of your fantasies. So, No. I will not say something in Spanish. I will speak to you in English, because it’s just as pretty as Spanish.

Spanish or English, Espanol o Ingles, I will be protective of my language. Speak passionately and not allow anyone to make me feel less of a person by speaking it. My language gives me the strength to be brave and to feel a sense of pride of where I have come from. A pride in my heritage and the people that have spoke the language before me. Something that has taken a long time to realize.  Proud of who I am. Proud of the very roots that have allowed me to grow into the person I am today. One language isn’t stronger than the other. As the years go by, I realize it is a blessing more than a curse to know both English and Spanish. No matter what anyone says. I may not always get the words right, but eventually I will make things right.