In “Miss, You Look Like a Bratz Doll”: On Chonga Girls and Sexual-Aesthetic Excess by Jillian Hernandez, I learned a lot about how minority women are hypersexualized and denounced through others perceptions of them. I am a Puerto Rican woman who moved from Williamsburg, Brooklyn to Westchester County, so that my parents could provide my sisters and I with a good life. My mom especially wanted to take me out of the urban environment that is often plagued with perceptions of Latina women being “Chongas.” I remember the women I was often surrounded by wearing necklaces and big hoop earrings that had their names in them and women who overlined their lips and drew on their eyebrows. I did not know that their was a label for these women who just liked dressing the way they did. However, the United States, as it often does, gave a bad rep to these women and decided to hypersexualize them and denounce them by labeling them as “Chongas” as if it was a bad thing. Even though I do not portray all of the characteristics of what it is like to be or look like a “Chonga,” the people I have grown up with and attended school with have made me very aware of my ethnic stature. I have always attended predominantly white, Catholic schools so being the black sheep has always been a thing for me. I was always the thickest girl, the girl with the big lips, the girl with the “Asian” eyes, and the brown girl (even though I do not see myself as that dark). I noticed that while I was growing up, I was often seen in a sexual way to my peers simply because of what I looked like. I remember for my eighth grade graduation, I wore a black dress with red roses printed on it that extenuated my body. I had a full figured body so my breasts filled out the top of my dress and my hips stood out. I wore heels and had my hair twisted at the top, and wore huge heart earrings. Looking back, I cannot even imagine what my classmates and their families thought of me. Probably that I looked like a “Chonga.” Probably that I looked like a slutty, Latina girl, who did not have enough money for a modest dress and nicer hair (little did they know, I did). But that was what I liked and so I was going to be me, entirely and wholly. The hypersexualition of minority women needs to stop. We do not see any of this labeling being placed onto white women. So why do WE have to be generalized and denounced? While reading this piece, it reminded me of how there are so many parody videos on YouTube that praise stereotypes and cliches. Videos such as “How to Know You’re Hispanic” or videos like “Ten Reasons Why You’re A Real Puerto Rican.” I remember watching a video that included reasons of how you knew you were a real Latina, which included cliches such as your grandparents keeping the plastic on their furniture (even though it is true in my case) and the most often praised chankleta and how you would get your butt beat with one if you acted up. In the comment section I would see people praising these videos and agreeing, which would encourage the stereotypes and cliches even more by making people believe these are ways in which all Latinas/os live. It is literally insane! There are so many things that need to be changed about the stereotyping of Latina women and the change needs to begin with the media.
Poetry Response to “Nao Bustamante’s “Bad-Girl” Aesthetics,” In Performing Mexicanidad –
The body serves as an unspoken language, a way to communicate feelings and thoughts.
Non-conforming, radicalized, screaming and begging for some kind of change.
The worst part of it all?
Only those who choose to listen to our bodies can hear the pain, the sadness, the joy, and the yearning for more.
Posing our bodies against the backgrounds of our lives, using risque and scandalous art in order to induce some reaction, any reaction.
To get the viewer, the observer, the individual critiquing it to read much further than first glance.
We perform, dramaturgically, our ways through life, through controversies, and through injustices.
Who chooses to appreciate this art, to dig deeper?
That is up to you.
Poetry response to “Everyday Grace” by Mirtha Quintanales
The discomfort we feel in our bones when we see something we don’t like
How to detach oneself should be the types of lessons we learn in school
Because otherwise, we feel everything and I don’t always thinking feeling everything
Why do we let things get to us, let the things people say and do bother us?
Why do our bodies react to others?
Is it not so simple to detach oneself?
Or should we be feeling everything everyone does, even if it has no affect on us personally?
Sometimes I wonder if I should be fully immersed within my universe
Do I feel happiness, sadness, and pain with others? For others?
Or do I isolate all feelings in order to be content with my being only?
Selfless or selfish.
It all depends on the route I take.
Poetry response to Quintanales’ “Depression”
The past haunts me too
And all the injustices I have faced within myself
The hatred I used too, and sometimes still feel towards my body
This vessel that confirms my entire being
Everything I ever was and am, settled down within me
Why is it so hard to love myself?
Why is it a daily inconvenience?
Everyday I try to start anew
But what for?
What about the memories, talents, love within my body?
I am trying, slowly and willingly
To accept this vessel I call my body
To love it as much as I love others
I want to repair my beautiful skin
And nourish it, adore it
I have one life to live
My body has been my everything
My war tank, my demise, my whole presence
So let me work on myself
And learn to protect and nurture my body
Because it’s my own and will always be mine.
My poetry response to “Temporary Latina” by Ruth Behar
I, too, question my Latina authenticity/
Though it has made me who I am today/
Raised in a middle-class, privileged Puerto Rican family/
Some may criticize me of becoming “whitened”/
A term I will never identify with/
“You have white girl hair,” they say/
But, “Are you Asian? You have small, chinky eyes,” they also say/
So who am I?
I am Latina, puertorriqueña/
Grew up filling my belly with arroz con gandules/
Celebrating Christmas on Christmas Eve/
Listening to my abuelos yelling out “Merry Chrima”/
The making and passing along of pasteles and coquito/
I am as authentic as the food I eat, as the people I love/
I am never temporary, always permanent/
This Latinidad settled inside of me for eternity.
My testimonia to Alchemies of Erasure:
I resonated extremely with the idea of being invisible because as a Latina woman, I am marginalized and often depreciated. My mother has always pushed education on me because unlike the privileges, entitlements, and chances I am stripped of because of who I am, nobody can ever rob me of my intellect. I have worked so hard to be where I am today. I have had to push past the stereotypes, stigmas, expectations, and limitations that this authoritarian society has put onto me. I knew that if I wanted to be released from the grips of society’s chains, I would need to do so through education. It is true that “when a woman has to be made invisible, it is because she is powerful, and her presence reverberates, touching everything in its path” (p. 167). I believe that because I have seen it with the many powerful women in my life: my abuela Mimi, my Titi Vivian, Titi Cookie, Titi Millie, my cousin Jessie, my cousin Elyse, and especially through my mother. These women have impacted my life in one way or another and have helped me become who I am today through their endless support, encouragement, and most importantly, through their incessant love. “Whether by her beauty, her spirit, her intellect, her capacity for loving, her conscious witnessing, her creative rebelliousness-called-madness, her liberating laughter, her voice-seeking-truth, her difference, she has not gone unnoticed” (p. 167) If not for them, I would not see the beauty within myself, understand the power of my intelligence, know the differences between right or wrong, nor understand the importance of lifting others up and loving others. I may be invisible to the world, to those who choose not to see me, but I know who I am and I know the power I hold. I think the hardest part of being invisible was trying to convince myself that I am worth so much more than stereotypes and negative connotations. I am an educated Latina woman, a learner and lover of life, someone who loves to laugh, I am a published poet, I love to write, and I love empowering others who have not yet escaped their invisibility. “The fearful ones will do anything to destroy what makes them cower” (p.167) Have you seen the news lately? Sally Yates, first a powerful woman, then the (now former, seriously?) attorney general, fired because she declined to defend something that she believed is and IS wrong. Are we supposed to silence our voices for your merrymaking? Angela Merkel, first powerful woman, then Chancellor of Germany, no handshake from Mr. Not My President. Are you afraid you might actually get a brain and some sense through a handshake? All I can say is, my invisibility has been forced onto me, but I have been fortunate enough and privileged enough to not succumb to any negative impositions placed onto me by those who still do not consider me, or my brothers and sisters to be 100% percent human. I will not be subjected to the ⅗ standard of my humanness. I am a whole being, an entire entity, an intelligent woman, a person. I ask that people open their minds and burn the invisibility cloaks; this is not a never-ending exhibition of Harry Potter, this is life. Be seen, be heard, be strong, be you.
Reading the Lightning testimonio was so fascinating to me, especially the portion about when she discusses her views on religion. For some reason, I was expecting her to mention how her maternal family would participate in Catholicism, especially since a lot of Latinos(as) do. So when I read that God was an image that was not necessarily accepted by her maternal family, I was very surprised. I liked reading about her experiences because it showed me some of the similarities between her and I, as well as some of the differences. Quintanales mentions how her mother was really the only one in the family who exhibited religion and I can definitely relate. Although my maternal family is very God-oriented, my mother has always been the only one to really ground my sisters and I in our faith. While my father did grow up with some aspects of Catholicism, he was definitely not on the same level with it as my mom is. In fact, ever since my younger sister got diagnosed with diabetes at the age of six, he stopped believing in anything altogether. He would always say, “If God existed, then why do bad things happen?” a phrase that many questioning people use to try and understand or justify religion. However, my mother sent all of my sisters and I to Catholic school and even made me and one of my younger sisters become altar girls for our local church. I served as an altar girl for twelve years and I actually really enjoyed it. While I do not think that being religious makes someone a good person, I do believe that it plays a key role in helping people to see the good in others and to always recognize their blessings. Attached is a photo of my cousin and I serving at one of our church’s Sunday mass’ a few years ago.
I read a portion of a book called Telling to Live and one of the testimonios stood out to me and reminded me of our family. The testimonio is about a Puerto Rican woman named Celia Alvarez who lived in Brooklyn and how her parents stressed the importance of knowledge. Her parents ended up taking her out of P.S. 7 and enrolling her in St. James. She also talks about how she would do her homework and her readings in the kitchen with the noise from outside and while her mother made arroz con gandules. I related so much to this story because we went through very similar things. You moved my sisters and I from Queens to Brooklyn and took us out of the P.S. school we were in and put us in St. Joseph’s in Manhattan. One of my favorite traditions that we would do with you is when we all watch the news at five o’clock while you cook dinner every night. Alvarez talks about how books were so important to her and it reminded me of how you stress the importance of reading to me and my sisters.You and dad have always instilled in us how important education is and I am so grateful for that. Sometimes I wonder what my life would be like or have turned out if you and dad did not do the things you did for us. Alll of my sisters are so beautiful and intelligent and I know that you have taught us and helped us blossomed into who we are today. I know that everything you have done for us was for a reason and I just want to let you know how appreciative I am for everything you and dad have done for all of us. I love you guys!