Ever since my parents split up when I was about two or three, my mom was my primary caretaker. In the early stages of my life, I had my Caribbean side of the family in my presence. But as I got older, I spent more time with my mom’s side of the family that is completly Irish so my Latina and Caribbean identity was slowly fading. I was put into this environment where everyone was white. I felt like I had to embrace my whiteness, my half Irish side of my identity instead of trying to find out more about being Venezuelan and Trini. I wasn’t able to see my father and that side of the family all lost touch with each other so it was sort of like I had no one to talk to about my heritage. Now looking back on my childhood, I really never embraced being different. I never ever said I was “Latina” because I truly didn’t know anything about Venezuelan culture. I had never been there and I’ve never spoken Spanish besides taking classes in school. Now as I think about my childhood, I truly wish I had taken matters into my own hand and done at least some research about being from Trinidad & Tobago and Venezuela or even reached out to my family on my father’s side to get some answers. But it’s never too late to start. At times I felt proud to be mixed because people would see me and call me exotic and would ask me “What are you?”. In my head, thinking about this question now, I should have replied ” I’m a human” because I was being treated differently because of the way I looked. People wanted to put me in a box but they couldn’t figure out what box to put me in unless I gave them answers. As a twenty one year old, mixed race woman, I can reflect on my past experiences as an outsider and realize that my appearance definitely had a lot to do with how I was treated in the communities I was placed into. At elementary school, I was the only person in my class that had a black background and this affected my self esteem, how I talked to my peers and how I talked to my family. I had this thought in my head that no one would be friends with me if I didn’t try to be more Irish. Or that if I didn’t dress preppy enough, my grandparents would treat me differently. It’s sad to think of this now because I did give in, I was pressured into being more white. If I had embraced being Latina and Caribbean, my life would totally be different now. I think I would be a lot more educated and a lot more confident in who I am because knowing where you come from can change your perspective on life. Now that I’m older, I’m going to make a greater effort to embrace being Latina and Trini because that’s what makes me, me.
The chapter “Snapshots from My Daze in School” by Celia Alvarez was extremely insightful, especially in the way that she analyzes language. She brings up the fact that she was privileged due to the fact that she was a bilingual speaker, and thus could serve as a translator (sharpening her interpersonal communication skills) for her mother, who spoke Spanish, yet still possess the capacity to speak English because of her father. So, she succeeded when she entered elementary school, but she states that this is only due to her English language skills since NYC public schools were not bilingual.
Now, I had a similar situation growing up. I was born in San Diego, where my parents were living in a tiny rental apartment. Living in a city so close to the Mexican border, my parents often spoke Spanish with their friends, at their jobs and in the house. But this was only for the first year of my life in which I was constantly surrounded by the hum of Spanish, because my parents relocated to New Jersey, so that my dad could be close to family living in the area and because of his acceptance into a PhD program at Rutgers. We moved into the bottom floor of a two-family house in Bayonne. My father’s aunts lived on the top floor, two middle-aged Irish-American women, who would find any excuse to come downstairs in order to play with the baby (me!) So, English became spoken more often than not, in order to accommodate my ever-present great aunts. Spanish was then reserved for bed-time lullabies, some of which I can still hum to myself. When my siblings were born, an unexpected set of fraternal twins, my dad’s mother came to live with us for a short period of time, seeing as how mi abuela in Mexico couldn’t just up and leave. So my grandma sung lullabies for me while my mother stayed up with the twins, so even bed-time got switched over to English. Soon, Spanish became a truly foreign language to me, which I could only re-conciliate through my own academic pursuits.
So, I never saw my lack of understanding Spanish as a privilege. I always thought that if I came from a bilingual household that I would have a much more prestigious education, perhaps even being able to focus on my third language right now instead of Spanish. But I now realize that not knowing Spanish was almost considered a privilege for me, especially considering that my sister was put in an ESL class just because they figured she couldn’t speak English because she was shy and the teacher saw that my mother (a visibly Latina woman) dropped her off at school on the first day of kindergarten. My strength in English is a huge privilege, even though I am often sad about having a very real disconnect from my culture due to many years of not being able to speak my mother’s native language.
Reading Alvarez passage on language brought to me the most strange of realizations: I was thinking to myself “ my mom is not the reason why I am bilingual because Spanish is my first language”. I had to stop myself and re think that — my mom is in fact the reason why I am bilingual, I moved to this country 5 years ago and perhaps I would have learned English in my country, but not too this level and not this fluent. The main reason why I moved to the States was to graduate from college in this country, however, this would have never become my goal if my mom wasn’t already living here.
Gracias mami, hope to one day have the courage to express my gratefulness ..
I want to start this off by saying I love you! Pero let me tell you why not only because you are Puerto Rican but you are POWER and Strength.
When I hear, you say the world politics my brain lights up because I cannot believe that me and you have a lot in common. I understand being the struggle of being part of a group especially when I consider black. People tell me all the time how can you be black if your Latina and then my Puerto Rican family calls me Gringa. I want to write a poem to you and this letter goes to you for memory.
Garcias por tu Pay y tu Máy for making the decisions they did
I know it was NOT easy but I appreciate you
Where we come from everything that is true, we say wepa
we get pissed, we say cono
we laugh, we say que estupido
when we play, it’s a classic game of dominoes
when we love, it’s always a say of te quiero
No one can take that way from us
It may be the same of color as the u.s.a., but do NOT get it twisted
it may be a colony but the u.s will never take away our wealth
wealth is not all about money, it is what being Boricua and what that means to us means to us.
I am glad you learned about YOURSELF
I hope I could meet you
Your vibe and empowerment I hope for that one that enlighten me!
Puerto Ricans are just as equal we are not any different,
The women in our culture are NOT Putas,
The men in our culture are NOT a waste
Being in the streets from 1:00PM till 7:00PM was normal to me. Coming from a poor neighborhood in the Dominican Republic where there is not much to do at home, we used to entertain ourselves differently. As a child, playing outside with friends, going to the esquina and watch other people play, or just going to a neighbor’s house and talk about whatever topic came to mind made me happy. I never lived with my father because he moved to the U.S when I was two years old, but he would go to the D.R. every end of the year for a month just to spend time with us. Everything was perfect when he traveled. But coming to the U.S I had many encounters with him about “Tu eres la hembra de la casa, you should be home.” Meanwhile, being younger than me, my brother was always encouraged to go out, explore, never help me with the chores at home (because it is a womxn’s task) and be a “Man.” We have to move out of this neighborhood (176 Street in the Bronx) because I do not want my daughter near these Blacks. He would repeat that to my mother everyday after work. At the moment I did not understand what he meant by it. But as I grew up he kept saying “Novio negro no, tienes que mejorar la familia.”
Pero nunca me deje influenciar. I never let his beliefs influence me on my role as a womxn. Nonetheless, who I should mix myself with. Now, he is happy I didn’t.
Do I believe in you?
Being a kid that was always afraid of the world I used God as my shield to protect myself of the bad things. My mother taught how to pray, how to be good christian and how to see church as my second home. I am 19 years old now and I can say that religion is not the path that I am following.
When you came from a latino family, you know that you only have two choices: or you are a christian or you are a “muchacha del diablo”. When you are a kid the only thing that you do is follow, you follow what others do and say, you don’t want to be nothing related with the diablo because that is bad and you know it.
God was my shield back in the time because I used to be scared, I didn’t know of what I was scared until now. I WAS SCARED OF GOD HIMSELF. Religion was used on me as an oppression system, where he rewards you if you are good, and he punish you if you are bad. Being a kid and be scared caused me problems, I get to anxious of simple things because “bad things were coming”. My father notices that I was anxious and he asked me what was happening to me, and I didn’t know my answer every time was “I am scared”. My father never believe in God as a superior power, but he was the one that teach me to believe in myself and not to be afraid of future bad things, that the only thing that you need is to be a good person and not to harm anyone. Little by little I understand it and I was not longer afraid of being outside, I was not longer afraid of the darkness, I did not longer believe in the diablo.
Until today, religion is used as a system to scare people. People still believe that in order to be a good person you need to believe in something, otherwise you are not complete. Society needs to understand that religion is good to use if you want to teach someone to be a spiritual person or to search in their soul, but it is not okay to use it to spread fear, specially on kids.
As Martha Quintanales, I grew up and I use education an science as my guide. I still think in God as a superior power, but he is not my answer for everything anymore.
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 can’t help but think he isn’t real. I mean seriously?
A man in the sky who watches our every move and guides us through this life? Please…
You must do a better job at convincing me.
I have zero guidance. There’s no one looking out for me. Spare your breath because I can’t help but think he isn’t real.
I mean, seriously. All of those times I found myself surrounded by people who did not look like me: those fair skinned, god loving humans who hated me so much.
I’m not even Mexican!
Go mow my lawn, you worthless piece of trash.
How could a God, a being so divine, treat the people who shout these words with pride so well? How could a God, a being so divine, leave me to be treated like shit?
For in the name of this same God my people were slaughtered!
Do you really expect me to believe he exists to guide and protect me?
You must do a better job at convincing me.
Think about it.
The little girls who are stripped of their innocence daily by men who you would think they should be able to trust.
The women who spend their entire lives with a man who beats them each time dinner is not prepared when he arrives
The ladies who spend fourteen hours working to get paid just as much as her male coworker who only works eight.
All the women who are not so “feminine” and so they are deemed a
and thus bound to end up in Hell.
And all the ones who get called a
because she has sex with men who do the same thing but are called a
A God would never create such a world.
I’m tired. I’m so god damn tired of listening to mami tell me that Dios is watching after me.
That if I don’t behave, Dios me va castigar.
I’m so god damn tired of hearing it.
Next time you preach his words to me, I want you to explain to me why women keep getting
I’m so god damn tired of hearing it.
Tired of letting it all happen.
Think about it.
He is an excuse for our oppression.
You really expect me to devote myself to some man in the sky? To trust his almighty being with my life?
He can’t even protect me from the men on this earth.
What makes him any different from the rest?
I mean, seriously. You must do a better job at convincing me.
I wrote this in response to the readings “Lightning” and “Esta Risa No Es de Loca.” Caridad Souza’s testimony really spoke to me and is something I can relate to. I tied it back to “Lightning” because I find the idea of a God absurd when so much oppression occurs in our society. It was especially interesting because religion wasn’t necessarily forced upon Quintaneles. Despite the scientific knowledge she has of the supernatural world, she has this idea of God. Don’t get me wrong, she has every right to believe in whatever she wants to believe in. I, on the other hand, just can’t seem to find this idea of God. It’s always been something that has bothered me and have been unable to really talk about. Every woman in my family is very religious, so I don’t really have anyone to express my thoughts to on this subject. No matter how much I try to explain it to them, they can’t seem to see it from my point of view.
Your traveler’s bags
Willing to sail the seas
They are full of memories
In your heart of immigrant.
Your hope for a better life
And the pain of separation
Makes your struggle an intense agony
Almost making you faint.
Gone are your family,
Your friends, your intimate landscapes,
That have merged with your soul
and they can not be uprooted.
A long journey awaits you,
New roads, a new air
And a very hard encounter with reality.
Maybe, you will learn a new language
But you will never unpack those bags
Full of tears and constant agony
They will tear your heart apart.
Who will get the agony out of you?
Of the homeland that is distant
Who will clothe your tears?
And what hugs will comfort you?
However, your heart is brave.
And daily you will rise,
With the head held high
To find a better future for your child.