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On History and the Power of Identity

Below is a speech I wrote and shared among a group of women last Saturday at a beautiful event called “Conscious Queens” hosted by The First Generationers. Many people have been asking me to share a full video, but I must admit that I did not come to the event fully prepared with equipment to video myself or even take pictures to share on my social media. I went to the event prepared to share some stories and be a voice of power and reason (specifically during this election season). It was very exciting to be a part of the event and be able to speak from my heart. The first-gen experience is one I constantly bring to light when I can and I am happy to share it with all of you:

“I want to talk about history and the power of identity.

I’ll start off with a mini history lesson. Haiti became the world’s first black republic, free, independent, with the claim in history as the most badass slave revolt to exist. Haiti backed Latino revolutionary, Simon Bolivar whose name is known proudly in Latin America because he helped many nations attain independence from Spain and in return he would promise to free slaves. Venezuela, Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador, Panamá, Perú all were supported in their military, secretly, by Haiti who did not want to have an enemy in Spain given the history which reached back to the days of french vs. spanish. History continues on and on but that is the basis of Dominican-Haitian relations and the introduction to a strong history that a lot of people I meet do not know or refuse to believe. I shared this history with my mother and she looked at me and said, “That little island?” “That’s not true, how could they do that?” They did that in the same spirit that my parents came to the U.S. and got  licenses, and built  businesses, owned homes, sent their kids to college so I’ve decided that it’s my job to help her see that.

I recount this specific piece of history as I am the daughter of Dominican migrants to the United States, who, by the way, recognize themselves proudly as American people part of the “Americas” not just U.S.A. #knowledgeispower. I am the partner to a beautiful and courageous Haitian man who also immigrated to the United States when he was younger. And the love for both my family and my partner truly have shaped the woman that I am right now, it has especially shaped my very first generation born in the U.S. experience. I did the traditional college thing which was praised and ridiculed at the same time. College was a life changing experience, I faced all my fears, temptations, and made some dreams come true (namely becoming the first in my family to graduate college and bring that pride back to my parents. That is the place where I experienced my first outward expression of racism/stereotype and I thought that would never happen, I picked a “diverse” school on purpose so that it wouldn’t happen. But I was picked on by peers who didn’t understand my culture (beyond being latina but being first gen) and a Professor specifically called me out for being ESL (when I am a native English Speaker, fluent in Spanish and at the time a Writing Tutor) all because I wrote the word “normal” instead of “average. In order to survive college I had to find the way to have healthy conversations about race and gender issues from a perspective that most people never thought of or considered especially in the classroom. That was the beginning of discovering my superpower.

I am the first in my immediate family to graduate from college, and I went on to get an M.A. in Women & Gender Studies, my father is still asking me to become a lawyer. I don’t think he really gets it but I try to assure him everyday that I know what I’m doing (on most days) and that my work is changing the world too. I am the granddaughter of colonialism, the daughter of imperialism, the sister of liberty, and the lover of social justice. My identity is extremely varied, it carries the weight and responsibility of a multitude of roles. I am literally a game changer. The U.S. still doesn’t know what to do with people like me, and everyday I wake up I recognize the power in who I am, my role in the U.S.A in the 21st century as a woman of color, as a latina, as a daughter and partner of immigrants. I use my talents of experience, storytelling in english and in spanish to defend the beauty of this role that I have been uniquely placed in. If you believe in the American Dream, you have to know that first and second generation people who are understanding and loving of multiple cultures and religions, who have an attachment to diaspora/migration and have a deep need for the unity and respect of diversity, are the most powerful people in our society. That is a message we have not been told enough, so I’m using my voice to speak that absolute truth.

I carry with me the hard work, strength, idealism, quick wit, vibrant and colossal spirit of the diaspora, the movement from my parent’s home to my home here in Jersey. I take their story with me everywhere I go. I took it to school with me, to the mall, to parties, and now I take it to work with me everyday. I created a space for it that I called DontCallMeChula.com, that eventually became the foundation for ProjectChula.com, and I brought it with me today to talk to you about it and share with you my superpower, which is my history and standing calmly in the space of my very complex identity. In the fulfillment of my purpose here on earth, I do not leave history behind and that is the secret power that a lot of times I think makes me one of the most intelligent people in the room.

I have so many personal stories of my very gendered childhood and how that presents itself in my relationship with my family now, my growing relationship with my mother through her acceptance of my partner and who I am, spirituality and my education/work life but I would be here for hours diving into all of those experiences. At the core of everything that has brought me immense joy and sadness is the power of how I identify and how that passes on to future generations. I have little cousins who identify as black women and can celebrate that greatness with me, though their moms may not understand, though I don’t look black like them. We know our history, why we are different shades and why in the U.S. shapes the difference in how we identify and as women and how we are perceived. My 17 and 18 year old cousins are 2 of the smartest people I know right now so I couldn’t stop talking without mentioning their greatness.

Thank you for allowing me this moment to share with you some history of the people I love, and mostly of the person I am learning to love the most which is me. Thank you to Samiah for seeking me out and the First Generationers crew for this event, it’s is an amazing time to be in this space in this country so let’s do our part to make sure we live out the dream.”

Courtesy of blackgirllatinworld.com

Dear Non-Spanish Speaking Coworkers…

Let me start by clearly stating, I love my language skills. I love that my skills are needed in the workplace and I can be of assistance to many projects in any way that I can. I’m writing to ask that you respect my skills and culture just as much off the call as you do when we are on the call…at least try to do me the favor to my face.

When you say “I wish I could speak Spanish” I really wish you could too. Because honestly, it would make things at work a lot easier. For example, I can’t tell you how many times I forget the proper version of an English phrase or need the translation of a word from Spanish to English because at the moment I truly just forget! I end up feeling pretty foolish when no one is around to help me. It’s not easy keeping up with two languages, this bilingual brain goes on overdrive sometimes and it can be exhausting. How clutch would it be if you could be my back up in that moment? That’s my working environment dream.

You don’t realize this, but I get nervous speaking on the spot in Spanish. I know you need me to do it so I suck it up, smile, and I make sure that the 2 mins you gave me to prepare for this call sufficed as enough time to get my translation points right with you. The pressure is on!  For the future, I would appreciate it if you had some notes written down for me, invited me to a 10 minute meeting, or even schedule me a couple hours before you need my assistance so I can prepare in the best way possible for your call.

Lastly, but certainly not least. Please do not laugh uncomfortably when I say a Latino person’s name in Spanish, read the name of a Latino institution in Spanish, or refer to my heritage and experience in a conversation. It’s a cool thing that I am different. It really shouldn’t make you uncomfortable that you can’t speak the beauty of these names the way they were meant to, you can totally choose to learn Spanish as well. It shouldn’t be funny that I said something you can’t understand. When you talk Harry Potter I NEVER understand, yet I sit and smile politely until that filler conversation is over and our actual meeting can begin. You shouldn’t feel as though you can’t ask me questions. Although I have been laughed at for asking the “obvious” questions in our work setting, I have developed the opposite attitude over the years and enjoy conversations where I can encourage growth and cultural competency.

I am more than a skill set and a tool to leverage your conversations with Spanish speaking people. I am a person of Dominican heritage who is a native Spanish and English language speaker and has stories that are just as awesome as yours, jokes that are funnier (in my very personal opinion), and an immense passion for the work that we do which is why I choose to stop my work for a moment to help you.

All my best.

Saturday Reflection: On Being Unapologetically Me

I am getting older, and there is so much value to respecting my age and new stage of life. Close friends are getting married, childhood friends have their own children, I am being named godmother and most importantly I am taking steps towards becoming the woman I’ve always strived to be. Unapologetic for being exactly who she is and loving her at all times.

Growing up, I was the peacemaker in my group of friends and family and that was my role. I thought that as peacemaker you had to apologize for a lot of things and be mindful of your actions so you wouldn’t hurt others. Sorry for not answering the call before, sorry for being busy on my projects, sorry for using my time for me, sorry I don’t want to go out tonight. And as peacemaker I defended a lot of people. They aren’t picking up because they had a crazy week at work, give them a break their family is going through a lot, they communicate in a different way try talking to them like this. It always made me feel good to bring people together and help them realize they can connect together positively and in peace. But unknowingly, I was doing it all wrong and not demanding care for myself from myself.

When I hit a low in life it was my turn to be offered space for support and understanding, I did not have the room to continue being “peacemaker.” I did not have the space to continue being in everyone’s lives as I once was, I only wanted to worry about my own feelings and my own experience and for my purposes that was and still is important to me.  Given my personality, protecting myself looked differently than we were all used to. I did not open up about my troubles as easily as expected. No longer was I an “open book” as I was described, my experiences taught me I couldn’t trust as easily as before and I am continuously working through that. Some friends got upset, I let go and did not apologize and I felt lighter through that defiance. I was being myself and I realized that I would have rather been without a friend than feel as though I needed to offer another apology and this time it was for living my life as I see fit.

These days, protecting my space and balancing energy is my number one priority. I have recently been introduced to the practice of meditation, of practicing the alignment of mind, body and spirit, and of taking care of myself in all ways always. I am learning to be unapologetically selfish. I apologize only when I feel my actions are wrong or come from a place of immaturity and refusal to understand. I want to be my most genuine self and I recognize that will not work for everyone. If we don’t learn to take care of ourselves first, we can’t expect to successfully help the ones we love and demonstrate love on a daily basis.

As a reminder to you and myself, I share a quote from writer Alexandra Elle:

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I am loyal to my Saturday reflection period as a space to think about the happenings of the week and my interactions with the world. I have recently begun sharing my reflections every Saturday morning on my Snap Chat @mary_behave and the response has been inspiring and love filled. I am completely grateful for those who connect. In the words of Junot Diaz “it takes guts to be alive” and to use everyday as a day to live fully, genuinely, happily and peace-filled takes work. I’m here to do the work with all of you.

Here’s to another step towards happiness and peace. Happy Saturday!

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Say My Name, My Very American Name

“Hi, my name is Maribi”

“You mean Maribel?”

“No, I mean Maribi”

“Like Will You Marry Me?”

“Like Maribi…”

My Kindergarten teacher provided me with the English pronunciation of my name. It is the only way every friend and colleague lovingly calls for my attention, assistance, a beer to share. They don’t know any better, but Ma-ruh-bee is not what my mother intended the world to call me. However, Ma-ri-bí seems to be challenging, confusing, a cause for disruption and distraction from the real conversation being had.

As an extroverted introvert, I don’t exactly love standing out and I really don’t like when people expect an explanation of my name: My time cannot be used as story time, all of the time. Also, unique doesn’t feel very cool when people treat you like you’re a unicorn. Like they had heard about people like you but they had never actually seen one in the flesh! Live and speaking all of the English and articulating herself very well…

For most of my life I introduced myself as Ma-ruh-bee, until Starbucks came along and I felt I had to become Mary because “it’s just easier.” Constantly concerned about the convenience of others, of the “Americans”, I forgot the importance of identifying genuinely with authentic descriptions of who I am. In the words of Marc Anthony, “I’m as American as apple pie”  though I speak 2 languages and identify with more than one culture. In my very arrogant opinion, I’m a superstar American.

When speaking in public, I used to avoid pronouncing names of nations like Puerto Rico or Venezuela correctly for fear of creating a space of discomfort for non-Spanish speakers. I realized, that if I was going to represent myself in a manner that demanded respect of my presence (my Latinx ass presence) language was extremely relevant and I needed to just speak the names I knew, accents and all. For me, representing myself includes representing my ancestry, the immigrant experience of my parents, and the pride of identifying as many things because I can.

Puerto Rico and I have  a lot in common (hence my semi-obsession with learning Puerto Rican history). Besides the fact that both our names include a good ol’, not real lengthy, R roll, our names are depictions of our American stories. We are American, not exactly by choice (a story for another day), but we bleed colors red, white and blue in name of 2 nations. We live on the margins, our names dripping with the tensions of migrant history. Who, exactly, are we responsible to?

The answer is quite simple, but the practice is much harder. To be responsible for yourself requires a great act of self advocacy, something a 5 year old taught me. Kids say and do some crazy things, but they are so colorfully brave. They allow themselves to consider all of the possibilities and they certainly don’t limit the abilities of any human being. Adults assume too much (Read, I assume too much). I assumed that I couldn’t teach an “American” how to say my “un-American” name. They can’t speak Spanish and I can’t force them too… right? (Read, wrong). Also, the exposure of correct pronunciation of my name usually leads to conversations of what languages are spoken at home, and what country is my family from, and how did my mom come up with that? It’s such a beautiful name they had never heard of. How frustrating it is to constantly answer questions about my name!

My excuses shut down the day it took 20 seconds for 5 year old Zoe to teach me that her name is not Zo-ee, it is Zoè. All she had to do was say, “excuse me, my name is not ____, it’s____” and she had my full attention with no further question or suggestion that she could possibly be wrong or foreign. I was the fool in that brief moment, but I was also extremely proud of her and optimistic for the future. We have reached new heights.

I was one of 4 Latino students in my Kindergarten class way back when, and my teacher in conversation with my English language learning mother compromised on a new pronunciation of my name. It would make it easier for the non-Spanish speaking teachers, less awkward for the already pause filled moment when teachers attempted to announce “unique” names correctly in class, and more efficient for the American society I was growing up in. I do not have vivid memory of my Kindergarten years, but I do remember that I have had 2 versions of my name since I was a little girl and as an adult it is a struggle to let either one of them go.

Though I grow in consciousness and effort to change the world in adulthood, I don’t press too much on the issue of my name and I answer questions briefly and smile. When I did embrace the radical notion that I could only be Ma-ri-bí, I was emotionally drained from denying the reality that I liked the 2 pronunciations of my name. The reality of my history led me to an English version and a Spanish version, so I correct the 2 pronunciations to fit my liking and I introduce myself in the lengthy matter of Ma-ruh-bee in English and Ma-ri-bí in Spanish. And those are the only versions of my name I ascribe to no matter where I am (I’m looking at you Starbucks).

As Zoè taught me, we are free to stand 7 ft tall in this soil of liberation too. I feel unchained after I’ve introduced myself fully, leaving no pronunciation or correct spelling behind. My names and I are Dominican, American, Dominican-American, Latinx, Gringa. We carry the scars of many wars and social politics on our backs and have become very attached to one another. We can’t help but be exactly who we are, at all times.

 

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Finding Personal Truth (away from my family)

A wise person once told me it was important to sit in silence for a day and attempt to listen to your own thoughts and wants. I was having difficulties living up to the cultural ideals I was expected to act upon with my family, which I always did as a child, and satisfying the need to live my own life as an adult. Since I like to write, the wise person suggested that I journal a whole day and converse openly with myself. I accepted the challenge and out of gratitude for the experience I have vowed to practice at least once a month. Here I share the steps I took and decisions I made to truly arrive at my personal truth:

Silence Cell Phone Activity

When you come from a large and traditional (Latino) family this task is especially challenging. Mothers call 2-3 times a day to see about their daughters & sons, siblings call right behind them, fathers are calmer but en route. You feel obliged to pick up the phone because they “just want to see how you are doing.” How can you deny FAMILY that right?  And you can’t exactly tell them what you are doing because that starts another conversation placing you on the opposite track you are on. They’ll want to tell you about what they think and you’ll want to tell them about what you think. You don’t need challengers in this space, so your first step will be to text them back or if you do call, keep the conversation love filled and short.

Develop Gossip Free Conversations 

I mention “love filled” because the gossip mill runs strong in a big family. One of the easiest topics of conversation is identifying difference in other people and their ways. When someone is different the family needs to dissect why, when someone is doing something different the family blames it on society, when someone does not like the things the family likes the remedy is a conversation with God. Do unto others as you would like done unto you, especially in your sacred space. As I begin this practice of wanting my unique livelihood to be respected, I consciously make the effort to respect others and their difference. One prime example of how I do this, I ask questions while in conversation and invite open and honest responses as truths.

In This Space, You Come First. That’s The RULE

My love for my family is fierce because they were the humans that taught me love and care and nurture. But I am learning that my love for me has to be more fierce and that’s what me and God have been talking about lately. You see, I come from a line of women who have sacrificed nice sized chucks of themselves to be the best moms, the greatest wives, and in turn live their womanhood to grow and protect their families. That is what tradition and culture taught them, my life took another course and that is totally allowed. They are God fearing. I am God loving, God embracing, definitely have been God challenging in the past and that was a necessary part of my spiritual journey. My personal growth.

Throw Away the Textbook, Make Up Your Own Definitions

For me, defining and practicing spirituality did not come from attending church every Sunday and agreeing with every word that was thought up by another person. My spiritual growth came from my own discoveries and conversations with different people and living in real time. For me, the concept of love and relationships did not come from the sacrament of marriage and need to procreate (traditional concept that I was taught), it came from a want to enjoy my partner everyday (needing to have fun, trust, and actually combat challenges together).

Family and churches are the traditional spaces in which we are taught to become good people. They are the corner stones to my culture and history. My foundation and root of understanding human purpose came from these “safe spaces”. My growth came from defending and debating tradition. I stepped outside of the norm in my thinking a long time ago. I remember being a 6th grader and questioning cultural ideals to my parents, who I have always been very open with, but I was too young and honestly, too afraid, to practice them. Thoughts of how badly my family would react to me not wanting to attend a Catholic church anymore, or thoughts of how poorly they would think of me if I had children out of wedlock had me scared straight. I better learn…Yeah, better learn to be my absolute self despite the backlashes. They’ll get over it (greatest advice ever given to me by some awe striking ladies).

Find Ways to Reassure Your Growth

Some of my fears came true, but I had to, and am learning even more now to, develop thick skin. Writing and praying daily are the ways I assure myself of my personal growth in mind, spirit, and practice. I have mantras I use nightly to alleviate the stresses of the day and they keep me on track. I keep the people who have grown with me close. I am able to respond to everyone around me with love and understanding with my feet firmly planted in the soil of my ideology and personal truth. I have a strong sense that this life is mine to live and no one else’s, I have the right to think freely and be one happy ass human who does awesome shit.

 

Maribi

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Making Grown Up Friends Doesn’t Have to Be So Hard

But We Make It Hard, is the actual rest of the title.

My new move down to Miami Beach has been fun and extremely eye opening. That sassy ass who ran around in Jersey is a mouse in Florida. An actual quiet little mouse who comes out to play when no one is around. I mean I literally make my boyfriend handle all of the communication with new adults because I’m convinced he is better at it than I am. This experience is making me question my whole existence, WHO AM I?

Leaving all the dramatics aside, I know I am fully aware of who I am. I’ve always been open to adventures and when the adventure starts I have to close my eyes and make someone else push the start button. This moment in time is very reminiscent of my first day in high school. I cried in homeroom and had the great virtue of sitting behind the funny girl in 1st period. I made sure I found a way to open my mouth and stick to that funny girl for the rest of my life, literally.

Though I am beginning  anew and very excited to do so, I bring with me my  past experiences and my concurrent goals that I had set for 2015 when I was still back in Jersey. For example, I told myself I would be focused on building career and stability this year, you know, become an actual adult. Get my credit score up, professional development opportunities, learn to be better to the friends and family I already have, and just chill. Given my personality and false sense of adventure, I should’ve known that I would allow life to throw a wrench in that plan. Miami happened, even when I swore I wouldn’t let it happen.

Here I am, scared of humans and working from home away from humans. I’m realizing exactly how ridiculous I really am, so I’ve decided it’s time to get over myself. I joined a meet up, attempting to not scroll through the comments or analyze all of the member pictures before I actually attend an event. Practicing what I preach, but I REALLY WANT TO JUDGE.

I’ll be investing in my friendships by becoming a regular at a yoga studio, doing something I’ve always wanted to do. I’m already becoming a regular at this little restaurant that has good people and good food, making a name for myself around these parts. I started exploring what alone really means in my new space, its quite nice. I run alone, sit alone, write alone, and read alone. I figured, make “alone” a thing I enjoy, share that with new people who know absolutely nothing about you except the fact that they enjoy that “alone” thing too.

Meeting new people when I am in the business of being authentically and fabulously me at 26 is something to look forward to. Anyone I vibe with will be connecting with adult me, the me I worked hard to identify and that is a new experience. I’m loyal & loving to my high school and college ladies and gents especially because we have worked through the growing pains (xoxo, mad love to my peeps that hold me down). But it will be a truly refreshing experience to meet someone and present myself as I am. #yesnewfriends #yesnewstart

Maribi

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/12/07/1349174/-White-man-s-burden

Who are the “people of color”?

(featured photo found on dailykos.com “The White Man’s Burden”)

From time to time  it is important to have an extensive conversation about race. A good conversation in which one should ideally practice listening skills, provide an abundance of context, and give feedback. Last night, instead of bedtime stories, Jeff and I had a filled conversation about race in hollywood which spilled over into a conversation about my use of the term “people of color.” As an interracial couple, it’s important that we get our facts straight about what the other person thinks about race and specifically what language they deem appropriate in description of or conversation of minority communities. I absolutely hate the term minorities and always have because (in my mind) it has a negative connotation of lesser than, so I say people of color quite frequently.  I have never heard anyone question the term “people of color” before, but then again Jeff’s inquisitive personality usually brings that sort of excitement into a conversation. He made me sit and think about who do we call “people of color” and why do we feel we can group black and latino and asian and middle eastern, etc, all together in struggle?

I went straight academics on him, explaining how in the US we are ignorant to the struggles of other countries and communities. For example, colonization in latin america and the near extinction of indigenous people and their culture or how the atlantic slave trade included countries like Cuba and Colombia and Guatemala and Dominican Republic and Costa Rica, just to name some. I explained to him that in the foundation of understanding latin american history is the learning of the haitian revolution, the praising of the same leaders that many caribbean people praise for the independence of their countries today. In regards to black nationalism and contributions to US civil rights history I can talk about Arturo Schomburg, Carlos Cooks and The Young Lords Party off the top of my head, but I had to go to college to learn the place of latinos in american history.

He went straight street knowledge on me, how do we immerse ourselves in diversity when latino neighborhoods are on the come up before black neighborhoods are? When you must travel a distance to get soul food, but indian food and sushi and even latin food can be found within a one block radius of every apartment in NYC, the struggle of “people of color” is distant. He questioned why every major city had a celebrated “chinatown” yet the black communities are still “underprivileged” places to live. We currently reside in Miami, FL which is an interesting setting for this conversation to take place because it is a major city mostly populated by latino people. What is the purpose of grouping our struggles together if they are not the same?

The lack of narrative of different histories in a nation as diverse as the United States grouped someone like me to “people of color”. I can speak expertly to the experiences of diasporic people (a people not easily recognized as American). We know a history that is affected by the US but is not directly American, experiences like imperialism. Those are the experiences that, to me, bring together the struggle of a people of color, but they aren’t going to be made general knowledge or taught in your US history I or II or AP which keeps us separated.  POC’s are a marginalized group of people, they have a reason to continue in the struggle… a purpose to want to redefine “americana” and be included in the narrative of freedom and attaining the american dream.  We keep in mind the revolutionaries who fought for our existence, we deserve to be more than a third world people. We empower the notion of humanity and carry the responsibility of leveling the playing field for future generations.

Our conversation ended on an optimistic note. The beauty in being an interracial  couple is that we can see a world where in race will be so ambiguous that it won’t be a question of importance. Our children will have known that there was a black president in american history, they will read american classics like “the bluest eye” and “the house on mango street”, they will have seen their black and latino parents celebrate homecoming (insert Scarlet Knight pride here) and hear crazy college stories. They too will have parents who have been there and done that. The hope is that with each generation races will melt into each other and children will begin to brag about how many different cultures they have in their family trees. Their norm will be different than ours. Maybe then a couple will just be a couple.

Maribi