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.”

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.