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.”


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.