Category Archives: Current Events

Latino Heritage Month/What’s Up With White People Singing De Colores?

In America, we get these months to celebrate ethnic heritage, among other things (dogs, pizza, ice cream). Schools and libraries often create very meaningful programming around these months, but sometimes these celebrations feel like a tourist’s view of a culture. If you didn’t know, we are currently in the midst of Hispanic/Latino Heritage month, a month of Latin American people’s focused literature in libraries, public TV programming, and Latino Heritage month commercials sponsored by Coca-Cola or the NFL. 

Since I write about Mexicans all the time, it’s Latino Heritage month all year long on this blog, but as always, I do have a little story to tell. 

I wouldn’t say I dread Latino Heritage Month, and I recognize the opportunities (even for me) that the month presents, but I think many Latinos have mixed feelings about why a month to celebrate Latino heritage is necessary in the first place. 

About two years ago, I was invited to a reading in San Francisco as a featured reader, me and another Xicano author. As soon as I walked in the door with my Mexican born husband, someone told us someone was going to play music, and that they’d be singing in Spanish, “De Colores,” and would we please sing along. Moments later, someone began practicing their Spanish on my husband. Later, as I listened to others invited to read, I realized there was a theme, one that had not quite been communicated to me. Each poet who read, one after another read about humble migrants, cultural misunderstandings, brown people who who worked the land, picked our food, and one reader pretended to be John Steinbeck and read from “Harvest Gypsies.” I began to wonder if those who invited me to read thought I was or had been a migrant worker, and then they sang “De Colores.” I’m surprised that my husband, who was already agitated, didn’t get up and walk out of the place.  Our two friends who came to the event with us watched wide-eyed as the seen unfolded around us, a group of well-meaning older hippie poets, swaying as they sang, begging us to join in. 

Later at home over the course of several days, I tried to work out what had happened, why it had happened, and it brought up all sorts of feelings about related experiences that I tried to capture in “What’s Up With White People Singing De Colores,” a piece that has offended/hurt/worried a few friends because it struck a nerve, but also, I guess, because “De Colores” is such a beloved song.

What’s Up With White People Singing De Colores?

What’s up with white people singing De Colores? Do they know it’s a children’s song? Do they know how embarrassing it is for us to sit and listen? Yes, we do know the words. Doesn’t everyone? And no we don’t want to join in.

We don’t want to kiri kiri ki like roosters or to listen to you do it. We don’t want to hear you sing using all the wrong vowels sounds, and we don’t care if the song was sung by Cesar Chavez and the American Farm Workers Movement. Yes, we knew that already.

And we don’t care if you love our culture, all the flavors and colors. We don’t care if you think we are the hardest working people in America. We don’t care if you think we’re the laziest. We are those things and everything in between. We know you love Mexican food. Who doesn’t? We know it’s your favorite. Mexican food is like pizza – it’s everyone’s favorite.

We also don’t care if you’re learning Spanish. Some of us don’t speak it either. Assimilation beat it out of us, beat it out of our parents. But you want a prize for taking a Spanish class, the one where you learned to say pio pio pio pi. Please don’t practice your Spanish on us either. If we’re fluent, we don’t want to hear you proudly mangle every other word, and if we’re not, we don’t want to have to pretend we’re better at it rather than explain because you made an assumption. We’d rather carry on a conversation like we did cuando podiamos ser amigos.

What’s up with white people singing De Colores? Do they know how predictable it is and how grating? It’s like old people saying “bling” or white girls with dread locks. And we don’t care if you celebrate Dia de Los Muertos or make tamales for Christmas. We’ve been buying advent calendars and watching A Charlie Brown Christmas all our lives. We’re glad to see you finally adopt and appreciate some of our ways, but now you want our approval too!

What’s up with white people thinking that we’re stuck in time? Do you think we sit around singing folk songs all the day? Did you know that some of us like death metal, Morrisey, Joni Mitchell (who, btw, never recorded De Colores) Bhangra, The Clash (even though they sang in terrible Spanish too), and Kate Bush?

What’s up with white people singing De Colores? No, we don’t want to join in. Sure, it’s a step up from “La Cucaracha,” “La Bamba,” or “El Jarabe Tapatio,” which you call the Mexican Hat Dance, but is there no other song to represent us, and why just one song?

Yes, De Colores is all about colors and unity, and yes, I get the song makes you feel good about embracing diversity, finally, and multiculturalism, but it’s never as easy as one song, not for us.

What’s up with white people singing De Colores? You can stop anytime.

 

 

 

The First Rule of Punk: A Book Review (of sorts)

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I got Celia C. Pérez’s The First Rule of Punk  less than 24-hours ago, and I read it in two sittings, finishing this afternoon, crying over the climax at a table in my neighborhood café.

I have never wanted to hold a book in my hand more than my own book The Spitboy Rule, until I learned about First Rule of Punk. The First Rule of Punk is a middle grade novel. I learned about it from Bustle online in February. It got a lot of early buzz months before its scheduled release, I think, because a book about a punk rock Xicana in middle school in the era of Trump gives dems, leftists, feminists, book nerds, zinsters, ex-zinsters, librarians, Xicanas, punx, ex-punx, punk parents, and perimenopunxs hope.

I also cried when I read this summary of it: “There are no shortcuts to surviving your first day at a new school—you can’t fix it with duct tape like you would your Chuck Taylors. On Day One, twelve-year-old Malú (María Luisa, if you want to annoy her) inadvertently upsets Posada Middle School’s queen bee, violates the school’s dress code with her punk rock look, and disappoints her college-professor mom in the process. Her dad, who now lives a thousand miles away, says things will get better as long as she remembers the first rule of punk: be yourself.”

On February 28, I wrote this on the Spitboy Rule Facebook page: “This book looks awesome and like the middle grade version the The Spitboy Rule!” Twenty people shared the Bustle link straight away, the post reached over 35000 views, and I got excited and reached out to the author on Twitter.

She responded with this tweet:

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I was smitten right away and we began following each other on Twitter and Instagram, and we recently became friends on Facebook where she promised to send me an advance copy of the book when she got them. Not too long after, I began seeing people post copy of their books, their advance copies (probably straight from the publisher or a conference), and I began obsessively checking my mailbox. I haven’t checked my mailbox so religiously since I was single and had a crush on my Puerto Rican neighbor who I eventually learned was engaged to be married (but that’s a whole other story!).

Yesterday, I checked my mailbox, hoping to find some stickers that I ordered, and out popped a recycled manila envelope, book-shaped, and with Celia’s name and address. I tried to open the envelope carefully, so as not to rip the book, but I was excited. Out flew the book, a FRP book mark, a FRP button, and two Sherman Alexie zines!

“Move,” I told my 15 year-old son who was sitting on my spot under the reading lamp on the couch. “Don’t anyone bother me until dinner time.”

I turned the bright yellow book over in my hands, looking for things you can’t see in picture of the book online. I saw pan dulce, a sugar skull, an anarchy symbol, and a quetzal wearing a Walkman.

I read the back cover, and then I took a deep breath, and opened the book to Chapter 1.   I cried twice in the first fifteen chapters, once because I was touched, and the first time because I simply could not contain my joy over the existence of a book written about a girl like me. I am 47 years old, 48 in October, and not once in my life have I read a book (fiction) about someone so much like me. There are books by Xicanas about Xicanas who have had many of the same experiences and feelings that I have had, like Teresa in Ana Castillo’s Mixquahuala Letters. Still, last winter on Facebook, it was a thing to change your profile photo to a character from a children’s book character who was most like you, and I wanted to play along, but found I couldn’t think of any character who was like me or who I identified with. I posted a photo of Speedy Gonzales. It was all I could come up with and I wanted to make a point, but it was the first time that I realized that something seemingly trivial on Facebook could make me feel so sad.

Growing up, Speedy Gonzales was literally the only children’s character who was anything like me. Kids at school used to scream, “Arriba, rriba, andale, andale,” when I walked by.

But now, at nearly 50 years-old, I have Malù, but most importantly, kids all over America get to have Malù too – brown kids, comic book or zine nerds, punk or rock music fans (since electronic/digitized music has taken over the airwaves),  budding activists, kids who break the school dress code, tough girls, and unladylike girls who want to pour drinks over the school mean girl’s head (I actually did pour beer over a trendy girls head at a party, which Malù would never do because she doesn’t drink beer).

Since you probably haven’t yet read the book, you might be wondering now what else it’s about, but I don’t want to spoil it for you. I will say that Malù makes zines and is keen on lists, like the one on the back cover. You might also be wondering how I’m like Malù besides the Xicana punk connection. Here’s my list:

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Thank you Celia C. Pérez for writing a book about someone like me, for making it happen in my lifetime, and for giving me a character to use in my profile pic next time I need a children’s book character to identify with, for making us visible – you’re my hero.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ministry of Truth II: Do I Have To Keep Telling You To Read 1984?

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In George Orwell’s 1984, Orwell’s governmental agencies are given ironic names, names that might have you think that they responsible for one thing, when in fact they do the opposite of what you would expect given the name – the very definition of irony. For example, the Ministry of Plenty is responsible for wartime rationing, which is to say, daily, weekly, monthly, yearly rationing because Oceania (the super state that is the setting of the novel) is in a state of perpetual war.

Before I go any further, let me state the obvious. If you haven’t, yet, read 1984, now would be the time, if you can find a copy given its recent surge in popularity. I can’t tell you everything about the novel, but I will tell you this: dystopian novels like 1984 are satires, satirical works that employ heavy irony to make a point. Most dystopian novels are also cautionary tales – texts that attempt to warn us about abuses of power in hopes that we’ll do something about it before it’s too late. They are novels that look at history, to what has happened, to show us what is possible, and they look forward to a future, that the author fears, is possibly looming.

Not my president’s top advisor, Kellyanne Conway is a one-woman-Ministry-of-Truth. She who coined the term ‘alternative facts,’ in an attempt to justify the presidential press secretary’s explaining away the very real fact that way more people turned out to witness Obama’s first inauguration than Trump’s. Of his assertion, Spicer later said, “sometimes we can disagree with the facts.”

While it’s not stated explicitly, it was presumably Oceania’s Ministry of Truth that created concept of Doublethink. Through 1984 protagonist, Winston Smith, doublethink is described this way:

To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling                            carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out,                      knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic                                    against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that                                          democracy was impossible and that the Party  was the guardian of democracy, to                          forget whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again                        at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again … (Orwell 35)*

Might our current administration want the American people to do just what Winston describes here, “to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic,” and that Conway and Spicer are “conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies.” Could the entire Trump administration be emboldened by the fact that most Americans cannot discern real news from fake news? It sure seems that way to me. And I’m not talking about the so-called legions of ‘un-educated’ folks who voted for Trump. In “Students Have ‘Dismaying’ Inability To Tell Fake News From Real, Study Finds,” a NPR article by Camila Domonoske, a Stanford study of nearly 8000 students in twelve different US states reveals that students in middle school, high school, and college (even Stanford students) had trouble discerning a fake website from a real one, fringe sources, or the difference between a sponsored and non-sponsored site. Kellyanne Conway and Sean Spicer are betting on the very real possibility that most Americans adults are as easily duped.

* Orwell, George. 1984. Signet Classic. New York. 1950. Print.

The President Elect’s Ministry of Truth

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I can understand the urge to boycott things as a form of resistance, but I forced myself to listen to and watch  — not my president’s—first press conference since the election because as exhausting as it is and as it will get, I need to get angry and stay angry. We all do. “Let fury have the hour, anger can be power/D’you know that you can use it?”

All that said, I’m not the first person to point out how Orwellian things have gotten in American politics, but having read 1984 with my students just about every year for the past 13 years, and having the ability to recite several parts of it by memory, I feel it’s my duty not to simply make the comparison, but also to point out that Orwell’s chief concern in writing 1984 was to warn readers about authoritarian rulers and the tactics they use to manipulate, confuse, trick, and control. As a disciple of Orwell’s, I realize, all this comes a bit late bit. I should have started writing this sooner, but as a disciple of Orwell’s I also know that one must continue to resist – to keep a record, to remember, to stay focused, vigilant.

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If the Party could thrust its hand into the past and say of this or that event, IT NEVER                     HAPPENED—that, surely, was more terrifying than mere torture and death?  (Orwell                        43-44)

‘I didn’t say shut down immigration.’ Donald Trump

http://thefederalist.com/2016/03/24/10-things-trump-said-but-says-he-didnt/

1984

The Party said that Oceania had never been in alliance with Eurasia. He, Winston Smith,               knew that Oceania had been in alliance with Eurasia as short a time as four years ago.                   But where did that knowledge exist? Only in his own consciousness, which in any case                   must  soon be annihilated. And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed— if             all  records told the same tale—then the lie passed into history and became truth. ‘Who               controls the past,’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present                   controls the past.’ (Orwell 44)

The day after the Brussels terrorist attack (3/22/16), Trump said in an interview with CBS “This Morning,” “I didn’t say shut it down. I said you have to be very careful. We have to be very, very strong and vigilant at the borders.”

On December 7, 2015, Trump issued a press release that begins, “Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” He read and reaffirmed his statement at a rally that day.

http://thefederalist.com/2016/03/24/10-things-trump-said-but-says-he-didnt/

Video begins at attack of the press, dictatorial behaviors displayed by the pres elect in the recent past.

1984

Winston sank his arms to his sides and slowly refilled his lungs with air. His mind slid                     away into the labyrinthine world of doublethink. To know and not to know, to be                             conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold                           simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and             believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying                   claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian             of democracy, to forget whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into                     memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again:               and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself. That was the ultimate                       subtlety: consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become                         unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word             ‘doublethink’ involved the use of doublethink. (Orwell 44-45)

Jan. 28, 2016: Asking for Megyn Kelly’s removal from a debate

Trump’s war with Kelly led to him boycotting the Fox News/Google debate in Iowa. An hour before the other candidates took the stage, Trump insisted on CNN his absence was due to a mocking Fox News press release and he “never once asked that (Kelly) be removed.”

We found several instances of Trump and his campaign telling reporters and tweeting about skipping the debate because of Kelly. He went so far as to say Kelly “should not be allowed” to moderate, that she “should recuse herself,” and she “shouldn’t be in the debate.”

http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/article/2016/jul/06/17-things-donald-trump-said-and-then-denied-saying/

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This is My Fucking Country

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MG, her brother and sister, in the country, circa 1979

Link to “This is My Fucking Country” up at hipmama.com

“This is my fucking country,” I said this to some colleagues at work on Friday, November 4. It felt like the thing kind of statement that I should expand into an essay, but I knew that I wasn’t the only one who felt this way. 1001 Black Men artist, Ajuan Mance, wrote on Facebook on election night that she told a friend that she wasn’t going anywhere either, least of all Canada. She said, “With a Black population of something around 2.5 percent and some really wonky race politics, the neighbor to our north is really not happening for me. No matter who is president, I’ll stay right here, continuing the legacy of celebration and resistance established by my ancestors.”  It’s the kind of statement that I would expect from Ajuan, who was my American Literature professor at Mills College. 

I wasn’t planning write anything after the election, even though I knew that I should. I just didn’t think that I could harness all my thoughts and emotions, be articulate/surprisingly articulate (*wink*),  or say anything fresh. But then Ariel sent me a message, and in it were the words “resistance “and “punk,” and I was off. 

I say all this to give credit to my community, my teachers, friends, and all the people whose ideas meld with, inspire, and buoy mine.

Grab My Pussy, I Dare You: Medusa’s Revenge

 

 

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When you are caught on tape saying women let you do what they want, that you COULD even grab them by the pussy, because you are famous, AND then you say, you’ve NEVER done such a thing, that it’s all TALK – women who you’ve GROPED, KISSED without consent, BULLIED, made to stand on tables, so you could see up their skirts, or RAPED will speak up. Women who felt they had no power, no voice, women who you only did it to once, women who thought no one would listen, women who maybe spoke out before and no one did, WILL speak out. These women won’t stomach you any longer. They will speak out and they won’t stop.

When you shoot your mouth off and bully and insult and demean – women will start to speak out and they won’t stop. AND women who have pushed it all down, harassment at work, on the streets, leers, whistles, cat calls, “smile, why don’t you smile”, “ok, fuck you, bitch,” “suck my dick,” will listen, and we will tell our stories, and we won’t stop because there is no end to the litany of examples because this is what it’s like being a woman in America.

Men show their dicks to us on public transportation, rub up against us, and leer, and suck their teeth, and sometimes they get off the same bus stop and chase us across the street, forcing us to run into traffic. This is what it’s like to be a woman in America, you should know that, of all people you should know. 

You shrug it off give it a cute name, say it’s normal.

Then you say, “They’re liars. It’s all lies, you say.” Fiction. Anyone could make up a story like that. BUT here’s the thing. We don’t have to make up stories. There’s no shortage of adult men leering at girls, fingering them, “sit on my lap,” “it feels good, don’t you want to feel good?” There’s no shortage of NON-FICTION tales that I, or any number of my friends could tell – the men who tried to lure us into their cars, yes, more than one, the men who turned vicious when rebuffed or rejected or exposed.

“Look at her and look at her words.” YOU said. “You tell me what you think. I don’t think so.”

“These vicious claims about me of inappropriate conduct with women are totally and absolutely false,” you said.

You have proof, you say, evidence.

You say there are no witnesses, that no one was around. WE know it’s how you operate, in the dark, under the covers, safe in first-class, money, power, influence. You say you have proof but we can’t prove you groped, bullied, leered, demeaned, raped. You’re right, we don’t have proof, no DNA evidence, no fingerprints to lift from our skin, no audio, no video, just stories, stories that we will tell, that we will keep telling because we are full, and you have lifted the lid.

Pandora is out of the box. Medusa’s head full of snakes is yanking apples off trees, and biting into them, letting their juices run, and run, and run.