Tag Archives: identity

My Body is Mine

imgres                 tumblr_n5zioi00AB1tvqu8xo1_500When we released our Mi Cuerpo Es Mio 7”, a riot grrl from Olympia accused Spitboy of cultural appropriation. The riot grrl, I’ll call her Amy, had ties to the Bay Area, and she was white. Maybe she really believed the accusation. Maybe cultural appropriation was a new concept to her, one that she wanted to try out, and felt it applied to us, or maybe she was just pissed off at Spitboy because we had distanced ourselves from her movement. Amy objected to our use of Spanish for the title of our record. She objected to the words “mi cuerpo es mio” which translates to my body is mine – apparently my body was invisible.

Mi Cuerpo Es Mio, Spitboy’s third release, followed our self-titled 7” on Lookout Records, and our full-length LP that came out on Ebullition. Mi Cuerpo Es Mio was an Allied release, and we chose Allied because of our ties, mostly through Karin, with John Yates, and because we had decided that we would not be owned by any one particular record label, especially since like the punk scene itself the punk record labels were run by men. We were of course, grateful for these particular men, but we didn’t want any of them to feel any kind of ownership over us, our music, or our message. I remember Karin framing our approach that way, and it made sense to me after feeling a great deal of embarrassment from comments made during the release of the Kamala and the Karnivores 7” which came out when I was still dating founding partner of Lookout Records, David Hayes. Turns out that Girl Band was just a really good record after all and with a brilliant cover concept that I will take some credit for. In it, each member of Kamala and the Karnivores is depicted with Barbie dolls. We even found a brown skinned Barbie for my doll and an Asian Barbie for Lynda who played guitar.

During my days entrenched in the scene, I never tried to pass for white, but my nickname was Todd and people didn’t always go by there last names. Familial ties were less important than what band you were in, zine you wrote, or city you were from, and a lot of us were from broken or dysfunctional families anyway. If you were in a band, you went by your first name and your last name was the name your band: Todd Spitboy, Adrienne Spitboy, and so on. Before Spitboy, people called me Todd Bitchfight.

Although I looked quite different from the rest of the Spitboy, my ethnicity didn’t often come up in conversation, not in the Bay Area. In the 1990’s, people were still trying to be colorblind, to not see race, or to pretend not to see it, as the case may be. It wasn’t polite to talk about race, and so I didn’t really talk about it, but this one conversation sticks out in my mind:

“What’s your last name?”

We had just played a show and a friend of Karin’s had come to see us play.

“Gonzales,” I said. It was an unusual question.

“Your last name is Gonzales? Are you, um, Mexican?”

“Yeah, I am,” I said.

This was sort of nice – most people usually said, “What are you?”

“How come I didn’t know that before?”

“I don’t know.”

“That’s so weird. I’m sorry,” she said.

“What do you mean?”

“It seems like I should have known that before. I’ve seen you play and Spitboy, you know, you’re a punk band. I never thought about you all being anything other than that.”

“Oh, yeah,” I said.

“I feel bad.” She reached out and touched my knee.

I didn’t know what to say.

“Identity is so important, and I didn’t even see it, see you. I just saw Spitboy.”

“I don’t think that’s uncommon,” I said, “It’s easier just to see the short hair and clothes I guess.”

“Well, I’m not going to do that again,” she said, “It’s not right.”

After so many years of race/class ridicule that I endured growing up in Tuolumne, fitting in was important to me, but fitting into the punk scene the way I did then created a whole other problem. In conforming to the non-conformist punk ways, adhering, mostly, to the punk uniform, I had lost something along the way, and I began to experience rumblings of discontent that I didn’t quite understand. I secretly listened to Linda Ronstadt’s Canciones de Mi Padre and sang along, holding long sad notes to words that, like Ronstadt, I only vaguely understood. I knew that my identity was the root of my confusion and discontent, so I began taking Spanish classes at a local community college when I could fit them in after work.

Learning to speak Spanish had been a life-long dream. As a child, someone had given me a red hardcover Spanish/English dictionary, and, naively, I thought if I read it everyday that I would become bilingual like the rest of my family in East LA. Later, living in the Bay Area and not being able to speak Spanish began messing with my head, made me feel inadequate, like a phony. I sometimes avoided going to the Mission District in San Francisco because while I was working super hard to fit into the punk scene, playing in bands, going to shows, and volunteering at Blacklist, and not always feeling totally accepted or understood, I felt really out of place in the Mission where it seemed like everyone spoke to me in Spanish and looked baffled when I couldn’t respond. Learning to speak my family’s language, even the little that I was able to speak after only a couple of semesters of college Spanish, provided some relief and helped me to come out as a person of color in the punk scene.

I didn’t say all of this out loud when I suggested Mi Cuerpo es Mio as the title for what would become Paula’s last release with the band because I still didn’t really have words to express all that was going on inside me at twenty-five. Later, when I did have the words, they often came out wrong, clumsy, angry, abrasive, and alienating, especially in those last days of Instant-Girl, but I suppose this was part of my process.

Everyone in the band liked the phrase mi cuerpo is mio because of it’s strength in sound and content and because it summed up all that we were about. The syntatical alignment of the masculine ending noun “cuerpo” and pronoun “mio” is what creates the strength in the line and is an aspect of the Spanish language that makes it particularly euphonious and easy to create rhyme. It was also a concept of the language that I understood particularly well, and I when I learned it, I was drawn to the way it created emphasis.

Still, the main reason that I suggested mi cuerpo es mio as the title of the 7” was to acknowledge an aspect of my membership in the band that I felt was missing, an aspect of myself that I felt unable to or insecure about expressing. Blame the scene; blame Tuolumme; blame America. It could have been any number of those things. Probably all of them together were to blame for my locura, for my schizophrenic, or closeted identity.

I hadn’t been at all sure that the Spitwomen would want to name our record “My Body is Mine” in Spanish, but they did, and that felt good, but being criticized by a riot grrrl was a huge blow. It really pissed me off.

Like a lot of people, my first reaction to anything upsetting back then was anger. Anger is a good mask for sadness, so I didn’t understand right away that I wasn’t really mad that that some riot grrl, keen on accusing people of cultural appropriation but who couldn’t recognize a person of color when she was staring one in the face, had attacked the band. I was hurt. I was hurt because people didn’t really see me, and I had let it happen. I had been invisibilized. People in the scene did not see my identity, the core of who I really was, the face and body through which I experienced the world. At shows, I did not register as a Chicana. I was just the drummer of Spitboy, and for some reason, I couldn’t be both.      

The Other Reason We Take Selfies

MG.HipMamaSelfie There have Photo on 4-11-14 at 5.27 PM #4been a few articles circulating around the Internet that address selfies and the implication that extreme narcissism is at play there. The idea that young people and/or others who take selfies are narcissistic is an attractive one, but it’s suspect too. The prevailing conclusion of these articles is that such narcissism is dangerous and monolithic, that selfies only equal narcissism and nothing else, but this is too simplistic a conclusion, isn’t it? Many of us take selfies for other reasons – this was my first thought on the matter, and I have been mulling over the articles like this one http://guardianlv.com/2014/04/selfies-cause-narcissism-mental-illness-addiction-and-suicide/  wanting to write a response for about a month now, when I read this post by @yearofthewitch on Instagram:

I will never apologise for selfies, clothed or not. they’re part of my process of unpacking all the feelings I have about my appearance, and I choose to do it publicly. I’ve never had any trouble attracting the people I’m into, but because I’ve been lucky enough to be surrounded by genuinely beautiful women, and stupid enough to buy into comparison, I’ve always felt like the least “pretty” girl in the room. && my body, even when I was thin, never fit standards or clothes quite right. I’m trying to undo and uncross

Read more and view the accompanying photo at http://web.stagram.com/n/yearofthewitch/#i1av76AKTx1KilBA.99

Growing up, I too felt really ugly when I compared myself to the others around me and even though I no longer feel ugly at all, I do still remember the pain that I felt back then, how insecure I was about my brown skin, how plain and inferior I felt compared to my light-skinned, light-haired, blue-eyed friends. It’s a whole different experience now to look in the mirror and to like what I see, and sometimes, I like what I see so much that I have to document the moment: a good hair day, good make-up, clear skin, a good night’s sleep, or the tan curve of my collarbone. Like @yearofthewitch I am undoing and uncrossing all those feelings from the past, all those times I looked into the mirror and wanted to be someone else, someone whiter, prettier, someone who people saw and understood. And that’s another thing that selfies might be about, about asking people to look at us, to really see us, maybe even to see us the way we see ourselves, or the way we wish to be seen: up-close, fat, thin, working toward a goal, fine with what we see, even if it doesn’t fit the current beauty standard, or even if it’s fleeting, and sometimes it is. Selfies are good practice, practice seeing the beauty that sometimes eludes us but beauty just the same.


I Married A Mexican

Los Recien Casados - Newlyweds

Los Recien Casados – Newlyweds

I married a Mexican, a born there, crossed the border in the back of a car, learned English here, speaks with an accent, and had thirty thousand dollars in stack of cash hidden in his studio apartment when I met him Mexican.

I married a Mexican, a Mexican who will eat tofu and TVP,  who will dance with me at parties and who cries while watching TV.

I married a Mexican who doesn’t do dishes, clean up around the house, or even cook very often. I fight with him about it sometimes, but most of the time I don’t bother. Instead, I just put on an apron and get to it. But my Mexican would never hire another Mexican to prune the roses, to cut a few and give them to our son to give to me to put in a vase on the dining room table, and my Mexican would never hire another Mexican to mow the lawn, or water his fruit trees, or re-pot the cactus plants, or care for his son while his mother is out of town at a conference, or working late, or writing.  He gives me space, lets me put the dogs on the bed, holds my hand under the covers, has never done a drug unless prescribed, doesn’t drink, but never complains when I do or that he’s always the designated driver, or that I’ve decided I only want one kid.

I never planned to marry, planned not to. But I married the Mexican after being together only three months. I was twenty-eight, he thirty-three. I thought I could love him, probably did already, but I was afraid even more afraid of finding out I did love him after INS sent him back to Mexico for up to ten years which is what they were threatening to do if we didn’t marry before April. The laws were changing, and I was changing too – había cambiado.

Ever changing now, together. 


My son and his friend do their homework together on Tuesdays. A couple of weeks ago they were in the dining room pulling their notebooks from their backpacks and settling in. I was in the kitchen preparing a snack. I tried not be alarmed when I realized they were discussing racial slurs.
“Ricer,” my son’s friend Alex, the son of my husband’s oldest friend in America, and fellow Mexican national said, “why do they call them that?”

“I guess it’s because they eat so much rice,” my son said back. They were both chuckling the way eleven year olds do when something that they know shouldn’t be funny makes them laugh.

I listened more before intervening with some annoying worried parent reaction. It seemed they were talking about something they heard in school.

I carried a bowl of chips and string cheese into the dining room.

“It’s like the word beaner,” I said.

“Oh, yeah, Beaner, that’s what they call us,” Alex said.

“Because we eat so many beans. Luis laughed more confidently this time.

“Oh,” Alex said, “I always thought it was because we wear so many beanie hats.”

Both my husband and Alex’s dad are bald or balding and they both wear beanie hats just like many Mexican men in America do or like vato locos in the movies.

All three of us doubled over with laughter.

In his innocent but analytical way, Alex concluded that it made more sense that Mexicans are sometimes referred to as beaners because we eat a lot of beans. I reminded them how not that long ago, like when my mom was growing up, that such a slur was really hurtful, that it wasn’t a nice thing to call somebody, even though it seems funny now, and even though it’s a slur, like ricer, that has actually been created from fact. Mexicans eat beans; beans are a staple of Mexican cuisine.

“Just don’t call anyone ricer,” I said. “Even if it seems a little funny.”

“What do they call white people,” my son asked.

“Cracker,” I couldn’t help wincing when I said it.

I was thinking gabacho, but I kept it to myself.

“Oh, yeah, cracker,” my son said, “That make sense because they eat crackers and crackers are white.” Of course, my son eats crackers too.

This discussion got me thinking about racial slurs and how they’re created and their impact and how the impact can change over time. It seems, racial slurs can be broken down into a variety of categories, though not neatly. Two categories that I could think of readily are slurs whose sounds are particularly ugly or harsh (I won’t be listing them here; I’ll let you do that in your own head), and there are those racial slurs created from cultural aspects or food. Those created from religious aspects of one’s culture or ethnicity can smack pretty hard, like rag head, but these days those from food, for young people it seems, don’t: beaner, ricer, cracker — so much. Of course then there are those slurs that people of color use toward each other that fall into the food category, words like oreo or apple, words that discourage community members from becoming too white, too distant from the community — those smack hard too.

But whether Alex thought our racial slur, ‘beaner,’ came from food or hats, I know that he and my son, middle-schoolers, are trying to figure it all out, even using the words themselves or repeating racist jokes or references that they’ve seen make others laugh, maybe in order to learn how far they can go since a word like beaner makes them laugh — even if its to laugh a bit uncomfortably. Then I’ve noticed other young people, my students, wince, or stutter, or turn red when saying the word Mexican, as if the word Mexican itself is a racial slur but not Chinese or Japanese. Of course this has to do with  the term illegal and the picture we now get in our heads when we think of an immigrant — the picture of a Mexican looking dude in worn jeans, a thin jacket and a baseball hat standing on a corner somewhere looking for work. Clearly, when a slur has the power to reduce us to comedy and the accurate version of the slur, Mexican, creates a distinct narrow/inaccurate image in our heads, or makes us wince and stutter, we all still have a lot to figure out.