Danger

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The other evening, on my bus commute home from work I was reading the Parable of the Talents and suddenly I recalled how my mother understood the danger my work/life puts me in before I did. I burst into tears on the bus

When my little apartment in Corona was broken into and ransacked, around the time I was writing about minutemen, she was the first person to suggest this wasn’t a regular break in. Nothing was stolen. My laptop was on my bed where I left it. I didn’t want to believe my words, actions, being had power or could perceived as a (counter) threat to a revived white supremacist movement. Now as doxxing, harassment, and other forms of digital turned real violence has become more commonplace, it’s easier to believe, even for me.

But there are other betrayals, violences, violations that our parents, our families don’t warn us about directly. Over the holiday break, on our last evening together between wine, cheese and the Real Housewives of somewhere, I confessed some of the challenges I was facing in my cohabitation. This felt like a huge admission as I moved cross-country to be in this relationship, leaving my family, my support networks, my city behind. She became emotional and I wasn’t sure if it was because she felt bad for me, felt sad for me, or if she was being empathetic. She said that after her own marriage with my father ended, she never trusted men again.

“ I know this is wrong,” she admitted but it was what it was.

I fought back my own tears. I felt sad for relationships she could have had and didn’t, relationships she did have and maybe never gave them all they deserved, and the relationship she thought she had but in the end didn’t.

I felt like she was crying because she was afraid for me. She doesn’t want me to end up like her. I worry that it’s too late – for both of us.

The gods have given us talents , we will be judged for how we use them

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I’m reading Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Talents for this new year and it feels appropriate. I’m not deep enough into the book to make a deep commentary about how it connects to (predicts? Seriously she predicts the whole “MAGA” meme) the current historic/political moment in the United States. What I am holding/taking from the book now has to do with my goals/visions (don’t say resolutions) for the new year.

I spent the last week of 2017 in the city that helped create me, with the family that helped mold me. My mother and I have developed this ritual/routine on the last night of my visits “home”. We kill a bottle of wine (or two), catch up on our lives as two adult women, while reality tv plays in the background.

I don’t know if it was the wine, the time of year, or the comfort of being the closest thing I’ve ever known to home but I had to confess my regrets about my writing, my lack of discipline, and my inability to trust myself and value myself enough (more).

This is one of the reasons why I decided to restart the blog. I missed the sound (action) of my own voice. I miss the practice of daily writing for an audience – imaginary or real – even though more than anything I’m writing for myself. There are also opportunities coming – spaces for me to reclaim myself as a media maker and as someone who actually had a role in creating the culture of online/digital media especially for women of color, for mamis, for put@s (or is it putx – my age is shoring) and for how multiple identities intersect with politics and how they are interpreted and spun and sold back to us by media claiming to know about us, be about us, be us.

The digital news/journalism realm has proven itself to be cyclical in nature and in lock step with politics especially thinking about how media, politicians and non-profit organizations work together to create narratives. Conversations about the DREAM Act being discussed alongside conversations about the rising power of white supremacy take me back to the late 2000s when we were talking about the minutemen and the DREAM Act and of course I could go back even further but you’ll have to buy the book I’m going to write this year for that.

And yes – I told my mom this. Half drunk, definitely full of myself, and on the real – exacerbated by seeing the same spin in a new decade with sort of new tools with young(er) writers thinking they invented analysis and the means to share that analysis.

So yeah I told my mom I’m writing a book. I may have tweeted about it. Now I’m blogging about it. I guess that means I need to do it.

PS – I know at least one of my beloved work wives has been reading the relaunch and I’m grateful for the audience and for the accountability. Hold me to all these things. It’s for all of us.

 

Volver a Empezar (2018)

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I am actually writing this as 2017 is coming to a close. It is the night of the last new moon of the year and I have a horrible cold that I swear was my body and spirit detoxing from a hard hard year.

The cold came a day after a day of hangover symptoms even though I didn’t have alcohol. Peeps in my office had me convinced that office yoga moved some energy in me. I also could have just been exhausted from two weeks of travelling (LA to Chicago to NY to LA to San Fran and to LA again). Did I mention I traveled with my 10 year old?

2017 was an intense year that screamed at me that things needed to change in my life. The outside world was doing its own screaming. We have our 45th president. I turned 40. My personal/family life was a mess so I began therapy. My adult child moved out. My partner and I started couple’s therapy. Two exes told me how wonderful I was for them because of all I did for them and all of this left me heartbroken and feeling like, to quote my 10 year old, my cup of care was empty.

There are a few things that did manifest themselves at the end of 2017 that seem to me like breakthroughs/visions. One of those things is how much I miss writing and performing and that the veil that I think exists between me as a “professional” and me as a media maker is an illusion. People in the NPIC where I now draw a paycheck knew me (and resented/disliked me) as Mamita Mala. No one talks about it because in the Los Angeles NPIC very few people are direct about anything. There is a lot of chisme and talking behind people’s backs. I prefer to be direct.

In December when my dear amiga brought me to an open mic and I read a piece almost as old as my older child, word got around quick. It felt good when I read at make/shift’s closing and it gave me the opportunity to reclaim and stand in my role as media make/writer. So I will spend much of 2018 figuring out how I reclaim and hold that part of me alongside the rest of me.

I’m not leaving my job anytime soon – as I – much to chagrin of many – am good at it, and I actually enjoy working with the people I work with and there are goals that I have for the org I serve that I would like to see achieved.  However I’m under no illusion that I will be in my role forever. That’s not healthy – not for the org or for me, and honestly while Los Angeles has been so good to me, it also has broken my heart and left me feeling very very lonely. I suspect I will also figure out a path that will eventually bring me back to New York. Again this will likely be a long path but it needs to be drawn.

Also I have recognized that for much of my life I have sacrificed too much of myself for the care of others – especially lovers- in the hopes of someone, someday eventually offering that much care and attention to me. It has proven a fruitless war with myself thus far – although there have been many beautiful moments of love, affection, beauty, sweetness and yes – good sex. There is something however to the words of lovers who have called me nurturing and even a doormat, all at my own expense and perhaps even at the expense of the well-being of my children.

So much of 2018 will also be about learning to put myself first, get my needs met first and not externally. I can take care of myself ( I have made it thus far – a little wounded but alive) and I need to put a more concerted effort in mothering myself, my work/writing, and my children.

The ever present exhibitionist in me invites you along for this journey

Welcome 2018

Pa’lante

 

 

The Accidental (Interim) Executive Director

I didn’t enter the organization with my eye towards the position I’m in. I was reluctant to be in the non-profit world to begin with and those who have read/followed me for years are familiar with my critiques of those in leadership positions in non-profits, especially in immigration non-profits. Those criticisms followed me when I accepted the interim executive position I have now been in for 8 months. I know there were (and probably still are) people who upon hearing the news or met me along the Los Angeles non-profit way who eyed me with suspicion. Most only knew me in this and other media spaces and my big, uncensored mouth. I know there are others who don’t think I have the chops for this type of work – because I wasn’t already an NPIC insider, because I wasn’t from Los Angeles, because of my (lack) of certain education credentials. My own partner has expressed his doubts and hearing these doubts hurt. Not because I don’t have my own self-doubts ( I think a little bit of self doubt within the NPIC is a good thing) but it hurts none the less.

I had heard that Executive Directing at a non-profit is a lonely job/position and I have felt that. I don’t know if being an ED at an org in NYC feels different, but the non-profit world in LA feels super cliquey and small with too much personal/professional lines crossing. Hell my own partner works at a non-profit that I engage with professionally. It’s messy messy messy and full of chisme/bochinche.

There is a special loneliness to being a woman of color Executive Director in the realm of immigrant worker rights, an area that has been dominated by men and cults of personality surrounding those men. In the immigrant worker context I’ve seen this play out in many ways. I’ve had my life choices of not always working for pay in movement spaces (i.e. working retail) used against me.  I’ve heard that I’m too young (at 38), too emotional, or someone to be careful around, perhaps because I’m don’t show the appropriate amount of deference and/or because of my public critique of baptized “champions” or “leaders”.

I don’t know how long I’ll be in my current position and I’m not too concerned about career longevity. Sadly (maybe) I never have been. I don’t have that kind of ambition. Whether it is a writer, an Executive Director, or even not without a title – I’ve been outspoken against injustice, about the realities of women of color in the face of state violence and the different ways that plays out for over 20 years. I don’t imagine that ending anytime soon whether I get paid for it or not. I will make mistakes but I will also try my best in my current role. I may have many haters but I also have many supporters. My real bosses are the workers I am lucky enough to work with/for daily not whatever the current popular, fundable narrative is and those chosen to carry that message. I know this is considered not being a team player but I was never the first chosen to be on any team anyway and I’m ok with that.

From Sonia Guinansaca-TEDxCUNY Disappoints!

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Last night, Sonia requested I post her statement on my blog so that she could share it. In solidarity and support of her I have done so.

Statement

My name is Sonia Guinansaca and I am a migrant queer poet activist and organizer.

I was invited to speak at TEDxCUNY talk whose theme is borders and belonging. I was one out of a few migrant speakers, formerly undocumented and queer. I was excited for this opportunity to share the resistance, resilience, and creative work of my migrant community. Problematic, oppressive, racist, misogynistic behaviors and lack of professionalism has forced me to out of this opportunity.

I was contacted about this event on very short notice and followed all protocol to ensure this talk went smoothly. My goal was to center undocumented, migrant, Trans, Black and people of color with humanizing depth. From the very first rehearsal, on the date of November 6th I performed my poem and read my suggested script. The TEDxCUNY committee was very supportive and enthusiastic, stating that I made good points. No other concerns were stated. My script was again shared in a document with the committee with no feedback received. On the second rehearsal which happened on Tuesday, Nov. 17 just three days shy of the event, I was only met by one person, a man of color, from the staff who once again approved my content and structure.  An email was sent to me later that night by a white cis man who had not been present at the rehearsal, and previously touted that he was “from the suburbs,” in regards to the content of my talk and how it no longer aligned with TEDx structure. In this email, he stated the following:

tedx excerpt

After this email exchange, I made it clear that I had every intention to continue with my talk without revisions, and confirmed my presence for the dress rehearsal taking place on Thursday Nov.19 that evening. I also pointed out that there were larger concerns regarding professionalism, tone, and privilege. Throughout this whole encounter as a queer woman of color migrant, primarily a cis white man did the email exchange, which was uncomfortable and triggering. In spite of having a predominant staff of color and women, the primary contact person was a tactless white cis man. Throughout this whole endeavor, I continued to give them the benefit of the doubt only to be met by hostility, which escalated at the dress rehearsal. The dress rehearsal ran late. As soon as I got up on stage, I was met with disinterest and defensiveness from the team, which made me feel cornered and targeted. It was apparent they had no interest in hearing my talk. As soon as I finished doing one run through, the same white cis man and his team in the presence of other speakers berated me. He continued to talk at me for over 10 minutes regarding palatability of structure for TEDx audiences. He repeatedly stated that my talk was worth “1 sentence”, that there was no need to give me 15-20 minutes on stage. He described my talk as not being “innovative”, that “no one wants to hear a list about migrant artists”, that people want to hear a “heroic” story. I stated it was important and simply responded “Can any of you name ten migrant undocumented artists?” The room was uncomfortably silent. I was open to feedback but it was clear that the goal was not to uplift my speech or my talk, but rather shame and belittle my efforts, my content and the voices I wanted to center. After this excruciating exchange, where the interrogating white cis man rushed out, I was approached by one of the guest hosts, a woman of color, who acknowledged the abrasiveness of the room, stating, “Your poetry is so amazing, it would be just a loss to lose you.”

What they continued to ask of me was a bootstrapped, singular narrative that just isn’t the reality nor lived experiences of migrant communities. My intention was to center Black and people of color, Queer, Trans, migrant artists’ voices. I feel that the structure of my talk was something that highlights the work of collectiveness, demonstrates the work of undocumented and migrant qtpoc that doesn’t operate in a vacuum. I named collaborators, engaged more than one heroic story that showed a lineage of work.  In an individualistic society we are taught to be ashamed of our collective, and our collaborations. Supposedly, we’re magically to escape our connections with the right accomplishments, respectability, & assimilation of our success. I’m not invested in this divisive model of scarcity and the harmful white racism disguised as diversity sessions.  I was asked to either cut the entirety of my talk or to minimize my time to poetic contributions. This devalues the time I spent on this project and speaks to the larger issue of how we treat artists in society. The only options given to me were to cut a bulk of my talk or simply perform two poems. In doing so, the integrity of my work is reduced as supplemental art or as an accessory.

What is striking is that at an event housed under the concept of borders, one of the few migrant and formerly undocumented women of color would be limited in time and directed to move forward with neither her version of the story or her own strategy of self-determination that centers her community. Instead given no other option but initiatives that do not represent her work and her choices.

I wanted to make this interaction and my experience transparent and public. I would like to hold accountable the parties that are responsible and again highlight the labor of queer women of color and the total disregard of agency of migrant speakers in a migrant-themed space. The goal is not to sell an idea; the goal is to tell our stories. Our lives are not ideas that you can edit, minimize, and recycle for your social appeasement and entertainment.

Our stories are not a competition but a disruption of the rampant violence we face.  This entire situation has again emphasized that my community’s perspective is central to my work and that the experiences of migrant and undocumented lives must come from the community within. I was affirmed yet again of the fragility of white american masculinity and the ongoing commodification of migrant stories in a particular, comfortable and sellable package that does not disrupt privilege, white supremacy, and misogyny. This ordeal was a razor-sharp example of this. White masculinity righteousness directed at queer femme women of color and setting examples of migrant lives is not considered brilliance or noteworthy unless we’re a heroic exception or specimens to squander & minimize. It was communicated to me that “The way that it is, the talk is just not working.” I was lectured that TEDxCUNY is “not interested in stories, but ideas.” If one wanted to say, innovate ideas, to actually transform humanity, how innovative would be to actually hold a queer women of color migrant with dignity & respect as opposed to succumbing to flagrant racist and misogynist tropes already perpetuated by American society? What about uplifting her by honoring the trauma & strategy it takes in multiple fold to give a speech such as this? What about trusting people with the experience to be the strategists & pioneers of their own embodied savvy?

Do you know what’s not new? Demeaning & pummeling (verbally, spiritually, or physically) someone living in multiple struggles as a blanket of good white intentions that’s supposedly for our benefit.  Many migrant, undocumented, queer, transgender, Black, and femme community face deplorable and aggressive racism by fragile whiteness systemically and individually on a day-to-day basis. What an opportunity this could have been for TedxCUNY to rise up, set an example, and demonstrate that they could actually embrace diversity not with the obsolete single-issue approach of shame and dehumanization, but rather an honest wholeness of experience that invigorates their talks?  This would be a raw mirror, one that echoes the need for collective & endeavors multiple migrant lives in wholeness, a model well deserved for our own society at large. It is not uplifting to erase the stories and agency of undocumented and migrant people of color. Who exactly does this benefit and at what cost?

 

 

The Second Shift is Real

When I first moved to Los Angeles the problem, according to my pareja, was that I wasn’t getting enough freelance work. I had a column charting my move from Caribbean centric single mami’hood NYC life to Mexican/Central American centric cohabitation in Los Angeles. I was writing posts for political websites and blogging for my own sites. But it wasn’t bringing enough checks and I, seemingly, wasn’t pulling my weight economically or in terms of caring for a home my pareja owns to warrant my existence with my two children. So I begrudgingly took a job in retail – selling men’s shoes and suits in a national department store chain. Something not that unusual I guess. Just last week in meeting with a freelance marketing/branding expert I learned that she had begun working the overnight shift in another national chain to pay her bills. She is a single white women with better educational credentials than me. When I was able to get out of what a young, single, childless person within the “movement” gave me passive aggressive grief about, not always “working” in “movements”, I thought that would ease the tension. A long term freelance gig working with immigrants with an org I knew meant more money. It also meant I could go back to school. But then according to my pareja, I wasn’t studying enough. I wasn’t saving enough, and I still wasn’t paying enough into the household or doing a good enough job keeping house.

Now I’m an executive at a non-profit organization. I work more than 40 hours a week. I make a decent salary and my pareja can no longer say I don’t pay my fair share. But the complaints have shifted to other areas tied to my gender. I’m not a good enough mother. I don’t take good enough care of myself. I work too much and may not even be that good at it. The house is still not clean enough and I’m the one who does the bulk of the cooking, cleaning and food shopping.

It’s too easy to think yes I’m the problem, internalize that message that no matter what I don it’s not enough and I have to do more. But deep down I know better. I know I’m trying the best that I can and that’s good enough pero igual. Duele. It hurts and it’s not the healthiest way to live/work/be.