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Magdalena Albizu’s “Negrita” Film Reminds Us to Keep Telling Our Stories

Spring for many means healing, growth and new beginnings. February closes chapters, the snow melts in the north. March opens new ones. The beauty of these past two months is that they celebrate Black history and la belleza de la mujer. Throughout these two months I have had ample contact with producer and actress Magdalena Albizu who self identifies as Afrolatina and has been working for the past several years on a project called “Negrita”. “Negrita: Racially Black and Ethnically Latina” is a documentary about Afrolatina identity and experience in the United States which is increasingly an important conversation. As stated on Negrita’s Vimeo website, “Negrita, highlights individual unique Afro-Latina experiences within a broad skin color and ethnic range, while revealing psychological and social factors that add to the confusion, uncertainty, shame and affirmation about one’s self-image of being both “Black” and “Latina”.”

Both Ms. Magdalena and I recognize the privilege we have as Afrolatina storytellers living in the United States but in a conversation she reminded me why telling our stories always matters to the progression of people of color as a whole…

DBF: There are several documentaries and video projects that people, such as you all are putting so much time and effort to get AfroLatino voices heard. What makes your project unique for our community?

MA: NEGRITA focuses solely on the Afro-Latina experience and identity in the United States unlike other projects which focus on the Afrolatino perspective in Latin America. Our documentary explores the multilayered identity of being a US Latina of African descent. In order to capture a well-rounded perspective, NEGRITA will cover Afro-Latinas in multiple cities across the USA, such as New York, Chicago, Miami, and LA.

DBF: It is my understanding that the Negrita Documentary is being (appropriately) completed by women. What challenges (if there are any) do you all face as Afrolatinas making a movie about Afrolatinidad?

MA: Our main challenge has been raising money to cover production expenses. Although we have raised some money through our Indiegogo campaign, as an independently financed project, we still need to raise more money in order to continue shooting.

Most people have been open to us and receptive of us telling our story.  What has been an obstacle is the mindset that there is a difference between being Latina and Black.  Many Latinos see being black as a different category.

DBF: Besides creating this wonderful documentary what other goals do you have to fulfill your desire for black consciousness throughout the diaspora?

MA: For everyone to know that Black is beautiful, smart and loving. For people to know the history of Black people. I hope for the documentary to inspire other Afrolatinos to use their own art (paintings, poetry, music, movies, sculptures) to express what it means to be Afrolatina and a part of the African diaspora. We aspire to have a student curriculum for grade school so they can learn early the history of being Afrolatina in the United States and what that means.  We want more Afrolatino voting and becoming politicians in government offices.

DBF: Speaking of the diaspora as a whole, I started a page/blog about a year and a half ago on Facebook called Afrolatinos: Celebrating Our Skin and Our Kin to spread information about what’s happening throughout the diaspora, primarily the Afrolatino diaspora. Many of the followers on that page are non-latino blacks seeking to learn more about the African diaspora through an Afrolatino lens. How do we ensure more unity between black people regardless of if they identify as Latino or not?

MA: More conversations need to happen on what it means to be Black in this world. We respect each other’s journey to achieving Black Consciousness and we all should support and participate in Black History Month.

DBF: Many people, use personal blogs, Facebook accounts, and twitter accounts to give information about the Afrolatino experience. After the documentary is viewed and gains the appropriate awards that I believe it has the potential to receive, and the popularity that it will probably gain, what do we do to continue these conversations and advocate for the inclusion of Afrolatinos in the United States and/or perspective country?

MA: Make sure AfroLatina voices are being heard and respected. We need All AfroLatinos to share their voices and concerns. Donate to organizations that are doing the work. Attend the AfroLatin@ Forum Conference or start your own. Support films like Negrita that have challenges to produce their films. Tweet, Instagram, Facebook have discussions and support other projects and people through social media. We have to get involved with politics so our voices are heard in government. Vote. Be a voice.

Being Afrolatino in the United States is one experience, perhaps very different from living in perspective country in Latin America or the Caribbean. Our stories matter because our lives matter but so do the stories of our black families living in bohios in Colombia or el caserio in Puerto Rico. Talking about our experiences is the foundation of progress. To continue building progress we must close the gaps that exist throughout the diaspora, through conversation, support, and celebration of one another.

To donate and find out more information about the documentary, Negrita, click here.

Magdalena Albizu, producer of Negrita Source: Magdalena Albizu

Magdalena Albizu, producer of “Negrita”
Source: Magdalena Albizu

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Let’s Lighten up Puerto Rican Food. Blasphemy or Truth?

There seems to be a lot of victim blaming going around. Especially with the historical no indictment decisions in the Mike Brown and Eric Garner case. I feel like our morale is low so I promise I won’t give you a punishment of words on how we don’t eat well. Most of us know, we people of color can do better. But things are not made easy for us. For super-sized convenience, the US has more than 160,000 fast-food restaurants, making 150 billion in annual revenue according to statistic brain.com. To add 61% of what the average North American eats is processed food according to 2010 film Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead. These facts are not put to the forefront, although we think we have options, we really don’t. There’s the images of farms and cows eating grass even though only a small percentage of today’s animals we eat are grass fed or free range animals. Today four meat packaging companies control more than 80% of the market according to 2008 documentary called Food, INC. Big corporations like Nestle, Walmart, and Monsanto are claiming to to be environmentally and socially responsible when they are everything but – guilty of dumping toxic chemicals without regard to public health, and employing child labor around the world. Money is put before people and our well-being is sadly less important.
My first inclination of writing this blog is that it won’t be very popular. As a matter of fact, I think it may bring some backlash. But it’s okay. I felt it necessary. To bring light to a dark truth. In researching for this blog one statistic rattled me to my core. In Humboldt Park, a predominantly Puerto Rican and African-American community in Chicago, almost 90% of our children said they would be embarrassed to be seen exercising, according to a 2013 DNA Info article. ¡Que diablo!
Today, according to the National Restaurant Association (NRA), some 71% of restaurant guests want more healthy menu options than they did just two years ago. In addition, according to vegetarian times, 10% or 22.8 million follow a vegetarian inclined diet. Organic foods are increasing by 20% every year. So where does this leave restaurant owners who don’t change with the times. Especially Caribbean/ Puerto Rican restaurant owners?

According to a Mount Sinai study, 21% of Puerto Ricans in Chicago are affected by diabetes. The Chicago Tribune said in 2006, we are three times more likely to die of diabetes compared to white residents. According to DNA Info in 2013 “in Humboldt Park Puerto Ricans are at high risk of asthma, diabetes, and high blood pressure.” Although we do not fit the “white” body types, according to this writer, “some 72% of Humboldt Park Puerto Ricans are overweight and some 67% of their children are overweight.” Contributing factors are family history, diet, and lack of exercise. But a big factor is what is made available and affordable for us.

I don’t know about you, but there was little on my plate as a kid in Chicago besides iceberg lettuce, sometimes a slice tomato, and canned vegetables to display my healthy common practices. It wasn’t until my early visits to Puerto Rico that I remember the abundance of fresh fruits falling off the trees at the best price of free. Things of a lush paradise many of us call home. With those nostalgic memories of deliciousness the question remains… Where can we purchase these fresh fruits at an affordable prices? Unfortunately, for people who have a fixed income or live in poverty they may never have that opportunity. Even if available, it would not be wise to spend three dollars on a carambola starfruit.
But please don’t be discouraged! Even after reading the statistics and realizing we can’t always afford the nostalgic fruit we crave, there are still things we can do. Here are some suggestions.

1. Portion control. When I was a kid a my portions were split into half grain (usually rice) and half protein (chicken, pork, or beef). For a healthier plate, this is what your plate should look more like 1/4 or 1/3rd grain, 1/4 or 1/3rd protein, 1/3 vegetables, fruits, colorful salad, and or dairy.
2. Limit red meats. Many people around the world are vegetarians, not by choice but because they could not afford red meat. Today we are eating more meat then we ever did. Digestion of red meat is more difficult for our bodies to digest.
3. Eat Clean!!! What some may call a “perimeter diet.” At the perimeter of of grocery stores you will find produce, meat, dairy and eggs. Inside the inner aisles there you will find processed foods you should avoid.
4. Cook at home. This will ensure you know what goes in your food. You are not at the mercy of others to determine ingredients and serving portions.
5. Tranquilito con el arroz!!! Limit el espagueti y la papa también.
6. As good as it taste, you don’t have to fry it. Learn to grill, pan broil, and bake.
7. Eat small portions of healthy snacks frequently. This keeps your metabolism stimulated and burning calories.
8. Drink water. Water helps us digest toxins and waste products from our bodies.
9. Be active. Incorporate exercise into your daily activities.

In Chicago you can find healthier options at Casa de Yari at 3268 Was Fullerton Ave., Chicago, IL. 60647. Casa Yari is a Latin fusion cuisine, they like to describe it as “Caribbean meets Central America”. At Casa Yari all meats are baked, grilled, or pan broiled. No meats are fried. Chef Yari cooks with absolutely no trans fat oil. And never cooks with manteca (lard). All foods are freshly made to order. Yari has fresh salads as well as fish options. According to Chef Yari, “many of my customers are vegetarians.” Chef Yari also makes all her dressings and salsas in house. Chef Yari for many years was a pastry chef therefore a big buzz of her place is the flan. At this current time she has flan de platano maduro, flan de coco, flan de coquito, flan mango con chile, flan de aguacate-limon, y flan de piña. Casa Yari is open for lunch and dinner Tuesday to Saturday and is open Sunday for brunch from 9:30am to 3:30pm. As a new friend I am proud of her work and am really cheering her on for success for many years.

Salmon a la plancha

Salmon a la plancha

House Salad at Casa Yari

House Salad at Casa Yari

This week I have put together a great tasting and well tested healthy recipe. Hope you enjoy it.

Lasagna Criolla

(Feeds 6-8)
Here are the ingredients:
Aciete de achoite
1-Medium spanish onion
1/2-Red bell pepper
Sofrito
2-3 tbs Smoked turkey (diced)
1-Serrano pepper (optional if you like spice)
Minced garlic (3-4 cloves)
1 lb Lean ground turkey
1/2 can Salsa de tomate
1 diced tomato
2 cups of Spinach
Salt to taste
Black Pepper
3-4 Zucchinis
Olive oil
Cream cheese 4oz.
Ricotta cheese 1/2 cup
Mozzarella cheese 1 cup half in cheese mix and other half to top
Green onion to garnish

Needed:
Mandolin slicer to slice zucchini
Lasagna pan

1) Create turkey picadillo. Heat up aciete de achiote, glaze onions until translucent. Medium heat. Add pepper, sofrito until pepper also become translucent. Add smoked turkey and brown. Add garlic and shortly after put in ground turkey til it too is brown. When brown add tomato sauce and diced tomatoes. Add spinach until it integrates into turkey.

2) Cheese mix-in seperate bowl put cheeses together. At room temperature they will mix better.

3) Zucchini layers. In a pan. Put sliced zucchini in about 3-4 Tbs of olive oil. Medium heat. Gently cook for 3-4 minutes each side

4) First layer is zucchini. You can layer with a touch of sauce from picadillo on the bottom to help prevent it from sticking.

5) Then add turkey picadillo over zucchini slices evenly. Add cheese gently and evenly creating layers. Repeat adding layers. Add zucchini again, then picadillo, then cheese, then zucchini, and top with mozzarella cheese.

6) Bake for 50 minutes in oven at 350

Cool for 20. Garnish with chopped green onion

Healthy food demonstration

Healthy food demonstration

*This picadillo can be used to stuff tomatoes, bell peppers, or avocados as well.

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Chasing Charlie

The plans for Charlie after an extremely unexpected and heartbreaking departure buy cialis online canada pharmacy from El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico include conversations with no other than Mr. Sergio George. Confirmation has been delivered through the “horse’s mouth” unequivocally, to wit: Charlie Aponte, via radio interview with La Zeta 93 (the best Salsa…

“Why can’t transmen just be butch?”

QueerIcon-NewsletterThe day to day negotiations of being a transgender person come in spaces where categorization of behavior and physical look presupposes a particular sex (genitalia) difference. This is then sustained and policed in various ways via white patriarchy (and by extension racism and misogyny), consumerism (ie: clothing and toys divided by gendered “interests”, cosmetics that presuppose body types, etc), all of which is reinforced by the various institutions employed by capitalism. These particular public arrangements of gender, by design, leave little space to challenge the rigidity of gender expression without the challenge itself be seen as crossing over to the “other” gender, even when those understandings of one’s self and desires aligns with the “other” gender.

South African FTM Leo recounts a time in his youth in which he felt this pressure from the public sphere so strongly that he deliberately performed bad at sports once achieving a high rank to avoid the traveling that would be required to compete at such a high level:

“Going to unknown and meeting unfamiliar people was too traumatic for me. All I wanted to do was stay home where I felt comfortable and safe 1.”

He continues to describe his experience at school:

“Everyone perceived me as a girl and because of my physical body I knew I wasn’t a boy. That distressed me because in my mind it was a big mistake, and I was too afraid to tell anyone these feelings. I used to see myself as boy in my dreams and imagination. I wished that I could be born again or that I would just wake up one day realizing that I had turned into a boy…Every time I was invited to a social event or party I felt the pressure to dress as was expected of me. I felt very awkward and ugly and was convinced that everybody could see this as well. It was a nightmare for me to go to the school’s farewell or to any school events 1.”

The concept of transgressing socially constructed gender boundaries is completely disconnected from the actual lived, day-to-day experiences of trans people. The material, discursive, and institutional locations of trans* people is severely unaccounted for in queer and feminist literature. There is an inherent sense of self that well precedes the process and actions of “transitioning” gender. José Esteban Muñoz uses the term disidentification to describe the survival strategies the minority subject practices in order to negotiate a phobic majoritian public sphere that continuously elides or punishes the existence of subjects who do not conform to the phantasm of normative citizenship 2. I would like to think of gender transitioning – in its physical, social, and person processes – as disidentification. This particularly applies to trans men who opt for hormones, surgeries, and other “stereotypical” male aesthetics. While these processes are argued to be self-destructive, colonial, and even counterproductive, they are simultaneously survival methods from both the violent, phobic public sphere and the deep, debilitating dysphoria experienced by the transitioning person.

Despite the acronym “FTM” (female-to-male) used to refer to transgender men, there  is not a sense of “turning into a man”. There is already an internalized sense of manhood, both in its physical imaginary and interpersonal relationships/interactions, as well as the position of that individual to the idea of that man combined with the inner sense of “not woman”. This, however, does not necessarily translate into “hyper masculine” ideas and desires of manhood when met with a sense of “not feeling like a woman”. Butch women can be “masculine” in every sense possible yet still have an intrinsic sense of, pride, and comfort in being a woman and seen as a woman. “Not a woman” does not mean masculine, and equating the two would dangerously erase all the genderqueers, the patos, the bois, and other gender-variant bodies who simultaneously are FTM. This is crucial in understanding FTMs, and I suggest is a possible distinction between FTMs and butch women.

This can be even further interrogated by asking “what does it mean to feel like a woman/man?” or “what is a woman/man?”. These are questions gender, feminist, and queer already focus on, and finding where trans people stand in regard to those questions has been repeatedly attempted. While these questions are both ones I am trying to contribute answers to and are helpful in theoretically dissecting and identifying the areas of life gender occupies, they are the wrong questions to ask when it comes to trans people. They have little application and benefit to the lives of trans people, and at the end of the day tend to water down and reduce trans identities to nothing but erotic desires of privilege and body-hating instead of validating their experiences under the premise that gender is not biological. This troubling contradiction exhibits that there is a much more intricate and complex account of conflicting, multiple hierarchies of access, exclusion, and authority in place that both constructs and distinguishes transgender, queer, butch, and other gendered ways of being.

Works cited:
1. Morgan, Ruth, Charl Marais, and Joy Rosemary. Wellbeloved. Trans: Transgender Life Stories from South Africa. Auckland Park, South Africa: Jacana Media, 2009. Print.
2. Muñoz, José Esteban. Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota, 1999. Print.

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