Friday, June 19, 2020

Afro-Latina Outsiders Talk about the Pandemic, BLM, and Juneteenth

Hola! Thanks for your interest in Afro-Latinas talking about the Pandemic, Black Lives Matter, and Juneteenth. I have really struggled with how to introduce this video, which was recorded specifically for Juneteenth, two days ago. Latina Outsiders Remaking Latina Identity is the anthology that brings the speakers of this talk together and what I now realize is that while this is a discussion between scholars and intellectuals, this discussion is not a scholarly one. This discussion between Afro-Latinas is extremely personal, raw, and messy because it is a response to centuries of colonial racism that Afro-Latinx people and movements have only started to discuss in earnest (while historian Arturo Schomburg may have started the work in 1891, when he came to New York from Puerto Rico, popular discussion of Afro-Latinidad may have started with Piri Thomas' work, Down These Mean Streets, published in the 1960s, just a few decades ago). There is much to unpack here as some of the statements in the talk have layers of historical trauma behind them.

For example, at one point Author Diana Diaz discusses an incident where she and her mother were attacked by a white woman in lower Manhattan. The woman used the plural version of the [trigger warning: word used in video] N-word to address Diaz and her mother. What might not be clear to some viewers is that Diaz is pointing out that while she has always identified as Black, her mother may not have and the moment this woman called them both this racial slur made the construction of race clear. This is a phenomenon that is very Latin American. Whereas in the United States, regardless of the different shades of brown in one family, all members of that family will know that they are Black. This is not the case in Latin America, where the "one-drop" rule was applied in the opposite manner it was applied in the U.S. Anyone in Latin America who has a supposed drop of white blood is allowed to claim whiteness, regardless of phenotype. That obviously doesn't work in the U.S. or for some of us who have a more realistic view of ourselves in the mirror. However, Diaz is trying to point out that claiming our Afro-ancestry should be a point of pride and not of shame, as it has been for some in Latin America and Latinx groups, and that because of this history her own mother didn't realize she was perceived this way. The source of this shame is rooted in old practices that were colonial, such as the nearly immediate promotion of the Casta economic system, which was based on a mythical racial purity but really functioned as a way to place white Europeans at the top of the economic system. These practices continue today with an echo of that system in neoliberal practices that are structured around a racist economic system in all Latin American countries, again, as a way to continue to pool wealth and resources in the hands of white leadership. As a result, many times citizens of our countries were not allowed to identify as Black for fear of deportation (to Haiti from the Dominican Republic, for example), murder, or being ostracized from one's family. In several countries, the category of "Black" was taken off of citizenship and census forms, so residents could only identify as white.

At one point in the talk, I mention that in my family we did not talk about race, and this left me with no ability to deal with the moment I was first called the N-word, when I was about seven or eight years old. I later reveal that it was likely that my family did not talk about race because my own grandfather on my mother's side rejected my father and the marriage between him and my mother. My mother didn't talk her father for 20 years because he did not go to my parents' marriage. My parents, very likely, did not talk about race in our household, because not only did they grow up in systems that did not create a language for such discussions, but they also did not want the trauma of their own marriage to affect their children (as if they could prevent that). When I finally learned my history and my family finally agreed to have a conversation about race with me, I was determined to be the person in my family to change the course on how we handled race. However, through these new conversations, I did learn that my mother had an aunt who identified as Black and said so openly in Cuba. However, she was completely ostracized by the family. The fact that my life's work has been about this subject and that my family has not ostracized me, makes me feel as if we are making a little progress.

That said, there is another moment in this part of the talk where I talk about shame, a word that Diaz also brings up. I talk about feeling shame, as a child, in the moment that I was called the slur and put into a category "that everyone despises." That thought is the thought I had as a child and it was taught to me by various people and sources. I was taught by many people in the Latinx community, mainly white Latinx but not limited to white Latinx, that being Black was the worst thing in the world. I was taught to cross the street if a Black person was walking on my side of the street. This was said to me without a drop of irony when Latinx people knew full well what I looked like. That is one source. I was also taught this racial hatred by media in the U.S., which in the 1970s and 1980s depicted Black folks in mainly minor roles, oftentimes, many of them stereotypical (there is a reason The Cosby Show, which broke those stereotypes, was so important for many of us). I knew what it meant to be called that slur and I was afraid of that reality. At the same time, as I explain in the video, I knew that I was Black, even though I had not had a conversation about it in my home or anywhere else. I was not blind and I knew that I looked more like the people on Soul Train than the people on American Bandstand. I also knew that I wasn't the ugly thing that I was being called, but as a child, I was afraid of being ostracized. I already knew this was the start of something I didn't quite understand yet, and that it would be a big thing. I spent the next couple of decades trying to discuss this with my family. As you can see, this is a deeply personal talk where those of us doing the work are incredibly exposed and saying things that need to be said.

Finally, when I originally planned this talk, I thought I was certain about whether Afro-Latinx folks should celebrate Juneteenth: Of course, we should! My thinking was, if we were transported back to an earlier time, via Octavia Butler sci-fi antics, I'd know exactly what situation I'd be in (something I allude to in the video talk). Therefore, why not celebrate Juneteenth? I also express in the talk that I felt "robbed" of the knowledge of Juneteenth because it was not taught in schools in Chicago, and that my Latinx background likely made my African American friends assume I wasn't interested in Juneteenth, if they celebrated it. Latinx folks, regardless of race, do not traditionally celebrate the holiday. As Dr. Monique Guishard points out, some of us from the islands celebrate our own specific independence or emancipation holidays that are related to our countries of origin, instead of feeling connected to Juneteenth, which is a holiday that was started by African American folks in the South in 1865, when they learned (two years after Lincoln made the announcement) that they were free. As a child, I already felt that any history relevant to my own or my ancestors' experience was left out of my school curriculum, so to learn in my 30s that Juneteenth was yet another item left out of the books, was surprising and upsetting.

However, after having this talk--in its very rough and messy form, with some thoughts fully articulated while others are left to hang there in an uncomfortable space--I feel less certain than I did when we started. Juneteenth is something that was formed by a specific group of folks in a specific time and while I do feel that Black Latinx folks are part of Black Lives Matter because we are Black, I realize now that Juneteenth doesn't feel exactly the same. If I am welcome at a celebration, great. There are a lot of people who worked very hard to create this joyous celebration and I am happy to support what they created. I celebrate the day ALL people were declared human in the United States because that is what is just. I also recognize that, ultimately, like what I describe in the anthology I edited, I will always be an Afro-Latina Outsider, not fully-claimed by anyone because I did not grow up in my parents' countries of origin (Cuba and Colombia), I am not white, and even though I am Black, in some circles my Latinidad erases that, and even further still, in some circles, my Blackness null and voids my Latinidad. Somehow, I manage to move in and out of all these groups, but I am rarely centered; I'm starting to realize that maybe that isn't necessary. Still, if you see me hanging in the corner of the party, dancing by myself, know I am thankful for all you have done to make it happen.

With that said, here is our humble talk, featuring Dr. Monique Guishard and Author Diana Diaz. Like I said, it is messy, sometimes we will struggle with the ideas, but on occasion there is a moment that hints at something worthwhile.

(Spanish language transcription is forthcoming)

Dr. Grisel Y. Acosta: Hello everyone, thank you so much for coming to this talk. The talk is inspired by the anthology Latina Outsiders Remaking Latina Identity, published by Routledge in 2019, and specifically today, we are focusing on Afro-Latina outsiders. The anthology focuses on Latinas on the periphery in general, Latinas who do not meet the stereotypical idea of light brown skin, straight hair, very J.Lo, very Salma Hayek. We actually want to bring light to the diversity under the Latinx umbrella and, specifically, today we are focusing on Afro-Latinas and how we support and are part of the Black Lives Matter movement. We also want to talk a little bit about the pandemic and self-care for Afro-Latinas and we want to talk about Juneteenth and whether we think Juneteenth is something Latinos should be celebrating—I personally do, but we’ll get into that in a little bit. So I want to thank Vincent Toro for the tech and we’re going to read the bios of our wonderful participants today. So, a little bit about me:

I am Dr. Grisel Y. Acosta and I’m an associate professor at the City University of New York-Bronx Community College. My first book of poetry, Things to Pack on the Way to Everywhere, is an Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize finalist and it is forthcoming from Get Fresh Books in 2021. My recent work can be found in The Baffler, Acentos JournalKweli JournalRed FezShort Plays on Reproductive Freedom, and Celebrating Twenty Years of Black Girlhood: The Lauryn Hill Reader. I am a Geraldine Dodge Foundation Poet, a Macondo Fellow, and the editor of Latina Outsiders Remaking Latina Identity, an anthology that features over Latinx 30 contributors and subjects. My work focuses on my Afro-Latinx and indigenous ancestry, queer identity, the punk and house music subcultures, my birthplace of Chicago, and, hopefully, the destruction of post-colonial neoliberalism.

Our other contributors who are incredible people, we are so lucky to have them here today:

Dr. Monique Guishard is a participatory action researcher, a de-colonial ethicist with expertise in using Brown feminist (Black, Latina, & indigenous feminist epistemologies) to theorize back to conventional research ethics frameworks. She is an associate professor at Bronx Community College-CUNY, and committed to student-centered, culturally relevant, blended learning andragogy theory.

Our other speaker today is Author Diana Díaz who is a Nuyorican writer and producer. Her creative nonfiction appears in Red Wheel Barrow and in A Cup of Comfort for Mothers to Be. Díaz is the editor of Kevin Cole: Straight from the Soul and her article “Nuyoricans In Film” appears in The Encyclopedia of Latino Culture, From Calaveras to Quinceañeras. She co-produced El Barrio Remembers Piri: Down These Mean Streets, 45 Years Later. Most recently, she contributed to Boricua en la Luna and she is a certified yogi.

So, please welcome our speakers and we’re going to get started with our talk. So, this is really exciting. Welcome both of you, thank you so much for being here.

Dr. Monique Guishard: Thank you for the invitation.

GYA: Of course, of course. We’ve already pre-planned these questions so I’m just going ask and say a few words on my end, but then we want to hear from both of you.

The first question is about how you’ve been handling self-care during quarantine and the re-opening of our city. I was mentioning to both of our speakers that I am very immunocompromised. At one point I had my lungs working at about 23%, this is when I lived in Texas. It actually got better when I came back to New York, but my lungs have never fully healed. So I was social distancing from the moment I heard from a friend in Korea about what was going on with the pandemic. It was a very scary thing for me; it still is. What I try to do is I go for walks. There’s this program called GirlTrek, and it’s specifically for Black women. Every day you get—they’re doing a Black History Bootcamp—so every day you get inspiration via different wonderful Black women in our history. You can listen to the podcast while you’re walking every day. Basically they’re asking Black women to walk 30 minutes a day for radical self-care so that we live longer, because the stats are that we don’t live as long as other folks. So, they want us and our wisdom to stay around. So, I‘ve been doing that and cooking a lot, but what have both of you been doing?

MG: Okay, so Diana and I were talking about this before we started recording. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m probably not doing the best self-care at the moment, since the pandemic started. I live in close proximity to Roberto Clemente State Park, which is not the same as Roberto Clemente City Park, which is nearer to Yankee Stadium. The state park is maintained by New York State Environmental Police and State Troopers and they have strictly been enforcing social distancing. So I was going on walks and I was participating in the GirlTrek challenge. I’ve been burning palo santo, right? I’ve been burning incense. I hope Diana will talk about this, but a lot of the mediation apps that I usually use are hard for me because sometimes they’re white men, a lot of them are white women, so I’ve been using Shine, I’ve been doing my daily Shine meditations, but also using the Liberate app, right? Because it’s important for me to hear Black-sounding voices. And, quite frankly, going to demonstrations has been my community care. Meeting up with my friends, especially young, Latinx graduate students, we check on each other, we walk, we develop our strategy, you know, if they barricade us, what we’re gonna do. That’s been my self-care.

GYA: Thank you! What have you been doing, Diana?

Author Diana Díaz: Wow, besides being impressed with what Monique is doing. We were laughing about this beforehand because she noticed I have lipstick on. This is my form of self-care in the house, because I love wearing lipstick. It’s the only make up I wear and no one can see it under the mask. So that’s one thing; if I can possibly get up and put lipstick on, that’s what I do.  But more inwardly, as you said, I started my certification in yoga prior to COVID, prior to the Black Lives Matter revolution, I started in February on ground, and we needed to move online. I’m very grateful that the institution did because others did not, so part of my self-care was not only completing that training online, which I’ve never done before, I’ve never taken a class online, but also apply the teachings of yoga as I was training in order to stay focused as to why I was doing this training to begin with. And it was to, and it is to serve our community, to realize and understand our inner peace. That is everyone’s birthright, it is inside of us, it isn’t something we need to heal to get to or anything like this. So, I’ve been really concentrated and focused on that because we need to be at peace with ourselves before we go out and do anything for anyone else. Aside from that, I did not expect to have to do this but I have been very discriminating with my email and my DMS because well-meaning people, actually, love to send videos of another Black body being beaten, or a headline that they saw, or a sound-byte of someone being racist, without the understanding that it’s just triggering and it’s putting us through some more trauma and, guess what, it’s not news to me. It’s a little disturbing that it’s news to you, it’s not news to me, it’s a little insulting that you’re showing me this, and then asking what I think about it. So my form of self-care is to not open those. Some of them I have not answered. Some of the people who I consider friends who were well-meaning, I give it some space and I answer them. And I just keep in touch with my kids who are no longer kids. They’re actually on the forefront of all of this, 20 and 25 years old, and just, you know, remaining centered and proud of them. Doing what I can. No cooking.

ALL: (laughs)

GYA: Believe it or not, I actually do get a lot of peace from cooking. I never ever thought that that would be my thing. I was adamant that I would never learn to cook, never do anything domestic, but here I am. It actually brings me peace. Wow.

So I’m glad that both of you brought up the protests, not only as self-care but also something that maybe our children are being involved in. I want to talk about how the Black Lives Matter protests are important to us specifically as Afro-Latinas because I think that sometimes people think that it’s about “we are Latinos for Black Lives Matter” whereas they don’t realize we are part of Black Lives Matter already because there are so many of us who are Black. If you want to support this movement, you don’t want to be this fringe group that says, “Yes, we support what YOU are doing.” You want to realize that in our own countries, in Latin America, in the U.S., we have been struggling with these same issues for a very long time. So for me, as a Latina, I feel like this is…Black Lives Matter is my life matters, is my friends lives matter. If we value Black lives, we value all lives. I mean, that’s really the thing, we can’t value any life if we don’t value this group, it just doesn’t make any sense. Then we don’t really value lives. That said, I think there are many Latinos who don’t realize that there is Afro-Latinidad. A lot of Latinos don’t know their history, which is why I try to teach it in my Latino literature classes and really in all my classes I have works that address this because of our student population at BCC. We have a lot of Latinos who, whether they realize it or not, they are Afro-Latino, so I feel like these protests are incredibly important as a way to talk about these issues.

How do you all feel about this?

MG: So many thoughts pop up by you asking that question. The most recent demonstration I participated in was this Sunday, and it was intentionally an African Latinx Diasporic march from the Malcolm X and Betty Shabazz Center in the Heights, all the way to down to Adam Clayton Powell on like 125th or whatever. It was good that we walked through the Heights, right? What I didn’t know, the interesting thing about these demonstrations that outsiders don’t know is you learn about something two, three days before it’s going to happen and that’s to always keep the police guessing about where we’re going to be and interrupting their ability to organize and shut stuff down, but still thousands of people show up, right? We gathered in front of BBQs and there were lots of famous Afro-Puertorriqueños and Afro-Panamanians who reinforced the connection to what you said, right, our shared ancestry but also talked about how Malcolm X, how different Puerto Rican independence scholars have always historically demonstrated this type of unity. I’m mentioning this to you in answer to your question because…taking pictures of signs and not people’s faces has also been part of my community care, let me tell you, some of these signs are AMAZING, right? So my sign said, “Latinos, please bring that same #Justice for Junior energy to Black Lives Matter. I wasn’t trying to be messy, I was really just trying to say what it is because sometimes in the Bronx it is very polarizing. I have never seen “Las Vidas Negras Importan”, more signs that said that, than on Sunday, and it made me bawl, but it also was just so affirming. To Diana’s point about being bombarded with emails and messages about the violence, [the counterpoint at the march is] that we love each other and that we show up for each other. But you still have these weird conversations with your families and your students, about how we always need to be there for each other and they’re not separate things. I hope that begins to answer your question.
GYA: Yeah, absolutely, absolutely, thank you for sharing. Diana?

DD: Well, I’m not going to reiterate what you Drs. have just said, because I agree completely. I was going to say something along the same lines, maybe not so eloquently. So I will just be personal about it. Black Lives Matter to me because I am a Black life. I never thought this was in question. Like, I look in the mirror and I’m brown, as is my daughter, as is my grandmother. The ship just stopped on a different shore, it doesn’t make us of any different heritage. So, when I’m faced with this divide, I always thought of it in terms of colorism and not racism because in the Caribbean we have this thing where, “Oh, you’re trigueña, and you’re negra” and we have all sorts of words for the rainbow of skin colors. And there’s a lot of denial in the Latino community about the fact that we are, indeed, Black. Some of us may show it on the outside but we’re all…if you’re from the islands, it’s in there somewhere. I think my mom might have gotten a really rude awakening. My mother who is 76 years old just for the first time in her life decided to go to an acupuncturist, she’s suffering from arthritis and [unheard] and all sorts of things. Western medicine is just not helping. She’s on a bag of medicines. So, I finally get her to do this, I take her to an acupuncturist in Chinatown, she comes out and she’s feeling, not 100%, obviously, but markedly better. So we’re happy, we’re walking through Columbus Park, it’s in Chinatown, a white Southern homeless woman shows up out of nowhere, starts yelling N---s, with an “s”, at us, snaps a filthy town at us, an then proceeds to go rambling in the other direction, about how Black men love white women and whatever else she was talking about. I think just the disturbing nature of that incident alone should say to everyone, if you don’t think you’re Black, guess what, that’s how this [gestures to her face] is showing up in the world and in the country. The fact that a homeless woman across the street from a police precinct in Chinatown, outnumbered, still felt safe enough to verbally and physically attack me and my 76 year old mother says a lot about where in this society, how we are viewed in this society. So, it’s important because this is us, and whether or not someone has had specific incidents like that, this happens. This is not the first time, maybe it’s the first time it happened like this, but it’s everywhere. My son is very light-skinned. He got harassed when he was in college, in his dorm. They would call campus police with false accusations while he was sleeping. We are seen as Black because we are Black. So part of me doesn’t understand where that divide happened, it’s just like willful denial, but it’s important to me to affirm that yes, we are part of Black Lives Matter, but that is nothing to be ashamed of [like some Latinos think], particularly because our history does not highlight it and particularly because lots of us grow up in household where that is not a welcome point of view. I remember we had our hair “fixed,” meaning “straightened,” from the time…I can’t even remember when our mother wasn’t straightening our hair. It’s in adulthood that I decided to leave it like this [points to natural hair texture]. It’s things like that that are building within, and I think now the time is wonderful with all the support and out in the open, with the collective healing, to embrace it. It’s uncomfortable, it’s really uncomfortable, but now is the time.

GYA: Thank you so much for sharing that. That story really upsets me. It reminds me of the first time that I was called the N-word. I think that a big problem right now is a lot of Latino families kind of want to shove this history down, they don’t want to have these conversations that, in African American households they’re very common, but in Latino households, regardless of your phenotype, we do not have conversations about race. At least, not the Latino families who I grew up with. So, the first time I was called the N-word, it was at a roller rink, I was really young, maybe like seven or eight years old, and it was by these kids who were white in the roller rink, and I remember at the time feeling such shame because I was being put into a category that I knew was despised by everyone, but at the same time I remember thinking, “Yeah, but what they’re seeing in me, is in me.” Just because my family hasn’t talked about it doesn’t mean it isn’t true, you know? What they’re seeing in me, they’re calling it something ugly, but it’s not something ugly, it’s something that they see in me and it’s something that I need to have a conversation about. Now, I didn’t have the words to say all of that as a child but it was at that moment that I knew that this conversation had to be had in my family and it took me like 20 years to get my parents to talk about it with me. My father had been rejected by my grandfather on my mother’s side, so they didn’t talk about race. My father had been rejected because of racism. My grandfather didn’t go to the wedding because of racism, so we have to have these conversations and hopefully, BLM can help us do that.

So the next question we’re getting to connects with the previous question and it’s what are you personally doing to support these movements. No pressure with this question, I know some of us are more active out there marching than others, but it could be as simple as having these conversations, right? Or posting certain information on social media, I try to post certain information on social media. One thing I will bring up is that I had an extraordinary privilege to actually kind of voice my truth and help with a Latino arts organization, and I’m not going to name them right now. But it’s a very prominent Latino arts organization for writers they had not done their part for Afro-Latino writers. They just hadn’t. They tried but didn’t understand because the leadership was not diverse but through a miraculous series of events a friend of mine called me and said they’re having a meeting about this and I think that you could say some things that might help. So even though I’m not part of the organization, I was able to be part of a statement that they made. Let me tell you something, the people in the room, they are doing everything on that statement. It is not like other statements that I have helped construct, in academia, for example, that may not actually come to fruition, because we have a lot of layers of red tape to go through, but I know that this arts organization is actually going to back up everything that they wrote on that list. And that makes me really, really proud, to have been a part of that. Now, I’m very privileged that I was even asked to be there. Many of us, we don’t have these connections. So, how do we support? What have we been doing to feel connected to this movement that’s worldwide now?

MG: Right, I’m going to be the first to admit that I’m #Doin’ Too Much. When I can’t go to a demonstration, because you always have this moment after you come back where you’re mindful of every cough and every inhalation, like, “S--- did I pull down my mask to drink water and become exposed to COVID,” you know what I mean? So I take breaks between demonstrations, but when I can’t physically be there, I am contributing to bail funds or acting as a safe call for my friends, in case they get arrested, or just texting, “Where you at?” [laughs], “Did you make it home?” Sometimes, like Dr. Acosta, I’ve been invited to contribute to statements, most of the time I’ve said no, sometimes I’ve inserted myself when people are writing statements that are still full of anti-Blackness or are just performative. Forgive the noises behind me; I live next to the Major Deegan and it’s just noisy. But then I’ve been—this is probably weird to say to other people that are not familiar with the genealogy of scholarship but I’ve been also resting. For folks who are interested, there’s a wonderful account by some wonderful
Brown women scholars called The Nap Ministry, on Instagram, and they talk about how resting, like taking naps [laughs] is a form of self-care that Black women, especially, need to be engaged in because we cannot wage the sustainable war that we need to wage against white supremacist imperialist capitalist patriarchy without being rested. Like who’s gon’ do that and be tired? So I’ve been resting and going back to therapy. I don’t know if it’s helpful but there’s the Black Girl Breathing Collective who facilitate breathing circles. There’s SESH, scholars of color who do very particular types of virtual therapy sessions, for Latinas, for queer Latinas, for Black girls, so I’ve been doing all of those things to keep the rage and depression and sometimes hopelessness that I feel at bay.

GYA: Thank you, thank you. Diana?

DD: Wow, that is a lot. So I’ll start in reverse. I’ll start with the breathing. What I’ve been doing is, well, I was certified at the end of May. And Black Lives Matter was just taking hold, so one thing that I’ve personally and purposefully done is immediately inserted myself in another training, accessible yoga training, where we deal with trauma, grief, and race, and it’s very intense and condensed, and it’s specifically for this purpose. I thought it was very interesting, Monique, when you said that you want your mediation with a Black voice. If my Black voice is Black enough for ya, here I am! [All laugh] I’m certified in not only Asana but also Pranayama. I’m doing this for my girlfriends and my family and anyone who needs it but gifted in particular to people of color. You need that yoga suite, you need that nap, you need that mediation, you need to feel safe to close your eyes and take a deep breath, and I want to be that person who will show you how to do that, because it’s hard. And it’s almost a gift that we’re in our homes because I don’t know if I could sit in a space where I’m the only visible woman of color being told by white people to close my eyes and breathe. That suddenly takes on a whole new meaning. So, I’m working specifically with that. I’m also implementing it in our writing workshops so that we can start with it so that we don’t traumatize ourselves again when we do sit down and we tell our stories. Or, so we can find that inner peace and work from that place, knowing that we are not our trauma, we are not our conditions, we are not what everybody tells us that we are, but we need to be in that place of who we are so that we can express all of those other things and how they affect us, as this human being in this body. So that is specifically things that I have done, inspired by and for Black Lives Matter. More tenuous things are, I am a safe call. My kids are in their 20s, I am their safe call, I can reach their friends’ parents. I also edit Hispanicdotes, an online magazine for Hispanic stories, and we have an issue going out in print in October called Acendencia (ancestry). I am looking at, with our editor-in-chief, specifically stories that explore the complexity and the layers of our identity, whether it be the color of our skin or there are those of us who may not be Black-presenting but identify as such, and that’s a whole other thing. Now with everybody finding out their DNA, I can share that I was more than a little disappointed to see the percentage of oppressor blood in my wheel of percentages there. I knew it was going to be Black, white, and Taíno, but I was not ready for that huge portion to be, “Oh no no, there’s a lot of white blood in you,” and then here’s some African and then here’s some native. Mostly because I didn’t expect it because I look like this [points to self]. Also, [it shows] just how much of a construct this is. It’s truly based on how a person looks, because if I match this up against a random European, I can probably have more “white” blood, but I look different, and my daughter looks different than my son. So, [Hispanicdotes] is just giving a platform to all sorts of identity and working the messiness out for people who are willing to listen.

GYA: Wonderful! So people can learn more about that at, and where can they reach you for the yoga?

DD: You can actually email me because I am newly certified, so I haven’t really put my website together, but my email address is, and ddwordsmith on all social media.

GYA: Okay, great – thank you so much! So, we’re at our last question, and I want to thank both of you so much, and if there’s any information that you want to share in terms of how folks can reach you or any specific events you want to promote, please include those, but our last question is about, finally, Juneteenth! We know that Juneteenth is a day that African American folks celebrate finally knowing that are free, that they are considered human beings, legally by the United States, and this is two years after Lincoln announced that slaves were free but through a series of events folks in the Southern part of the United States did not learn this until Juneteenth, in 1865. I, personally, feel that all people should be celebrating Juneteenth, although I worry about how that will look. If people start celebrating it, I don’t want it to be a Cinco de Mayo situation. You know? I think it really needs to be historically-based. Something that just honors the work that many people have done well before we were ever here. I first learned about Juneteenth when I was in Texas and I felt very robbed. I was upset that I’d never learned about this in Chicago. I’m sure there were Black folks who I was friend with who celebrated Juneteenth but just never felt comfortable talking about it to me because I am Latina. So, I was very upset to learn that used to be something that was celebrated across the United States but somehow it lost traction, I don’t know what happened. It’s just not something that is shared in schools everywhere. I really do believe that it is something that we should all be celebrating because it’s a day that Black people in the United States knew that they were considered free and human and that’s an incredibly important thing. If my ancestors had changed things around a little bit, we were traveling back and forth in the Americas for centuries, if things had worked out just a little differently, I might have been here earlier, or my ancestors might have been in the United States area earlier, and we would have experienced the same exact thing [in terms of laws against Black people]. I think that this is something, as a Black person, I want to be a part of it, I want to honor that legacy. I don’t know how other folks feel about this. Should Latinos, Afro-Latinos, all people be celebrating Juneteenth.

What do you think, Monique?

MG: Okay! My answer is complicated, I guess, because, I was born in…I’m a Latina by way of my father who is a Dominican man of mixed ancestry, and I’m unapologetically Black, but if there’s a hierarchy to my identity, I’m a Virgin Islander first. In the U.S. Virgin Islands we celebrate Emancipation Day, which is July 3rd. That’s a controversial holiday, too, because we were purchased by the United States for our “thought of” strategic position, if they were ever going to go to war with other entities. And I’m mentioning the Virgin Islands, I guess, because a lot of my youth was spent in summers there and then ferry trips to Puerto Rico, always remembering that people escaped enslavement by going to places like Loisa. And there were few [places, throughout the Caribbean, where enslaved people found some form of safety, even established Maroon societies, in Latin America. So, why not [celebrate Juneteenth]? And Juneteenth is complicated for me also because it make the Declaration of Independence, it makes the Emancipation Proclamation, performative documents; what’s freedom? What’s freedom if people don’t know that they are free? Who can declare that for me? But also questions about decoloniality and what that means. I think, for me, Juneteenth is when not only do people have consciousness of this government decision but it’s a time for immense Black joy. So I’m thinking people should follow #JusticeForGeorgeNYC on Instagram, and I think that I said on social media this morning that I am HERE for the 5,011 Juneteeth demonstrations that are happening [ALL laugh] in New York City. There’s a silent march through Seneca Village, the place that we call Central Park. There are a million and one celebrations [unheard] Plaza, City Hall, in Harlem at the Adam Clayton Powell Building, for people just to come together and celebrate the…and remind ourselves that Blackness is not about enslavement, it’s not about trauma, that it’s about joy, there are hair braiding boutiques set up, all kinds of drinks, and things like that so, if you identify as Black. And at some point we should have a conversation, because you know I love you both, about it’s not who you claim but it’s also who claims you, you know what I’m saying? It’s also who claims you. And I can say, I know Grisel a little bit more than Diana, but I remember going through the BCC workplace demographics and seeing there were two people who identified as both Black and Latinx and I knew that was Grisel without asking. Does that make sense, you know what I mean? Okay! That’s me and Grisel! So, if you identify as Black, you are welcome. So come through.

GYA: Excellent! Thank you. Diana, should we celebrate Juneteenth?

DD: Of course we should celebrate Juneteenth! You know, we should acknowledge it. I think it’s kind of bittersweet. Using the word “celebration” to me, right now with everything that’s going on, feels a little bit heavy because we were lied to for all that time. We were “free” but, again, without access, you know, so what is it we are really celebrating? Are we celebrating that the slave owners decided to let the enslaved people know that they could go now but they could have two years ago, but they needed all that free labor, is that what we’re celebrating? Because that’s kind of what it feels like to me today, in this scene, with everything going on and that colors it very much. I feel like it should be more in the vein of Martin Luther King Day, a celebration of knowledge, because I think this is the clearest example of how knowledge is passed on. You stayed enslaved even though you were not, because you lacked the knowledge that you were no longer an enslaved person. And so I think it should be knowledge-forward, sure, let’s read books during barbecues, something like that. Just acknowledging that power of…not just knowledge of yourself but knowledge of who’s claiming you, who’s claiming what about you, who’s making the decisions for and about your life, that sort of thing. But, yeah, I’ll get my hair done, I’ll have barbecue, but I don’t want this to happen again. Like, “Hey, prisons have been reformed but we’re not going to tell you guys, we’ll let you figure that out.” There are just so many instances where that can happen, in the medical industry, government agencies, I’m repeating myself now, but the point is the knowledge and education and how important it really is. And that is independent of school, because technically, I don’t even know what school is right now. Everybody is online, some kids are learning, others aren’t, I really know who is learning what, and we need to separate that as well, because we got all our misinformation from school. I also didn’t know Juneteenth existed and I grew up in New York City on the Lower East Side. That’s ridiculous. I was ashamed about that for a couple of minutes but, you know what, you don’t know what you don’t know. And maybe that should be what Juneteenth is about, you don’t know what you don’t know, so get to knowing, so you know what you can and cannot do.

GYA: Yes, yes, knowledge! Celebration of knowledge! Celebration of who we are! I think this has been healing. I think this has been healing. Please unmute yourselves – I just want to talk!


GYA: Thank you so much for this beautiful conversation. I needed this. You all had an okay time, too?

MG: We did!

DD: Yes, this was wonderful!

MG: It was! Amazing.

GYA: Thank you, thank you. I will be including some transcriptions when this is posted so it is more accessible. I will be including an English transcription and an Spanish transcription. I’m hoping to share all of that on Juneteenth—the recording will be shared on Juneteenth—but the transcriptions might take a little more time. I’m going to do my best.

Again, I want to thank Dr. Monique Guishard and Author Diana Diaz for being here. I think we have an outgoing slide with a little information on the anthology. Vincent will put that up. Again, thank you so much, and I really look forward to when we can be in the same space.

MG: Same!

DD: Me, too.