𝙵𝚛𝚘𝚠𝚗𝚎𝚍 𝚄𝚙𝚘𝚗 – 𝙼𝚊𝚛𝚒𝚊𝚖 𝙾𝚜𝚊𝚖𝚊
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𝚝𝚑𝚎 𝚑𝚢𝚙𝚘𝚌𝚛𝚒𝚜𝚢 𝚘𝚏 𝚋𝚎𝚒𝚗𝚐 𝚊 𝚠𝚘𝚖𝚊𝚗 – 𝚜𝚑𝚛𝚞𝚜𝚝𝚒 𝚐𝚘𝚜𝚠𝚊𝚖𝚒
i find it difficult to explain my fear
of being absolutely too much
i walk strong, walk for those behind me
i walk strong
with my keys in between my fingertips after sunset,
my head turning sideways, my footsteps fast
and a smile on my face
i wish to learn forever, i am blessed to believe i can
i wish to drown in words and still, i convince myself
i don’t want children to spread my knowledge to
is it wrong to wonder what awaits me then?
i dream of something beautiful for every woman
every person, i dream to be free
and the voice in the back of my head sounds
too much like my father’s,
a simple reminder that “it is what it is”
makes me hesitate before i dream
am i even a woman yet?
my mother tells me 19 is old enough to decide
decide what i wear, i let the bare skin on my chest
cover up, cover up, cover up
she yells to protect me
she tells me these words
anytime i sit slouched, exhausted of imagining
the disgusting ways my body can be misused,
and my shirt slips on accident
take it off, take it off
they beg me to love myself more
to show them how much i love myself
am i woman? i’m not enough on the inside to be a woman yet
though when i look at my outsides, i wonder
if it matters to them whether i am a woman or a child
as long as i am a body
my mind, which thought it all through beforehand
sits discarded and unseen
i let myself hope for more
i let you make memories out of me
then i wish i could wash my brain out with
just a little soap and water
the real me somewhere, she exists
and if you really wanted to see her
you wouldn’t need to lift up my shirt
to prove she was there!
i am angry, crazy, sad
maybe emotional, is that such a bad thing?
if i scream, i see the look in my dada’s eyes
he reminds me to go quietly, do it quietly
no need to draw attention
i say yes, how do you fight a fight
you’ve taken for granted?
a fight he’s never fought before.
but someone please tell me
where will i go if i am quiet?
which part of me is backwards?
i truly believe women can do anything
i believe anyone can do anything
and still i am terrified, am i weak?
they wait for women to show weakness
i am absolutely terrified
of living my whole life in an unchanging world
i am absolutely terrified of doing it all
in a world that blames us for being too much
and tells us we are not enough
𝚆𝚘𝚖𝚊𝚗, 𝙰𝚗 𝙰𝚖𝚎𝚛𝚒𝚌𝚊𝚗 𝙻𝚢𝚛𝚒𝚌 – 𝙼𝚊𝚛𝚝𝚒𝚗𝚊 𝙼𝚊𝚗𝚒𝚌𝚊𝚜𝚝𝚛𝚒
*TRIGGER WARNING: THIS CONTENT DEALS WITH SEXUAL ASSAULT*
You are fourteen when a twenty-four year old man thinks you are fruit. For twenty-six months you are a harvest, ungrateful pickings. Your showers become longer, the soap becomes added violence, you routinely watch the burning of morbid skin. You are unhappy in your silence, in your breakfast making for both guest and intruder. You crack eggs, whisk them, fry– Is this when the rape happens?– pancake mix, bacon, fruit, fruit, fruit.
The speaking happens in mirrors, rehearsals between dry heaving at the mention of a name, a memory, a haunting. He moves to somewhere you will never go and all of it finally rushes out of you, your courage aware of its lateness. They are seated, unaware of how the next few minutes will shatter them. The fireworks exist in your mouth. Hearing yourself talk is how you go insane, like there are gunshots, popcorn breath. Tummies flat on the floor, heads in hands, heads in earth. You try staying perfectly still. It all feels like dying. Stop talking, there is fire in your mouth. Stop breathing, that is how you smother it. Shake, convulse, your body is not yours anymore. When did I stop being a girl? Am I woman enough now?
You are touched so much the normal touches start to hurt. Someone stop the touching please. It is a beg now to horrified faces incapable of understanding how someone like him could do this to someone like you. To a child; they refuse to say it. You are a child, remind yourself. He moves to somewhere you will never go.
What does a body do when it is set free?
First, it is guilty. It makes scissors out of teeth, bones out of cardboard, and chew, chew, chews itself into nonexistence. It makes girlhood grotesque, disfigured apparitions of romance desired. It thinks maybe it was in love. It thinks in silence. It is an it. Silence is taught to us, screaming is not, not until later when we stumble upon feminism in flashy lights. Or when suddenly someone identifies us as women and says “Here is how you protect yourself.” It is often another woman that hands us the guide, it is often our mothers. Your mother is too late, they are always too late and they never mean to be. But our bodies are an afterthought.
Aren’t you tired?
There is generational sobbing paired with “I’m so sorry honey,” paired with “I’m gonna kill him.” But she doesn’t because she can’t. She thinks of who he was before you ruined him, your brother’s best friend. When they are familiar to us they know they can hurt us. They can depend on legacies of trust, on “What will everyone think?” They can depend on us to betray each other. When does it become enough? You remember the leg locked wincing, the pushback hips, the turning out of lights, the panic, the black outs as involuntary response to the stress. You wake up a high school junior in the hospital after falling unconscious and hitting your head. Sleep now. You are tired.
What does a body do when it is set free?
It becomes ghostly rage that everyone treads around in silence. Your father never addresses it but there is a shift like a tickle in the throat, then screaming. He is angry at everything, he is never angry at you. You are lucky. You are angry at everything too but no one seems to notice. He stops speaking to you in English for a year. He thinks the violence is cultural. It is not. Your mama becomes incessantly intrusive, determined not to miss any more signs or leave you fending for yourself. She orates to you the guide over and over. There are so many rules to keep track of, you become the police. Your brother cries. He forgets how to speak just like you did. You flounder trying to keep them all afloat. Assault makes us so responsible. Responsible for our bodies, their bodies, the bodies of all those ugly men, the bodies of all the women those ugly men might ever touch. And what are they responsible for? They get to vanish and get PhDs and get engaged. Someone tells you he got engaged. You pray for her incessantly, it begins to feel intrusive. You need someone to tell her. Silence.
Your brother cries.
You measure yourself in footsteps out the door, in minutes gone by without forgetting breath, in teaspoonfuls. Your friends start asking you questions about firsts. First kiss, first make-out session, first time having sex. “Are you still a virgin?” I don’t know. I don’t know if it counts. “Sex is supposed to feel good,” someone tells you, “If you aren’t good at it, nobody will want to be with you.” You measure yourself in men’s touches, in whispered moaning, in numbness.
Am I woman enough now?
The second time it happens you are a freshman in college. You follow all the rules. You do not wear anything your mama would be ashamed of, you know him, you drive your own car. The date is going well. When he kisses you, there is no flinching. Then his hands start moving the way hands always do, you are uncomfortable. You move his hands. They come back, maybe a miscommunication. You pause, tell him you think it’s getting late. There is no listening. What is a woman’s voice to a male trained ear? The hands come back like they were created to pin you to the car door. You think of the rules, the fruit, the horrified faces, the way this night will only exist in silence, you think of the rules. Your shirt does not stop his clawing at your breasts, his knowing you does not stop his forgetting your humanity, your car does not protect you from the man who sits inside it. What do we do when the tricks don’t work, when we scream “Fire!” and no one comes running? What is a woman’s voice to a male trained ear?
We learn to carry our traumas, we learn we are not alone in them, that other women have felt our feelings. That men have too. We learn statistics about who this will happen to, we hear about college students, about trans-women, about Black women, about the homeless, about the poor, about immigrants, about ourselves– there is a statistic for all of us. There is a lot of information about all of us, about why we don’t report, about why we wear clothes that we like, about whether we are virgins, about whether we are considered girls or women depending on the Tanner Scale, about whether we are people.
You turn on the TV and everywhere is the face of a woman you may or may not have seen before saying Me Too. You know those women are people because they are on TV and somebody is listening to them talk, you are listening to them talk. They look beautiful while they talk, like a team of other women has put their makeup on for them. The men being accused look beautiful too. You think of Ryan Seacrest, there is certainly a woman putting on his makeup. You remember an article you read about Ryan Seacrest’s makeup artist, she accused him of assault and kept working for him because she is a single mother. She is not on the TV. You can’t remember her name. You hear of million dollar lawsuits being handed out like they are slices of bread. There are so many of them that they become indistinguishable. You start hearing more about feminism in cyclical media trends. You wonder if a woman like Ntozake Shange would have been allowed to talk about feminism on The View. You wonder why Whoopi Goldberg is on The View acting like she enjoys sitting with Megan McCain.
The women on the news call it a movement. They say they want to see the first female president. They say they will vote for Hillary Clinton, they say “I’m with her.” They replace Juanita Broaddrick with Hillary Clinton. When you bring it up to them they bring up the details of the incident like details are ammunition, popcorn breath.
When you bring up how you still struggle to live your life there is only the cacophony of their silence. They do not talk about the trauma that comes after. They talk about the moments when it happens, the moments that have been trendified because they sell all their gory details. They make reality TV shows on E! while we watch them don black and wear pins like it’s a costume contest. They expect it to make waves for us, some redux of trickle down economics. What is rape when you are poor? I think Tarana Burke knew. Maybe we should ask her. Maybe we should ask each other. So many of us have gone to work the next day because there is no stopping the exploitation of our bodies whether we are physically pinned to the inside of our car or simply not given a sick day. Exploitation does not make you unworthy, unperson, unwoman. You are a woman, remind yourself.
The women no one listens to are screaming. They carry their traumas, we carry our traumas. We hold each other’s hands. We walk each other home. We name ourselves no one and vow to hear you, you women like fruit, like horrified faces, like silence. We do not listen to your resilience. We train our ears for your voice and listen past your survival. You are not resilient. You are not a survivor. You are a woman. We are women, and that is enough.
𝚛𝚎𝚌𝚛𝚎𝚊𝚝𝚒𝚗𝚐 𝚢𝚘𝚞 – 𝚊𝚗𝚘𝚗𝚢𝚖𝚘𝚞𝚜
𝚁𝚊𝚌𝚎 𝚁𝚎𝚏𝚕𝚎𝚌𝚝𝚒𝚘𝚗 – 𝙺𝚒𝚊𝚛𝚊 𝙻𝚘𝚙𝚎𝚣
“This may be the best reflection in all the years of the assignment…this is the highest grade I can remember having given.” This is the note I received back on this reflection for my Race Relations class. As a person of color, having to reflect on my race for an assignment felt like a massive waste of time. This class and this assignment were so obviously meant for white people. To have to sit and hear a 70 year old white man explain experiences that I have lived and am constantly thinking about was exhausting. I got an A+, yes, because I am a good writer, but also because I am always thinking about race while his white students don’t have to.
Race was not mentioned very much in my household when I was growing up. From birth to about age seven, I was too young to really grasp differences in race, especially in America. I lived in the United States until I was five years old. My dad was in the Air Force and I remember always being around diverse groups of people whether it be within the daycares I attended, my dance classes, or my parent’s friends and their kids. From ages five to eight I lived in Belgrade, Serbia. Here, too, I had no real understanding of race because America’s rules of race did not apply in this foreign country. I don’t think that my classmates who came from various European countries had an understanding of race or ethnicity either so the fact that I was American, Puerto Rican, and light skinned did not mean anything, or at least it didn’t mean anything in a way that I could perceive as a child.
I think my perceptions started to change once I moved back to the United States at age eight. By this age, I had begun to feel aware of the fact that my culture and identity as a Puerto Rican was different from most of my friends’ cultures. For the remainder of elementary school, I mostly had friends who were white or Hispanic. I think at this point I began to be aware that white and Hispanic had two separate meanings in the United States. I knew that I was different from my Anglo friends despite only being a few shades darker than them. The best example of this that I can think of is my experience with going to church. When my family first started going to church, it was a predominately white church with some black families and few Latino families. I remember feeling uncomfortable in this church because I felt pressure to be extra quiet because I felt like I stood out amongst them. My family eventually found a bilingual church that preached in English and Spanish and was primarily made up of the Latino community where we lived. I immediately felt more comfortable in this setting because everyone was loud and expressive and speaking the same languages I did. Though most of us may have been white on paper, our experiences were different from white Americans. I became very conscious of my identity as a Latina after being able to exist in this space and was starting to realize what it meant to be Hispanic in the United States.
The majority of my middle school population was black, followed by white, and then other ethnic minorities. It was here that I really began to identify as Puerto Rican.
Whenever I told white people that I was Puerto Rican I was met with an otherness that told me that I was different from them. On the other hand, when I told black people that I was Puerto Rican, I was met with an understanding of being not white. Through this repeated experience I became aware that even though I may have shared the same skin tone as some white people, I was different from them and would be treated as such. I never experienced out right racism because everyone there had grown up around people of different races and new to coexist without overt racism. Despite this, I always felt an underlying sense of not belonging when I was around white people. I also think it is interesting to reflect on what my friend groups were like in middle school. They were very much segregated based on interest and the classes I was taking. For example, I was in an advanced English class that was made up almost entirely of white people. I think there were socioeconomic factors that caused this because most of the people who had better elementary school education came from predominantly white areas. When it came to my interests, such as the music I was listening to at the time, I was grouped with Latinos and black people. Existing in between the American black and white racial binary was very confusing at the time, though I couldn’t grasp why.
As I moved from middle school into high school, I started to get a firmer understanding of what it meant to be a light skinned Latina who is also American. Due to my mom’s job with the State Department, we moved to Lima, Peru where I completed my freshman and sophomore year of high school. This was my first time in a foreign environment since living in Serbia, and it was interesting to see how things had changed since then. The thing with being a diplomat, is that there is a large support system of Americans at most posts. Given the nature of the State Department and the requirements for getting in, the majority of the population of American diplomats is white. Since the massive support system entails introducing families with kids of the same age to each other, most of my friends came from families that worked for the State Department and were white. I had a lot in common with my friends because of the way we all grew up but I also had a lot in common with the locals from Lima who attended my school because of the culture and being Hispanic. However, as a result of hanging out with mostly white people, I feel like I was written off as just an American, and my Puerto Rican identity was erased because of this. I could have easily spoken to them in Spanish and made friends outside of the Americans, but my lack of confidence in speaking the language to anyone outside of my family held me back. To my American friends I was seen as a Puerto Rican and to Peruvians I was seen as an American. It was very frustrating, and probably the first time that I experienced feeling like I wasn’t enough of one identity to be truly considered part of it.
My last two years of high school were spent in Rabat, Morocco. This school was much smaller than my last one so I didn’t really encounter the same issues I face in Lima. The complications with race and ethnicity came more from life outside of school than within it. Because of my complexion, hair, and facial features, I was often mistaken for Moroccan. This wasn’t a problem at school because I could communicate with people and tell them about myself, but it was a problem with strangers in public. Moroccan culture is generally pretty welcoming to foreigners, like most foreign countries I’ve been in, but I didn’t look like a foreigner to them. To them I looked like a young Moroccan woman who didn’t wear a hijab, and dressed very Western. The culture as a whole was pretty lenient with the ways women expressed themselves compared to other Muslim countries. Although I adapted the way I dressed to fit in better with what locals were wearing, I still faced a lot of harassment for seeming like a Moroccan girl who was rebelling against the norms of the culture. I know that this wouldn’t have happened if I had been a white, blonde, American. If I had been a white girl, I could’ve dressed however I wanted and worn my hair however I wanted because it would have been obvious that I was not one of them. This became frustrating because I had no way to claim my identity as an American since I looked like a Puerto Rican.
My sense of identity and relationship with race and ethnicity changes depending on where I am and who I am with. With as much as it changes from country to country and with friend groups, the way my family sees me also creates another level of confusion. My entire family is Puerto Rican and we all look pretty different from each other. My mom’s side of the family varies in color due to their being more Taino Indian ancestry than my dad’s side which is primarily Spanish. Being Puerto Rican, obviously both sides have traces of Taino and Spanish and maybe even African, but there is a clear distinction between who has more of what. On my mom’s side of the family, they all call me “kiaringa la gringa”, a play on the word “gringa” which means white girl. I am lighter than all of my cousins, and even though I speak Spanish and they don’t, I am seen as more white and less Puerto Rican than them because of my skin tone. My aunt tells me I have “white people curls” even though her hair is just barely kinkier than mine. I have always been proud to be Puerto Rican and definitely lean into this part of my identity more than my cousins. It is confusing to be called “white” within my own family when I know that white people don’t see me as one of their own.
All of this confusion and frustration has led to me leaning into my identity as a Latina and being very vocal about my ethnicity. When I was first living in America prior to high school I was aware of my identity but didn’t have a full grasp on what it meant. In 2017 as I was preparing to leave Morocco and come back to the United States, I realized that there were new implications about what it meant to be a Latina in America. I saw it in the way my mom would constantly remind me not to speak Spanish in public because she was worried about the reaction I would get from white people. I realized now that under the new administration it would be potentially dangerous for me to just exist in white spaces in America because our president was allowing for the targeting of people adjacent to me and my identity. I hear it in the news cycle as they continuously refer to Hispanics and immigrants as brown people and I realize now that I was never white and should’ve never been called white. I’m brown and that’s how the United States sees me. I think that this subconsciously influenced my decision to come to Rutgers. I chose Rutgers because it is a majority minority school and I figured if I put myself in a bubble where I was surrounded by people who were not white, I would be okay. I have been incredibly fortunate in that I haven’t experienced any racism on campus, since I know this isn’t the case for many of my Latino peers. This bubble doesn’t prevent me from feeling tension when I’m off campus. I am now more conscious then ever of being not white when I am out in public anywhere in America. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve ever actually had a mildly racist experience with white people. But there is an unspoken, underlying discomfort when I am amongst white people in public spaces off campus. I fear that if I speak or behave a certain way, I will be stereotyped as a loud and uneducated Latina. I fear that if I let myself be stereotyped in this way, I will be treated differently.
I see this constantly in the way someone like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is criticized and ridiculed for the way she chooses to express herself. She is loud because she is passionate and she is incredibly intelligent but this gets discredited by the media because she is Puerto Rican and is proud of that fact. I feel empowered when I see her wearing big hoop earrings and bright red lipstick because she is not letting negative stereotypes associated with that look prevent her from wearing it. I feel safe knowing that there is a strong Puerto Rican woman out there refusing to let the media dictate the way that she looks. I find power in wearing big hoops and red lipstick because she is proof that looking like a stereotype is not a deterrent for being successful. AOC is a very important to me and it is because this is the first time I’m seeing a politician who is unapologetically and authentically Latina in a way that is accessible to me. The power of positive representation is seen in her influence because she is showing girls like me that we can be ourselves and be as incredible and powerful like her. She is showing us that she has a space within our overwhelmingly white male government and that is empowering.
It can be difficult to fully enjoy Latina representation in television because even though it has gotten better over time, it is still not totally representative of Latinas. Many of my favorite T.V. shows are my favorite because they feature Latina leads that act and speak like me. Spanglish, code switching, and simply being a character whose stereotypes don’t influence their entire storyline are being portrayed in mainstream media for the first time to this extent and I am thrilled about it. Representation like this is important because it is normalizing non-white narratives in a world that largely consumes media by and for white people. I love my favorite Latina characters, but I have come to realize that there is a common issue with all of them which is that they only represent a specific type of Latina. T.V. shows such as Jane the Virgin, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and One Day at at Time all feature light skinned Latinas with long, dark, straight, hair. The use of actors who all look this way creates a narrative amongst mainstream media that leads people to believe that Latinas all look one certain way, when this is far from the truth. I believe that the use of this specific type of Latina is absolutely intentional. This model of Latinas is used because it is palatable for white people. In leaving out Latinas that are dark skinned, have curly hair, or non-Eurocentric features, diversity becomes accessible to white people because they don’t have to try so hard to relate to these characters.
This is frustrating because I have always had to consume white media and have had nothing but white characters to relate to. In high school I was able to eat up 80’s teen movies without a second thought and thoroughly enjoyed them. Most of my favorite movies, tv shows, and bands are made up of white people and overtime I have had to go out of my way to find media made by people of color. I hate that I am now always conscious of the media I am consuming because my heightened racial awareness won’t let me sit back and enjoy something that is solely white. It becomes even more difficult to break this barrier when I am ridiculed by people of color, often within my own family, for liking things that are white. For example, I like to listen to rock music, and listened to it a lot in high school. It is common knowledge that this genre is overwhelmingly white, and my parents constantly made fun of me for listening to it. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do when the only media that was easily accessible to me was white media but I wasn’t allowed to consume and enjoy it because I was not white. I now go out of my way to partake in media that benefits and represents people of color because the only way to get more of it is to support it and make it successful. But even then, this isn’t always the case. A show like One Day at a Time which was an incredible example of intersectional representation, was cancelled by Netflix because they believed that not enough people watched the show. This may have been the case, but one should consider that they did not put in the effort to promote the show. By having a show as diverse as this one, they falsely assumed that it would succeed because of that. However, they did not account for the fact that people still prefer to consume white media and that anything even remotely diverse requires twice the amount of work to be as successful as something inherently white like Friends. The cancellation of this show was a huge blow to people of color, specifically Latinos. It made me feel like my story wasn’t worth telling and falls very in line with the way I feel when I am in America. I see the importance of representation more and more with each passing day, especially when I am being removed from the narrative by giant corporations that hold my representation in their hands.
I find it incredibly exhausting to be constantly thinking about race when I know that white people don’t have to face this struggle. Whether it’s about what I’m watching or listening to, or the way that I am existing in public, I am always thinking about race and ethnicity. I also feel as though I am explaining myself more than ever in a way that white people never have to. I think that minoring in Latin American and Caribbean Studies has made me even more conscious of the ways in which my experiences differ from white people because I’ve come to realize that the identity crisis is generational and spans across all ethnicities. My over-awareness makes me feel like I am taking up the space of white people who can exist so easily in America without much discomfort. I am trying to unlearn the thought that tells me that I do not belong here. I do this in small acts of resistance such as wearing bright lipstick and hoop earrings and making my hair as big as possible, or speaking in Spanish and code switching even if it makes those around me uncomfortable because they do not understand me. I am vocal about issues affecting me and other people of color and am educating my white friends because my issues matter just as much as theirs. America’s binary of black and whiteness makes it difficult for me to find my footing and understand my identity and I spend each day trying to navigate it a little better
𝙲𝚘𝚕𝚘𝚛𝚎𝚍 𝙿𝚎𝚗𝚌𝚒𝚕 𝙿𝚒𝚎𝚌𝚎𝚜 𝚋𝚢 𝙰𝚗𝚊𝚖𝚒𝚔𝚊 𝙽𝚊𝚛𝚊𝚢𝚊𝚗𝚊𝚗
𝚙𝚛𝚒𝚗𝚝𝚜 𝚏𝚘𝚛 𝚜𝚊𝚕𝚎 – 𝙼𝚒𝚊 𝙺𝚘𝚗𝚝𝚘𝚜
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𝚠𝚒𝚜𝚑𝚒𝚗𝚐 𝚏𝚘𝚛 𝚊 𝚝𝚒𝚖𝚎 𝚖𝚊𝚌𝚑𝚒𝚗𝚎 – 𝚊𝚟𝚊𝚗𝚒 𝚐𝚘𝚜𝚠𝚊𝚖𝚒
you sit and think about the ways they have wronged you
their fingers in your hair, lightly, not too tight
your hand on their leg, just grazing it, never holding on
every moment feels temporary
like you have to memorize the look in their eyes
so you can think about it over and over again,
lying in bed alone, while they think about anything else
you miss the memory and how they were that one time
because it’s always something different
you miss them too, but never too much
never enough for it to mean something
or so you tell yourself on sleepless nights
maybe you miss the feeling more than any of it
a hand in yours even if never permanently
a person to laugh at the small things you’d say
a lingering gaze to obsess over for hours
but now you feel foolish,
you wait for a message that will never come
you hold onto a promise like it means something
you play out scenarios that won’t live outside your mind
and you wonder if you wasted months on a daydream.
why did you let yourself feel these things?
why did you want to open up to someone else?
when they told you that you’re special, why’d you believe them?
why did you let them put their arm around you?
why did they put their arm around you, anyway?
what did it mean when they said they want you to hold them?
when they wanted it to be you?
you wish you could take it all back sometimes
the words you told them late at night
the ones they saved for somebody else
the ones you wish you had too