How Spanish Ends Up as Lipstick on Your Toothbrush
“My Spanish always asks why it’s being compared to food: spicy, hot, sizzle.” We’ve all been stereotyped by our Spanish. We have suffered the sting of embarrassment when our Spanish is not up to par. We also know the power of saying “I love you”…in Spanish. Poet Melissa Lozada-Oliva explores our relationship with Spanish — the frustrations and annoyances, the love and hate, our memories and history — and puts those feelings to a spoken beat in her gut-wrenching biographical poem, My Spanish. Watch the video above to see why Lozada-Oliva describes her Spanish as ‘an itchy phantom limb’ and how it ‘sits in the corner of a classroom, chews on a pencil, does not raise its hand’. *Snap, snap, snap*
When you’re a Latina who’s walked through life receiving a slew of comments, like “you’re pretty for a morena” or “you could be cute if you fixed that pelo malo,” you know that it isn’t always easy finding women in media who look like you. Let alone in the fields of academia and literature. With our world seemingly turned upside down, FIERCEis paying homage to Latinas who have worked to empower Black women through their words and thoughts on Afro-Latinidad.
Check out some of our favorite powerful Latinas celebrating our roots below.
Elizabeth Acevedo is an Afro-Dominican spoken word poet and author who hails from New York City. With each line that she delivers, Acevedo does members of the Latino community a favor by highlighting and praising its African ancestry. Her work lovingly celebrates the influence her Blackness has impressed upon her own cultural traditions. “My first language I spoke was Spanish/ Learned from lullabies whispered in my ear/ My parents’ tongue was a gift which I quickly forgot after realizing my peers did not understand it./ They did not understand me,” she says in her poem “Afro-Latina.” Besides holding an impressive presence on Instagram, Acevedo has addressed TEDTalk stages, appeared on BET and Mun2, and authored books like “The Poet X” and “Beastgirl & Other Origin Myths.”
The “I Mean, I Guess” author has an African-American father and a mother who hails from the Dominican Republic. She has spoken openly about feeling isolated from both cultures. Her poem “Negra Bella” is about empowerment and finding your own way.
Del Orbe is a formerly undocumented immigrant from the Dominican Republic who writes and performs spoken word poetry. Her Instagram page features a collection of her poems, thoughts presented as a stream of consciousness, photos, and memes. Her poetry works to shed light on issues facing the Afro-Dominican community, including the immigrant experience. Braiding her desires to promote resistance and visibility for low-income immigration, Del Orbe’s work is definitely one for any poetry enthusiast to watch.
Ariana Brown is an African-American-Mexican-American poet whose experience of being raised in San Antonio, Texas largely inspired her to create the Afro-Latina representation that she often missed out on while growing up. Brown’s poetry takes on so many of the issues Latinas are forced to deal with, including race, ethnicity, culture, and sexual orientation. In poems like “Inhale: The Ceremony,” the Black writer addresses the ways in which African ancestry is often erased and discredited in history as well as in modern cultures.
Through her numerous posts on Instagram, Rodriguez’s use of the social platform proves that as an artist she prefers to dabble in more than just one art form. She models, opens up about her long-term pursuit of education via physical therapy, and writes epic poems that will excite the heart of any Latina who has ever doubted the beauty and power of her rizos. The Afro-Dominicana from the Bronx, New York uses her poetic verses to remind readers that Black Latinos are “proof of survival and resilience” and that “‘Black don’t crack’ is more than just skin deep.”
If you have yet to be blessed with the words and observations of this Cuban-Puerto Rican, prepare for an earthquake of emotion that her words will undoubtedly bring out in you. Back in 2014, the Afro-Latina made waves across the Internet when she performed her spoken word poem “Patriarchy.” The piece speaks to the constant sexualization from men and media that so many women often endure. These days, Marco is still stomping down the patriarchy and fighting against colorism, racism, sexism, and other systems of oppression.
Monet is a Cuban-Jamaican poet, writer, and lyricist from Brooklyn, New York. Back in 2007, when she was 19, she became the youngest poet to ever become the Nuyorican Poets Café Grand Slam Champion. For any Latina finding herself enraged, disheartened, or infuriated by today’s post-2016 election, Monet’s politically driven poems will give you something to lean on. Her work speaks to the everyday struggles of being a Black woman, racism, Trump, sisterhood, solidarity, and displacement. She has two published books, including “The Black Unicorn Sings” and “My Mother Was a Freedom Fighter.”
Ingram became a New York Knicks Poetry Slam Champion back in 2011 and was a member of the 2013 Nuyorican Grand Slam team. The Bronx-born poet has published her work for two books: “Growl and Snare” as well as “Another Black Girl Miracle.” Each and every one of her words is steeped with intention and speaks to the Black girl’s experience with a strong sense of wisdom and self-love.
We all know how annoying family can be, nitpicking and offering opinions about how we choose to live our lives. Sometimes, though, our relatives’ perspectives are more than frustrating—they can be hurtful, causing us to question and doubt our place in the world. For many of us, it may be really difficult to address these issues with our loved ones, and we might often need to process these complex situations on our own before we can make any progress within our relationships. For Twitter user Hot Girl Scholar (@2shotsofmely), art was part of this process. She addressed some deep family conflict through poetry, and y’all, Twitter was shook.
According to her pinned tweet, @2shotsofmely and her family emigrated to the US from the Dominican Republic when she was seven years old. In May of this year, she graduated cum laude from Clark University with a BA in English and a minor in Education, ecstatic to dedicate her degree to immigrant and first-generation students. By embracing her role as a “hood girl, educator, and undercover poet,” @2shotsofmely is “living [her] mama’s wildest dreams”—although the poems that have electrified Twitter focus on some hard-to-swallow cultural viewpoints, reiterated by su madre y su abuela.
In poetry, the author of the poem is not always the speaker of the poem, but because of the caption in @2shotsofmely’s post (“Heard it so much I wrote poems about it”), it is clear that these poems—displayed on the walls of Elevated Thought, a Lawrence-based art and social justice organization—are written from her perspective.
In one poem, “Negra Yo, Pero El No!,” @2shotsofmely acknowledges the hypocrisy (and the shadowy nature of racism and colorism) that defines how her mother reacts to a hypothetical boyfriend: based on the title, we know that @2shotsofmely’s mother is black, yet she proclaims that if @2shotsofmely ever dated a moreno, he must have a thin nose—la nariz fina—green eyes like @2shotsofmely’s grandfather, and “good hair.” In other words, he must not have black features. Why? “Because hay que refinar la raza.”
In the other poem, “LGBTQue?,” @2shotsofmely explores the cultural stigma attached to LGBTQ identities, affirming that her grandmother would “prefer [we] open [our] legs for all the men in the barrio before we walk around with a sister in our arms.”
The original tweet has garnered over 2.3k likes and 900 retweets—people can’t stop gassing @2shotsofmely’s badass display of honesty, the simultaneous pride in and critique of her roots. Several people expressed solidarity, citing events from their own lives that mirrored @2shotsofmely’s poetry.
This Twitter user really related to @2shotsofmely’s experience on the receiving end of her mother’s words.
This Latina responded in Spanish, explaining that her own grandmother married a white man para “mejorar la raza,” but affirmed that it wasn’t her fault—this point of view, according to @ditasea88, is a remnant of colonization.
This Twitter user applauded “LGBTQue?” for its resonance and truth.
Her poems even moved some folks to tears.
Although each of these tweets suggests a common experience which is largely negative, the response to @2shotsofmely’s poetry was rich with compassion—not only for those other Twitter users who share that experience, but for the madres y abuelas whose lives were very different than ours, and who had to make different decisions as a result. History is complex and difficult to synthesize without a broad contextual understanding, and @2shotsofmely’s work draws attention to how cultural patterns from the past can leave a dark impact on the present. However, alongside the criticism and pain at the core of these poems, there is something else: a sense of defiance and hope.
Now, in the midst of the political chaos within our country, it is especially important to celebrate the victories of individuals and groups creating supportive platforms for folks—particularly people of color—to express themselves. It is always exciting to see expressions of Latinidad—from art to poetry to a bomb Insta selfie—spark conversation and communion, even if people are relating about moments that have left them hurt or bruised. In a way, this type of conversation creates a sense of camaraderie, amistad—a feeling of familia.
And although a lot of Latina familias struggle with antiquated viewpoints (like those presented in @2shotsofmely’s poems), times are changing, and cultural expectations are becoming more inclusive to Latinx people with a range of diverse identities. Often, the more difficult aspects of our upbringing lead us to create meaningful work and connect with others who can relate to us—@2shotsofmely’s poetry is a great example of how intergenerational trauma can produce beauty, connection, and personal growth when you honor yourself and your dreams. @2shotsofmely, you go, girl!
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