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Latino Political Power Starts at the Dinner Table

4 Aug

Some kids I knew watched sitcoms or MTV after dinner.

Not me.

My brother and I knew that once 6pm hit, no matter what we would be watching, we’d have to tune into the news. I could not quite understand why my father would make us watch or read about politics, especially before I reached my teenage years. If it was up to me, I would have been watching The Wayans Bros.

Part of the reason my parents put on the news had to do with their educational experience back in Ecuador. Like primary and secondary school students in many other Latin-American countries, they were required to take a civics class, meant to teach them about the workings of government and the role they could play toward progress and social betterment.

The message of those classes stuck with my parents, even if the Ecuadorian government didn’t always live up to classroom standards. My father felt that if we understood the political landscape, we would feel a sense of responsibility to do our part in making sure our country moves forward in a socially responsible manner.

However, current events aren’t the only things that shape my opinions and concerns. I also cared deeply about family and community. With politicians promoting anti-immigrant policies and xenophobia – opposed to actual reform – I feel an obligation to consider the greater Latino community, not just my own interests.

Like many children of Latino immigrants born in this country, I witnessed the social and economic struggles my parents went through on a daily basis. I was exposed to this reality at a young age, giving me a sense of familial responsibility, a cultural trait that I’ve seen many times over in other Latino and immigrant families, regardless of country of origin or economic status. Whether I was interpreting, filling out forms, or attending doctor’s appointments, I became aware of how government and its institutions work – or don’t work – to serve immigrant communities.

In this respect, our sense of advocacy transcends politics. To borrow a phrase from gender activists, I would say that within our Latino culture, the personal is political. Issues of immigration, healthcare, labor, and education aren’t just up for debate – they’re issues that affect our families directly.

We cannot solely blame government for ignoring Latinos. We should also hold ourselves accountable. While we are the largest ethnic minority in the United States and our voting population is 9.7 million, only 50 percent of eligible Latino voters actually vote! We live in a democratic country where we have a chance to make our voice heard at the polls, but the Latino voting population has not done its part. So how can we expect government to address our concerns when we don’t turn out for elections?

Once I turned 18, instead of voting before work, my father would wait for me in the evening and we would take a trip to the election polls as a family. Even now that I am married and living on Long Island, when election time comes around he will not forget to ask, “Ya votastes mija?” or “You already voted?”

I realize that it’s easier for me to remember to vote because I grew up with a civic-minded father. But as I think about the Latino voting population in the US, which continues to increase by about 500,000 every year, I hope that parents across the country are nagging their kids on election day, changing the channel to the news at 6pm, and teaching our next generation about the power of their vote.

(This post was first featured in Long Island Wins http://longislandwins.com/index.php/features/detail/latino_political_power_starts_at_the_dinner_table/)

Domestic Worker Protections Should Extend Beyond New York

13 Jul

This past week, the Labor and Industrial Relations Committee in the California State Senate voted in favor of a domestic workers bill of rights that would provide basic labor protections for those workers in California.

Now the legislation will move to the Fiscal Committee; if approved, the entire State Senate will then vote on it.

As California’s domestic workers struggle to attain basic labor rights, I recall my master’s fieldwork spent studying the work of the New York City-basedDomestic Workers United in February 2010.

The organization traveled to Albany once or twice a month to lobby for theDomestic Workers Bill of Rights in New York State. During one trip I was given the opportunity to serve as an interpreter for a group of women.

As I walked down the halls of the capital building with the group, I clearly recall one woman who was not able to catch up. I remember asking myself, “Why does she walk so slow? Is she scared? Does she not want to be here?”

I found the answer later that day as I interpreted her story about abuses she suffered as a domestic worker.

She was forced to clean on her knees for hours, and now she could barely walk due to the excruciating pain she felt both in her knees and her feet. She endured verbal abuse while braving seven-day workweeks, with each day’s work lasting more than eight hours. Not only was she underpaid at her job, she was eventually fired with no warning.

Her basic rights were being violated yet there was no legislation protecting her and the approximately 200,000 other domestic workers in New York. My voice shook in an attempt to hold back tears as I had to translate her story for our meeting with a group of state senators.

That’s when I realized the importance of the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, which was eventually signed into law in August 2010 by Governor Paterson.

The domestic work industry has become a robust foundation in today’s economy. As women have taken on an active role in what were once exclusively male workplaces, families have increasingly sought the services of domestic workers. And in the wake of the economic crisis, this industry has become highly susceptible to exploitation.

That’s why the bill of rights was so important. It grants basic rights to a historically excluded group of workers: The right to overtime pay, the right to at least one day of rest each week, the right to protection against any form of harassment under New York State law.

In the fight over domestic worker rights, we can see issues of ethnicity, gender, and immigration intertwine.

Many domestic workers – nannies, housekeepers, and caregivers for the elderly – are women of color. Many of them are immigrants. However, these women are often not viewed as regular workers. Due to the nature of the work, these jobs are perceived more as the duty of the woman, a holdover from a time when women were bound to the privacy of their homes.

Domestic work has been historically linked to particular socio-economic groups, such as indentured servants, slaves, or immigrants. In our current era of globalization, the work has often become a form of modern-day slavery, using immigrants, particularly Caribbean and Latina women, to provide the labor.

Considering this long history of mistreatment, I knew there would be opposition to the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights in New York. Prominent Republican leaders in the State Senate wouldn’t support the bill, including Long Island’s Owen Johnson (R-West Babylon) and John Flanagan (R-East Northport), saying they were reluctant to pass a piece of legislation protecting undocumented immigrants.

In their opposition, they failed to recognize the economic and social need for domestic workers on Long Island. They also ignored the motivations of the workers, many of whom are forced to migrate to the US because of free trade, privatization, and the extraction of agricultural and industrial labor in their countries of origin. Instead, these workers are label “illegal,” marginalized in our society, and thus susceptible to abuse and exploitation.

Who can forget Muttontown’s Mahender and Varsha Sabhani, a millionaire couple who enslaved two immigrant domestic workers for five years? The couple forced the victims to work long hours, starved them, and beat and tortured them.

Thanks to the passage of the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, horrific cases like that can now be brought to the courts or reported to our labor department. Regardless of immigration status, workers can report abusive employers who violate their rights.

New York has already taken a vital step toward recognizing domestic workers and the importance of their contributions within our labor market, regardless of race, gender or immigration status. Now let’s stand by California, and aspire to see such a bill passed in every state.

(This post was first featured in Long Island Wins http://www.longislandwins.com/index.php/features/detail/domestic_worker_protections_should_extend_beyond_new_york/)

The Gay Issue

16 Jun

Well, should it even be an issue? I ask myself this question every time the topic comes up. My parents always told my brother and I, “You are no less and no more than anyone in this world; so never think you are more important or less important than anyone regardless of class, race or gender — you are equal” (in addition to more revolutionary words, in which I will cherish and keep to myself ) and we continue living with this philisophy. However, coming from a very Catholic and Latino home, homosexuality was perceived as an unnatural way of life in which should be lived in silence — living in an open partnership was unconventional, let alone marriage or children! Apparently, I was not alone in this upbringing…

I went to a High School predominantly consisting of Latinos and African-Americans. So one can imagine homophobia brewing within an environment filled with thousands of adolescents trying to “fit-in” all with a similar perception of what homosexuality is. Being labeled, “gay”, “lesbo”, “faggot” was feared by many hetero’s and even closetted individuals. It was after graduation where many explored sexuality and felt secure enough to embrace their orientation. Once again, education is key and it helped me understand many things beyond excerpts from a bible and the universality of love and attraction.

In a society where everything is deemed black and white, the attempt to view the gray area of everything takes a little more work and a little more work is a concept many people choose not to bother with. Within the realm of politics in our society many will label themselves democrats or republicans, conservatives or liberals. In the realm of color, for years there was either black or white and now that brown comes in the mix and more work is required to understand the diversity within a gray area of race — some choose to stereotype, persecute and promote xenophobic policies. The same goes for the topic of gender where only the role of man and woman co-exists with each other along with sexual orientation.

The formula to this narrow-minded concept is: A baby is a either a boy or girl and this boy or girl become a man + woman  who will eventually at some point come together to make children and form a family.

However, gender and sexuality holds a gray area as well. Western culture recognizes only two sexes, however as many do not know there are three major subgroups of sexes in which humanity can fall under; a mixture of sexes or intersexes. These are hermaphrodites (herms), female pseudohermaphrodites (ferms) and male pseudohermaphrodites (merms). But even this information is limited as sex can be vast but it is unexplored as it can become complex for society…so thanks to science, it has simplified it down to boy or girl.

Once science determines the sex of the baby (boy/girl), the door to gender roles open. Blue/Pink, Dresses/Navy Outfits, Barbies/G.I. Joes all choices based on the sex of the baby. And these are never-ending choices in which a child must choose according to their sex; where if they don’t, it can be deemed a cause for concern. And as the choice for a life partner arises so does a typical and “natural” expectation occur, it must be the opposite sex. But sometimes it isn’t and thus society chooses to stigmatize and punish ignoring the gray area of it all. Society as progressive as it can claim to be, digresses back to religion and the question of morality/normality & the preservation of it all.

Today we live in a society that swears by the word progress and a culture in which state and church are said to be separate. Our society denounces any other nation-state in which church and government are intertwined, labeled “archaic/developing”; countries in need of OUR help to progress. But this is the pot calling the kettle black as church and state have not completely eliminated their ties with one another. Clear example: Gay Marriage.  Considered sodomy and illegal in some states, homosexuality is looked down upon as a monstrous way of life to some. And now New York State is put to the test, should it legalize gay marriage?

In one of the most diverse states in the country, New York represents what the world is today… a melting pot. A melting pot of decisions, ways of life — cultures. The Assembly has passed the proposed bill and now on to the Senate. Consisting of a Republican majority, the bill is one vote shy away from it being passed and all it needs is a Republican vote. However, the Republican party has announced that any Republican Senator supporting this bill will lose support by the party itself if they vote to pass the bill. This following religious representatives such as the Catholic Archbishop denouncing homosexuality and the Republican party reinforcing their mission on, “preserving family values” — this coming from a party that freaks out when the government so much hints at involving itself with any economic issue (ie: Corporate America).

Gay marriage should not be an issue as it is more of a private and individual choice. Just like a Latina can be with a person of another race (well at least after the anti-miscegenation laws were eliminated in 1967 in the U.S.) no one should have the ability to deny a person to be with another simply because it is not deemed “normal” by our society. Who we choose as partners does not depend on our government nor can government deny individuals rights others already and automatically enjoy simply because they are different. By passing this law (in which if Senate passes it, Governor Cuomo has announced he’d sign it), New York will establish a sense of equality and example for other states in which should treat and permit the LGBTQ community to live their lives as everyone else. And not be set aside as a specific group simply because they choose to live their life differently to what society deems acceptable. Instead they choose to live in a gray area, in which many people need to learn about and respect.

Un Blanquito+Una Latina in a modern day world??

2 Jun

Interracial relationships and marriages are a topic that people choose not to talk about, instead many just choose to quietly judge or gawk at it. As long as it does not hit close to home, it will be a subject untouched  for most. Based on a Gallup research, 83% of Americans approve interracial relationships/marriages however only about 8% of marriages are interracial. If most people seem to “approve” of it then why such a scarce number? If racism is allegedly diminishing from our melting pot society why such an obvious hesitation to approach a racially blind relationship?…My answer to this, interracial relationships continue being a taboo within our society.

Before 1967, interracial marriages and relationships were a cultural abomination within the United States. Interracial marriages and relationships were considered illegal by law. These laws were initially introduced within the thirteen colonies and continually enforced in states such as Virginia (the Racial Integrity Act of 1924) and Alabama — all until 1967’s Loving v. Virginia case. A white man and an African & Native American woman were married in DC in 1958; they were Virginia natives and were both caught sleeping in bed by officers who were defending the Integrity Act . They were thus sentenced to prison for one year that in turn was suspended as long as they left the state. After the ACLU filed a motion on their behalf, the Supreme Court ruled against any law throughout the nation which enforced anti-miscegenation.

Today, many fear to be labeled racist and choose to quietly disapprove of such a relationship while expressing progressive views publicly. However, there are groups in which attempt to digress back towards the anti-miscegenation laws. Such is the case in Mississippi — A poll conducted by the Public Policy Polling announced that 49% of Mississippi residents desire to have interracial marriages/relationships banned. In Lousiana a Justice of the Peace, Keith Bardwell, refused to marry any interracial couple. The resistance to interracial marriages/relationships does not only come from one group. People of other backgrounds also perceive interracial marriages/relationships unseen for many reasons that may be similar to that of white groups. They might perceive it as a form of betrayal or selling out.

I am married to what many Latinos would call a, Blanquito/Gringo/Zuco/Colorado, in plain English – a white boy. However, when I met him, he was just another human being who soon became my partner. I am a Latina, very ethnic looking at that so walking down the streets of New York City we did get some looks of curiousity, some of disapproval from both sides. Walking down the streets of Babylon Village, there were the same looks however in a predominantly white community dissaproval was a bit more obvious and well, pissed me off. One day we were both curious with what each side was thinking. I tried so hard not to pre-judge many of the white people’s stares and he felt the same way about Latinos. As we exchanged our thoughts and what our cultures were quietly thinking we both came to the conclusion that some things have yet to change…

I told him some Latinas or Latinos look for white partners to move up socially and even economically within society, this is not a generalization just cases I have seen and heard personally. Therefore others within our community consider that a form of selling out which of course I would agree because searching for someone based upon race is racist in its own matter. Others would feel its a form of betrayal to our community; a lack of solidarity and embarrassment of where one comes from, their identity. I have also had friends who have asked me, “What? No good Latin men?” and my answer would be “I’m sure there are, but I don’t require a Racial ID”. From his side, he made me aware that ignorance continues to exist filled with stereotypes and some that coincide with some of my community’s misperceptions. He made me aware that while many looks might be curious looks, others were of disapproval. Individuals might think its a step down from the social ladder. A white man rescuing a latina from the ghetto. Therefore she must be somewhat un-educated, have an accent and maybe even not documented.

As we both confirmed the world has not caught up to present day, we both knew it would be a little harder since we both had to educate others down this path and continue doing so. I speak Spanish fluently and as many of you know my identity has a solid foundation. I don’t have an accent, I love the skin I’m in and am very proud, I hold a Master’s Degree and can hold a conversation with anyone. As for my husband, no he did not save me from any ghetto (I did not need any saving from anything; I love where I came from). He eats latin dishes, dances, speaks a little Spanish — ultimately respecting my identity as I respect his.

Interracial marriages/relationships are quite the taboo however, its a taboo because there is a small amount as it requires a little more work due to the societal pressures that exist. But what’s taboo is not necessarily wrong….

 

A Fairytale Wedding…

29 Apr

Many of us cherish our sleep so much that we are willing to press on that “Snooze” buttom five hundred times until the last minute when we literally have to RUN out of our houses/apts. to start our days. We may skip breakfast or a good morning work-out to start off our day because we are soooo busy and time is key. However, many of the people falling within this category  have been up since 4am this morning!  Why?! Well if you can’t answer this question then you simply haven’t been watching the news! Its the Royal Wedding!

William & Kate Middleton have just wed and its all many people talk about! From hosting Wedding parties in the city to buying memorabilia, this wedding has become another event thanks to our strong pop culture within our society.  However, this is another event that in my opinion represents our social and political hypocrisy…much which many choose to ignore.

Social hypocrisy — mostly because its a wedding between two strangers which most of us have absolutely no personal connection. A wedding between what some media sources have called a wedding between a “commoner” and a Prince. A wedding representing what many women dream of! However, its only a binding social contract in which from the first day of their courtship consisted of obligations and responsibilities mostly on her part. A contract which dictates how she will smile, how she’ll be referred to, what she will wear, what she can or cannot do PERIOD! Less we not forget another Royal Wedding in which many women dreamed to be in that other woman’s place, William’s mother, the late Diana. A fairytale wedding in which many women dreamed of (and continue dreaming of as we’ve witnessed in bridal shows and the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent just for a few hours by future marital couples). But many will not mention the fairytale turned nightmare of the years following Diana. A nightmare in which is part of a reality in which many choose to ignore; consisting of adultery, bulimia, attempted suicide, depression along with all the other obligations she was forced to conform to once married. That is why I find it funny many so-called feminists or women who like to use the word “Independent” countless times would actually sit in front of a television at 4am, travel to Buckingham palace, or  purchase memorabilia…simply being part of this hype, salivating over an event such as this.

Political Hypocrisy — The definition of a monarchy: “is a form of government in which all political power is passed down to an individual (usually hereditary) known as a monarch (“single ruler”). In a time where even democratically voted in leaders are labeled dictators, monarchies are sole examples of dictatorships. They were initially forms of governments which claimed they had a divine right to rule over people and most ruled over many…RUTHLESSLY! Both British and Spanish monarchies will and are going down in history as ruthless forms of governments which colonized (and in Britain’s situation continues to colonize) many countries. The American Revolution, the Bolivarian Revolution are two grande examples of the result of colonization. As many of us have learned in our elementary, middle, secondary and higher education classes monarchies go down in history as bearers of plagues, genocide, diseases and rape among social diseases as well. So my question is why do they continue to exist? While the British monarchy is not an official form of government, it continues to be influential in its current one as well as its society. And while we attack other countries for holding what many believe are dictatorships or symbols of such, the symbol of who colonized the United States is admired?

So as many watch and continue to follow this event, not only will I refuse to refer to any of those figures as Prince/Princess/Queen; nor will I dress up to go out to a wedding party/reception (I boycotted the idea even on MY wedding day). Instead I will be productive with myself and relax for tomorrow’s Drag Race Event in Maryland 😀

 

What is a Wedding?

20 Aug

According to the Forest Institute of Professional Psychology, the divorce rate is up at 41% in the United States for first marriages, 60% for second and 74% for third marriages.  Thanks to pop-culture, weddings have their own channels and shows such as Bridezilla, Girl Meets Gown, My Fair Wedding…amongst many others.  Many women wait for “The One” to go down in one knee and ask those magic words…”Will You Marry Me?”  As one tears, cries, screams, jumps or expresses any form of positive emotion of happiness, “YES!!” is more than likely the answer or any other synonym with the same definition.  At that moment family and friends are notified and thus begins a joyous event, Planning for the BIG DAY!! And as months pass by—usually six months to a year– everything becomes “ALL ABOUT THE BRIDE”.  This pattern tirelessly resonates through various sources of media enforcing a Twilight Zone Version of what I would like to call “Zombie Queens”.

Simone De Beauvoir’s Second Sex, explores in a perplexive manner how women have always managed to remain as the Other, individuals inferior to men in all aspects.  And at one point explores women and their significance to their role of inferiority in society.  The refusal to denounce and reject certain aspects they deem as comfort while rejecting others does not entirely eliminate the superior-inferior relationship men and women have in society.  This is clearly evident in American culture.  As boyfriend and girlfriend, women claim independence, yet many expect men to pay for dinner or take them out.  When one is engaged, their female peers anxiously await the sight of the ring, so it could be valued. (Didn’t know Love had value?).  The story of how he proposed is another method of measuring the love and respect a man has for the woman that is to be his wife.  And finally, a wedding is defined by the amount of guests, invitations, dress, cake, and whatever else will lead to debt and headaches….all to make a woman feel like a Queen??  I don’t think so….

As a Latina, weddings are the Happily Ever After in all novelas.  Family and friends together in a church…the bride all in white, saying “Si, Te Amo” to the man of her dreams after so much drama and struggle for the last six months airing in Telemundo or Univision.  The concept is similar all over the world, but how it is done or percieved is very different…trust me, I’ve lived in two worlds my whole life.  Now, as my turn approaches, the wedding spotlight has turned to my partner and I.  And how WE have chosen to do it, results in criticism as we do not abide by the conventional notions of what a wedding or two people getting married looks like.

My rejection of “All About the Bride”, “Queen for A Day” or my reluctance to constantly babble about my wedding to whomever I talk to has led individuals to believe or question the emotion, called love and my individuality as a woman…or atleast what is perceived as independence within our society.  Most of all my behavior apparently resonates how a man typically perceives a wedding to be….just another thing in life.  Yet my rejection for conventional notions of a wedding is my rejection to being, Simone De Beauvoir’s, the Other.

As a little girl, I did not grow up thinking I was a Princess nor did I dream of my wedding day to be my day.  A wedding is a union of two people in love, who both decide to come together to share their life as equals.  It is a part of life, nothing more.  The anticipation of a wedding has become more crucial than the question whether two people can remain together and respect each other as equals.   The question of what is to come after the BIG DAY?, has been lost in translation somewhere in the question of when and how the wedding will be?  Many women absorb themselves in the hype.  All the same questions are asked by many brides…the napkins, the hall, the church, the dress, the make-up, the gifts…and so on. In result, as people who have gone to more than one wedding can attest to they all end up the same, just different styles, locations, colors and dates.  And when the BIG DAY turns into yesterday,and there are bills to pay, the inability to pay rent or a mortgage or another type of loan, or your partner gets “boring” — more than likely that QUEEN, turns into another statistic.

The unity between two beings–regardless of sex or gender, should be the union of equals.  Notions of respect and equality should resonate.  And that is what should be present as two people approach just another event in their lives.  The how a wedding was celebrated question and expectation resonated by many women only objectifies us and sustains our status of inferiority in society.  The question of how a wife or partner should be treated in a marriage should be of importance instead…not an over-commercialized, overrated notion of what a wedding should be.