Microaggressions. What are they? They're that raw, gnawing feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when someone laughs at your having to take Spanish classes despite being latinx. Or when you someone touches your hair to see if it's real. Or when someone slaps your butt to see if its real. Or when they slap your butt and say 'Arriba' to acknowledge your heritage but also indicate that they're 'cool with it.' Or when they say "wow I didn't think you were latina? You're so quiet!" as a compliment. Or when your latino family jokes that you 'sound white'. All of these are microaggression instigators.
Textbook definition: "Microaggressions are the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership " (UCLA)
Do the people that spur the microaggression mean to cause them? Usually they don't. Usually these kinds of vaguely racist thoughts are normal, if not acceptable to them. The popular game Cards Against Humanity is a perfect example of potential microaggression triggers. But it's funny right? Because it's a game? I'm not so sure anymore.
So why am I talking about this now? For the past week, I've been experiencing more of these events than I have in a while. That's not to say that I don't have a microaggression a day, but recently they've felt more hurtful and angering. I realize that diving head-on into my identity exploration has caused me to be more aware of who I am and how I fit in my world. I also realize that this exploration and awareness might make me more susceptible to these events. Is it fair? I'm not sure.
Two events have been coming up in one way or another the past month or so. I won't mention names explicitly but call them Person A and Person B.
Event 1: In a conversation with Person B, they told me they left a class because their professor was showing a clip of Kara Walker explaining her work. Person B stated that they did not like her work. I asked why. They said it's complicated. Person A overheard and said they "fucking hate Kara Walker" because she is a "pretentious bitch" who needs to recognize her privilege and has no right talking about race. I was taken aback and thought surely they're joking? Nope. I stated that I could maybe be more convinced if there was more explanation for their views sans the anger, but I didn't' think that privilege excluded someone of a particular race from engaging in conversation about their race. The conversation went nowhere. Lots of mansplaining later, Person A and Person B agreed that they would like to see Kara Walker "beat up" by the black female facilities woman that they both love and view as the epitome of the black struggle. I honestly felt so grossed out by the entire conversation that I couldn't bring myself to argue more.
Even 2: Event 1 was discussed one-on-one with Person A to which there were minor 'wins' on my side and some sarcastic apologies on their's. Event 2 happened after a student asked what shows I was into lately. I told them that I actually have been watching Jane the Virgin. They laughed and I said "Hear me out! It sounds silly at first, but it's all based on Telenovelas and is actually more humorous than serious. It's also kind of exciting because it has a pretty strong Latino cast and isn't extremely stereotyped. It isn't perfect, but it sure as hell is better than the 'work' Modern Family is doing for my culture." We had a nice intelligent conversation about it and they said they would watch it. Person A walked in and joked about how stupid he thought the show was. I repeated my argument and told him to give it a try. A week later he came back and said he watched one episode and had some opinions. His opinions were as follows: She's too 'white.' The basis being that she, Jane, would never take her child to Yoga as a latina. She talks 'white.' Because her latin accent isn't strong enough. There were no moments where he felt anyone screamed "Latinoness." I laughed and joked back saying well you basically summed up my whole life. He compared it to the Cosby show and the white-washing of black culture. I told him I could see his point, and attempted to look past the unnecessary stereotyping but he proceeded to say that he felt like the show was written by a Jewish person and that it just didn't quite hit any Latin notes for him. He said "I don't buy it. Are you telling me that latinos will see this and relate to this 'white girl' taking her baby to 'yoga.'" I told him I agree that it could sometimes be a bit white washed, but it's unfair to assume that yoga, an eastern tradition, is a 'white' thing to do. I emphasized that I didn't think it was perfect, but that I appreciated that there was show about a Latino family that wasn't solely about immigration (though it does come up), isn't using latin females as sex objects, and, doesn't make jokes of accents. He laughed my points off and the conversation continued to disintegrate. He insinuated that I was being too sensitive, that I should 'try being black,' and that everyone is bound to be stereotyped at some point. Lot's of this conversation was veiled in attempts at humor and rather vapid apologies. If the person that said these things ever reads this: I'm sure you think that I'm overreacting. I'm sure you think what you said wasn't meant to be read the way I read it and you weren't being "racist," but I honestly don't care.
Microaggressions exist because the person feeling the rage, anger, and contempt at whatever supposedly innocuous statement another person has made feels stuck. We can't sound too angry for fear that we might make the other person, who probably didn't mean to be offensive, feel bad. Then we're left with the responsibility of educating and consoling. But who consoles us? We're hurt more by statements and judgements passed off as "it meant nothing." Why? Because they think it means nothing. It erases our experience and invalidates our anger.
So think before you speak and don't pass things off as being "too politically correct." Because that's NOT a thing and don't get me started on how infuriating that little statement alone has been lately.
To sort of remedy all of this I've decided to keep a micro-book of my microaggressions. As a way of documenting and self-healing. I'll post more about it as it fills up.
Felicidades! It's been a while!
I just picked up Piri Thomas' Savior, Savior Hold my Hand and Julia Alvarez's collection of essays Something to Declare. My god they are fantastic writers. There's something really raw about both of them though their writing style couldn't be more different. I've also been attending several artists talks. The Lancaster Library recently received funding for PBS's Latino Americans series. There's a series of talks and screenings happening until next Spring and I'm so excited to attend as many as I can. Patricia Johanson came to Millersville for the Conrad Nelson lecture series. Her work is unrelated to my more identity based work, but she's very smart and works between education and fine art. I feel like much of what I'm doing is the same. It reminded me of how excited I was about the cross-section between education and art when I saw Latoya Ruby Frazier at the SPE conference. Both women are well-versed in their area of expertise and take time to really educate their audience beyond the work they produce. It was reassuring to know that I, too, can delve further into the references I'm interested in and take the opportunity to educate my audience as well. I always worry that I'm too much in my own head with the things I want to address.
Moving on, I decided I want to make 12 busts. 12 because I like making 12 of things. Because there are 12 months in a year, the 12 disciples, 12 people in a jury etc. etc. 12 just feels weighty and important and it's the only even number besides 16 that I've gravitated toward. 12 is also the age I was when I really felt 'different' than my peers. I moved to Lancaster in September 2001 from the Bronx. I had transferred to a 5th grade class in Lancaster City and was faced with a very different culture. In New York I felt like race didn't really matter. We celebrated everyone and there were so many different cultures in the area we lived in. We were also so so young. After 9/11, I think everyone became more race conscious. My uncle is has a more ruddy skin tone than his siblings. He worked at a Starbucks near the World Trade Center and had to volunteer handing out coffee and pastries to those that were cleaning what was left of the towers after the attack. I remember him calling several times angry that people would see his skin, assume he was muslim and spit, literally spit, at him and tell him to go back to his country. This was my first real encounter with race and understanding that I'm white-passing. Moving to Lancaster, I didn't 'sound' like my latina counterparts because I had a "New York accent" and most of the latinxs in my grade were bilingual. It was the first time I felt like my voice, my skin, and being from a different city set me further apart from them. We were also attending a baptist church with a primarily african-american congregation. Conversations about my hair, how I talked, how I dressed, and how "I wasn't one of the loud ones" were a daily occurrence. I can't say that I've experienced racism in all of it's ugly forms, but boy do I know micro-aggressions. So, for me, 12 feels like the age I lost a sort of naive sense of who I was and gained a more complex understanding of my culture.
Here is how many pieces I have so far!
I'm in love with Philadelphia. My love affair began in the Summer of 2013. I interned in the American Art Wing of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I met some wonderful people and each day felt the magic of the City of Brotherly Love pull at my heart. So here I am now at the end of my orientation at Drexel University already pining for an excuse to make the grueling yet beautiful drive from Lancaster to my city.
A note to 11 year old me: Moving to Pennsylvania isn't going to be the end. You won't love New York the same way but you will still love it and that's okay. This does not make you any less Boricua, Nuyorican or tough. Your memories are valid and so is your mourning. You will be okay mija. And you will fall in love with a new city.
I digress. Today is the very last day of Arts Administration orientation for graduate students. I'm a graduate student! I'm looking at completing my degree in Spring of 2017. The whole program is wonderful so far. I had some hesitations at first. I kept thinking of this as a lateral move away from my Arts degree but now I'm seeing it as a logical next step. Especially if I want to pursue a career in the arts. In the end, the MFA won't disappear if I just wait a little to decide if I'm going to pursue it at all.
Today we have presentations for mock arts organizations we had to create in small groups. The goal is that we fully understand how to organize a successful organization that's grounded in the arts. Arts being fine art, visual art, performance, theater, voice, instrumental etc. It's been a great orientation so far and I'm excited to start coursework. Because we're online, it will be an adjustment to move from meeting with my group in person to communicating solely through digital media.
I haven't been to the studio all week due to the orientation. I did manage to squeeze in some time to make my newspaper-mache bust! I have to halves successfully pulled to form the back of the bust. It's sturdy and has some great color to it. It handles and holds the stitches well. I'm crazy excited to start making the final piece.
Next week I'll get back to reading and writing more about the residency. Classes officially begin the 21 (eeeeeeek!!!) so we'll see what happens!
OH! I also managed to squeeze in attending a reception unrelated to the orientation. I met up with a friend whom I used to work with at F&M at the ICA to see the opening of three exhibitions. She knows one of the artists whose paintings are very graphic and beautifully detailed. Their was a photography exhibition (wasn't that great) and a retrospective like mixed media exhibition that I really enjoyed. Can't expound too much now but maybe I'll discuss more in a future post.
I'm writing this right now though I should be completing homework for my foray into Art's Administration (eek!). This week has been yet another whirlwind. I'm starting to rethink my current schedule and cut myself a little slack. I tend to spread myself thin...too thin. I've notoriously taken two or three more classes than advised, written two or three more pages than required and pushed myself into two or three times more stress related mini-breakdowns in the process. Unfortunately I thrive on the madness. I specialize in anxiety driven productivity. This, also unfortunately, leads to moments where I step back angry and stressed and full of panic realizing that I alone have made this environment. So here I go again! And I say all of this not to barrage myself with negativity but to make myself and others aware that this is how I work. I've gotten a little better at recognizing the ingredients that lead to this hot mess. Today, as I logged into my courses I realized that I'm staring at yet another potential hot mess. This week I tried the following schedule: Monday-Millersville/Studio 9am-3pm, F&M (work) 4pm-10pm (we have a night class), Tuesday-F&M 9am-3pm, Millersville/Studio 4pm-10pm, Wednesday-Millersville/Studio 9am-3pm, F&M (work) 4pm-10pm, Thursday F&M 9am-3pm, Millersville/Studio 4pm-10pm Friday-Open Day. It's...sort of working. I'm realizing gas costs money and the more frequently I travel between work and the studio the more gas I'll be using up (a-doy) and I'm just not getting enough time in the studio. Also working so late by myself isn't exactly safe. Where at F&M we have more pre-cautions and I know basically everyone who belongs in the building, Millersville is much more relaxed and has far more flexibility with security than I'm used to. It works for them I suppose but it's discomforting for me. Maybe I'll get used to it and maybe I'm paranoid, but I'd rather be safe than sorry.
This week I'll be away from both work and the studio from Wednesday until Saturday evening. I'll be in Philadelphia for the Arts Administration and Graduate Admissions orientation. I'm really looking forward to it. My program will be online and I'll be taking classes part time. I'm already signed up for an Intro to Arts Administration course and a Writing for the Arts course. Here's a snapshot of me getting familiar with my Master's coursework:
I welded yesterday! I used a MIG and didn't blow up the building. I also have a new idea in the works. Something I've been dyyyyyiiiing to do is use a bata for a dipped plaster project. Clarity: A bata is basically a miu-miu. ALL of my older aunts and cousins wear them and it's kind of a running joke in Latinx culture that wearing a bata is a sign that you're of a certain age. It's an inevitability. Here is the bata all plastered up and ready to get an armature. I should have taken a before shot. It was a purple little number with flowers on the neck.
This blog functions as a space for me to articulate what goes into making my artwork.