Sunday, September 11, 2011

Dominican hair salons, hair products, women and their hair are notorious as homes of the "dubi", and an entire range of deep-relaxing products. I have had my fair share of traumatic Dominican hair salon experiences over the years. I grew up going to the hair salons with my aunt. We went there for everything from hair washing to deep conditioning to hair straightening to - yes - haircuts. I used to have burn marks on my ears from the hair dryers (the ones that go over your head), and I was one of the lucky ones. However, I stopped going to Dominican hair salons (in New York and the D.R.) after I cut my dred locs off. I think I just got tired of the trauma of it all. That last time, I had to spend 20 minutes convincing the stylist that my hair is indeed CURLY so that she could cut my hair accordingly. She didn't understand why I had dred locs in the first place.

I know I'm not alone. Plenty of sistahs in the D.R. go through the same thing and worse. Ginetta Candelario has done whole studies on Dominican hair salons and cultural expectations/transformations in the U.S., so I won't go into it here. And I wrote an essay that was published in Blackberries and Redbones (ed. Spellers and Moffit) a couple of years back that talks about how women's "presentability" (yes - with all the class, race, gender and age appropriate assumptions that you think would go into that kind of categorization) and economic sustainability in the Dominican context. So...imagine my JOY to see this video report - posted on Yaneris Gonzalez Gomez's page (thank you), which covers two resources for women who want to keep their hair natural: One to One Hair Salon (Santo Domingo, DR) and Go Natural Caribe (webpage).

Kiini Ibura Salaam, who did a student exchange program in the D.R. and wrote a very significant article on her experience, points out one of the main challenges for women of African descent who go to visit the Dominican Republic from the U.S....I'm not saying that her concerns are addressed, now, eight years later, but I do think that Dominican women, on their own terms, are defining new parameters for their struggle. Check it. (Sorry if you don't speak Spanish...I will try and put translation here soon...or maybe, you can learn Spanish.)

Monday, September 05, 2011

Mark Bradford changed my life. I was in Chicago, on the train out to Oregon, this past summer. There just happened to be an exhibit of his work up at the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art. I was only in Chicago for a night, part of a day, and so I had to go and see it if it was the only thing I was going to do while there. The show comes down on September 18, and I only wish I had told more people about it sooner. What moved me about his work were the varying textures. You could feel sorrow, anger, irony, challenge embedded in the texture of the papers layered with paint and other materials. I could have known about him sooner, as he is one of the artists featured in the series "Art 21", but I'm just glad I know about him at all.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

This is the summer of new. Learning new forms of laughter. New ways of doing things.

After six weeks in the Dominican Republic learning more and more and more about social movements and the bad ass people who've made them possible, I came back to the U.S. and took a train cross country. It started in New York. The train wound through New York state over to Chicago.

While I was in Chicago, I went to see the amazing Mark Bradford exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art. If you haven't seen Mark Bradford in your lifetime, please, please, please - go see his work when he's in town. He is brilliant. I also walked along Lake Michigan and took in the water that is a sea but isn't really.

The train crossed Illinois, Idaho, Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, Nevada and up through the mountains of California until we got to Sacramento. Along the way, I saw so much scenery that when I actually got to the hotel in Sacramento, they have those special "relaxation" videos, and I had to put the one on that was house music because I thought I'd lose my mind in the one with scenery. Being on a train for three days was like Baraka on crack, except it was my life. Still, there was one more leg of the trip: up through the mountains to Eugene, Oregon. Where I've been all summer, learning new.

Here, I've been writing, working as usual on stuff. Lots of stuff, but not so much anymore because I'm learning new ways of walking through time. kt and I have a staged reading of a play we've been working on this year coming up on August 11. I'm excited for it. The play has been really fun to work on - making me laugh as I write (or read what kt's written) - and kt is an awesome director. I head to Austin next week to work on this with her and to visit family, friends, loved ones. I can't wait.

And then, I decided to go ahead and do a performance project for my birthday this year. It's my 36th birthday. So, the performance is 36 daysweeksmonthsyearslifetimes. I learned, as I told a new acquaintance about the 36 day project, that 66 is the number of pornography in 19th century Chinese literature. "Chapter 66," she told me. "It's where the good stuff is." Thanks, M.E. I'll keep that in mind. We could all use a little good stuff.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Upcoming Events
April 7, 2011 (7pm)
A La Vista: Screening and Discussion of Caribbean Queer Shorts 212 York Street, Room 106 Featuring filmmakers and activists: Celiany Rivera-Velazquez, Joselina Fay and Carlos Rodriguez And featuring the films: *Lucha Libre (Republika Libre) *Reina de Mi Misma (Celiany Rivera-Velazquez) *Afuera Hay Aire (compilation) *Palabras y Gestos (La Candela) A La Vista is a one-night showcase of short films by Caribbean LGBT filmmakers from the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. Inspired by the first national Dominican LGBT film festival in Fall 2010, this showcase will connect voices from the Caribbean to the lives of LGBT people in the United States and beyond. Welcomes by Quisqueyalies and PRISM. Commentary and talk back with Andrew Dowe (Phd Student, Af Am/ American Studies) and Ana-Maurine Lara (PhD Student, Af Am/Anthro). This showcase is part of the LGBTS Global Queer Cinema Series, with generous support from the Wallace Sexton Fund for LGBT Studies and the Bruce Cohen Fund. Co-sponsored by Quisqueyalies and PRISM.
April 9, 2011 (2 - 3pm) 5th Annual National Dominican Student Conference Panel: Identidad Sexual y Dominicanidad Discrimination against the LGBTQ community is on the advent of institutionalization with the imminent ratification of the newest constitution banning same-sex marriage. At the interpersonal level, these communities are often discriminated against through the perpetuation of prejudiced views promoted by traditional beliefs of sexuality and vamped machismo in Latin America. Topics covered will not only be restricted to a conversation based within the Dominican Republic, but will also feature the importance of the Dominican activism in the United States. This panel seeks to first and foremost disseminate facts and to additionally promote thoughtful discourse in an effort to disband the stereotypes and taboos often present in such a conversation. Featuring: *Deyanira “Sargenta G” García, first Dominican publicly out rapper and peformer *Ana-Maurine Lara, nationally-acclaimed author and PhD Graduate Student (Yale - Af Am/Anthro) *Francisco Lazala, Founder of the Gay and Lesbian Dominican Empowerment Organization (GALDE) *Alicia Anabel Santos, Self-identified Latina lesbian writer, performance artist, producer, playwright and activist as well as the writer and co-producer of “Afrolatinos: the Untold Story” *Celiany Rivera-Velazquez, feminist educator and videographer, holds a PhD in Feminist Media Studies & Transnational Queer Cultural Production
Monday April 11, 2011 (5.30 - 7pm) Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies Colloquium Yale University, WLH 309 Ana-Maurine Lara (Anthropology and African-American Studies) “The Reconstitution of Black Atlantic Bodies and Memories in Sharon Bridgforth's Delta Dandi” and Tom Koenigs (English) “A fictitious story of one of his own sex”: Gender, Fictionality, and the Public Sphere in America, 1797-1808"
Wednesday April 13 (4.30pm) Rainbow Writers Series Gathering Lounge, Livingston Student Center Rutgers University A presentation and discussion of Erzulie's Skirt with Ana-Maurine Lara and Cheryl Clarke
Friday April 15 (10.30 - 1.30pm) Afro-Caribbean Women's Artistry as part of the 64 Days of Nonviolence Series Southern Connecticut State University Engleman Hall, Rm A120 Reading and discussion featuring: Ana-Maurine Lara, Marianela Medrano-Marra, Tanya Torres and other artists
April 25, 2011 (4.00pm) University of Oregon Reading of Erzulie's Skirt. For more information contact Ana-Maurine via facebook.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

time. text. talk.

the three axes of how i engage with performance.

time. text. talk.

time. text. talk.

the body.

i feel something brewing. something stirring in the bottom of the jar.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Home is both the chattering of teeth in a cold New England city and a dream in languages made of sand.

This week, I have a vague sensation (memory) of having gone somewhere, as though I’ve been languishing on the shores of an island, walking down dusty palm-lined roads, rubbing sticky mango juice off my hands and onto my thighs, looking up at seagulls flying across a sea-blue sky. I feel as though I have just `gone home’. I realize it’s because of having spent a week curling up with and crying over the stories from Our Caribbean: A Gathering of Lesbian and Gay Writing from the Antilles, edited by Thomas Glave. I’ve been traveling through stories taking place on the islands. Despite my best wishes to remain objective (okay, so I didn’t try that hard), I have seen a part of myself. I have been walking through colonial cities, between old colonial walls crumbling onto mosaic tile floors. They are cities made of composites from film, photography, childhood memories. I have been sitting on front porches and crossing cement floor kitchens in conversation with one aunt or another, who may or may not be my own. I have crawled through small spaces between cardboard walls and tin roofs, searching for what – I’m not sure. I have been here before. I have never been here. The detritus of the hurricane in St Croix is strewn across my memory: missing bridges, buildings, towns and piles of garbage washing up on shore. Or was that Hurricane George?

The silence of fear numbs my ears. I have felt it. That silence that Thomas Glave coalesces into the pleading cry: “I hope that this silence doesn’t kill me or make me kill myself, because (some of us thought and continue to think) it doesn’t seem as though I can possibly be myself, my fullest truest self, the self that everyone would love to know and hug and laugh with, greet with open hands and arms, if…” (Thomas Glave, Introduction, 2). If, If, If…It is that fear that comes from knowing that walking down dusty palm-lined roads, eating mangos, crossing under the shadows of seagulls in the sky blue sky, is as much an inscription of our potential as it is a reclaiming of home. It is a knowing that our bodies languishing under the sun, along the edges of the water, that our walks - buller footed, mati draggin’, zouk jumpin’ dancehall grindin’, rara shoutin’, calypso laughin’ - are not so much an anomaly but an unwelcome reminder. Of what? Of what? Of how we “bring our imaginations to bear” (Michelle Cliff, Ecce Homo, 99); of “/spilling out, of your jeans/into the coming freedom.” (Faizal Deen, Young Faggot, 153)

I am a child of diaspora and much more: dislocations, relocations, migration, globalization. Always, at my insistence, I know there is a place for me: “i am a poet.” (Kevin Everod Quashie, Genesis, 304); “I am a feminist.” (Ochy Curiel, Autonomy in Lesbian-Feminist Politics, 142) “If I call myself a black, feminist lesbian, I am acknowledging by that that the roots of my strength, and of my vulnerability, lie in myself as a woman.” (Audre Lorde speaking with Astrid Roemer in Gloria Wekker, Mati-ism and Black Lesbianism: Two idealtypical Expressions of Female Homosexuality in Black Communities of the Diaspora, 368)

Home is a complicated place. Contrary to the nostalgic dreams of warmth, home is not always a place of safety or retreat. And yet, despite knowing all of this, I’m not dissuaded. In my mind, in my imagination, I can conjure up the heat of the island, the scent of salt and bacalao (saltfish) in the air, the blast of bachata from a passing pick up, the sucking of limoncillo (quinep) seeds, and the quick and fiery movement of children. I can also call up the miles of poverty, the scent of rotting flesh on a hot afternoon, the blast of generators and machines tearing up new roads, and the slow, pained movements of women coming out of the free trade factories. Home is a complicated place. As Glave articulates, “The desire for Home or `home’ often abides in the traveler. Our history-perhaps especially the history we find most intolerable to remember, that began for some of us with harsh voyages across the sea, but never ended there – is about nothing if not movement, memory. Dis-placement.” (Thomas Glave, Introduction, 2).

Maybe the harsh voyage lies not only in sexual-social exile, but also in the cruelty of being able to imagine what in reality is so rarely possible. Movement, memory – what is it possible to remember? In what ways, and where can we go? In a short story, Anton Nimblett writes, “I’m outside of this scene looking in. I’m looking at me sitting here, cradled in the rich, jade hills, swigging clear strong fire from the same bottle with this man…This is so close to a scene I have wished for, even conjured over the years; a scene, imagined in lonely moments – with a different end.” (Anton Nimblett, Time and Tide, 266) In this story, the narrator is a man who runs from home to his `home’: In locating himself in his past (represented by his encounter with the man), his present gives way to his potential future (his imagined scene made real enables new imaginings). But it is the uncertainty of a different end (we do not know if his repeated imagined encounter ends in sex or death and most likely we could surmise that it ends in both) that speaks to the cruelty embedded within the imagining of a queer Caribbean. Perhaps, it is the uncertainty of whether or not the land and its people will hold us that keeps us grounded when our lives have been thrown astray. Perhaps it is the taste of beauty that allows us to continue to assert our connections to those lands (and waters) and to those people as our own, despite.

Tonight, a Thunderbird was rumbling its engine outside my cold New England apartment, and my teeth were chattering. I was trying to recall where I had before had that sensation and remember waking in my aunt’s home in the capital city of Santo Domingo, many years ago, the billiard hall across the street roaring up its generator in time for their first customers. The Thunderbird shakes snow from the rooftop and it collapses into a pile on top of another pile of snow. I am instead imagining rain pouring off of roofs in slews for my cousins and me to wash in. If. If. If…Despite living “in a country that doesn’t think I should exist” (Helen Klonaris, Independence Day Letter, 197), I can still remember/imagine/dream smoky generators, falling rain, family, maybe I can imagine a land that holds me, too.

What is this crossing I have made in my imagination? This return to a place not there, not real and yet so familiar? There is language there that is different from language here. It is language that can only be recalled through land, through water, air, sun, dust: a geography in which the everyday becomes part of one’s being, and one becomes part of the surrounding land. Not in a (shorthand: colonial) nineteenth-century-English-Romance-primitive-man-of-the-land kind of way. But in the way in which snow makes my teeth crunch and the language of the everyday becomes smothered in mountains of ice. The skies, its clouds descending, rob space from above my head. I cannot walk the same here, and because I cannot walk the same, sound and language come out differently. It’s not about words: I tell you it’s not about words. It is instead about breath: the in-between, low tide shallows, lagoons of fresh water, the eye of the storm, that time of day , “when night falls [and] everything grows confusing, [when] there are no precise contours or defined faces, nothing but blurry edges, formless masses, shadows gliding from place to place.” (Jose Alcantara Almánzar, Metamorphosis, 13)