Hablando de Las Latinas (Continued): Dislocating Cultures
So many of my white American friends have never understood that when my parents come to visit that they of COURSE stay with me in my one bedroom apartment, and that my mother’s underwear will always be found hanging to dry in the bathroom. I know it’s funny, but that’s my life! When I was at MIT, my dorm head couldn’t wrap his head around the fact that when my siblings got out of school for vacation that they’d come stay with me in my matchbox of a dorm room. And, that if my parents had the money to come visit that summer, they’d book a hotel, but would always end up staying with us too! Crazy, yeah? I’ve found that situations like that are really hard for the average white American to understand. If you didn’t grow up poor, and you had the white picket fence and golden Labrador, ‘space’ was a right you acquired when you turned five, along with a play-themed room, which had a door that your parents had to learn to knock on to gain access to. Ha!
“Oh, stop the generalizing, iQWOC!” Well, if for the past eight years that I’ve lived here I hadn’t experienced looks of horror anytime I explained that my entire family usually stays with me during any given vacation/holiday period then perhaps my perception would be different. The fact of the matter is that – whether people want to admit it or not – if you haven’t had the immigrant experience, if you haven’t been dislocated from your culture in a new place, and you don’t even have family members (or even loud enough friends) that can say this, there are things about someone like me which are gonna be difficult to understand and/or relate to. Incidentally, it turns out that, of all the cultural groups that reside in the United States, Latinos are the ones whose experiences have most closely mirrored my own. Additionally, as I have come to identify partly as a “queer woman of color”, it follows that an even more specific subset of Latinos, queer latinas, most closely share my experience.
When I first arrived in New Hampshire for boarding school, the friends that I made instantly were from foreign countries – international students. I think most people would understand why that happened; we were all away from home, we could support each other, share our stories of culture shock, cook for each other etc. By the end of the semester, my group of international friends comprised mostly of students from South America. I honestly think that it was due to the fact that our cultures and general value systems were so close; family was the center of everything, and thus, your accountability to siblings, parents, grandparents… We talked about family and the differences we saw between here and ‘there’ all the time. Even the language barrier wasn’t strong enough to keep us from bonding (I was taking German at the time, not Spanish, but learned as we went along from listening to so much of their music – especially pre-crossover Shakira).
I’ve been asked a couple of times why (in place of Latinos) I don’t relate better to African-Americans/Blacks here, including people from islands like Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad etc. Well, the fact is that those people living here (if, first generation) usually identify as American, which is still very removed from who I am and where I come from. I love to party with those groups hard due to the commonality in the music culture; bass and drums are clear signifiers of African rhythms. But, on the flip side, they don’t know what it’s like to live in a country where everything about your culture is made fun of (or pitied) ALL the time, and perpetuated negatively throughout the media, including to people who LOOK like you. Reggae and Dancehall have become part of the music in this country. Everyone knows and loves old Bob Marley songs, Buju Banton, Elephant Man, Sean Paul, Jay-Z, 50 Cent (even him!), and it’s cool to know their songs, dance to them etc. It is NOT cool to be African in the US, even though ALL of this comes directly from the culture I am so proud to be a part of. Rather, our art is routinely collected (stolen) and displayed in foreign countries as ‘mystical’ and ‘ancient’, while our music is viewed similarly to ‘strange’ foods from Asia, from a distance. Or worse, in some cases (especially when the songs are recorded in English), as a pitiful attempt to ‘copy’, and so ignored thereafter.
Language definitely plays a factor into this. Moroccan hiphop artists will tell you that even though their music thrives in the rest of the world, it has been poorly received in the united states, and any attempt to record in English is ridiculed (Hiphop in French and Arabic? Noooo). So, whereas most of ‘black music’ – Hiphop, RnB etc – and popular music from the Caribbean is readily accessible, and thus, accepted, because it’s in English, this is not the case with African music. They say that the core of culture comprises Art, Music, and Religion. And, none of these parts of Nigerian – or even African – culture, are available to me here. At least, due to the inter-linkage of history between Cuba, Mexico, and Puerto Rico (not to mention the influx of immigrants from neighboring South America), Americans are routinely exposed to Spanish-speaking cultures: bilingual educational policies, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Ana Castillo, Hilary and the Latino vote, Miami, Reggaeton thriving as a new genre… all these make it “cool” to speak Spanish and take Salsa lessons. And, before someone mentions “African” dance (as if we ALL dance in the same way all across the CONTINENT), even with that, as I mentioned before, the movements are usually viewed mystically, and placed within the Afro-Cuban religious context. It’s not REALLY my Africa they’re talking about.
African dance… That’s definitely another blog, for another day. My point is that since I have been completely displaced from my culture and work every day to find a place for myself in this country, I am more likely to relate to women in similar circumstances. Immigrant Queers – male or female – take the cake.
Queer Woman of Color, I am… but only here; this identity would vanish the minute I stepped unto Nigerian soil. But, even I am beginning to forget what identity would take its place… and even, what there was before.