On Safe Sex and Stigma: Where Morality Skews the message

This was a twitter thread that I posted on my personal Twitter account. Thought I share it here too.


I guess this whole conversation on #SafeSex and #Stigma is timely given the announcement of the antibiotic resistance of gonorrhoea. I saw a twitter thread that made me uneasy because it suggested that the safe sex ‘narrative’ stigmatizes testing and those with STIs. I was in agreement with the first part which was that it is ridiculous that stigma exists in the first place, given that you can get infected even from your monogamous partner. There is a reason why there are ads in DC Metro encouraging people to get tested, even if the are in relationships.

STIs are transmitted regardless of your relationship status. However, the thread was arguing for getting rid of the safe sex narrative, since the safe sex narrative stigmatizes testing for STIs, and this is where I disagree. That argument is like saying advocating for the HPV vaccine stigmatizes testing for HPV, or using Prep stigmatizes testing for HIV. The framework of safe “safer” sex acknowledges that people engage in risky behaviors all the time. The purpose of the safe sex framework and its prevention strategies are aimed at risk reduction. All the prevention strategies and interventions are focused on reducing risk. They bring agency and place the onus of prevention on all the partners involved, but it also allows for particular circumstances that people might be involved in: can’t negotiate condom use, social/cultural beliefs regarding sexual behaviours, etc.

The framework itself is not inherently stigmatizing: it does not dictate which behaviors are “better” or more socially acceptable. Safer sex does not penalize you if you did get an STI, it just points out what behaviors will (statistically) put you at less risk, and how to minimise the risk of passing that STI to current and future partners. Same way that advocating and educating you to avoid a diet high in red meats is not stigmatising/blaming those with heart problems since health is multifaceted. The interventions are telling you how to minimize that risk. Where is the stigma here? Your auntie/uncle who is spouting some respectability politics BS? How is that the fault of the safe sex framework? Google “Just World Hypothesis”. Why throw away the framework when people are just reaching for their own morality regarding sexual behaviors?

One last example: social and reproductive health scientists who work in family planning still advocate for abortion as part of reproductive justice and reproductive choice, even in places where people don’t think abortion should be legal or acceptable, e.g. many states in the US, and many other countries. We don’t care that you think abortion is wrong or right, we are advocating for it regardless as part of reproductive health. If people choose to stigmatise those who choose to abort, that is another issue related to what is socially acceptable. Those social/cultural/moral beliefs mean that we have to tailor the interventions, not abandon the education and advocacy efforts regarding abortion. Same goes to Safe Sex.

Asking Students to Pay a Title IX Fee is unethical: The case at the University of Maryland

The proposal of the Student Government Association (SGA) and the complicity of the University’s Title IX office in proposing a mandatory student fee towards funding the Title IX office is highly unethical. It is an affront to those of us who fought towards affordability in higher education, and it is another exercise in the ever-increasing neoliberalization of our universities.

The SGA Vice President for Student Affairs wrote a guest column in the student newspaper titled: The University of Maryland hasn’t adequately funded Title IX. Now, it’s up to students.If the office “has experienced a 65 percent increase in sexual misconduct complaints, and a 40 percent increase in civil rights complaints” why should it fall to the students making those complaints to ensure the university complies with a federal mandate? How does one jump to proposing a student fee in this scenario? A.J. Pruitt and the Executives at the SGA see no problem in asking the victims themselves to pay a mandatory fee so that the University can adequately process these complaints.

This solution is being touted as one based on a model of shared responsibility. Catherine A. Carroll, the Director of the Office of Civil Rights and Sexual Misconduct wrote on the Diamondback that:

The university has funded the office since its inception in 2014. Each subsequent year, the funding has increased, and now the office has a current budget of just over $1 million. However, reports of sexual misconduct and the number of investigations continue to increase, likely the result of increased awareness and outreach. Additional resources are needed to properly handle our growing caseload and — critically — to expand education and prevention efforts across the campus.

The responsibility for this effort does not rest with any single group. If we are to truly change the culture and create an environment of respect and safety, it will take our entire community working together and participating.

But why should this proposed million dollars to be collected in student fees come from students? If it’s unethical and unheard of to mandate faculty and staff to withhold part of their salary to contribute to the Title IX office, why is it ok to ask students to pay a mandatory fee? Why is it such a huge deal to expect to study and work in an environment free of sexual assault and harassment? Why is it such a huge deal to expect to have the appropriate office with the right protocols to report such behavior when it happens? Why does the SGA and The University of Maryland seem to think that students should pay a premium for such an environment in the form of a student fee?

While well-intentioned, this sets a dangerous precedent. The fee is being championed by the SGA. Which means that it is well on its way to being presented to the Committee for the Review of Student Fees. I am saddened and disappointed by this news, because while this particular fee is new, the creation and increase of students fees has become too commonplace at my graduate Alma Mater. It is alarming that students are being asked to shoulder more and more costs over the years. This particular fee is even more egregious and insulting because it is designed to supplement funding for the Title IX office.

Unfortunately, the stage for this has been set with other mandatory fees. When I started graduate school in 2008, fees amounted to less than 400 dollars per semester. When I graduated in 2015, that quantity had almost doubled for a full time non-candidate graduate student (here is a link for the current student fees); this is not mentioning the surprise Spring 2015 one-time Tuition surcharge—that paradoxically wasn’t covered by tuition remission—that was imposed on us as a result of looming budget cuts at the state level.

The increase in tuition fees came at a time when the undergraduate Student Government Association’s leadership successfully lobbied for a tuition freeze and moderate tuition increases. This resulted in minor 3–4% increases in both undergraduate and graduate tuition at the University System of Maryland. Which seems like good news.

However, that slow increase triggered the university administration’s use of student fees to cover loss in revenue. The creation of student fees gives the proposing unit greater control over those funds, than those that are allocated to it by the University’s monies from tuition.

For many undergraduate students, who do not rely on tuition remission, this is almost a moot point. However, for many graduate students receiving tuition remission, mandatory student fees amounted to approximately one paycheck plus a portion of the next one—especially those getting paid at the minimum stipend levels. Student fees at UMD are an additional cost that are separate from tuition since graduate students who receive tuition remission still have to pay for student fees, since they are not considered part of tuition. This is especially grim given that less than half of the 11,000 graduate students at UMD are on graduate assistantships with some sort of tuition remission, and others rely on student loans—which are unsubsidized since 2012. How does another fee fit into the life of graduate students struggling to meet the demands of their education process?

Every year, the university fee committee meets to make decisions about fee proposals. Every year they have been approving, not eliminating or actively reducing, student fees1. During my tenure as representative, Chief of Staff, and President of the Graduate Student Government, new fees were created to offload services from the university’s budget in the form of student fees.


The committee for the Review of Student Fees is comprised of 6 administrators, 6 students (4 undergraduates and 2 graduate students), and one committee chair (another university administrator) who only votes as a tie breaker-if needed. During my two year tenure on this committee, it served to more or less approve—and, in very few instances, deny—fee increases.

The undergraduate students in particular always felt pressured to pass these fee increases, and I don’t want to speculate as to why that was. My fellow graduate student on the committee and I often took hard stances to force the administration’s hand to adequately fund services we deemed essential and that should be part of tuition. One such case was with a proposed increase to the library technology fee. The increase would have ensured access to current electronic journals. The fee has also been used to update the computers and devices students could borrow from the library. However, my colleague and I felt the increase inappropriate. Why would the university fail to adequately fund the University Libraries, in such a way that it forced the libraries to ask students for more funding through a mandatory fee increase?

Personally, I was confused by how UMD could admit a student to a Research One university, with the understanding of what that entails, and then ask the student to pay extra—in a different category of payment from tuition, since tuition is also tax deductible—for better access to electronic journals. That, to me, is a capitalist fast-food approach to higher education; here are your ten or so extra sides—fees—to choose from, however, they are mandatory if you want your entree—education. Our tertiary level education now comes with an additional (and mandatory) bill of $750 per semester you didn’t you know you had to pay when you were admitted—it’s somewhere in the small print: Enjoy those football and basketball tickets though, they’re “free” (they’re part of your fees) to students.

The committee was receptive to what my colleague and I would have to say about the precariousness of the economic lives of graduate students, but the fee business pressed on. The undergrads in particular weren’t consistent allies, since they often sided with the administration in regards to increases of student fees; my impression was that while they agreed with us in spirit, they felt no other option was viable. I also thought that bringing up issues regarding the fee review process put the undergraduates in an uncomfortable situation: “Did they want their 4 year college experience to be sub-par, without these extra services?”

During my time, I particularly remember an increase to the recreational services fee being approved. The recreational services fee increase was egregiously proposed to us in the most ironic of scenarios: the fee increase was to cover the cost of the pool at one of our recreation centers for the following three years. Why a fee increase to cover the cost of the pool then? Who payed for the pool before? The pool was previously payed for by the swimming team; and the swimming team was eliminated by the university president the previous year, among many other athletic teams in an effort to solve the growing deficit of the athletics department.

There was no talk of reducing that particular fee after those initial 3 years or any other fee. That topics always elicited uncomfortable laughs, because of its improbability. There was even the case of another fee that was being collected and was not being spent! This reminded me of what the SGA wrote in their press release about the Title IX fee:

The SGA and other student leaders are working to ensure funding for this resource in the short-term but we believe this financial responsibility is one that falls on the university administration in the long-run.

This is a naive belief because, in my experience and that of my colleagues in the GSG, once a fee was instituted, it’s done. During this time, a fee has not been removed so far. How is the University going to be pressed to then provide more funds, if students are taking care of it? The SGA is proposing something dangerous, given their relatively short stay at the university for four years.

Whereas the Title IX office is currently understaffed and is being “forced” to ask students for funding, the university is currently spending millions of dollars building a new indoor training facility for the football team. While some might argue that I am making a false equivalency between athletics and academics, since those budgets are “technically” separate, it is still very disappointing that a school prioritizes football facilities, over adequately funding the Title IX office, which is supposed to handle sexual assault/harassment complaints as part of a federal requirement. How does this make sense?

David Colón-Cabrera, MAA, PhD, President of the Graduate Student Government 2012–2014

  1. There is an exception to this: the Graduate Student Activity Fee was reduced at some point. This particular fee is self-determined by the Graduate Student Government. As such, the university has little (only in an advisory manner) oversight into setting this particular fee. Same with the undergraduate activity fee.

Decolonizing the Canon Pt. 2 : Resources

A couple of years ago, I read Lynn Bolles article Telling the Story Straight: Black Feminist Intellectual Thought in AnthropologyMy main take away from Bolles’ article is that not only are minority scholars being faced with structural barriers in academia, but we also are less likely to be cited and referenced by other scholars—even more so for women of color. So for my introductory course with a decolonized reading list, I made an effort to seek out literature written by women, people of color, and from underrepresented minorities.

I stumbled on some really interesting readings (both in the traditional sense and in the new mediatic sense), and I’m sharing them here. The list includes articles, book chapters, Ted Talks, YouTube Videos, podcasts, and online resources like The Sociological Cinema (which actually was started in my graduate alma mater, The University of Maryland, College Park, and to which several colleagues and friends of mine contributed).

Here are some readings that I used for my class based on the thematic components of the discussion:


  • Understanding the Contemporary World (Augé and Colleyn 2006:7-20)
  • The Behavioral Inheritance Systems (Jablonka and Lam b 2005:155-180)
  • Anthropologists and Other Friends (Deloria Jr. 1969)
  • The Puzzle (Handwerker 2009:15-35)
  • Body Ritual Among the Nacirema (Miner 1956)
  • Introduction: Partial Truths (Clifford 1986:1-26)
  • Why Indians Aren’t Celebrating The Bicentennial (Deloria Jr. 1999:199-205)
  • Another Look at Centuries-Long Hegemonic Practices (Williams 2010)
  • Brackette Williams, professor at the University of Arizona
  • Introduction: Out of Exile (Behar 1995:1- 29)
  • Ethnography as Politics (Harrison 1997:88-109)
    • Faye V. Harrison is a Professor of African American Studies and Anthropology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
  • Seeing Kali’s City As “Insiders”: Religious Diversity, Gender, Class, And Culture As “Textured” Learning For American Students (Samanta 2014)
  • The Centrality of Ethnography in the Study of Transnational Migration: Seeing the Wetland Instead of Swamp (Schiller 2003)
  • Living and Working in a War Zone: An Applied Anthropologist in Afghanistan (Omidian 2009)
  • The Circle and the Field (Agar 1994a:49-60)
  • Culture Blends (Agar 1994b:15-30)
  • Slippery Semantics (Godreau 2008)
    • Isar Godreau, Puerto Rican Anthropologist at the University of Puerto Rico
  • Migration, Return, and Development: an Institutional Perspective (Olesen 2002)
  • Gender Roles in Sociocultural and Historical Context (Schweitzer 2006:41-56)
  • Linguistic Anthropology in 2008: An Election-Cycle Guide (Faudree 2009)
  • Mass Media and Transnational Subjectivity in Shanghai: Notes on (Re)Cosmopolitanism in a Chinese Metropolis (Yang 2007:325-349)
    • Mayfair Yang 楊美惠教授 is an Anthropologist by training and professor at University of California Berkeley’s  Department of Religious Studies and Department of East Asian Languages & Cultural Studies.
  •  1-4 (Sontag 2001:5-37)
    • Susan Sontag was a writer, filmmaker, teacher and political activist.

Videos and Other Media


Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi
2013 We Should All Be Feminists – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie at Tedxeuston. http://tedxtalks.ted.com/video/We-should-all-be-feminists-Chim, Accessed: August 8, 2014.

Agar, Michael
1994a Culture Blends. In Language Shock: Understanding the Culture of Conversation. Pp. 15-30: HarperCollins.—

1994b The Circle and the Field. In Language Shock: Understanding the Culture of Conversation. Pp. 49-60: HarperCollins.

Augé, Marc, and Colleyn, Jean-Paul
2006 The World of an Anthropologist. Howe, John, transl. Oxford, UK; New York, USA: Berg, Oxford International Publishers Ltd.

Behar, Ruth

1995 Introduction: Out of Exile. In Women Writing Culture. Behar, Ruth and Gordon, Deborah A., eds. Pp. 1-29: University of California Press.

Case, Amber
2010 We Are All Cyborgs Now. Ted.Com. http://www.ted.com/talks/amber_case_we_are_all_cyborgs_now?language=en, accessed October 1, 2014.

Clifford, J.
1986Introduction: Partial Truths. In Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of  Ethnography. Clifford, J. and Marcus, G.E., eds. Pp. 1-26: University of California Press.

Climate Reality
2012 Doubt. Video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YhDacrl1aSA, Accessed: 8/30/2014.

Brooks, Iris and Davis, Jon H.,
2011 Languages Lost and Found: Speaking & Whistling the Mamma Tongue. http://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/1785489, Accessed: 9/1/2014.

Deloria Jr., Vine
1969 Anthropologists and Other Friends. In Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto. University of Oklahoma Press.
1999 A Flock of Anthros. In Spirit & Reason: The Vine Deloria, Jr., Reader. Deloria Jr., Vine, Deloria, B., Foehner, K., and Scinta, S., eds. Pp. 123-126: Fulcrum Pub.—
1999 Why Indians Aren’t Celebrating the Bicentennial. In Spirit & Reason: The Vine Deloria, Jr., Reader. Deloria Jr., Vine, Deloria, B., Foehner, K., and Scinta, S., eds. Pp. 199-205: Fulcrum Pub.

Faudree, Paja
2009 Linguistic Anthropology in 2008: An Election-Cycle Guide. American Anthropologist 111(2):153-161.

Glass, Ira
2004 Fake Science: Stories of People Trying to Drag Science Where It Doesn’t Belong. http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/265/fake-science, Accessed: 8/30/2014.

Godreau, Isar

2008 Slippery Semantics: Race Talk and Everyday Uses of Racial Terminology in Puerto Rico. Centro Journal XX(2):5-33.

Han, Sang-Ho
2005 The Birth of Writing. http://search.alexanderstreet.com/anthropology/view/work/1779548, Accessed: 9/01/2014.

Handwerker, W. Penn
2009 The Puzzle. In The Origin of Cultures: How Individual Choices Make Cultures Change. Pp. 15-35. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press, Inc.

Harrison, Faye Venetia
1997 Ethnography as Politics. In Decolonizing Anthropology: Moving Further Toward an Anthropology of Liberation. Harrison, Faye Venetia, ed. Pp. 88-109: Association of Black Anthropologists, American Anthropological Association.

Jablonka, Eva, and Lamb, Marion J.

2005 The Behavioral Inheritance Systems. In Evolution in Four Dimensions: Genetic, Epigenetic, Behavioral, and Symbolic Variation in the History of Life. Pp. 155-191. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.

Lan, Yang
2011 The Generation That’s Remaking China. http://www.ted.com/talks/yang_lan, Accessed: 8/14/14.

Lysicott, Jamila
2014 3 Ways to Speak English. http://www.ted.com/talks/jamila_lyiscott_3_ways_to_speak_english, Accessed: 9/2/2014.

Miner, Horace
1956 Body Ritual among the Nacirema. American Anthropologist 58(3):503-507.

National Congress of American Indians
2014 Proud to Be. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mR-tbOxlhvE, Accessed: 08/26/2014.

Omidian, Patricia
2009 Living and Working in a War Zone: An Aplied Anthropologist in Afghanistan. Practicing Anthropology: Spring 2009, Vol. 31, No. 2, pp. 4-11.

Pagel, Mark

2011 Mark Pagel: How Language Transformed Humanity. http://www.ted.com/talks/mark_pagel_how_language_transformed_humanity#t-536675, Accessed: 8/31/2014.

Richards, Sam
2014 A Radical Experiment In Empathy. Ted.Com. http://www.ted.com/talks/ sam_richards_a_radical_experiment_in_empathy, accessed September 7 , 2014.

Samanta, Suchitra
2014 Seeing Kali’s City As “Insiders”: Religious Diversity, Gender, Class, And Culture As “Textured” Learning For American Students. Practicing Anthropology 35(3): 23-27.

Schweitzer, Marjorie M.
2006 Gender Roles in Sociocultural and Historical Context. In Women in Anthropology: Autobiographical Narratives and Social History. Cattell, Maria G. and Scheweitzer, Marjorie M., eds. Pp. 41-56. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press, Inc.

Wesch, Michael
2007 A Vision of Students Today. Online Video, http://mediatedcultures.net/videos/a-vision-of-students-today/, Accessed: July 30, 2014.

Williams, Brackette F.
2010 Forty Years Ago: Another Look at Centuries‐Long Hegemonic Practices. Transforming Anthropology 18(2):111-113.

Yang, Mayfair Mei-Hui
2007 Mass Media and Transnational Subjectivity in Shanghai: Notes on (Re)Cosmopolitanism in a Chinese Metropolis. In The Anthropology of Globalization: A Reader. Inda, Jonathan Xavier and Rosaldo, Renato, eds. Pp. 325-349: Wiley.

Decolonizing the Canon

These past couple of weeks there have been a lot of great articles regarding decolonizing anthropology. Just this week, Savage Minds published their last post on the Decolonizing Anthropology series in which Paige West discussed Teaching Decolonizing Methodologies. 

When I had the opportunity to teach my own class and coordinate the syllabus myself, I sought to teach an introduction to sociocultural anthropology that reflected my experiences engaging in an effort to decolonize anthropology. I compared syllabi, and rather than taking a safer (easier?) route, I looked for resources that reflected the diversity of anthropology and related disciplines. I actively sought readings that would provide the necessary fundamentals to students, while exposing them to the anthropology I wish I had been taught at the introductory level: a decolonized anthropology. Similar to the one I received back home in Puerto Rico.

Research led me to Women Writing Culture, edited by Ruth Behar. In the introduction she says (p. 11):

Anthropologists have belatedly begun to realize that we, too, have a canon, a set of “great books” that we continue to teach to our students, as dutifully as they were once taught to us in graduate school. That these books just happen to be the writings of white men is an idea that can never be brought up. It seems somehow impolite, given anthropology’s virtue as the first academic discipline even to give a damn about all those remote and often vanquished cultures. So we habitually assign the writing of Evans-Pritchard because his work on the Azande and the Nuer has been enshrined as part of our “core” reading list. Yet we rarely ask students to engage with the writing of Alice Walker, even though, as Faye Harrison persuasively shows in her essay for this volume, she has long seen herself as an active interlocutor with anthropology.

This made me realize that the reading list I put together would become the canon in my introductory anthropology course for these students. Whoever is teaching, reinforces the canon. I didn’t have the power to change the curriculum, but I had a chance to steer them towards a decolonized introduction to anthropology.

I did this by dividing each class into two parts. During the first part I lectured. This allowed me to discuss the assigned textbook material (although the textbook was not required for the students) and filter it through my perspective: a cisgender brown queer Puerto Rican anthropologist. This lecture component mainly consisted of discussing the traditional topics and terms that an introductory course touches on: What is culture? Who studies culture? Why do we study culture? What methods do we use? In the second part of the class, we discussed the assigned weekly readings. These readings would be traditional text readings, media readings, or both. In this latter part of the class, we took to task the materials from my own lecture by discussing the readings. I will write a second post detailing the readings and resources I used (post here), but broadly I drew from YouTube videos, Ted Talks, podcasts, and music videos. For text readings I drew material from poets, activists, and academics, giving particular importance to women, people of color, queer people, and Black, Latinx, Asian, and Native academics. I am still learning; if given the chance again, I would seek to include more resources from fields and perspectives that I didn’t include this time.

I received good responses from the students– informally and through the student evaluations. Students enjoyed most of the readings–in the methods classes, they particularly enjoyed reading about Faye Harrison’s fieldwork in Jamaica, from the Decolonizing Anthropology volume she edited. Furthermore, some of my students who identified as people of color were particularly fascinated by the concept of multiple consciousness she discusses. We learned together, and I saw the engagement and energy that the students brought. We even discussed (then) current topics such as the unrest in Baltimore.

Though I had the opportunity and relative power to decolonize part of their learning process, and there are others doing the same, there are criticisms. For example, I read this article recently that I found confronting. The article, aptly titled The Canon Is Sexist, Racist, Colonialist, and Totally Gross. Yes, You Have to Read It Anyway is a response to Yale students asking for their English Literature curriculum to be decolonized:

Here’s the thing, though. If you want to become well-versed in English literature, you’re going to have to hold your nose and read a lot of white male poets. Like, a lot. More than eight….

But you cannot profess to be a student of English literature if you have not lingered in the slipstreams of certain foundational figures, who also happen to be (alas) both white and male…

The canon of English literature is sexist. It is racist. It is colonialist, ableist, transphobic, and totally gross. You must read it anyway.

I disagree completely, mainly because of the author’s dismissive attitude towards the call for decolonizing the curriculum. The article can be discussed at length, but my point is that many of us still crave for this decolonization. We enjoy the richness of anthropology, however we don’t want to relive and reinforce the violence imposed to some of us in the name of anthropology.

Even here in Melbourne Uni!

In the end, my students were exposed to a different anthropology course. If they wanted to learn more about the traditional canon, those that are anthropology majors can do so. These students had exposure to a decolonized canon; one that is not considered irrefutable, and has not been strictly filtered through an outdated colonized mindset. For those students that went through my course, their introduction to anthropology was intersectional, and somewhat decolonized.

I’ll follow up this post with a list of the readings and resources I used for my courses. Follow up post: Decolonizing the Canon Pt.2


No quiero desacreditar la discusión que los proponentes de esta campaña han comenzado. Sólo quiero añadir a la conversación y ver que hay más allá de la campaña mediática y las camisas. Porque, aunque no conozco mucho del movimiento, tampoco he podido encontrar mucho en la red. Conociendo muy poco lo que es #YoNoMeQuito, me pregunto, ¿Cuál es el próposito de este movimiento? ¿Cuál es su constitutición, sus objetivos, sus metas a corto y a largo plazo?

Al principio lo tomé como un afronte a la decisión de muchos que se han ido, porque el lenguaje dice mucho; el decir yo no me quito en Puerto Rico denota contraste de algo o alguien que sí se quitó. Pero imaginé que el propósito era otro, y le di el beneficio de la duda.

Pero aun así, me pregunto: ¿De dónde salió esta campaña y dónde está el diálogo para transformar esta campaña y hacerla nuestra? Porque si ven, Adreline Group está promocionándose a sí mismo por cada #Yonomequito como ven en el gif arriba.

Y creo que el diálogo es importante debido a que hay que articular el nivel de envolvimiento con el trabajador puertorriqueño más allá de un hashtag. De nuevo, ¿A quién está dirigido este mensaje? ¿A quién está esta campaña convenciendo? ¿Cuál es el fin? Estoy bien confundido y un poco molesto, porque la gente ha seguido trabajando mientras sigue sufriendo las consecuencias de la crisis; ¿Quién se está quitando entonces?

Me pregunto porque #YoNoMeQuito me suena a distracción. Distracción que aunque bien intencionada no resuelve mucho. Pero tampoco no es criticar por criticar, porque hay ejemplos de movimientos que sí están movilizando a la gente y tratando de hacer cambio. Un buen ejemplo es #BlackLivesMatter. #BlackLivesMatter no sólo tiene un presencia mediática, si no que tienen metas a corto y a largo plazo. Incluso hay gente nominándose para puestos políticos como DeRay McKesson en Baltimore, mientras que otros están obligando a los candidatos a presidente a articular su política pública respecto a la inequidad racial que está resultando en la muerte de Afroamericanos en manos de la policía.

Quisiera ver más, porque si usted como votante no se quita, tampoco se van a quitar los políticos haciendo y deshaciendo a cuesta del pueblo. Los políticos nos llevaron a este hoyo que es la crisis, y es bien triste que muchos los vayan a re-elegir por sus intransigentes ataduras políticas.

Quisiera ver más, porque si usted como votante no se quita, tampoco se van a quitar los políticos haciendo y deshaciendo a cuesta del pueblo. Los políticos nos llevaron a este hoyo que es la crisis, y es bien triste que muchos los vayan a re-elegir por sus intransigentes ataduras políticas.

The #OscarsSoWhite Problem Is Very Personal To Me

Representation in the media means a lot to me for selfish reasons. Being a trigueño (a word that has euphemistic connotations of anti-blackness) Puerto Rican man, I just didn’t see myself represented often in the media. In Puerto Rico anti-blackness can be very subtle, but to bring the topic up in public contexts is to invoke spirited (and misguided) 19th century discourses of mestizaje (racial miscegenation) and post-racial soceities.

When I was young I could easily count the number of Black and dark skinned people in local Puerto Rican media. Then, they slowly disappeared altogether, with the advent of multinational (American) television companies that bought the local networks and supplanted local programming with shows from the US. Watching local programming dwindle, while US film and TV came in large droves, had a profound impact on the creation of my ‘self’.

As an adolescent, I rejected many elements that I thought of as “Puerto Rican” and felt alien to me; I adopted an ‘alternative’ identity with elements that were foreign (American) to boost that identity. I can now tell that the elements I rejected were mainly gendered roles I felt uncomfortable with. I just saw myself as an outsider anyway, since others would easily throw around pato or maricón (a faggot). How was I, as a queer dark skinned nerd from the hood supposed to form any parallels with what I was seeing around me, and even less so in film and media that rendered not only me, but my whole Puerto Ricanness, invisible?

That empowered me for a bit, until I came to the US and realized those elements that I had adopted were up to be questioned, given my skin color. Because whiteness works that way. I remember an acquaintance asking me what Star Wars character I would like to be.

Him: So would you be Lando?
Me: …I always thought of myself as more of a Jedi.
Him: Oh, Mace Windu then?
Me: … no. More like Obi-Wan. He’s my favorite.

This was just months after having arrived in the US. My racialization had started, and at the same time, Whiteness was reclaiming back the elements that I had borrowed. Those cultural touchstones were not mine. I wasn’t allowed to be anyone I wanted in Star Wars, I had to be one of the only two Black characters in the six movies.

One thing is to be underrepresented, and another is to be ignored completely. Invisibility renders you below the treshhold of attention. So when one of the most respected film awards fails to nominate (or, presumably, even consider) media that reflects diverse topics, characters, and stories, then that invisibility is reinforced by power. That’s why it is important to note the issue with #OscarssoWhite.

Others have asked “why should we even care about the Oscars?” To me it matters because of the inherent economic and social power that Hollywood and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences wield. The Oscars have a place in US and the global landscape; movies that are Oscar nominees and/or winners go on to be released to wider audiences, the filmmakers are more likely to receive attention from investors in the future, and the actors attract more promotion (reputation) and accolades.


When I came to mainland US from Puerto Rico for grad school, I realized that I carried a lot of biases and prejudices against African-American/Black people. Moving to the Maryland suburbs of Washington DC forced me to reflect on these biases and re-evaluate them. All that I knew about African-American/Black people was based on what I had watched on TV and movies (much like the example from the tumblr link above). I honestly did not have another frame of reference outside of visual media. This was pre-Twitter and pre-Tumblr. I was only exposed to very particular and narrow narratives involving Black people and that definitely shaped my thinking.

Media exposure is important in itself to showcase different and diverse perspectives. Those of us who are inclined towards studying culture can’t keep silent about the individual and social dangers that cultural supremacy can have in erasing differences and diversity. There is also the argument that the Oscars can’t justly be considered the top accolade in the film industry, when they are only considering a fraction of movies being made. If the same films with the same stories are being made and awarded year after year, where is the space for more diverse stories beyond Black pain and slavery?

PS. Please also read this post by Dr. Waren from Texas A&M University. He draws parallels between the issue of Oscar nominations with a similarly pervasive case of institutional practices in higher education.



A resolution for 2016: Self-Care

These past two years I have made two resolutions: in 2014 I wanted to read more people of color (PoC), and in 2015 I wanted to  read books exclusively written by people of color (or non-white). Those resolutions led me to a great journey as well as serving as relief  given the grim everyday life we PoC face. These authors gave me a way out, and often I saw myself in their stories
As such, 2016 is my year for self-care. The news are grim: my brothers and sisters are dying everyday as victims of institutionalized violence perpetrated by the American police.

Thus self-care. Here is my first try towards this goal. Music is everything to me, so I wanted to share my first playlist that is helping me in not losing myself these days. 
The playlists are here in Apple Music format and Spotify. Enjoy!
Ease on Down the Road on Apple Music

Ease on Down the Road on Spotify

Books of 2015

I read so many great books this year. It truly paid off to seek out books and works outside the US and people of color.I truly enjoy reading more diverse stories that better reflect the world we live in both in the stories, and their authors. 

So this is a short post, and as such here are my list of books. The stories include People of Color, stories of past-migrations and speculative future ones, real queer stories of fitting in, queer people once again in speculative contexts, stories of love set in revolutions, aliens, and the nuance of what it means to be human. 

Books I read in 2015

  1. Ōoku: The inner Chambers, vol 1 by Fumi Yoshinaga
  2. For Colored Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Still Not Enough: Coming Of Age, Coming Out, and Coming Home by Keith Boykin
  3. The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin
  4. On Race and Medicine: Insider Perspectives by Richard García
  5. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel
  6. Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics by bell hooks
  7. All You Need is Kill (graphic novel) by Hiroshi Sakurazaka
  8. The Stars Change by Mary Anne Mohanraj
  9. Como Agua Para Chocolate (like water for chocolate) by Laura Esquivel
  10. The Book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor
  11. Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor
  12. The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro
  13. Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan
  14. Ink by Sabrina Vourvoulias
  15. Bloodchild and Other Stories by Octavia Butler


When I was catholic…

A little over a month ago, we baptized my nephew on my last visit to Puerto Rico. This was a rude awakening as to why I left the church in the first place. The church is too static, and unchanging.

I grew up catholic and spent my teenage years being an uber-conservative practicing catholic. Catholicism permeated everyday life for me as a child. This everyday was further complicated by our colonial history, in which West African influenced syncretism–in addition to Espiritismo and Santería– were also present: I visited many Botánicas as a kid with my grandma. She didn’t (and still doesn’t) see any conflict between catholicism and her beliefs in the Orishas. I used to judge her for it, and shared said judgment with her given my beliefs, and snotty holier-than-thou attitude. Sorry Abuela, I shouldn’t have. 

Like then, Catholicism nowadays seem to constrain, rather than guide people into their own salvation. Even though I left the church, the dogma is that you can’t actually leave the church. Once a believer, always a believer, it goes—no matter what you call yourself. 
And that’s what we did to my nephew, we made him join this religion. We gave in to the constant worry of one of my grandmothers that my three-and-a-half-year-old nephew wasn’t baptized. Again, demonstrating how much these beliefs permeate my family’s everyday lives, even though they aren’t practicing catholics. I am the kid’s godfather, and according to the class I had to take for this purpose, It will be part of my job to provide this boy with depth and context to whatever journey he decides to take on as a religious person; to fully indoctrinate him in the catholic dogma. My family knows me well enough to be aware that I’m not ideal for how the church envisions this role, and yet they still wanted me to be the godfather.

We went to mass the day of the baptism, and after more than 10 years of attending mass I remembered all the movements, the words, the rites, and when to kneel. Leave it to mass to demonstrate how committed one is to being structured and unchanging. This made sense to me then since a lot of times in my life I found myself seeking structure; I used to love the structure of catholic school, which was weird. And yet I was simultaneously always looking for ways to bend the structure, when I thought it needed to be more flexible.

During the homily, the priest discussed the (then recent) announcement from the Pope regarding priests now having the authority to pardon women who had sought abortions. He explained what that meant both in regards to dogma, and bureaucratic practice to the institution of this local church. 

Of course he shared his views regarding when and how life begins, as well as the equivalency of Plan B contraceptive as an ‘aborticifent’. Following mass, and during the announcements, he reminded the congregation that next week’s collection would go to the Knights of Colombus, who want to pursue a similar strategy as their counterparts in the US (link): but instead of donating to Pro-life non-medical pregnancy centers, they want to have a car equipped with an ultrasound machine, and park it in front of ‘abortion clinics’ (or family planning clinics, he said in air quotes) to discourage women from getting abortions. 

Although the Pope is trying to drag the church through its vestments out of irrelevancy, this is not enough, when women’s choice to abort is still regarded as a major sin. The church’s attempt to soften this view is to promote ‘forgiveness’ towards women for their right to exercise power over their bodies during this year; the so called ‘holy year’. 

My family and I talked about this briefly during the lunch after the baptism. My dad had left with his wife, and only women remained (aunt, sisters, cousin, grandmas) aside from my nephew and I. I don’t think the women in my family are necessarily against choice, they just don’t like the idea of abortion; and I think this is a necessary caveat given that many catholic women use contraception despite the church’s teachings and beliefs in regards to family planning.

During mass, the priest let everyone know that Family Planning is a taboo term. Family Planning, he said, is a coded term for abortion clinic. My family’s lunch conversation concluded by agreeing that it was easy for a cis man who has not and will never marry, who has authority and power over a community, and who does not understand his position in the systematic regulation of female sexuality and reproductive choices, to shame women about their decisions.

Unchanged… it seems that women should just be having kids, or use the rhythm method.