Monday, February 28, 2005

I'm Really Not a Shameless Self-Promoter

El Cubano thinks I should be and part of me thinks I probably should as well. The real reason I reprinted/republished the poem "Slip" here on my blog (and kind of scarily outing myself even though most people who read this blog know who I am) was because it isn't available at HipMama anymore and I haven't really pimped it anywhere else, although I love performing it and have many times over. A portion of the poem is going to be part of an upcoming book and I wanted to offer it up to people who wanted to read it in its entirety (Do people besides me actually read the Credits part of a book?).

This experience in many ways has been a kick in the ass in terms of pushing myself in terms of promoting myself and damn I need a real website among a million other things.

I'm kind of shocked at how angry I come across even though well damnit I have a right to be pissy and shouldn't apologize for being so. It was a poem written in a flurry of emotion, a reaction to a very specific event but still very relevant especially when the issue of the language of race continues to be news.

Slip

Copyright 2002 by Maegan "la Mala" Ortiz
Originally Published in 2002 at HipMama.com

You let that word slip,
Fall from your lips
A little too easily
For my comfort

You let the letters slip,
Flow from your fingertips
A little too quickly
For my taste,
For my race.

You defended it
Just a little too quick
Saying it was just a test
To see if the PC revolution
Had flipped
Enough
To make it ok for a white chic
To say
It.

And personally
I don’t really give a shit
That you expected
The magic computer racism filter to flip
It
Into spice.
Just the fact
That
That
Word
Has
Slipped
Into your unconscious
Racist
Word
List
Has me
Pissed.

Shit.
Even though you didn’t say it to my face,
Even though it was in typescript,
It had me heated
Miffed
Feeling like a direct personal
Hit
Right in the
Pit
Of my stomach
a
hit
strong enough to send me back to adolescence in Corona
summer days of venturing outside to get Italian ice
in the Italian part of the hood
only to get chased
and have bottles thrown at my feet
as the Italian boy I had a crush on yelled
that word that
slipped
through your
lips,
from your
fingertips.

That
Hit
Reminded me of 19 year old Manny Mayi
And how he
Slipped
On his own blood and
Spit
As 10 white boys and men beat him with bats and
Sticks
And opened a fire extinguisher into his mouth
Laughing
Telling him to pray
( insert here word you let
slip
from your
lips,
through your fingertips).

And with my brown baby on my hip
And all these memories running through my head
you have the nerve to ask me not to be pissed,
To read it as an exercise in academic semantics?
Well fuck you,
Shit.

Until my brothers and sisters and children
Stopped getting their asses
Kicked
By pigs and other
Racists
Until I don’t have to struggle twice as hard
Only to get half of what you get
I will continue to be
Pissed.
You cannot
Slip
By without being called what you are
Straight up
Racist.

Love,
The Spic

Jorge Gets to Sing

Big up to Jorge Drexler whose song, "el Otro Lado del Rio", was not only the first song in Spanish to be nominated in the catagory fo best original song from a movie but was the first song in Spanish to win. Now I being the snotty angry Latina that I am would have gone on stage to accept my award and given an angry speech in Spanish filled with curses aimed at the producers who chose Antonio Banderas to sing my song instead of letting me do it (by the way Antonio, not every song in Spanish is a Flamenco song ok?). But Drexler was much more gracefull by going up on stage to accept the Oscar and singing part of the song as he had originally wanted to do. The best moment however was when the camara went to Drexler's face after Banderas's performance and Drexler gave the camara such a look.

Vaya!

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Raining on the Oscar Parade

The other night when talking to el Cubano about all the rain falling in the Los Angeles region, he made a joke (wish?) that it would rain on all the red carpet festivities. And while I admit that would be funny as all hell, I am sure that the organizers have contingency plans for inclement weather.

What they do not have contingency plans for is some Latino controversy. Jorge Drexler, a Uruguayan singer/songwriter, is nominated, well rather his song is nominated for Best Original Song. The song is "El Otro Lado del Rio" from the Motorcycle Diaries (which I still haven't seen by the way). This is the first song in Castellano to be nominated in this category.

Most of the time when a song is nominated, the original interpreter performs the song at the awards show. Of course there are exceptions , like apparently on Sunday's show, Beyonce will be performing 3 of the 5 nominated songs.

According to an interview with Drexler on the BBC , there were negotiations to have Drexler perform his song. Then Enrique Iglesias was asked before finally Antonio Banderas was settled upon.

Drexler, In a statement released from Los Angeles states he is happy with his nomination but unhappy that he himself will not be able to perform it.

This brings up interesting questions about Latino artists in the wider world view or shall I say United States world view. Drexler makes the claim that the Oscar producers (with whom he has a problem with, not the actual Academy that nominated him) view Latino artists as interchangeable. After all mainstream United States wouldn't know who Drexler was. I am ashamed to say I didn't know who Drexler was until this issue was brought to my attention and may I say that from what I've heard of his songs, I really like. But back to the interchangeability issue. Unfortunately Latino artists and artists of color altogether are still viewed as fringe or outside the mainstream and would dare to argue that this goes way beyond just an issue of language and is an issue of race as well as United States cultural/ethnocentrism. Why else the need for a whole separate Latin Grammy awards for example (aside from the business interest of certain Miami based producers). Instead of exposing the United States audience to a new Latin American artist , the Oscars chose to use someone who has already proved themselves to be palatable and marketable. This is not to diminish the careers of Iglesias and especially not Banderas but rather highlight the fact that there seems to only be so much room in the spotlight for non-white artists while the stage seems to go on endlessly for mediocre American artists.

The release reads as follows (It is in Spanish so for all you non-Spanish speakers time to pull out your Spanish-English dictionaries). Mil Gracias to Maria E. for forwarding this on to me.

Mi canción “Al otro lado del río” escrita por encargo de Walter Salles para la película “Diarios de motocicleta”, ha sido nominada para la 77ª edición de los premios Oscar de la Academia en la categoría “Mejor canción original”. Como saben, ésta es la primera vez que se nomina una canción en castellano a estos premios.



Me hubiera gustado cantar yo mismo mi canción, o al menos que la producción de la gala de los Oscar me consultara acerca de cómo presentarla en vivo, cosa que nunca ocurrió. Tampoco se han puesto jamás en contacto conmigo para comunicarme sus decisiones.



Quisiera destacar que Antonio Banderas, el intérprete elegido finalmente por la producción, ha mostrado una gran elegancia en esta incómoda situación, manifestando su disposición para que las cosas se desarrollen con el respeto y la consideración que la canción, la película y su equipo realizador merecen.



Puede que para los productores de la ceremonia de los Oscar una canción no sea más que una oportunidad para lograr un índice de audiencia determinado, pero a mi modo de ver, una canción es antes que nada un hecho artístico y debería haber sido tratada como tal.



No responsabilizo de esta situación a la Academia de los Oscar. Es más, cuando nominó mi canción, lo hizo a partir de una voz y un sonido determinados que no se verán representados en la ceremonia. Son los productores del show quienes tienen una visión reduccionista de lo que es un artista latino, tratándonos como un grupo homogéneo de piezas intercambiables, en el que el único criterio válido es el índice de audiencia.



Estoy muy contento con mi nominación y no voy a renunciar a esta alegría por mis diferencias de criterio artístico con la producción de un programa masivo de televisión. Asímismo, me gustaría pensar que esta circunstancia puede impulsar un debate cultural acerca de qué significa ser un artista latino, al margen de guetos, estereotipos y preconceptos.

También soy consciente de la importancia de que se cante por primera vez en la historia de estos premios una canción en español, justo en un momento en que este idioma está en plena expansión.


No nos van a aguar la fiesta.


Jorge Drexler, Los Angeles, 24 de febrero del 2005.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Don't Hate me Because I'm Busy

The writing projects are piling up this week. Of course someone or something thinks it's hilarious to give me bursts of inspiration in a week when I barely have to time to wipe my ass without my daughter on top of me or my mother deciding it's a great time to vacuum or my private students to work on all their projects because god forbid their own parents do anything with them when they can just pay me (that is if I can get them to pay according to my going rate which always seems to be a fucking battle and a half).

I actually have an essay I want to post here all written out in longhand between teaching and mami'ing and avoiding killing my mother. It is about halfway inputted into Word. It's good. It's about the internet and dating. Well I think it's good.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Working on Something Original

La MapucheRican is home from school, my mother is off this week so time to myself and time to write have been hard to come by. But I have been working on a brand new essay I will post here. In the meantime....
If you've seen The Gates,(which la MapucheRican and I have and they are pretty incredible), have you seen The Buckets?

Friday, February 18, 2005

Latina Dreams/Nights (mare)

The alarm bells went off in my head. You know the flashing lights that tell you that something is wrong. Instinct. A six sense. A feeling in your gut. I heard that sound, saw those lights when I received a phone call from a fellow writer that I hadn’t heard from in a while. The last time I heard from this older gentleman , a man who had written me two pages of beautiful Haikus. I blew him off, listening to those alarm bells that told me he was after more than my professional opinion about his writing. This time, however, I was curious. My heart and spirit felt open to the possibility of collaborating on a writing project that sounded interesting if nothing else. I am trying to be open to what the universe sends me in terms of exploring my creativity.

Last Friday I met with the gentleman in a café in the West Village. Hell if nothing else it gave me an excuse to get out of the apartment. I sat down at a table he had already secured and ordered a hazelnut cappuccino and a croissant. He ordered an omelet. He was as loud as I remembered him and it made me uncomfortable. There was no need for everyone in the small café to hear that I was moving to Los Angeles or that he wanted to quit his job in sales to live off his writing.
“So tell me the title of the poem you are basing the performance piece on.” I said.
“Latina Dreams” he said with no hint of sarcasm in his voice. No hint of flirtation.
Alarm bells.
Flashing lights.
I leaned in, “Tell me who else you are collaborating with. Is everyone involved white?”
He affirmed that the two musicians involved were white.
“It’s all about celebrating the sacred feminine and doing it erotically” B. told me seriously. He was going to this through a stream of consciousness poem titled “Latina Dreams” (or was it “Latina Nights”? As if that were better. He was going to do this with music and with dancing. Not just any dancing but dancing with poles. The dancers would be strippers.
Really loud alarm bells.
Bright flashing lights.

It’s not that I have anything against strippers. I used to be one in fact. And yes there was a part of me that felt very sexy, very powerful up on stage. But there was also a part of me that felt like I was being swallowed whole, consumed.

“Let me see the poem,” I told him. At this point I just wanted to get it over with. Confirm what I already knew.

Swarthy
Passion
Lover
Brown
Ghetto

Words screamed up at me from the page. I read and reread the poem neatly separated into two paragraphs, neatly separated into two women, two strippers, who both happened to be Puerto Rican like me. I struggled to maintain a certain level of distance. I fought the urge to lose all semblance of professionalism. I wanted to jump across the table and show all my ghetto Puerto Rican passion.

“It’s all stereotype. It’s all fetish,” I said in a low voice before taking a swallow of my coffee, my rage.

“I see have I have made you uncomfortable and that is good. Art is supposed to make you uncomfortable. I want to get beyond the manmade racial stereotypes and the only way to do that is to confront them,”

“You understand that I was born uncomfortable. That you are just repeating what has been put out there. That race may be manmade but it doesn’t negate how it works and that is something that you will never be able to understand,” I was still speaking low, still sipping my coffee but I was simmering, brewing beneath the surface of my own skin.

“Your reaction is stereotypical, “he threw at me. Before I could react he began to tell me a story about how he had gone to the Nuyorican Poets Café and read a related poem and how he was shot down and called misogynistic, racist.

Hmmm. Think maybe they were on to something.

Then he continued to say that it would be different if he were writing about say women from places like where Garcia Marquez or Vargas Llosa came from (he didn’t name the countries. Maybe he didn’t know the names of the countries).
“Those places have literary histories. Where Marisol (the stripper in his poem) is from, that is a place rooted in rhythm. All Marisol has ever wanted to be was a dancer (which in his mind was the same as a stripper).”

Did I mention that the strippers in his poem were both Puerto Rican?

“Well show me something,” he said almost as if it were a dare.

I pulled out “Exxxotic Girl”. For those of you who haven’t read it or heard it, it’s all about the objectification of Latina women.

“This is like every other Def Poetry Jam poet or wannabe poet,” he said.

Now criticism is fine when it’s warranted and useful. But when it comes from someone like this person there is no value in it. I have been called worse by worse writers with their own issues.

I put my share of money down on the table.
“Now I will extricate myself from this situation,” I said before leaving because well I like to use big words when I speak sometimes and I was setting myself free.

I walked to the subway laughing.

Some people will never get it.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

On Visiting the Aztecas

Meeting the Aztecas



On Ash Wednesday I didn’t go to church. I didn’t ask for forgiveness or promise to give up anything. I woke up and dressed early and my mother and I snuck off to the Guggenheim to see the Aztec exhibit before it closed on the weekend. I say snuck off because my sister was home sleeping in since she had the day off because of Chinese New Year.

Overall the exhibit was very moving. Many of the objects on display, pieces of holy temples and everyday objects, I had seen before in catalogs and books. My mother recognized much from her own trips to Mexico when she was still married to my father.
I was disappointed with the curation (?) of the exhibit. Everything was organized chronologically up through the Spanish invasion of Cortez but the information was stuff that I pretty much knew already.

I was also annoyed with the amount of people there. There were many school groups. Many of the students were more excited to test the acoustics of the museum by yelling down from the circular floors down to classmates below them. It was exciting to see some school groups, of elementary students, mostly Mexican and Central American discuss their ancestry through what was displayed. The museum did have some excellent people working with these children. I wish I knew what those students were thinking, feeling. The busloads of elderly white tourists also annoyed the hell out of me. Some of the old men tried to flirt with my and strike up conversations. I overheard one woman look at a sculpture and comment, “That reminds me of Rodin”.

The following are impressions that I wrote as waves of emotion from sadness to anger weaved through me.

Meeting with the Aztecs

I wasn’t expecting my visit to feel like a funeral.
I wasn’t expecting your current resting place to feel like a cemetery.
I usually don’t pay a twenty-three dollar admission fee to mourn,
To relive my being conquered,
through someone else being conquered.
I didn’t know I would stand before these treasures,
These spoils,
And break down and cry.

Grief transformed into greed.
I wanted to experience this alone,
To bear witness alone.
I wanted to shoo away the tourists and busloads of elderly.
I wanted to hoard my emotions before they could be taken away from me
Too.



I will add more as I review my notes from the day.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Ashes to Ashes

I am about a week behind in my blogging. I ask for your patience as I play catch up.
Thanks...la Mala

It’s been years since I took part in the ritual of Ash Wednesday. In elementary and high school my girlfriends and I would always wear our bangs over our foreheads to hide the black marks of our alleged repentance. The bigger the mark on our heads or the darker it was, like when the priest seemed to be pressing the burnt remains of last year’s Palm Sunday into your forehead, the worse we must have been. I, like most other Catholic children, gave up small but important things like chocolate or cartoons after school.
As I got older though, I wondered if maybe I should give up bigger things. Was Jesus really impressed or convinced of how sorry I was for hitting my sister or for putting my hand in my panties because it felt so damn good just because I gave up a Kit Kat bar or two? So I gave up giving things up for Lent.

I gave up Lent for Lent when I was in High School, about the same time I gave up pledging allegiance to the flag. I didn’t give up on divinity or even prayer. I just gave up on the idea that a higher power wanted me to feel bad and wanted me to give up things to prove that I agreed that I was bad and undeserving. I believe my actions have consequences, being single and pregnant at age 19 pretty much sold me. I believe in heaven and hell. I’m not quite sure where heaven is but I’m pretty sure hell is right here on Earth.

On Ash Wednesday my daughter stared at people’s foreheads, including the foreheads of my mother and sister. She asked me why they had dirt on them. I sat down and explained the meaning, the symbolism, and the Catholic theology behind Lent. Despite my mother thinking otherwise, Catholic school wasn’t a complete waste. La MapucheRican asked if she could get ashes on her head. I explained to her how it was a symbol of faith in the Catholic religion and that it would be inappropriate for her to get ashes just because it fascinated her.

As I raise my daughter, she is exposed to all religious faiths. I teach her that there is a higher power with many names and many paths. What path she chooses to take if any at all will be up to her.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Happy Valentine's Day

Yes yes I am well aware that today is a greeting card manufactured holiday, a day to make single people anxious and feel like crap, a day when expectations for cheap chocolate and stuffed animals are at their height and yet.....

four years ago I went on what I thought would be just another internet date. I met a man who charmed the tanga right off of me and had a strange proclivity to wearing sweatshirts all the time (which I thought were ugly but later I found out they had a practical purpose). I went home from that date so happy, so full of hope and excitement and happiness (oh yes was he a good kisser). Yeah he broke my heart once, yeah we broke up twice, and yeah he moved on the other side of the country. Four years after that initial date I find myself back with that man, madly in love, with plans towards an uncertain future (aren't all futures uncertain?).

So today I jump on the bandwagon of hearts and flowers and cupid and send mushy wishes of love to my valentine, mi Cubanito.

Who would have thought that two difficult people could get along so well?

Te quiero y te amo.

Monday, February 07, 2005

What’s in a Name?

My parents have been divorced for about 21 years now. My mother never bothered to change her name, get rid of her married last name and replace it with her maiden name. She says she did this for us, my younger sister and me. When I was a child, in the 80’s, having divorced parents wasn’t uncommon, not in New York City anyway or in the minor political circle my parents were then a part of. Having a mom with a different last name than you however was still considered strange.

Last week I called my local cable company to switch over the phone line in my childhood apartment to their digital phone service. It seems like a good deal, especially given long distance charges I am incurring on my bill thanks to many many calls to Los Angeles.
I overlooked the obvious however. It was an issue I had discussed many times with my happily single mother and have gotten made fun of by my friends whenever I have called them from my home phone. My mother using her ex husband’s last name isn’t the only thing that hadn’t changed 20 plus years after the divorce. The phone bill still bears my father’s name.

I inform the digital phone sales person from the cable company of the name on the bill and she asks when is a good time to call back so she can speak to Mr. Person whose name is on the bill. I, pretending to be my mother, tell the woman that I have been divorced from my husband over 20 years. The saleswoman then asked me for a number to contact the person whose name is on the bill. I didn’t have a way. I haven’t spoken to my father in years. I was then informed that there was some state law (or was it federal?) that required her to contact the person whose name was on the bill before she switched over the phone service. So now I have to call my phone company and get the name changed on the bill to match reality.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Happy Bithday to el Cubano

Happy Birthday wishes to el Cubanito, amor de mi vida. Even though we are thousands of mils apart I carry you with me always. Un besote grande. Next year we'll both be in Los Angeles doing something fabulous together celebrating the day you came into this world and were put on a path that would eventually lead to me and a million other wonderful things that have and will continue to come your way.

(apologies to all my other regular blog readers who have to deal with such sappiness. What can I say. A part of me is a huge hopeless romantic).

The Ending of a Monarchy

Just when media outlets like the New York Times and New York Magazine were beginning to call the neighborhood East Williamsburg in their real estate sections and just when I began to meet Long Island white boys who were moving away from their childhood split levels into walk ups, the self proclaimed Prince of Bushwick gave his landlord notice.

He called me on Sunday afternoon, the way he calls me every few months to say hello, to tell me his latest sad hookup and addiction, and to find out my latest bed partner. We don’t flirt anymore not since I last saw him on my birthday last year, when he took me out to dinner. When I didn’t go home to Bushwick with him that night I think he understood then that we could only be friends.

He said he was happy at work but was still making stupid decisions in his life. I asked him to clarify what those choices were. He proceeded to tell me about a wonderful woman he went out with early in the week. He met her online (as we met). They went out the next night again and then on their third consecutive date he asked her to move in with him. The Prince of Bushwick, struggling with a cocaine addiction, discovered that his sexy new housemate was a Heroin user. So now she is moving out.

Heroin and Coke are back in like in the 80’s and seem to be rampant in hipster Brooklyn which makes me kind of glad I don’t hang out there anymore. The Prince, who drinks bourbon and smokes cigars hangs out in Williamsburg so it only seems fitting that he live near where he plays. He says he’s tired of having to have his “dates” travel through a bad hood just to fuck him.

I told him all about my move to LA and he seemed genuinely happy but just as I began to chide him about his bad choice in women the call got disconnected (or maybe he hung up on me). I took it as a sign.

The reign of the Prince of Bushwick is coming to an end and Williamsburg is gaining another force of gentrification.

Los Angeles looks better and better everyday.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Tales of El Cuco

I was watching television the other night and made a joke about this movie and I commented to my mom that we needed a Latino version called el Cuco. You know el Cuco, he's the Spanish language boogeyman used for generations to scare children into submission. I was told a story by my grandmother about when she was a child in Puerto Rico and being warned about el Cuco when she wouldn't do her chores. One night my great great grandmother, a Taina, known to all then and now as Ma Querida, or dearest mother, decided to play a trick on my abuelita and her sisters and brothers. Ma Querida covered herself in a sheet and began to make noise, pretending to be el Cuco. My Abuelita, never one to be easily tricked, gathered her siblings and began beating on el Cuco with sticks.

So much for that.