LBC Day 27 – Favorite Latino Author

I dedicate this blog to the only Pulitzer Prize winner I have ever met, Juno Diaz. I have written a blog about him before and what still amazes me about him is that he has left a mark on me as a writer. I was not fortunate enough to take his class when he did teach at Syracuse University and I feel that if perhaps that had happened, I would have made a literary connection then sooner.

He has written two novels, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and Drown. Both books are absolutely fabulous in imagery and how he was able to take life of Latinos and put it on paper. His words are flawless and I read them as if he and I were having a conversation. What I like is that he started off as a short story writer and then moved on to novels.

Juno Diaz won the Pulitzer Prize for his second novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. It is because of this book that we brought him to Syracuse University in 2008. It was a really big thing because here we are trying to bringing up someone big for Latino Heritage Month and because he taught here, he was willing to come and speak with very few problems.

He spoke in front of a packed house in the new Newhouse 3 building. In fact, he was insistent that he did not speak, he wanted to have a discussion on the book. Juno read 2 passages from the book and he had me floored. The fact that one of his passages was describing a sexual act within the book in front of an audience filled with students and faculty, and he read it it like it was Shakespeare, showed me that I should no longer care what people think about me and what I write. It was indeed a magical moment for me.

Juno Diaz has set the bar for me; he is where I want to be. He will be my inspiration to take my talent to the next level while keeping it real. Having dinner with that man proved to me that success can continue to keep a person humble. Juno talks like he writes which makes his literary work so masterful.

LBC Day 26 – Favorite Latino Actor or Actress

I am not sure why I had trouble with this topic. Maybe because I did not want to speak about people I have already spoken about. I picked Eva Mendes because I feel that she is becoming a bigger name in Hollywood. I think that her body of work is indicative of where she going within the movie industry.

Yes, she is gorgeous and that gives her an edge in a society that is very much sex craved. Most of the industry is always looking for that Latina with sex appeal and she certainly has that. However, what I have come to really like about Eva Mendes is that she has personality. I appreciate that she can be sexy and goofy at the same time. She seems to have great comedic timing.

She started her film career in 1998, but I did not notice her until 2001 with her role in Training Day, which was a great movie that landed Denzel Washington his Oscar Award. However, her starring role in the movie Hitch, opposite Will smith, is what really brought her to the forefront.  This Florida born, Cuban actress, also appeared in movies like Ghost Rider and The Spirit.

I think that she is on the short list of Latina actresses that have made an impact, but have not really landed that one big role that defines them. I am hoping that she will be the one to do this.

LBC Day 25 – Post a Picture of Familia

First, I need to say that it took me longer than I want to find a picture with anyone within my family. I spend a lot of time speaking about my dad on this blog and on Twitter, but I never speak much about my brother nor my nephew. This picture was taken in May of 2007 at my nephew’s first communion. I will first say that you will have trouble finding a better picture of three good looking males this side of the Bronx!

My brother currently lives in the Bronx with his son and wife. I go visit them as often as I can when I am in New York City. As a matter of fact, last time I was down there was for my nephew’s birthday in July. We went to Six Flags: Great Adventure and we had a blast. This is the other part of the family that I seems to not talk about so much on this blog. There was a time I was going to dedicate an entry to my brother, but it just never came to fruition.

The significance of this picture is that there are many differences between my brother and I and I feel that my nephew (and godson) is the one thing that brings us together. Do not get me wrong, I do not have a bad relationship with mi hermano, we just look at life differently. He is seven years older than me and while I always looked up to him, there as always a sense that he was too old for me to really connect with him in my youth.

My nephew is currently 10 years old and I remember how small he was when I saw him for the first time. He has gotten so big that is takes me by surprise every time I see him. He is definitely one of the biggest reasons for me to return to NYC. I miss him very much and I am not willing to miss out on him growing up anymore. This picture serves as a reminder that I still have work to do.

LBC Day 24 – Should Puerto Rico Be A State?

This is a debate that I am on the fence about. There are so many ways to look at this issue. Puerto Rico and statehood is something that I am not sure I will see in my lifetime but the question is why not? This idea that Puerto Rico should a state, or remain a commonwealth, or be independent can create a long debate amongst Puerto Ricans both native and American born.

I think that people focus on the fact that taxes will have to be paid by residents of the island,which is considered bad thing to many people since that is something they may not want to do. Of course this may mean that the standard of living cost will rise as well. The interest rate for the United States is much higher then that of Puerto Rico and somehow that gap will become a big problem. So economics play a great role in this debate.

However, I think the fact that Statehood would allow Puerto Rico representation within Congress and the Senate is a bigger deal to me. While someone currently sits in Congress as the Resident Commissioner, that person has no vote. Sure, this elected official can serve on committees and do the things that other members of the House or Representatives can do, this person cannot cast a ballot for any issues that may effect Puerto Rico. Being a state would afford Puerto Rico with the same rights and leverage as any other state within the union.

On the other hand, the big issue of English being the official language of the United States can be a deal breaker. The United States has no official language and many politicians are looking to change that. If that does happen and Puerto Rico gained statehood, they would have to abide by this. Clearly this is an issue to many people who are native to the island. Of course, we can argue semantics and say that the commonwealth status allows for so much tourism into Puerto Rico from the US that most places do speak English.

Currently, Puerto Rico has the best of both worlds. They can have an international team in any sport during world play. They can have their own entrance into the Miss Universe Pageant (which is a big deal). Those two things alone help with the sense of pride for island residents. The best part for them is that they get the benefits of being a US citizen without having to pay taxes.

There has been a call for Puerto Rico Independence over the years because if you think about it, they have been under some kind of rule since the time of Columbus (whether it is Spain or the US). This is something that I am not so sure about. While I completely understand the point of letting Puerto Rico be free in this world, I would hate it if it became a poor island that was run by corrupt politicians.

My view on this is that commonwealth status may be best for all parties involved. But, what do I know, I do not live there. Perhaps if I did, I could come up different perspective. Hmm…that is not a bad idea either.

LBC Day 23 – Hispanic or Latino: What Do I Prefer?

I have never cared for the word Hispanic. I have always felt that this word did not feel right. When I thought of Hispanics, I thought about people that look more like my dad than me. A better example would be people like Lou Diamond Phillips or Julio Iglesias. Whatever the case, I felt that because of my darker shade I was looked at as more black than Hispanic.

The word Latinos means something entirely different to me. A few weeks ago, a fellow blogger asked me what the definition of Latino was to me. I replied to her that I feel the Latino means someone of Spanish decent who lives within the Americas. I feel that this meaning compasses more of what we truly are, people who linked by a common ancestry that can be traced to the time of colonialism.

Hispanic to me falls more into the European side of this argument. I feel that it more exemplifies the traits of someone from Spain. While I am not trying to change definitions of words, I think that it is very important that whatever you call us it needs to hold true to everything that we are.

I prefer Latino because I think that describes my ethnicity beyond just Puerto Rican and Ecuadorian. I think it the word represents the deep and rich culture that we all share without making a particular distinction between the different people in Latin American, the Caribbean, and the United States. I also prefer Latino because unlike Hispanic, it can be genderized (i.e. Latina). The term Hispanic is problematic for many reasons and although it is widely used throughout the Southwest, Latino is a word that can have an assigned gender like most words in the Spanish vocabulary. Being that Spanish is the language we should all be speaking, this is very important nuance. Also, words like Afro-Hispanic or Hispanegro just do not sound right.

So while the word Latino has the ability to encompass all countries and people within this dynamic, it has the ability to separate based on gender and color. Latino is also a racialized identity that presents a series of social issues. Many Latinos are fighting for the right to not be categorized as “non white” for fear that being considered less than that would forfeit their perceived privileged. Theses would be the groups of people that would be identified as “White Hispanics”. This is a struggle that many White Hispanics fight for to maintain their social status. These are also the Latinos that popular culture identifies with.

Latino is a powerful word that describes a powerful set of people. Next time someone says wants to know the difference between Hispanic and Latino, before to refer them to my definition.

LBC Day 22 – Do I consider myself more Latino than American?

This is something that I have had many conversations with my dad. I consider myself to essentially be Latino. My dad considers himself American. I can understand his argument. He was born in American thus making him American. I was in the Navy and served his country. Of course he holds true to his roots. As I have explained in my post over the last month, my dad is very much into our culture. I learn most things from him.

I consider myself Latino. I feel that I represent my people no matter where I go. I think that this best describes me. Yet, I often wonder how my identity is looked at when I leave this country. I am almost certain that what my passport says is more important than any ethnicity I identify with. In the eyes of the world, I am indeed an American.

This isn’t a point of what I am proud of being more. I think that being a citizen of the United States despite its deep rooted issues is something that we all my take advantage of. We do not live under tyranny or a dictatorship. We all have the basic ability to live life to the fullest. To me being Latino just adds flavor to what being an American is.

I also have a great sense of nationality. I never thought that I would root so hard for an American swimmer during last year’s Summer Olympics, but Michael Phelps did a lot for me in my thought process of nationalism. I think that being able to stand by your country in sports is a great sign of pride. The funny thing is that when Puerto Rico beat Team USA in 2004 in Olympic basketball, I was rooting for PR all the way. I think at times like that I find myself in a bind because in my mind, we win so much that a small team needs to shine every so often. There was also the World Cup this past summer that made me very excited to be an American.

So when it comes down to it, I am more American than anything else. I am more familiar with the culture of this country even though the real culture is borrow from others.

LBC Day 21 – What Latin American Country/Island I Have Been To

Over the last twenty one days, I may have mentioned (just a little) that I have been to 3 Latin American Countries. Although I am not sure that I can call Puerto Rico a country, I would assume for sake of argument that this will slide. I have been to the Dominican Republic and Mexico (twice). I have written about being in DR and in PR, but never about Mexico.

While my first trip to Mexico was to Cancun, I think it still counts! I had so much fun considering this was the first vacation that I paid out of my own money. I noticed many thing different things in just being in another country. One thing that struck me was the lack of traffic laws…or what I consider to be traffic laws in Cancun. Many locals drove so fast and if you crossed the street, prepare to run.

While most of the places in Cancun were really touristy, there was one place that I went to that I really enjoyed. There is a small island called Isla Mujeres that I enjoyed so much because it seemed so untouched by commercialism. You could rent a motorbike and drive the length of the island in about 40 minutes.  I remember the army base and a few locals just living their lives.

I went there in 1999 and I can recall tours to the pyramids being offered and turning them down due to my lack of intelligence since all I wanted to do was party.  Thank god that over the years I have gained a sense of self and identity.

Which leads me to my trip to island of Cozumel. I only spent a day on this island as a part of the cruise I was on in 2007. This time I made sure that if I am going to make a trip to Mexico, I was going to see some pyramids or at least some ruins. For those who do not know, Cozumel is an island with the Yucatan Peninsula and is considered Mexican territory.

This is beautiful island with a rich history. There are Mayan ruins located in several points of the island, but the place that I went to is called the San Gervasio Ruins. This was a vast place that had shelters and places of worship. I was very much taken back by the sheer amount of ruins that this place had. You can really tell that the Mayans had a sense of culture. The picture on the left I took myself.

While I do feel that I have been to Mexico twice in 2 different locations, I feel that I need to see more. I would like to really go to certain places like Mexico City and Oaxaca. I feel that these place will always show a connection and common ancestry that we all seem to share.

LBC Day 20 – Latino Stereotype I Wish I Could Change

There are so many stereotypes that Latinos have that it one would think that I would be hard to pick one that I wish I could change. However there has always been one that had just really gotten under my skin over the years. It is the notion that Latinos are lazy. The idea of being lazy is a some what all encompassing trait that includes always being late and being generally nonchalant.

This is actually a motivation tool for me. If I feel that I am in a situation in which someone views me as the stereotypical Latino based on me possibly being lazy, then I find myself proving the exact opposite. Laziness is a stereotype that makes no sense to me. I have no idea where this has come from. I will say this, Latinos are far from lazy.

I think about the migrant workers who make barely enough to be considered minimum wage. I think about my family who have clocked in massive amount of hours at their jobs. I think about my mother who worked too much at Jacobi Hospital in the Bronx. I think about my father who busted his ass for Con Edison to get me through college and he worked so much that I still think about the cancer he developed in his lungs.

Let’s not forget that Latinos in this country were the reason that Obama is in white house. The massive amount of Latino voters is what put him over the hump. If we were lazy then we would not have come out in such a force. As much as I can say that I wish to get rid of this stereotype, I would like to think that we have done a great job of showing that this label not not apply.

LBC Day 19 – Religion

Religion is something that I think all Latinos can say is at the core of the family dynamic. In most Latino households, you should be able to find a picture of Jesus some where hanging.

When I was growing up, Religion was something that we never really spoke about. It was something I did go to school for. I spent 12 years in Catholic School. During that time I learned all I needed to know about being catholic, if that is what I was supposed to be. I was baptized as a baby, had my first communion when I was in second grade, and I did my confirmation in seventh grade. That is what you do when you go to Catholic school.
I know that many Latinos believe in more than just holy trinity (father, son, holy spirit). We tend pray to the virgin Mary and a plethora of saints. I think it really depends on who you talk to, but I know that different people may favor one saint over another. Some might pray to St. Anthony, for example, if they lost something and want to find it. They will light a seven day candle and if it was meant to be found then it will be found.

Which brings me to Botanicas. I am not sure I can fully explain these religious shop quite the way I need to. I am not sure I can do them justice. I do remember my mother going there quite often to pick up things. There were a few in the Bronx that I can remember when I was a kid. I am not sure if they are there any more. This is where my mother used to pick up Holy Water (there was specific kind I guess), incense, and those seven day candles I referred to.

I will briefly talk about this because I do not like to get into this too much. I know that there is Santeria that many people believe in and while I am not saying I do not believe in it, I know that I have experienced enough as a child with spirits. There have been plenty of group prayers in my grandmother’s house to lead me to believe that some thing going on beyond my comprehension as a child.

Regardless of beliefs, I know that Latinos tend to be very religious if not spiritual people that rely on faith to get through the tough times.

LBC Day 18 – Latino Art

One of the things that I have gotten so fascinated with when I have made my travels to Latin American and the Caribbean is art. I think that art is one of the things that we under rate so much as a people. I know that I do not spend nearly enough time in my life going to museums. Art is something that very few people can really appreciate.

I have been to Mexico and Puerto Rico twice and the Dominican Republic once. I have always made sure to bring back something that reminds me of where I have gone. For me, the best way I can do that is art. I am not talking just talking about the art that is painted and placed on walls for people to and interpret. I am aslo very much into the hand carved art that really express a culture.

Before anyone thinks I am an art collector I must inform you that I am not. I appreciate true art for what it is…expensive and authentic. However, there is no shame in going to souvenir shop and picking something up. What I have found is that the best places to go to get some really cool art or a hand crafted sculpture is to go somewhere that is none touristy. Not because the price is right, but because it seems to be less mass produced. The smaller shops are usually run by local families that need the money and work hard for it

I feel this is one place in my life that I knew more about. Art was something that was not really a part of my life as a kid. When I went to Puerto Rico in 2005, I just had to go to Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico. That place is absolutely amazing. I have been to a few art museums in my day, but for every piece of art be solely (or souly) about Puerto Rico is just outstanding. I also took note of the African influences as well.

I do not have a favorite artist either.I am the type of person that sees certain things and if it speaks to me I will like it. I feel that much of the art that I have seen is a direct connection to the past. I find that I have a preference to older art as opposed to modern art. It very interesting to see something of Aztec origin when in Mexico as opposed to something that may just been made.