Tag Archives: Identity

The Lazy Spic

10400503_18166125619_9115_nYesterday I worked a twelve-hour workday. The day before I had worked for thirteen hours straight. The day before was nine hours. I had taken exactly two days off in four months since I started my new job. I have worked on weekends and even when I have given my staff a day off, I have gone to the office or worked from home to finish a project or start a new one. My staff is always supportive and they have, on more than one occasion, asked me to take it slow, to pace down, and even encouraged me to take a day off. The Board of Directors of my organization expects me to work hard, but they have also encouraged me to practice self-care, to take time off, and to work at a healthy pace. I can show you emails, texts, and social media messages I have gotten from staff and Board members encouraging me and reminding me of practicing self-care. Yet, I continue to work.

Why do I do this? Sure, I love what I do. I thoroughly enjoy administration, management, strategic planning, and all that comes with this. But there’s a second, equally important reason why I work so much… and it is not because I am a workaholic.

The first new world in learned when I moved to New York City in 2000 was “spic.” There was a definition attached to this term. The spic is a lazy person; they live off of government handouts, they despise work, they are irresponsible, the have moved in droves to New York City and had made the space less livable, less desirable, less safe. The spic didn’t speak English and didn’t want to assimilate to the evidently superior “American” culture.

People – especially USAmericans – have been enraged with President Trump’s comments about how Puerto Ricans have not done enough to help ourselves in light of the major natural disaster we have just experienced. For Trump, we are lazy people who do not want to work collaboratively. This is what he was taught about our community in the New York City of his early childhood. For the USAmerican public, for the most part, these are atrocious accusations. For the Puerto Rican community, these are just the same comments we’ve been hearing since our community started migrating to the mainland in the 1950s.

Although I commend and welcome the rage that Trump’s comments have sparked among my USAmerican friends, you must understand that his comments are not made in a vacuum. Trump is talking about the lazy spic that I have been told I am.

As a Puerto Rican living in exile, you are taught that you are part of a group of people who are, at once, “job stealers” and “lazy people.” How is it possible that we steal “American” jobs and don’t work enough at the same time, I have no idea.

Perhaps for many of you it was a surprise that the President of the United States depicted the people of Puerto Rico as lazy people who do not help ourselves. However, this is what we have heard as a community since the 1950s when our people started migrating in droves to the USA due to the economic realities of the Island cause, precisely, by the USA’s policies towards its colonies. It is this message the one that is still ingrained in my head, to the point that I work and work and work, lest someone accuse me of being lazy and not doing enough.

This is not something I am making up. Neither is this something that happened a while ago and certainly not in so-called “progressive” spaces. On the contrary. This thinking that Puerto Ricans, and Latino people in general, are lazy is still alive. Take, for instance, what happened to me for four years while I served a progressive congregation in one of the most so-called progressive cities in the USA. A woman who self-appointed as the leader of the church would call my office at random hours of the day, just to check that I was there, just to make sure I had come to the office that day. She wouldn’t want to talk to me. She just wanted to make sure that I was there. Her excuse was that she had heard I had not been active in the community, or doing enough home visits to the folk in the congregation. She used her self-appointed status as a leader of the church to let me know that “there were concerns” in the church that I wasn’t being effective. Of course, like any good oppressor, she couldn’t notice the flaw in her argument: I had to be in the office so I could demonstrate that I was doing my job of being in the community and visiting folk.

When you are confronted with this reality every day, you learn to navigate the system. You know that you must be perfect, perform beyond what people’s perceptions of your abilities are, and work twice as hard as anybody else. No wonder the great Nuyorican poet Pedro Pietri wrote about our community:

They worked
They were always on time
They were never late
They never spoke back
when they were insulted
They worked
They never took days off
that were not on the calendar
They never went on strike

without permission
They worked
ten days a week
and were only paid for five
They worked
They worked
They worked
and they died
They died broke
They died owing
They died never knowing
what the front entrance
of the first national city bank looks like

Juan
Miguel
Milagros
Olga
Manuel
All died yesterday today
and will die again tomorrow…[1]

[1] Pedro Pietri, Puerto Rican Obituary, 1969

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“What Are You?” – The Reality of Intersectional Identities

“What are you?” If you are a person of color, a person of non-white ethnic background, a practitioner of a non-Christian faith, or someone who does not follow conventional gender roles or expression, it is very likely that you have heard this question multiple times throughout your life. Heck! You might have heard this question multiple times just today! For some reason or another we all want to know where others “belong” – what tribe each person is a part of. Although I do not have scientific evidence to say this – it is a blog page after all, not my dissertation page – I believe we do this as a survival strategy; finding groups of people who will support each other in order to thrive, survive and protect each other based on the commonalities we share. However, we are humans. With being human comes the complexities of relationships and what it means to be in relation with each other, even those with whom we disagree.

intersectionality“What are you?” is, then, the amalgam of the identities we espouse and embody. These are identities that we have chosen and identities that are inherent to our being. The problem comes with the way in which the question is posed. Humans are not things. We are a very complex animal with both physiological and psychological characteristics. The integration of these characteristics is what makes us unique in the animal realm. Humans can overcome our desire to associate by tribe – or herd, or school, or pack, or whatever we call the different groups of animals that exist – precisely because we can answer the question “what are you?” Yet, the answer to this question is not an “it is” but an “I am”. In using this form of recognition of the self – something that other animals lack – we acknowledge that we are more than just our instincts.

Humans are the intersectionalities of our identities. These identities converge in order to create complex realities that define WHO – not “WHAT” – we are. I am… Puerto Rican, male, queer, cleric, cisgender, Latino, middleclass, a professional, Protestant, writer, advocate, light-skinned, etc. Each one of these identities reflects a part of who I am. Each one of these identities as well as when I choose to use them also reflect my values and what I treasure the most. Note, for instance, that I often identify as Puerto Rican first and foremost. This part of my identity is so crucial to my being that I cannot just ignore it or place it at the end of the list. With it come a whole lot of other realities that define what it means to be “Puerto Rican”. The context in which I experienced my Puerto Ricanness – growing up in the mountains, with a stable household, eldest son of a married couple, living in a coffee farm, Spanish speaker, exposed to the USA’s cultural realities while also keeping the history of a former Spaniard island possession, etc. – informs this part of my identity. Yet, my “self” is not complete without the interaction of the myriad other identities I embody or have chosen for myself.

Our realities are always intersections of the many identities we carry within ourselves. There are times when those identities are messy and even in contradiction with each other. Yet, this is part of the human experience. What makes us human is the capacity to navigate these apparent contradictions in a way that makes sense to US individually. What do I care about what others say about me? They cannot experience my identity the way I do, nor can I experience their identity the way each one of them does. My only responsibility is to try to acknowledge these differences and honor them by recognizing that each person’s multiple identities and how they converge are none of my business.

There is one aspect of the intersectionality of identities that is crucial, especially when it comes to living in a multi-everything society. Solidarity.

Solidarity is the ability to stand by the side of those who suffer because one or more aspects of their identities. Solidarity is recognizing that one or more parts of our identities might be attacked by others who do not understand the beauty of diversity. Solidarity is being wise enough to recognize that our lives are always being intertwined in such a way that the fight for justice is never to be done in isolation. As Blessed Martin Luther King taught us: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” If we do not see how the many identities we carry are intrinsically connected with the multiple identities of others, we will lose sight of the fight for justice and liberation.

There is no doubt that the question “what are you?” will continue to be a part of the daily experience of many of us. As a theologian, I like to reflect on the way in which the God of the Bible addressed this question when it was posed to God. According to the story found in Exodus, when Moses met God for the first time, he asked God whom should he say that send him to liberate God’s people. God’s answer was straightforward: I AM. That’s it! I am… You are, and others are too. It is in this present “being” that we can find commonalities in the midst of so many intersectional realities that make us who we are. Thus, the next time someone asks you “what are you?”, just answer: I AM.

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