Wednesday, February 6, 2013

How to be an alternative Latina by Odilia Rivera-Santos

By Odilia Rivera-Santos

Rice and beans, the food of my people

I love the food of my people, but with some adjustments: brown rice instead of white, olive oil instead of corn oil, and cuchifritos are saved for special occasions -- once or twice per year.
Marriage is something I tried and it worked out until it didn't work out anymore, but there were enough wonderful aspects of togetherness and loyalty to make me consider marriage again with the right fella.
I grew up taking care of kids because my brothers and sisters were a lot older, so the strong desire to procreate never kicked in. And some Latinas with kids find my disinterest in having children baffling.
A Puerto Rican woman said to me, "You'll never know what it feels like to be a mother," and I said "You'll never know what it feels like to get up at 3am to book a flight to Paris without having to confer with anyone but your boss or business clients."

I love Jazz, Bomba, Plena, Bolero, Hip Hop, show tunes and my favorite writer was Russian. I never got into Rock music and thought Punk was amusing but not something with which I connected or identified as deeply as Jazz.
I never learned to speak Spanglish but sprinkle it in my writing for fun, and my English is formal because my ESL teachers were college-educated; there was no one at home to sit down and teach me a 'broken' version of English for me to take in to class for repairs.

Being proactive and independent
Being proactive was something I learned at a young age by helping my parents who didn't speak Spanish. Information hunting and gathering was something I learned to do for survival and it became a great game to find ways to escape parts of Puerto Rican culture I didn't like.
Culture defines what we should want. But I always had a problem with the word 'should'.
Feminism came to me in this way -- feminists said it was okay for me to not have kids or be married and these were things no woman had to want regardless of culture. It was also okay to enjoy a book by myself instead of being at a huge family gathering and having my entire family discuss every aspect of my life.

Latina bombshell
The media still portrays Latinas as obliviously sexy and they provide comic relief as they enter a room in an outrageously tight revealing outfit without noticing the stir their sexuality creates. Showing the stereotypical Latina body in silence reaffirms the belief we exist to be objects of desire and not much else.
In art and sometimes in life, we see the Latina as mother, bombshell, or the abuela who is thrilled to be up to her elbows in pasteles batter. But there are many varieties of the Latina experience.

Utilitarian Latina
I am still hunting and gathering experience and knowledge, seeing life as an adventure.
I love brilliant conversations and if that's not possible, silence is just as good and silence with great live music and dancing is also good. I've always been independent, not one to do all things in tandem; I've been known to slip into a party at the last moment and slip out without saying a word but my head full of details.
I have wonderful friends -- most of them artists -- and enjoy the heat hiss of the radiator, the snowplow scrape on the sidewalk when it snows, the Godzilla sound of garbage trucks in the morning and being alone. I own a TV but haven't turned it on in three years.

I am happy right now to be no one's mother, no one's wife and no one's caretaker, which leaves me in the state of 'alternative Latina-ness.'

New challenges are exciting and something to be savored, plotted, lived, observed and annotated.

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