Yalitza Aparicio Appreciation Post

Also, can we talk about white supremacy in Indian Country?

So, first thing’s first: Indigenous actress Yalitza Aparicio has been snatching edges since her debut in “Roma.” Most recently, she was giving the rest of us something to aspire towards on the cover of Vogue México. And let’s be honest—we are not worthy.

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Underneath her name, it says “a star is born” in both Spanish and Mixtec. I Stan. (Vogue México)

I haven’t seen “Roma” yet, but obviously, Yalitza is life goals. And her ascent onto the world stage has been hailed as a win for Indigenous womxn. It has been refreshing to see an Indigenous womyn who looks like me (e.g., brown AF) being appreciated for her talent and her beauty. And while Native folks all over Turtle Island are souped, I do think Yalitza’s meteoric rise presents the perfect opportunity to acknowledge white supremacy in Indian Country.

This is a conversation I do not like to have with other Natives, because, to be totally transparent, I don’t want people to misunderstand my point or think I’m bitter. We balk to acknowledge privilege of lighter-skinned and white passing Natives, never mind that said privilege is just an iteration of white supremacy. 

But it matters. How often do we talk about Indigenizing work, but in the same breath, marginalize brown (and I’m talking brown) Indigenous folks? Much to the chagrin of light-skinned Indigenous people, I contend that one cannot actually Indigenize anything without first naming, confronting and reconciling the ways in which we perpetuate white supremacy within our community. We are deeply invested in colonial constructs around Indian blood, but we are quick to center and uplift the lighter among us without critiquing why: most the Native folks who are really out here with big platforms and any amount of social capital (Instagram Indians, as my Maya Kaqchikel friend and I call them) are light, bright, and damn near white.

And that is a large part of why I think Yalitza, and her visibility, is so important. I am over the moon for her. And her dizzying rise to stardom presents many questions that get to the heart of Indigenizing work. After this moment, will we continue to uplift brown- and darker-skinned Indigenous people, particularly womxn, gender nonconforming/gradient, and Two Spirit folks, in our communities? How can we be critical of which Indigenous voices we center? How do we appreciate Yalitza without fetishizing her?

And, most importantly: how do you say “you better slay these ungrateful hoes” in Mixtec?

On Struggling, Sharing, and Authenticity

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Am I the only person who feels like an epic fuck-up sometimes?

Like I just can’t get it together, and I’m destined to be a hot mess forever?

Like I will eventually die alone — and/or with lots of cats?

I’m guessing not. Last night, I got into a particularly self-deprecating funky funk that precipitated a panic attack. If I’m totally honest, I’m still partially in denial about panic disorder being a real thing for me, despite what my therapists and doctors have told me. Anyway, I had been feeling sad earlier, so I went to a coffee shop to write (and drink a well-deserved, boughie holiday hot chocolate).

It worked for about twenty minute before the panic gripped me again. At that point, I went to my car and proceeded to freak out in the parking lot for another half hour.

“Going to the coffee shop made things worse,” I texted my best friend when it started to subside. “I’m just a failure at life, and at this rate, I’ll never be happy.”

After chiding me for my self-deprecation, he responded with something I wasn’t expecting.

“I’m drinking and I feel like shit. I feel alone and like no one wants to be with me.”

I immediately went into best friend mode because (not to brag) my best friend is truly amazing. His confession snapped me out of my funk, but it also made me realize I’m not the only one who feels like they don’t have it together. It made me feel like less of the overly sensitive fuck-up I tell myself I am.

Of course, I was not happy to hear my friend is also struggling. (#SchadenfreudeSunday. Just kidding. I was really proud of myself for coming up with that). Nor was I necessarily seeking someone to commiserate with over wine and bad Christmas movies (though we did some of that, too).

Of course, neither of us has figured it out. Will we get the promotions and pay raises? Will we always be overworked and underpaid? Will those boys call us? What if 2019 isn’t better? I don’t know. So why am I sharing all this?

Because not doing so is what isolates and ultimately kills us. Sharing our vulnerability, deep insecurities and fears helps us to see that they are not so unique to our lives. It makes our suffering seem less personal and pointed. I’ve learned there is great power in honoring the struggle, in not rushing to qualify it or cover it up. And not only that, along the way I’ve found out I’m not the only anxious, overcommitted, just-above-broke millennial out there.

Cheers to authenticity? Idk. We’ll figure it out, netompaûog.

I don’t care what anyone says I love this song.

Bernie and the Finch

Don’t think this blog is strictly about politics: it’s not. But since we’re in the middle of a particularly crappy election, and since it’s Thursday, let’s do a throwback.

If we’re being real, I rolled my eyes the first time I saw this video. No matter what you feel about the election, you have to admit it: that moment between Bernie and the finch was divinely timed. Across the country in Portland, a crowd of twentysomethings ate it up, and I can’t exactly blame them: they are a cross section of rightfully disgruntled American millennials looking for a sign, any sign.

And it came on wings, in the form of a curious little bird that perched on the podium while Bernie Sanders spoke. The crowd went crazy. Apparently that moment had something to do with some TV show I don’t watch: but if you ask any Native Bernie supporter, they’ll tell you it was a sign. Bernie raised his hands and his eyebrows, surrendered to the moment, and let Kawtontawitt work. It was pure genius. One of my friends back in Rhode Island sent me the video on Facebook, and when the crowd stood up and cheered, I understood why, but I shook my head. “You’d think it was the second coming of Black Jesus,” I typed, not even bothering to follow it with an emoji to mitigate the sincerity of my “Really, yall?” whatthefuckness.

That little brown finch was a sign, all right; a gift from the electoral gods. “I know it doesn’t look like it, but that bird is really a dove asking us for world peace,” Bernie echoed into our fractured American consciousness. “No more wars!” It was a force, but I wonder what Tara Houska thought. I wonder if Zellie hit “retweet” or kept scrolling on his timeline. Were they amused by the irony, or did they roll their eyes, too?

I’m not trying to project. After all, Bernie deserves much more credit than being branded simply as the lesser of evils in this election. Yet for all the hashtags, reposts and retweets, I am often left to wonder if feeling the Bern precipitates structural change. I like Bernie and I appreciate his honesty, but his campaign in and of itself did not mean this country was ready to reconcile with its history. The depths of racism and sexism, steeped as they are in white capitalism, cannot and will not be undone by one well-informed, well-meaning, friendly senator from Vermont. So while I’m here for Bernie, I want more from his supporters, the white ones in particular. The undoing of this American calamity requires more. The work of confronting whiteness is not Bernie’s alone.

Ultimately, that curious moment between Bernie and the finch is not about world peace: it’s about the work, and above all, responsibility. I realized this as I watched the soundbite through the optic of glossy American political pageantry. It’s not that I wasn’t feeling the Bern per se; I just know better than to subscribe to election year idealism.

One of my professors last semester described Bernie as unusually honest. Also as a curmudgeon who wears the free glasses from LensCrafters and dresses in ill-fitting suits from Costco. Everyone else in the class laughed at the latter comment, and I smiled, even though I’ve never been to a Costco and haven’t yet sorted through all the nuances. I’m no politician, no particularly qualified commentator on this election nor the incomplete work of unpacking America.

But the work is incomplete, and it’s dangerous for us to think otherwise. Which is why I thought the Birdie Sanders thing was stupid. As has been the case throughout this election, millennials were reaching. They were forcing that odd moment with the finch into the canon of Bernie fan culture. The man was asking white people to confront whiteness, and for that alone, we should have known he would never be president.

I was never here for Bernie fan culture, obviously. But he had a lot of good things to say. I appreciate how he showed Indian Country love, how he stepped aside when Black Lives Matter activists interrupted his speech earlier in the year. I don’t know if it was a sign, but he was definitely about the business.

Maybe the electoral gods sent the finch to let us know our time was up in the election madness. Who knows? It was over before the heavens opened above Portland; it was over before it began. And while it was kind of cheesy, I appreciate you, Bernie, for asking us to believe.

I Am (Not) My Hair

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I was born ten days after my due date with a whole lot of hair. As the family lore goes, my parents kissed my face and called me papoos, Narragansett for “baby,” and marveled at my unruly, glorious curls.

Since that morning, my hair has been a point of constant contention and speculation. I wore it in braids growing up, as most Black and most Native children do. But I was never sufficiently Black and never sufficiently Native; and so my hair caused people to wonder out loud about my ancestry. What are you mixed with? Which one of your parents is white? Are you Spanish? You must be Spanish.

It sounds fucked up, and it was: but this is Providence we’re talking about, the “Creative Capital” brimming with immigrants from all corners of the world. And so “Spanish” is how people branded me without my consent. It’s how they pigeonholed me and fit me into the limited, historically selective narrative of our city.

They probably didn’t know that before Providence was Providence, it was a colonial settlement uneasily brokered on Narragansett land and a major slave port of the seventeenth-century Atlantic world. But above all, Providence has been the crossroads where my people have come together for refuge and survival: Black people who were supposed to be chattel and Natives who were supposed to be dead.

My mane of curls was telling this inconvenient history long before I knew how. But before I understood how revolutionary my hair is, I secretly hated it for the constant barrage of questions it prompted—questions to which I never had sufficient answers. After all, according to America, Black girls don’t have long hair and Indians don’t exist anymore. You’re just Black with “good hair,” people decided for me, rendering my Indigeneity erasable, my Blackness a condition I should be reluctant to accept.

After I graduated college, I chopped my hair shoulder-length and left my ancestral land. I wasn’t looking for an identity, but rather, to be more of myself. In New York, the extent to which we have politicized hair is even more apparent than it is in New England: people treat me differently if my hair is pulled back or teased out or straightened.

These days, though, if you look at my hair and then ask me what I am, I’ll tell you, Black and Native, and Not for Consumption. Whether I have a middle or side part or braids or not, I won’t accommodate anyone’s fetishizing, colonial gaze. My hair resists categories. Sometimes it cooperates, sometimes it doesn’t. 3B, 4C, who gives a fuck? My curls are like plants: they need to be watered and loved. They like African oil. They are wild, shiny, untamed.

I’m thinking India.Arie as I write this, Lady Gaga as I try to find the words: I am, and I am not, my hair. I am the shores of what is now called Africa, the shores of what is now called New England. It’s an identity borne of and complicated by colonialism; an identity both of my communities are yet to fully accept.

If you listen, if you stop pigeonholing me, my hair will tell you this story.

The Swamp

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Technically, the clearing could also be a swamp. It’s less of a metaphor than you think, meaning, the land now called Providence used to be an emerald green, leafy woodland of brush, water, and sky.

Then the English came. They stole my land. They stole my ancestors. And finally, they named this non-island swamp Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.

South of my swamp, an (actual) island whitepeople stole named Manhattan, I constantly have to problematize assumptions about place and identity. I’m not trying to get a rise out of anyone or, God forbid, make the wide-eyed, quinoa-loving gentrifiers of Brooklyn think too hard. “Oooooh, I just love Providence,” they say when I tell them where I’m from. “My brother-in-law went to Brown. What is that thing they do downtown—WaterFire? What a charming little city!”

That’s one way to put it. Turns out, “Where are you from?” is one of the most pointed and  political questions someone can ask you in New York. It’s usually not the first, because the assumption is that you came here looking for an identity. So it’s very uncool to claim where you’re from, much less insist on the most concise, decolonial, metaphorical, truthful answer to that question: a swamp.

Blank stares. That it’s a caustic reply goes over most people’s heads. The nuances escape them. But they definitely think it’s lame of me to say that, particularly since I’ve been in New York for almost two years. “You’re a New Yorker now,” insist the gentrifiers, but I’m not. Not every tall, poised woman in this city is aspiring to be a model or an actress. There’s not a lot of poetry to why I’m here: I got into grad school, and the work is important to me.

But the belonging? Not so much. People here will go out of their way to pigeonhole you, particularly if your very existence problematizes their sense of history and identity. In other words, not all Indians are from reservations. Some of us come from plantations called Boston, New Haven, Providence: New England slave ports, post-industrial renaissance ghettos. Anyway, as it were, most Natives live in cities, and the city with the largest Native population is New York.

God bless these hapless five boroughs, this stolen Lenni Lenape land on which Indigenous people from all corners of Turtle Island negotiate belonging. Some days, it really sucks. I don’t see myself in the concrete,the steaming masses at Columbus Circle, the smog, the uppity college students sunbathing in Washington Square Park. The promises of this emerald island called Manhattan are evasive. New York, more than anywhere I’ve ever been on Earth, is a nexus of intense digital voyeurism and collective social anxiety, all against the dizzying backdrop of the sleepless white capitalist beast. Money, competition, alcoholism, vanity, Tinder: it’s exhausting, and I don’t see myself in any of it.

But I’m here. I’m brown and unapologetic, caustic, sometimes funny, always technical. This blog is my digital clearing and New York is my metaphor. It goes over most people’s heads. “Did you come here to model?” ask the gentrifiers eagerly. “To act? To be an Instagram star?”

No: I’m from a swamp, and I came here to work.