I often wonder if Americans* know how much the United States has influenced European youth culture. Growing up, we all wanted to be rappers, break-dancers, graffitti-artists. There were plenty of wannabees and copy cats – we all wanted to look like the Latinos we saw on t.v. My friends and I would spend who knows how much time in front of the mirror trying to make sure we looked the part; a group of 14-16 year olds trying to find some kind of identity. I’m pretty sure that we looked completely out of place with our baggy jeans and charcoaled eyes, walking through our Swedish pueblitos! But those were almost exclusively the only Latino role models we had at that time: rappers and movie-thugs.
Of course it felt weird to call each other chula or hear the guys call each other pana and so on – it really wasn’t part of our culture (that we still hadn’t defined). Some of us didn’t speak Spanish that well; most of us hadn’t been to Latin America in years, if ever. Our curse words were mostly made up of words our parents had used in the early 70’s; there was really nothing cool about us.
But during the early 90’s a group of young Swedish-Latino guys from Botkyrka, a district outside of Stockholm known for its large concentration of immigrants, formed the group The Latin Kings (not to be confused with the gang that originated in Chicago). Dogge, Salla and Chepe were amongst the first to rap in Swedish – or what is often labeled as New-Swedish: essentially Swedish mixed with words from Spanish, Arabic, Turkish, and so on – a sociolekt, some call it.
Everybody talked about them – at home, in school, in the media. So many who hadn’t had anyone to identify with before, suddenly had these three guys who rapped about racism, inequality, love and lust – everything that had to do with being young in Sweden; suddenly it was pretty cool being a “blackhead,”as some would call us.
Although they’ve often been targets of ridicule, as many of their lyrics were often exaggerated truths- sometimes just pure fiction, –about life in their district, most of us remembers this group as the ones who stood up and spoke their minds about discrimination and racism and actually tried to make a difference. We all knew that some of their image was just that, but we didn’t care, because they made a space for us, made us feel like we belonged. They didn’t just represent the Latino culture; they represented all immigrants – first and second generation – living in Sweden. That was the greatest thing about the Latin Kings. As Douglas “Dogge” Leon, the group’s most prominent figure, said “Hip-hop was what made our poor upbringing rich. All you needed was paper and a pen and anyone could join, there was no discrimination …”References: Book: Portafolio: den sanna berättelsen om Chepe, Dogge och Salla. (Portafolio: the true story about Chepe, Dogge and Salla). by Jennifer Turano
*This was written before I stopped using the word “Americans” to refer to people in the US.
Mikki Kendall‘s #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen hash tag sparked a great deal of controversy. I’m sure many in the feminist movement didn’t get why the hash tag was needed, and most who aren’t in the feminist and/or anti-racist movement def. didn’t . And they have some catching up to do,to say the least…
But what it also sparked was a discussion about the position of those in the middle – those who don’t fit into the White Women or Women of Color-box. I thought it was great, that now we could also discuss what a narrow category whiteness is in the world, and how few people that get a membership into that club.
A video chat about that, mostly featuring white Latinas, showed how so many people just don’t fit into either group. But it also sparked another discussion about yet again excluding and silencing WoC (Women of Color).
I’m not a US citizen, have never lived there and don’t know enough about the country to talk about how Whiteness works there. And so I shouldn’t have opened my mouth, not even to try to explain how it works in Sweden, which is what I tried to do. And I apologize for that. I never want to silence anyone, it hurts me so whenever someone does that to me, especially when it’s something that happens over and over again – which is what is constantly happening to WoC. I thought (still do) that the chat was a result of the many blog posts about being a “White Latina” (check the bottom of this post for links) and being in the middle that started a short time after Kendall’s hash tag. A separate discussion springing from the first.
The #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen discussion is such an important one and I hope it sparks more discussions, more understanding, and more actions. I dont join in on those conversations because I have the privilege of my skin that means I need to listen, not talk.
But I also don’t join in on the White Women discussions because my voice isn’t heard there. I don’t fit in.
And that’s hard to say without it sounding like a white girl whining about not always being white. But I think that’s exactly why this discussion is needed. Not to take away from an important discussion, but to have an entirely different one. Because I think there are a few perspectives in Intersectional Feminism that are lacking (well, several actually, but their not mine to voice). That Whiteness is both fluid and narrow, much more so than what we are talking about now. And it’s also lacking a global perspective; are we truly intersectional if we’re only talking about US feminism, North European feminism, Latin American feminism, in different corners of the world?
I have heard several light-skinned Latinas say they don’t face “blatant racism” in the US, and several who say they do. Whatever perspective is true – or if they all are – they do face exotification. They do face discrimination. They do face sexism that cannot be separated from their supposed otherness. Thing is, whiteness can’t always be measured by how it works in the US (if there really is even only one fixed way to do it).
I didn’t grow up watching women like me on tv, in government positions, as
educators, as professionals. Neither did most of the girls like me, those with backgrounds more colorful than the stereotypical Swedish one. We’re mostly lumped together into one group, as political correct as “women of another background than entirely Swedish” – isn’t that a tongue twister? Many girls like me turned to movies from the US to get to watch other girls of latin background – however stereotypical and misinformed that representation was. But – I have a Swedish citizenship. And no matter what they think I am, no matter if they think I’m white or not, that gives me yet another privilege in the world. I can travel almost anywhere without any problems. Very few countries, if any, will demand that someone vouch for me to be allowed to enter. I will not be denied simply for being born in the wrong country. And neither will you. Your US citizenship allows you to move freely as well.
You have a bigger platform to discuss than most – I couldn’t find a platform in Sweden, it’s all too new and all too white. In a country with so many different cultures, a country that is considered the center of the world and gets to define others, isn’t it time to get in some more perspectives?
Women In the Middle/White Women of Color posts that inspired this one:
Juliana Britto – Solidarity Isn’t for women in the middle
Ana Cecilia Alvarez – I’m a White Woman of Color
Daniela Ramirez – What It’s Like to Be a White Woman of Color
President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has done great things for Argentina. The income gap between the country’s rich and poor has been reduced by nearly half, the torturers, kidnappers and murderers (generals, officers, etc) of the 70-80’s military junta are being brought to justice – and finally sentenced. She, and her late husband Nestor Kirchner, have done what few – if any – Argentine Presidents have succeeded to do since the Dirty War: start to get the country back on its feet and bring out the truth and justice that the military have done their very best to conceal.
It speaks volumes that several Latin American countries have done what neither the US nor most countries in Europe (my home country Sweden included) have done: elect female presidents. And these presidents often have to face struggles that their colleagues in Europe rarely have to. The question of women’s reproductive justice is one of them. I can only speculate in what President Fernández de Kirchner’s personal feelings are regarding these questions but, officialy at least, she is anti-abortion.
I admit that I’m not too involved in Argentine politics – I’ve never lived there, only visited to spend time with family – but the country will always have a special place in my heart. And that’s why it hurts me to know that the first elected female president isn’t doing all that’s in her power to stop women from dying from clandestine abortions. Not only is abortion illegal in Argentina, according to Human Rights Watch; “multiple barriers prevented women in Argentina from making independent decisions about their health and lives related to reproduction. These restrictions included inaccurate, incomplete or entirely absent information; domestic and sexual violence; and economic restraints that the government was not adequately addressing.” The study shows that not only is abortion not allowed unless it is a direct threath to the mother’s health or when the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest, but there are no guarantees that you will be allowed to perform an abortion even in these cases. Furthermore, most women aren’t aware that they (might) have the right to an abortion in those cases, or even that they have a right to receive the contraceptive methods of their choice. The Catholic Church is of course one of the main reasons behind these very restricted abortion laws, but according to NY times, the stigmatization of abortion increased after President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner took over in 2007.
The President’s close ties with two of the most famous feminist groups in the world makes her stand in the question peculiar to me, to say the least. Las Madres de Plaza de Mayo and Las Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo are the mothers of the young people who were disappeared and killed by the military junta during the Dirty War, and the grandmothers of the babies born in captivity, disappeared, and either killed or adopted by the military men and their families. They are both feminist groups who work with La Presidenta. Even though they may not have abortion on the top of their list, it is one of their issues since it is a women’s issue. Nora Cortiñas (Madres) says: “We are all women. We have doubts only on one issue; we don’t agree on it or haven’t discussed it widely: abortion. It’s a complex topic, you know; some of the women are Catholic, but they are beginning to understand that the issue is that poor women die while those who are well-off can have an abortion; they can decide and their health is protected. And these poor women cannot afford contraceptive methods. Furthermore, there isn’t any kind of sex education. But that took some time. At first, the topic of abortion produced uneasiness. Many said they didn’t want to get mixed up in that question because woman is a lifegiver….But you know, we’ve made progress in that field. For many years I have fought for the decriminalization and legalization of abortion, although I don’t support it. But I think every woman has a right to decide.”
(You can read Cortiñas’ full testimony in the book Women’s Activism in Latin America and the Caribbean: Engendering Social Justice, Democratizing Citizenship)
As Nora Cortiñas said, and as I’ve discussed elsewhere, wealthy women do have access to abortion, and studies have shown that most of them are adults, married with children – and catholic. So it’s the young and poor women who are, again, left to take care of and defend themselves the best they can…
Organizations working for women’s reproductive rights in Latin America and the Caribbean:
- Red de Salud de las Mujeres Latinoamericanas y del Caribe (RSFALC)
- Partida Argentina Feminista (PAF)
Read about the National Campaign for Legal, Safe, and Free Abortions in Argentina here
In most parts of Latin America and the Caribbean, abortion is illegal. In the most extreme cases, it is only permitted if the pregnancy is a threath to the woman’s life, in others when it’s a threat to her physical or mental health – in some countries this includes rape, in some it doesn’t. Contraception isn’t always effective, or at times not even an option for women here. Their religions, or husbands, might not allow it. It might not even be available to purchase. Even though many pro-lifers believe that the ones seeking abortions are young “irresponsible” women, fact is that most of them are married with children.
I could argue that I don’t believe that a fetus should have more rights than the woman who is carrying it, because I don’t. But when it comes down to it, right now, it’s beside the point. Whether it’s legal or not, women will find ways to get abortions when they find it necessary. And too often necessity wins over safety. One hundred women die every year in Argentina alone, as a result of clandestine abortions. Five thousand women die every year in Latin America and the Caribbean, and another eight thousand are hospitalized because of complications (such as incomplete abortions, hemorrhaging, infections and internal bleeding). Women with money, however, do have the means to get a safe abortion done in all secrecy at a private clinic – even in countries with the strictest laws against abortion.
Women dying because abortions are illegal is the primary cause of maternal death in most of these countries. How can we stand silent while these women are risking their lives because they have no other choice? Why are we forcing them to go through with a procedure that is psychologically painful, and to that add the physical pain and suffering that might cost them their lives? Why are we letting 47 000 women all over the world die every year, when their lives could so easily have been spared?
Yes, if I wasn’t clear I am 100 % pro-choice. But I still think that my young, brave cousin in Argentina said it best:
Being in favor of the decriminalization of abortion, is to be in favor of life.
I’m the first to admit – I don’t cook. I do the necessary to survive, but I leave the real cooking to my husband and other people who know what they are doing. And I’m not the only Latina with this “problem”: my friend Libby wrote about how the lack of passion for cooking makes people doubt our “Latinaness”, because one of the characteristics that go hand in hand with being Latina, is a passion for cooking: Mi abuela used to clap her hands in joy whenever I cooked or baked something at home, saying, “ahora te podes casar” (now you can get married). I did get married recently, but my cooking skills had little to do with it.
Growing up, mi abuela and my father often celebrated the things that in their eyes made me a traditional latina, a traditional woman: to cook, to take care of the household and tend to the family, to look feminine, to listen to the man of the house… I tried for a long time to please my family and be good at these things, but I had this uncomfort growing inside me, a feeling that life wasn’t supposed to be centered around these things. And I questioned it, and I revolted. Being shushed because a man doesn’t agree with me or doesn’t like what I have to say was not how my mother raised me, and for that I am forever thankful to her. But not fitting into the role strained the relationships with that part of the family.
Latinas, and women in general, of today are so much more than the traditonal roles of those who came before us (much thanks to courageous women who cleared the path for us), but that doesn’t mean that we don’t often face the same struggles, the same hardships and the same prejudices. Women who don’t fit into the role, who want more and want to go their own ways, will often have to face the question if they are women enough.
But that’s not the question that really matters, or that even matters a little…