Elizabeth Acevedo makes us proud!
The Hispanic Heritage Festival annual celebration took place during the National Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15 – October 15) at Appalachian State University. The Association of Hispanic Students supported by Professor Rwany Sibaja, director of History/Social Studies Education, arranged among other activities an unforgettable performance with the renowned Afro-Latina poet Elizabeth Acevedo.
Jainny Estrada, President of the Hispanic Student Association of the Appalachian State Univerty, and professor Rwany Sibaja, director of History/Social Studies Education
The cold winters of New York, the city where she was born, have not been able to cool off even a bit of her hot tropical blood. Coming out from her own experiences she is able to disarm critics unveiling racism in such a unique manner that every presentation in national and international stages is a success. A daughter of Dominican parents, she holds a BA in Performing Arts from The George Washington University and a MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Maryland. She was invited to a TED Talk event last year, enchanting audiences with her sparkling way to name the unnamed. The Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated in the majority of the public universities across the country, and to get her to perform in this period is not an easy task.
The racial stigma is present today more than ever. Discrimination is not morally and politically incorrect as it was in recent administrations. Racism is becoming more evident, as a practice of oppression and segregation. The categories of race are being erased, and the long lasting persistence of the basic ones, white, brown, yellow, and black, have been polarized. In one side is white alone, while the other colors of skin share the other side’s spectrum. When I became a citizen three years ago, I could not imagine this could possibly happen. Now I keep thinking over and over about the future of my granddaughter, a beautiful and smart Latina of four years old. I am trying to understand how white conservative America thinks of racism today. Do they see it just as a matter of skin color, or as a complexity of factors, like culture, profession, nature, political inclination, and of being or not churched? According to one of the conservatives ladies interviewed in the book Strangers in Their Own Land, “More than aptitude, reward, or consequence, hard work confers honor. It comes with clean living and being churched” (Hochschild 159). Does the hard work of a non-white person have the same value than the labor of a white one?
Acevedo rebelled against the imposition of having to straighten her “kinky hair” since she was an adolescent. She took the decision of not trying to “whiten” herself anymore. In her poem “Hair,” she states, “My mother tells me to fix my hair/ And so many words remain unspoken/ because all I can reply is/ You can’t fix what was never broken’” (Acevedo, line 1-4). Renouncing pursuing the “racial passing” implies not only to quit the “transformation” process to try achieve the benefit of looking whiter, but at same time represents the resolution of getting closer to the black woman. When a light-skin Latino woman decides not to pass she is jumping in the same boat with her black sister and their African roots, drifting into the unknowable. Acevedo’s case is among the early Afro-Latino American poets and writers to explore this phenomenon. As a Latina, and also as a contemporary non-white women, she is an example to follow. Acevedo is a role model for the young generations of Latinx that are now figuring out if they intend to reach the goal to be more visible to the white conservative society, or if they will become invisible to the “color blind,” sticking with their own identity and fighting together to overcome their fate.
No doubt that Acevedo challenged her destiny. The Creative Writing teacher did not encourage her because when he asked the class to write a poem, and the rat was her choice, he considered the idea inappropriate. The “Rat Ode” or “For the Professor Who Said Rats Aren’t Noble Enough for a Poem” made her jump into the public eye. As a recognized writer and poet, she now has a career, economic stability, and social recognition. The decision-making power on her side. Acevedo is a role model for Latinas, Latinx, and black women, and many of the students present at her recital at Plemmons Student Union got emotional, including me. Now that passing is more difficult than ever, it is time to assume our identity, and not to try to hide ourselves from the sun in a beach day.