Like most things revolutionary in my life – such as sushi and indie house bands – I was introduced to Dr. Ann Aviles de Bradley through my older sister. However, as soon as I learned of her vast work and research advocating for homeless youth within the Chicago Public School system, I quickly wanted to claim her as my own. From time to time, she and my sister allowed me to hang out with their rainbow coalition of friends. Oftentimes, just being around the plethora of Blacks, Whites, Latinos and Middle-Easterners in one space made me feel more hip and like I had the world figured out better than most.
Admittedly, as a Black woman, I generally default to a position of “support” when it comes to issues affecting other minority groups. This unabashed support, comes from a recognition that racial issues in America are heavily simplified in terms of White and Black. But at times I wonder if my own oversimplification of such issues might perpetuate the same marginalizations of other groups that I resist against for my own minority group.
I know that “Latino” issues stretch beyond immigration issues, just as “Black” issues stretch beyond gun control and welfare. But for greater insight, I asked Ann, one of the most intelligent women I know, to answer a few candid questions for me.
Meet Dr. Ann Aviles de Bradley
My burning question…
Kay: Facebook told me that I should join the group, “Boriqua Chicks” but I did not want to accidentally pull a ‘Rachel Dolezal’. What is a ‘Boriqua?
Ann: Boriqua (or Boricua) refers to the Puerto Rican people. From my understanding, Boricua is derived from Borinken, which is the original name of the island used by the Tainos (Native American people of Puerto Rico), prior to the Spanish Conquistador invasion and Columbus’ “discovery” of the island.
Brown and Black People(s): the Ultimate Frenemies?
Kay: Do you think that Latinos in America generally view Blacks as enemies, friends, distant cousins once removed or none of the above? Does this differ by economic level? If so, how?
Ann: All of the above depending on their awareness/consciousness regarding their own heritage and culture. I recognize, acknowledge and celebrate Puerto Rican roots—Native American (Taino), Spaniard and African.
Due to the African Diaspora/Transatlantic Slave Trade, many South American, Central American and Caribbean peoples share African roots and culture. If folks are aware of and in touch with their history, I believe, we should see Blacks as a part of our family. We have shared histories, blood lines and experiences that connect us. However, I am also not oblivious to the racism that exists within and among Latino/as.
The concepts of Whiteness and Blackness are socially constructed and many Latino/as buy into this binary—some embrace Blackness, given our shared experiences with racism, police brutality, poverty, etc.; while others work to closely align themselves with Whiteness, believing they will reap the benefits associated with it.
As a very good friend and colleague always reminds me “When the boat comes no matter how you identify/act—they putting you on it too!” Personally, I would describe myself as AfroTaino/a or Afro Puerto Rican—terms that allow for the recognition of my ancestral/family roots. I know that not all Puerto Ricans (or Latina/os more broadly) share this perspective, I also know many that do—definitely depends on your level of awareness/consciousness and political/personal stance.
On the Great, Big, Melting Pot of “Latino/as”
Kay: [Do you believe] the term “Latino” undermines the individual identities of various Latino cultures?
Ann: It is not a simple “yes” or “no” answer. Latino/a is a political term, that has been used to push back on the label of “Hispanic” which was constructed by others (mainly the US govt.), moreso, to categorize people.
In one sense, Latina/o is seen as a term of empowerment for people to organize and mobilize around given our similar language, culture, etc. However, Latina/o also oversimplifies the differences among various Latina/os. For example, Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens and therefore (should) have access to various U.S. programs and citizenship rights (despite the fact that folks born and living on the island cannot vote for president—PR has a governor—but are required to serve in the U.S. military), which is different from our Mexican, Guatemalan, Honduran, Dominican, Salvadorian, etc. Latina/o brothers and sisters. So while we do have many things in common (language, culture, etc.) we also have many differences.
If we are not careful to acknowledge the diversity amongst Latinos/as, it can serve to limit advocacy and coalition building within the Latino/a community. In reality, most Latina/os identify with their country of origin, even if they are 2nd or 3rd generation “American.”
Latino = Immigrant…Right?
Kay: Do you think that Latino issues are too generally lumped together as immigration issues?
Ann: Yes, I believe this goes back to your previous question about the term Latino/a.
Due to lack of understanding of the plethora folks that make up the Latin American/Latino group, it is easy to assume that when people talk about Latino/as, they are referring to one monolithic group (which is not the case). I also feel this has a lot to do with the manner in which media portrays “Latino/as.” Immigration is a global issue, however in the U.S. the master narrative focuses on Mexicans—in Chicago (and other states/cities around the nation) we have immigrants from so many places (e.g. Poland, China, Greece, India) but rarely are assumptions about their citizenship made due to the manner in which immigration is framed in the media.
When does the media cover immigration issue from folks outside of South or Central America? Why are these particular immigrants the target of critique and coverage in the press?
On not being naked, barefoot with children (and making salsa)…
Kay: Have you ever been stereotyped? If so, how?
Ann: Yes, more often than I’d like. The most common stereotype is around reproduction. I have literally been asked “how are you 20+ years old and have never been pregnant?; don’t most Puerto Ricans have like 5 kids?”
On Pop Culture and Current Events
Kay: Complete the following sentences as quickly as possible:
The biggest issue in next year’s presidential election is… immigration and police brutality (#blacklivesmatter).
Chipotle is… not authentic/real Mexican food. If they provide jobs and use local products/produce, I will support it.
Who can save the music industry? Pitt Bull, Timberland, Beyonce, or Taylor Swift? If I have to chose from this list–Timberland.
The best Latino/a role model (on tv) is… Maria Hinojosa (radio and TV) or Michelle Rodriguez.
Ann M. Aviles de Bradley is an Assistant Professor of Educational Foundations, Educational Inquiry and Curriculum Studies at Northeastern Illinois University. Her new book, From Charity to Equity: Race, Homelessness and Urban Schools, was released in June 2015. You can find her on Instagram @buttapecanprof and on Twitter @AfroTaino.
Kay S. is a freelance writer and blogger in Chicago, Illinois. Her debut novel, Lotus, will be released in September 2015. If you are interested in participating in this series, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow her on Twitter @kaywillsmith.
“We Hold These Truths,” will run weekly on Tuesdays. To read previous posts in the series, check here.