Mayra Santos-Febres: The Fractal Caribbean


(soft music) (audience chattering) – Hello and welcome. If you’re looking for seats,
(audience member coughing) they’re in various pockets on the sides. So, there’s a few in the
middle and, you know, please do come in. Thank you. I’m Jessica Berman. I’m the Director of the
Dresher Center for Humanities and professor of English
and I wanna welcome you to our first Humanities
Forum event of the year. We’re really pleased to have
Professor Mayra Santos-Febres here today to talk about
the Fractal Caribbean. And, Professor Tania Lizarazo, from the MLLI department, will be introducing
her to you in a minute. But, first, I wanna
thank our other sponsors. This talk is sponsored
by The Dresher Center for the Humanities in conjunction with the Latino-Hispanic
Faculty Association and the Modern Languages, Linguistics, and Intercultural
Communication Department. And as I said, this talk is
part of the Humanities Forum and marks the beginning of what I think is gonna be a very exciting season. So, I wanna encourage
you to take a look at our handy flyer, newly designed this fall. A little bit more readable
than it used to be. And, you could take a look at that. We have a few around or else go to the Dresher Center website,
dreshercenter.umbc.edu. I hope I’ll see many of you
at future events this fall, including a talk by MLLI’s own Erin Hogan at the end of the season. You can engage with us on social media, follow the Dresher
Center for the Humanities on Facebook, at
@umbchumanities on Twitter, and continue the conversation
if you’re on Twitter using the hashtag #umbchumForum, hum forum, all right? (audience member coughing)
I also wanna mention to you our upcoming Humanities Forum event that’s Thursday, October
10th, right here, four PM. That’s Ancient Studies
Week and we have a lecture from Jennifer Trimble, Associate Professor of Classics at Stanford
and she’ll be talking about the Visual Workings of Roman Slaves. Slavery was the fundamental
part of ancient Roman society, as was visual culture. We know a lot about these
two topics separately, but this talk will show and
discuss the intersections between the two. So, I think it’s gonna
be a really interesting Classics Ancient Studies talk. So, without further ado, Tania Lizarazo. (audience applauding) (audience laughing) (Tania speaking in Spanish) (audience responding in Spanish) (audience chattering) (Tania speaking in Spanish) (audience responding in Spanish) – So, I have the honor of
introducing Mayra Santos-Febres. She’s a Puerto Rican poet, novelist, professor of literature, literary critic, and public humanist. She’s the author of
over 25 books of poetry, fiction, and literary
criticism, including, including the novel, “Sirena Selena,” which was a finalist
for the Romulo Gallegos International Novel Prize,
“Our Lady of the Night,” “Any Wednesday, I’m Yours” that I, someone told me that is available at the end of the talk if you’re interested in getting a copy. And, most recently, “La Amante de Gardel.” A Guggenheim Fellow, she’s the recipient of the Juan Rulfo Short Story Prize and Puerto Rico’s
National Literature Prize. One of my favorite books
is actually “Boat People” and I feel that anyone should read it if you’re interested in
immigration and even if you’re not. (audience member coughing) Currently, Dr.
Santos-Febres is a professor at the University of
Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras. As I said before, it is an honor to have one of the most
important leading Afro-Latino writers with us at UMBC today. And, Dr. Santos-Febres is not only everything I listed before,
but also an organic, intellectual committed to education and knowledge production
beyond institutional spaces. Her organization, Festival de la Palabra, the Festival of the Word, brings together writers and artists
from all over the world, alongside Puerto Rico’s
writers and artists. Her work explores gender,
sexuality, race, and memories in ways that are urgent
and very relevant to combat xenophobic discourses
that have been circulating the way it has all of you know. As our guest for the
Hispanic Heritage Month, which probably we should
rename Latinx Heritage Month, she reminds us that the Caribbean is part of Latino-America,
because sometimes we forget, and that Spanish is not a foreign language in this country, even
if sometimes we forget, but spaces like this
reminds us that a lot of us speak Spanish as a first,
second, third language. And, also that we need
to challenge our ideas about what it means to be Latino-American and Latinx, specifically
now that we need solidarity across borders. So, thank you so much and welcome Mayra. (woman mumbling)
(audience applauding) (audience applauding) – Well, first of all, wow. There’s a lot of people here. Thank you. Thank you for coming and
thank you for Courtney and Anna Maria and everybody
that worked so much in order for having, to have me here. I want to announce that
tomorrow I will be given something that I really, really love, which is a creative writing workshop. I don’t know where is it gonna happen because this is a very big university. I know that it will happen
at some point in the day. I don’t know that day,
(woman laughing) the hour, either, but
I do have the 15 people that are interested in taking it and, and I just wanted to let you know so that if you could come pop
by, it would be wonderful. I think that it is important, it is a
very important moment in time in which we have to generate knowledge, not only to receive it,
but also to generate it and to create poems and
short stories and videos and songs, (speaking in Spanish). So, that our presence and
we can change the narrative. If we change the narrative,
we change the reality. So, I think that there’s a lot of lives that depend on a change
of reality right now. (Mayra speaking in Spanish) A changed reality here without noticing. Okay, so, I was trying to figure out what I wanna talk about
is the Fractal Caribbean and that because it’s very
difficult to think about it and then I actually
what I’m talking about. It’s about Caribbean philosophy and also at the Afro descendant philosophy. I’m going to be showing some fractals, some fractals and to see, you know, that nature behaves in a fractal way. That’s a photograph of
Las Salinas de Cabo Rojo. And, after the hurricane. And, you will see other
pictures in which fractality is being portrayed. So, this is what came out. This is what I would
like to share with you. The Fractal Caribbean and
the Notion of the Self in Contemporary Puerto Rican, Dominican, and Cuban Literature and Thought. At the beginning, there was
the One that was Multiple. There was the Reticular. There was the Oracle, El Tablero de Ifa. Such a beginning of a
narrative differs immensely from other tales of creation. Caribbean thought is
non-binary, even though it encompasses binarism. However, the relationship
between opposites function through a dynamic
in which contradiction is not the only exclusive
value that propels movement, social organization,
and artistic expression. What I mean to say is that, for instance, black and white interact in
ways beyond contradiction, beyond opposition. They mix, merge, create variations, multiplicities of shades and tones. Try to imagine yourself listening to jazz, to a set of repetitions
that are never the same, to an improvisational solo
from each and every instrument that composes melody,
cacophony, but also rhythm. Try to imagine yourself
as you’re listening to a sonero in a salsa song. On top of the clave, there
are many layers of music, each instrument playing different, yet the same musical phrase. On top of it all, is the singer’s voice, another instrument that
improvises while keeping the beat. Repetition, chorus, phases,
the base, or the beat sets the base. Improvisation lets different phrases reach for the manifestation of the message, the energy, the One that is Multiple. Time as rhythm becomes multi-layered. Each individual enters
a system of relations that creates a reality that
is both One and Multiple. At the beginning, there
was El Uno-Multiple, there was the Reticular, El Tablero de Ifa de Las Infinitas Variaciones,
there was a mystery. Since we live in a world
organized by linear movement of time and narratives, history propels by binary oppositions, black versus white, poor versus rich, native versus immigrant, male versus female, past
versus present or future. It is very difficult to
understand that among us, there inhabits different rationalities and modes of thought, modes of
the organization of the self. One thing was the individual
and the collective. Silences and words do not
operate in confrontation, but in variations of the
One that is also Multiple. Let me tell you a story. I grew up in the coastal
town of Puerto Rico, Carolina, Puerto Rico. My family was composed of
a mother, Mariana Febres, a Spanish teacher, a father, Juan Santos, a History teacher, my brother and me. Both my mother and my father were black. My brother suffered from
a learning disability that was causing him trouble. After he kept failing school subjects, he became an estranged teenager
and started using drugs, went to jail, and finally
died of an overdose, and my family dismantled. I took refuge in books. I graduated, went to the university, then to graduate school at
Cornell, won many scholarships, and started publishing. Year after year, I kept winning prizes, The Ford Foundation,
The Mellon Foundation, the John Guggenheim
Foundation, the Rockefeller Residency, as well as Radio
Francia International, the Primavera Prize for Novel in Spain, and so on and so on, and so on. However, even though I
lived a life of success, I could not escape the
social constructions and marginalizations
of race, class, gender that held me and my family captive in a circle of destruction. Maybe I saved myself, distanced
myself from my family, my community, and my
sense of the intimate, yet that distance did not get me anywhere. I could not arrive to a place of safety. Needless to say, I couldn’t
either go back home. Meanwhile, back in the island in el barrio where I grew up, there was
another set of relations that survived my family’s collapse. As I tried to understand what I thought was my particular
situation, my individual, private situation, I came
to realize that family in the Caribbean has
always meant another thing. It was not only my mother,
my father, my brother and me. Family was my grandmothers,
aunts, and uncles, cousins, nephews, godfathers, godmothers, compadres, vecinos, friends of neighbors that, when I was little,
I called titis or tios. They were white, black, mulatos. Some were Puerto Rican,
some were Dominicans, Cubans, Nuyorricans, or
came from different nations. (Mayra speaking Spanish)
(audience quietly laughing) Maybe it is because islands
live, thrive, and survive thanks to those close knit relationships, a bond that extends far beyond bloodlines. Our history of frail economic
and political institutions and institutionalized marginalizations depends on family or familiar relations in order to ensure
jobs, economic ventures, political recognition, art production, knowledge production, and survival. As we face the elements in the Caribbean, hurricanes, droughts, corrupt governments, we draw on a sense of community in order to create different systems of support. The rational, the modern,
Eurocentric institutions have not been able, not in 500 years, to displace or dismount
the casas, casas de santo, casas de abuelas, casas de familia, those other homes that become the center of communal connections,
that very “a la sucusumucu,” under the radar, operate in the Caribbean. During my scholarly and
intellectual formation, I came to understand
that there was at least two systems that operate in our regions. One, the official institutions
or what Althusser, a long time ago, called the
“Ideological State Apparatuses” and the other. Let us call it the island. That island has a memory,
an ancestral syntax that organizes the
terminologies used both, by both systems– (speaks Spanish) That’s so true. By both, (speaks Spanish). By both systems that means
different in different contexts. Home, for instance, means the patriarchal, white, mono-nuclear
family or Creole family. And home in the island means community, a complex systems of relations that extends far beyond bloodlines. Family has a biological meaning that, for people of certain race, can be traced lineally through time. But, family in the island
is a system of relations. It’s much more like an
activist organization, (laughs) both metaphorical,
biological, and of affection. Many Caribbean thinkers
have written extensively about this refraction of
manifestations, ideas, or concepts that work in tension with the binary oppositional
ways of western thought. As I started reading them
during my graduate years, I finally found a language
that could explain rupture, this chasm within myself and between what people
called rationality, of western rationality, that is, and what is called Caribbean perspective. Using the theory of chaos
as a point of departure to explain the Caribbean,
Antonio Benitez-Rojo from Cuba came up with this concept of la isla que se repite,
or the repeating island. In his groundbreaking book, Benitez-Rojo explained how the Caribbean relationship with the body and culture and meaning was de cierta manera. In that indeterminate way, the
Cuban philosopher explained– He was also a wonderful
short story writer. The Cuban philosopher
and short story writer explained how Caribbean
economic and cultural system repeated itself island
through island to island until they, until it
created a dissipatory system that ruptures cognition into new systems that were similar, yet different. The sugar cane monocultivo, for instance, created a culture of white,
Hispanophile supremacy, the Creole society. And, it also created a,
let us call it Caribbean rebelliousness, the Maroon,
the illegal religious and criminal societies that
live in continuous tension within the islands. (Mayra speaking Spanish) (audience chuckling) Each, et cetera. Such tensions exploded into
the Caribbean Revolution of 1959 or the Dominican
Republic Rebellions of 1967 or even maybe the Puerto Rican fight against the corrupt Post-Maria
government of July 2019. We kick him out. (audience laughing)
We did. Not one death, not one building built, not one person injured. And we kicked the mother out. (audience laughing) I’m very, I’m very, very,
really, very (speaks Spanish) of my country lately. Caribbean history is not lineal. The construction of self and
even of agency is not lineal. The narrative is even more reticular and climactic than lineal. After surviving a category five hurricane and a very successful peaceful revelation two months ago, I dare to say that history is not lineal and is very volatile. Nowadays, there are
many scientific studies that Benitez-Rojo
argumentation could have quoted in order to sustain his observations about Caribbean thought and its creation of social and cultural narratives. He could have quoted Brandembrot’s
work on fractal geometry. He could have quoted a, also
his work on morphic resonances. This is physics. Of course, I read physics
as a, you know, a writer. So, (laughs) for me, it’s
like science fiction. (audience member coughing) He could have also made
references to today’s numerous neurological
mappings of brain plasticity that explained, for instance,
how the parasympathic nerve transmits a sensation
of peace or crises from human to human
through a field of energy that cannot be traced by a
line or any observable way. How traumas are stored in the body, not only the mind, how
inter-generational traumas are transmitted through
time, even though members of such generations did not experience the particular instance
that originated the wound, how a single tree is interconnected to a forest by a system
of fungi, leave pulsations and essences that become a green language. In nature, lines, binary oppositions and the concept of the individual self or identity doesn’t exist. Everything is interconnected. Things are as objects, people as units, stories are personal
narratives or anecdotes, authorship becomes very limiting as we make new discoveries
about how reality works. They are called into question. Maybe it’s the Web,
maybe it’s globalization, maybe it’s the ending
of modernity, finally, defined as a system of lineal
development through time. The funny thing is that
such interconnectedness has always been at the center of Caribbean thought and expression. Let me tell you another story. After my brother went to jail, my mother started behaving
in a very disruptive way. She forgot words constantly. She got lost in her own
house, street, neighbor. One day, she went to pick up a cousin from a mall and got lost for 17 hours. My family, the other family,
the extended one, came through. Neighbors, policemen that have
been my mother’s students, nieces, nephews, (speaks in Spanish), mobilized to search for my mother. She was found, but her
memory got lost forever. She was suffering from
Alzheimer’s disease. There is a connection between
memory, identity stories, and narrative that started
operating in me that day and that have become my obsession. But before that obsession,
I had another one. I searched for remedies
of that incurable disease everywhere, in naturopathy,
conventional science, integrationist health
practices, and, finally, as I prepared for the inevitable, I stumbled upon Santeria. Santeria, or regla de ocha,
is viewed as a primitive pseudo-folcloric religious
practice of the people from African descent in the diasporic Caribbean and Latin America, the faith of the poor, of
disenfranchised Hispanic blacks. However, many Maroon
intellectuals like me– I finally know who I am. (laughs) Have read enough Derrida deconstructivism and have entered into
contact with Skip Gates, Houston Baker, and other
African American theorists and critics to learn the trade of using Jungiang archetypes, even
the unrecognized one by Jung because he, you know,
he was very keen on Asia and Hindu archetypes, but he
never touched the African ones. I wonder why.
(audience chuckling) He wasn’t very good with women, either. (audience laughing) To decode that other set
of meanings and knowledge stored within what has been considered as non-intellectual practices. At the center of Afro-diasporic knowledge, there is the Oracle, El Uno-Multiple, a system of binary language very close to computer programming
that behave in variations. (speaking in Spanish) If you look at that coding, in any tablero de Ifa, you go, you know, you search for your local santero, you
might have a lot of them. Even here on campus, we’re,
we look, we, you know, we work under the radar. (sniffles) And search for this and you will find us. And then, and they will do a reading. They will start doing this
cero uno cero cero uno, zero one zero zero one decodification in a big piece of wood. And then, if you look at binary language from code, computers, it comes from there. It comes from there. Really interesting. Within that tradition,
the self is considered a system of relations. Yoruba gods and goddesses,
or should I clarify, manifestations of natural forces because that’s what they are. They’re not people, they’re forces. As they interact with
life are One and Multiple. Shango is fire, yet there are six Shangos. Yemaya is the ocean. It is also seven Yemayas. Okuti, Mayelewo, Olokun,
Asesu, the ocean spray, the stormy ocean, the profundities where mystery of life began. There’s no concept of right nor wrong. There is no devil, no God,
but there are tricksters, Eleggua, for instance,
and his 125 manifestation, each changing the self
through relationships with nature and the world. However, there are two major principles in this ancestral
knowledge and philosophy. One is balance. Things have to live in
balance, in coolness. There’s a marvelous work by
Robert Farris Thompson talking. The book is called “The
Aesthetic of Cool.” Remember that you always
say, “Cool, brother, “cool, cool, it’s cool.” Well, that is called
Omitutu, tutu, coolness. (Mayra speaking in Spanish) (audience chuckling) You know? And, that is just a way of
not, not working with stress because stress will take away the cool and things will get unbalanced and that’s when all hell breaks loose. Yeah, cool. The other is the ancestors. There is no past, present, nor future organized in a line of succession. With every breath I take,
I honor my ancestors, those who render their
lives so that mine can be. Their blood runs through my veins. I stand on their shoulders. And I’m talking literally. (Mayra speaks in Spanish) DNA, your ancestors are within you. They’re here right now. They’re not dead. They just, you know, changed. They are information and they’re here. They’re in your nose, and
the color of your skin, and the texture of your hair. They’re here. And, or at least that’s
what scientists say. (audience chuckling) And also, you know, I
stand on their shoulders because the many many deaths,
bodies that are buried underneath me are my ancestors and the earth is made of death. Death is good. If not, we couldn’t walk anywhere. You know? The system of relations
has been widely studied by Edouard Glissants
“Poetiques de Relation” and also by Chuco Quintero’s
prologue of his book, “Cuerpo y cultura: las
musicas mulatas en el Caribe.” See what we were talking
today about music, the theory, the thought is in music and the conception of time and rhythm because time is rhythm. Both brilliant essays explore how concepts such as synchronicity, multiplicity, improvisation, and the
reticular become a system for the production of
meaning in Caribbean culture. Both Martinican Glissant
and Puerto Rican Quintero insist in the ways in
which relationships operate at the center of our
cultures, which is one and, at the same time, multiple, and in which the self
is only but an instance and a fluctuation of
energy in manifestation. In this presentation
that now I’m very close to concluding of this reading part, you know, and that
(papers shuffling) incredibly abstract and theoretical and, god, I sound so intelligent. (audience laughing) Wait, I lost a paper.
(papers shuffling) Here it is. Aha, in this presentation
and I am now close to concluding, I was going
to talk about literature. I was going to talk about
Dominican cuir writer, Rita Indiana. I don’t know if you know of her. You’re gonna watch two
minute videos of her. She’s wonderful. And, her novel “La Mucama de
Omicunle,” a trans feminist science fiction Caribbean saga. I was also going to talk
about “Tercer Mundo” by Puerto Rican/Dominican
writer Pedro Cabiya’s science fiction parodic
novel about Puerto Rico’s drug related corruption and violence. That came out like five weeks ago. I was also going to make
reference to Soleida Rios in Cuba, writing a very experimental book about collective and individual dreams during el period especial of
1994 to 2004 in that island. They’re all wonderful books. However, literature is becoming
very illusive for me now as I look at the Caribbean, at least, after July 2019,
as I lived it in Puerto Rico. If literature is the
intimate story of a people narrated in a coherent cohesive way in order to tell in a
storyline the identity of one that transcends individualism, the petty differences
of what does not reveal fundamental truth, then I dare to propose that we, in this world and
maybe in the Caribbean, live in a post-literary world. I guess I’m drawing from
what Josefina Ludmer says, or argues, in her article,
“Literaturas post-autonomas.” That melancholic essay mourns the death of the intellect or the
intellectual as autonomous from the market– It’s like, you know, like
a god, like an essence. From the market or social
media or community activism or the views fight. As culture above everything else, no. Such is not our way,
nor it can be anymore. Actually, Caribbean
literature has always survived at the margins of intellectual autonomy and in relation to Eurocentric metropolis, from the right or the left,
and the recognition of value. And maybe that’s why it has always existed in the poetics of relation, in the realm of the Uno-Multiple as it engages in community
restoration after Maria, at least in my island. We writers have taken the streets. We tell our stories in
the Webs and in refugees and in now other camps in relation and proposes
dialogues that are transliterary of multiple agencies. We cerate books with
also videos and movies and editorial practices and
artistic political interventions and community based programs
that reinscribe knowledge, the narrative, in a
complex web of relations. You have to come and see. If you wanna know about
Caribbeal Fractal literature, you have to come and see it in our barrios, in the
streets, in digital activism and poetry challenges and the Web while the police fires
rubber bullets at marchers. You just have to come and see it. Maybe it’s the island or the Web, maybe it’s the Uno-Multiple
and the Oracle, or maybe it’s in fact that,
finally, the time has come. After the long voyage
I started decades ago to escape the repeating islands, ah, yes, I have finally returned back home. Thank you. (audience applauding) Well, you are going to watch now, so I wanted to show you the work that I’ve been trying to
describe, Erit Indiana. This woman is wonderful. You just have to follow her. She’s from the Dominican Republic. She’s married to a very
good friend of mine called (speaks Spanish) Noelia Cruz
and she does and she sings bachata trap, eh, while
writing incredible novels. So, (speaks Spanish). (thudding) ♪ Ha ha ha ha ♪
(thudding) ♪ Ha ha ha ha ♪
(thudding) ♪ Ha ha ha ha ♪
(thudding) ♪ Why dio ha ha ha, hey ♪ ♪ Ha ah ah ah ♪
♪ Hoo ooh ooh ooh ♪ ♪ Ha ah ah ah ♪
♪ Hoo ooh ooh ooh ♪ ♪ Ha ah ah ah ♪
♪ Hoo ooh ooh ooh ♪ ♪ Why dio ha ha ha, hey ♪
♪ Hoo ooh ooh ooh ♪ (sings Spanish “El Castigador”) – Mesa Blanca Spiritism. It’s a retake on that. There’s the other one and
then we break into questions. (Mayra speaking in Spanish) That’s beautiful. This always makes me cry. (chuckles) It’s a criticism on the
division between the Haitian and the Dominican Republic border, which is absolutely stupid, but. (ominous music) (sings Spanish “DA PA LO DO”)
(fast upbeat music) – So, this is the end of my talk. (audience applauding)
I hope you liked it. (laughs) If you have any questions, (clattering in background) suggestions, commentaries,
indecent proposals. (audience laughing) This is the moment. (laughs) (speaks in Spanish) Tell me. – [Man] You mentions from,
from what I had understood– – Mmhm.
– There seemed to be a lot of dissatisfaction with the
current political situations in the Caribbean.
– Yup. – [Man] So, what, do you
have any suggested changes and forms of government
(audience member coughing) where there’s, what do you
feel must change in this, in that unique part of
the American continents? – I think that the change
has already started and I think that the proposal
for organization is there. And maybe it will work if, let me see if I can put it this way. Achille Mbembe, I don’t know
if you have read it lately. Yeah, he’s a really cool
philosopher from Cameroon that teaches at the
University of South Africa. And he talks about a necropolis and the ways in which in reality and I think that now in the States, you really have seen it. The state ascribes for itself the
possibility of death, of killing. The state kills. I mean, and it’s the
only one who can do it and cannot go to jail. (laughs) The police people are
killing thousands of black and Latino men in many
places in the state, but that is legal. And, you know, there are,
I don’t know if you know the (speaks Spanish) very clearly. People are living in war. There’s more than 400 mass shootings. There’s the shooting in Florida
and 40,000 people have died. And, and… There is a war that is being
declared of young people, on the youth and in blacks and Latinos and people that are non-binary. There’s a war. I mean, we’re getting killed. So, basically, what we’re doing is, you know, the state and
the places and the people that are condoned or that are (laughs) taken as, you know, poor,
tormented, you know, mass shooters are waging this war. So, so against that, you know, we have created this system of organization that is based on the base and it’s very small. If it becomes big, we
cannot become big now. But that works very fast,
that it works like the Web and you’ve seen it here. The connection between social media are organizing with arts and community and doing these events and
then doing international and internationally disseminated independent journalism is working and that is what we’re doing. In terms of institution,
that is very difficult and I don’t know what to do with that yet. Instead of, you know, I don’t know, maybe we can kill a couple of, they’ve killed 40,000, I mean,
(audience laughing) we kill two, three thousand, I don’t think that they will mind. (audience laughing)
But, I, you know, I won’t do it because
I’m a peaceful person, but I,
(audience laughing) I propose that as a possibility and the other thing that we have to do is make the algorithms work in our favor. But, definitely, there’s
something happening all over the world and
it’s really amazing. – [Man] So, you’re not
suggesting a rejection of democracy, but a
perfection of democracy? – Of course. I love democracy. I think democracy is the only tool, but we have to take it
to the real, you know, we have to make it work the real way, which is inclusion and also, eh, see the thing with democracy that always makes me crazy is that,
you know, Greek democracy has always thought of that citizens, the citizens are the ones that
are the owners of the land. And so, immigrants and
people who do not have deeds, like in Puerto Rico,
there’s so many people that live in places, but
they do not have property. They don’t have the paper, even though they have lived in that place for four, five, six generations. Then, those peoples are estranged from the process of democracy. I think that we have
to radicalize democracy to make it work for real and I think that look at this place, this is the world I wanna live here in. People that are from many cultures, many places, many faces, many races, and that we are together here talking. That, this is my world. So, not one, you know. I feel very uncomfortable
when people are one color. I mean, I’m from the Caribbean. We sleep with everybody.
(audience laughing) And then, the people that come out, we’re very, very radical in that aspect. And then, the people that come out, come out in many, many, many,
many, many, many, many colors. And so, that is what the world I dream in. But, for that democracy,
it has to be radicalized. The left, it has to say that it, we lost. And so, we have to do it. And the right, I don’t even wanna be near. So, what is it that we have to do? Which is to look at what has happened, which is this democracy
and make it better. – [Man] It’s nice that
you are (mumbles) worked– – Okay, we need to hear other questions. – Si, si. We have to talk, honey. (audience laughing) (Mayra talking in Spanish) – [Questioner] Yeah,
why did your own brother become like a drug addict? If you don’t mind, I’m gonna ask it. And how did he, like,
fail school frequently? – Because he had something that said, the thing is that he had
a learning disability. Actually, my son has it, too– – I am so sorry.
– Which is, uh huh. He has a, it was called
a generalized problem with language, language,
dyslexia, and dyscalculia, and things like that,
but it wasn’t, you know, my brother died when he was 36. I’m 53. This beautiful woman is 53 years old. (audience laughing) I’ve never been that, yes, I’ve never been this beautiful ever. – [Questioner] I thought you
were Derrida in the eyes. – No, honey.
(audience laughing) This is the great thing about, you know, decorated woman.
(audience laughing) And, (laughs) black don’t crack. (audience laughing)
And, and one of the things
that is really interesting is that that learning
disability, actually, because it went undetected, what happened is that he kept failing math
and he was great with art and everything visual, but he
kept failing the languages, which means math, that has a procedure, and language in terms of,
it was very hard for him to learn English and also Spanish in terms of writing. So, he started, you know,
getting into problems. And, most drug addicts actually
are medicating themselves, you know, that incredible
tension and sadness. All that people do is medicate themselves and once you go there, it’s
very difficult to get you out. I mean, I smoke cigarettes and I cannot kick the stupid habit. And, and, and, and that’s what happened. But I think that if you
are in a great environment and also with support
and not in a punitive, in a punitive learning environment, then it works. My boy that actually has the same problem is in a great place and
he’s doing incredibly fine. What learning disability do you have? – [Questioner] I have ADHD,
you know what that is? – Yeah. – I have that.
– I noticed. – I’ve really–
(audience laughing) – (laughs) But you know what? The other thing is that
you don’t have to be sitting down all the time. I mean, it’s really punitive. I hated going to school and having to sit down for eight hours. – Hm.
– That’s like, why do they do that to us? Why can’t you, you understand perfectly if you’re moving around.
– I did fall asleep in high school a lot and
I somehow still got As. (audience laughing) – Because, usually, people with ADHD are incredibly intelligent. (audience murmuring)
– Thank you. (laughs) (audience laughing) – Si. – First of all, thank you.
– Thank you. – [Audience Member] For your presentation. And thank you for sharing the connectivity between what’s happening
here in the United States and what’s happening in the Caribbean and what’s happening around the world, all the other folks.
– Yes. – [Audience Member] So, like,
what my question to you, speaking to this audience here today, what role do you see
them in playing in this transformational work
that needs to go online in terms of not just what’s happening here in this country, as you mentioned, and the shootings–
– Everywhere, si. – [Audience Member]
Everywhere, and their role in terms of being agents of change? – Look, I think that
young people know how to think interconnectedly because they’ve, they’ve grown up, you’ve grow up, in a world in which it is
very easy from your phone to get incredible information. Although, not formations,
you don’t, don’t– Sometimes, one gets
very confused with that. But also, to think about
in ways that are connected and interconnected instead of unitary. And I think that political parties that we invented from our generation, they don’t work anymore. They have to be able to move and also they have to be able to
implement things faster than what they’re doing. And, the pyramid, that white supremacists, boys club pyramid, cannot work in this. It cannot survive in the environment of that we’re moving towards,
but we have to change the institution and those
institutions will not change, not from the right, not from the left, because there’s a lot of money in there. So, I think that young people should just, you know, start setting things on fire (audience laughing) because we failed. (laughs) So, basically, I don’t know what is it that we have to do because I don’t think that we the old people
will have to do anything but follow you.
(audience chattering) So, you lead. Now, the only thing that we have we can do and, you know, you just
tell me and I’ll follow. You just tell me. But, the only thing that we do have to do is put the service of experience and put the service of
formation in order to say no, no, no, no, don’t open that door now. Just wait five minutes. Okay, now. Because we know certain
things, certain things, and we also have the
skills that you will need in terms of memory and memory recollection and, you know, the quiet, settling down of experiences. (Mayra speaking Spanish) So, that we can work for you. But, we cannot tell you. You have to tell us. I mean, don’t listen to anybody that is more than 35 years old. We are fucked, it’s bad in the head.
(audience laughing) We don’t know what to do. You tell us and we will
use whatever we can in order to potentiate what
is it that you’re doing. (audience chattering)
No, no, no, don’t trust us. Really, don’t.
(audience laughing) We failed with you. All we can do is be here, you know, and tell you (speaks
Spanish) that I’m behind you. I will not let anything happen. I will not let anything happen, but we have to be atras. And you have to lead. That’s what I think. Ano. – [Interviewer] You were
talking previously about family, community, unity, the
Caribbean, and other places have a unit as purely economic and, regardless of bloodline, it’s just there. So, I was, my question was as
globalization is increasing, technology is advancing, how can community and sense of family, relationships, be strengthened and maintained? – Okay. One of the thing is that
it’s really important to connect the internet
to communities, you know. In many places in the
world, only 37% of people have access to internet. This is really weird when
you think of it from here. There’s many places in the
world that do not have access to electricity and that
they do not have access to internet, but imagine
if they did, you know. And so, that’s one of the
things that has to be, the connection has to be, we have to fight so everybody gets connected. We have to fight. (speaks Spanish), so
that people get connected and not by buying a phone
book or renting a line, so that lines can be, you know, accessed. For instance, in Yucatan,
there’s a big, big moment, a movement so that in every public place, in every public plaza,
there is access to internet. So, that’s a good, good hackers dream and that’s a good revolution to fight. No? The second good revolution to fight is the issue of community. There are things, that done with many, many people, cost less. For instance, in Puerto
Rico, we had a really cool immersion post-hurricane
camp called (laughs) One Year Without Electricity. And, one of the things that we learned, it was devastating, but it was fun, because one of the things that we learned is that in order to survive, you had to create community kitchens. You just had to. Period. You couldn’t go to McDonald’s,
you couldn’t go buy things from your own little family, you cannot. So, family became something bigger. In the University of
Puerto Rico, for instance, the students, my students,
which are heroes, became the cleanest the
university themselves. They jumped the gates and they went inside and we opened the gate. They opened the gates and they created communitary kitchens. For a lot of students that we didn’t know that were actually studying and didn’t eat for months and months and
months because, you know, people are poor. And if you’re a university student and you’re very, very poor,
you don’t tell anybody because it’s (speaks Spanish). So, we created community kitchens and then these people
went to their hometowns and created community kitchens and then that continued to happen and all of a sudden, everybody had food. Food is not that expensive, come on. I mean, a bag of rice,
that’s three dollars. And from a bag of rice,
four people can eat. And then, you get out at (speaks Spanish), and then you smoke
marijuana with the island and then you have a party.
(audience laughing) It doesn’t have to be this, you know. It’s not legal here?
(audience laughing) (speaks Spanish) In
Puerto Rico, it’s legal. You have to come, hun.
(audience laughing) Let us teach you our ways.
(audience laughing) It’s legal. And then, one of the things that happens is that (laughs) you’ll be happier. (audience laughing) And then, one of the things that happen is that, all of a sudden,
this thing that was, you know, so, so ugh and so complicated become, became very simple. Community has always been there. Family has always been there. It always gathers with food. You always listen to what people need. You don’t have to come up like the expert in order to tell them. People will tell you what they need. Water, solar system,
education for my kids, food, a little bit of marijuana.
(audience laughing) Do you have rum?
(audience laughing) Who has party, who has the
music, who has the internet? And everything is fine. Let people tell you. They know. What they might not
know is how to organize globally around what they want and that’s where you come in. That’s it. It’s easy. (mumbling)
(Mayra speaking Spanish) (woman speaking in Spanish) (Mayra speaking Spanish)
(woman laughing) (woman speaking in Spanish) (Mayra speaking Spanish) – [Woman] So, you went to Cornell, right? – Mhm. – [Woman] I was curious because
there are a lot of students of color in this room
and a lot of minority go see students. I just wanted to know if you ever dealt with Imposter Syndrome and, if you did, how did you deal with it? Because I feel like this is a great room to give advice to because
I know a lot of people go through it, but they
don’t talk about it. – Oh, that’s so bad. It’s so uncomfortable.
(audience laughing) Okay, there’s many ways of being of color. You don’t have to be
of color the same way. (audience chuckling)
You know, you don’t have to be the dental
grad, you don’t have to be (speaks Spanish) from the
hood, you don’t have to walk around with an (speaks Spanish), you don’t have to be, you know, folcloric about yourself,
you don’t have to be. There’s many ways. There’s many, many, many thousands of ways of being Latino and be– See what I mean about like identity. Identity is so confusing because all of a sudden, you get, it’s like many ways of being white. There’s bad people that are white, there’s good people that are white, there’s people that you wanna be ally, and there’s some even that
you want to reproduce with. So, do it.
(audience laughing) Do it. I’ve done it.
(audience laughing) And, it’s fun.
(audience laughing) And, another thing is that if you, if we really break into identities, and I think that we have to represent any essence or particular way of being in a way, or another
thing, then it becomes, then we raise all those weird lines and that narrative that divides us when we can use that
difference in a different way. So, that’s one of the things. And then, the second thing
is intergenerational trauma. See, I don’t know about
you, but I come from a place where I was, I grew up with this narrative that said that I have
to work twice as hard in order to get anything, you know. The funniest thing is that
many people get that memo, too. And then, also, with that narrative, there is this another parallel narrative that said that you had
that (speaks Spanish). You know, I have to be tough on you, so that, because I love you. Parents and grandparents, you know, (audience laughing)
hitting us upside the head. You know, the, oh, they got you, ah. (audience laughing)
(Mayra speaking Spanish) I knew she was, I liked
her from the beginning and I know
(audience laughing) that it was because of something. So, you were a man, bad woman. I always knew it.
(audience laughing) The pearls are just, you
know, to trick people. (speaks Spanish) So, the thing is, no, I really like Anna Maren. You know that she had three husbands? (audience laughing) Three. I’m going through my fourth, you know. She, but she was, she’s a mean woman. I like her.
– I’m not doing four. (laughs) – You’re not doing four, okay.
(audience laughing) But she, she killed three.
(audience laughing) – [Man] That sounds horrible. – That’s the person we have to get. She’s the one who can get close to Trump without anybody in this noticing. (laughs) Anyways, the thing is
that those two narratives are very, they’re very scary, you know, because all of a sudden,
you are doing well and then you feel guilty about it and you also feel like you’re buying into this idea of identity of whiteness that doesn’t even exist either. Why? I know so many white
people that are dirt poor. And two, there are some that doesn’t, but then, you know, that is the whiteness that it gets portrayed on TV. It’s not real. It is not real. There are some motherfuckers out there. But, it is not real. So, I think that, you know, to deconstruct that whiteness is really important, this idea of whiteness
and this idea of Latino and this idea that I
shouldn’t be doing well because, if not, I am an imposter or I have survivor’s guilt because I am not doing it well. What is, what is, what
you’re being imposter of? (Mayra speaking Spanish) (audience chuckling) You know, no no no no no no no no. And this is for being happy. (Mayra speaking Spanish) You know, don’t do,
you’re not doing your PHD and really enjoying it? Quit.
(audience chuckling) You have to enjoy it. You have to enjoy badly. You have to say, “Jesus Christ, “I’m so incredibly intelligent. “Fuck, I’m here. “I am, will get paid for thinking. “Not for scrubbing floors.” Which is all right, I like
scrubbing floors, too. It releases the stress. (Mayra speaking Spanish) (lady speaking Spanish)
(Mayra speaking Spanish) – [Lady] Well, firstly, I wanna say thank you so much for coming. – Thank you. – [Lady] (mumbles) I’ve
never felt so spoken for and felt so related to
somebody, especially– – Yes, I did it. (laughs) – [Lady] My question for
you is (speaks Spanish). I wanted to ask you one
of your biggest issues and advocate for the
Afro-Latino community, known Latinx community, now that it’s finally being redefined and given the attention that it deserves
and your biggest advice for somebody who have to feel that they are re-educating people on what Latino is. – Mmm, that’s gonna take a long time. You see, the thing is
that intersectionality also works in our
communities because there’s a lot of racism in our communities. There’s a lot, a lot, a lot of racism within Hispanic communities
and that’s difficult to understand when you’re living in two places at the same time. And one racism works one way and then this other racism works the other way and you try to explain it
to your African American brothers and sisters and they don’t get it and then you try to explain it within your Latino-American,
Latin and Latin-American community and they say shush. Shut up. We already have enough as being labeled as Latinos, you know. So, it’s really difficult
because it’s two racisms working at the same time. There is an exclusionist
racism in the United States and then an inclusionist
racism in Latino-America, which is really funny because you’re supposed to, you know, there is a white supremacy
in anglophone here and then a Hispanic supremacy here. And you’re caught in the middle and I still haven’t seen
enough essays and stories and short stories and
films and performances and music and art, which is the first way to explain, to explore this, I think, in order to talk about this. I’ve seen a lot of posts. I don’t like posts. (speaks Spanish) They confuse me because you got, you cannot continue. You read it once and then you say okay, where’s the argumentation
and there’s none, (laughs) you know. Posts are okay, but what is next? I need to understand it. I am not selling Afro-Latino next. I wanna understand. So, the best thing that we can all do is create like hell. Create, create, create, create, create, create, create, create. Music videos, talk shows, whatever posts, incredible paintings,
just create like hell so that in a non-categorizable way, in a very creative way,
in a very joyful way, in a very, you know, I
really think that creativity does something that is, and that is why in Puerto Rico, there
were no deaths in July. I mean, we did (speaks Spanish), man. (audience laughing) We got on the cathedral
and we started twerking and we got a governor twerking. That’s really revolutionary. And who can, who can shoot a whole, a whole thousands of people twerking? Who can shoot at that?
(audience chuckling) So, I think that
creativity and playfulness and cynicism and just plain, you know, outrage, but in a very,
very fluid and creative way is the way. Do, we cannot (speaks Spanish) because they’re very easily transformed into a consumerist pocket. All of a sudden, they’re
selling you your own identity. In T-shirts and in lipsticks
and in (speaks Spanish). You know, this is so difficult
and then I have to buy it (audience chuckling)
from you, from Walmart. No, (speaks Spanish).
(audience chuckling) You know, we have to
be able to move faster than the market and to make things that are not easily, easily marketable. Easily, they will become marketable, but move as fast as you can. So, I think that that’s
what we need to do. (mumbling) Oh, my god, I’ve talked my, (laughs) myself out.
(audience laughing) (speaks Spanish) The last. – [Student] You said a
lot of people connected where you’re from smoke weed, right? – Yes.
(audience laughing) – [Student] Okay, I have
a best friend that likes chain smokes, like, weed everyday. – Oh, no, that’s not good. – [Student] And he talks
about how it’s like the most relaxing thing ever–
– That’s true. – [Student] And how it makes
you sleep and all that. So, how it helps you
calm and see the cortical different view of the
world from what he told me. – Well, if you’re stoned everyday, it will have a different
(audience laughing) view of the world. (laughs) But, (laughs) but, the, what I’m trying to say, also here at, jokingly, but it is that, it is really funny that alcohol is legal and weed is not. And it’s very funny what
becomes legal and what is not. 1938, there was no problem with weed. Actually, there was an incredible amount of industries, especially
the hemp industry, which made textiles that was very good and then, you know, you
had a whole bunch of, of people living off it
and then, all of a sudden, after the legal, you
know, it became illegal right after the, right after or before, right at the same time as
the legalization of alcohol. Hm.
– Of, course. – How interesting. So, you know, and then you have people, incredible people, that
that, like the Rockefellers and the Daniels that became rich before as bootleggers and then
afterwards, as industrials when they got all this
money from something as disgusting, I’m sorry,
it tastes really good, but it makes a lot of people
very, very ill, as alcohol. Alcohol. So, I mean, you have to understand whenever you face these
discussions about morality and what is good and what is bad, wait a second. Let’s get to the information. See why I don’t like posts? Because they don’t explain this, you know. So, you have to be able, this is when we, the old people, can help because we can tell you
the stories of the tribe. But you have to lead the way, honey, and we cannot tell you ’cause we don’t know. (Mayra speaking Spanish) So, you tell us. (speaking Spanish)
(audience applauding)

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