Happy Babaluaye | San Lazaro’s Day

by admin on December 17, 2014

I bet they’re celebrating this in Cuba, too, as they should. Restoring their splintered relationship with the United States is THE double-edged dilemma of the year in foreign policy. It’s going to be interesting, to say the least, tracking this story: thoughts later. Today, we pray that San Lazaro/Babaluaye, cleans away any confusion, malaise, and sickness from our lives and the lives of our loved ones.



I’m stoked to be featured on #wanderwoman Amy Gigi Alexander‘s blog! She’s a pretty freaking talented travel writer and her fiercely evocative pieces are #swoonworthy. Below is a sample of the piece. Click below to read the conversation in its entirety.

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Lesley McSpadden and Louis Head, the mother and stepfather of Michael Brown, on August 9th. CREDIT PHOTOGRAPH BY HUY MACH/ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH/AP

Lesley McSpadden and Louis Head, the mother and stepfather of Michael Brown, on August 9th.

I wrote and deleted several versions of this post about Michael Brown’s murder at the barrel of officer Darren Wilson’s gun because they called for nothing good. I am so angry about this, another senseless and preventable death of a Black child. I’m profoundly, utterly saddened by Brown’s murder and even more so for his mother, Lesley McSpadden’s loss. To lose a child. To bury a baby she conspired with a higher being to give light to. A baby whom she loved, loves, as much as any of us love our own. She loved, loves, her baby as much as any white mother loves her own but didn’t have the social capital or luxury of raising him with a different set of rules. You know exactly what I mean. As mothers of Black and Brown men, we can’t enjoy our children without thinking about the what-ifs. What if I send my son to the store to buy milk and what if the wrong cop, having a bad day, steps to him? What if my son, like any other average teenager, retaliates by resisting authority or mouthing off after feeling provoked? If he’s not white, chances are he may not make it back. Even Republican Senator Rand Paul said as much, naturally in his own words, in a recent appearance on Bill Maher.

I am not surprised as much as really super fucking disgusted by Wilson’s acquittal and the “prosecutor’s” failure to take the half-step to charge the murderer with something, anything: expected FOX 5 and goons to offer the American public a lopsided spin on behalf of The Man; maybe didn’t quite expect but wasn’t shocked by Rudy “9/11″ Giuliani’s recent out-of-touch backward-thinking white supremacist remarks to Michael Eric Dyson; Wilson’s “clean conscience,” apparent lack of remorse and dehumanizing remarks about the unarmed Black man he shot down like prey was, well, not surprising; CNN’s Don Lemon offered stinky-shitty-whiny reporting in and OUT of Ferguson but that’s something we are all pretty much getting used to; not surprised as much as appalled at the recent shooting death of a 12 year-old Cleveland boy by, you guessed it, a scared cop; or that police brutality has been all but legalized in America while our deadpan President’s response to the acquittal was, um, deadpan as fuck. Then, earlier today I read about a pregnant woman, Mayra Lazos-Guerrero, who was brutalized in Denver by the cops. Shocked? Nope. I went through a similar ordeal when I was on my way to deliver my daughter almost eighteen years ago. That’s another story, related yes, but for another time.

The facts are pouring in, one more shocking than the next, about the botched abortion that is our justice system but I can’t help but go back and think about Brown’s mother. Her sorrow. I feel terrible for his father, yes. But I’m a mother. I can empathize with a father’s love but I carry a mother’s—a nonwhite mother’s—joy and fear for her children. My son is two-and-a-half. I remember when I first held him. I remember that minutes into it, I panicked. He was healthy and had a strong cry. However, when I looked at his gray little face knowing that his body would soon take on the characteristics that would make him a target of discrimination, violence, hatred, and malevolence, I became anxious. I became sort of unstuck in time, flying through the years, landing in his teens. It made me angry that I couldn’t just live in the moment and enjoy him. I have thought back to those moments every time I think of Lesley McSpadden and all the mothers that came before her and after. #BLACK&BROWNLivesMatter

Michael Brown

Michael Brown


THIS happened last night at The United Nations: Dominican artist, German Perez, presented me with an award at his mind-blowing art show, Amen de Mariposas, for my book Bird of Paradise. The plaque reads:

The permanent mission of the Dominican Republic to the United Nations recognizes Raquel Cepeda, for the courage reflected in her literature, her commitment to denouncing violence against women, and for her work in helping young women’s empowerment.


Amen De Mariposas


I was really honored and, frankly, surprised! German Perez is someone who has challenged the stereotype that all Dominicans deny their African and/or Indigenous and/or Taino ancestry, through his visual work and music. I stood there, standing directly in front of a painting of the sisters Mirabal, political activists butchered in 1960 by our former dictator/boogeyman’s goons for opposing Dominican Republic’s oppressive regime. Yesterday, November 25, was the anniversary of their murder, and Perez’s art opening kicked off the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, which actually lasts for sixteen days. Perez’s work evoked their spirits and although I was nervous—not because of the crowd but because of my utter respect and admiration for Perez and his dedication to bridging the intergenerational gap between Dominicans on the island and here—I could feel our ancestors/guests of honor, Minerva, Patria, and Maria Teresa Mirabal propping me up. What a feeling.


German Perez, pictured left, and moi, Cepeda, on the right.


Forgive me for not posting this sooner—so, in the future, if I don’t post for a while, check out my social media feeds, links on the right hand side under FOLLOW RAQUEL, for wassup with me—but I’m playing catch-up because I’ve been caught up in a mostly awesome whirlwind these past couple of weeks. Below is an event authors Baratunde Thurston, Tanner Colby and myself did last week at the Brooklyn Historical Society. We decided to make the panel a dry run for a podcast I’ll tell you about in the near future. And really, to keep it real, I am surprised CSPAN went ahead and aired this joint, with all the cursing, drinking, and whatnot.

Here, a snapshot of our "amalgamagical" audience in Brooklyn!

Here, a snapshot of our “amalgamagical” audience in Brooklyn!

So, a Black dude, a white guy and a Latina decided to have a frank conversation about race, and this is what happened. FOLLOW THIS LINK:


I had the privilege of sharing the stage last night at El Museo del Barrio with author Vanessa Perez Rosario for a conversation about her new book, Becoming Julia de Burgos: The Making of a Puerto Rican Icon. This is only the second biography written about the Puerto-Rican poetess and political activist, and Vanessa’s treatment of de Burgos adds layers of complexity to her life that has left me hungry for more. De Burgos was a woman before her time, albeit a walking contradiction: but its those contradictions that make her accessible to the community, to would-be feminists and artists, alike.


Author Vanessa Perez Rosario sets it off on the left, and yours truly representing for team #naturalcurls, on the right.

There’s a question I didn’t get to ask Vanessa last night that I posed to her this morning, via email, below, about identity being a process, something that cannot be contained.

QUESTION: The title of your book, Becoming Julia de Burgos, to me at least, hints at her self and identity never truly being settled. She is still in the process of becoming it seems. And the writers and poets and artists whose works are inspired by her are contributing to that identity, enhancing it, piecing her, Julia’s spirit, together. De Burgos is, like so many of us in the Latino-American community and beyond, fluid, always shifting like the river Loiza she fondly wrote about. Was this title, this becoming, this process rather than arrival, something you did purposefully?


ANSWER: The title Becoming Julia de Burgos has several layers to it. First, it is a reference to the way the book documents how she came to be the writer and artist she was by looking at early literary influences, the development of her political consciousness, and her literary voice. Secondly, it is a reference to her becoming the icon she is today, an icon that is created in part, by those writers and visual artists who inherit and extend her legacy. It also suggests the way that identity is not fixed but always in the process of becoming, of movement, of shifting; it is dynamic, as her poetry teaches us so well. A favorite quote of mine on this topic from Julia’s poetry comes from the poem, below:


Yo, multiple,
como en contradiccion,
atada a un sentimiento sin orillas
que me une y me desune,
al mundo


Me, multiple,
as in a contradiction,
tied to a sentiment without edges
that binds and unbinds me
to the world.]

[translation. by Jack Agueros from Song of the Simple Truth, pg 14-15]






At #Bindercon, from left, Kavita Das, Raquel Cepeda, Ava Chin

Yesterday, I sat on a panel moderated by my new homie, writer Kavita Das, called The Double Whammy: Women Writers of Color Discuss Challenges and Strategies, as part of #Bindercon‘s two day symposium. The panel cleverly featured three writers including myself, memoirist Ava Chin (where have you been all my life?), and novelist Tayari Jones, literary agent Ayesha Pande (who happens to be my agent), and former Atria/Simon & Schuster editor Malaika Adero (who happens to be the editor of my book Bird of Paradise, and one of the .0001% of Black-American women in the publishing industry—until recently. I wonder what the numbers are now?). The panel went down at Tishman Auditorium at NYU’s Vanderbilt Hall: it was cold, damn cold in there!

I mostly dug the audience because, unlike most panels that are billed as focusing on the issues of women of color in publishing, there were women of all races and persuasions in the house. If only publishing were as diverse as the audience, I thought to myself, I wouldn’t have to try and convince so many editors that I exist, that my demo isn’t as niche (i.e. Latina-Americans, and more specifically, those that break away from the formulaic lost immigrant child+white savior English teacher + total assimilation = success and the realization of the American Dream) as they assume it is, and that my story and point of view is shared by many (you’d be surprised at how many white men get my work, ya’ll) Americans.

In other words: Latina-, Black-, Asian-, and Insert-your-fave-color-HERE- narratives are just as important to the social fabric of American Literature as those written by white women.

Ok, so as much as we tried, there was a lot we couldn’t cover in 45 minutes + 15 minutes for questions. I tried to run through my trajectory from disengaged parochial grammar school student, to disengaged high school student, to turned off college student (oh, the stories I could have shared about my university English professors), to circa early-mid ’90s poet, to journalist, editor, author, documentary filmmaker, blah, blah, blah, in a few minutes, but lots got lost in the sauce. I also have a hard time picking and choosing what to prioritize when asked to run through how I became a writer.

In a nutshell, I think I carried the gene, if you will, of a writer and storyteller, in my DNA. If you read my book, Bird…, you’ll understand what I mean (write me if you still don’t and we can discuss.) BUT I technically started writing by pretending I was a ghostwriter for my favorite mid-to-late ’80s emcees while my religion teacher was shoving all the tools for self-loathing down our throats. I was just not buying it.

Moving on, there were a few really poignant writing tips, jewels really, that everyone imparted that I think is important for sisterwriters of all ages and stages of their careers to keep in mind. I listed them in the following pages.

[click to continue…]


I was delighted to find that my book, now out in paperback, was reviewed in the Autumn 2014 issue of the (otherwise academic) Latino Studies journal. I’d like to send a special shout-out to Ms. Kiley Guyton Acosta, PhD., for the thoughtful deconstruction of the themes in my book. Check it out, below.

NOTE: And on another subject, my site was hacked about a month ago. I’m hoping we have successfully and permanently cleaned up the virtual mess because I’ve not been able to update my site or speaking engagements, some of which have passed. Check back soon for updates and please send me some positive hack-proof energy!

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