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!

Download (PDF, 44KB)


Ok, full disclosure: Someone actually reminded me that it’s Latino History Month. I forgot that today was the official kick off until a homegirl sent me this really sweet Buzzfeed article. I was on the site earlier today but missed the piece because I was dumbstruck by Urban Outfitters latest low, the hawking of a “vintage Kent State” sweater with red stains reminiscent of splattered blood. I was like WTMF?! They are already known for allegedly cold-jacking young and lesser known designers, but this?! Wow.

Back to Latino History Month. I don’t think our history should be crammed down students throats for a month year. And, you know, the stories are all the same one-note narratives about how the Latino/as who found true success here in North America did so by the grace of total assimilation and acculturation into the perceived mainstream. We are way more complicated than that, yo. Latino history is American history. I mean that literally. The New World as we know it began in Santo Domingo, for better and for worse. I wrote about it in my book Bird of Paradise: How I Became Latina. Do yourself a huge favor and buy it. Even if you don’t identify with my personal coming-of-age story, I guarantee that it will be the most illuminating thing you learn during this Latino History Month(2) 2014. My word is bond.

Inspired by the #WhatLatinoMeansToMe hashtag partay, I decided to join in on the fun and make my own signpost because, really, shouldn’t we meet folks where they’re at?

(PS: Shout out to my homeslice, author and educator Jose Vilson for helping me getting my site back up yesterday after I was alerted that it had been down all weekend: couldn’t do it without you, bro!)






Honoring Those Who Perished on September 11, 2001

by admin on September 11, 2014


Light, peace and progress to the spirits of all those who perished on September 11, 2001. I would like to think we are honoring the dead by living life to the fullest: by approaching everything with an open heart and clean hands; by not sweating the small, petty ish; by eating clean and moving our bodies every day in order to extend our lives here on earth; by being the change we want to see in the world; by being caring and responsible global citizens. I’d like to think we’ve done that to our best abilities.


I Remember Yusuf Hawkins

by admin on August 23, 2014


The savage murder of Yusuf Hawkins in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, is one of those watershed moments of my youth I recall almost every time someone asks me what it was like to grow up nonwhite in New York City during the ’80s. Hawkins was only 16 when Keith Mondello rounded up a mob of bloodthirsty white boys armed with bats, golf clubs, and guns, all feigning like baseheads to unleash their rage on Hawkins and a couple of his friends. What were they doing in Mondello’s ‘hood on the evening of August 23, 1989, in the first place? They were looking to purchase a used car. That was it.

Hawkins was less than three months older than me. While the Reverend Al Sharpton lead protests (and at one point was stabbed in the chest for taking a stand), and the press coverage on the racially fueled murder made for prime time media fodder, I went on living my life riding on a tidal wave of nervous energy. I felt, intrinsically knew, that the people in my community, the grownups in my city (at least those running things), didn’t place to much value on whether we lived or died: our lives were dispensable.

Twenty-five years later and one Black president richer, not much has changed in our pre-post-racial-society. Young Black and Brown men and women are still being hunted down and sacrificed like animals. People still mobilize, continue to rage and protest, amplify the issues on social media, and eventually return to relative normalcy until the next unjust murder occurs.

It’s excruciating to watch these events unfold time and time again. It’s painful to see our children’s lives and potential wasted over nothing (or because of the lack of social capital). It’s incensing as ever to see people argue in circles and soundbites on television about something so clearly wrong and waste time debating shit that is so clearly one-sided. What’s worse, at least from where I stand, is that we are still mostly looking at race in America through a binary Black-and-white lens, further alienating and dividing groups of people—e.g., Latino-/Hispanic-Americans and other Diasporic folks—from the national conversation. Divided, there’s little we can conquer.

On my train ride back uptown from sparring this morning, I tried not to think about the bigger picture or most of what I wrote above. I took those moments on the A train to become still, to fall in line with the rhythm of the vibration underneath my feet, and direct all my intention to one person: Yusef’s mother, Diane Hawkins, who continues to suffer the senseless and tragic loss of her son every single day. A mother’s pain is abysmal, it’s deeper than a bottomless ocean, a thousand lashes on one’s soul. It’s totally fucked up.

Light, peace and progress to the spirit of Yusuf Hawkins.


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We had been in the lobby of our hotel in Oranjestad, Aruba’s capital, for only a few minutes when the Dutch territory’s Arcadian “One Happy Island” front was shattered by a desk clerk whose petulance hit me like a left hook straight to the temple. As she delivered the rules and regulations like a stern lecture, scolding my daughter and me for the simple offense of standing before her, my mind drifted back home to New York City. There I was, at Mendez Boxing gym, and there she was, standing in place of my favorite heavy bag.

Eventually, spurred by my husband, Sacha, she produced a set of room keys. But when we finally made our way down the spare beige hallway and into a room facing the busy boulevard (with dingy beds smaller than advertised), I realized I was relieved to have seen the front desk clerk’s vitriol. It countered the tourism board’s Stepford-ian remake of Aruba. And that was a good thing.