Rape Culture in Hispanic Communities

Teens holding handsYou will not find a single family sitcom that does not have at least one episode dedicated to “the talk.” The likelihood of flipping through the TV channels late at night and stumbling upon a scene of a teenager in 1980’s acid-wash jeans, having a heart-to-heart about the birds and the bees with their shoulder-padded parent, is much greater than your chance of being struck by lightning. The chances that this conversation would be taking place in a Hispanic household, though? Not so great.

In the Hispanic culture, discussing sex with your child is seen widely as taboo, or inappropriate. For many Hispanic youth, the uncomfortable acknowledgement of a transition from childhood to young adulthood is made only in the form of a short statement: be careful. These two simple words mean something too simple when told to a son; be careful not to get her pregnant. Yet when told to a daughter, their meaning changes drastically from advice to warning. For a Hispanic woman, ten cuidado often translates to, “Be careful… not to show too much. Be careful… not to give the wrong idea. Be careful… not to get raped.”

Sexual assault is an issue that affects innocent women across all cultures. In the United States, 1 in 5 women, both Hispanic and non-Hispanic, are sexually assaulted during their lifetime. The collection of behaviors and attitudes that encourage or allow for that staggering statistic to exist is referred to as rape culture.

There are specific challenges that Hispanic women face, which perpetuate rape culture and the rate of sexual assault. For example, while Hispanic women are not assaulted more frequently than non-Hispanic women, they are more likely to be assaulted by a spouse or intimate partner. In the Hispanic culture, a woman’s primary role is traditionally thought to be as the homemaker, a wife and a mother. There is nothing wrong with a woman choosing to devote all of her attention to her family. But the key word here is “choice.” According to the Women of Color Network, 8% of Latinas are sexually assaulted by a spouse or partner during their lifetime. In many of these situations, a woman will not seek help or report the assault, because there is so much pressure on Hispanic women to comply with their husbands, or with men in general.

As awful and inexcusable as sexual assault is, it does happen. So while the many causes that lead to sexual assault should still be addressed, it is also important the after-effects of sexual assault be addressed as well. Resources that offer counseling, medical and legal help to victims of sexual assault are important to one’s recovery. If it weren’t difficult enough for victims to seek out this type of assistance, (giving a testimony of a sexual assault forces the victim to experience the same emotional trauma all over again, a reason why 80% of all sexual assaults go unreported) language barriers pose additional headaches. “Many rape crisis centers do not have a Spanish-speaking advocate available,” says the Office of Victims of Crimes, “so the phrase ‘I’m sorry I don’t speak Spanish’ may be the only response many Spanish-speaking victims receive.” With 41 million native Spanish speakers living in the U.S. today, the demand for bilingual resource centers is great, and the supply of them is small.

The problem of sexual assault and rape culture, especially in Hispanic communities, is present, and goes far beyond this article. And though a solution will not come overnight, countering rape culture can begin with informing each other on the importance of consent, with teaching young men not to rape, instead of teaching young women not to get raped, and with making victims feel brave and supported when they decide to share their experiences with sexual assault, not judged or blamed. This topic of conversation is not pleasant, and it is not comfortable. But if I have learned anything from sitcom episodes about “the talk,” is that healthy, open discourse usually ends in understanding, improvement, and the applause of a live studio audience.

Counting the Votes

821-ivotedstickerIt’s a sentiment that becomes even more popular during election years: “I’m not going to vote.” Those who make this declaration often follow it with such reasoning as, “My vote doesn’t even count.” Now what could be the cause for such a pessimistic attitude? It is a complex and key component of our country’s presidential election process called the electoral college.

How your vote works:

When you vote for a candidate, you are actually casting a vote for a group of electors. Electors are people chosen by the political parties in each state as people who are either loyal to their party or to their party candidate. Each state gets a certain number of electors (the number of senators plus the number of state representatives). These electors make up the electoral college, and are the actual people who vote for the president. When a candidate wins the popular vote (the vote of non-electors, a.k.a. your vote) for a state, then the group of electors for their political party also win. Those electors then get to meet and vote on who they believe the president should be. The candidate who wins the majority of electoral votes becomes president.

Why your vote counts:

The election process can be quite confusing, and many people believe it to be unfair, or undemocratic. Why should the president be chosen by a small group of people who were not even elected by population, but who were appointed by political parties? Our country’s motto is E pluribus unum, “out of many, one.” At what point do the “many” get to have a say in who their leader should be? The good news is that although the outcome of the popular vote is technically not what decides the President, it does have an important role to play. For starters, many states require electors to vote for the candidate who won that state’s popular vote. This ensures that the wishes of the total voting population are not ignored.

There have only been four occurrences in U.S. history when the winner of a presidential election was not the winner of the popular vote. This is out of 56 total presidential elections. This means that the decision of voting citizens is carried through 71% of the time. It may seem crazy for that number to be anything less than 100, but according to the Library of Congress, the founding fathers had their reasons. They believed that “the use of electors would give our country a representative president, while avoiding a corruptible national election.”

Whether you agree with the electoral college voting process or not, whether you agree with the candidates or not, forgoing your vote does not make a statement. All it does is lessen the support for the causes which you believe in. It is especially important for women of color to exercise their right to vote. It was not until the signing of the 1965 Voting Rights act that minority citizens could overcome obstacles like high poll taxes and literacy tests when trying to cast their ballots. Women only won the right to vote less than 100 years ago, with the passage of the 19th amendment in 1919. Countless people throughout history have poured their blood, sweat, and tears into fights for suffrage. That “I Voted” sticker shouldn’t be taken for granted.

Beyond the Ballot:

Voting is probably the most obvious way to make your political voice heard, but activism does not have to be limited to one day every four years. You can stand up for what you believe in by volunteering on the campaign of a politician who advocates for the same causes that you do. You can utilize social media in a positive and respectful way, sharing your opinions or links to articles that inspire you (ahem) with your friends. Activism does not have to wait until you are eighteen years old, either. Volunteer opportunities are available to all, and you can always encourage parents and adult relatives to show up at the polls. Now, if you are reallyinterested in social activism, passionate about politics, then just run for public office yourself! Get that political science degree, girl, and be the change that you want to see in your community!

Maximizing Your Summer Staycation

Summer vacation as a college student is quite different from summer vacation in grade school. It suddenly becomes taboo to spend your summer days waking up late, watching cartoons, and just goofing around. In college, the generic “have a great summer” yearbook greeting gives way to a slightly different email signoff: “Have a productive summer.” Your classmates may be blowing up your social media with posts about their summer internships in a big city, or with photos of foreign countries where they are studying abroad. If you, instead, find yourself back in your hometown for the summer, don’t fret. You will still have plenty of time and opportunities to experience a new place and to go off on your own adventures. Until then, here are five ways for you to make the most of your summer staycation!

1.       Free Summer Events

 The warm weather offers a perfect opportunity for cities to put on a myriad of outdoor public events. The best part is, they’re usually free! (Or, at least very affordable.) Be on the lookout in your local newspaper for outdoor screenings, concerts, or farmer’s markets. “There are a ton of great activities to take advantage of,” says Brittany Ochoa, a junior at Texas A&M University, spending the summer in her hometown of El Paso, TX. “I’ve gone to a few movies in the park, and the Let Freedom Ring concert series is always a go-to weekend outing for me.” While food and drinks will cost extra, you can always bring your own snack and just go for the show.

2.       Explore Your City

           Cities and towns are not static. They are always growing and changing. If you spend most of your year away at school, then chances are that not everything stayed the same while you were gone. Exercise that newfound independence of yours to explore your city. Grab a friend and venture out. Try a restaurant in a neighborhood that you never go to. Investigate what goes on in that building that has always caught your eye, but that you have always wondered about. This is the place of your origin story, learn more about it, and you might learn something about yourself along the way.

3.       Personal Project

 We all have that secret little book of ideas, whether it’s written on actual paper, or just kept in the back of your mind. You go off to college in hopes of pursuing your passions, but you don’t always get the opportunity to actually spend time practicing them. School, work, friends are all important and all worthwhile things to devote your time, but they can also get in the way of reading that book that’s been sitting on your shelf, or playing out that melody that’s been in your head. You are approaching a chapter in your life that is void of any free time, let alone a whole season full of it. Turn your attention for the next few months to a personal project. It can be anything you want, as long as it fulfills you.

For Ochoa, that project includes “experimenting with watercolors and photography,” which she posts on her own blog. Amanda Chacon, also an El Paso native and a junior at University of Texas at San Antonio, expresses a similar sentiment, claiming that “being home and not having classes to attend has also freed up a lot of my time for recreational activities that I typically don’t have the chance to participate in throughout the semester. I’ve gone climbing a lot more while at home, and even went skydiving a few weeks ago!” You don’t have to be as daring as Amanda, but definitely don’t be afraid to try your hand at something new. This is the perfect time! 

4.       Bond with Family and Friends

It’s called a hometown for a reason. You could be anywhere else right now, but you are here because this is where your family is. This is likely the place where you grew up, where you went to school, where you met some of your closest friends. Going off to school wasn’t just an adjustment for you, it was also an adjustment for your family. Spending time with them, and with your old friends, means catching up on all the little stories that you missed while you were away and sharing the exciting new things that you have learned and experiences while you were at college. Just a fair warning: bonding with your fam could result in increased homesickness when you ship out again in the fall, but it’s totally worth reconnecting to your culture and to your support system. 

5.       Reset

 Like the exhausted laptop that you leave powered on every second of every day, sometimes you just need to reset. Now is your chance to take a breather between semesters. You know those eight-hour nights of sleep that you’re always hearing about? Now you can actually see what the big fuss is about. Without those ghastly 8 am classes or late-night study sessions, you can actually get a decent amount of sleep at night (so don’t sabotage yourself by watching Netflix until dawn.) It’s also okay to take a day every now and then to do nothing. Remember: taking care of yourself is just as important as taking care of business.

Mi Barrio: Female Saints and Heroes Exhibit

Photo Credit: Elpasoartmuseum.org

Photo Credit: Elpasoartmuseum.org

The exhibit of Female Saints and Heroes, on display at the El Paso Museum of Art (EPMA), is not unlike the women portrayed in the collection of paintings. Tucked away in the innermost point of the museum, this exhibit showcases a modest 26-piece collection of petite paintings, which would seem rather unremarkable at first glance when compared to the grandiose six-foot tall renaissance works hung in gold-plated frames just a few steps away. In fact, if you blink, you just might miss it. And yet despite its humble quality, the exhibit’s contents and its existence actually carry a great amount of significance.

Those 26 paintings are referred to as retablos (translated as “behind the altar”). The retablos are devotional images common throughout Mexico, which depict Catholic religious figures, especially saints. The EPMA houses a total of 900 of these types of paintings from the 1800s, but has chosen to display such a small portion of its collection for one very important reason; these are the only retablos that focus on women. According to the museum’s website, only 20% of all 19th century Mexican retablos depict female saints, and those that do were created specifically for a female audience. The idea was for average Mexican women to view these retablo saints as spiritual role models.

Unfortunately, it comes as no surprise that the frequency of these female-centered retablos should be so low. The history of underrepresentation of women in arts and media is long, and continues to this day. With this in mind, it is easy to walk into this exhibit ready to recognize symptoms of gender inequality or gender stereotypes. These retablos do have some disturbing recurring themes, such as the idea that a woman may become spiritually enlightened or worthy of praise only if she will suffer silently. (A trio of retablos that illustrate Saint Rita smiling peacefully with a wound on her forehead reinforce that theme.) Although the female retablos do demonstrate some signs of a male-dominated culture, it is also important to recognize the rather surprising amount of feminism that is also present in these paintings.

The Female Saints and Heroes retablos are more than portraits of women in traditional roles of housewife or mother. Churches were, and still are, considered very sacred spaces to followers of Catholicism. The fact that any female image would be hung upon a church wall as an example of a strong, wise, powerful person means that women at least had the potential to be highly regarded or admired, even in macho 19th century Mexico.  There are even two retablos featured in the exhibit, Trinity with Two Saints and Trinity and Six Saints, that include a woman amongst a group of male saints and warriors. “This exhibit is important,” reads one museum plaquard, “by reminding us how these larger-than-life women inspired the spritual devotion and action of everyday women in 19th century Mexico.”

Female retablos may be few and far between, they may be small, and they may even be a little somber at times. The point is that they give us glimpse into the role models of the Latinas who came before us. They are portraits of the women who many of our great, great grandmothers prayed to be like. This exhibit gives a space to the retablos that inspired the wisdom and strength of Mexican women who may not have had their voices heard in the 19th century, but who passed on those traits to the Latinas raising their voices and claiming their own space in the 21st century.

The Female Saints and Heroes exhibit is featured at the El Paso Museum of art through November 6.

6 Latina Olympians to Watch

maxresdefault-1Although summer may be more than halfway through already, there is still plenty to look forward to with the Rio Olympics just around the corner. As the August games approach, those prestigious spots on the U.S. national team are filling up fast, many of them by Latina athletes. Balancing elite physical training with families, academics, and careers, here are just fivesix of this summer’s many U.S. Olympians who are actively proving that Latinas are strong in mind and in body.

DIANA TAURASI is widely considered as one of the best, if not the best, female basketball players in the world. Hailing from Chino, California, Taurasi grew up speaking both Spanish and English as the daughter of an Argentinian mother and an Italian father. Her talent quickly stood out as an athlete for the University of Connecticut, where she graduated with a degree in Sociology, before becoming a WNBA rookie of the year. Taurasi has become an all-time leading scorer in the WNBA while playing for the Phoenix Mercury, though she did take a break from the American professional league this year in order to focus on her primary position on a professional women’s basketball team in Russia. “D.T.,” as she is also known, has already led the U.S. women’s basketball team to the Olympic gold in Greece, Beijing and London, and hopes to repeat the team’s success again this summer in Rio. Though Taurasi is incredibly focused and hard-working, her USA Basketball online profile also describes her as “…a true jokester when she’s not playing some serious basketball.”

MAYA DiRADO safely secured her spot in this summer’s games after winning first place for the 400-meter individual medley race at Olympic swim trials. According to a Washington Post article, this will be the swimmer’s only appearance on the Olympic stage. A native of Santa Rosa, California, DiRado graduated from Stanford University in 2014 with a degree in management science and engineering, and will be trading in her professional swim career this fall for a career as an analyst at a management consulting firm in New York City. Twenty-three-year-old Maya is also recently married to a fellow Stanford swimmer.

ANITA ALVAREZ and her competition partner, Mariya Maroleva, will be the only two representatives for U.S. synchronized swimming at the 2016 Olympics. Both of these women were on the U.S. women’s synchronized swimming team that that won gold at last year’s U.S. Open and National Championships. Alvarez, herself, is new to the west coast. She moved from upstate New York all the way two Concord, California when she was just sixteen in order to train with the U.S. National team, a difficult decision that appears to be paying off for the now nineteen-year-old athlete.

JACKIE GALLOWAY, a dual-citizen of Mexico and the United States, first appeared on everyone’s radar at age fourteen, when she became the youngest person to ever make the Mexican national taekwondo team. Now, twenty years old and residing in Dallas, Texas, Galloway’s recent successes have earned her a ranking as number four in the world, and a spot on the U.S. team in Rio. Along with being a world-class athlete, Jackie is also a scientist, majoring in mechanical engineering at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

ANGELICA DELGADO is petite, without a doubt. She stands at 5 feet, 3 inches tall, and weighs only 114lbs. Just looking at her, you might not guess that she is actually a four-time national champion in Judo, ranked twentieth in the world, and first in the U.S. A twenty-six-year-old first generation child of Cuban parents, Delgado is entirely aware of the value of an education, as she currently attends Florida International University. She is also aware of the impact that her success could have on her community. Angelica’s Facebook profile reads, “Coming from a lower-middle class family has taught me that dreams don’t just simply come true; you must work, grind and hustle to make them a reality. I will work, grind and hustle to become the first Hispanic-American to win an Olympic gold medal in Judo.”

LAURIE HERNANDEZ is a typical teenager in many ways; she enjoys painting her nails, listens to pop and EDM music, and walks around with a bubbly attitude and wide smile wherever she goes. Unlike most other sixteen-year-olds, however, this New Jersey native has devoted most of her young life to rigorous gymnastics training. Hernandez has even been home-schooled since third grade in order to concentrate more on her sport of choice. The sacrifice has definitely paid off for Hernandez, though, as her third place all-around finish at the U.S. Olympic trials last month earned her a well-deserved ticket to Rio. This is only her first year transitioning from junior to senior-level competition, and the “Human Emoji” (a nickname referring to the athlete’s emotionally expressive face) has already joined an exclusive group of Olympic gymnasts- Latinas. According to People Magazine, only a handful of Hispanic women have ever represented the U.S. in an Olympic gymnastics competition. As a second generation Puerto Rican-American, Laurie hopes that her success in the games will help to inspire future Latina olympians, saying in an interview with the NY Daily News: “People are people. If you want something, go get it. I don’t think it should matter what race you are.”

What’s in a Name?

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It has come to my attention lately that only about half of my friends know my name. While having dinner with one of my closest friends from college, we were in the middle of a very lively discussion about Gilmore Girls when I dropped a glob of ranch on my shirt, at least my third spill of the hour. “Oh my God, Cande, eat much?” I say aloud to myself, wiping the dressing off with a napkin. “Wait,” she stops me. “Who’s ‘Cande’?”

Let me explain. For twenty years, I have lived with the struggle of having a hard-to-pronounce name. I go by “Cande” (pronounced Kahn-de), which is a short version of my full name, Candelaria. I always dreaded first days of school, when teachers would call out for a “Calendar” or a “Candelabra.” I avoided going to Starbucks, knowing that the barista would mishear and hand me tall coffee cup with the word “Grande” scribbled across it. Ironic. Introducing myself to new people was my least favorite, though. It’s at least a three-step process. Say it once, normal: “Hi, I’m Cande.” Say it a second time, louder: “HI, I’M CANDE.” Say it a third time, very slow: “Hiiiiiii, I’m Caaaaaaaan….deeeeeee.” In special circumstances, there’s even the additional fourth step of spelling it out. For some reason, you’re not allowed to let go of a person’s hand until they can understand your name, and a handshake can only last about five seconds before it becomes very uncomfortable and someone starts sweating. Okay, before I start sweating.

That’s why at some point, I just started teaching people to pronounce my name as “Candy.” For years it has proven a fairly solid solution to my problem. It’s easier for me to say when I’m introducing myself, and it’s easier for everyone else to understand. What I didn’t realize, is that a name is more than just an identification, it’s part of your identity. Your name is loaded with meaning, whether your parents intend those meanings or not. As easy as it is to pronounce, there are consequences to allowing myself to be called by my anglicized name, “Candy.” I frequently get comments like, “what a cute name,” or, “you must be so sweet!” Sure, it’s okay to be sweet and cute when you’re just talking to your friends or petting a puppy, but I don’t want that to be the first association when people think of me. I stand at a whopping 4 feet 11 inches tall and I have a round, childlike face. It’s a challenge just to get the hostess at Denny’s, who always approaches with a kid’s menu in her hand, to take me seriously as an adult, let alone my professors or potential employers.

More important than what “Candy” means to other people, though, is what “Cande” means to me. Cande was my grandmother, and it was my grandmother’s grandmother. Cande is the history of strong Hispanic women who worked to make better lives for themselves and their families in new worlds and new countries. Cande is the delicate bounce of a “c” and a subtle “d,” the sounds familiar to the language of my family and my neighbors and my ancestors. Cande is my mother speaking to me, and me speaking to myself.

Your name is more than a label, it’s a part of you. There is a story behind it, and it is the title of the story you write for yourself. My friend couldn’t have known all of this about me without knowing my real name. Your name shouldn’t have to bend itself around what is convenient for everybody else. Be a good friend, a good daughter, a good student, or just somebody who adds value to the world. Then, believe me, people will want to know your name, and they’ll want to say it right.