Born in Panama City, Antonieta Gimeno is a Dorchester-based community organizer, theater activist, and solidarity worker. Gimeno has joined the Peña Rebelde team for Woman’s History Month to celebrate La Mujer Afro-Latina, the Latina woman of African descent.
The peña takes place this Saturday, March 31, at Encuentro 5 in Boston. RSVP on Facebook here: http://on.fb.me/GSH13j
The following is an interview with Antonieta Gimeno in anticipation of the peña.
Transplanted to Mexico City as a baby, Antonieta said her cultural identity is Mexican. She came to the US in 1968 to work as a nurse at a hospital in Houston. A year later she bought a small car and drove up to Boston with two nurses from Revere.
¡Buenos días, compa! Please tell us why is it important that we celebrate the role of Afro Latina women here in Boston?
Latinas/Afro Latinas in Boston and in Massachusetts have been involved in many civil rights struggles for a long time. They have organized, marched and have fought for the rights, dignity and self-determination of their families and communities in the mainland, but also in their countries of origin. As leaders they have been tireless in the areas of bilingual education, housing, jobs and the economy, fighting for justice for survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and trafficking and against gender discrimination in the work place and institutions of higher education. Many, if not most Latinas remain marginalized and invisible to the main stream. Secondly, statistics demonstrate the huge disparities in employment, access to health care and education among Latinas, just to mention a few of the areas where there is clear discrimination. The International Women’s Day event Honoring Afro Latinas wants to bring to light their history of lucha and determination.
Why is it that this theme is not regularly acknowledged in the mainstream Anglo or Latino cultures?
From my perspective, the Latino community in Boston (and the US for that matter) has a complicated history of race. You could say this history dates back to the occupation of our original lands and peoples by the white colonizers and the resulting decimation of entire indigenous communities and later on of Africans brought to this continent to replace them and forced them to work as slaves. I say this because this is the context: Racism is not a new thing in Boston or the US. White supremacy was the law of the land back then and it continues today. So it should not surprise us that Anglo culture, if there is such a thing, continues to dominate and control the public discourse. It would be wise for us to understand this dynamic better and find ways to change it.
In terms of our own responses as Latino communities to issues of race and racism, we have done some work but there is still so much we have to do. The impact of racism can be felt and seen, when Latinos deny our history, our African past, our ancestors. We are ashamed of our dark skin, our woolly hair and physical attributes. We call ourselves Moreno, Mulato or Indio but seldom Black. Where did we learn this? Many Latinas such as myself “can pass” for white because we have light skin as a result of European influence. Many Latinas feel pressure to call themselves white in order to be accepted and enjoy the false privileges of this label. The International Women’s Day event on March 31 is a small effort to begin dispelling some of these false notions and build a healthy dialogue through music, poetry and performance. Latinos but particularly Afro Latinos have made many contributions to the world in the arts, music, literature, science among many others. Together we can learn about these important contributions and our rich history and come to terms with the trauma of racism and colonialism.
Describe for readers the particular challenges of being a Latina woman in he northeastern US of the 21st century. Also, and of equal or greater importance, talk about the joys.
There is no question that Latina women face tremendous obstacles to survive and keep their families together. While it is true that times have changed and we see more Latinas in the corporate world, in the entertainment industry, in institutions of higher education, the judicial system and government, what images do we actually see in the media? Certainly not Black Latinas or if they are we don’t know they are because they don’t reveal that part of them. The pressure to conform to “whitening” is enormous with many negative consequences. So I would not call this progress, when we still see overwhelmingly light skin faces representing us.
The truth is that most Latinas are suffering due to the economic collapse, lack of opportunities for a good education, housing, health services, child care, etc. Being Black and Latina presents many challenges for the reasons I presented previously. For this reason I’m an anti-racist organizer and educator. My work with NIAAS is very important because as an organization we are working to build relationships between immigrants of color and African Americans: to examine the myths and stereotypes we have come to believe about each other. I personally have deep respect and love for Black Puerto Ricans, women and men, because during my beginnings as a community organizer, it was them who gave me the foundation to analyze and understand our history and reality. The second group I am grateful to is African American women and men because they have made it their business to find out who they are as a people, researching and claiming their African roots, presenting their stories everywhere, to educate, heal and pass on to their children. There is an Afro Descendant movement in Latin America we need to study and learn from. These are our people. And if we want our youth to know who they are, we need to give them the tools so they know where they came from. It is going to be a beautiful thing on March 31 as we kick off this idea to learn to love ourselves, our history and culture.
What advice do you have for young Latina women growing up in Boston today?
I don’t like to give advice. But what I would recommend is for young Latinas/os and Afro Latinas/os is to ask their parents where they came from, who were their parents and grandparents, why do they have kinky hair, why are they dark? What stories can they share to help their children find the key to better understand themselves and the world around them? I also recommend reading Latin American literature and history. We are lucky that many Afro Latinas/os have studied this topic and written extensively about it so there is plenty to read about the African Diaspora in Latin America and the Caribbean, including Haiti. There needs to be more circles of elders and youth sharing stories from the past and the present. This is a connection we can’t afford to lose. We need to do it before is too late.
The Peña Rebelde takes place every second Saturday at e5, 33 Harrison St. in downtown Boston. This month, in celebration of la mujer afrolatina, the peña will take place on the last Saturday. There is a suggested donation of $5, and food and drinks will be available.