Mo Brooklyn, Mo Black, Mo Spanish
by: Dana Marie Nunez
July 2nd, 1997. I remember dancing in my living room to “Hypnotize” by Biggie Smalls as my cousins hyped me up with our curls sweated out and cake smeared on our faces. I remember running the streets of my neighborhood, East New York in Brooklyn, drinking bug juices and eating 25 cent bags of chips galore.
I spent my childhood memorizing the sunrises, warmth of the sun, grains of the sand, and cool water playground sprinklers in the projects. I come from a place where we indulge in long walks down to the bodega. We blast the honorable Notorious BIG throughout the streets at block parties while empanadas are sold. We consider chicken spots holy, and bacon-egg-cheese on a roll is a hood cultural dish.
Although Brooklyn holds so many flavors like a marinade of sofrito, I never liked when people asked, “Where are you from?” I say “Brooklyn.” It’s the simple response but never accepted at face value. When I respond “Puerto Rico” it seems as though I always let the person down. The issue is always that I’m not as “foreign” as people make me out to be at first glance.
Saying I’m Puerto Rican does not satisfy the curiosity of many. As a child, people often asked my mother if she was my nanny. In their minds, I don’t look like Jennifer Lopez so I don’t line up with their expectations of being Puerto Rican. My entire life I have found no one in media to use as a comparison to explain, genetically, why I am so fair skinned. My dirty-blonde curly hair and green eyes tell a far deeper and more complex story than the sexualized “Latina” look that the media shows. I am too white to be “Spanish,” too Spanish to be “black,” too black to be “white.” Some call me ethnically ambiguous, but I call it being “otherized.”
In 2004 I first read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. This novel reminded me that in our gentrified slums or your “newly redecorated neighborhoods” something fierce could always grow through austere conditions. In particular, this quote spoke to me:
“No matter where its seed fell, it made a tree which struggled to reach the sky. It grew in boarded-up lots and out of neglected rubbish heaps and it was the only tree that grew out of cement. It grew lushly, but only in the tenement districts.”
After reading this story, feelings arose a hunger in me at the modest age of 11 that I am still trying to satisfy through writing. I have been writing since I was 7 years old. It was a way I self-medicated for all my troubles. Through observation and truly studying the people around me, I took scenarios I witnessed and wrote them. I began by writing realistic fiction pieces from my life, imagining if those real conversations took another route. In middle school, I started entering writing competitions, and by high school, I fell in love with Toni Morrison, Junot Díaz, and Assata Shakur. As I got older that writing would get harder because there were certain things I couldn’t make up anymore. Some scenarios I just had to experience.
It is exhausting living in a country where there are constant battles over skin color, religion, gender, and sexual preference. Facebook is a place where people reveal their true inner thoughts on politics while twitter is now a credible source to cite. Somehow going viral is now a sign of success in entertainment.
Representation in media is very important, and it is an essential component of life that needs to be normalized. There are millions of stories waiting to be told on the differences in race, gender, sexuality, and socio-economic status. I’m a strong believer in releasing yourself into the world to liberate your mind through art and education. To open up to a world filled with hundreds of books, documentaries, and articles is to emancipate us from our inner ignorance. And acknowledging intersectionality in media is something I will always fight for because Martha can’t speak for the Keisha’s and Maria’s. If are we all “American,” why isn’t the media portraying more diverse content?
Today, we cannot fight to shed light on one issue without others feeling like we are depriving them of what they have always had. Why is it that if I say “Black Lives Matter” that translates to all lives don’t matter? When did Hispanic become a race? When did black become synonymous with African-American? Why is the only depiction of Asians, Chinese? Why do we still have Columbus Day? Why, when aggressive, am I called a bitch or told that I’m asking for too much? We are mixed in communities where we historically colonize and categorize ourselves. My mentality has always been to never let people simplify me to their own likings.
I am not the U.S Census; you can't put me in a box.
I want to be the voice for those who get questioned when they deviate from fitting into their stereotypes, whether it is because of their ethnicity or desire to break away from gender norms. I want to be a voice for the people who don’t know their fathers and the people who just need a hug because they are scared to admit they suffer from mental illnesses. This desire to be a voice has lead me to find my purpose in media. Throughout my undergrad experience, which included two college transfers and two major switches, I have learned that a true goal of mine is to create roles for minorities. As a woman who is a decedent of Tainos and Africans, I am mixed with the rich blood of strong warriors. Women are the original warriors, and I have fallen in love with the warrior woman I have painted in my head. I have learned to love my aggressive-femininity.
With this in mind, when something bothers me, I do not sit and wait for it to go away; I analyze the situation and make the best move toward a solution. So in my life and career, I intend to create strong narratives and visuals for people of color but more importantly for black women, brown women, yellow woman, and just all shades of women. I vow to create visuals for us and by us, with our jokes, our people, and our culture.
I want women of color to know: you have a voice. I am listening; I’ve always been listening.
Dana considers herself a Writer/Director who is a whole lot of Puerto Rican with a dash of Brooklyn. She like films casted how she likes her food- well seasoned and paired properly. Five internships later, she's made a promise to herself to bring back everyday people to media through her own lens.