“Fefu and her Friends” and Engaging Publics

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Cast of F&hF, Manhattan production

The play, “Fefu and Her Friends” is incredibly rich in content and gives us a lot to think and talk about. However, many of the reviews I’ve read online (here and here, for example) and even one person I overheard in the Bistro (sorry: no link here, but it wasn’t a classmate of ours) seem to be confused and dissatisfied with the play. It’s easy for us to brush of these disgruntled persons with our [at least half-] contented minds, but there is something to be said for this widespread lack of or misunderstanding of the play.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the play is outside of the text itself: its play with audience interaction. The second act takes the audience into four different rooms to see four scenes acted out at different times: On the lawn, in the study, in the bedroom and in the kitchen.

The stage direction reads: “The audience is divided into four groups. Each group is led to the spaces. These scenes are performed simultaneously. When the scenes are completed the audience moves to the next space and the scenes are performed again. This is repeated four times until each group has seen all four scenes. Then the audience is led back to the main auditorium” (4).

If the themes of the play are confusing, I can’t imagine how an off guard play-goer would react to being led from an auditorium and into four different rooms. The experience must be very disconcerting.

We talked briefly in our class about why the author may have chosen to divide the scenes in this way. We seemed to linger on the idea that the very proper space of the living needed to be disrupted by incorporating the audience into the more queer spaces of the more private discussions and relationships amongst the women.

This seems appropriate: the play deals with repressed sexualities and the second act is bringing those to light; but what about the experience of the audience? Is it also the case that the author intended to play with the audience members’ sexualities? This is certainly a viable explanation –put people out of their comfort zone and solicit an “impolite” response.

Earlier in the semester, we read Michael Warner’s work with gives the seven pillars of a public. One of the most controversial of these among public sphere theorists is the contention that “a public is constituted by mere attention.” In other words, any form of participation in a discursive arena makes you a part of that public.

I’ve been thinking about Warner since I read the stage notes; it seems noteworthy to bring up the consequences of the shuffling audience in terms of public sphere theory: how does the play make audiences interact with one another? What kind of public(s) or counterpublic(s) does it create within the audience?

By dividing the audience into four pieces, it creates four different counterpublics in relation to the overall collective of the main auditorium. Just as the women have separate interactions within their more private relationships, the members of the group you share a room with become more closely linked to you than those who you will rejoin at the end of the play. By giving your attention to that particular scene, you become part of that public, whether or not you’re interacting with everyone else or not. Your unique group knows how the actresses would have played out the scene that time around or if an audience member guffawed loudly at a certain line. You share something that is lost at large when the audience comes back together.

I guess where I’m trying to go with this is to the idea that Fornes may have been drawing attention not only to the interactions between the more intimate groups of women within the play, but to the possibilities yielded by dividing the audience into more intimate groups. What sort of discussions could surface between group members when they share something that isn’t shared by everyone else in the group? [How] would this experience change the malaise some readers felt with the play? Does the act of brushing shoulders with a certain group of people create solidarity?

Warner also tells us that a public is self-organized, so this may throw a wrench into this idea. It isn’t exactly voluntary to be divided into these groups and once you’re there, your “mere attention” may be the last damn you give about the things you experience in your group. But it seems like the conscious decision to continue to participate in the play after you’ve been split up from everyone else at all may be enough.

In a play that meditates so much on repressed sexualities and things not said, it seems as if prodding the audience into acknowledging the revelations of said things would have been right within the author or the play’s agenda. Our conversation as a class revealed more about this play than I could have ever hoped to elucidate on my own – the experience of many different minds pulling it apart seemed to bring out

TL;DR: The play’s stage directions split the audience into four rooms for Act II. It seems far too deliberate to do so without a consciousness of consequence. Perhaps Fornes hoped to create mini or counter publics within the audience in order to facilitate conversation or at least awareness of the difference between private and public spaces and interactions. Thanks Michael Warner for your public sphere theories.

Drugs, Utopia and Queerness: Reconciling Indestructible and José Muñoz.

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From Indestructible, chapter ten, by Cristy C. Road:

“That year I learned to understand substance addictions. They weren’t the choice we consciously made to promote self-help. I learned to understand how drug culture is implemented in cast-aside groups; the people with ‘problems.’ Drugs had terrorized young people who didn’t have an alternative to help them cope with their own difficulties… I saw kids my age in dire need of that outside substance – in need of mind-altering answer to self-love, fascination, and impulse… I liked the way everyone looked like an alien… Then, I would remember why we started chugging, snorting and toking at that age – why we hurt so bad and why we searched for that temporary numbness.”

After our class discussion of José Esteban Muñoz’s Disidentifications, I wanted to know more. I explored his book, Crusing Utopia, in order to get a better grasp on the idea of queerness as concerned with the present vs. hetero culture focused on the eternal. Muñoz closes the book with a conclusion entitled “Take Ecstasy With Me:” “We must vacate the here and now for a then and there…” he writes. “What we need to know is that queerness is not yet here but it approaches like a crashing wave of potentiality…Willingly we let ourselves feel queerness’s pull, knowing it as something else that we can feel, that we must feel. We must take ecstasy” (185).

Throughout Indestructible, Road includes pointed accounts with her own substance abuse, particularly of speed. True; speed isn’t quite the same as ecstasy, but in the above quote, Road seems to be arriving at a similar conclusion as Muñoz: members of “cast-aside groups” latch on to something mind-altering in order to compensate for that missing part of self-actualization.

So, my question is: how do these two authors’ arguments mesh?

Whereas Road is of course talking about actual substance and Muñoz is using the effects of the drug, ecstasy, as an allegory for the state of mind of utopian queerness, the sensations that both are evoking are where I’m finding compelling common ground.

Road discusses her bouts with speed particularly as a catalyst for self-exploration and a means for coming to terms with difficult questions: “I found a slight grip to answers… Sprawled in this chemical escape, I digressed” (VII). It’s striking to me that Road’s accounts concerning speed is the singularity of the experience – in trying to compare the states of mind illustrated by the two authors, this seems to be the glaring contradiction.

Muñoz writes, “Take ecstasy with me thus becomes a request to stand out of time together, to resist the stultifying temporality and time that is not ours, that is saturated with violence both visceral and emotional, a time that is not queerness. Taking ecstasy with one another is an invitation, a call, to a then-and-there, a not-yet-here” (187). Is it too much to speculate that Road, in her adolescent explorations, was missing this critical factor of solidarity? Certainly, a memoir, a graphic novel written and illustrated only by one person is an exercise in selfhood, not of a group therapy – it functions in the same ways that taking speed and answering difficult questions in the dark do.

In the above quote from Indestructible, Road also posits that substance addictions are not a conscious choice in order to “promote self help,” but a factor of necessity. The very language of Muñoz’s conclusion implies a willingness and a conscious choice: to take ecstasy in the ways described in the chapter stand opposed to the drug-culture “implemented” onto groups that Road evokes.

Road: “‘Here’s to feeling like shit tomorrow,’ I celebrated. ‘Isn’t living fast your only option sometimes?’ he said to me and smiled. ‘We’re all gonna die anyway, right?’”

So where Road shares a last experience of taking speed and then supposedly leaves it behind her, Muñoz seems to be advocating for just the opposite – the state of ecstasy revealed by such a drug offers a glimpse into a utopian space – the type of non-reality that Muñoz argues propels the performance of queerness – the “rejection of here and now” in order to establish the possibility for a different and better future.

Both authors are acknowledging practices that do so – using mind-altering substances offers an escape into a space that gives way to different realities. I feel a bit like I’m chasing my tail; this may be an exercise in futility attempting to compare drug effects in order to understand two very different authors’ perspectives on such states of mind, but the direct focus on drugs is difficult to ignore.

Muñoz finishes the book with this: “From shared critical dissatisfaction we arrive at collective potentiality” (189). Whereas Road attributes substance abuse to numbness, Muñoz seems to see the opportunity for togetherness. But maybe he means doing so without drugs. If Road and Muñoz met in a bar, [how] would they arrive at a conclusion for what role substance abuse and reality-altering play in queerness/utopias/coming-of-age?

TL;DR: Two different authors evoke effects of mind-altering drugs. Both illustrate that the space of such states of mind give opportunity for queer world-making. The question is: what’s the difference between speed and ecstasy, or in other words, self-exploration and group solidarities?

Video: “Take Ecstasy With Me.”

Cristy Road is a badass

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Indestructible was the first step in my obsession with Cristy Road. Since then I’ve been a little bit of a groupie and searing out her work. I think this obsession might have stemmed from my obsession with punky subcultures and diy bullshit. It also made me think about information and the distribution of it and who picks it up via the presentation of it. Indestructible, as it should be, is a cult treasure. Scoping tumblr, I found a lot of blogs posting Road’s pictures. These posters most often boasted in being feminist, latin@, queer, trans, activist, punk, poet, fat, fat positive or all of the above. These are all inter connected intersectionalized tumblr identities that I’ve found and explored. I find it inspiring and awesome that these communities picked up Road’s work as an extension of their blog identity. The most striking thing for me is that a book about subcultures is being spread through the subcultures of tumblr.

More delving into Road’s life because I’m a creeper, I came upon her website posted in the back of the book which, detailed her life, resume, upcoming talks. It is obvious from the website that she keeps extremely busy and dedicated in social justice work, just take a look at her goddamn resume.

http://www.croadcore.org/resume.htm

Between her website, tumblr presence, band, touring queer speech group, and involvement with political and non-profits, Road’s art and counterculture experience can be spread to others in non mainstream fashion. I think this approach is perfect for subverting a mainstream culture. Using alleys that avoid a mainstream media allows the creation of subcultures that can act as support groups, can create political allies for change, and give weight possible divergent lifestyles.

If you all have time and incentive, Road is performing with “Sister Spit, The Next Generation”, an all queer artistic literary activist group presenting their most recent projects, on April 7th in Portland. I’ll include links to all this information and Sister Spit’s website.

Here’s some more of Cristy’s artwork for the fun and hell of it:

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links:

Cristy’s band: http://thehomewreckers.antiblog.com/

Cristy’s blog: http://www.croadcore.org/

Sister Spit’s Website: http://www.radarproductions.org/

Sister Spit’s events calendar: http://www.radarproductions.org/reading-series/calendar/

Then, Now, 1980s, Contemporary Hunger

 

 

The Wind Shifts is a collection of contemporary Latino poetry. Each poet presents a variety of poetic forms depicting a wide range of environments and lives. The poets included in The Wind Shifts use avante guard free verse to describe scenes of suburban and city life as well as sonnets and sestinas to depict life on the border or supporting a family on well fare. Any claim of consistency between the authors seems relate back to a portrayal of their “latinidad”. However, this generic umbrella over all the pieces can sometimes forces certain themes, such as the loss of body or forced cultural mobilization, erasing the speaker’s subjective presence in the poem.

 

John Olivares Espinoza’s poem “Contemporary American Hunger” is a good example of contemporary latina/o poetry: it makes use of the subjective experience (the splitting of the burgers between the speaker and his brother) as well as the shared “American” experience (eating McDonald’s food and playing in ball pits). In the first line Espinoza recognizes the commonplaceness of his situation, labeling his family as, “…the newest broke Mexicans to settle in Indio”. The remainder of the first stanza details speaker’s childlike perceptive as being, “unaware of our budget” but nevertheless, still drawn to the fast food, “For what our TV eyes believed to be the best lunch in town”. I wonder how Espinoza imagines children. The characters in “Contemprorary American Hunger” seem to be passive and uncritical: not that kids have much inclination to act as such, but it is told from the child’s point of view. The ignorance if the situation is very childish but the speaker seems to be responding to the event much later in life. Although “Contemporary American Hunger” takes place in the past (evident by the price of the burgers) the speaker’s want for McD’s is one established by the same commercialism still used today. As a “hip-high” child, the speaker cannot see the conditions making his wishes so difficult to achieve. The speaker and his brother’s desire for McDonald’s is placed in their imagination by the television ads that cause a Pavlov’s dog reaction of “salivating as we thought of the Argentine beef”. The burgers act as“American” supplements for “potato tacos” the speaker’s family usually has on Saturday night. The McD burgers fall short of nutrition but exceed the family’s financial means. The speaker claims satisfaction in the final stanza: “Satisfied, we ventured through a rainbow/ of tubes and balls with other kids,/ Their stomaches full of BigMacs or Happy Meals./ But we we’re happy too” (26-9). By eating at McDonald’s the speaker is allowed access to a certain American content normally unavailable to him through his common Saturday meal of potato tacos. The poem points the reader’s attention towards the aspect emotional satisfaction by questioning it from the point of view the person paying for the speaker’s joy: his mother. The speaker states, “Did Mom sit there and watch us play?” to ask the reader about the cost of the simple pleasure of a cheeseburger. The final observation reveals the retrospective opinion of the speaker, “I only remember her fingers neatly wrapping/The remaining half in the greasy red and yellow paper,/ Then tucking the lump away in her purse, sustenance for later.” The final description of the mother saving the two burger halves changes the reader’s perception from that of the speaker to his mother; while he and his brother imagine MacDonald’s as a welcomed luxury serving the purpose of satisfying their hunger, the mother tucks the lump into her purse as sustenance. The speaker’s childhood delight in the burgers in the last stanza is seen in contrast to the mother’s recognition of the burgers as more than an indulgence, but a much needed food resource needed to sustain her boys later. The hunger in the poem is contemporary because the satisfaction the speaker seeks is immediate while the mother’s preservation of the burgers as “sustenance for later” makes the American luxury necessary for survival.

The ending to this poem I find very interesting. “Contemporary American Hunger” makes great use of the child speaker as well as the speaker’s sardonic jokes that are reflective on his childhood. The undefined age of the speaker frees the poem from time, allowing it to focus on ideology instead of structure. However, the last line is an observation, not an call to arms, or anything that would force people to take notice (unless you already noticed). What does presenting an observation at the end of a highly politicized poem mean for all the content that precedes it? How does this leave the poem open? How does it close off the poem from the reader? I believe Espinoza’s poem “Contemporary American Hunger” asks many questions, one of the most important is about visibility. The final scene of “Contemporary American Hunger” is in someways a very intimate one between the speaker and his mother. There is no mentioning of other witnesses to the speaker’s mother’s actions. Because of her sons’ desire for immediate satisfaction (the expensive burgers) the mother of the speaker takes them to McDonald’s to fulfill their dreams and stomachs. However she knew that her sons would be hungry later and need food. Just like in America the luxury has become the standard. I feel like the poem also questions the idea of “contemporary” by using it in the title of a poem about a past event. The distortion of time in “Contemporary American Hunger” gives it temporal ambiguity but the poem is also dated by the price of the burgers. The co-existence of these two elements in the same poem is what makes it my favorite example of contemporary Latino/a poetry.

 

 

“Subject on Trial” and “illegal”s in the Collegian

The chapter titled “The Subject on Trial” in Queer Latinidad tells the story of, “… Marcelo Tenório, who was granted political asylum on the basis of sexual persecution in his country of origin” (Rodriguez, 84). The chapter illuminates the inherent paradox of the US legal system which attempts to establish an objective precedent using a subject, such as Tenório, who becomes the victim of diverse intersecting systems of oppression. The author using the court transcript, which includes Tenório’s testimonio, as the primary text demonstrates how a subject’s desires and identity are lost in the restrictive discursive space of a immigration courtroom. Tenório, who speaks only Portuguese at the time of his trial, has his testimonio as well as his name translated into English in the court’s transcript. Through the process of translation as well as having to adhering to the strict boundaries of legal discourse, the subject of Tenório is effectively displaced from the transcript causing, “The stories behind In re Tenório… like those presented in literary works, to exceed the limits of the written records that contain them” (Rodriguez, 87).

I liked how this chapter demonstrated the limits of law; the inability of the US justice system to accurately process Tenorio’s case reflects a subject who, in actuality and outside the confines of being identified as a proper precedent, defies the state’s set parameters of law. It reminds me of an article written in the Collegian a couple months ago concerning immigration. The article did a delicate job discussing the phrase, “illegal immigrant” which the author identifies as biggest issue in the immigration debate. The author’s conclusion was a half-hearted qualification of the judicial system and telling of the writer’s legal leanings: there must be a distinction between “illegal” and “legal”. Knowing the author personally, I was purview to the criticizing email s/he received after the article was published. The author derided the criticism as being over blown and unreasonable. “There are rules” the author told me.

My perceptive on this incident is that the two parties are viewing the issue of immigration in different ways; the author is invested (and directed by the genre of “Opinion”) in coming to a definitive conclusion on the subject of/in immigration. The author’s critic on the other hand cites the very real dilemma that pervades every government system of identification: the state has a desire to view a person’s identity objectively while the title of “citizen” (especially in the United States) is meant to be permeable and is far too dynamic to be quantified simply. I think both the author and the critic seek a different intent: one to preserve a system and the other the lives of people. While the ideological choice is simple, the lack of a “different” judicial system that can accurately translate a subject into law makes the enactment of such ideologies seem difficult, if not impossible. I’m not taking sides in the argument between the two: I think they are both wrong. One lacks aspiration to change or truly critique the status quo of law, while the other view does not acknowledge the confines of the established legal system. Ironically, it seems to me that the conflict between these two is conservative and liberal: the author grips the law tightly as a fundamental structure and the critic, in their disregard for the current system, is free from the parameters of law.

The translation of subjects into legal narratives is fails because it attempts to create a stagnant image out of a dynamic life. Everyone should be free to be (with) who they want to be, no exceptions. However, that’s impossible: the state wants us to identify in someway with it and because of this force, most of the ways we identify ourselves are either a conformation or rejection of the state’s pressure. From what I have experienced of Western culture, it is held together by the fictional balancing and equal weighing of a binary decision. In any manifestation, this is a false dichotomy meant to inspire competition and antagonism between subjects who approach the same but come to different conclusions. If the author and the critic weren’t so bent on proving the other one wrong they may be able to help understand each other and possibly come up with a solution through hybridizing efforts. From what I can see the issue stems first from ignorance and then from complacency. Some people are upset by today’s society but lack the data needed to form a original and critical stance. Other people are aware of the inhumane tragedies and are too invested in their continuation to want to change anything (both CEOs and consumers). Although the system is imperfect it is all we have now and does have the ability to be refined if a bunch of old people in robes deem the alteration acceptable. I wonder what other tribunals are available (I am only aware of the American form of justice, which seems skewed to say the least). I would be interested in seeing a new form of law that uses “difference” in identity as an ideological foundation. Yes, queer law is what I want. 

Creating Home in Sexile

The first thing I noticed about Sexile was the cover. Not the craziest thing you’ve ever heard, right? When you pick up a book (or open a pdf file on your computer, as I did with Sexile), you generally see the cover before opening the book. What made Sexile different, however, was that I went back to the cover at two specific points while reading. In this graphic novel written and illustrated by Jaime Cortez, the cover image appears twice more at key points in the story of Adela Vazquez’s life; the copies of this image are nearly identical, differing only in a few details. 

The image appearing on the cover of Sexile and twice more throughout the story depicts a nude swimmer. On the cover, the swimmer’s body is flat-chested and a dick is not visible. The flat chest may indicate the swimmer is male, the lack of a dick may indicate otherwise. But who cares? Adela Vazquez is trans*, and this is her story. Furthermore, the “missing dick” isn’t necessarily realized by the reader…at least until the image appears again, identical in every detail except for the very obvious dick (50). The third time the swimmer appears, the dick remains but other details are different: the flat chest is replaced by breasts, the armpits are shaved, the fingernails are longer and painted, and the hair is lighter and longer (as in the novel’s other depictions of Adela) (64). 

Repetition is one of the “literary devices” you learn to look for in lit. classes pretty early on, where the object of repetition generally has some significance in the larger story. It was interesting for me seeing this repetition with images rather than words. What could it mean? What is the significance of this particular picture? Well, it’s a nude body, presumably the narrator’s, but it changes slightly with each reappearance. This raises the question: How important is body image to Adela, and how does this image shift throughout her life? As a nine-year-old, the narrator “knew that when I turned 10… my dick would fall off… my pussy would grow and finally I’d become a complete girl” (6). To Jorge’s (Adela’s) nine-year-old self, body image mattered. You simply couldn’t be a girl and have a dick, so when would hers fall off? In my mind, this connects back to the cover image of the flat-chested (read as male) dickless (read as female) swimmer: could this be a nine-year-old’s dream? 

As Adela grows up in Cuba, she seems to reconcile with the idea of having a dick. She explores the world of drag and make-up and fashion, but changing anatomy is not mentioned again until much later. She has become the second image and a male body – with a flat chest and a dick – is hers both in Cuba and, for a time, in the U.S. (50). She made this work for her, wielding the power of “sex and beauty,” and having sex with everyone – but “never gay sex. [She’s] always the girl, he’s always the man” (9). It worked, but it wasn’t everything she wanted; after emigrating from Cuba in the Mariel boatlift, she was stuck between two worlds. “Exile is a bitch, baby. You can’t completely leave home. You’re always still arriving home. Sometimes at night, you dream of your tired, lonely body swimming swimming swimming and wondering where the shore went” (50). Never quite finding home in the U.S. and never quite able to leave home behind in Cuba, she was lost at sea, keeping herself afloat in her dreams. Adela began “thinking about changing [her] gender and living as a woman;” her body image was changing, and she wanted to change with it (58).

Hormone injections reshaped her body, giving her breasts and changing her outlook on life (57,60). She had become the third image, a female body that happened to have a dick. As “an exile, a transgender and a sex worker” life was much different, often hard, and sometimes painful (62). She was still an exile without a home, swimming in search of the shore. But now, “I knew. All the in-between places are my home. This beautiful freak body is home. And every day I love it…” (64). In a new body with new daily struggles, Adela embraced her place in the betweenness of the binary systems – gender, nationality, etc. – and accepted her queer body as fitting into the queer space of between (queer because it’s undefined in a binary). Finding a self-love in queerness and adopting this space as home, the next (and final) page shows a single word “Llego” (I arrive) as two feet stand on the shore (65). 

Can I have a taco? Also, can I see your passport?

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FOOD! That first tortilla that comes off the comal, steamy and pliant with the aromatic smell of corn bursting in the air as a piece is torn away in order to scope up the contents on the plate. In the Latino literature that has been read in class we discover that there emotional and physical ties to the food that has nurtured our bodies from infancy. When boarding a plane to go home, I am usually excited to see my family but the second thing that I am most excited for is my mother’s cooking; beef tongue tacos, mole, posole, and the menudo that revives anyone from a night of heavy drinking. Food is as memory invoking as a photograph when it comes to family and home. Santiago, in Latin Moon over Manhattan, had a similar feeling of coming home when he gazes upon the feast his mother has prepared for him. It is symbolic that his friend dies after eating a Colombian dish and feels a sense of completion when he does. Anzaldua writes poetry about the symbolic food staple that is the cactus and it’s nature in forming her identity.

    Latino food is delicious and diverse in it’s offering, it is also gaining popularity in the US. In a recent Gourmet Magazine, an entire issue was dedicated to Latino Food yet the editor in chief,Ruth Reichl, received some love but also some hate on dedicating a whole issue to Latino cuisine. The Reuters article read “Americans may be split over what to do about immigration but when it comes to food they are curious and more willing to experiment, specially with Latin American cuisine, according to a food expert.” ( I also love that they brushed aside the pesky immigration thing…not)
Yes, America is enamored with Latino food yet roughly have of it’s population is against immigration reform with little tolerance to the people that harvest the food that they are consuming.That’s why it irks me when people say “OMG, I love LOVE Mexican food” yes thanks for loving the food but not the people making the food.

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    Reichl said that people had a negative reaction to the article, often saying why there was a need to dedicate a whole issue to Latino food when the title of the magazine was French, and the editor in chief said that was straight up racism that drove most of the comments. WHY?! It’s about delicious food! Who got offended enough to write a letter about a cuisine that is as integral in the American palate as hamburgers.
    I won’t get into the typical American procedure of taking something as pure as a taco, then Frankenstein into this Taco Bell chain, Baja Fresh of the numerous Chipotle we see scattered along the road. Taking something so rich in emotional connection and repackakaging into a weaker and more appealing to the American palate is something that happens to all the cultures that get integrated into the Amrican life.
    Food is home, my siblings, the way that I reconnect to an absent family in Oregon and the way that I bond with my roommates it makes me laugh that people raise fuss about it but also calls to attention how important food is when it comes to creating my Latinidad, why it’s a strong focus in Latin@s culture and why even after all this time, the smell of that tortilla is what brings you home.

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