– Good evening and welcome to the Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum My name is Michael Grouskay and I am one of the Ath Fellows this year Racial identity is a complicated and dynamic subject, but for much of American history, the official view on race has been quite narrow It wasn’t until 2000, for example, that individuals had the option to identify as Hispanic or Latino on census forms and even the most recent U.S. Government Census expected Arab or Middle Eastern individuals to identify as white Despite the Census Bureau’s struggle to comprehend a multiracial society, the United States has become increasingly diverse, both as a result of immigration and the blending of previously existing ethnic and cultural identities Here tonight to discuss the historical and modern Blaxican, or black and Mexican experience in Los Angeles is Walter Luis Thompson-Hernandez Mr. Thompson-Hernandez is a Los Angeles based social documentary maker, multimedia journalist, and doctoral student at the University of California Los Angeles His stories and research have been featured by NPR, CNN, BBC, Fusion, Los Angeles Times, Remezcla, and Univision His latest academic project will be featured in a forthcoming book titled Afro-Latinos in Movement: Critical Approaches to Blackness and Transnationalism in the Americas His research and photographs have been featured in books, journal articles, and national and international media platforms Mr. Thompson-Hernandez is a graduate of the Latin American Studies Master’s program at Stanford University Prior to completing his Master’s degree, he played division one basketball at the University of Portland and played professionally throughout Latin America for the Mexican National Team As always, audio and visual recording is prohibited Please join me in welcoming Walter Luis Thompson-Hernandez to Athenaeum (audience applauding) – Put these glasses on Thank you so much for that You know, it’s sort of interesting ’cause Luis is definitely my like middle name, but like nobody knew about that prior and so like, you guys have definitely done your research and that’s incredible (laughing) That’s incredible I wanna start, of course, I’m really honored to be here Alejandra, thank you so much for helping make this happen Priya, who I think is ill today, she has the flu, but she was also really, you know, her help with this was extremely valuable And of course, thank you to Brian as well for the AV help I really appreciate that, thanks man So, this project is really, I think, an ode to Los Angeles, right, to L.A and really a way to try to understand Los Angeles through the lens of people who identify as Blaxicans, right, people who have one African-American parent and one Mexican parent and really trying to understand what this experience means today kind of through this examination of Los Angeles’ past but also its potential future, and so, this is a project that is inherently sort of multimodal, right? It fuses together traditional academic research methods, qualitative ethnography with social media, right, and thinkin’ about maybe the power of social media and the ways that stories get shared through social media in the ways that academic articles cannot, right, and thinking about how accessible social media is You know, I know my mom has Instagram, my aunts have Instagram, everyone has Instagram, and so, you know, when I was thinkin’ about, like, the narratives and stories that were comin’ out of this project, I really thought about them, you know, and I thought about how do I best tell this story in a language that isn’t esoteric, right, that isn’t sort of jargon-y, but that is very real and emotive, right? So, this project kind of speaks to all the different things At the heart of this also is really a way to challenge how we think about race and identity, thinking about how, I think, historically, the term or word mixed or even biracial or multiracial for so many years kind of connotes this sort of black and white racial binary, and I know for people like myself who grew up in South L.A., mixed to me meant black and white So, this really is a way to think about mixed and multiracial as also being black and brown as well, right, and not just black and brown but also, you know, thinking about other sort of ethnicities as well So, that’s kind of the heart of this project and I want to make this as dynamic and as open as possible So, if there’s a question, speak up,
interrupt, that’s not a problem, but I wanna start also with this slide and thinking about what this potentially means for this project but also for Los Angeles Is there any hip hop fans in here? Any rap, hip hop fans? So about like 10% of the room, hip hop fans, 11% (laughing) So, Tupac, does anybody know what song this is from? Take a wild guess – [Audience] To Live and Die in L.A – Absolutely, absolutely, it’s always hit or miss, but that was good, so absolutely So, black love, brown pride are lyrics from a very sort of influential, a very powerful Tupac song that was recorded in, I think, in 1994 The funny thing about this is that I took this photo, not in Los Angeles, but in Oakland, right? And so, you know, driving past this, I had to take a photo, I had to stop, and I kind of had to think about the message, right, black, black love brown pride, kind of thinking about this message in this current sort of political and racial moment, and so, this, these words and the sort of symbolism in this message is really, I think, also at the heart of this project, right, thinking about ways to really challenge white supremacy, thinking about social racism in a way that aligns black and brown people together, right? With that said, I also wanna start, not with a black screen but with a video (audience laughing) I’ll play here I hope it works, Brian So, with a rapper named M.E.D., M.E.D. is originally from Oxnard, California, and he identifies as a Blaxican and a lot of his music kind of touches on tones and things that I’ll be speaking about So, I’m gonna play this video It’s called Blaxican, big surprise, and I hope we can kind of, it kind of sets the tone for this talk ♫ Mystery is my story ♫ Mystery is my story ♫ Mystery is my story (chattering) ♫ Mystery is my story ♫ The history is his story ♫ The history is his story ♫ But mystery is my story ♫ But mystery is my story ♫ But history is built on my story ♫ Yeah, to all the Negroes and Latinos ♫ Uh, yeah ♫ CA, what up, man ♫ Skate all I hear right now ♫ No matter nationalities ♫ Rise up, fight for the right fight, Manolo ♫ No matter what society ♫ What’s this life ♫ Yeah, black power, brown pride ♫ How can you hold me when it pumps inside ♫ The problem my ancestors playing my demise ♫ Slavery and even rape from my land ♫ Pain reverse, it hurts ♫ Seein’ the first black president ♫ All in a search from burnt down churches ♫ Mexicans, both in a revolution ♫ Truth for one thing’s certain, the dreams off ♫ But they’re planning to divorce ♫ Poverty, drugs, and gangs ♫ Who’s reportin’ here ♫ But won’t show how they forced things on us ♫ Unite if they gonna bring reinforcements ♫ Dated back to 1910 ♫ United from the liberty of sin ♫ And Mexico City blacks here ♫ Trying to escape tragedy gradually, we did it ♫ Now applaud to the most forgiving ♫ Uh, Yeah ♫ No matter nationalities ♫ This one get freaky ♫ No matter what society ♫ Look, yo, we can’t erase hate ♫ Misplaced, separated fam, confiscated landscape ♫ Advance in the slave trade, man made over ♫ Lynching mothers, rape, downsize borders ♫ Gave us rights like they did somethin’ for us ♫ Pissed when I write it, like relivin’ the moment ♫ Even with the drama recorded ♫ The CA brown and black spawn over quarters ♫ I kill just to still pay rent to the owner ♫ Free, but I feel that we gettin’ played over ♫ No jobs for us, means of appointment ♫ Deal for the dealer’s sake ♫ That’s our front man ♫ Consultin’ the guilt, wake up ♫ They slavin’ your brain in the school ♫ Gangs feud with each other ♫ Don’t mean brag mean the color of your skin ♫ When we came from the struggle, I’m sayin’ ♫ No matter nationalities ♫ No matter what society (chattering) – Great, so what this video kind of highlights to me is the ways in which these very different worlds collide,
right, collide seamlessly but is often sometimes a not so seamless, you know, fusion there, right? And so, what that video also kind of represents is, you know, the very sort of daily and constant negotiating of his different identities, right, like thinking about black and brownness and how in so many ways these sort of stories and these memories, right, have been conceptualized as these sort of mutually exclusive things, and identities You have black people, you have brown people but very rarely do we think about black and brown relations through the lens of a black and brown in the same body And so, this the Blaxicans of L.A. project, and like I said, it’s a project that kind of grows from this very real need to integrate, very important, and rigorous traditional academic methods with more accessible sort of platforms like socia media And it’s been interesting, right, because on some hand, the popularity of that project kind of, it really aligns with the growing conversation about multiraciality in the U.S., right? According to the Pew Research Center, we know that the multiracial population is growing at three times the rate of the general population, right? In 1970, one percent of all babies born were multiracial As of 2010, about 10% of all babies born are multiracial So, there is definitely this fusion occurring, people are living together, working together, and sometimes loving together in sort of different capacities, right? But at the same time, I think what needs to be sort of spoken about is often the ways in which the multiracial body gets spoken about, written about in the context of popular media, right? There’s often this very real practice of solely thinking about the multiracial experience through this lens of beauty, right, of hair texture, of phenotype, of skin tone, you know? Very rarely is there a focus on the sort of political and racial implications of multiracial identities And it’s also kind of aligns with this growing sort of post-racial, sort of very erroneous post-racial ideology, about how in some ways people think about multiracial, and interracial relationships as being a racial panecea and really the answer for all problems related to race, but we know that that’s completely erroneous So, I say that and I’m critical of the ways in which we think and create stories, but when Nicki Minaj, right, shares about your project and really contradicts everything that you say, that I say about how problematic it is, right, I think you kind of have to, okay, you know, take a step back, and kind of think about, like, why Nicki Minaj is talking about your project in this way You know, she thinks it’s gorgeous, maybe I can think it’s gorgeous too, right? So, it’s interesting, right, how on some level, we have to be critical, but we can also, like, support and really acknowledge that there is a need for this project and its sort of popularity, right? But again, this story is far from novel You know, Los Angeles in 1781 was founded by a group of 44 settlers, over half of whom were Afro-Mexican These were settlers who hailed from Mexican states like Sonora, Sinaloa, who are extremely formative in constructing Los Angeles’ infrastructure And so, but prior to that, the Spanish colony in Mexico created a system of interracial mixture, of multiracial identity, called las castas, and so, las castas were really essentially a racial taxonomy created by the Spanish crown, where they sort of hire Spanish artists to document racial mixture in the colonies throughout Mexico, right? There were names like mestiza, mestizo, which meant that a Spanish colonizer had relations with an indigenous woman There were names like mulatta, mulatto, which represented an African slave and someone of Spanish decent There were so many different sort of variations, right? So, this kind of helps us understand that the sort of growing multiracial, we can say Blaxican experience is far from novel There is a very real sort of historical precedence, right? And at the same time, taking us back to Los Angeles, I keep on saying that Los Angeles’s story, it’s own
sort of genesis story is inherently black and brown, right? This is a city that was founded by people like Manuel Camero, Maria Tomasa Garcia, Antonio Mesa, Jose Cessario Moreno, Luis Manuel Quinterro, right, people who identified as black, mulatto, mestiza, mestizo, Indian folks, right? What’s interesting about this though, and it kinda speaks to the very real differences between how race was constructed in Latin America and how race has been constructed in the U.S is that, at this point, this is still part of Mexico, so ideas about race sort of had this inherent sort of Latin American sensibility So someone like Manuel Camero in 1781, who identified as mulatto, and who was identified as mulatto, in 1791, Manuel Camero isn’t identifying as mulatto anymore, right? He’s identifying as mestizo, right? Luis Manuel Quinterro, number five here, 10 years later is not identifying as black, but he’s identifying as mulatto There’s this sort of, this sort of aspirational, sort of whiteness going on, right, where because they became land owners and owned more cattle and had more capital throughout Los Angeles, they were able to identify as a whiter sort of brand, right? So, it’s interesting how these ideas about race, even in this context, right, you know, there’s this, a lot of sort of fluidity there and really kind of underlying the differences, right? The. U.S. we know, the one drop rule, where if you have one drop of black blood, you’re considered black, right, and an existing, and it’s almost intractable sort of position in society, but Latin American, for example, if you had one drop of white blood, you can essentially be born black but die mulatto, mestizo, or white essentially, right? And so now, I kinda wanna get into some of the narratives and stories and even photos that I’ve took over the past few years And they kinda, again, speak to these very real themes of existing in different worlds in different bodies at the same time Richard is a native of Los Angeles He was born and raised in L.A His parents met in Arizona, on the border of Arizona, and migrated to L.A. in 1966 Richard shared with me, “I ethnically identify as Afro-Mexican “Racially, I embrace my blackness here in L.A., “and that is typically how I’m read “and what my experience is “The identity of Afro-Mexican acknowledges “my African roots as well as the land that we live on “because it belongs historically “to indigenous Mexican peoples “My mom has always spoken about “her family proudly in these terms “It’s what I like to continue to promote.” So, what we see here, even Richard’s hat, this L.A. hat kind of makes us think about the sort of like, reclamation of land, of story, of memory in spite of what has happened, this very real historical erasure, how in so many different ways Los Angeles’s Afro-Mexican story has been erased, right, and so what Richard is doing, what he’s essentially speaking to is a way to reclaim that story and to reclaim that land essentially And so like Richard, Amanda is also someone who is very sort of explicit, acknowledges things about her identity in this very sorta political way Took this photo in the summer of 2014 at the famous intersection of Caesar Chavez and Soto in East L.A., and this is what Amanda shared with me, “When I was growing up, I encountered a lot of racism “It never ended, so growing up, I always felt like “I was fighting for who I was, “and I always felt like people were trying “to put me down for who I was, even in my own family “I was raised by a single parent and she was Mexican, “so her family is Mexican “and were extremely racist towards me and still are, “but at this point, I have thicker skin, “and I have a lot more pride in who I am “and it doesn’t affect me anymore “So, if you decide to call me a nigger or something, “it doesn’t phase me anymore “You’re the one who was being hurt, “so I was always fighting, “and in the end, I won.” So again, what this speaks to is the very constant negotiation of racial ideologies that both exist in Los Angeles but also can be traced back to Mexico as well, right? You know, you have to question how and why and at what point did Amanda’s relatives, her uncles, her aunts, her cousins, how do they construct these very, these real sort of anti-black ideologies, you know? Did they happen pre-migration or post-migration, right, or both?
And that’s kind of a question that we have to think about This is Justin in downtown L.A This is Theresa Theresa’s story is, to me, I think, one of the most powerful stories that was shared with me This is a photo that was taken in Folsom State Prison She had very low contact with her father Her parents met in South L.A. in the late ’70s amid this like very real sort of gang warfare between black folks and brown folks and what she shared with me kind of speaks to what it meant to grow up for her in South L.A. at this time “This picture was taken when I was “11 or 12 years old at Folsom State Prison “It was the ending of visiting session with my dad, “and the only way to document the visitation “was to pay $5 and take a picture inside the visiting room “There’s a lot of emotions in this picture “because I would go see him every six years “I was holding back tears in that picture “because once it was taken and you realize “that the next you’d be able to give your father a kiss “would be until the next visiting session.” So, Mayre’s story, pictured here, I think offers us another glimpse of the sort of complex and very layered nature of identity construction, right? It reminds me of this sort of intersection of ethnicity, of race, and of religion, right? Mayre is someone who converted to Islam at the age of 19 when she was married in Compton, California Her mother is Mexican and her father is African-American, and so Mayre’s story, it’s not just about race or ethnicity, but there’s also a sort of religious component here, right, and the ways in which our identities, our identities are already so layered, but you add religion and it sort of brings this entirely different context, right? “I tell people that I’m an Afro-Latina “because I am both and I feel strongly about that “I’m not just gonna say that I’m Puerto Rican “or I’m black or I’m Mexican or whatever “No, I’m a Afro-Latina and you got to know “that I am mixed with both “I’m not sure what it means to be Afro-Latina in L.A “That’s a hard question “My mom and dad separated when I was two, “so I was basically raised by my Latino side “I would go visit my dad, but my first language was Spanish “I great up in a house “of Spanish speakers, food, and culture “Growing up, I was Catholic, and my grandma would take me “to church to the (speaks in foreign language), “but as I grew older, I chose my own path, “and that’s how I became Muslim, I converted “We share a lot of the concepts, you know? “Jesus, the Virgin Mary “I converted because of the Virgin Mary “I’m trying to follow in her footsteps “and be a pure and modest woman and dedicate myself to God “Being Latina and Muslim is a struggle though “It’s a struggle because you’re raised Catholic “and my Latino side would always ask me questions about it, “but they’re getting it now, slowly “I found my peace, I pray to one God, “I respect everything, and it’s part of my blood.” So, Mayre’s story also makes me think about this current sort of political and racial moment, right? In this Trump era, what it means to be both black, Latina, and Muslim, right? I think about political solidarity I think about what it means to have almost each, and to be a woman, of course, right, but to really think about, like, how, how it must be to be in a body where each of your identities are sort of constantly under assault, right? And so I think about Mayre through that lens, but I also think about her as existing in this sort of like larger picture, you know? Latino-Muslims are are the fastest growing sect within Islam in the U.S., right? There are approximately 200,000 Latino-Muslims and so this is sort of like a way to think about identity, not just through race and ethnicity, but also through religion as well So, I spoke about erasure earlier, and I kinda spoke about anti-black sentiment in Latino households and Mexican households, but this story of Maggie’s photo kinda speaks to all that I think visually, we see a younger, darker, young Maggie in this photo and she may or may not,
her phenotype may not reflect her relatives, right? Those are her sisters and her mother So, I think visually, it’s a very striking photo It kind of elicits the different questions, right? But there’s an aspect I think here of survival in the context of the family that is revealed You know, what happens when someone like Maggie’s mother keeps the truth about her daughter’s racial identity for fear of being scorned by her family and community This is Maggie’s story, right? She was born and raised in Long Beach, California and grew up in a very sort of Mexican household, a very culturally ethnic New Mexican home Her father, Juan and her mother raised her, right? And so Maggie always grew up looking a little bit differently She was a bit darker than her relatives, than her sisters, than her mother Her hair was a little curlier And so, Maggie would fight people because people would ask her if she was black, right? And so, and she would fight, and she would fight, and she would go home and ask her mother, you know, am I black, why are people asking me this question, you know, I know Juan’s my father He’s Mexican, he’s a mestizo, he’s a brown man Why do I look this way, right? And so, what was interesting about this is that every, I think twice a year Maggie told me, this black man named John would live in their neighborhood and grew very fond of Maggie, right? He would buy her candies and ice cream and visit her about twice a year, and so, Maggie kinda questioned, who is John? Why is John so nice to me? And so, years later, when Maggie was 18, her mother opens up to her, right, and she tells her that John was, in fact, her real father, and so this story about these like very, sort of tensions that exist between black and brown folks is a very real thing, right, because it’s not all about romance, it’s not all about getting along There’s sometimes very real sort of anti-black sentiments, in this moment, where Maggie’s mother thought that she would be scorned and ostracized and marginalized from her community should they find out that she had an affair with a black man So today, Maggie is entirely close with her African-American relative and her father and it’s a very sort of beautiful situation, but this is something that didn’t occur about 10-15 years ago, right? This is a picture of Maria and Maria’s holding the frame, and her parents met on the MTA bus Her father was a bus driver who would see her mother get on the bus every single morning and the way that they began to engage with one another, because Maria’s mother didn’t speak English, she was working in a factory in South L.A., so her father started to learn Spanish, so he could speak to her mother, and eventually, he asked enough friends how to say, would you go out with me, in Spanish (audience laughing) Which took about six or seven months (audience laughing) And fortunately, she had the same job, the same route, you know, the universe came together, and they’re still married to this day The rest is history, right? But what this project also is about, like, it’s not just about Mexican and African-American people, right? I think the terms black and brown are so vast and they’re so infinite, right? It doesn’t just mean African-Americans, it doesn’t just mean Mexicans, right? You know, blackness is vast and it’s infinite, so is brownness, right? And so, what’s interesting about this is while the title for this project is Blaxicans, this is really thinking about what blackness looks like, what it feels like, what it sounds like inside this like Latina, Latino context, right? So, what you have here, the woman on the left, her mother is from El Salvador, her father’s African-American The gentleman on the right, his father is African-American, his mother’s Mexican Their baby will have a very long explanation (audience laughing) When he gets older, he’s gonna have to explain that to people But like I said, it’s not just about African-American and Mexican Cee’s mother is African-American, his father is from El Salvador as well, and really, it’s about really challenging this black and white racial binary, right,
you know, allowing people who do not identify neatly within that binary to find ways to express themselves in a society that really wants to limit you to a box, right, to a very narrow, a very rigid sort of understanding of identity And so, Glaus and his sister here, for example, are Garifuna, right, from Honduras and whose parents both immigrate to South Los Angeles in the early 1980s The Garifunas, for those who don’t know, are a black indigenous group from Honduras, from Guatemala, from Belize, from that region And so, these are folks who are identifying very strongly with these sort of like Latino, ethnic, sort of norms, music, food, but as you see here, phenotypically, they can be read as black, as African-American, right, so there’s this tension, right? Being racialized in South L.A. as an African-American but speaking in Spanish entirely at home, right? There’s this sort of, there’s something happening there, right, where Glaus and his sister grow up ashamed to speak Spanish because they are growing up with teachers and a neighborhood that is telling them that they are black and because they are black they cannot speak Spanish, right? So, this kind of shows us how sort of limiting these sort of identifiers are, right? This is David, who is Belizean, pictured in Venice Beach This couple here is Afro-Puerto Rican And so this idea of having a sort of triple consciousness, right, blackness, Latinoness, and sort of Americanness, is something that Eva really spoke to me about, you know? Her parents are Afro-Nicaraguan and growing up in South Los Angeles, again, you know, being racialized as black, as African-American, but really sort of identifying with her blackness and Latinoness is something that she couldn’t do in so many times, right? She shared with me, “There’s no “Nicaragua or Honduras parade out here “I would love to see some awareness that we’re out here “I would love people to be conscious of that “When I always get some type or racism, “it’s always from Latinos, and the first thing I say is, “what happened to (speaks in foreign language), “what happened to us feeling like a community “and us being here as one? “I wish that people would share their community with others “and that we would be much more accepting.” These are her parents So, the people who I’ve interviewed and have photographed over the past three years kind of all are between the ages of 21 to about 35, right? These are all people who at least one parent immigrated from Mexico or Central America and you know, settled in and around South Los Angeles, right? If we know the history of South L.A., the history or Los Angeles, we know that most of these people kind of grew up in the late ’80s or early ’90s in what some have called a very sort of tumultuous time, you know, thinking about Reagonomics, thinking about supply side, thinking about, you know, the epidemic of crack cocaine, gang violence in and around South L.A in the late ’80s and early ’90s is really a racial context that we have to take into consideration, right? What did it mean to grow up as both black and brown in a community that was almost always at odds with one another, right? You know, race riots were a very real part of the experience for so many people who I met with, and so, you know, of course, black and brown relations, you know, are often sort of conceptualized through a very sort of like, reductive and like, very simple sort of lens, right? Either black and brown people are getting along or they’re not, right? That’s generally how the media kind of shapes these experiences, but we know that it’s much more complex than that This video that I’ll show here kind of speaks to the political, economic, and racial context that a lot of the people who I’ve interviewed kind of faced growing up – The principal of the school told Fox News he was resigning and said the problems at Englewood High go much deeper than today’s riots
^Christina Gonzales has the story ^- They just do what they want to do ^(crowd yelling) ^- Just because they’re a Mexican relation, they think they can (beeps), no that’s not right? – [Man] Latinos there, you’re the one that started it – [Christina] No one knows exactly who started it, but this is how a Cinco de Mayo celebration ended up today at Englewood High School ^- The black kids decided to do a payback, ^what they call it They decided that they would walk out of the Cinco de Mayo meeting – Students and police officers tell us ^that apparently, the whole thing began last February ^when allegedly, a group of Hispanic students walked out of a Black History Month assembly Well, today it seems that a group of black students walked out of a Cinco de Mayo celebration – Yes, we did walk out, but they were gonna hit us first – Well, people were gettin’ hit with bats, bottles – They just started saying black power, so they start hitting us, so we start hitting them back – [Christina] School officials canceled classes, dismissed students, and called Englewood police, but the encounters continued outside where even desperate parents looking for their children got caught in the middle – Why you fighting? Because you black and I’m Mexican? You want to get a killing by yourself? There’s not reason you guys fight like that – [Christina] Many parents blame school officials for the violence – And then they knew Cinco de Mayo was comin’ up, ^so they had plans to do them, ^so when you’re talking to the officials, ^you tell them before time, things go in one ear and out the other – The school officials insist this is not a racial issue ^- If a few students did something ^and another few students did another thing, ^that is not a black, brown issue Our students are not hostile towards each other (crowd yelling) – [Christina] But that didn’t seem to be the case today Several students suffered minor injuries School police say there were no arrests In Englewood High School, Christina Gonzales, Fox News – Right, so I didn’t play this video to like, really sort of reinscribe this very erroneous idea that black and brown people sort of inherently hate each other, right? But moreso to try to understand the context that a lot of people who I’ve interviewed and met with kind of grew up in You know, this was a time, like I said before, when, you know, this is a time of this very real influx of Mexican immigrants to South L.A., Central American immigrants to South L.A It’s also a time of, you know, factory jobs, union jobs were being shipped out There was a sort of exodus of black folks to places like Riverside, San Bernardino, right? So, all these things were happening at once, and often, black and brown people were essentially blaming each other, right? Instead of looking at sort of the larger sort of, like, structural forces that were creating the instances of, you know, sort deprivation of economic resources, health resources, educational resources, right? You know, you essentially had two communities who are left to really blame each other, right? So, this is part of the context, and this a moment in time in which someone like Memo, you know, really grows up in, right? Memo today, you know, I have to say, when I met him three years ago, he didn’t have the same notoriety or fame that he has today I don’t know if anyone here has heard of Memo and his most amazing underground party scene that he started called Night of the Blaxican I don’t know, has anyone heard about that here? Well, the Night of, you have back there, have you been? – [Audience Member] Yeah – Okay, cool So, Memo is someone who, to me, epitomizes this experience in South L.A., right? You know, he grows up in South L.A., a black father, Mexican mother, and you know, is often racialized as a black American, but grows up in a very sort of Mexican home, right? Like, culturally, ethnically, culinary, linguistically, and he’s someone who today has really used his own experience as a way to sort of bring black and brown people together through this really huge underground party scene in South Los Angeles called Night of the Blaxican This is what Memo shared with me about his story growing up when I met with him, “If there was a race riot when I was younger, “I would go to the Mexican side “If there was a crew thing, I would go to the Mexican side “A lotta Mexicans would be like, “damn, those (speaks in foreign language), “damn those black fools, “and that messed me up for a really long time “I was riding on one side of the road “with just one people until I got to high school “In the 10th grade, I started kickin’ it “with black people for the first time really “I became friends with them “and my best friend was this Jamaican dude, “and that was the craziest thing for me “because I had never been with black people before “because it’s easier for me to identify “with Mexicans because I was brought up “with my aunt in Compton and in Watts “in a very traditional Mexican household “Now, I’m the most balanced Blaxican I know “I’m dead in the middle,” his words “Dead bolt, I’m so down with both my people it’s ridiculous “I would die for either of them, and it took me a long time “to love who I was, to love who I was, the whole me.”
So, Memo’s story, again, you know, speaks about this, this idea, this sort of sensibility of brokenness, right, that is often, you know, dumped on people, that is often inherited, that is learned, these very ideas of brokenness, you know? You know, nobody is born broken, right? There’s often moments in our lives that create these very real feelings But Memo today is someone who has kind of figured it out, right, that he can be both black and brown at the same time But Robert’s story kinda speaks to this idea of learning about his black and brownness, not in Los Angeles, but instead in Nayarit, in a state in Mexico, and how his learning about anti-black racism, learning what it meant to be both black and brown didn’t occur in Los Angeles but really while visiting his relatives and grandparents and aunts and uncles in his mother’s hometown “As a young kid, I was fortunate enough “to be able to live in Mexico with my grandparents “It was a small town “just miles away from Guayabitos, Nayarit “I spoke the language fluently, “as well as reading and writing “I went to school out there for kindergarten “It was a great time for horseplay “Literally, I was a cowboy “But I was different from everyone else, I stood out “I was, quote unquote, the mixed kid “No one ever really had seen a black person up close before “So, I was picked on a lot and I got into a lotta fights “But I wasn’t oblivious to the prejudice I was subjected to “But I wouldn’t say my time in Mexico “was a bad one, not by any means “because there’s always gonna be people, “people who don’t understand.” So, Robert’s experience in Nayarit kind of speaks to how blackness is sort of constructed in Mexico, right? We know that, you know, throughout the 16th, I’m sorry, 17th and 19th centuries over 200 enslaved Africans were imported to Mexico through the port city of Veracruz, but we know that most of these communities and these groups stayed in Veracruz, Guererro, Wahaca, you know, these sort of southern states, right? So, what this means to me is that, you know, states like Nayarit, for example, which is on the western coast, you know, only understood blackness through, like, popular media, popular culture and film, which if anyone knows Mexico’s racial histories, is very problematic, right? So, you know, being the mixed kid, being quote unquote, the black kid, in Nayarit, Mexico for Robert, you know, came with this idea that anti-black racism is real and it exists on both sides of the border, right? This last, one of the last stories that I’ll share is about this woman named Jennifer who I met a few years ago and so, her narrative, her excerpt kind of, I think, underscores this idea that in so many ways identity is layered, it’s complex, it’s vast, and by no means, is it meant to fit inside of a racial box, right? This is what she shared with me, “I tell people that I’m black and Mexican “I don’t say half black and I don’t say half Mexican “It’s a difference when you tell people “that you aren’t half and half “because it’s an invitation for people to feel you out “and ask you how black or how Mexican you are “So, I want to emphasize that my parents “are two full people and that they didn’t “give half of themselves to me, “they gave all of themselves to me “So, it’s about double and not half “So, I say black and Mexican.” I’ve also been asked why palms, right? And why photographs, and you know, what is it about, like, is it a hand obsession something like there, like, what’s going on, right? It’s not any of those, but you know, I always found it so interesting, I think two things are happening here, you know, I always ask people to both meet me somewhere in Los Angeles that speaks to your identity, you know, speaks to a neighborhood that impacted how you think about yourself, and I think about hands and you know, what we carry in our palms, what we can carry, you know We can carry photos, we can carry memories, ephemera, tension, all these different things, right? But I asked people to bring photos, right, to bring different forms of ephemera right? Photos in particular because, even though this is like, a very social media project and you know, nobody prints out photos anymore, we still have them, right? And those are very sort of, it makes this even more real to see how the different worlds come together in our palms, right? So, that’s kinda why I always ask people about that
This, one of the last photos I’ll share, and stories, I think kinda, like, this photo kinda makes us think about a few questions, right? Like, what does L.A.’s black and brown story, like how can that inform us about the current sort of political and racial climate, right, particularly, thinking about Donald Trump and these very real sort of anti-black, you know, anti-Mexican sentiments So, what does, like, a story, a research project, a sort of narrative about L.A.’s black and brown story, what can that tell us about black and brown sort of coalitions, right? What does the growing Blaxican experience tell us about the future of race and racial identity in Los Angeles? And I think more broadly, what can it tell us about the future of the U.S Since the early 1990s, Mexican immigrants have began to transcend traditional immigrant enclaves in cities So, what this means is that Mexican immigrants started to move beyond Los Angeles, San Francisco, places a lot like Phoenix, El Paso, et cetera, and really began to settle in these sort of non-traditional receiving sites, they’re called, states like North Carolina, states like Alabama and Georgia So, it seems to me that these Mexican immigrants are often living, working in historically black communities as they did in South Los Angeles So, really, a story about Los Angeles and its own Blaxican story, Blaxican experience, I think, to me, has a very real political and racial implications for the future of the South essentially, where you have an increase in Mexican immigrants, of black and brown people who are living, working, and essentially loving together But when I met Ken, Sophia, and Alejandra last year at their home, I was really curious about what it means to raise a young black and Mexican woman in this climate So, I asked ’em, Donald Trump is spewing hate, he is speaking about Mexicans in a certain way, about women, about black folks, about immigrants, so what does it mean to raise Sophia in this current moment? And what they said was, they told me this, “We will explicitly teach her to be proud “of the fact that she is Mexican “and to be proud of the fact that she is black “There’s no other way.” These words reminded me of, one of my, actually, professors at UCLA’s words, Gaye Theresa Johnson, that she said in her book, Spaces of Conflict, Sounds of Solidarity Gaye Johnson wrote, “Taken together, Blaxicans “express a political identity in articulation “of spatial entitlement that make unexpected use “of space and offer the possibilities “of peace, justice, and human dignity, “offering an important model for building “mutually beneficial and meaningful futures.” So, families like Ken, Sophia, and Alejandra, in so many ways, perhaps the prospects of building a quote mutually beneficial and meaningful future has really already arrived Thank you (audience applauding) – We’ll now have time for questions and answers If you’d like to ask a question, please raise your hand, and Sarah or I will come to you If you’re called on, please stand up and introduce yourself before asking your question – [Audience Member] All right, thanks for comin’ to speak today My question for you relates to the conflict between, sort of like the minority communities and staying true to your community and dating outside of it, and so, it seems like, you know, my cousin right now is dating a Latino woman and his mom is upset that he’s not, you know, dating an Ethiopian woman and already our other cousins are upset he’s not staying black And so, like my question to you is, how do you sort of overcome the challenges of overlooking, inequalities when, like finding partners of the other race, but how do you also stay true to your community and not fall victim to these implicit biases when you enter these relationships? If that makes sense – Right, it’s a great question, yeah So, I think intimacy and partner selection and dating pools, it’s all very complex, and it’s all very personal,
and I think there’s something very subjective about that There’s no blanket way to understand why and how people kind of love someone else, right? But I think maybe a way to understand that is that, you know, I think we are so complex and we can do different things simultaneously, right? Like, I think you can date someone outside of your race and also be very committed to racial justice I think about Fran Sunan, I think Audre Lorde, I think about Henry Louis Gates, Jr., right? These are all people who with white people Like Fran Sunan, Audre Lorde dated white people, Maya Angelou married a white man for about five or six years So, because you’re with someone outside of your race does not mean that you can’t be committed to eradicating, Brian what’s up? (audience laughing) All right? Started slow, all right, got that, cool All right, cool, thanks, Brian But you know what I mean, right? So, it’s like entirely complex and I think you can do it and I think the hope is also with this younger generation, right? I think maybe our parents and older generations have more entrenched ideas about intimacy and about romance and about being able to sustain your ethnic and racial identity only through marrying someone who share that identity I think that’s completely false, and I think it’s challenging, but there’s a way to do it You know, just because you love someone outside of your race doesn’t mean that you weren’t committed to loving who you are fully and loving people in your race So, hope that answers your question – [Audience Member] Hi, thank you so much for coming It’s really rare that we get speakers coming to talk about race, ethnicity, especially in a critical way So, this is really important, and your work is really important, thank you And I was wondering, you talked a little bit about how your work has been, in some ways, with the Nicki Minaj post, used to fuel this fetishization and tokenization of mixed bodies So, I’m wondering how you prevent your work from doing that while increasing visibility of black and brown folks and Blaxicans but kind of help to mitigate this tokenization and fetishization that often happens – Yeah, it’s, great question also It’s super interesting how, I think, I might be critical and I might be very explicit about trying not to be tokenized, so I try not to create this super exoticized images and representations You know, kind of thinking about historical anthropology where you got these white anthropologists who essentially parachute into a village or a community and take these very sort of sensational photos of the other So, I’m not trying to do that, by no means But also with that said, I think once you create a piece of art or publish something, it’s really not yours anymore to own It’s up to the world, society to interpret in the way that they want to I hope that looking at these images that we can tell that I am trying to portray this experience in a very honorable, a very respectful and a very real and nuanced way You know, like I’m not creating these images because I’m like, yeah, like black and brown people love each other all the time, and they don’t, they get along all the time, look, like, black and brown people, right? That’s not the goal I think the goal is to create a very journalistic, you know, exploratory understanding of this experience in hopes that it allows us to understand other experiences because one thing I always say is that yes, this is a project about Blaxicans, but there’s something very universal about this, and that is that at the core of this, this is a project about belonging and not belonging, and I think that’s something we can all kinda connect to regardless of race, right? – [Marijose] Hi, my name is Marijose, and I am a junior here at Pomona, well, over there My question is more around the gender dynamics between those two couples It seems that the older couples were more black men and Latinx women and now it seems that’s a little, like, shifting to be the opposite, Latinx men and black women Did your interlocutors ever speak about these gender dynamics that are also racialized, and what did they say, like how was that at home or between parents or even themselves? – Right, yeah, totally, great question So, this idea about, I think, you know, we typically see in popular culture and in media and in photos and images a black man and a brown woman, right? I think that’s sort of the canonical understanding of black and brown relations, but I think you’re absolutely right? There’s a younger generation that understands that gender and sexuality and intimacy is very sort of intricate,
and it’s not necessarily tied to this very gendered approach of okay, you have a black man and a brown woman and they’re supposed to get along and be in love, but I think that’s also something that I’ve been very explicit about trying to find, like trying to complicate ideas about black and brown intimacy, like what does that look like in the queer context? What does that look like understanding brown men and black women? Is that, are there different sort of complications and layers there to unpack in comparison to a black man and brown woman? So, I think that’s part of the work that I’ve been trying to do My recent work is a project called Melanina It came out about a month ago, and it kind of speaks to black and brown intimacies in this current Trump moment That’s something that I was very sort of explicit about, like trying to complicate the understanding that it’s always a black man and brown woman who are getting along, who are loving each other So, that’s work that I hope to continue to really challenge and get to through photos and through research Another question – [Audience Member] Okay, another question I have relates to how different communities share their culture and how to do so in a respectful and appropriate way without sort of taking advantage of them So, recently we had a bit of a scandal on campus about white women wearing hoop earrings, and so, I think that’s something that a lot of people here, like felt very passionate about, and so, for, you know, minority communities in this like, in America, for example, where the white community is very prevalent, powerful, and can so easily take from another culture with little thought, what’s the way to do so appropriately or like how are we supposed to have these conversation, and these conversation in ways that are respectful and you know, not like vilifying, if you will? – Yeah, so you’re asking me generally speaking or in regards to, oh generally, oh generally speaking I think that’s a conversation that really, I think about power dynamics, and I think about capitalism, and I think about cultural appropriation and extracting elements of a particular culture and of a society, like very sort of sacred practices related to food or clothing or hoop earrings, right, we can argue, are part of these sacred practices, practices that really have been used to sustain a particular community amid white racial violence or structural racism, right? So, I think maybe the way to do it is to, that’s a tough question ’cause I think we’re all sort of complicit in this larger sort of capitalistic system So, I think I wanna say that creating our own ways to promote our lives, our practices, our ethnic practices is a way to go, and it makes me think about Urban Outfitters and how problematic that is and all these quote unquote new designs that it comes up with every year that are not new but have existed for centuries around the world So, I think about that and maybe it’s boycotting that, maybe it’s finding ways to create our own businesses, our own sort of ways to create capital in our communities That’s a lofty goal, right? But I have no other answer – [Audience Member] Hey, thank you for coming So, a lot of the participants that you interviewed and kind of spoke their words talked about participating in either black or Latina or Mexican culture, and I was wondering because there’s a bit of Afro-Latina culture throughout the world, whether a lot of the younger generation have kind of formed specific kind of mixed race cultures, whether that’s Blaxican, Puerto Rican that are like centered in the modern city and not necessarily throughout Latin America – So, you’re asking me about how Los Angeles or how like how different regions influence these emerging multiracial identities? – Yeah, kind of how they create specific mixed race culture that isn’t specifically black or Mexican or Latina but there’s like actually that combination – Gotcha, for sure, yeah So, I think, one thing I have to be very explicit and honest about is the ways in which this whole legacy of hypodecent, like the one drop rule in the U.S. is a very real thing So, I can’t sit here and romanticize, oh these are like black and Mexican, black and brown people,
ultimately, I say 98% of the people in this project are being racialized as black in the U.S., right? So, they are African-Americans to society, to the world So, I think what’s interesting about that is that like ostensibly phenotypically, you, of course, embody blackness, but I think internally something else happens, where this very sort of, there’s a tension between how we identify internally and how we’re read in society So, I think for these people, who most of which I wouldn’t say don’t speak Spanish, a large percentage because of the very real sort of anti-black racism that they experience in their Latino families but for a lot of these people, it’s like reclaiming the ability, even if it doesn’t happen all the time, it’s like people want the option of identifying with these different cultures, but there are some people who like are, like Memo for example, right, I’m dead bolt, I’m the blackest, brownest Blaxican you know That’s how he’s identifying and that’s how he sees the world And so, I think in like thinking about this whole third space sort of thing, third space culture kids and you know, Hoppas and Mexijews and Mexipinos, all these different like words and terms that are emerging at this point, which to me just kind of symbolizes this reinvention of language It’s a very sort of U.S. thing to do, right, to like reinvent who you are linguistically So, I think this sort of interstitial sort of thing that’s goin’ on, right, it’s both romantic, but it’s also tactile and it’s real, and so I think, a lot of people showed that, that they are trying to find ways to negotiate these different worlds simultaneously, and some succeed and some fail, right? – [Francisco] Hi, thank you for coming I really appreciate the work you’re doing and I think that work like this is really important My name is Francisco, I grew up in East L.A., so this is something that feels very personal and something I can really relate to I wanna talk a little, or I wanna ask a question that relates more to Memo and Night of the Blaxican event which you slightly talked about So, I’ve been to a few of those events and it’s very much about solidarity between black and brown communities, which is super amazing and whoever has had the chance to go, it’s like such an amazing group of people who come together to put this event What I’m wondering is how, like, in what ways are events like this acts of revolution or moving towards, moving towards a place where conversations about anti-blackness in Latinx communities is more prevalent and how black and brown tensions in Los Angeles and in other communities are very real, but how, like in what ways and in what platforms can be used or how can an even like this be used to mobilize and have those conversations? – Right, totally So, I spoke to Memo about a week and a half ago actually, and I spoke to him because I was contacted by Fusion to write a story about the Night of the Blaxican So, I call Memo, he doesn’t answer, I call him again, he doesn’t answer, and so I text him twice, and he finally responds And I’m like, Memo, you know, I wanna write a story about the Night of the Blaxican I know Memo, I’ve been to his events, we’re pretty cool, right? And Memo’s like, okay, sure but for who and why do you wanna write it? So, I tell him, you know, it’s for Fusion, and he responds, he’s like, you can’t do it I don’t want you writin’ it And so, I ask Memo why, right? And he goes, well, I wanna keep it underground I wanna keep it about the people And so, Memo’s response is I think, kind of like, you know, I was bummed, right? I wanna write this story, I think it’ll be a great story, but I think it’s like, you know, what Memo is doing is he’s doin’ like in a very noncommercial way and in a way that is like, to me, reflects the nature of social media You know, it’s so accessible And Memo’s doin’ this in a way that I haven’t really seen in L.A. done before You’ve been to his event Black people, brown people, all types of folks are there, right? And he’s creating a situation where these conversations about anti-blackness, about white supremacy, about black and brown relations are occurring and they’re happening, and I salute Memo and I think events like that are kind of a way to do it, you know, in a way that doesn’t involve these large multimedia companies, in very sort of grass roots ways, in ways that really impact your heart and your mind,
and your hips, ’cause you’re dancing at these events, right? So, I think that’s maybe a way to do it and there are musician’s like M.E.D., like Kemo the Blaxican, like Miguel, for example, who is also a Blaxican, who’s latest album, Wildheart kind of speaks to ideas about race, about black and Mexican sort of identities So, there are people doin’ it through the arts and through music and through art and through photography in ways that reach a larger audience So, there’s definitely a lot of momentum right now and a lot of traction, so I think the question is how to you sustain that and what’s the future of that as social media continues to grow – [Benjamin] Thank you, sorry Thank you so much for coming here I really appreciated your insight I wrote down my question so I wouldn’t forget it Does this new way or perspective of looking at biracialness differently extend to not only people who grew up from parents of different ethnicities but also to people who are born to parents one culture but grew up in a different culture, and I’m speaking personally from my own experience, like being born in Ethiopia and with Ethiopian culture and then coming to America and there’s a different culture and like, where does this whole conversation fit for someone who’s looking for validity in their identity – Totally, totally, that’s a great question I used to tutor Benjamin when he was in eighth grade, so I kind of know Benjamin, but that’s a great question, right? And it kinda makes you think about these very real sort of generational differences, like generational differences are very real and how people think about themselves and maybe how our immigrant parents, their whole basis, you know, survival for them meant adopting and acclimating to American society and doin’ everything they could to fit in and work and send money back home, et cetera I think our experience may be a little different We have the ability, we have the privilege, right, of being able to question things in a way that our parents could not So, I think that’s maybe how it starts It’s like, I think, understanding yes, maybe, my mother or aunt and I don’t see eye to eye on an issue, but there’s a very real back story that accompanies that So, I think there’s a privilege in any given being in a place like this and having this conversation Our parents could never be here So, I think that’s parent of it It’s like continuing these conversations and understanding that our lives and our identities are inherently transnational, like, you know, the world and conversations are no longer as siloed as they once were If you wanted, I’m sure you could probably communicate with your family in Ethiopia, in Addis Ababa or so forth, right? So, it’s, that is, I think, the pace of communication and we are inherently transnational and I think understanding that is important for maybe answering your question, right? – [Audience Member] Hi, thank you so much for your talk and for your presentation I was wondering if you could speak a little bit more about the importance of art in expressing your complex identity in society I saw specifically on the flyer that you’re doing a slam poetry event on Friday and so, maybe to, or maybe you’re going to– – I’m not a poet – [Audience Member] Well, if you just speak more broadly about art and that kind of thing – Am I doin’ that on Friday? Am I recitin’ poetry? (laughing) I just got super nervous (audience laughing) I’ve never, but yeah, so, I think, wow There’s definitely, I think we have more freedom in the arts There’s more freedom to express, to challenge, to question in the arts and in photography and in film and in music than we do sometimes in these very formal, structured academic sort of settings, right? So, I think the arts has always provided us with an opportunity to imagine the world in different ways, in ways that really transcend maybe how entrenched in our realities we are The arts allow us to really think about the world and our experiences in ways that are extremely emotive The arts touches people in a way that text and words do not They allow us to interpret an image, a sort of like visual culture in a way that speaks to our experience and doesn’t So, I think, and that’s kind of the goal of this project, it’s to integrate these very different, these are different worlds, right? So, at Stanford I was really interested in this and I remember my mentor was like, you wanna do what?
You wanna use Instagram and you wanna take photos of people? And you wanna take photos of people’s palms? Right, like what does that have to do with academic research and I think that was sort of the push back of these very sort of ivory tower academics, you know, no judgment, right, but, or shade, but you know, these people who really can’t see the power of photography and the arts and finding ways to cultivate these different worlds I think you always want to create the clearest message possible and I don’t think it could be done using one medium You have to use all mediums It has to be multimodal, right? And so that’s what I see in the arts I see an incredible amount of hope and opportunity and freedom that I don’t really see in qualitative research and surveys and quantitative data So, that’s what I see – [Michael] This will be our last question – Okay – [Luis] Hi, my name’s Luis, and my question is a follow-up question just because arts are usually just a hit or miss I know going to college and deciding that you wanna major in something with the arts just puts a lotta pressure on you because you might not make it, money’s a big issue I just think it’s, how does one commit to the arts coming from a low income background, coming from a marginalized identity, and I just, I don’t know how to explain that, ’cause some of us feel pressured to follow in engineering or follow in something like economics, something that’s more income securing – That’s a great question, and I think your question can hit so many different communities, so many different racial and ethnic communities, particularly communities of color It’s like if you’re not trying to be a lawyer or an engineer or a doctor, what are you doing? Like even me, I’m trying to get a Ph.D and half my family thinks I’m a medical doctor or trying to be a medical doctor, right? So, it’s just like understanding that there’s a big risk involved with that, particularly because a lot of us don’t have the economic and social safety nets that a lot of people have Most art programs, most art schools are not entirely composed of people of color, for so many different reasons, but we don’t have the safety nets, right? So, it’s a big risk and I think with anything that we do, it’s, you got to risk that, right? And it’s tough, it speaks to these different sort of inequities that exist in our society and you know, I kind of, it’s even a tough question to answer It’s like, what do you do, right? Do you tell someone to follow their dreams and their goals and their aspirations and yeah, like go all the way, do that, go to art school, drop outta art school, be a artist, you know, what do you do, right? And I think you have to sort of think about income and being able to feed yourself and your family and supporting your family as well These are things that a lot of people in art school don’t have to think about, and it’s a challenge and I think again, like maybe creating our own platforms, our own ways to express ourselves, our own networks is maybe a way to do it Yeah, that’s a tough question, but thank you for asking that – [Michael] Please join me in thanking Mr. Thompson-Hernandez – Thank you (audience applauding)