This week’s #WCW spits fierce Afro-Latina feminism on the reg. Elizabeth Acevedo, a New York-born, Washington, D.C.-residing dominicana, is an internationally recognized poet, using her words and body to bring attention to the various experiences of women of color.
From challenging gender norms in her casa and pushing back against whitewashed beauty standards in the Latino community to calling out violence against women and reclaiming the admonished bodies of black and brown mythic mujeres, Acevedo helps crush the patriarchy one palabra at a time.
I was raised with this notion that I was “la niña de la casa.” I needed to learn how to cook and clean. I was always compared to my brothers as a way to highlight how I shouldn’t be. For instance, if I wanted to travel and go to Spain, which I did, my parents would say “no” because that’s something my brother is supposed to do and he doesn’t even do it. I had to be in the home. So I grew up feeling like I wanted to let loose, yet I was being constrained. But I found this remarkable because at the same time that I was receiving these sexist messages from the women in my family, their actions weren’t living up to their words. They were the ones who were powerful and heading things, yet they were telling me women should be docile. I guess the Latina feminist lens in poetry comes from my wanting to use words to describe the actions I saw in women. For me, words are just as important than actions, and we don’t use the words enough.
“Hair,” in particular, was a really powerful Latina/black feminist piece. Can you discuss how whitewashed beauty ideals impacted you as an Afro-Dominican woman?
So my mom is fairer-skinned, and her hair is a little straighter than mine. I grew up seeing that image. I grew up with the blonde Barbie, like so many of us do. That impacts you. I remember washing my hair and pulling it down when it was wet, hoping it would stay straight. I was trying to replicate what I was told was beautiful: a fair-skinned, straight-haired woman. I never saw women like me depicted as beautiful, particularly in the Dominican community, where, at age five or six, you’re straightening your hair and being told it’s a sign of elegance, sophistication and being well-kept. Curly hair, I was told, is the hair of prostitutes. It was considered less than in every shape, way and form. I grew up thinking my hair was never good enough for the spaces I wanted to occupy, but then I realized I don’t want to be in those spaces. If I can’t go to the boardroom, ballroom or wedding the way my hair is, then I don’t want to be there at all. It’s been a hard lesson to learn.
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