Navani Knows Lolita: A Tribute in Photographs

Growing up I often looked for movements to belong to. I read books about Malcolm X and the Black Panthers and became entralled in their sotries and scarifices for change. Being that was all I knew it was all I could identify with as an ethnic person. But I always wished there was something even more personal to me to latch on to.

In college I finally learned there were. I learned that Puerto Rico had it’s own struggle for independence that went as far back as the 1950’s. And even more so, that fight had a prominent woman in the forefront: Lolita Lebron.

Learning what she did to promote the freedom of my parent’s homeland triggered something in me. It also made me feel proud,  like I had a movement of my very own to belong to. Who knew actions that took place over 20 yrs before I was born would affect me so much.

Needless to say, I was saddened to hear of her death this year on August 1st, 2010. Though I had never met her, I felt as if I knew her. Her influence was felt so strongly that a series of events commerating her life continue to take place months after her departuture. One of those being a photo exhibit of some of her most memorable moments. Casa de Las Americas – a cute lil exhibit space for Puerto Rican cultual events I never knew existed – hosted the raw and uncut photos by photo journalist Bolívar Arellano.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words and I never belived it until now – even as an art major. When I walked into the exhibit and saw the infamous photo of Lolita getting arrested outside the House of Representatives I had chills. Besides those photos there were pictures of her in prison as well as her release and return to Puerto Rico. Her activism didn’t stop there as she was documented at other protests including one in Vieques to stop the bombings there by the US.

This exhibit told the story of a woman that had her own ideas on how people should be treated and spoke out to fight for them, at a time when it was taboo for women to do so. She was passionate and unyielding and backed up her ideas with action. I continue to use her as an example for the type of woman I want to be. And the type of Puerto Rican I know I already am.

Check out the exhibit with raw, unedited photos for sale at  the Wifredo Lam Gallery182 East 111th Street (Between Lexington and Third Avenues) in El Barrio.


Navani Knows the Puerto Rican Democracy Act

The debate over the status of Puerto Rico has been going on for the last  112 years to no avail. The latetest attempt at reconciling the political status of the island came in the form of a bill passed by the house on April 29th called the  Puerto Rico Democracy Act.

The Act, AKA “HR 2499” in short states the following:

HR 2499, as approved by the House, stipulates that Puerto Ricans will hold a plebiscite in for voters to choose whether to: a) “…continue to have its present form of political status” (in relation to the U.S.) or b) “…have a different political status.”  If voters choose the second option, a second plebiscite is required to choose among four status choices: 1) Independence; 2) Sovereignty in Association with the United States; 3) Statehood or 4) Commonwealth, or status quo.

The National Congress for Puerto Rican Rights (NCPRR), the largest Puerto Rican civil and human rights organization in the United States has found some issues with the bill.  They claim:

 The bill is contradictory, since Puerto Ricans voting to change their status in the first stage, will still have to revisit the status quo option in a second vote, which completely undermines the purpose of the first stage vote. 

They also complain that “ballots for the plebiscite will only be in English, despite constituting a potential a violation of the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965, which protects language minorities such as Puerto Ricans to receive ballots in their own language. ”

I have to say I kind of agree with NCPRR about their concerns with this. It sounds like poli-tricks. Just another stalling of an issue that needs a resolution. What’s also is confusing is the timing of this bill. The day after the bill was passed in the House of Representatives, nearly every media outlet dubbed it the “Statehood Bill.”  Conservative commentators have spoken of the “impending” statehood of Puerto Rico, stirring anti-Hispanic rhetoric amidst the current immigration debates, and causing fear that the US will add two Puerto Rican senators and six members of the House through this legislation.

I agree that the senate should not vote this into law and instead find a better resolution of the status of Puerto Rico which would allow for the unification of the eight million Puerto Ricans who dividedly inhabit the United States. In doing this,  they should propose legislation respecting the critical civil and human rights objectives at issue. Not just find another way to keep confusing the issue or stalling.  All it does is keep us as a people divided on it, which seems to be their overarching goal. I don’t know about you but I’d like a new issue to fight over as a Puerto Rican in the United States.

Navani Knows: Calle 13 Speaks Out Against U.S.

If you know me, you know I can’t go too long without making mention of something Calle 13 related. Partly, because I secretly want to bear Rene Perez’s children. But mostly, because of his outspoken political views. I respect a man that can be both poetic and political in his music.

Political he was last week at a show in Havana, Cuba. When the opportunity came to perform in Cuba, of course the group took it, no matter what political undertones may have be associated with it.  Tuesday, March 23, 2010. Calle 13 brought its reggeton and hip hop to fans from an open-air, concrete stage dubbed “Anti-imperialist Plaza” and built in the shadow of the U.S. diplomatic mission to Cuba. During the concert Calle 13 expressed their dislike of the US policies. Early on, lead singer Rene Perez screamed a string of profanity at the “building behind us,” and kept up the verbal assault on the Interests Section as the evening wore on.

It’s no surprise that Rene still holds a grudge against the US for the “alleged” murder of Filiberto Ojeda Rios. They made it known by performing  “Querido FBI,” or “Dear FBI,” a song dedicated to Filiberto Ojeda Rios, alleged leader of a militant Puerto Rican nationalist group accused of using stolen millions to finance bombings and attacks. Ojeda Rios died in a 2005 shootout with the FBI at a remote farmhouse in Puerto Rico.

Rene remarked:

He was a good boricua, and they killed him!

Ouch. The group is preparing for a follow up concert in Miami and is bracing for some backlash from those who see the visit to Cuba as support for the country’s communist government. Perez said Monday the band is influenced by politics in most things it does, and is aware it’s making a statement with the Havana show.

Check out the pics after the jump…

Continue reading

Navani Knows Change

I know I have a million things to do at work today but I just can’t focus. I am still in a state of pleasant shock and euphoria after last night’s election. I went into yesterday trying to stay calm and hopeful, but realistic at the same time. I mean after what happened in 2004 it’s hard not to be a lil jaded with the system and expect something to go awry. But this time I felt something in the air, I felt like things were different.

I felt it at the voting booths – an unspoken camaraderie. I thought maybe it was just a New York thing. Just a “common enemy” thing at first. But it continued everywhere. There was going to be a shift, I could feel it. I thought it was just on inside me, but no it was way bigger than me. It was a feeling that stretched across the nation. It was a shift in consciousness. In people making a difference. In hope. I started to feel hopeful too as I left the polling site. I figured at that moment for better or for worse, I had hoped again and believed in something. Isn’t that what we all want at the end of the day?

Then the magic happened. We united as a people and a nation. Suddenly at 11pm the TV screen flashed a picture of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States. I was stunned. I am not sure why, it was a long time coming, but it still felt so surreal. Like it could only be a dream of some sort and I would be violently awoken at any moment. But I haven’t. Here I am, still in this wonderful moment, that we made happen. Us, the ones who felt like we didn’t matter. Like our voices were never paid attention to. Now there is a face in the White House that resembles us, the part of America that was ignored for so long. We can’t be ignored anymore.

Change is here. While I do not expect all our problems to miraculously disappear overnight now, I do believe this is a start to a new chapter in America. This is the first step on a new path – a path that will hopefully allow us to start healing, both as a nation and as individuals alike.

Navani Knows: Voting Part 2

I just did it!! I just came back from putting in my vote. It was a long journey getting to today. It’s not something that started this morning, not by far.


My decision to vote started way back when I picked up a copy of  Dreams from My Father randomly one day in Target.  I was living in Fort Greene at the time and kept seeing it on the best seller’s list so I picked it up along with other household goods. I was not familiar with the man who wrote it yet, but I read the back of the book and instantly fell in love with his story and quest to find his identity. It was one I could relate to even though racially we are not the same. I later learned he was a current senator and all his stats, however none of that mattered. What mattered to me was that this man opened up his life for us all to see. This was long before anyone knew he was running for president.

I few months later I happened to watch Oprah, an episode when she invited Barack Obama on to talk about his newest book The Audacity of Hope. He said something else that just inspired me to no avail. He said instead of measuring how successful we are by what we have,  we all have to ask ourselves what are we doing to make life better for someone else. That just struck a cord in me and I was hooked. It was also in that same episode Oprah asked him if he was indeed considering running for president. He of course brushed the question off, he was a long away from announcing anything then, but that was the first inkling that he might. I was elated.

He finally did announce it and fought against Hillary for the democratic nomination.  I voted for him then. I had already connected so much with him as a person, not just a politician it was a no-brainer. Which is what I think makes this election so special outside of the obvious race factor. Here is a man that I feel like I know now. Who, when he walks out on the stage at Washington Square Park, is playing Kanye West in the background. I mean this man really does represent me. That’s when my mind was made up, that long ago.

Then came preparing for today, AKA “the big day.” Because I’ve since moved from where I am actually registered, special accommodations had to be made. This included packing a bag and crashing at a friend’s house in BK last night, which was planned a month in advance (Thanks D). It meant getting up this morning and catching the dollar van down Utica to the 4 train. Taking said 4 train to Atlantic ave and running over to Adelphi st. to the junior high school where I am registered.  Then waited. Waited in line for an hour to find out what district I was. Doh! Damn that lil voter card I didn’t get this year. I thought of looking it up online but then my phone shut off and wouldn’t go back on. Damn Treo! Curses.

So, I sat and waited. And as my stomach growled and I got impatient, I thought of all the people in history that risked their lives just to vote. I thought of all the Puerto Ricans on the island who still don’t get the right to vote today. That helped me to quit my whining. After an hour of introspection, minor epiphanies and watching a lady pet her dog non-stop, my phone came back on and I texted Kim. She immediately looked up my district number online and wrote me back. What a great team we are!  I ran to my district table where there was no line at all and instantly was able to step into the booth. Finally, I had made it! It was a long time in the making, but worth every step.

Navani Knows: Calle 13

Calle 13 mania is taking over and all I can say is it’s about time…

I got to see them perform live last night for the first time at Nokia Theater and it was pretty amazing. Though I don’t know who really made the show more: Residente or his lil sis Ileana (aka PG-13) with her parasol antics on stage. Who needs an official hype man when you can have your lil sis on stage dancing around with an open parasol? She is just too darn cute! I wanna be like her when I grow up. One thing is for sure, this family loves what they do, it was written all over their faces the entire show. They live to perform and engage crowds and engage they did – leaving everyone screaming for an encore. Continue reading

Navani Knows: The Latino Vote

Who are Latinos voting for this election?? That seems to be the question of the hour. I mean both Democrats and Republicans are desperately trying to sway us because of our growing numbers. We do make the difference this year. So who will have us in their back pocket? Que se yo! There is no easy answer to that.

The problem is politicians like to group people of color in one neat little box. It makes their lives easier. But that isn’t very accurate. What I do know about Latinos is that we all do NOT fit into one box, nor do we care to! That’s the sorpresa we have for both Washington and advertisers alike. Anyone trying to market to us has their work cut out for them. People like to assume things about us too often. For instance, they assume we gather all our info in Spanish, so they spend all their time and money pushing out messages in Spanish, yet 70 percent of take in our information in English! Whoopsie Daisy.

When it comes to politics we are just as scattered. While many assume that we are full-fledged democrats with immigration at the top of our list or worries, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Many of us are republicans who are concerned about our tax breaks, others democrats that worry about healthcare. How about all of us are worrying about the economy right about now! But it goes even deeper than that, just because we check off a box on our ballot, doesn’t mean we want to be labeled that either. We just don’t like to be categorized in ANY way. I know many Latino republicans who are not voting republican this year, a ha. There just are no rules to the game of being Latino and maybe that is what McCain and Obama need to learn.  Stop using research reports dated from 2006 as your guide because we have changed drastically since that time!

I Think Rosario Dawson said it best when she spoke at “The 2008 Latino Vote: Challenges, Opportunities, and Influence” panel this week:

Latinos think of themselves as Americans. They don’t want to be excluded from the American dream in any way. Therefore, American issues need to be the ones to triumph in this election, not politics. The population of this country should be represented in the politics….  The “Latino mainstream” is never going to be summed up on one block. We don’t fit into any box. Our issues change as we evolve.

That’s right Washington, we actually think like “Americans,” what a concept! See you at the polls…