1/13/18 Session #7

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Our opening question this morning was adopted from Xicana activist-artist Melanie Cervantes from California. We took turns answering,“What message do you want to share with your future ancestor?” Whether a few of us want to have children or not it was very important to us to have our memory and message of empowerment to our future ancestors.

We then, split up into two working groups, one to focus on developing our research questions from the previous session and group to catch up with the previous workshop.

Below are more topics and themes we are interested in researching and questions to ask our own families:

Internalized Racism: “My grandfather distanced himself from Latinx identifiers, assimilation and growing up in a white neighborhood.

Conflict with Catholicism and finding a new religion (decolonization) Finding a religion that better caters to my experience and allows me to have agency and power with my connection to spirituality in an autonomous way. I wanted to praise someone who looks like me, a strong woman like Yemaya is more practical for my daily life and spiritual practice.

Colombian:  Repression of Colombian  identity? Wanting to know my Colombian family more.

Religious Syncretism- How can we deepen our spirituality?

Dad’s father: Mexican, grandmother (Guatemalan) came thru Mexico interviewing “tita”

Mental Illness:  Understanding a traumatic family history, my own healing, ending cycles of violence, empathy for history of family violence.

Formalized Education:  Education in the US and POC, how did we get to the dropout rate crisis? *Most educated population are black women. Taking education in our own hands.

Grandparents lives: Grandfather was a POW WII and wanting to learn more about his own experience. Grandmother was she “Texan” or “Mexican” (or Cuban or Spanish) she was a sex worker? First child was kidnapped and could be a Gypsy?

Wanting to return home: Understanding more deeply where my family is from and what legacies have Taino culture has left behind? What can I do to help the island after hurricane Maria?


12/2/17 Session #5

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This morning was very anticipated by our youth and their families to complete and submit our 23andMe DNA kits! Over breakfast we were able to share with the families our process of the Brown In Chicago project from the previous year and what this new group of participants. At the end we held a small candle lighting ceremony and invited the parents/families to share a “wish” they have for their children as they anticipate their results over the next 4-6 weeks. Many parents expressed gratitude to be apart of this project, wished their children to feel more proud and confident about their culture and many blessings and we learn to honor our ancestors and history.

11/18/17 Session #4

All that you touch

You change.

All that you change

Changes you.

The only lasting truth

Is Change
God is change.

-Octavia Butler

2017 has thus far shown us many changes in which we perceive who can hold power and who can facilitate change. This is felt from a macro level of our shifting government and climate, to the everyday changes we are experiencing within our own communities and developmentally within our own lives.  Today we focused on introducing the topic of POC futurism and what that means to our own identities in relation to our place our communities and at large. Science fiction almost typically is demonstrated to center such themes of whiteness, patriarchy, imperialism, heteronormativity and competition. These stories imagine our future colonizing other territories and planets due the destructive force these themes reflect and shape our current way of living.

It is through looking to our past and understanding our history we can begin to uncover that we have not always survived in a world that does not center patriarchy, capitalism and other marginalizing forces. Science Fiction allows the freedom to reimagine our futures but if we cultivate and rebuild with these structures we will not be sustainable. Such as Audre Lorde claims, “For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.” So who and what values do we center for for our future? For the future of our generations? We need to begin to imagining a new way to organize life, our relationships to each other, to power and the earth so that we do not continue to perpetuate destruction.

We can begin this process to imagine change by writing ourselves into the future, foreseeing our survival and how we will thrive through the changes.  Visionary Fiction writer Walidah Imarisha explains, “Any time we try to envision a different world—without poverty, prisons, capitalism, war—we are engaging in science fiction. When we can dream those realities together, that’s when we can begin to build them right here and now.” The conditions that we live in today were once born from the imagination of others. So who is to say we cannot do the same to dream for a better future?

We invited our group today to spend time writing and answering the following prompt:
Imagine, you meet your ancestor, either the one who migrated or even further back, and you look just like one another. Let’s write about that encounter.

What challenges do they face? What’s their character like? What do they sound like? What are their dreams? What are their assets? Their fears? What’s their magic? What do they think about the US? What do they think you about you? Your life? Your identities? Your struggles? Your fight for social justice? What questions do they have for you?What’s different about your lives? What’s the same about your lives? What power did they pass on to you?

Below are pieces that were written today:

La Mama looked just like me. Hopefully, but full of pain. She didn’t know how her eleven children would survive in the world. They lived in poverty, something she worked against since she could remember. But she always took the time to show her children compassion. She used to say, “here take the food off my plate, I will be skinny for you.” Her children saw her fears, they knew how hard she worked. She wanted her children to live happy, to survive the world they were born into. She prayed and prayed but realized but realized it wasn’t enough. She had heard of an Inca’s secret journey, which many said, “with a sacrifice of the heart would grant the seeker anything they desired.” So La Mama told me, “there is nothing I wouldn’t do for my children and their future!” She began her journey into the mountains after having fed her children and only half a bread in her stomach. She had to take her youngest because she couldn’t stand to be separated from her mother.

The road was cold, lonely, and many people along the way told La Mama that she would never find the secret passage. They asked her “why are you going when you know it’s going to be hard.” “Why don’t you just go home, don’t waste your time!! But she ignored them held tightly to her last born and kept moving. At nightfall as she finally put her baby to sleep on a couple of panchos on the rocky road. She cried.- She said this was the time she began to ask the night abyss surrounding her. “What if I can’t find it? What if it’s not real? She couldn’t imagine the passage, she couldn’t even fathom the idea of a solution out of poverty. She kept long into the night of a solution out of poverty. She wept long into the night, she cried herself to sleep. When she woke her daughter was gone. La Mama began screaming her name, angry at herself for believing in the secret passage. She just wanted to find her daughter and leave the unforgiving mountains.

In the distance she heard the echo of her daughter’s voice. She followed it, the sand led her into a cave just above her camp. She heard her daughter laughing and happy, her heart finally felt like it was back in her chest. She walked deeper into the cave unable to see a thing. She tripped over a rock and hit her head and immediately began to bleed. Out of her spilled blood unto the floor a red rose formed and more buds bloomed around La Mama. The bloodied ground shined bright red and lead her deeper into the cave, where she found her child unharmed and sleeping.

Suddenly, a shadowy, small figure emerged from above her child. La Mama was frightened and quickly grasped her child to safety. The figured stood very still and stared back at La Mama, then the child and gazed back at La Mama. The figure then spoke, “ why are you here?” La Mama replied, “I came to look for my child. The figure replied, “why did you venture this far away from your home and people?. La Mama explained, I came into the mountains in hopes to find the secret passage.” The shadow questioned, “why?” La Mama bursted into tears and after a few deep breaths to compose herself she exclaimed, “I want my children to have a future and survive and live long prosperous life! In the world of U.S Colonialism, Ecuador is losing so much, making it impossible to survive. People like us, brown, poor, and “uneducated”, live to work the lands and resources so others who benefit from this system can then harvest our labor and live comfortably. “I just want comfort and security for my children.”

I believe my children will become a force in the world for people like us. I want them to be in place where they can help others. I believe in my children and I would do anything for them.” The figure didn’t say anything as La Mama’s steady stream of tears began to fill and flood the cave with her sorrow. The figure touched her sleeping child’s forehead and said, “Mama, your children will all survive, flourish and give back to their community. This I can promise you. You need not to travel far and wide to fulfill this wish.” It is within, it will always be within your life.



Brittany F.

We meet during a Puerto Rican Parade. I was walking around with a piña colada in hand and I see a reflection of myself. I stared back and began to make silly faces. But the image didn’t move. I approached closer and it turned out to be another person. “Oh my bad,” I said, “it’s a mirror.” I explained. After that, we talked a little bit more and it turns out that we’re related. She’s my great, great great, great grandmother. She told me how she got here and the reasons why she wanted to bother herself as a person. She migrated on a boat and started working as an entertainer. She would do dances, concerts, and play instruments. Even tell stories.

I would ask her what was her favorite instrument and she would respond with the drum. According to her, the drum was very important because it represented life because of the beat. The beat was the heart of everything back home. It would begin a story and end it. That’s why she loves it. I told her that the drums are my favorite. After that, she has been teaching me how l live with the drum in my heart. “As long as you keep a steady beat nothing will stop you.”

Anaiza Cartagena

A conversation with an ancestor

Challenges they face?

Taking care of her children and her sister’s children. Trying to support them.

What is their character like?

Reserved and welcoming




Make people around her happy.


This lady has seen it all, ain’t nobody got time for that.


Her charm.

Thoughts about the U.S?

She tries to get through the day, some people are too rude and she just doesn’t like the people.

Thoughts about me?

She loves me, she crocheted a whole blanket for me.

Thoughts about my life

She’s not opposed to anything that I’m doing, she just wants me to make the right decisions.

My identities?

She accepts who I am?

My struggles?

She would tell me that I shouldn’t be struggling because I am so young.

Questions I would ask:

How did you feel when your sister abandoned her family?

Why did you feel the need to take in my grandmother?

Did you feel like it was your responsibility?


Garrick Baker

I can imagine all the difficulties he’s going through like traveling, food, water, and asking for money from people. Their character is brave and strong because no matter what he keeps going always looking at the bright side instead of seeing the bad. His dream is to start a family in the U.S. in order to make a change within this country because I see so much negativity. Despite being in a country that is supposed to be a “land of opportunity” for newcomers. His fears was going back and dying while he is on this journey.

Did someone threatened to send you back if you don’t do anything wrong? Were their people offering you things like coffee, socks, or food? Who did you look up to? Is there an item you’ve treasured for so long and what does it mean to you? How was it there in that country you came from? What made you leave there? His magic was to make people laugh and happy and make them comfortable with another.


Lucas V

When I meet with Rafael, I’d imagine the challenges they face or he faces in his family to just to meet basic needs such as work and living. With what’s going on in Puerto Rico right now, it’s a matter of survival and keeping a positive mindset. Their character would be cheerful but determined, just like my dad’s. Their fear would be just keeping family safe and happy. Their magic is creating conversation  and making people smile. They think of the United States as a place of sovereignty but more of as a place of opportunity, not home. They see me as grown, smart, and the will to do, what I want and need to do. My life is filled with work, lots of fun, and being busy in school, going to have a great education. My identity is a mixture of Boriqua but also very  Americanized. My struggles would be making it well in school by staying out of problems such as drugs and women. He hopes I would carry on and know my culture as I should with that of America. They’d ask about my school and how it was, as well as how my job is. Generally, they’d see my family is too, with my profession.

Our lives are different because of how fortunate I am with education. An easy job, family close by, and tons of technology, and mostly support. What’s the same is our foods, culture, and I  believe that’s it. The power they passed to me is that of what privilege it is to be here and live in Chicago in Humboldt Park.

Leanesse Castillo

If I could spend one day with one of my ancestors they would be as crazy as the rest of my family. They would be funny, straight forward, no sugar coating and very outgoing. We would tell stories and laugh and have a good time, show me their cooking skills and the way they do things. The things they loved to do things. The things they love to do and what made them happy, they can tell me how much my great grandparents drove them crazy. They tell me about their background, what they have been through, their conflicts, why they did the things they did.

Just for a day for them to show me differently because I’m not like them, well not all the time. I think they did pass down the anger and attitude and loudness down to me but also the goofy and big hearted personality down to me.

Meeting #17 12/03/16

My aesthetic was inspired by my new favorite artist Princess Nokia in her new video Brujas that pays homage to the goddess Yemaya. I love Princess Nokia because she is the first artist I ever heard to express Taíno native culture which is indigenous Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands. I love Princess Nokia because she is unapologetic, embraces her roots and a role model to latinx youth and other youth of color that continue to work hard and rise like roses through concrete. Her music and her message reassures the ancestral power and light I have within myself and always pumps me up to accomplish my goals each day. 


Today #BrownInChicago decided to reflect and write about our experience two weeks ago  photo shoot that focused on evoking our indigenous ancestry. I am of Puerto Rican descent on my maternal side and wanted to channel a look that resonates with my spiritually. I wanted to pay tribute to Yemaya, who is a diosa from South Western African Yoruba religion. She is called an Orisha and is the mother of all Orishas totaling 14 Yoruba gods and goddesses. Santeria , which translates to way of the saints, originated from West Africa, and more commonly spread during the Transatlantic Slave Trade and was expressed as part of Yorba/Cuban Afro-Caribbean culture. Santeria promises wisdom and power in dealing with life’s hardships through a combination of practical and oral traditions.

My mother prayed to Yemaya as her favored orisha in times of need for strength and need of protection from trauma and misogyny she experienced while ending an abusive relationship with my father and she moved me away from our family to Miami for safety. When he was later arrested and deported we lost almost all our resources and child support and my mother had to start again on her own. Yemaya is a strong source of maternal energy for protection and tenacity young mother have to channel to raise their children with little resources and support. I admired my mother growing up seeing how hard she worked, took pride in her bright blue eyeshadow and grinning smile. Tonight I invited her to teach me how to do my makeup like her signature look to embody the diosa named Yolanda.

For as long as I remember she always wore blue eyeshadow that brings out her big cafe eyes and painted her lips fiery red.  Inherit my gift of empathy and healing from diosa because it is the gift my mother bestowed upon me. We are resilient against life’s waves that attempt to drown and stifle our voices and dreams. As my mom painted my face she told me about how much she loves to wear blue because it’s a color so many women shy away from with make up (myself included). To my surprise I looked into the mirror and saw the ferocity and gentleness I see in my own mothers eyes.

We danced to Aguanile by Hector Lavoe y Willie Colon is about highlighting Santeria’s African roots, with a typical folk verse of the Festival of the Cross, the song has a small verse is interpreted by Lavoe in Greek ,”Kyrie eleison”, popular custom among the natives, dating back hundreds of years. giphyShe attempted to teach me more moves to dance to the song but laughed and said you can’t teach the dance you just have to feel the music and let the dancing come naturally within you.  I closed my eyes and imagined myself on a warm days in Miami as a kid dancing in the living room with my mom. I may not have the best rhythm but I like to feel music and let go. Tonight daughters of Yemaya we thank you diosa for your strength to keep me afloat, and your currents to guide my path.



Throughout this project I have been able to center my identity to my brownness and connect with my native and African roots more. As a social work graduate student I’m seeking to be a healer and help provide therapeutic services to alleviate generational trauma and build self awareness. I owe my skills of empathy as a gift Yemaya has shared for me to heal others and to proudly serve as a bold Latina among a field that is dominated by white women. In a discussion with #BrownInChicago students many of the young women discussed how hard it was growing up to find positive Latinx role models to celebrate against the saturation of sexist, patriarchal and Eurocentric values. We shared stories of burning and bleaching the kinks in our hair to appease desires of straight blonde compliance. Shielding our skin that from the sun that illuminates the richness in our melanin, but we were socialized to see ourselves as shadows. The gift of this project is that I am feeling more beautiful and grounded each day with other youth as we journey together to de-center whiteness and grow together.


Meeting #15 11/19/2016

Lily Be Storytelling Workshop and Photo Journalism Workshop Diosa Latinx Photoshoot: Honoring our ancestors and indigeneity

We began this morning with a passage from  Follow the Rabbit Proof Fence  is personal account of an indigenous Australian family’s experiences as members of the Stolen Generation. The erasure of a person’s culture is stripping people of their power. Colonist use this technique to make you feel ashamed for keeping traditions alive whether that is through language, music, religion, or clothes. The these things is what protects our energy and keep us grounded to our ancestral power. This power are secret songs, recipes, dances, prayers, and wishes that we used to survive erasure.

We asked students around the table their thoughts about the reading and many stories resonated with one another’s similar experiences.

Violet: the reading reminded me of the erasure of culture and I feel sad that there are things about my culture that I will ever know or known it was lost. I feel guilty at times that my attempts to learn Spanish or more about Puerto Rican or Colombian culture is a mere caricature of what I try to embrace. But I have to be easy on myself because the goal of colonization is to make me forget my past or leave to responsibility for myself to uncover my history. I am grateful to not have to explore and connect on my own and with the support of this space,

Many other agreed for feeling guilty about their spanglish but we had to stop to check ourselves and as a reminder that the Spanish language is a colonizer language and we do not know the tongues of our maternal native ancestor.

Aide: I feel like instead there is now a shift within our generation in comparison to our past generations that had to assimilate to survive. Now we digging up our buried cultures and history so we do not forget. In order to survive we must remember our past.

Eduardo: This passage reminded me about the Korean exchange program at his High School and how he stood up for his fellow exchange student and checked a teacher for scolding the exchange students for speaking Korean and not English. He connected that experience to being young and learning English in elementary school and also being scolded for not speaking English. When you police language around students that are in their right to speak to what is comfortable to them and made me feel safe when I wanted to be understood.

Arely: I want to keep speaking Spanish alive in my family because it makes me sad that my cousins refuse to speak Spanish. I am taking extra classes to improve my reading and writing in Spanish because I think my language is beautiful.

It was revealed within a few other reflections in the room that many students had a similar experience of being forced into speech therapy services or put in low comprehensive courses Spanish was their first language and they were still learning English. Offering the wrong referral services can highly impact the self-esteem of a young student who is made to feel their Spanish is a barrier. img_2888
The remainder our meeting was spent split into two groups. Students with Lily Be who was crafting their stories and students in our Diosa Latinx photo shoot. Towards the end of our meeting we all came together for an impromptu bruja circle photo opt. I never felt so fierce, magical and strong while hand and hand with my sisters. All dope Latina women with different strengths and experiences. All between us centuries of beauty and light we share within our blood through our ancestors.  

Brown in Chicago – Decolonizing our roots and future

With the Logan Square Neighborhood Association

LSNA’s youth organizing work is founded on the values of racial justice. Youth are vital leaders in the push for both policy and cultural responses to the violence of displacement.[1] Displacement destroys culture. Youth leaders find themselves in a neighborhood experiencing swift racial and economic transition that feels violent and painful. They no longer feel welcomed in their neighborhood hangouts or feel secure that their parents (working-class immigrants) will be able to keep pace with the rising rents and property taxes. For our youth the fact that gentrification is a racialized process is common sense. They see the buying power young white people have in their community, and LSNA’s organizers help deepen their analysis through workshops that emphasize the historical housing policies in Chicago that created the Black and Latino ghettos of our city.

This July a group of seventeen youth leaders with the Logan Square Neighborhood Association started a journey to fight the erasure of displacement by documenting their families’ migrations from Latin America to Chicago.  Youth leaders were also commissioned by their abuelitas and parents as they submitted DNA ancestry kits to see where their families’ journeys actually started. Our ancestry results capture the mixing of people’s brought violently together in 1492.  Our Mexican students –the great majority of the group–carry between 60-90% indigenous ancestry.  Africa is also present with us—all of our youth came back with some African ancestry. And our young people from the Caribbean have between 15-35% African ancestry.  We suddenly feel ancient and feel the weight of the loss of our indigenous and African identities–colonization is also erasure of one’s stories.


In partnership with the Genealogy and Storytelling Project LSNA youth will:

  1. Uncover the history of migration and displacement and the impact they have on their lives today;
  2. Boldly claim their own place in history as part of the Latin-American and Pan-African Diaspora;
  3. Dismantle the dominant narrative of white supremacy within the specific process of gentrification and more broadly;
  4. Engage more Latinx[2] families to celebrate their place and histories in the community as one weapon against displacement.

[1] In the past year, 110 youth have been involved in LSNA’s anti-gentrification work taking significant roles in outreach efforts to residents, develogeneology commissions 3.JPEGping actions, introducing new strategies and concepts, and meeting with local officials about the need to create policy solutions to address rising displacement.

[2] Latinx= The “x” makes Latino, a masculine identifier, gender-neutral. The “x” also encompasses genders outside of that limiting man-woman binary. Pronounced “La-teen-ex.