“I ain’t got nothing nobody want”
Dolemite is my Name
When I joined the DClinPsy programme at the University of Liverpool about 3 years ago, my identity was immediately appreciated by my bosses and colleagues. I was encouraged to blend who I am and what I’m passionate about with my work. My colleagues valued what I brought to teaching, supervision, research, and they wanted to cultivate a way to allow my voice to be heard. Along with other people’s different perspectives, mine stood as equal and important; difference is enriching. I never felt that valued before.
In planning for the GTICP conference, my first one that I’d be attending, I fully took on board what my colleagues were encouraging – to put my identity, my passion, and essentially my fingerprint in the programme. We, as a team, made the decision to invite Capoeira for All, but this reflected the value the team saw in giving voice to my identity within clinical psychology as Latina. Given what has happened, I feel this support has been shaken, the rock I was on has splintered. This is particularly true given my impression that the events on the evening that were delivered by white presenters were taken seriously. However, the one event organised by a non-white committee member and with non-white performers was not taken seriously and was interpreted as “entertainment”. I’m left feeling that people of Latinx heritage are associated with entertainment. I’m also left feeling that clinical psychology was not ready for me, my passion, my fervent blending of my need to have artistic expression and doing community psychology research. I feel that I can only accepted if I am operating in the way expected for white people. I’m too in the middle for people to accept on either side, was my feeling.
This is not new. As a white-passing Puerto Rican with an African, Taíno, and European heritage, it’s hurtful to be called “white”. How many times have I been told I’m not brown enough to be Puerto Rican? I’ve, in the past, been asked 20 questions to justify my non-whiteness: But do you speak Spanish; but were both of your parents Puerto Rican; but did you live in Puerto Rico; but do you still have family there…? I’m Puerto Rican from both sides of my family -Figueroa and Muñoz. My dad left Puerto Rico when his family moved to Spanish Harlem and met my mom in Puerto Rico when she was 18. I speak Spanish, the tongue of our first colonizers. I lived there for most of my childhood and my family are still there except those affected by the diaspora of hurricane Maria.
I invited Capoeira for All to do the Capoeira piece (see their statement here) because I found a deep connection with the values and ethos of Capoeira when I lived in New Orleans. I found a community there that was diverse, accepting and they were people who acknowledged and were motivated to help the community from the segregation that still exists. The inequality was palpable so my clinical practica were mainly around helping in family court and juvenile court, because Hispanics who don’t speak English aren’t offered a translator. Much of my work didn’t even involve psychological theory but offering translation and advice to navigate systems. These systemic issues are still my priority.
I considered other options before settling on Capoeira for All. I have many hobbies that also derive from my passion for celebration and hope. However, Akil and Michael at Capoeira for All and I had built a common ground and laid the roots so that we could make this performance happen with a vision that matched the theme of the GTiCP conference. But we also started to see how we in clinical psychology can help with the outstanding work Capoeira for All are already doing in the community. This is of enormous value and did not ever feel like making slavery part of “entertainment”. The programme committee wanted me to book the Capoeira performance because it fit with our vision for showing resistance, but also because it was my identity, my own celebration of my African and Latin American heritage, and represented hope and humanity.
In Capoeira for All, we have the most reflective, sensitive, impactful, inspiring, and powerful artists! I knew when I met them that they were special and our complete equals in the fight for equality and social justice. Anyone interacting with them will see that!
What has come out of this whole experience is a greater sense of community with my colleagues than I had before. The support I have gotten personally shows me that what I bring is valued. Our diversity, as a team, is a strength; and not in one of those soundbite types of ways, but truly in practice builds solidarity. The rock, though splintered, can still hold all of us.
“It is only when we respect even our adversaries and see them not as ogres, dehumanized, demonized, but as fellow human beings deserving respect for their personhood and dignity, that we will conduct a discourse that just might prevent conflict. There is room for everyone; there is room for every culture, race, language and point of view.” – Desmond Tutu (Excerpted from a speech to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva in 2001)