illustration of 4 different nature scenes with writing over them

i am, i am not

illustration of 4 different nature scenes with writing over them

Visual by: Jessica Martinez

i am not the drowning voices

that attempt to torment

my every move and

breath;

i am not

a fragment

of your imagination.

i am not

a rock

on the pavement

or a pebble on a cliff –

not the distraught

representation of womanhood

with scattered

goals and dreams and aspirations; 

not the woman 

with a loss of identity

when you fail

to push

your way into

my veins 

and mind 

and being.

 

 

i am not

reliant

on your existence

or influence; 

i am not living 

for the harsh whispers 

(or should i say yells?)

that attempt

to enchain 

my spirit.

i am not the corrupt 

representation of 

innocence

upheld with a tainted image

of perfection 

and enamored 

like the virgin mary. 

 

 

i am not enslaved

to the bitterness

and cruelty

that resides 

at the tip of your tongue

and i am not to retreat 

to the shadows

and succumb to your power. 

i am not the virgin mary, 

or did you forget?

 

 

i am kindness and warmth

but also rage and passion; 

warm fires slowly grow within me,

creating an identity 

that is forceful and

everchanging

like the trade winds,

but also holding a gentle touch; 

soft and comforting 

like that of the sun 

warming and giving life

to the earth.

 

i am not

i am 

i am not

i am

illustration of horror symbols

Latinx Representation in Literature and Cinema

illustration of horror symbols

Illustration by: Haven Morales

Written by: Rebecca Gutierrez and Karim Hyderali

UCLA offers a handful of classes that center on Latinx authors and their experience. In a Chicanx literature class, students read about five different novels. The first one, Arturo Islas’s The Rain God, follows a Mexican family and how they battle with their racial identities and sexualities. 

Many of the other novels also follow the similar trope of struggling to accept one’s identity. Even novels that are meant to be different, like The Rain God, have sad undertones. Reading these novels is life-changing; it introduces students to a whole new genre of literature. Many mainstream authors have white characters or are from the suburbs. Exposing students to novels that were written by Latinx authors and incorporate Latinx characters is important to diversifying literature. As students explore literature at UCLA it becomes evident that there is a lack of representation in literature. When students discover novels they can connect with, it makes reading fun; it is refreshing to be able to laugh at jokes and see their lifestyles being represented in novels. However, several Latinx novels are written with similar tropes, which can cause the reader to feel as if they are reading the same novel, just with new characters. 

Ann Dávila Cardinal provides a new type of Latinx literature, with Five Midnights. Dávila Cardinal writes an entertaining, suspenseful novel that takes place in Puerto Rico. The novel follows two frienemies, Lupe and Javier, and their struggle to accept themselves while solving a murder of two young boys, which they suspect to be victims of El Cucuy

As a young adult novel, the book itself reads very easily. However, the suspense and description of the scenery make it enjoyable for people of all ages. The opening scenes where Dávila Cardinal describes Puerto Rico allows the readers to clearly create an image of Puerto Rico, whether they have been there or not. Dávila Cardinal’s ability to illustrate the scenery through the vivid language and helps the reader engage with the novel.

The storyline itself is not perfect. Despite there being a murderer on the loose, the story focuses on character development. Lupe and Javier learn a lot about themselves. There are also themes of the loss of innocence and acceptance of one’s identity. While Five Midnights is similar to other Latinx novels, the incorporation of the folklore helps create the feeling of a new narrative. 

Throughout the novel, the reader learns more about the mysterious murder through the other characters. This detail reflects how community helps others learn and develop identities. Lupe struggles with discovering who she is while Javier struggles with accepting his past and moving on. With the help of others, both characters are able to develop a sense of acceptance.  

Overall, Dávila Cardinal’s Five Midnights is a great starter read. It has an interesting mix of folklore and beautiful depictions of Puerto Rico. The balance of self-discovery and mystery is refreshing. The novel ends rather abruptly and there are some issues with the portrayal of Puerto Ricans, but it is a novel that differs from typical Latinx tropes. For starters, it is a murder mystery, and the characters, Lupe and Javier, suspect it may be El Cucuy. While murder mystery is popular amongst novellas, the incorporation of myths gives the novel new aspects. Five Midnights demonstrates potential and opened up a new genre of literature for me. The way Dávila Cardinal still follows the tropes of accepting one’s racial identity through the addition of folklore allows the reader to see character development alongside Latinx mythology. 

Five Midnights offers a bridge to Latinx mystery novels. It is important to have a large range of diversity, not just novels that pay homage to novellas or finding the “American Dream.” Latinx authors that write horror novels help keep younger children interested in their heritage. It also allows older readers to reminisce back to a time when they were told similar myths about El Cucuy or El Chupacabra. Diversity in the horror genre helps teach about culture and provides new and fresh stories. There are more novels with Latinx folklore and horror aspects, and each one better than the last. 

Just as Latinx authors in horror are important for representation, so are Latinx directors in cinema. Contemporary film is a leading form of media and allows for visual representation of different identities. The Latinx director Guillermo del Toro plays an important role in the Latinx community within the world of horror as he represents a community that is extremely underrepresented within the genre.

Del Toro is one of the most well-respected directors and screenwriters within cinema and has gone to become an academy award-winning director. He is best known for his works Pan’s Labyrinth, The Shape of Water, and Puss in Boots. Del Toro’s versatility has been one of his greatest traits and has helped him garner respect within the industry. However, it is important to note that the big shot director originally began his career directing films involving horror and the supernatural. 

The first short film released by del Toro was titled, Doña Lupe. The film is about an elderly landlord that begins to notice mysterious behaviors from her new tenants. The film is entirely in Spanish and features an entirely Latinx cast. This trend of Latinx representation would be extremely prevalent throughout his career. Another one of del Toro’s early films, titled Geometría, also featured an all Latinx cast and included scenes of the movie’s protagonist performing brujería. These films were important as they portrayed Latinx culture and actors within the horror genre.

As Del Toro began to gain his footing within the realm of directing and writing, he had never lost his love for his people and representing them through film. In his latest film Scary Stories to Tell in The Dark, del Toro made sure to include a Latinx character named Ramón (portrayed by Michael Garza). Throughout the movie, Ramón encounters rude remarks and stereotypes for being Latinx and manages to criticize said comments calmly. This strategic placement of del Toro’s comments on race relations is crucial as it allows him to subtly express his identity as Latinx through his films. 

On August 9th 2019, del Toro was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. During his speech, he subtly addressed the political climate and attitudes towards Latinx immigrants within the U.S. He went on to state that fear-mongering has been used to divide communities within the U.S. and that “it’s used to tell us that we’re different, that we shouldn’t trust each other.” del Toro’s comments are important as they show support to the immigrant community while receiving one of the most honored awards within Hollywood. During his closing remarks, he stated, “As a Mexican, receiving this star is a gesture and no gesture right now can be banal or simple.” Del Toro went on to say, “all immigrants from every nation should believe in the possibilities and not the obstacles.” After these empowering comments, del Toro solidified his support for the Latinx community and immigrants by kneeling over his star and kissing the national flag of Mexico. 

The achievements that del Toro has attained throughout his career are extremely important for the Latinx community, demonstrating that although obstacles exist for Latinxs, anything is possible. It is also important that he maintained his love for Latinx people because although he is now an A-List director, he has not forgotten his humble beginnings creating short films in Mexico and offers support to those of similar backgrounds. 

Representation matters in all forms of media, whether it be through the literature written by Dávila Cardinal or the films directed by Guillermo del Toro. It is important for aspiring Latinx writers or directors to create works that stray from the typical narratives involving Latinx characters and normalize the inclusion of Latinx characters. Through Cardinal and del Toro’s unique storytelling, they help remove basic tropes and further Latinx representation in the horror genre. Through this genre, they both break the status quo that Latinx films and literature often follow. This allows members of the Latinx community to envision themselves in several different roles within the media.

image of young children covering their mouths as they flee from oil being spilled on them from plane

How Communities of Color are Affected by Environmental Injustice

On January 15, 2020, Delta Air Lines pilots dumped airplane fuel over Cudahy, an area of Southeast Los Angeles that is home to the sixth largest Latinx population in LA County, and landed across six schools. Sixty students and teachers received medical attention after being drenched in oil by the Delta plane. Many children were outside when the fuel was dropped. 

The Delta plane was en route from LAX to Shanghai when it dropped the oil. In cases of emergency, protocol calls for pilots to dump fuel above 10,000 feet so that the fuel can dissipate before it reaches the ground. Protocol also calls for pilots to dump fuel in unpopulated areas or above the ocean. In this instance, the Delta pilots dumped fuel 2,000 feet above the ground. In this instance, the pilot admitted that dumping the fuel was unnecessary. 

The negligence that impacted the children and teachers at Cudahy is not an isolated incident. Areas in Los Angeles with higher percentages of Latinx people are more likely to be considered environmentally disadvantaged. For example, South LA contains at least 51 active oil wells while nine percent of residents live near a truck route, and the area had one of the highest asthma hospitalization rates in LA County in 2011. Comparatively, the residents of more affluent areas of West LA have lower asthma rates. In 2020, this divide in environmental conditions has not changed. The residents that live between the 110 and 405 freeways, which are predominantly Black and Brown, go largely ignored by health officials.

Environmental racism goes beyond Los Angeles and California. Instances of environmental injustice is widespread throughout the United States. Flint still does not have clean water and Louisiana has a district known as Cancer Alley. Environmental injustice affects low-income communities of color throughout the country at a greater rate than more affluent communities. 

Particulate matter is a group of manmade and natural suspensions of liquid and solids that makes up air pollutants. These pollutants are linked to low birth rates, high blood pressure, and asthma. Scientists for the National Center for Environmental Assessment found that Black people are exposed to particulate matter 1.5 times higher than white people while non-black Latinx people are 1.2 times more likely to be exposed.

While actions such as banning plastic straws and reducing the number of plastic bottles used are smaller individual solutions, corporations must be held accountable for the amount of waste they produce. Activists like Greta Thunberg demonstrate the power of standing up against climate change, and local activists such as the Youth for Environmental Justice (YouthEJ) have organized to stand up against environmental injustice in low-income neighborhoods. YouthEJ and other groups spread knowledge about environmental issues in schools such as Huntington Park High School, South Gate High School, and other Los Angeles schools that are largely made up of black and brown students. Other organizations such as the Better Watts Initiative also advocate for better environmental conditions, in this case, the predominantly Black and Brown neighborhood of Watts where life expectancy is 12 years less than that of Brentwood.

Climate change impacts everyone, especially low-income communities of color. The conversation on climate change, especially in the popular media, focuses on what the individual can do on a day-to-day basis rather than hold corporations accountable for the toxic waste and ambient air pollution they produce. The impact of the youths’ voices are felt around the world, and it is up to everyone to hold corporations accountable and protest against environmental issues in our communities. Efforts to improve the environment must take race and class into account, considering that low-income communities of color are more susceptible to deteriorating health due to pollution.

Visual by: Jessica Martinez