SFR welcomes IAIA creative writing major Jamie Figueroa, whose weekly column, With This Pen, will explore issues of race, culture and identity in Santa Fe and beyond.
BIO: Jamie Figueroa is a creative writing major at the Institute of American Indian Arts. Puerto Rican by way of Ohio, her perspective comes from the complexities and confusion of being a mixed-race Midwesterner. Jamie has been an active participant in Santa Fe's community-based multi-arts ensemble Little Globe since 2008 and has performed her poetry in collaboration with local artists at events including: SALVE: Women in War, Women Warriors and Mujeres y Mujeres.
Her work includes fiction, creative non-fiction and poetry and is an exploration of familial relationships, place, culture, and ancestry. She has presented at the Native American Literary Symposium, the Indigenous Book Festival, and SWAIA’s literary series. She is an ESL tutor for adults volunteering in Santa Fe and is the 2010 recipient of the Truman Capote Scholarship.
"A pen can be any number of things--a weapon, a compass, a measuring stick, a tuning fork--and the marks the pen makes can create change, connection, compassion and community," Figueroa writes by way of introduction. "Each week, With This Pen will explore identity, writing, race and relationships. In no way am I an expert on any of these subjects, and I refuse to be the token multicultural voice. What I offer is my unique experience--however awkward or astute it may be. With This Pen is my sincere act of inquiry.”
What to Say When a Black Man Calls You His Queen
If you’re 34 and have finally come to the realization that you’re mixed race, which includes being of African descent (among Indigenous, Hispanic and Irish descent), say thank you. If he’s the ticket agent at the Albuquerque airport, standing outside the Southwest kiosk, give him a generous tip.
Don’t tag “baby” onto the end of your thank you unless you’re feeling really sure about yourself as a person of color. Otherwise it’ll sound too much like who you actually are, awkward and while brown-skinned, one who lacks their culture.
If you’re on your way to San Francisco for one of the only writing conferences for people of color, don’t feel like you have to say something that proves you’re OK with your colorful mix and that you and he are on the same side because as much as you hate to admit it, on any given day you don’t know what color you are or whose side you’re on unless someone puts you there (which they usually do).
Someone once told you that you said “Puerto Rican” like a white girl. That person was white. What could you say? You would’ve said it different if they weren’t white? Which is almost the truth. After all, you do know how to roll your r’s, but there’s more to being Puerto Rican than rolling your r’s.
When, at the writing conference, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Dominican speaks to you in Spanish, pretend you know everything he is saying. When he asks you where your green eyes come from, reluctantly claim your estranged white father even though there are Puerto Ricans on la isla who have green eyes. You’ve seen them in your mother’s hometown of Rio Piedras.
And for the love of the Black Madonna, don’t go divulging that your mother married (five times) only white men and that any relationship you’ve had (worth mentioning) has been with white men, and that your brother-in-law is white, and that your three nephews could not be further from their great grandparents’ and grandmother’s skin color than if they put on white sheets. Which reminds you of the last Halloween party you attended a few years ago.
Instead of putting your imagination into it, you grabbed a white sheet, cut out some holes and threw it over yourself a la Casper. At the hip Santa Fe party, amidst Freudian Slips, Zombie Sailors and One Night Stands, no one recognized you until, after an hour of overheating, you finally pulled the sheet off, revealing threadbare yoga pants, dark circles under your eyes and frizzy hair.
You were sitting next to the only other person of color at the party, a black man. He did not call you his queen. He asked you what in the hell you were doing wearing a white sheet.