What does Post Barrio mean?
It means a worldview liberated from the barrio/ghetto mindset which permeates many Latinx communities in the U.S. There is nothing wrong with sustaining roots with your community, with strengthening ties in solidarity, especially for political action. That’s not what I’m talking about.
My concern is with the persistent negative vision of “the barrio.” One rarely unchallenged. So many of our people assimilate and share that barrio worldview. To the point that it promotes cultural artifacts including bling fetishism, ghetto fab sportswear, impoverished language, lower self-esteem, among others. Enough material for many blog posts..
In this blog, I will try to discuss and offer my opinion on as many as I can. My main focus, however, will be on how attitudes stemming from this barrio worldview affect literary arts, in particular. But I’m equally fascinated by how it shapes contemporary Latinx cultural and political perspective.
And what are the characteristics of this barrio worldview?
The most salient, troubling feature is the deep sense of continual victimization. From this perspective, “victim” defines everything we do. This attitude turns successful Latinx targets of derision and blame from within their communities, sometimes leading them to undeserved guilt and alienation. The barrio mindset operates on difference. It falsely “benefits” you as a member of an oppressed group to use as an emotional weapon against the dominant group. But this attitude leads to reductive thinking about pretty much anything. It leads to close mindedness, and allows demagogues to manipulate Latinx communities. It leads to defeatism and apathy.
Perhaps the most devastating consequence of this Barrio Syndrome is how Latinx have accepted, as universal truth, the negative, heightened, exaggerated representations of their own communities and neighborhoods. Thus, the only acceptable authenticity of the barrio becomes one that focuses on the exaggerated pimped up, drug crazy, ultra violent, sexed up world of fatalism and degeneracy. Forget that the overwhelming majority of Latinos in these communities work and struggle to give their children a better life. That they are decent law abiding individuals, who do not use or sling drugs, or gang bang.
And how do I know this?
Because I grew up in the South Bronx during the burning times–when paid arsonists torched buildings. Yes, gangs existed–some of those gang members were friends–and people were abusing drugs. But I always knew they were a minority. On my street, I knew many more good hard-working people. In my building there was a sense of neighborly concern and sharing. I hate that barrios like the South Bronx are still purposefully represented in such generalized untruthful negative ways for commercial reasons.
What made the South Bronx and similar barrios dangerous had more to do with the breakdown of the spirit, the loss of hope and agency, than drugs and crime. According to the FBI and Bureau of Justice reports on crime, crime activity has actually been going down for decades. Yet the media continue to feed us this idea of national lawlessness, especially in our barrios. Chicago, for example, has gained a reputation as “Chiraq.” But it’s not even in the top ten cities with the worst homicide rates . We will believe the negative outlook if the media continuously report the negative. To counter this barrage of misrepresentation we need a new vision, one that goes beyond this barrioization of our communities.
What does a Post Barrio Universe look like?
It’s a place where your ethnic collective supports but does not stifle you. A place where everyone considers you cool if you read, learn, and educate yourself. A world where learning about other cultures is ok. It’s a borderland where your culture is an integral part of American culture, and for that reason you do not own it. It is accepting that, as an American, you deserve the same rights and privileges as any other citizen. And you are not a victim. Your history is full of heroes and events that demonstrate our people have contributed greatly to the United States. We have also resisted oppression. We have fought and won battles for our rights. Let your history wisely guide your thinking and actions, but do not wallow in it, nor let others bury you in it.
If you are economically comfortable, be proud of your achievements. Be grateful to those who worked their asses off to get you there. But never, ever, think you are better than those brothers and sisters in the barrios who want the same future. Don’t insult them by putting your middle-class background down to “belong,” and don’t romanticize the negative of the barrio by wearing prisonwear or a “gangsta” lifestyle that you don’t even understand. Let’s focus on what’s positive in our barrios, and let’s treat what is negative with a critical eye, not an apologetic or exploitative one.
Cultural Workers: Stop Writing the Ghetto.
As for cultural workers–writers, artists, film makers–we do not need the propagation of more negative stereotypes of our communities couched in “streetwise urban language.” If you’re still writing about the violence, about Latinos who are only “sucios,” still objectifying Latinas sexually, focusing on drugs, pimps, dysfunctional families, etc., without shedding critical light on these topics, please stop.
Ask yourself what you are doing. Stop and realize that you are only seeing your people through the eyes of mainstream, hegemonic culture. You are just practicing an inverted form of classical double-consciousness. You are just feeding their need for racist, stereotypical, commercial material. Use your talents to create and represent our people in a more progressive light. In a more honest and genuine context. In the barrios there are stories of grit, conflict and determination that have nothing to do with drugs, pimps, violence and other clichéd themes often associated with Latinx.
The Post Barrio Universe is my way of approaching Latinx life and culture from a perspective that celebrates poet and spoken word performer Oveous Maximus‘ words: The Bling Bling Era is Over! The Bling Bling Era is Over! Now, if that thought could only start sinking into the brains of all our Latinx family and artists.