Latina Corner: A Brown Eyed Perspective on Recovery & Sexuality

by g.f. cabrera

Sunday afternoon in Washington DC was a cool, semi-sunny, July day. My girlfriend and I, on the spur-of-the-moment, decided to visit a dear friend and her wife. Both women are professional, educated Latinas, active on Capital Hill, affiliated with the Movers and Shakers in national politics and the greater Latino community, and are more importantly, Home Girls with big hearts.

Catalina, my friend of ten years, is a beautiful, green-eyed half Native American and Mexican, while her wife, Lydia, is an equally attractive brown-eyed fair-olive skin Mexicana. Meanwhile, my girl Vicky is a striking dark-caramel-colored, intense brown/black-eyed New York born Puerto Rican and I am an attractive fair-skin child of Mexican and Spanish ancestors with light gold-brown eyes who is ethnically, politically, and spiritually a California Chicana/Latina. Together, we are a 30-something crowd.

Sitting in a fashionable Dupont Circle restaurant, we simultaneously laughed, talked, and decided what to eat. Into our animated conversation, I ventured slowly, sharing my recovery process. Each of us has wrestled with a personal demon, yet we have never talked about recovery as a support group.

With opinions and life stories emerging, I was struck by how we talked around real disclosure and the underlying factors of addiction. In this moment, "recovery" was from drugs and alcohol- with the solution being to stop drinking and/or drugging. Abuse, neglect, family violence, incest, sexuality, dysfunctional parents, short and long-term therapy, and so on, were issues left untouched. I realized, once more, how socialized we are in deeply-rooted cultural values and norms to remain silent on taboo subjects.

Our discourse was focused on defining our sexual identities as Lesbians. Within the Latina community, a semi-educated guess places us about one, maybe two, generations of women out of the closet. So we delved into a deep go-round about the Cristina Show; a popular nationally televised Spanish-Speaking talk-shock show. Last month, about seven lesbians talked about why they identify as a "Butch" or "Femme" on her show.

As predicted, the audience ripped the women to shreds. While, each of us felt relieved at declining an invitation to "educate" our communities, we were incensed by one Lesbian's attack of another women for identifying as "Butch." Catalina was especially taken back as she knew that this woman used to pack a load as a butch. Behind her words we saw reflections of internalized hate and unsafe places.

At this phase in our collective history, we are the first generation beginning to talk about recovery from hard-core addictions linked to family origins and therapeutic outlets. Given my undergraduate study in the Mexican-American community, and, to a lesser degree, other Spanish speaking ethnicities, I empathetically understand the convoluted forces shaping our abilities to have public discourse about these issues. My simple list of four significant factors (setting aside critical in-depth analysis) is:

1. Our Latino communities are still suffering the devastating effects of internal colonization and colonialism, which in many cases, has meant a substantial loss of income via social-educational opportunities;

2. Equally, as we are struggling to reclaim our rights are citizens relegated to second-class status, we are often engaged in the struggles of daily sustenance, which minimizes our awareness of the damage of addiction;

3. We actively engage in a daily resistance of forced assimilation via our strong ties with our mother countries' customs, values and mother tongue, and;

4. Within the United States we are probably 15-20 years behind the dominant culture in terms of acculturation.

Our values and norms are seen readily on New York streets. Latinos place a high value on marrying young, as well as having children young when both parents are at their physical peak. Opposed to this country's' notion of individuality, we believe in the power of maintaining strong family and extended ties. And as language is culture and culture is language, speaking Spanish first and English second is our ability to preserve who we are as a race.

Sadly, I've observed that recovery more often is court ordered. We keep our problems within our family, friends and community. Rarely do we seek help from the professional therapeutic community. For the past five years, the cultural isolation of being the only Latina in numerous therapeutic settings and rooms has felt very lonely. The lack of brown faces holds a pain equal to the pain of knowing addiction is alive in my family.

Still there are changes on the horizon that are very optimistic. Prominent cultural icon and my hero, Carlos Santana, spoke about his painful process of recovering from being sexually abused as a child on 20/20. He shared how his drug use and a lifetime of unmanageable rage were his coping mechanisms.

Finally, after his wife gave her last ultimatum, strengthened by desire and love, Santana took that first step. He now credits his hard recovery work and higher power as significant factors leading to the production of his eight Grammy award winning album "Supernatural". What a beautiful man and how courageous he is to share his recovery with us on a nationally-televised news show. This is a powerful testimony to the creative expression inherent in recovery!

My mission as a storyteller within these pages, is to share my experience, strength, love and hope. I invite others to share their experiences. Let's create a common language, in English-Spanish, to reclaim our histories of healthy, thriving, intelligent, artistic Latinos!

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SpeakOUT! is a project of the New York City Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center.
SpeakOUT! is funded 2001-2004 by a Recovery Community Support Project (RCSP) grant from the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT), Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), U.S. Department of Heath and Human Services. Contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the agency.