This is where thoughts become things.

Hi, I'm Daniela. Welcome to my personal lair on the Internet. This is where I write about storytelling, activism, technology and pop culture. Sometimes I post videos. I update my lair when the mood strikes me. Follow me on Twitter for daily updates (@dcap).

Tag : culture

On My Radar: What Does Proximity Mean To You?

My last blog entry was in late December. Since then, I’ve continued my west coast work adventure with Current TV, enjoyed family QT, and experienced my first Sundance Film Festival in late January:

Being in California has made me examine how physical proximity to certain people and experiences have informed my life. My life was altered in countless ways after moving to NYC in 2004. Proximity to something of value is something that people are willing to risk everything for, as best illustrated in a recent case of a mother who “broke the law” attempting to get her daughter enrolled in a better school outside of her district. This mother knew the value of proximity; a different environment — proximity to better resources — can change everything.

Protesters in Egypt are using the illusion of proximity through Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube to bring their revolution closer to the minds of people around the world. Their real time video clips, status updates, and photographs help everyday people to see what fighting for your rights truly entails. Meanwhile, this “armchair participation” taking place all over the world has greater implications. What do you do with the information? How can you help? What would happen if these “watchers” mobilized in their own countries and used their economic power to boycott strategically to inform change in Egypt? What would happen? What COULD happen?

And why don’t everyday people take to the streets in the U.S. to fight for what we want anymore? Proximity to cheap entertainment, food, and other distractions makes it easy to ignore the things we truly need, and saps us of our energy and motivation to fight. We are too close to the American Dream to see the nightmare.

What would you do if the U.S. government shut down cellphone and internet access? Proximity to knowledge and ways to access it offline would mean everything to you, more than ever before.

Closer proximity to the things that improve my life is why I’m interested in travel, in work that gives me the flexibility and freedom to move around the country, and why I’m willing to sacrifice the illusion of stability to get what I need.

Differing levels of proximity to anything is directly tied to privilege. If you’ve never lived in an impoverished neighborhood, it’s hard to empathize with the paradox of never leaving a neighborhood to face the great unknown, despite the danger at home. Sometimes it feels safer to be close to something harmful that you understand than to brave proximity to a world you can’t decipher. It’s why battered women stay close to the partners who hurt them — to put it simply, it’s a role they understand. Life without the familiar ritual of abuse would be just as scary. Breaking away takes courage that some people don’t have.

If you don’t see yourself as being worthy to be near anything good, you will stay exactly where you are.

I am privileged to have so much control over my proximity to events, people, and experiences that help me to see the world from new perspectives. At Sundance, I was able to witness with my own eyes how that festival informs the industry. Subletting in Oakland for the past few months has given me new awareness of the pros and cons to queer gentrification in neighborhoods of color, and my month in Paris last September helped me to see tangible examples of how culture travels from one country to the next and the implications of that constant remixing.

Proximity brings knowledge, understanding, and a cultural exchange that can’t always be found in books. True, technology helps with proximity to things you can’t afford to experience in person (following hashtags, watching livestreams, etc.) but people still need guidance with identifying those tools.

Who do you see everyday and what are your rituals? The things closest to you in your life influence your choices in so many ways. Often all it takes to bust out of a damaging cycle is to try something new. Sometimes it’s more complicated than that, and requires an overhaul of saying goodbye to toxic friends, bad habits, and physical spaces that lead to self destruction. Putting distance between you and your familiar reality can open many doors.

You don’t have to be rich to do this. You don’t have to have a college degree, a trust fund, supportive parents, or a car. All you need is your will and to promise to not hate yourself for making mistakes. Everyday, all over the world, people make one mistake after the other. Life is a series of mistakes. You’ll get closer to the things you’re good at, that make you happy to be alive, by learning from your mistakes.

Proximity to and then experiencing true freedom is what I’m searching for — the freedom to see myself and the world unhindered by hatred, doubt, fear, and messed up socio-political brainwashing.

Everyday I get a little closer to my goal, and I am inspired by my friends and family’s ongoing proximity tales.

We may not always achieve every goal, but loving yourself enough to close the gap between you and what you want — despite the obstacles — is how we gain proximity to gifts (people, jobs, love, etc.) we would never reach otherwise.

Thanksgiving In New York: 5 Years Later

Five years ago, I spent Thanksgiving back in Sacramento, CA. I had only lived in New York for four months but was already struggling with my new reality; I needed to escape for a while.

What I am remembering right now is the conflicting ball of feelings that I had during that Thanksgiving — happiness, extreme loneliness, low self worth, optimism and fear.

I moved from Bushwick to Washington Heights in 2004. At the time, I certainly did not factor in how race, culture and coastal perceptions would affect my life. In retrospect, I probably should have considered these things, but at the time my only focus was getting the hell out of California.

When I finally arrived to my “dream city,” I had no idea what to expect and was shocked to discover how segregated New York was. I had never lived in an ethnic enclave before, not to the degree that exists in New York. I am Chicana, yes, but it was still an adjustment to move from homogenized little Sacramento to a neighborhood that was entirely Dominican. There was a Jewish community near the synagogue but these two groups rarely mixed (it might be different now).

Cultural gentrification (a term I learned in New York) involves those not from a long standing community moving into that area and then changing it, for better or for worse — often, it’s both. I realize now that I was part of the gentrification that is slowly but steadily happening right now in Washington Heights, although my contribution was different; I was a middle class Latina — who spoke little Spanish and had never met someone who was Dominican — who moved into a working class Dominican neighborhood, where (at the time) Spanish was the primarily language. It was a huge culture shock for me.

At the time, I was renting a tiny room in Washington Heights for $400 per month. This included free laundry service, room service and dinner each day. It also included a Dominican family of three who, although very nice to me, fought constantly, spent most of the time hanging out in their underwear and didn’t seem to mind the endless stream of cockroaches that paraded through the kitchen. I would turn the light on to get a glass of water and for an instant, the wall would turn from black to white as they scuttled into cracks behind the fridge. I ordered a lot of Chinese food in those days.

My unstable emotional state oddly matched my physical reality; One evening, the entire bathroom ceiling caved in. I woke up to see what had happened and found myself peering up into a gaping void in where the ceiling used to be, surrounded by rubble and grime, only to find another face peering down at me. It took almost a week for the unscrupulous super to take care of it while we borrowed our neighbor’s bathroom and (most horrifying) a communal bucket.

I started going to bars and staying out late; when I went home with people, it was (at first) just to use their bathroom.

Luckily, I didn’t have a lot of free time to spend at the apartment  — I had two internships and a part time night job as a transcriptionist for a reality show called Home Delivery. Craigslist was my savior (I found my casting and film editing internships there); without it and other internet resources, I probably would have never left California. It was somewhat comforting to have a place to go, where I could start a task and finish it and feel like all the anguish and uncertainty might just be worth it in the long run. I felt like I didn’t fit in anywhere, I had no friends and my “dream city” was feeling like a treacherous, unchartered galaxy, and me without a map. As soon as I could, I went back to CA to decompress.

When I returned to New York from that first Thanksgiving back in Sacramento, I made up my mind to find ways to feel less like an alien on a new planet. I invited a friend from Cali who was moving to New York to be my roommate (gentrification!).

Together, we rented a three bedroom palace (comparably) a few blocks away, still in Washington Heights. My roommate, also Chicana, was outgoing and had a lot of free time on her hands so we started to meet people from the neighborhood. After a while, I didn’t feel so completely alone. Having a roommate my own age helped. So did realizing that my Spanish was improving, locals were starting to recognize me as part of the blur in their day to day lives and I was surprised and amused to learn that people thought we were white.

My form of cultural gentrification included teaching the local drug dealers how to play chess — they taught my roommate and I how to break into the building when we lost our keys. I would go to the movies with a local boy who was as obsessed with film as he was with impossibly huge jeans. My roommate and I were shocked and disgusted to learn how our new friends despised the recent influx of immigrant Mexicans into the community. In their minds, Mexicans were at the bottom of the cultural food chain. They didn’t “belong” in The Heights. I saw Dominican teens knocking Mexican delivery boys off their bikes and stealing from them.

Our friends from the neighborhood somehow didn’t see us in the same way, were were “different.” Perhaps it was our “white girl” accents, or my mohawk, but our “Spanish” was – to them – an exotic, bizarre sort that insulated us from their judgements. In our case, being different was a good thing.

Five years later, I have come full circle.

A lot of things have changed — I have advanced professionally and New York feels more like home than Cali, even though I still don’t “feel” like a “New Yorker” and probably never will. I have my favorite places to go in the city.

However, eerily similar to my first few months in NY, is my living situation: I am in another cultural enclave  – the mostly African American (and “Spanish”) South Bronx. Once again, I am welcomed by many locals, although cultural tensions are often strained. I will be called “Mami” (the affectionate local term towards anyone who looks remotely “Spanish”) and “white bitch” in the same week, on the same block.

I didn’t move here in search of the “SoBro” that the New York Times trend-pieces describe, but to be closer to friends, save money and to have more space for my creative projects. I am in the process of moving into a loft space in the “artsy” Mott Haven clock tower building near the Bruckner Gallery & Cafe. I now realize that my own privilege allows me the freedom to move around as I please. I am grateful for that.

New York has helped me to find myself on different levels; as a media professional, student, artist, youth advocate and a light skinned Chicana (along with the cultural pros/cons of that).

After I hit “publish” on this post, I am taking the long trip to Jersey City to visit my former roommate, now great friend, where she will be serving up a delicious Thanksgiving meal. She lives in an enormous house with her boyfriend and good friend, where she uses the first floor to work on her fashion and accessories line. I’ll be able to see our mutual friend Tomas again, the artist who did the tattoo on my back.

Life is not perfect and it never will be. This is now easier for me to accept — the good with the bad, the uncertainty, learning to be patient and to continue to hope, dream and scheme.

I leave you with a video diary entry I made of myself in Washington Heights five years ago. It makes me happy to see that even in the midst of my confusion and frustration in a new world, there were still moments of joy and optimism.

Happy Day of Thanks

On My Radar: Afro-Punk 2009


BAMcinematek and Toyota present

The 5th Annual Afro-punk Festival

featuring Film, Music, Art, Skateboarding and Independence

July 3 – 8 in Brooklyn, NY

Thanks to BFF, I’ve been going to AP shows since 2005. Last year I did a feature on the Afro-Punk festival and community for MTV News. It took six months to pull everything together and was a great learning experience.

Aside from the opportunity to interview inspiring musicians like Tamar-Kali and Janelle Monae, I was able to meet artists of all mediums and make several new friends.

Check out my news brief below and article, then feast your eyes on this year’s lineup.

Afro-Punk Festival 2009
Free and open to the public, Afro-Punk Festival 2009 will spotlight some of the most exciting young artists and bands from the US and abroad, presenting live music and films every night throughout the festival, along with several other key events including:

4th July
Pure Hell
Whole Wheat Bread
American Fangs
Game Rebellion
The Objex
Joya Bravo
& more

5th July
Living Colour
Earl Grey Hound
Tamar Kali
The London Souls
Apollo Heights
& more

6th July
Saul Williams
Janelle Monae
The Dallas Austin Experience
Elevator Fight
Chewing Pic’s
Peekaboo Theory
& more

The festival will once again feature an eclectic film program, co-curated by BAMcinématek with Matthew Morgan and James Spooner. Like last year, there will be a skate park and Afro-Punk Block Party with DIY vendors.

I’m dissapointed that this year’s festival won’t be national, but considering the economy it’s a blessing that this event will be happening again in the first place – and still free to the public!

– press release via Girlie Action