The phone rang, and we didn’t know what to expect. We were pleasantly surprised. A soulful, genuinely excited voice answered. As the call went on we got to know the author of my nameplate. Raven, we learned, is a racial equity facilitator and organizer. She dedicates her days to developing diversity and inclusion workshops in the Bronx and in New Haven, CT. She was drawn to this work as a result of her own experiences. While navigating the divergent spaces between the BX and CT, she became culturally conscious. She realized the importance of meaningful conversations about race, culture, equity and the urgency of youth involvement. Many of the workshops and discussions lead by Raven revolve around neocolonialism and its modern cousin-- gentrification. She strives to increase and motivate youth involvement within social justice movements through self-advocacy. If there is anything that we learned from Raven was that where we are from should not, and will not, dictate where we’ll go.
by Raven Rodriguez
I navigate predominantly white spaces frequently. On those days I am comfortable knowing my neck is decorated with parts of my identity. I wear my nameplate to meetings. I wear it during lectures. On the days I am fortunate enough to be in spaces with faces that look like mine, I wear it as a symbol of representation.
When people ask me about my nameplate I want to tell them my story. How like most girls from the hood, my nameplate represents my coming of age. I want to tell them how devastated I was when I lost my first nameplate. How it was a boy who did pull-ups on street signs and took me to city island on one of our first dates, who said: “you need a nameplate” and replaced it.
Sometimes people will ask me about my nameplate and we’ll fall into a discussion over how they believe fictional white characters like Carrie Bradshaw “coined” the style. Sometimes I can follow someone’s eyes down my neck and watch the sociopolitical implications flood their eyes. Where I must be from, what I must sound like, who I must be. What I have learned is how most of their assumptions are correct. My nameplate is a symbol, an emblem of the hood I grew up in. Like a flag, it is my declaration of pride, and I wear it around my neck.
I added ’The Bronx’ to my necklace collection because just like my name it is a major part of my identity. When people ask me about The Bronx necklace around my neck I want to tell them that I am a third generation Puerto Rican from the Bronx. That my loved ones lived through the total economic collapse of their borough. I want to tell them that my grandparents/aunts/uncles were not savages who burned buildings and shot heroin. That they were victims of white collar crime that destroyed their homes in the 1970’s.
I want them to know that I am from a city once burned by white men who bought buildings from struggling landlords and did not care that they were occupied by families, and brilliant artists before destroying them for insurance payoffs. I want to tell them that my home is an incubator for music, art, and culture. The literal birthplace of hip-hop, surrounded by a tangle of highways and a beautiful waterfront used as a garbage dumping ground by city officials for generations.
When people ask me about my necklace, I will tell them that gentrification is not a new concept. That The Bronx has been burned and rebirthed, we have survived many times over. That our history cannot be erased or rebranded. When someone asks me about my necklaces, I will tell them how I think of them as the intersection of identity and language meeting around my neck, resting above my heart.