Sandra Garcia Rivera talks feminism, culture

Sandra Garcia Rivera talked last Thursday as part of a feminist lecture series presented by the Women’s and Gender Studies department at Sonoma State University. 

Rivera talked about issues such as culture, race and gender issues. She also read several poems during the lecture. 

Rivera is an award-winning poet that  has traveled all over the world, performing her poetry in Cuba, Great Britain and Puerto Rico. 

She is a co-founder of an all-woman Afro-Puerto Rican and Dominican music ensemble called Yaya. In addition, Rivera does community work with young women.    

Rivera grew up in New York and was  born from Puerto Rican immigrants. She describes herself as Nuyorican, a combination of New Yorker and Puerto Rican. 

She talked about her Puerto Rican heritage. It is both a beach culture and a mountain culture. “We like to move and shake,” she said.

She has taken on several careers throughout her life. “Get used to having more than one career,” she said while warning the students in attendance. 

Her first career was actually tech- based. “I can put all of this together,” Rivera said while  motioning to the computer behind her.

Her poetry has several influences including the early 80s hip-hop movement in New York. 

 “I was influenced by early hip-hop but I am not a rapper or hip-hop dancer,” said Rivera. She is also a fan of Afrobeat, a combination of traditional Ghana music, jazz, highlife, funk, and chanted vocals, fused with percussion and vocal styles. Rivera blends multiple languages into her poetry. 

She goes to English, Spanish and African-Spanish. She said there is an important relationship between Africa and Puerto Rico. “Music is informed by languages from all over the world,” Rivera said. Rivera loves the mixing and changing nature of language. “I love slang. We’re reinventing language. It is an affirmation of our creativity.”

Rivera discussed inspirations for her poems. She talked about to listening a group of teenage girls smack talk their friend. 

Another is watching a guy watching YouTube videos of people fighting. “The core of the creative process is story,” she said.

Rivera discussed about the boundaries she had to push to get to where is today. “My whole life I pushed back. You can’t because you’re Puerto Rican. You can’t because you’re white. You can’t because you don’t have enough money. You can’t because you’re too short.”

Rivera talked about Feminism and how she is feminist. “All the ways I push back where women aren’t seen, is where I practice… I am walking the line with what it is okay for a woman to share.” 

She said it’s okay for women to be singers and dancers, but traditionally not much else. “Musical jobs are given to men. Drumming and percussion are not a woman’s job.” 

She goes on to talk about the importance of women playing music. “When women get on stage people pay attention.”

Rivera self-published two chapbooks of her poetry. Chapbooks are small self-made books, normally made of paper and spinals or stables. Rivera said, “I believe in making things by hands as an artist.”