Organic Melinda

healthy living with a Latin twist


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Day 24 – Mujeres Poderosas – Raquel Z. Rivera

To my Little Purple Wolf,

You went down the slide in the park ALL by yourself, today. I saw your light and independence shine, shine, shine!

I am so excited to see you become such an independent and fun loving little girl.

Right now, you are learning animal sounds with grandma. She has taught you how to meow, woof, and aaahoooo.

I love watching the two of you interact.

Seeing your eyes shining bright reminds me of one of the most influential women in my life since my undergraduate career and today’s Mujer Poderosa, Raquel Z. Rivera.

Raquel is the first woman of Puerto Rican descent that I met who earned a PhD.  I was her student at the “From Hip Hop to Reggaeton” course taught at Columbia University during my sophomore year.

Raquel and her baby boy. Photo taken by Catarina Dos Santos.

At that time, Raquel was a recent PhD who had just published her work “New York Ricans from the Hip Hop Zone.” She was highly influenced by the work of Juan Flores, and I was thrilled to learn that one could pursue work on hip hop at the PhD level.

At that point in my life, I knew I wanted to get a PhD, but I didn’t have much of an understanding of what that entailed.

After taking her course, I continued to maintain a relationship with Raquel, where she served as a mentor and guide through my undergraduate career, my graduate studies, and today.  She remains one of the biggest supporters of my decision to pursue higher education and has been a recommender for many of the programs I have had the privilege of being accepted into.

Not only is Raquel an accomplished scholar, she is also an incredible musician.  Her album,  Las 7 Salves de  la Magdalena, with Ojos de Sofia pays tribute to traditional Dominican musical forms with a twist.  On top of becoming a mom recently and moving all the way to New Mexico from New York, Raquel has been working on new songs that are part of the series “Las Décimas del Amargue & Other Songs of Love and Bitterness,” which will move away from common musical tropes of heartbroken women as empty and lost without a man.  She even has a recent article due to be published in the Latin American Music Review.

Raquel, like Isabel, remind us that you can be a scholar, a woman, mother, and artist without having to compromise yourself and your integrity.

She is a woman you should admire for her kindness, willingness to help her community, and her extreme talent.

I can only hope that you will find mentors and educators as forthcoming and dedicated to the better of their communities like I have in Raquel.

With Gratitude,

Mami Loves You

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About this Series:

In honor of Latino Heritage Month, I will write 30 letters for 30 days to my beautiful daughter. This series is entitled, Mami Loves You. In these letters, I will tell her about the world around her, and reflect on her development.

Each Tuesday and Thursday, I will honor a Latina woman that I believe is a great role model for my daughter to admire. Through these letters, I pay homage to my role as a mother, and I will teach my daughter about one of the cultures that has birthed her.

To Subscribe to the series Mami Loves You, follow the link: http://mamilovesyou.com/ and fill out the form.

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Capoeira é Meu Amor (Capoeira is my love)

Sem capoeira eu não posso viver
Sou peixe fora do mar
Passarinho sem voar
Dia sem escurecer

Without capoeira, I cannot live
I am a fish outside of the ocean
A bird without flight
Day without night

Capoeira is, in so many ways, my life force.  Without capoeira, so much of my life would not be what it is, today. I would have never met the most important people in my life. My daughter would not have been born.  Capoeira has changed my life in the most beautiful of ways.

Capoeira is the secret to the pep in my step. It is what grounds me in the hardest of days.  Capoeira is life, love, and FREEDOM.

It is, also, of course, exercise, but so much more than that.

People have asked me how I managed to stay in shape throughout my difficult pregnancy, and how I was able to bounce back (within a year) post-partum.  Eating healthy, real food was an important part of that; however, without exercise, you’re only half way there.  Capoeira is, also, an essential part of my overall health and wellness.

In this post, I would like to share my capoeira journey with all of my awesome readers!

I began doing capoeira in August of 2009, which apparently makes it FOUR years, now.  How INSANE!

However, my knowledge of capoeira predates my actual start by over 10 years.  I began learning about capoeira when I was a child because I was born and raised in the Ironbound section of Newark, New Jersey.

I used to live right across the street from a capoeira studio all throughout elementary, middle, and high school.  I would often hear the strumming of the berimbau and the clapping hands from my backyard. I yearned to learn it, to be a part of it, to experience it; however, it just was not financially feasible for my mom to pay for the classes for me.

In 2009, I had the wonderful privilege of working as an assistant for the artist, Vikki Michalios (www.michalios.com), and her daughters were participating in capoeira in her neighborhood.  Vikki informed me that there was a capoeira club at Rutgers’ University- New Brunswick, where I was headed to in the Fall of 2009 for graduate school.

Once at Rutgers, I met Ria Das Gupta, one of the leading founders and dancers for Kalamandir Dance Co (www.kalamandirdanceco.com/), who has also been doing capoeira for many years. Ria insisted I come check out the group, Capoeira Maranhao under, then, Professor Maranhao.

After my first class, I was completely and utterly in love!

I continued to train with Professor Maranhao for the duration of my time at Rutgers, and I had two batizados with him.

my first cordao w/ Mestre Lobao

My first capoeira padrino was Mestre Lobao, who is one of the kindest souls I have met. He has so much patience with beginner capoeira students, and I was honored for him to give me my first cordao!

In the first picture, you can see that I was quite a bit heavier than in my second capoeira batizado, below.  Professor Maranhao’s intense capoeira classes surely whipped me into shape!

my 2nd Batizado with Mestre Lobao

It was through capoeira that I met my daughter’s father, a 7 year student of capoeira, Kris “Lobo Mau” Hunte.  Capoeira was a primary reason why we fell in love. With his capoeira knowledge, I was able to learn so much more of the art. We would train 6 times a week together, and it was through him that I discovered ANGOLA!

Lobo Mau and I would travel all over the place to capoeira events – Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, and Florida were just some of the states we hit up along with going to local events in New Jersey almost every single weekend.  And, it was also through him that I met my second capoeira family, Capoeira Guerreiros where I trained with Formado Negao for some time.

Capoeira Guerreiros

When I get pregnant, the capoeira community was incredibly supportive.  Teachers would modify their movements for me, and encourage me to play in the roda.  It was a great experience, as we were all determined that my daughter love capoeira even before birth.

Lobo Mau and I playing capoeira when I was about 35 weeks pregnant.

The capoeira community was so accepting of me as a new mother and a pregnant woman that Lobo Mau and I decided to have a capoeira themed baby shower where we began the event by playing in the roda together.  So, ladies, do please note that you CAN exercise while pregnant. Just be careful.

After the Newark chapter of Capoeira Guerreiros was closed for a few months, Lobo Mau joined Grupo Senzala de Capoeira, our current capoeira family, who have been just as loving, kind and accepting as every capoeira group that I have had a pleasure of visiting. The entirety of the capoeira community is constant love and acceptance with a little butt-kicking to keep you in check.

At Lobo Mau’s batizado last fall, Mestre Zumbi surprised me with a cordao to welcome me into his capoeira family, which was an incredible honor for me.  At the time, I was not sure where I would train and was very humbled by Mestre Zumbi’s immediate acceptance of my little family into his wonderful group.  Lobo Mau trains with Mestre Zumbi of Grupo Senzala, and I train with Contra Mestre Loba of Grupo Senzala.

While the number of women capoeira mestres and high-chords is still small, we are taking the capoeira world by storm! Women are definitely becoming the fastest growing group of capoeiristas and we are establishing ourselves as formidable opponents in the roda.

Evidence of this is the annual Women’s Encounter hosted by Madame from Ginga Brasil under Mestre Pinga Fogo. I had the privilege of attending this past year, and I learned so much about how women’s bodies work in the roda and how to use our bodies to help us in challenging movements, especially ones requiring the upper body.

me at the Capoeira Women’s Encounter hosted by Madame from Ginga Brasil

Capoeira is martial arts, maculele, samba, Portuguese, Brasil, music, art, freedom and so much more.  Without it, I would not be who I am today.

I am grateful to Capoeira Maranhao, Capoeira Guerreiros and Grupo Senzala for allowing me to be part of their families as I grow and become a better capoerista every day of my life.

Lobo Mau and I in samba de roda