Isabelia

The Feministing Five: Isabelia Herrera

Since taking over as the Music Editor at Remezcla, the popular English-language publication covering Latinx culture, 25-year-old Isabelia Herrera has hugely increased the visibility of her section, guided a collaboration with NPR, hosted the site’s inaugural music podcast, and overseen Apple Music’s first partnership with a Latino curator. She’s written about everything from the history of musical movements in Cuba to the blessings of sad girl reggaeton. Isabelia’s passion, hard work, and dedication earned her a spot on this year’s Forbes 30 Under 30 in Media.

I had the pleasure of catching up with Isabelia for this week’s Feministing Five about the complexities of representation, the party music that gives her hope, why we need to center the voices of women of color more than ever, and more. Catch Isabelia on Twitter and talking everything from punk, electro, and music to fuel the resistance over at Remezcla.

Senti Sojwal: What drew you to music journalism? What are the joys and challenges of your work?

Isabelia Herrera: Interestingly, I never thought I was going to be writing about music. In college, I was part of a radio program and living in New York, and really drawn to the underground scene. I was really interested in discovering new music growing up. Still, I never thought I would be a critic. I loved the ways music taught me about identity, about gender, about race, and the ways that music was a lens to see the world through. I feel like I came to music initially because I was interested in pursuing a career in academia, and a lot of the work I was doing was about race and gender. I used music as a way to study those things. Eventually, I was working as a research assistant at the Dominican Studies Institute at City College, and I was really grateful for that experience. I learned so much. I really wanted, though, to transition into telling stories about people, and about music, instead of analyzing music. That’s how I got into music writing. Music has always been a huge part of my life. As for the joys and challenges, there are so many! I think we’re living a musical moment where anything we want to listen to is at our fingertips. We can discover music from any part of the world and hear it immediately, even if we’ve never been there. I think that’s both a blessing and a curse. We can have conversations about those things so quickly that sometimes it’s hard to keep up, but at the same time I think it makes it so exciting to be a music fan because there is so much to discover and learn about, and so much we can teach others about. I think it’s hard to keep up with that conversation sometimes, but I’m so grateful to be a part of it. Writing about Latinx artists can be tough, because our identities are so central to the music we create, but we’re often reduced to our identities as well. The challenge of being someone who tells stories about these artists is that I need to speak to their culture and speak to the ways their identities influence their work without reducing them. It’s hard because mainstream publications often do that for Latinx artists. I think we have a responsibility to not do that as a publication that’s supposed to be an authority on those artists.

Senti Sojwal: I recently listened to a great Code Switch episode where they discuss the “explanatory comma” — basically, the question of how much a minority should have to explain something to a white person that they may not have familiarity with. For example, Bollywood, Tupac, certain foods. How do you navigate use or non-use of the explanatory comma in your work at a Latinx-centered publication?

Isabelia Herrera: I think that’s such an important question especially now in our current political climate. I think for Remezcla specifically, we are a Latinx publication and we are writing for Latinx communities. We take pride in our editorial voice. We write in English, but we might do Spanglish or slang if that’s the right fit. I think our voice is very much about not explaining ourselves to others, it’s about celebrating who we are. I think we write in a way that’s informal, but informative — I always say it’s like you’re talking about Latinx culture with your best friend. I think it’s hard to navigate because our culture is so diverse, like if we use Mexican slang someone from the Dominican Republic won’t necessarily get it. I think it requires a happy medium, a balance where you’re providing cultural and historical context for whatever you’re writing about, but you’re also speaking to it from a personal perspective.

Senti Sojwal: In a recent article, you wrote about finding solace in politically inclined music that soothes your fears and gives you hope. The going’s been rough for a lot of us — what music have you been turning to lately to give you some light in all this darkness?

Isabelia Herrera: Right after the election, I was listening to a lot of Helado Negro, who we’ve written about a lot. He’s an Ecuadorian-American singer who has a style we’ve often described as “avant-bolero”. He has this very particular style with such longing and melancholy, but at the same time it’s really electronically-driven. It almost has a lullaby quality. Something he’s said in the past is that lullabies are supposed to soothe the people who are singing them at the same time that they soothe the people they’re being sung to. His music is really powerful in that way, and so celebrates being Latinx. It helped me get through the election so much. Surprisingly, right after the election I found that I wasn’t really listening to any music with soft textures. I was listening to a lot of party music – a lot of pop, reggaeton, as kind of a salve or band-aid on the wound. I’ve been trying to stay positive. Recently, in the past week, I’ve been listening to a lot of Aphex Twin’s 1994 album “Selected Ambient Works Volume II”. It’s only now that I’m getting into these ambient textures and quiet, soothing music.

Senti Sojwal: I saw a tweet you posted about some of the signs you saw at the Women’s March — one was explicitly political and a call to action to demilitarize pacific Asia, and the other said “fight like a girl”. You put a confused / thinking emoji in there, which I found totally apt. Can you share some of your experience at the Women’s March, and what some of your takeaways were?

Isabelia Herrera: I think what I’ve been trying to do is honor the perspectives of women of color who attended, whether they had a positive experience and they felt empowered in that space, or whether they were reluctant to participate for whatever reason, like fear of being excluded. I attended the Women’s March in New York. I think this is such an important political moment, and I’m grateful to see that people are so inspired to take action. I do think that the action we’re taking isn’t the route for everybody. In DC, Janet Mock said something that really stuck with me: our approaches need not be the same, but they must be intersectional and inclusive. I was really grateful that a lot of the leadership of the march was handed over to women of color activists and organizers. I do still understand women of color who may be reluctant to participate. There were a lot of people who were new to activism there. I think people come into their activism for different reasons, and I appreciate people feeling politically empowered. We should honor that. I do think there needs to be, though, a lot of self-education. People need to go out and learn and read about what people of color have been doing forever, and learn about why some women of color were skeptical to attend the march. In that specific moment, with the two different signs, one sign represents an academic background and commitment to and knowledge of a specific subject area, while the other may represent someone just coming into their feminism. I think there should a space that those two people can share and learn from each other. I worry a lot because so many signs were really focused on women’s reproductive organs — “pussypower”, that sort of thing — and I think we need to take a second and consider how that excludes trans people. We have to take a step back and think about how to be inclusive in the movement in general. If we don’t, we risk our feminism becoming neoliberal, becoming individualized, becoming more about personal success than collective power.

Senti Sojwal: What are your hopes for the future of Latinx and POC centered media in the coming year?

Isabelia Herrera: I think this year I’m most excited by seeing Latinx people in media doing things for other Latinx people. I’m so inspired by people who are writing about their identities and making things that speak to others, that make them feel represented and supported. I am worried about the expansion of Latinx media reducing our identities in ways that are scary. I don’t think that we should be reduced to memes about tacos and chancletas. I think my hope is that this year we can build even more of an infrastructure for Latinx creators to be writing, making, and producing things that are for other Latinx people.

Photo: Elena Mudd

NYC

Senti Sojwal is an India born, NYC bred writer, reproductive justice activist, and feminist organizer. She graduated with a BA from Hampshire College in Gender Studies & Politics, and has worked with NARAL, The Civil Liberties & Public Policy Program and its sister program PopDev, and has written on feminist issues for Mic, Bustle, and What NOW, the blog of the National Organization for Women's NYC chapter. She currently works at Sakhi for South Asian Women, an advocacy organization that supports immigrant survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence through an array of culturally competent services and programs. Senti loves 90s pop, a bold lip, and is always hunting for the perfectly spicy Bloody Mary. She lives in Brooklyn.

Senti Sojwal is a writer, reproductive justice activist, and feminist organizer based in Brooklyn, New York.

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