Culture

Here’s What We’re Reading & Listening to This Month

Lead Photo: Art by Stephany Torres for Remezcla
Art by Stephany Torres for Remezcla

These are the podcasts and books we’re glued to right now. 

"So You Want to Talk About Race"

This, by Ijeoma Oluo, isn’t the type of work to rush through—that said, I’m just now hitting the halfway point. I’ve sat with chapters for days, soaking in topics. I’ll revisit passages multiple times to ensure they stick. Sometimes I repeat chapters all over again. As a white Latinx, my goal in reading Oluo’s book is to better equip myself for those difficult conversations with people whose views challenge my own, i.e. full-on racists or the “I’m not racist, but…” crowd. To get the most from Oluo’s teaching, I’m taking my time—and taking notes, too.

Black people need the help of non-black people in fighting systemic racism; the burden of change should not be on the oppressed. Oluo shares her personal experiences, which are enlightening, and guidance in addressing certain subjects; specifically, ways to reframe conversations to allow more room for learning and how to shift from angry debate to productive discussion.

Any leftist person will be familiar with a lot of the subject matter covered, but if you think you don’t need this book (or any works like it) because you’re already a self-proclaimed anti-racist, you are absolutely wrong. This kind of learning is lifelong, so regardless of your degree of experience in anti-racism, Oluo’s book will make you a better co-conspirator. —Jhoni Jackson

El Podcast de Alex Fernández

Anyone looking for laughs or commentary on pop culture through a non-U.S. perspective will surely appreciate Mexican comedian Alex Fernández’s podcast en español, dryly titled El Podcast de Alex Fernández. The second season of this podcast has been a fun distraction from the barrage of news on the ongoing pandemic and the upcoming presidential elections (important topics everyone should keep their eyes on!).

Each week, Fernández sits down with a new guest to chat about life or whatever is on their minds. In a recent episode, for example, comedian Lalo Elizarraras shared stories about what it was like to grow up in Mexico City’s infamous Iztapalapa borough and his former double life (hustling at a street market by day and masked luchador by night). Other notable guests from season two include artist Flor Amargo, who opens up on how she treats her anxiety through music, and comedian Coco Celis, who hilariously escaped debt from a pyramid scheme.

This podcast is available on most streaming platforms, with video episodes available on YouTube. —Mario Cortez

"The Young Lords: A Radical History"

The Young Lords was a youth-led Puerto Rican revolutionary organization in the 1960s and ‘70s that used dramatic action and community education to reform racist policies and provide health and social services that met the basic needs of impoverished communities of color. In The Young Lords: A Radical History, author and historian Johanna Fernández utilizes oral histories, archival records and a cache of police surveillance files to tell the story of the Chicago street gang. Specifically, how they grew into a multi-chapter social justice organization, inspired by (and in relationship with) the Black Panthers Party, that sought solutions to the diseases of poverty that blighted the lives of Puerto Ricans and Black Americans across the country.

While tales of the Young Lords have been documented—mostly in news articles that highlight the group’s militant offensives or through former members’ retellings of the movement—Fernández’s rigorously researched book offers a comprehensive account of the achievements, failures and legacy of one of the most influential revolutionary groups of the ‘60s. As the U.S. confronts worsening racial injustice and a massive health crisis, this book offers a critical look at a time of similar upheaval and how low-income communities of color came together to resist, make change, reclaim dignity and establish a new vision for themselves and our world. —Raquel Reichard

"Intergalactic Travels: Poems from a Fugitive Alien"

Through poems made of words, collages, drawings, text messages and redacted immigration forms, Alan Pelaez Lopez weaves their testimony of navigating their formerly undocumented status. The poems in this collection were mostly written between 2013 and 2015 when Pelaez Lopez was constantly traveling, searching for a lawyer that could help them initiate an immigration case that wouldn’t trigger an immediate order of removal.

The book moves through temporal domains, citing the legacy of enslavement in Mexico, Mixtec and Zapotec territories, and Pelaez Lopez’s own crossing into the US as a 5-year-old, into “a future, elsewhere.” The title poem “Intergalactic Travels” traces the crossings of other Black migrants, while “fugitive alien” makes reference to the Fugitive Slave Acts of 1793 and 1850; connecting the realities of displacement and understandings of Black and Indigenous migrants as “alien.”

The words are heavy, yet moments of joy and light often come in the guiding voice of their mother, “Mamá Maria,” whose own crossing is part of this testimony. In Spanish, English and Zapotec, this collection invites the reader to question the U.S. legal system, and witness the resilience of the poet. —Xime Izquierdo Ugaz

“For the Wild” with Ayana Young

For The Wild” highlights the coexistence of hope and dread in these tumultuous times. The podcast, which melds intersectional ecological storytelling and environmental justice, is an anthology of the Anthropocene. After tolerating my rants about environmental racism in the fashion industry, one of my best friends sent me FTW. It has fundamentally enriched how I connect with the earth and exposed me to the intricate politics behind topics ranging from herbalism to punishment.

Host Ayana Young’s interview with Chamoru poet Craig Santos Perez about his new book, Habitat Threshold, poignantly captures how harnessing language as a “vessel of revitalization” in art might “expand our web of care” to manifest necessary, radical change. Alongside this optimism, Santos Perez shares his climate change-induced anxieties as an Indigenous father whose birthplace, Guam, and current home, Hawaii, are ravaged by colonialist tourism, extensive U.S. military presence and deepsea mining plans.

Across conversations with artists and activists, this podcast fosters reflection on traditions that tend to our humanity and our planet. —Julia Pretsfelder

"The Happiness Lab"

Dr. Laurie Santos’ podcast “The Happiness Lab,” launched about a year ago and has since served as a space for the host, guests, and listeners to healthily process emotional themes in this thing called life, through knowledge and research while we “deal with [the] dumb parts of our psychology.”

In a recent podcast, the Yale professor and guests discuss the need to have a growth mindset and be better allies. In other words, as author and professor Dolly Chugh says, go from being where you’re at now to goodish (not less than good, but rather “someone who never assumes they’re good, but [always] looking for ways” to become so) and, eventually does become, good. Being an ally is in tune with the theme of happiness because, as another episode called “Help Others to Help Yourself” touches on, often one’s own happiness is directly interlaced with how willing we are to help others. Other episodes, particularly in the coronavirus bonus collection, provide thought nuggets and tips on how to deal with things like loneliness and anxiety-inducing panic scrolling.

Santos’ podcast is useful for people who want to understand why we are the way we are, do some of the things we do, and want to do and be better so to achieve the greatest (sometimes seemingly unattainable) prize of all—happiness. —Ecleen Luzmila Caraballo