The Story of an Afro-Taina

Teresita “La Tere” Ayala

Teresita “La Tere” Ayala

Jacklyn Nowotnik, Editor in Chief

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A cultural activist, artivist, urban healer, performer, mentee, mentor, global citizen, first-generation, daughter, sister, Afro-Taina are just some of the words Teresita “La Tere” Ayala would use to describe herself.

Her story is one that is continuously in the making and influenced by Puerto Rican historical events both in Puerto Rico and here in the United States.

Ayala was born to Puerto Rican native parents. Her mami (mother) from San Lorenzo, a more indigenous area, and her papi (father) from Carolina, a high Afro-Puerto Rican area. Her parents were teachers in Puerto Rico and migrated to Chicago, specifically to become Chicago public school teachers in Humboldt Park, in the 1970’s for Oscar Lopez’ push for bilingual education.

“They wanted to bring teachers that could connect with the language issue that was going on,” said Ayala.

Growing up in Humboldt Park, going to Jose de Diego Elementary School and Clemente High School, and in a household of educators really shaped her upbringing. Ayala believed that she grew up “half privileged.” She described it as having access to resources because her parents were middle class and were familiar with their community’s opportunities and afterschool programs. Therefore she could navigate the system better.

However, due to the gang violence in relation to the murder of one of her papi’s students in the mid 1990’s, “we go from being a resource to then having to need resources,” therefore making her life not privileged. Despite this, Ayala said that her experiences growing up have made her both street and book smart.

She can’t say that there is any one thing that her family influenced in her life’s work, because it all has been influenced by them. Everything from mami telling her every morning before school, “Tu ere’ una campeona” (You’re a champion) to papi often reminding her “Nosotros no te tuvimos pa’ cortarte las alas, tu tiene’ a volar” (We didn’t have you to cut your wings, you have to fly).

That influence went beyond her immediate family and seeped into her identity, starting with her great aunt, Titi Lah who explained that Ayala was a testimony of everything her ancestors went through because her linage made it across the ocean and sprouted in Puerto Rico.

“Yeah I’m Afro-Taina, and I’m proud and this is exciting. We’re the hot thing on the block, but I’ve been the hot thing on the block because I’m in two spaces and can go back and forth,” said Ayala.

Having such a sense of orgullo (pride) as an Afro-Taina and as a servant leader created a genuine appreciation for her travels across the globe, the cultures she’s experienced, the people and mentors she’s met along the way.

“I’ve been able to identify with all these cultures, in the smallest ways, in the biggest ways,” said Ayala. She explained that through traveling she found black magic everywhere.”

It’s not not about being black or white, it’s about being open to differences, knowledge and love.

“Porque somos la gente del pueblo, del mundo,” (We are people of the world). This mentality lead her to identifying as a global citizen but it’s also lead to her art activism, or artivism, as Ayala likes to call it.

In 1997 she joined Rebel Diaz, which she refers to as a revolutionary or conscious hip-hop group. She worked with them until 2011. One of the projects she is most proud of while a part of Rebel Diaz was starting the Rebel Diaz Art Collective (RDAC) in the Hunts Point neighborhood of the south Bronx.

Ayala explained that at that time in 2007, Hunts Point was one of the poorest neighborhoods in the area, which was why it was so important to get the community directly involved to remodel and open it as a multi-purpose art space. Since then, the space has been used to put on performances according to the community’s needs.

Around the same time in 2007, Ayala along with Kathleen Adams, founded Momma’s Hip Hop Kitchen (MHHK).

This, according to their website, was a “response to the commercialism of hip-hop by corporate America.” Ayala explained that MHHK is an annual event that takes place at Hostos Community College in New York and is “social justice platform for women.”

It is a one day concert that incorporates all the elements of hip-hop and showcases mainly women of color, but is open to local, international, intergenerational women in general.

The only condition to performances is that they aren’t industry or demeaning toward women. In addition to that, MHHK also has onsite HIV/AIDS testing with referrals for help if needed.

“We are conscious to make sure that what we’re brining is going to feed them and it’s going to be medicine to help heal the community through art,” she said.

Ayala is currently working on planning MHHK’s 10th year anniversary and working with youth as an Emotional Intelligence teacher at a Chicago high school. When she has some down time she enjoys making jewelry, listening to Cultura Profetica (a Puerto Rican reggae band) and reading about restorative justice.

Regardless of what she is doing or what project she is working on, her efforts focus on sharing and love. She said, “But ultimately it’s love, the lack of or the need for, and being that light or being that love cause we can.”

Fore more information about Ayala’s music and MHHK, please visit http://www.lahtere.com/ and http://www.mhhk.org/

Teresita “La Tere” Ayala

Teresita “La Tere” Ayala
En Paseo Boricua

Teresita “La Tere” Ayala
Teresita “La Tere” Ayala

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