Why non-English Language Options Online Matter (or: A Bilingual Culture Nerd Walked into AlterConf)

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to speak at AlterConf, a traveling conference centered upon matters of diversity and inclusion, mainly in the tech and gaming spaces. My topic, “Opening the Internet: Looking Beyond English Dominance”, was my first ever submission of this kind and I’m grateful to the organizers for the chance. I’ve said words to a room, taught, and given presentations at school, but hadn’t presented a talk like this before. My perspective on the matter was coming more from my interest in culture, my own background in social science, as well as experience as a bilingual person, than a strictly tech basis. Yet, even while being about tech central to many of our lives, it went beyond that.

Technology is a series of tools, but we must center people in ways that we don’t always do right now. With so much creativity and the speed at which we come up with new options, sometimes we need to step back and make sure they work for as many people as possible. And if they don’t right off, have solid plans for that accessibility to come.

My conference experience was a positive one, and the day was filled with informative and even inspiring talks from different voices.

I’d like to thank my friend who shared her story with me to use, and to those who told me that this topic opened their eyes to why these options matter in our connected world. I’m looking forward to exploring these matters further. Stay tuned.

Please enjoy more talks from AlterConf NYC 2016 and from previous events at the AlterConf YouTube channel.

Why Cool For the Summer Bothers Me

Demi Lovato - Cool For the Summer artwork

Another summer, another banging pop song winds up inescapable. Over the past month, Demi Lovato released and went on promotional appearances for her latest single, “Cool For the Summer”. I think Demi Lovato is a talented young singer, and enjoy some of her past work. I own two of her albums, Demi and Unbroken, so I expected a fun little song suitable for summer dancing or workouts.

After a few listens, however, “Cool For the Summer” doesn’t sit well, and I can’t shake it. Written by a team of five, including Lovato, Max Martin, Ali Payami, Alexander Erik Kronlund, and Savan Kotecha, the lyrics aren’t pronoun-specific, but suggest a bi-curious summer fling. While there’s nothing wrong with exploring your sexuality, the tone of the lyrics point to tired old beliefs that might also be among some of the reasons more bisexual people haven’t come out, despite making up the largest slice of the LGBTQIA+ population.

The lyrics include such lines as:

I’m a little curious, too

Tell me if it’s wrong

If it’s right

I don’t care

I can keep a secret, can you?

Sure, some people might consider a fling in general as something adventurous and maybe not talk about it as much, but the other implication here is that exploring sexuality in this manner, or a bicurious experience, is something that is potentially wrong or needs to be kept secret. These sentiments simply feel stale. Our culture is far from perfect when it comes to acceptance, but I’d like to think we’ve come at least a little further than wink wink I’ve got a secret bisexual exploration. The implication continues in the rest of the song.

Don’t tell your mother

Kiss one another

Die for each other

We’re cool for the summer

Again with the whole hush hush down low thing. The rest of the song is a hooky pop craft of fun, no-strings attraction, which is a fine choice if that’s what you’re into. But I simply can’t get past the bad taste these lyrics leave in my mouth.

On #YesAllWomen

Some people question why women might feel the need to be cautious when approached. In the news today, where there is a sense of entitlement, there are real victims in California whose families have now lost them. Others face recovery and pain ahead. For many, our scars and experiences aren’t physical or visible. They might come in the form of triggers, anxiety, or even just a specific action. Reading the #YesAllWomen hashtag tonight, it’s just sad exactly how common this all is. It runs deep, across cultures, and it’s unclear exactly when it ends.

I’ve been followed by men who either later tried to ask me out (after following me around a store or for a few blocks) or who simply followed with unknown intentions. One night in 2012, I was followed by a tall man who asked me out. I turned him down, but he kept following me. He might have been a bit intoxicated. I walked faster, he continued to try to to talk to me, until I had to duck into a 7-Eleven. My pursuer then went into the store himself. Circled around. Waited. I kept to the other side of the store, listening to the innings tick away on the Yankees game on the radio. I kept him in my sight as I walked around, poured a drink, waved fingertips over chip bags. He didn’t even seem to pretend to try and buy anything. He just kind of waited, then when the clerk asked him a question, he mumbled something I couldn’t hear. I thought about asking the clerks to call the cops if this lasted much longer. Eventually, he left. I bought a drink after a few minutes, giving him time for what I hoped was him giving up and walking off into the night. I was terrified to leave because it was dark, I lived alone, and who knew if he would be waiting for me just around the wall when I left the store for the five minute walk home. Maybe he would follow me to my home. Then what? Luckily, he was truly gone.

During high school report card days, they’d make us gather in the schoolyard. The entire student body, which was approaching 2000 people when I graduated. Every report card day someone, cowardly enough to remain shielded by the crowd, grabbed my ass. The first time, it seemed accidental. It was very confusing. Then it happened the next time too. I looked around but couldn’t be sure of anything. Then again, at each report card cattle call. It happened again in the stairwell once or twice too. Similar things happened in general admission concerts, while squeezed up on the floor. It’s open season. The rapper Iggy Azalea recently said she quit crowdsurfing, has security barriers, and also wears more clothing on stage at her own concerts because men in the crowd would try to finger her. They would even declare their intentions online. Sometimes TO her. Sexual assault, entitlement, the right to women’s bodies. None of this is okay. And yet, it has lasted, culturally, for quite some time. High school wasn’t yesterday. I’m neither the first nor the last.

Years ago someone I had been friends with posted my number in places with messages. I saw some of the graffiti later and recognized the handwriting. I had recordings of him harassing me via phone and other means. I went to the cops. They refused to do anything.

Traveling alone to the subway to head to a New Year’s party when someone tried to grab me. Due to that and several events over that night, I had a panic attack.

On occasions, when having to come home late at night, I would make sure to buy a fresh Snapple before making the trip. I didn’t drink more than a sip or two. The bottles are glass, and when full, they are decently heavy and shaped to fit well in the hand. It is extremely sad and says something that I’ve ever come up with this, let alone done it at least a dozen times.

I don’t live my life afraid. I’m not a victim. Most women who have had these things happen, we just go through life. These events I’ve just written about don’t enter my thoughts too often. But whenever someone questions women’s (cis, trans, able-bodied or not)  caution when being approached, letting down men nicely or indirectly, not wanting to go home with him right off,  not wanting to have contact, or give our numbers, questions if we cross the street at night, or look behind us what seems like a few times too many, remember that these incidents aren’t isolated.

Crayola Doesn’t Make That One

I logged into MySpace today to find that they had begun listing AMBER Alerts on user home pages upon login. I took a look at the listing and noticed something.

Skin Color: Hispanic

We're a society that needs to categorize everything into easily digestible bits. Perhaps this is just one of our human characteristics. But the last time I checked, "Hispanic" wasn't a color. There is no listing for race under this child's description, and I suppose they would have put Hispanic under that listing had there been one. That wouldn't have been right either, as Hispanic is not a race, but an ethnic category.

Our skin colors range from the palest to the darkest. We may be of any race. This is something that I'm still amazed some people don't know. We are not all a certain stereotypical shade of brown. We are White, Black, Asian, and anything else under the sun. There is no one "Hispanic" skin color. It isn't a color to begin with. I wasn't sure if the designation there on the alert was a product of confusion or simple ignorance.

While I applaud the growing
inclusion of Latinos in the American collective awareness, there's
obviously still a great distance to go. Most people's images of us don't necessarily mesh with the reality of just how diverse a group we truly are. On television, we are either Ugly Betty or Dora the Explorer. What about someone like Edith González? Sammy Sosa? The range of Latino faces is so vast and rich.

The reason this got me to thinking was partly because it concerns a missing child. "Skin color:Hispanic" doesn't give a clue to what this child looks like. Who am I looking for? Is he light like me? Dark like Sammy Sosa? It's in the authorities' interest to get it right because it might help us find these kids with more accurate information.

The decrease in cultural ignorance would simply be a bonus.