Identity. The interwoven characteristics of the human mind and body—visible and unseen, voiced and unsaid, inherited and assumed— that make us who we are. To poet/performer, Paula Ramirez, identity is inextricably linked to more than just her sex, gender, age, or ancestry: it is the synthetic expression of the culture which she inhabits and how it colors the body and mind; and her work soulfully embraces unpacking the often-unspoken ideas of self.
Wildspice recently had the opportunity to speak with the artist about poetry, the creative process, and her upcoming performance piece, SIS HER HOOD.
For those who aren’t familiar with you, please tell us a little about your work.
I am a literary artist invested in the educational success of young people, specifically those of color. I am a poet whose love for the people is desperate, deep-rooted, and evident. I have written and co-produced shows throughout NYC as part of the poetic duo, The Delta.
Why “SIS HER HOOD”? What does that mean?
SIS HER HOOD is a play on words describing my experiences being a 25-year-old Latina New York Native. I feel I have reached a vital point in my life where it’s necessary not only to celebrate being a woman, but to honor the elements of womanhood that have enabled to me to grow from a young girl into a sexy, confident, young woman. SIS is the first act, which describes my experience as a feminist, and claiming my Black Latina identity. HER is the second act, which consists mostly of living in my own head, being in love, going through adversity; recognizing all of the accomplishments and all of the setbacks that have made Paula Ramirez. HOOD is the final act, which expresses the experience of being a New Yorker, and the role that the city has played in defining my womanhood.
What themes or issues are you addressing in this project?
Racism, oppression, the transcendent power of love, surrealism, and feminism,
What do you hope to accomplish with SIS HER HOOD?
My dream of sharing my experience with other artists is one of the greatest things I can accomplish with this show. At the end of the day, poetry is a means to tell a story, and if I could get a chance to share my story and have people fuck with the vibe that we’ve created, then I’ll be able to sit back and call it a success.
What kind of role does feminism play in your work?
I never intentionally tried to be labeled as “feminist” through my performances or my poetry, but I recognize that being a woman is a huge influence on my work. SIS HER HOOD describes these influences and how they have shaped my life and my moral compass.
In your mind, who would benefit the most from experiencing SIS HER HOOD? Why?
SIS HER HOOD was a show created in mind for the young creative who finds difficulty [in] balancing the complex duality of being a socially-conscious and giving individual, while preserving a sense of self that isn’t afraid to believe in the idea of their own greatness. A lot times when we talk about feminism—or womanhood—we are self-aware of our confidence for fear of coming off as selfish or cocky. I think that the ability to share your truths, own them, and love yourself despite their outcomes is true creativity. This show is also for people who want a chance to experience multiple aesthetic mediums all at once (i.e. sound, visual art, and word play.)
What sparked your initial interest in spoken word poetry? Have you explored other creative avenues?
I have always been heavily influenced by music (specifically early ‘90s-‘00s hip hop and R&B). There was a cadence and syntax that stood with me. Even now I can’t necessarily tell you the name of a song, but the lyrics and the rhythm of the words is what usually leaves a lasting impression. In middle school, I discovered spoken word and the art of literature, in general. I connected what was going on in English class (1984 and Nikki Grimes) to things that were happening in my own life. I saw poetry as a means to describe my experiences and found it to be the ultimate healing. I write short stories and collaborate with friends but spoken word will always be my favorite medium.
Several of your closest friends are involved with the realization of this project. Can you describe some of the joys and obstacles in working creatively with your friends?
Working with my friends is not a concept that’s new for me. Most of my projects— whether with The Delta or solo—have involved my friends on some level or another. I am blessed to be friends with a network of remarkably talented, young New Yorkers who are just as hungry, and who motivate me to push my artistic boundaries. It’s challenging sometimes when you know how excited you are about a concept, and not sure how your friend will assess your work. But I know that a huge part of creativity is trust and, luckily, the artists featured in this show are people who I trust most with my life.
Professionally speaking, what is your greatest challenge?
I guess I have a hard time trusting my creativity. It has been a long road to figure out how to listen to my artistic intuition and trust that the result of that is something that’s dope and that people can relate to. Most of the time I try to remind myself that writing is as fun as you make it and that people will relate to your words if you trust in your own process.
Following "Sis Her Hood", what is next for you?
I am constantly coming up with ideas for new projects and, of course, writing poetry is a constant. The Delta is a force that is committed to poetic empowerment in the uptown literary scene. I work as an administrator in a middle school in The Bronx. I’m invested on making this a successful school year for the families in our community. Working on my mental and physical health is something that I’ve recently forced myself to be conscious of. I am getting old after all.
Lastly, what does “wild” mean to you?
“Wild” is the ability to be a free thinker and the ability to move freely in society. It’s the curly strands of hair that refuse to strengthen themselves even after Mami has paid for a 2 hour salon experience including doobies and head wraps. It’s what men call me after hearing my Bronx accent and the raw in my heart when I politely decline their advances. It’s what my grandmother used to say about my uncle when he sped out of her driveway down to the nearest highway not to be heard from for the rest of the night.
SIS HER HOOD debuts Saturday, December 5th (7-9pm) at
Alphabet City Sanctuary (638 E 6th St, New York, NY),
with a second performance on Friday, December 18th (7-9pm) at
Sweet Water Yoga and Fitness (876 Gerard Ave, Bronx, NY)
Interview and text by Ricky Goldman (_@rosetintedworld)
Photos by Chelsea Smith (@chelseasmith_)