Surprisingly, sometimes, being part of the leadership of a non-profit can lead to receiving invites to galas, embassies, interesting White House events and Historical Mansions. Being part of non-profit management may not put you in the back room with the Goldman Sachs folks who ostensibly run this country but you get a few perks. Especially, if represent he “Token” goto person (for the powers that be) on certain topics-whether it’s Latinos/Hispanics, HIV/AIDS, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and so on. Look at how Neil deGrasse Tyson, renowned physicist –or rather renowned Black astrophysicist- ends up on all type of shows from Real Time with Bill Maher to the Daily Show to being regularly featured on PBS NOVA documentaries. He grew up in the Bronx so I feel a certain kinship with him (well, very small kinship).
Recently, I have attended several events at Gracie Mansion in New York City and the US White House as a “Latina”. Now, before my venture to Gracie Mansion as an “executive” I was most familiar with it from the Ghostbusters movie perspective- When the ghostbusters were trying to convince the mayor to take their ghost concerns seriously. Also, now that I am a mother I have become familiar with a book series called The Ghost of Gracie Mansion where while the children of the house search for an underground passageway they encounter lurkers-ghosts. Take into consideration, that the Mansion was originally built in 1799 and has undergone various uses and owners and is bound to have its share of ghosts and goblins. Alas, I am very sad to report that during my visit to the mansion I encountered no other-worldy ghosts. Of course, I came across several old Ghosts of the field-but that is another story. Maybe If I had enjoyed more of the wine, I would have a different blog experience to write about.
Gracie Mansion is the official residence of the Mayor of New York City and many of us New Yorkers do remember the oddness of Giuliani’s residential problems that arose when he was in the midst of divorcing his wife, local news reporter Dana Hanover. See, while he was divorcing his wife he was already dating Judy Nathan (who has since gone on to become his new wife). Despite their close relationship she could not live with the Mayor at the Mansion since there are strict rules about who can sleep there. Hmm could the White House use some of those rules as well? Interestingly and ironically, our semi-tabloid the New York Post got its start at Gracie Mansion. Our current Mayor, Mr. Bloomberg who is divorced and has been associated with numerous girlfriends including the magnificent Diana Ross, does not live at the Mansion and just uses it for official meetings and events. Kind of a strange place, all around, to call one’s home especially in light of the restrictions placed on one’s semi-permanent overnight guests. It’s interesting that Congressman Weiner has had his eye on Gracie Mansion for many years, yet that sexting scandal did him in. I hope all candidates realize that if you run for Mayor you are bound to not call that place your home. Good luck with that.
But, what is interesting for me throughout all these events is my presence as a Token. What does it mean when you are invited to events as an expert on a particular topic-but you are an expert through the lens of who you are based on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender? The Southpark animated series hit the nail on the head when they named one of their characters “Token”. Token is a member of the 4th grade class, the richest kid in South Park and also the only Black kid.” When he gets hit by Cartman, the incident becomes a major event because of Token’s token status.
In the professional world, the word Token is often substituted with the phrase expert consultant, expert, community member/representative, key informant or cultural insider. In the past year, I have been labeled in such way and invited to attend about 15 meetings. The funny thing is that the same people –tokens/experts- get invited to meetings over and over again. It’s an industry circuit of Tokens. At what point does anyone have anything new to say? Can you be a constant expert/meeting-attendee and even represent the so-called community anymore? Before some people even say a word, I can tell you exactly what they will say or how they will posture.
Being an industry Token is like being on a never-ending carousel: same riders and same music. It actually reminds me as well of the “Loko” bus that tourists got on in Curacao. The bus was such a heightened stereotype portrayal in some ways with salsa blaring and extreme zaniness and dancing to accompany the music. I have been in meetings where the other Tokens get mad at me for not being Token enough. Yup. This is the deal. One is not only invited because of the box one is put into, but once invited to the table you have to keep to the script. Nah, doesn’t quite work for me! But such dissension can cause animosity and rancor. Such dissension can cause one to be at the center of Token-driven mobs. This reminds me of the movie Elephant Man.
The Elephant Man is chased, unmasked, and cornered by an angry mob, at which point he cries out
“I am not an elephant! I am not an animal! I am a human being! I … am … a … man!”
Well, here I am to state “I am not a token. I am not a broken record. I am a human being. I am a proud Latina that need not toe the line” But, please do keep sending me the invitations to the Cool Table whether it’s at a Mansion, White House casting party and so on. I promise I will behave……according to my principles. Salut!