I met her on March 31st, 2007, performing at a community event for teen and pregnant moms in the South Bronx. She was wearing a green vest that matched her army camouflage hat which hid the curly hair that she would puff into an Afro before every performance, giving homage to all the revolutionary women that came before her; iconic symbols of black feminism and Latina womanist like Angela Davis, Assata Shakar and Lolita Lebron . Her voice and the Afro combined resurrected the female goddesses within every woman at her events and workshops. It became the symbol of women’s liberation and empowerment of both the hip hop scene and social justice movement of New York City.
I would see her again three months later at the United States Social Forum under the Peoples Tent, singing to over 10,000 people, “La Mujeres en la lucha no nos pueden parar suban su bandera al alto vamos a representar, the women in struggle can never be stopped , I get in my guerilla zone ready to die for all my people”. The song “ Otro Guerillero”, penetrated Atlanta and all the young women became soldiers in her army, ready for the war she was waging against this unjust world!
Where ever I saw her, the people would be mesmerized at the conviction in her voice and the power of her spirit when she held the mic and looked you in the eyes. It was as if she was singing into your heart preparing you for the revolution. Except, the war she was preparing for was not the war outside of her, instead, the conviction in her voice was the war that was being waged inside of herself.
Teresita Ayala Nunez is her name but she has been hiding behind “Lah Tere” her performance name for the past five years. “Teresita Ayala sings but Lah Tere is a rapper. Singing is a natural talent, it’s my own health care system my emotional release, I sing because it heals me, rapping however, is an acquired skill I use it to capture peoples life stories, and pull youth into other outlets instead of drugs and alcohol,” explains Teresita, 31 year old organizer activist and artist
Lah Tere is one of three members in the group Rebel Diaz in the South Bronx, internationally known for their ability to use hip hop as tool in the larger struggle to fight oppression. As a performer Lah-Tere has traveled all over the world empowering women throughout Germany, Spain, Venezuela, Guatemala, Puerto Rico and Chile , connecting global and world movements to the local inner city issues of Detroit, Atlanta, the South Bronx and Chicago where she was born. Lah-Tere has been interviewed by hundreds of people internationally. She has been described as a powerhouse, an Afro-Boricua sister whose voice is a mix between Queen Latifa and La India all rolled up into one. She sings about gender inequality, domestic violence, immigration, housing, rape, police brutality, environmental justice and against the many wars on women’s bodies , minds and spirits.
However, at more than 300 pounds Teresita doesn’t believe what anyone writes about her because when she looks in the mirror she does not see herself that way. “ I am a performer, what people see is an amazing theatrical skill, a performance, inside though, I am thinking about how am I going to get my family out of poverty, alcohol and drugs” says Lah Tere “What people don’t know is that my biggest challenge is my weight, I have had to transcend sexism in the male world of hip hop, it hasn’t been my looks that got me here. For all the interviews I have done no one really knows me, Teresita Ayala Nunez “, adds Tere.
Tere as her closest friends and family call her, is the girl that takes five hours and ten outfits later to get on the stage. The girl that throws her clothes against the wall, the girl that wants to give up and has to fight the voices in her head before every event. What people don’t see is the girl that cries to sleep, prays to her ancestors and struggles because she believes that she is not worth the Freedom she sings about.
Tere is the daughter of once, prominent community members, teachers and activist, Puerto Rican immigrants who fell prey to and became victims of the system. At 31, she stares at me with teary eyes trying to capture and find words to describe the reality she has been running away from for so many years. “This is hard because in my music I tell other peoples story and now I am learning how to tell my own”, Tere says. Homeless at sixteen, she had to leave for college without any support because she would be less of a burden to her family. A month before graduation Tere had to leave college to support her alcoholic mother and heroin addicted dad from death and relapse, never returning to graduate and hold her diploma.
Since then, Tere has lived in over 10 cities, creating extended families wherever she went. Her experiences have resulted in two mix tapes, three Women in Hip Hop annual events under the founding of Momma’s Hip Hop Kitchen in New York and the Rebel Diaz Arts Collective (RDAC) in the Bronx where she links popular media examples of violence against women too often normalized and naturalized in popular culture to women issues globally. She is an inspiration because she is the voice of the underground.
“Move to the rhythm that we call resistance, dance and move, freedom comes through…” these are lyrics to her remix of If I can’t dance I don’t want a part of your revolution.
That is what she wants for herself adn women all over the world she wants them to move and dance, to be free. She believes her music can liberate women. “There are so many women in my situation, without choice, so I decided to let the world educate me and in turn I could gather stories and use my voice to help women find out their cultural heritage, to give their stories voice. I want women to know where they came from because education is something no one can take away from them”, adds Teresita
There is silence in the room before she adds that she has nothing to loose, that’s why her voice is so big, “it’s easier to speak for other people even though inside I’m voiceless.”
This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future, which is providing rigorous web 2.0 and new media training for 30 emerging women leaders. We are speaking out for social change from some of the most unheard regions of the world.
Take action! This post was submitted in response to Voices of Our Future 2011 Assignment: Profiles.