saturday mornings

January 28, 2017

Saturday mornings smelled like pancakes and mistolín at our place. The record player only played boleros. The kind that had you pausing between cleaning and grabbing whatever was near you that you could turn into a microphone and sing at the top of your lungs: “Dueño de ti, dueño de nada…no soy yo, ese a quien tu le dices mi dueño…” My mother lived a lot of those songs. She would sing them like she wrote them.

“Los sabados son de limpieza y oficio,” Mami would say. As she wrapped her hair in a pañuelo, rolled up her pant legs, and slipped on her chancletas.

Saturday morning my brothers and I would wake up to the sound of Mami talking to her plants as she watered them. She’d have a couple of boxes of cereal sitting on the kitchen table with bowls and spoons. We’d serve ourselves a bowl of conflei’ con leche and sat our little nalgas in the living room floor. She’d make pancakes and eggs. Manny, David, and I would sit and watch our morning cartoon marathon.

While we did that, Mami floated around. Sometimes she was in her room, other times she’d sit and watch TV with us. She’d start writing a list of what needed to get done. And she would start cleaning her room. At 10am we knew we had to shut the TV off and start picking up our rooms.

Mami only knew how to deep clean. There was no half-ass cleaning. You either cleaned the shit outta’ something or you didn’t. She cleaned everything and she enjoyed it. She liked to move things around and make things pretty. She played with colors and themes and figurines. She would reorganize closets and drawers, change bed sheets and bathroom curtains. Mami could’ve ran a business on cleaning and organizing. My mother would make our tenement apartment feel like a 5th Avenue suite.

Once the house was clean, we had to run errands: from the cashiers check place to Con Edison to paying the guy at la bodega who let you take fiaó, she had a running To-Do-List. The routine was important for her. It kept her feeling grounded.

We’d get on the train and head to downtown Manhattan. My little feet running alongside her long strides; I held her hand tightly. She’d look at us and smile. And that is how she confirmed what we always hoped would happen at the end of errands. We knew she was going to take us to our favorite place. Our anticipation and excitement grew exponentially. We were three kids: 11, 10, and 6-years-old, so our excited energy was pretty intense.

Mami would stretch dollars just so she could take us to Playland. This was one of our all-time favorite treats. She would give us each $5 to play .25 arcade games. That was 20 games each. For my brothers, that lasted much longer than for me. But it wasplayland-rgb-1985-copy the look on Mami’s face that made me happiest. Because for her, in that moment, she was responsible for the happiness and well-being of three little lives. And in that instance, on that particular Saturday, she didn’t feel like she couldn’t provide. She didn’t feel like she didn’t have enough. No. In that moment, as our smiles grew our faces, we gave her the happiness and peacefulness of a perfect day.

Saturday morning… José José is belting El Triste and I start to clean and understand in a different light why my mother cleaned the way she did while she listened to these songs. There was some soul-cleansing happening at the same time she dusted and mopped. I’ll make sure to find a way to treat myself at the end of this day… I’ll find a way to paint smiles on the faces of others.

#52essays2017

 

 

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January 24, 2017

You know that feeling you get when you feel something eerie approaches? It’s a feeling that something bad is going to happen. It’s the feeling that sits in the back of your throat like heavy metal and then plunges like an anchor to the center of your chest?

Last week my partner described me as someone who is conflict averse. I nodded in agreement but it didn’t quite sit with me until later that evening. It made me feel some type of way when I thought about it again. I wasn’t mad at her for the comment, I was mad at myself for being that person, for so long. It’s not that I didn’t know this about myself but that I heard it out loud that triggered a series of memories.

My parents are both conflict averse. They’re peacekeepers. They’ve always said that “la gente se gana con cariño.” And so I’ve always managed to avoid conflict, even at the cost of walking away with zero fucks to give about not having engaged because it takes two to fight and my biggest battle has always been with myself. So I don’t feel the need to add another. I am the type of person who will never escalate a situation. I’m the complete opposite. If an argument or a disagreement is brewing, I start thinking immediately about how I can diffuse it before it reaches any level of discomfort or awkwardness.

The very few times I have ever exhibited a hint of conflict initiated by me, I was immediately told that it “doesn’t suit” me. I was told that anger wasn’t something that I was known for. That in fact, I was known and admired for the opposite. I was told that people have always known me to be pretty steady in character and mood; that my temperament is very relaxed even in times of stress.

I have always thought that for the most part, there wasn’t a valid reason to get worked up about things. Life is too short. I’d rather spend my days here in peace. And conflict is messy. And it takes up energy and it exhausts you spiritually and emotionally and physically. Conflict will leave you feeling defeated and deflated. Conflict is that word that by nature invokes tension. It makes the heart feel scared and confused. It makes the soul weary and the Spirit fatigued. So no, I don’t do conflict because who the hell wants to feel all that heaviness? And this is why I will do everything in my power to find my way out of the potential conflict so as to not have to feel that anchor in the center of my chest.

Pero conflict has come to me.

And it has done so in the most spiritually damaging way. This situation has me feeling anger so strongly that for the first time in a long time I feel hatred. And my thoughts lately are filled with an anger that has me outside of my skin and I no longer fit in it.

I sit with conflict in this body that feels too much. I have to figure out how to put it to work for me because right now it just feels like puro odió. It feels like hatred and evil. It feels like violence. It feels like defeat. It feels like struggle.

But I read somewhere that conflict and growth go hand-in-hand. That growth is impossible without conflict because conflict is the catalyst for change. But change is unsteady. It could also be good or bad.

You know that feeling you get that something eerie approaches…

the fire

January 12, 2017

​Most days I wake up completely exhausted. It’s not the exhaustion from not having slept enough but more like that spiritual exhaustion you get from not being able to quiet the noise in your head or the angst in your heart.

I’m an empath. I feel everything. Everything. Absolutamente todo. So when I read/see the news about what’s happening around the world or right down the street, I can’t separate myself from it. I don’t have that “outta’ sight outta’ mind” mentality. In fact, the reality that I am not there to help exacerbates my anxiety.  

Then there is this country I live in. A place my Puerto Rican grandmother came to in hopes that her family would have better opportunities; this place that didn’t witness my birth but has watched me grow since the age of five.

Based on where I grew up I wasn’t supposed to succeed. But I took advantage of many of those opportunities Abuela envisioned and some she never even imagined. 

I’ve lived in this country since I was five. I have lived through six presidents. Though I only recall five of them. My maternal family has never really been political. And one of my first memories of any political talk was abuela telling me that she never pulled a lever that said republican candidate because “esa gente no nos quiere mi’ja.” I never understood why they didn’t like us. And when I asked why, she pointed to her brown skin and said, “Porque a Dios le placio hecharnos sazón.” I loved how she said it too. So much pride in her voice –it made me feel strong. Like I was untouchable. Pero right now I feel everything but fuerte.

A fire is coming.

A fire that most of us have never witnessed. One that many thought would hopefully never come again. And I am trying to manage my sentiments and temperament around it but the reality is, this fucking sucks. For years I was an idealist. I was that little girl who always found a way to make things better. I was that teenager full of energy and a fire that blazed not to burn but to provide warmth and light.

My first career was in politics because I believed I was going to change the world. I had a fourth grade teacher tell me that I was going to be the 1st female Latina president because I never gave up. I believed that if we remained honest with each other we could overcome our differences and find the common ground in Love. But Love is hokey for many and for the Powerful it is a five letter word that grows in their bank accounts along with their hatred.

This world may want to change but the Powers that be are ruthless and heartless. Those muthafuckas’ could give three shits about any of us. That includes about most of you who voted for Voldemort.

The fire is still coming. 

And I’m trying to keep my shit together, you know? I’m trying to hold on to hope but I find myself holding on with these arms that cramp every time I hear or read another headline. I’m struggling not to let hatred enter my heart. But that has become increasingly difficult as well. While I don’t promote violence, I get why folks wanna’ hurt somebody. In my head, the idea of taking a bat and swinging for the fences is sometimes appealing because I wonder if it will take away some of this anger that’s brewing inside me like lava in a volcano that has never erupted.

I know that there are better ways to deal with this. I know I could use my writing as a weapon of mass reconstruction. I know that I could use my profession to build meaningful relationships where we can engage in conversations that can truly heal. Pero coñaso eta’ vaina no ta’ facil, no. It makes me feel helpless and hopeless. And I have never felt that way even in my darkest days –and rape is pretty fucking dark. 

So I am trying really hard to stay centered. I wake up every day and do my best to create positive changes. I ask myself, what can I do differently to uphold Love and healing, to bridge communication, to encourage conversation and promote community? But it is becoming more and more difficult to keep this once untamable Spirit fired up. The noise in this head when everything is quiet gets louder with the passing of each day.  

For now, I plan to do the only thing I know: imma’ hold on to the Love from my wife, my parents, my beautiful nieces and nephews, my siblings, my friends… I am gonna’ hold them closer. Because Love may be hokey for some or money in a bank account for others but to me Love is the only thing that is anchoring my sanity. Y anyway, Abuela said that Dios me hecho sazón. So let it burn asarozo’, because it is in the heat that we release our true essence. We thrive in the fire. We are fire. And we are here to burn. 

#52essays2017 

dye the narrative

January 4, 2017

this past fall i participated in a writing course. i did it as a way to “return to my writing.” my writing and i had a break up. and i had been in this “writer’s block” for some time that turned into days and later months. then years. it felt like an eternity since i had been able to put something together that i was proud of; something that i could read and feel good about.

created and facilitated by Vanessa Mártir, i signed up for the course: Writing Our Lives. The semester finished in early December. on the last day of class we workshopped each other’s work. we were proud of what each person had put out. and at the end, we hugged, and went our separate ways. we’ve been keeping in touch with each other. the internet makes it easy.

last week, Vanessa posted on FB that she wanted to challenge others to take on something she had done in the closing year: write one essay per week in the year 2016. she did it. literally, she wrote an essay. per week. for one year. when i read her post asking folks to consider challenging themselves,d my initial thought was like, “eta’ tipa ‘ta loca o le patina el caco’?”

but i thought about it -i literally slept on it. and i asked myself that damn question that we hate when others ask, “are you a writer?” “what qualifies you to claim the title?” “have you published anything?” the more i repeatedly asked myself these questions, the more frightened i became. often, we let others determine who and what we are. when they ask these questions, we feel inadequate because we may not meet other people’s definition of a writer.

well f*ck that. i’m a writer because i say so. my story has been published in every single step i have taken towards my truth.

i decided that i’m taking on the challenge. why? cause i’m crazy. and by crazy i mean that i know how difficult it is to write just one essay. i here i just committed to write one per week. but you know what? this SERVES me. it FEEDS me. it allows me to connect with my communities.

i write because for too long our collective stories have been silenced, omitted, and erased. our stories are too powerful and too poignant. they are needed so that we may dye the “dominant narrative.”

for too long our communities have been silenced. we have been slaughtered and the stories written said we were the ones wielding the knives. we’ve been maimed and the newspaper headlines read that it was our hot blooded temperament that created the war. even our screams have been attributed to hysteria. to some sort of “glitch in our system.”

John Leguizamo wrote an article about the detrimental effects of the “exclusion” of our communities and the “message it sends to every Latino child.” He writes about the importance of making our lives visible.

my writing is visibility and accountability. i am here to tell my story and empower others to tell theirs, so the OUR narrative reflects us in our truth. for too long they have colonized our tongues and twisted our story to create fear and hatred. the inaccuracies have portrayed us in such negative ways that we started to believe what the stories wrote about us. even our grandmothers, whose souls were untouchable, yielded to the narrative and died believing we were somehow broken.

i am here to write my story. because the power it holds is immense. i will take on this challenge because los muchachos necesitan saber nuestra verdad. they need to know that we are legendary. they need to know that we were, are, and will always be here.

our stories, the account of our events, our experiences are unique. they stand out because we stand up. i refuse to allow others to tell my story or my people’s story.  so i’m here. with pen in hand, blank pages in my notebook and a lifetime of stories to share because i am invincible not invisible.

i accept the challenge as a creative battle. with the ultimate prize of reclaiming our stories so that our children can know of the pen warriors that came to tell our truth.

#52essays2017

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image from pbs.twing