My Mother’s Mother

Today the world stop turning, or at least it felt that way. As my mother informed me of her mother passing away I felt a cry, a bark, a child like screech escaped my throat. A sound not too familiar, but one that had been uttered earlier this week when my dog died. The sudden punch of anguish, the silence from the other end of the phone, the immediate incoherent thoughts and all the memories that did not come to fruition overwhelmed and clouded my vision.
Today my family lost one of the strongest women I have ever met. Petite in figure, mute in expression yet big at heart and strong in character. My mother’s mother, the woman who taught me the importance of keeping family close. Cooking, sewing and ironing; the perfect 1950’s wife. I remember her as a small figure with a big shadow. Daughter of a seamstress and a tabaco farmer, she was humble and strong. She married a man that complimented her self-esteem, her ego and her resilient character. She mothered two daughters under a no-nonsense household that was filled with eternal laughter, good food, and a sturdy matriarchy.
Today I reached for her in my memory trying to find where I placed her last. I traveled to early 1990’s when I barely knew how to write my name or understand how hard math would be for me. There she was, standing in her floral dress, in her kitchen. I heard her offer me my favorite dish, no one could ever do it like her. My memories shifted to my first security blanker, her gift to me. Later she would make sure that I got as many as I needed so as to never feel alone. I remember her passion for roses and how she built her own garden while she cared for me. She never talked about them but rather tended to them as if they were her children, as if those roses were me and my brother. My memories darken to the last time I had a fight with her, her memory started failing her. Agoraphobia took over and I no longer could see that sturdy image of matriarchy.
Today, as I silently sobbed within my state of shock I wondered when was the last time I saw my grandmother walk. As her health declined I recall helping her stand. Her inability to stay awake made her a statue-like figure in my development; always present, never moving, always resting. My grandfather would try to coax her out of her slumber. Sometimes he would compliment her beauty and how sleeping did wonders. Later she would be confined to her bed indefinitely. She would be unable to walk, talk, eat or recognize my face. All the while the world would continue moving around her. She would miss my graduations, my engagement, her husband’s diagnosis and recovery from cancer, and her husband’s decline in health. And while he laid in a similar hospital bed next to her, she would not know how much they both had changed.
Today my mother reminded me that this is what her mother would have wanted. A sturdy woman of barely 5’4 had told her daughters to be strong and to watch for her signals as she was ready to go. My mother reminded me that my grandmother, even though she could not talk, that she was aware and thankful for all that they did to keep her safe. My mother reminded me that my grandmother lived a good life surrounded by good children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.
Today, as I wave her goodbye (through no desire of my own) I let my mind wonder to the last place I loved her the most. I was 5, maybe, it was summer. I was wearing short purple flower pants and a matching blouse. I was at my grandparents house at Aguadilla. My grandmother was hanging up clothes on the clothe’s line in the backyard. Though the sun was radiant, blinding, she was shaded by the avocado trees. I stood a couple of feet from her submerged in the beauty of her garden. Roses, ferns, orchids and many other tropical flowers swayed with me as I laughed with the wind. I would sit against the house, covered by the flowers, as she completed her chores. I would look at her with love and wonder. How could this woman hold so much grace in her small hands, so much love in her smile, so much command in her eyes? The mother of my mother, what a sight to behold. What a woman to have met.
The mother of my mother, taught me the value of keeping those you love safe. She taught me the importance of planting love. She taught me the secret of grace in silence. And she taught me how to be strong in all the small ways.

Fear

I had the ‘great experience’ of breaking down on my way to work. I had the ‘great experience’ of realizing that I, as a minority, am powerless. I had the horrible experience of sitting in my fear, in my despair as I prepared to be strong for another human being.

As I read of shooting, after shooting, after shooting I am left overwhelmed. I am left powerless and afraid. I am left fearing for my life as a Latina and fearing for my partner’s life as an Afro-Latino. I am left speechless; paralyzed by fear. Afraid that if I speak too loud, if I laugh too hard, if I even enjoy my life how I want to, that my peace of mind, my life and my home will be taken away.

I live in a constant haze of white souls telling me how to act, how to talk and how to ‘properly’ relate to them in an attempt to assimilate me to their culture. Their fear of my diversity. Their fear of ‘larger than life’ personality. Their need to feel comfortable around a culture they have never been in contact with, is evident to me but not to them.

I am constantly bombarded with ‘I am a quarter black’ from a blonde man. ‘I am half Indian’ from a white female. ‘I am two-thirds Cherokee’ from a red-headed man. I am constantly bombarded with cultural appropriation, with a need to be more than just part of the white mass of the United States. I am bombarded with voices that are quick to claim their diversity but even quicker to disappear when it’s time to defend the culture they appropriated. And I find myself caught between the noise and the silence, whispering ‘It’s your heritage. Your heritage. You are not a fraction. Your blood cannot be divided into different minorities. You carry heritage not the label.’

I am perpetually in a motion of strength and weakness. I find myself puffing my chest at the mention of my heritage, my culture. I find myself defending myself and my people by showing excellence, by showing intelligence. I also find myself a ball of heaping sobs when no one is around. I also find myself in a maze of silent fear over my future, my life and my family as I co-exist in the white United States of America.  I find myself constantly code switching; constantly building and crumbling all in order to find myself safe in a land of united states but of divided people.

I live in perpetual state of wanting change and not knowing how to reach it. As a child I dreamt of being black, like my family, so that I may feel part of them and not be called ‘La blanquita’ (the white one). In this land where only the white are free, and my skin is perceived as brown, I dream of being white so that I may be heard when I speak of injustice.

I had the horrifying experience of experiencing my own minority-ness as I walked to work. I had the horrifying experience of feeling silenced and powerless. I had the horrifying experience of realizing that unless those in power stand up for justice, my people will always fall in silence.

Signing off,  TWS

[The Right] Someone

WARNING: This post is ooey-gooey and mushy with sugary rough truth bombs.

When I decided (along with my significant other) that we were going to move in together a lot of shit hit the ceiling. More shit than was necessary. Friends, family and even people who had no real weight in my life, gave their opinion. They were more negative than not. It was ridiculous.  I heard it all from living in sin to being pegged as a woman who needed a man. But none of those [unsolicited] opinions were right.

The reason I moved in with my fiancée stands in a realm much bigger than just physical intimacy or regular companionship. Our decision to move in stems from love. It stems from the overflowing joy that I get when we cuddle at night. It stems from incoherent yet comical conversations we have of whether or not The Falcon is a real super hero, or if in fact it was Qui-Gon Jinn’s fault that the Skywalker family is ruining the Galaxy far far away. Our choice to live together stems from the feeling of safety and warmth we provide each other by just simply being there. It stems from my inability to cry openly and him saying, in the gooiest voice, ‘If you need to cry, just cry’; and me being able to bawl my eyes out without feeling weak or like a failure. Our decision to move in together stems from the fact that we’ve only been together almost 3 years but it feels like there was only me with him, and everything else was just a break in reality. It stems from that one moment when we met and we knew that we were meant to be together.

I have come to realize that it seems impossible for some people to understand it. It seems difficult, in this generation (or my culture), that two people want to live together because they’re more than just lovers. Because we’re so much more; we’re bros, we’re galpals, we’re two beings intertwined into a single conversation, one body, one love.

Being with Mr. Grumpy has helped me grow and change in ways that I never thought possible. He helps me understand perspectives I am unable to see because of my stubbornness. He provides fuel to my wacky behavior. He calls me out when I’m out of line. He provides me with an anchor when my mental disorder acts up. And he is the first person to have ever accepted me unconditionally, regardless of my mental disorder, my life decisions, my past, my neurotic behavior or the fact that I threw a turnip over the shower curtain when he was taking a shower. He sees me for me; something no one has ever done.

I don’t believe in soul mates, because that would entail that you would have to be half of a person to be able to find your other half. I am full and complete. Mr. Grumpy is full and complete. However, when our paths crossed, on a rainy day, we knew that we could find solace, care, hilarity and love in each other. We found someone to provide more words to the dialogue that we as a couple have created.

Living with [the right] someone is so much more than just sex. It’s much more than just holding hands, going out and being lovey-dovey. Living with [the right] someone is being able to be you; without the social masks, the brave front or even decent clothes. Being with [the right] someone is being able to fart and him answering you back with another fart. It’s about walking around in pajamas all day and still be seen as beautiful. It’s about making weird food, that probably tastes bad, and eating together while you complain about how bad it was. Being with [the right] someone is about coming back to a place you can call home.

Signing off, TWS

P.S.1. As I wrote this I could only of one song that describes what the right someone feels like in my life (minus the fighting sequence). This song is from Steven Universe, a cartoon show on Cartoon Network. The context of this fight is that Garnet (purple lady) is a fusion of two gems (sapphire and ruby) that are lovers and have been reunited; and thus form Garnet.

I strongly suggest that ya’ll watch Steven Universe. It’s the first cartoon show, in Cartoon Network, that was created by a woman [Rebecca Sugar]. For reals! Go watch it!

P.S.2. In a world filled with casual dating and over-exaggerated Hollywood romance, people mistake abuse and possessiveness with love. It is important to catch signs of interrelationship violence as soon as it happens. This means speaking with a friend about it, talking to a counselor and even finding shelter. Please follow these links for traits of an abusive relationship and what you can do to get out of it.

Social Justice Warriors

In the same line as the last post, I’d like to talk about racial battles, discrimination and silence. However, I’d like to talk about what makes or breaks these negative actions/situations. The main point of this post is to learn how to properly communicate ideas and social change in a way that is respectful to everybody. Even bigoted people; because (even though it’s hard to believe) they are humans too.

We are all humans. We are born alike. Yet, society marks some as unfit and others as fit. These social stamps create different experiences, upbringings, beliefs, and realities for each person. This is the magic of diversity. However, sometimes, someone’s reality ends up harming another person’s reality. It can create homophobia, transphobia, racism, sexism, misogyny, etc. These are behaviors that can be modified; but not eliminated. What do I mean by that? That a behavior can be changed, can be modified, can be socially policed and stopped. However, thoughts and beliefs cannot. A belief system is built-in since childhood, it can be modified and it can be changed but only if the person who believes in it wants to change it. In other words, another person cannot step in and try to change a person’s beliefs, regardless of how wrong the person’s belief system may be. The only way a person’s belief system can be changed by another person is if said person (with the belief system) is willing to listen and consider the other person’s stance.

An example of this was the victory we recently had on equal marriage rights. It’s no longer ‘gay marriage’ but marriage. That, in itself, was a glorious day to be alive. My fellow LGBTQ folk finally can go out and marry who they want. This change brought joy to those who supported it, bliss to those it applied to but disdain to those who opposed it. The law is the law, and it cannot be bent (let’s not go into corruption, let’s keep it simple). Meaning that it is legal for same-sex partners to marry, and no bigoted person will change that. Hence, the hate may not be visible in actions, by said closed-minded people, but it is alive and burning in their thoughts. Can their beliefs of being against same-sex marriage be changed? Well, only if the party who is against it is willing to hear out the same-sex marriage supporters. In other words, we can police a person’s actions, behavior, but we can’t police their beliefs and their thoughts.

We can speak out over unjust treatment. We can stop a racist/ bigoted/ insensitive / sexist comment out right and educate the person; but we can never change the way they think. For a person to change and grow, said person must be willing to listen; which is a personal choice.  The person must be willing to step inside the shoes of another and consider their stance and thoughts. This does not mean that said person will change their mind and say “wow! By you explaining the connection of oppression I understand that I am a sexist.” This my darlings, rarely ever happens. A person who is willing to listen and understand you will not sit idly by and get ‘schooled’ he/she/them will give you their reasons and maybe even fight you. Nevertheless, if the person does take into consideration what you say it will be days, months, years before they actually change their thoughts; if they ever do.

What am I babbling about? Well think about it this way. Imagine you believe in something strongly. Let’s get something simple like you enjoy pear avocado and someone likes hass avocados (bear with me people). They’re both avocados, but one is your avocado and the other one belongs to the other person, let’s call them Jay. You tell Jay that normal avocados are good because they’re bigger and  much tastier. Jay, on the other hand thinks you’re wrong and enjoys the much smaller hass avocados because they’re tiny and have a more refined taste. The problem here is that you have never had a hass avocado and Jay has never had a pear avocado. Thus, you are both taking a stance over something that is important to you but you are unwilling to taste the other side of the argument (all the pun intended).

This, my sweetlings, in a very watered down version is what happens when you fight someone who is unwilling to listen to your argument. Communication has to be a two-way street, at all times. No matter how disgusted you are with someone else’s argument. No matter how close-minded it is. You have to be able to understand that, this person was raised this way; to think and act this way. Dose this excuse this person from being bigoted, sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic? Hell to the No. However, if you, as the bigger person realize their inability to understand you can have a stronger stance in your convictions. When you realize that fighting with someone who doesn’t want to reason or listen to you, then you can re-direct your battle to someone else; someone who will listen.

Finally, I feel like I need to stress a couple of things:

  1. You cannot demand that someone listen to you if you are not willing to listen as well.
  2. You cannot demand a person to change their ideals or personality to fit your desire.
    1. Just imagine if someone asked that of you, how will you feel?
    2. Never confuse ideals with behavior. You can hate something and not act violently against it.
    3. It is okay to call out people when they are being offensive.
  3. You cannot ask anything you are not willing to give yourself.
    1. Give tolerance to receive tolerance.
  4. Never resort to vandalism, disorderly conduct, aggression or denigrating anyone or anything.
    1. If you need to act out/ scream to get your point across, then you need a better argument.

There is a good battle to be fought. Not through fire, fists or hate but through words, patience and love. Don’t stand idly when injustice is happening but don’t sink down to their level. Animals can only make noise, whereas humans can talk.

The world hasn’t ended yet. Let’s try to make it great again.

Signing off, TWS

Racism vs Microagression

Let’s talk about race. I feel like it’s a very important thing to talk about, especially now. I’m not going to talk about cultural appropriation. If you have questions about that and what it entails please click HERE to watch a very informative video on it.

What I will talk about is racism and macroaggressions. I will explain the difference of both and why it’s important to steer clear from both of them, and how to manage them if they arise.

As a Latina (Puerto Rican) in the United States it is hard to settle in. I am within a foreign culture, a different language and an enmeshed community. Even though there are other Latinos in my vicinity, they are not MY Latinos. They are from Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia, Nicaragua, and very little are from my Puerto Rico. This diverse population helps enrich the predominant white Anglo-Saxon community which I live in but it lacks the unique variables that I miss from my Home Island.

Nevertheless, I welcome this diverse diversity. It provides a sub-home from home. It provides Mexican Tienditas where I can buy my Sazon and Adobo. It provides a mixture of  ‘Ah pero bueno, eso está bien chingon. Pero es toda una puñeta para hacer.’ (i.e.  a mixture of all the slang terms). However, while I am basking in the beauty of the multiculturalism of my vicinity, there are others who struggle with our diverse diversity.

I will proceed to define the difference between racism and macroaggressions to get a better grasp of it. I will also refrain from using the word ‘minorities’ and ‘people of color’. Why? The first being that ‘minorities’ tends to have a negative connotation, at least for me. Instead of it being used to mean ‘a population that is not widely represented in a nation’, it is used to mean ‘lesser than.’ The other being, that ‘people of color’ is not an accurate description for Latinos (which is the main population I will be talking about). Not all Latinos are ‘of color’; we have white Latinos, tan Latinos, beige, brown, mahogany, cinnamon, black, Latinos. Hence, being Latino should not be a synonym to ‘person of color’. Instead of using these two terms I will use Less Represented Race (LRR) and Most Represented Race (MRR) within the context of a nation, i.e. the United States. That way there is no negative or positive connotation when talking about  either race.

Racism is when a dominate culture\race labels, demeans, stereotypes, insults, attacks or takes rights away from a Less Represented Race (LRR). There is no reverse racism. Let me repeat that THERE IS NO REVERSE RACISM. Why? Because a person from a LRR, with their opinion or action, cannot oppress or  take away rights from a Most Represented Race (MRR) in a country. A LRR person’s rights (if they have any) cannot limit a person of the MRR’s opportunities in life. A person from a LRR is limited by the MRR system and their laws, and their view on beauty, dress, hairstyle, language, etc.

Macroaggression is act of assuming a race/culture’s beliefs. I use the word ‘asume’ because they don’t understand or don’t know about the culture/race they’re talking about. Hence, the misunderstanding and unintentional racist remark or stereotyping. My experience with macroaggressions is usually a person’s well intended remark that comes off as racist. In other words, the person doing the macroaggression is trying to relate to me by utilizing limited information and false assumptions. Their attempts are usually with good intent but miss in the process of trying to make a connection. I’m not saying that macroaggressions should be dismissed as communication error and that it should be brushed off. Hell nah! I’m just saying that clarifying the other person’s intent is important to identify your retort/correction to their assumption.

However, it is important to clarify the statement before getting into a heated conversation about race and how they are racist. Usually, if the other person did not intend to come off as racist it will be evident when you ask them about their assumption. Nevertheless, if this person holds on to their belief that they know more about your race or that they are right in their assumption (for whatever dumbass reason), then it IS considered racism because they are dismissing your beliefs, your culture and experiences by re-defining it into a box that they better understand.

Let me give you an example: A couple of months back I had the displeasure of working with a white female who held a position of power. She knew I was Latina and she knew about my connection with the Mexican community. One day we were talking about families and the values that were ingrained in cultures. I tried to explain how the Latino family worked, whole specifying that not all Latino families worked that way. I explained that in my case my family was very important and that parents are usually held at a high position. This being, that no matter my age, I could not challenge my parents without it being seen as disrespectful. Also, that there is a sense of loyalty and fear towards parents. The lady I worked for was quick to retort, ‘That is so like Latinos to fall into that Catholic commandment of not disrespecting parents.’ I corrected her and let her know that my family is not Catholic (in any way), and that ‘disrespect’ in Puerto Rican culture does not mean the same thing and can be used very radically by elders to command obedience. The lady brushed me off and said, ‘well research shows that all Latino communities’ values come from Catholicism and that is why…’

It was in that moment that I lost all identity, ownership or authority over my experiences, my culture and my history. This woman yanked from me something that she did not know and was unwilling to learn about. She, on the other hand, was more than ready to place all my life within a box that she constructed after reading a handful of (probably outdated) research papers. It was in that moment that a macroaggression turner into racism.

It’s really hard to deal with this type of aggression, especially if there is not a community based safety net to validate your struggle and provide the space for processing. The hardest is knowing how to retaliate and how to learn to pick your battles. The former can only be done if the party that is causing the aggression is aware and willing to learn. The latter can and will feel like you’re being silenced. Sadly, that is sometimes the answer; because if the party who is causing the aggression is unwilling to hear you out, then your message is not getting across.

That being said, here are some small tips I picked up on trying to work through macroaggressions and racism:

How to work/battle macroaggressions? If anything, communication is key. Clarifying is also key. The first step is to ask the person what makes them believe that their assumption is correct. Once their point is clear, if it was well natured and an honest to God mouth diarrhea, confront and label it as what it is: a macroaggression. Then proceed to lay down some mad knowledge. Of course you may not the whole information or you may only know what your personal experience has offered; and that’s okay. Just make sure to mention that. You should never be the ‘minority beacon’ (that’s when you’re the Less Represented Race person thus you know about all the LRR). Providing restructure and structure helps the person from grow and avoid being ignorant. That way you’ll be able to provide new information and stop the person from repeating that macroaggression.

Now, if the person’s response is not well intended and is clearly bigoted (like the example I provided), then you have stepped into the land of racism. A person who claims that they know more about your race/culture than you do because they read it, vacationed in your home, or saw it in a movie, are clearly racists. They are dismissing your experience and placing theirs as the real reality.

How to deal with racism? This is a tricky one because for that person to have to take into consideration what you are saying, they have to be willing to listen. And I don’t know about you, but racists rarely (if ever) listen to Less Represented Races and what they have to say. Hence, the best way to address racism is to go through the same process of the macroaggressions: ask, confront, psychoeducation Will it work? Probably not but you did your job; you put it out there and you walked away. The main key is to keep calm. If the exchange becomes a screaming match then nothing positive will come out of it. If you are in danger or feel threatened, then remove yourself from the situation.

I know it seems like a lost battle but it’s not. When you manage to be level-headed and stand by what you believe you triumph against a small-minded, bigoted butt wipe. It seems like a small win but it’s a big one in the long one.

‘But TWS I want change!

YAS! Then, my dear social justice warrior, fight for your cause! Join rallies that stand against racism and marginalization. Meet people who think alike and advocate for change.

‘But that never helps’

Nah! You’re wrong my dear Negative Nancy. The LGBTQ community fought year after year, advocating, rallying and being super resilient and now they can get legally married! Even though I am a cisgender hetero woman, this win made my life 100,000,000,000 better. Being able to see my dear gay loved ones be able to legally get married just brought warmth to my life. That and I get to eat cake… I mean, celebrate the wonderful joining of two magnificent souls.

So don’t you dare say that persistence and advocacy don’t work. It may take time and sacrifice but when you fight the good fight you get great results. Also, this is a whine free zone (except on wine night. Get it? Puns!). If you believe in something go fight for it. Don’t just stand there and complain. Be the change you want to see in the world. Go be fabulous and strong, like Xena the Warrior princess.

Be strong. Be smart. Be the change this world needs.

Signing off, TWS

P.S. As a last important piece of this post, I want you to always remember that: folk from the Most Represented Race in a nation can NEVER, and I say NEVER, define what macroaggression or racism is, what it felt like or what does it do to folks of the Less Represented Race. This being that if a LRR person is re-telling an experience that was clearly racist a person from the MRR cannot, and should not, defend the party that aggravated the LRR by saying, ‘Oh, I bet they didn’t meant it that way. It was clearly a macroaggression.’ As a MRR person, you were not there; you did not experience the aggression.  Do not take the voice, strength and right of those less represented by diminishing their struggle.