Little hostages

My cousins want me to get a job so I can move out.’ she offered as we walked towards the corner store.

Angel is a junior in my fashion class.
How old are you? 16?’
Angel : ‘I’m 17, I’ll be 18 this October‘.
My mental calculations did the math; she would be 18 in the beginning of her senior year.
Are you being told to leave?
Angel ‘No, but my cousins think that it will happen as soon as I turn 18. It’s really crowded in my house..’

Angel came in today, on a Wednesday, when NO student has to report for classes, she came in. THIS is a flag.
This means:
A- Student would rather be in school than home
B- Student is sooo dedicated that they will use their FREE time to invest in their work
C- All of the ABOVE

These are the signs I look for.

So, do your cousins work?’
She laughs, ‘No!
Oh! So they want to tell you what to do, without KNOWING what to do?!!
She laughs.
The truth was that while she was in the classroom, while she was trying to finish her work, her phone kept her distracted by the constant notifications.
The dings, the calls, the interruptions.. and she couldn’t finish because of the bombardment.
I walked over to her and while I was present, she ignored those distractions and she completed her drape… I was so proud…
But I knew that if it weren’t for my PRESENCE, she wouldn’t have finished.

She wouldn’t have found the courage to IGNORE those distractions and focus on the job.
Kind of like when you ‘work extra hard’, because your BOSS is present? (Industrial Psychology, look it up)

I had her take pictures of her finished drape as evidence of work.
Angel has many classes to make up.

Since the pandemic, there has been a myriad of students that have experiences difficulties, not being able to get online, not possessing devices, lack of technology, not being able to manage academically, socially, emotionally..
And while too many people lived in oblivion, ‘this is a 2 week thing’, ‘it’s not that serious’, I foresaw the impact.
Even posted the reckoning on my Instagram .. How it will obligate us to rethink education.
Maybe my Grad work in Informational Technology had A LOT to do with it, and somehow I knew our children would be the little hostages of that situation. Yet THAT would only exasperate the current situation.. the reality that is, under-served communities/families, childhood neglect , child abuse.. and the DOE’s answer? NX.. ‘no harm grading’.

Give an NX to every class on the high school level (thats my exclusive experience) for any class they couldn’t complete. The NX was classified as NO HARM grading.
Don’t hold them culpable for reasons they have no control over. BRAVO!
Yet we must do what we can to get them to complete these grades, and this was Angel’s reason for being in my class on a Wednesday… she wanted to complete her NX or just be out of her home…

So what’s your relationship like with your mom?
We’re distant.‘ she responds

Somehow I knew her answer before she would offer her sincerity.
She was among the few that would turn on her camera when in virtual class and the little I saw and heard allowed me to frame a better picture of her reality. There was an inaudible level of sound and little ones crowding the view alongside her, this was a ‘full house’.
It was indeed, a ‘crowded house’. There was no wonder why she would rather be in the building than home.

I know what that’s like. My grandmother wasn’t the warmest person. And I moved out as soon as I graduated high school, but I had a plan. I moved out because I knew what to do. I want you to have a plan and MOST IMPORTANTLY, do not worry about it UNTIL you are there, I know that your cousins care BUT it’s ultimately up to you. And it shouldn’t consume your thoughts until you’re closer to the finish line. The more you worry, the more you worry about something you can’t do anything about….. Right now? Worry about completing your credits so you can graduate and be successful.’

To think this child has her classes to think about, her NX classes as well in order to be on track, add the probability of becoming homeless because she may not be wanted as soon as she turns 18, yet still enrolled in school.

Truth is that Angel at first glance looks like she could be an adult. She fills her skin beautifully and if it weren’t for her shy demeanor and limited knowledge when she expresses herself, you wouldn’t guess she’s a young girl in need of guidance.
And like her there are hundreds, thousands more that ‘look’ as if they are ‘grown’ yet are not. They have been born into situations where they are held hostage. Hostages because even though they cannot control their environment as all other children, in their case, compassion and love is lacking.
Compassion and Love warms the heart of the captor and allows, even compels them to approach, treat and care for the prisoner. While this isn’t even questioned when it comes to ‘normal’ parents, sadly there are parents that lack compassion and healthy demonstrations of Love towards their children. That famous scene in ‘Precious’ when the mother sniffles ‘who’s gonna love me?’; the ultimate sign of selfishness that should never exist in motherhood.

It takes more than shelter, food and clothing to produce a productive human being.
Regardless of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Need’s which states they are the basic needs yet, as we evolve into a more AWARE society.. everyone clamoring for ‘feelings’ to be at the forefront of communication, let’s think more consciously about our children.

Are you raising an asset to the future society?
Or are the little ones in your life little hostages of your environment?

21 and suicidal

21 marks a time when all young adults celebrate being Free..

I remember my 21st year on this planet and I was not happy..
So not happy that I believed I was ‘better off dead’..
so much for FREEDOM and being able to DRINK..
I was DONE

I lived in a 1 bedroom apartment on 189th street and Amsterdam

The apartment belonged to my great aunt, Theresa and was ‘handed down’ to her niece, my current Pain in the Arse, aunt Carmen…. the one featured in past posts.. you know, ‘Mother of the Year’ recipient.

The landlord wanted to make sure that the apartment was inhabited by family and I was the one in line

I was 21 and insecure and secure… and despite being around strong female role models, the insecurities won..
At the time, I befriended the sisters of this Black boy I was re-frequenting..
truth is, he was my first many years before and he was the only one that labeled me ‘acceptable’ to have sex with..
Do you know what that means? How that feels at 14? To be accepted; to be desired? To be thought of as ‘beautiful’?

Just to get this picture into perspective, I was over 250 lbs. Not many guys would be ok with a Fat girlfriend in their arms in the 90’s

And so we met again and I hung out with his little sisters.. I was 21 and they were in their teens… I trusted them.. so much I would give them my debit card AND my pin

They cleaned me out..
Latinos would call me ‘PENDEJA”
Some friends at the time, after I recounted the tale would say, ‘what do you expect from ghetto Black girls?’
Today I know that NO ONE is the ambassador to their race, despite the lessons of my grandmother.

Then there was work.. I was a student teacher and it was the ONE thing that held me together, the ‘glue’ to my sanity… I found what I would do for the REST OF MY LIFE..
I guess the feeling some would describe as ‘meeting my soulmate’… but it was my JOB.
And something happened that threatened my continuing to teach and I thought, ‘what’s the point?’
I felt like a failure with no redemption, no sense of belonging, no sense of a future, no self love..
if other’s would play me for a fool after I have been nothing but kind and generous to them… what’s the point?

I decided to end it all but didn’t succeed.

It turns out that my plan failed mostly because I was over 250 lbs.. funny huh!
The amount of pills a fat girl takes may prove to be deadly for a skinny girl but not me at the time, and that’s how I was saved that night.

All of this flooded through my thoughts as I listen to the Cranberries ’21’.
‘No need to Argue’ was on loop that year for me.
Today as I grade my students work and listen to Dolores angelic voice, I think about where I was 25 years ago, in an unhappy place, confined to an asylum after my attempt.
The NYC Hospital rule is when you attempt suicide, you are moved to the mental health facility of the hospital you were taken to. Every hospital has this ‘floor’, tucked away with a double locked door and strict restrictions as to who can enter and what you can bring in. Followed 24/7 by a nurse till they conclude you are no longer a danger to yourself and obligated to attend therapy whether alone or in a group. A less glamorous ‘Girl, Interrupted’ if you will.
One very vivid memory?
Being worried about missing days at work and worried about missing classes.
I was also attending classes at City College..

Let that sink in.

I just attempted to end my life but what was at the forefront of my concerns was my attendance at work and school.
I know it’s programming YET I believe that saved me as well. Having something outside of myself as my focus allowed me to put things into perspective… Having things to look forward to, having things to throw myself into ASIDE from healing helped me..
I believe today so many young people are so focused on self, their worries feed their insecurities that then feed their anxieties and prevent them from breathing and the thought that ‘everything will be ok’ is next to impossible.
It took another 15 years to figure that out.. It’s REALLY not that serious.

At 21 I was an insecure fat Dominican girl experiencing feelings of self-hate, trying my damnedest to keep it all together and failing and that girl back then couldn’t accept that.
My job and how others treated me were the most important things that defined me.
Those two things are still very important to me, my students, what I do, how I am regarded, the difference TODAY, although it may ADD to who I am, they don’t define who I am.

This is One lesson I believe important to put on loop for my students…
‘You’re figuring it out and where ever or whatever it is you believe you should be right now, it’s just a step in the road to where you are headed and who you will become. Relax, just breathe..’

Independence

27 de Febrero

This day marks the independence day of a small island in the Caribbean – Dominican Republic.
It is the ONLY example on the planet where TWO countries SHARE land on an island. Two countries that SHARE a past, inherit more like it.. from two European powers – SPAIN and FRANCE

France OWNED Haiti and SPAIN owned D.R.

The way these two former European influences ruled has had a MAJOR affect in what we call the present.

The French treated it more like their ‘slave’ port, whereas the Spanish treated it like their ‘vacation getaway’. This treatment lead to the growth of the Haitian population. Let’s be real, slavery was a trade and the more you GROW it, the more profit.

The population of the Spanish colony stood at approximately 80,000 with the vast majority being European descendants and free people of color. For most of its history, Santo Domingo had an economy based on mining and cattle ranching. The Spanish colony’s plantation economy never truly flourished, because of this black slave population had been significantly lower than that of the neighboring Saint-Domingue, which was nearing a million slaves before the Haitian Revolution.

Needless to say, the Spanish side of the island as well as the French side had enough and broke off the ties… and then the formerly Spanish side had enough of the formerly French side and decided to be INDEPENDENT on February 27, 1844

Today, this day is marked by parades, endless hours of dancing on the streets, drinking with friends, feasting on anything and everything DOMINICANO.. and I miss it

I am half Dominican..
My mother Isabel was Dominican. She was a teenager when she moved to this country.

Here she is with her siblings, my aunt Esther, Giovannia and my uncle Frank. A picture taken in Santo Domingo, in middle school. This was when they all were ‘transferred’ to the USA.

She went to Brandeis High School in the late 60’s, early 70’s and that’s where she met Victor Hugo Chavez, a pimply faced Ecuadorian boy who was ‘fresh off the boat’ as well and Oops! that’s where my story began.

I moved to D.R, thanks to my grandmother when I was in 4th grade up till the end of my 8th year. I went to private school, the ONLY kind of school the children of foreigners or the then middle class go to because the public school system is not easily relied upon UNLESS you go to University. The truth is that the FIRST University on the WESTERN HEMISPHERE was erected in Dominican Republic, La Universidad Autonoma de Santo Domingo est. 1538
Take THAT, HARVARD!!

My years in DR..
As a child that knew ONLY spoken Spanish, learning how to write it and read it.. was not easy but it made me, ME..
I learned how to conjugate a verb… English is NOTHING compared to a Romance Language… imagine every single thing, inanimate or not, to have a GENDER… and refer to it in its correct FORM.. yeah, we take pride in our Language.
And the Music, the fast paced merengue
And the food…. a reminder, I am a self proclaimed GLUTTON… I KNOW FOOD
yet one of the biggest lessons was Pride for Country, a.k.a. La Patria

I learned how the entire island was once divided into 5 major tribes before Columbus ‘claimed’ it for his financiers.
I learned of the founding fathers, Duarte, Sanchez and Mella.
I learned of the many poets, artists, musicians, many of them WOMEN… Imagine learning at the age of 10, how NORMAL it is for WOMEN to be instrumental in the formation of the country!
I believe it was thanks to this, this kind of gender-less teaching in my formative years that allowed me to be unapologetic. Questioning my right to exist in certain spaces was NEVER an issue yet I was an overweight child, therefore ‘certain’ spaces were still unattainable.

And there was this ONE class – MORAL y CIVICA translation: Morals and Civics

Now you may think, ‘HUH?? Where does a school get off teaching MORALS to kids?’
There may be so many people that disagree, yet if you have reached a level of enlightenment where you can see how THIS can be a positive, then there is no explaining.
There was no denying that we were being taught right from wrong in our home, or any other Dominican home, as the country is FLOODED with Catholicism and Christian thinking… but what about the homes where those lessons ARE NOT TAKING PLACE??… Where the adults do not communicate nor lead by example?
How amazing if our children were taught the meaning of citizenship, democracy, peaceful cohabitation, respect for your fellow human beings outside of the home?!

Those 5 short years were unforgettable and hazy.. There are things that I do not remember but the impact of the lessons learned lifts the fog in my mind.
Dominican Republic taught me to love Independence despite and because of the struggle it took to achieve it. That it’s best to live free than under the servitude of another, because that would be the same as death

A ser libre o morir enseñó

Communicating

How do porcupines mate?

Very…. Very CAREFULLY

This was a line from a movie I LOVE.. the updated version of the ‘Thomas Crown Affair’.. a millionaire who sees a psychologist? And engages in criminal activity? And has a hot red-head come after him? And takes place at The MET? Yeah! That’s my kind of movie.

But as all movies that leave an impression, I think about the lines I remember and somehow am convinced of their purpose.. there is a lesson to be learned.

I am a porcupine… I have my quills ready.. ALL. OF. THE. TIME.. even when I do not feel threatened they are ready.

I know that it is a defense mechanism developed after many years of growth but because it has served me well, aside from it being exhausting, why deactivate?

I don’t trust easily.

Trust is powerful yet fragile and not many people with identity issues give it away successfully. I have made costly mistakes that have resulted in loss of friendships in my youth. I’ve learned that years of gained trust can be broken in seconds and then take twice as long to rebuild.

Yet with those same years, I have also learned the antidote…   Communication.

Communicating can create, build and strengthen trust. The absence, lack of or FEAR of communication will do just the opposite, it can and will destroy it. So how does one not so proficient at communicating experience trust in a relationship? Practice it.

I am in a relationship now. Unlike past relationships, I want this one to succeed.

I believe women have this feeling within them that tells them if the partner they’ve chosen is good. It comes from living that OTHER feeling that tells you when your partner is NOT.
There’s been a long list of worthless personalities that never inspired trust and I knew it and because I never trusted anyone, I didn’t care. But this dude is different.

Another lesson learned, observe a person’s actions alongside their words. Actions will prove or deny words and continued actions can motivate trust. And I must confess, I still don’t completely trust him, something he knows, but he has demonstrated time and time again that I can.
Maybe that’s another way to make way for trust.

As per communicating with my partner, I realize that I sit on my feelings. What I mean is that today, when something happens that doesn’t sit well with me, there are no immediate reactions. It lingers in my thoughts and I think ‘What just happened? Why would he do that or say that?’ It looks like I wear my teachers’ hat outside of the classroom. And I have learned that it can be good but if I sit on them too long, it isn’t good.

When I am in the classroom, for better communication, I don’t react right away. For the benefit of whomever is in front of me, not reacting right away gives me time to try to understand them, as well as gives them time to talk through or explain anything that could be misunderstood. This is my job… It can be DRAINING. But I do it because I care about my students and that makes it rewarding. When it comes to my colleagues, I can see it as professionalism…  again this is my job.

Who ever said this would be needed when in a personal relationship? No one told me…

With my partner, when I don’t open up about what bothers me, it doesn’t ‘go away’. It remains with the rest of my unsettled thoughts and spins into this tsunami that could take out a small oceanfront village, depending on how long it occupies space in my head.

In the past? I would just cut them out completely, no one was worth the agony, the worry, the anxiety, the awkward silences… you name it. But it is different today. He is different.

‘That’s what’s bothering you?’ he would say with a smile. And then go on to explain what he meant or didn’t mean…
The outcome hasn’t always been baby bottom smooth. We’ve had it out a couple of times, and the feelings of ‘I’m done!’ instinctively come up yet lately after the disagreements he says ‘you know I love you.’
That helps.

It’s hard being in a relationship.
It’s even harder, almost impossible when you don’t trust.

I’ve learned that all of the uncomfortable feelings that feed mistrust doesn’t have to exist, just as long as communication does.

Awakening Old Pain

I had to take Childhood Psychology in college for my teaching certificate (circa 1996) and there was a lesson that stayed with me. There are events in a child’s life that can change and sometimes dictate their future, the first time I dived into the term ‘trauma’. I learned at that time that things such as the death of a parent, a loved one is one of the major ones.

My reaction? Huh? What? It didn’t register.

It may seem obvious to many but because my grandmother managed mostly to make the loss of my mother seem less traumatic, I was able to ‘not feel it’ and not see it for what it was, trauma.

The other adversity children could face that can be taken as trauma is moving. I believe anyone could agree that children need consistency, routine, stability to feel safe and a sense of balance.

Imagine removing those variables, breaking the friendships they make, the support systems they create for themselves for whatever reason the adults in their lives see fit. Not all parents can be as successful at protecting a child’s perception like the Jewish dad that created a game out of moving to a concentration camp, but wait, no! That was a movie!

Again I thought, ‘moving’?? I’ve moved about 5 times before graduating high school! and at 22 when I was taking this class had already moved twice after leaving my grandmothers’s place at 17.

I had been on an identity journey since I was little. I maintained that not knowing a parent leaves many questions unanswered about ‘self’. So many little things, the details, the minutiae makes the greatest connections between you and who you come from. And not knowing can be painful. Living day in and day out without knowing keeps the pain alive and I made it my companion while I tried to discover who my mother was.

All I had was pictures of her, a small suitcase of her belongings, and half truths.. People either had nice things to say or nothing at all. Never had a conversation about her with the man I call dad on social occasions and my grandmother had little to say.

I made peace with the fact that I will never know the whole story of who she was and at the same time struggled with the question, ‘If you don’t know your parent, your mother, your father, or your family how complete is your self-portrait?’

I’ve learned that it does not mean you CAN’T complete it on your own, without that knowledge. Everyone can claim who they are without anyone else’s say, anyone’s input or feedback. You have the power to do that. And NO ONE has the right to tell you what you can and cannot do. No one can determine your worth nor has the right or power to tear you down.
This I teach to my students.
When I address them, I add – Not even if those people are the adults in your life.. and I include parents.

Sad truth is that when I give this ‘sermon’ (as I’ve been known to give in my classroom) some students nod.. the students nodding know what I mean. To exist in a household where the adults that care for you hurt you instead, happens.

I’ve been taken to that place lately in my own home, or where I currently live I should write. I am 45 but when the verbal wars ignite, I am transported to that age again. And although emotional scar tissue served its purpose, not being able to feel when you grow up in the ‘hood’ comes in handy, it doesn’t mean I don’t feel today. As a kid I would shrug it off and keep going. Have adults yell and scream commands one moment and act as if nothing ever happened the next, evolves into you participating in the madness or being invisible to avoid being caught in the crossfire. I learned to do both.

I managed to get out, educated myself and traveled as far away, for as long as I could and after 18 years came back.. I planned to stay longer to care for my grandmother but that is proving unsuccessful. And so the stressful thoughts of ‘moving’ flood back.. Only this time it feels like I am forced to mourn my grandmother before it’s time..

I sat in this thought and realized why it hurt more than I thought it would. My grandmother had been everything to me. She has been my mother, my father, my defender and it feels like she’s being taken away from me.. I felt like a helpless child who’s mommy would never come back……. again.

And so two old pains that I managed to overcome resurface.. after all these years. That’s the funny thing about trauma, pops up when you least expect it!
I could blame COVID yet another lesson learned is laying blame where it belongs and giving credit where it is due. Forces you can’t control can never justify your cruelty and thanks to the chaos I am re-welcoming relocating.
No hay mal que por bien no venga‘.

Words never really mattered

‘Tu eres una Mierda! Tu eres nada! Tu no tienes nada! Tu no tienes a nadie!’

translation – ‘You are shit. You’re nothing. You have nothing. You have no one.’

These words were yelled at me while I fed my grandmother. The words came from her daughter.. her eldest daughter, what can classify as an aunt.

‘Why are you insulting me?’ ‘Are you listening to the things you are saying?’

‘Yes!’ she replied, ‘porque tu te crees demasiada mierda y tu no eres nadie!

translation: because you believe yourself to be hot shit and you are no one

I continued feeding my grandmother as I raised my voice, ¡Soy alguien! Sé lo que valgo, sé quién soy, y no tener dinero ni casas significa nada. Esas no son las cosas que dicen cuánto valgo como persona. ¡Usted está equivocada!

translation: ‘I am someone! I know my worth, I know who I am, and not having money or houses means anything. Those are not the things that say how much I am worth as a person. You are wrong!

‘No me abra tu boca!’

translation: ‘Don’t yell at me!’

But I did. I yelled back and louder than I ever have.
Unfortunately, that was my childhood normal growing up. Verbal violence was the way to communicate in the house I escaped at 17 and came back to live in as an adult. And I had enough.

I never thought I would have to keep defending myself to my family after all I have lived. I thought that because they knew my story, my struggles, witnessed my pain, they wouldn’t hurt me, but I was wrong.
She had this look of hate in her face that I just can’t erase.. my family hates me.
That wasn’t new. I grew up as a ‘recojida‘, what many refer as the ‘step-child’, and many never let me forget it.. this person was one of them.
‘You should’ve never taken that one in’ she told my grandmother in my presence about deciding to raise me after her sister, my mother died when she was 21, ‘look at how she repays the favor’.
When I came back from living in a foreign country after 5 years, I asked my grandmother to move back and her response was, ‘I’ll ask your aunt’. It was her apartment but she had to ask her daughter’s permission. The verdict? ‘Your aunt said she doesn’t want people living here.’

And ironically there are many things that she did and has done that could make you believe I am a liar. She can be a kind, generous, loving person yet that day, the hate that emanated from her mouth destroyed all of it.

When you grow up in a household where the ability to communicate does not exist, it’s like living on a terrain filled with hidden land-mines.. you don’t know what will set one off. Some children grow up to avoid, just avoid to feel peace, some children grow up to forget, repress or deny what is real or what happened and some children just build scar tissue and toughen their hearts and live by the thought, if those that I call my family treat me this way, what can I possibly expect from the world?

These are dangerous ways to begin the rest of your life.. and all because of the choice of words or absence of them. My past taught me the importance of choosing the right ones and offering kind ones over none at all. I was able to remove myself from using them to hurt mostly because of what I do.. you cannot face a child with anger in your heart and believe you will say the right thing.

When I have a student, a child before me I see me.. I see the once fat and sad, misfit teenager that lived with fear yet fearless and wanted nothing else but to be loved and belong.. and I talk to her and I choose the words she needed. She may have survived a world where words never really mattered, but the teacher she became today knows they do.

Words do matter.

Fuck it.

My first language is Spanish (romance language), therefore my sentence structure will be awkward to some ‘English only’ readers.. don’t judge

I was programmed. And so have you, programmed to believe, so many things..

Many of those programs have served me.. yet the others have buried me..

I was taught to keep silent about anything that happens to me at the hands of a man as a child…. because its my fault.
Imagine, you have a daughter… and she’s molested and you BLAME HER

Yes, that happens, in too many homes, in too many cultures, in too many countries.

I was molested when I was 8 years old… The predator lived on the 2nd floor of the same building where I live today.. He’s not there but his family still lives there.. A BIG lesson on ‘individuality’.. He attacked me… not his family.

Blame lays on him not his tribe.

That was the first time I experienced thoughts of SUICIDE. I experienced ending my life at EIGHT YEARs OLD…. just to put things into perspective.

I did not stay silent. After that happened.. when he tried to buy my silence.. It ate at me..

It happened after school (4 PM) and my breaking point was bedtime (9 PM)

I sat on this wooden chair in the kitchen, it is still there…. I love that chair.

My grandmother combed my hair and I told her.. with my eyes closed, because I was scared, it was my fault… an 8 year old little girl was culpable of a pedophiles actions

Just some perspective for those that have daughters

The next thing I heard was a BANG – our front door – she went to the second floor and confronted this man.
She believed me.. she defended me… THAT stayed with me.
I was 8 years old and my grandmother believed me.

But what about those that don’t speak up? The defenseless.
What about all of those little girls that are preyed upon, touched in a way that stirs up anxiety, assaulted or worse and fear takes over because they believe it is their fault?

Two out of three girls under the age of 12 will be sexually molested and that is NOT the worst part of that tragic statement. The tragedy is that too many of them will NOT be believed by their guardians. These children will be made to believe it is their fault, even more so if the predator exists within the family.

Because my grandmother believed me it gave me a sense of security and protection from the world. If anything ever happened to me, I can count on her. I know I wouldn’t be the same person if she wouldn’t have believed me.

Fear was the seed that this man planted at that moment in my 8 years but I didn’t let it grow the moment I spoke up.. that courage does not exist in every child and that is why I write:

Fuck it. I will believe every child. I will protect the defenseless.

Believe your children, do not let fear grow in their little lives.

Grateful Immigrant

We are born with the ability to reason, maybe for our benefit first, but no less to reason.

We are born with the ability to cry out for what we need when we are hungry, when we are in pain and when we want what is not in our grasp.

Then there are those that care for us or are obligated to care for us and they teach us to say ‘Please and Thank you’ in response to those needs being met.

That lesson is lost on some… NOT that it wasn’t taught, maybe it wasn’t enforced.. maybe some little ones were so cute.. too cute and their ‘please and thank you’s’ were overlooked.

And therein lies the seed of entitlement.

My grandmother told me a story of a young Dominican girl that came from her war-torn country that gave her nothing’. 

‘But when I came to this country, everything I have is thanks to it.. everything YOU have, everything you will BE is thanks to it.’

So it goes without saying this ugly child learned the value of ‘Please and Thank you’ 

I believe in leading by example and although she never said please nor thank you to me, nor any of her children, a fact that will ring true in many a Hispanic family, I will always remember the day as a teenager when she told me that story.. more like a Tweet if it existed then. 

I stayed at home on a Tues. Election Day and my grandmother who never exits the house, if only to go to the bodega or church, came to the kitchen bare-handed and I asked her, where were you?

‘Fui a votar’

Me: Huh??

‘Yes’, she said. ‘I went to vote’… I don’t remember for who, didn’t even care to ask. The fact that she participated was a pleasurable shock.

That action taught me ‘gratitude’. 

Today

It’s July in NYC and Covid is ‘gone’.

And Covid is not gone… the restaurant below my apartment building abides by the social distancing rules. People wearing and not wearing masks.

I bump into the proprietor of Solace, Dominican entrepreneur realizing his American dream and throwing in the towel as he tells me about the wears of restaurant entrepreneur’s in the aftermath of Covid..

as I sit at Lyn’s place, a ‘healthy eating’ spot that took over the once Mexican spot right below the apartment my family has lived in for nearly 50 years..

‘I’ve been in this for far too long, to not know what’s coming’.. that’s what I heard.

My daughter just graduated high school, I’m done. This is the providers mindset..

A father looking to cash out because his obligations have been met. I will never know what that’s like.

But I do know that as a woman of Dominican descent it gave me great pleasure to see one of ‘my own’ prosper in my neighborhood.

‘I went to PS 192 and IS 195 and G. Dubs (the natives call George Washington High School ‘G. Dubs’) and I appreciate hearing what you’re saying but I’m tired.’

‘When you look like me, there’s so much weight on your shoulders.’

Translation = I can pass for Black and as such, the cards are stacked against me and the obstacles are not fairly adjusted. Whereas a White proprietor can be more fortunate with the roadblocks, I will not.’

The death of George Floyd ignited a movement which the young continue to brave and even though I may not completely understand restaurant business despite the lessons passed on by the person I call father, I know it isn’t easy. Passion is not the only factor that will see you through in the kitchen, yet I have this unmovable faith in our young. 

‘Ultimately, it’s going to be up to a new generation of activists to shape strategies that best fit the times.” 

‘I can’t afford to give up. I must let our students know that they can, even if you’re tired, and rightfully so, they must know that it’s worth fighting. They too must believe that they can realize their dream.’

The cards may still be stacked but we gotta ‘vote in’ a new dealer while changing the rules of the game.

I look around my neighborhood and it surely has changed… and so have I.

I never was what you think of when you hear ‘Dominican’. 

New students still think I’m Asian when they first see me, and so my appearance may break stereotypes as soon as I open my mouth.

I’m the ‘exotic cheese’ eating, PBS, ‘Frasier’ and ‘Columbo’ rerun watching, once in a while ‘Good Times’ grabbing, ‘fix your face’ teaching, no bullshit tolerating, gossip hating, all Latin loving, specific hip hop listening, mask wearing, traveling sapiosexual.

It is hard living in my skin in this time of Covid.

I am who I am

I’m a Latin American woman, born from a Dominican woman and an Ecuadorian man.

My DNA is spread out through an ATLAS of so many cultures, which compels me to reflect on who I am, really?

COLOR = DNA

I thought I was what my grandmother’s told me I was or who they believed they were and where they came from; as a child I believed them.

As a young girl I walked the streets of New York City in the cage I called my body. Looking to be loved for any accomplishment, ignoring all stereotypes established about me. Fair skin, curly hair, artistic girl in a Dominican family… that’s called a ‘pass’. But I was always fat, that, in a Dominican family revoked your ‘pass’. So my rebellious act? Love EVERYONE and identify with EVERYONE and not give a fuck about their thoughts and acceptance.

As a young adult, my struggle with weight was my only focus. It made me blind to every other struggle but never blind to anyone in pain.

Pain was my connection to those around me.

As an adult I began to form my identity based on what I lived and not based on what other’s told me, suggested, believed me to be. The test was to be convinced while practicing compassion for those that didn’t understand nor accepted me.

As a teacher, I became the student. My students taught me so much especially my Black girls.. I won’t include Brown girls because I grew up in a household of them.. I will thank my aunt Esther for filling my space with Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, The Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross and my aunt Carmen for The Supremes and The Commodores and the Jackson 5.. yes we were Brown but we weren’t Black and my students taught me about that, as much as I thought I knew.

‘You don’t understand, Ms.’

‘But I do’

‘No Ms. You don’t understand.’

It is different. I had to accept it and sit in it and understand.

I reflected on all of our field trips to the many locations where I took all of my children. Every store, every museum, every space.. Why were my Black girls approached differently than the rest? Why?

You have to LIVE it to understand. And so when they spoke of their feelings to me, I stopped with the ‘maybe’s’ and listened and accepted their feelings, knowing I could never understand their PAIN.

And their PAIN was another tie that connected us.

I also accept that with all of the LOVE I may demonstrate to them, some will still question my motives and be merciless if I make one mistake. They are young and forming their characters and deciding who they will become, I hope compassion will be in their arsenal and ultimately see people’s hearts and be so much better in their world than this world has been to them.

I am a better teacher, a better person thanks to them and every one of my children.

Every day, every moment, every experience, every friend, every enemy, every family member, every teacher, every adult as a child, every employer, every job, every country visited, every stranger encountered has shaped who I say I am. And the beauty of that, is the unwavering determination I stand on, so strong no one can convince me otherwise.