Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Getting up from the mat

Mark 2:11 “I tell you, get up, take your mat, and go home.”

The other day, I talked with a young man who was grappling with professional challenges.  He admitted to me that he tends to become depressed and that his negative thinking then greatly affects his behavior. I shared with him that I have a similar history and detailed some of the ways I have taught myself to live life in a way that fosters joy and balance.  Little did I know that within days I would be putting these skills to the test.

For decades, I would have reacted to my current situation very differently. I might wallow in the negative emotions: fear, self-pity, grief, anger. I might shut out those who offer support.

This is not to say I don’t sometimes do this; after facing several crises in my early thirties, I did fall apart and then shut down. I’m human, not Teflon. Living in joy does not mean living in an imaginary world.

I look back on all those years in my teens, twenties, and even early thirties, when I chose to see life as difficult, tragic, or lonely.  But I am grateful for having lived with those perspectives. Now I can face even the worst news with the knowledge that I will ultimately move forward. I have surrounded myself with friends and a community like no other I have experienced, people who offer me their joy and strength. I have learned to cherish each day, to choose making memories over merely going through the motions.
 photo by Elise Evans

In the next few weeks, I may face great challenges. I will allow myself to feel the emotions that result.  Then I will stand up and move on with my life.  

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Valediction for a young man

“These streets are snatching our babies right out of our arms.”

Blues used to joke half-heartedly that I go to funerals once a month.  In the six years we have lived together, I have experienced my share of losses of family friends and acquaintances.   Though I haven’t attended every funeral, I have taken part in viewings, vigils, memorial services, and celebrations of life.  My November ancestor altar grows every year.  Still, some of those events are more difficult than others.  Perhaps I had a closer relationship with the deceased. Or maybe the loss is an unjust tragedy, in the case of my colleague’s son who was killed this past week. 

I remember the little boy with a bright smile, when he was my M’s age, ever present at this father’s side at school sporting events.  I remember him carrying a backpack that seemed to be twice as his size as his burly football coach dad walked him to the neighboring elementary school before classes began on our campus. Until last night’s funeral, I had no idea he was my colleague’s stepson. Their bond was beautiful to behold.

It had been a few years since I had seen my friend’s boy. He was a lanky pre-teen when I last saw him. I now see that he grew into a handsome young man. From the stories his friends and relatives shared, he continued to be an upbeat, fun-loving person. He became a father to his own son. Last night’s service paid tribute to his life and the love he shared with his beloved family. 

In the weeks, months, and years to come, the news media will tell the story of this young man’s death. There will be details and revelations.  The family will not only experience their terrible loss as a private family matter but also as a public one before the criminal justice system and the media. I pray for their strength, love, and integrity as a family to carry them through this tragedy.  I pray for our communities that we may be willing to do the hard work to truly nurture our youth. I pray for all young people to be touched by the spirit of hope and peace.

Live in glory, Kris. 

Saturday, September 28, 2013

The resurgence of redneckery

“What kind of redneckery is this? “ The question sprung from my lips without much forethought. It was Shark Week and rather than focusing on the gargantuan great whites or terrifying tigers, an entire special, “Voodoo Sharks” placed the spotlight on Blimp, the portly shark hunter, his relatives, and their country ways. Blimp was later featured on the Shark Week talk show” Shark after Dark” doing his bizarre Shrimp Dance.  Hollywood has gone south; even the Discovery Channel is milking this pop culture trend for ratings. 

While I confess to never watching Honey Boo-Boo, our household is just one of millions that are tuning in to the new Beverly Hillbillies. We laugh at the antics of those rascally (and yes endearing) Robertsons on the reality hit Duck Dynasty; we recently watched their appearance on Dr. Oz. Still, as more and more reality shows about Southern folks hit the airwaves, I wonder why.  Why now? 

I’m no history buff but reading Howard Zinn as a high school junior has made me question historical events and pop culture in particular.  Back in the 1920s, usually remembered for the Jazz Age, there was a resurgence of interest in the Ku Klux Klan. The Reconstruction-era hate group was cast as the heroes in the 1915 film, The Birth of a Nation, a movie so popular that President Woodrow Wilson held a screening at the White House. White farmers and working class people felt threatened and disenfranchised by the rise of cities, the growing elite and their culture of glitz and glamour, increasing immigration, and the growing migration of African Americans to the cities.  The movie’s glorification of Southern history, however divisive and racially inflammatory, struck a chord. The Ku Klux Klan began to recruit new members across many states and grew as popular as to host two separate marches to Capitol Hill in 1925 and 1926. When people get scared, they get scary. 

We are living at a time of great social and economic change. We are led by a black President. Latinos make up the growing majority of many states. Gay couples can marry.  Even the Pope is calling for a new open-mindedness on the issues of homosexuality and abortion. But for every person who is celebrating these milestones, there is likely someone who feels alienated, undermined, and frightened about the place they hold in society now and in the future. Redneck reality shows about good old boys hearken back to someone’s good old days.  I’m not claiming Bravo will debut a reality show about the Klan’s Grand Cyclops anytime soon; I’m arguing that these shows are appealing for many reasons, including the way they could assuage fears about our changing America.

Pop culture does not merely entertain; it reveals our values, our morals, our doubts. I have the right to enjoy—and question. 

Monday, September 2, 2013

A letter to a stranger

All My Love, V
Dearest Vanessa,
We don't know each other. I'm ashamed to admit I never saw your films nor did I read your writing though as a Latina writer I try to support my hermanas in art.  I only know about your passing because I follow Alisa Valdes on Facebook.  Still, news of your death has touched me.  Once it could have been me blogging a farewell.
I wish our paths had crossed somehow.  I could have told you about my own struggles with self-doubt, depression, and the allure of a quick death.  I wish I could say I was the secret to my own survival.  This is only partially true.  I have to credit therapy, prayer, the love of family and friends. Mostly, it was simply fear that kept me alive, fear of the unknown.  Then I received unexpected news.  Suddenly, it wasn't only my life hanging in the balance but that of my daughter.  So I really had to rediscover my will to live.   But I was no stronger than you.  I suppose I stayed a few days more.  Now we won't know what might have been if you had done so, too.
I am sorry you have left the world. I am sad the world did not sense the depths of your pain.  I am hurt that we will never know the extent of your potential and that only your art will endure.  But I hope you have found the freedom you sought for most of your life, la libertad of peace.
I pray for the repose of the soul of Vanessa Libertad Garcia.  Con safos, chica.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

A different sort of New Year's Eve

I could choose to be overwhelmed.  By the first day of school tomorrow. By the sudden pushback from one of my staff groups at work.  By the house cleaning that needs to be finished. By the laundry left out on the line in drizzle.  By my cluttered desks at home and work. By the way my weight has yo-yo’d over the past year.  By the 14th round of half-marathon training that was supposed to have started two weeks ago.  By my high hamstring tendonitis which will likely delay my return to running.  By the tension between my boyfriend and I over a misunderstanding.  By my hectic schedule that allows for little downtime.  By the fact that I still don’t write as much as I want to. 

I choose to stand strong in the face of these challenges.  It does not mean I’m not scared, sad, or frustrated.  I won’t sit and wallow in those emotions.  I will feel them but I will not be paralyzed by them.  I will take it a moment at a time. 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Like we're Peruvian?!?

Modern Family line about Peruvians

“Since my mother is Peruvian, German and Italian does this mean I'm bad like Zimmerman? My dad is Polish, German and Scottish American, By the way I look way Whiter than Zimmerman, people think I'm Russian or German…Since Zimmerman is part Peruvian does this mean I'm really bad like him?”  From an answers.yahoo.com post
“George Zimmerman— he’s what, an eighth black, he’s half Peruvian, but he counts as a white Hispanic, so he’s below African-American.”  Ann Coulter

@laloalcaraz Just thought I’d let you know that other Peruvians hate George Zimmerman too.  Tweet sent July 16, 2013

Being Peruvian has always been an ongoing personal issue and/or topic of conversation and/or writing subject, overlapping and influencing discussions about identity, language, beauty, and politics.  Because Peruvians have only recently become a sizable immigrant population, most non-Peruvian people in the US haven’t understood who we are as a culture and community. This is less complicated abroad. When I go to Peru (actually when I visit any country outside the US), I am an American because I was born and raised in America. (Take that, ‘mericans!) Simple and straightforward, verdad?  If only. 

I take pride in being Peruvian-American.  Even as a teen bemoaning my indigenous features or as a grown woman cringing when I learned George Zimmerman was half-Peruvian (and cringing when I saw his mother Gladys Zimmerman interviewed on Nightline), I love my culture and roots.  Me siento muy orgullosa de mis padres, for raising two college-educated children, but also for instilling in us a respect for our culture. When I was in elementary school and we had to reports on a country or on an ancient empire, you know I came through with reports on Peru and the Incas.  As a Spanish Literature minor at Cal, I took two courses in Peruvian literature even though I thought the professor was an arrogant jerk. Don’t even get me started on our comida, which non-Peruvians have taken to like fish to water. My mom’s aji de gallina y papa a la huancaina. My tia’s causa.  Mi abuelita’s picante de cuy.  Pachamanca. Can’t forget our musica, the criollo vals played at family friend weddings and even funerals, Afro-Peruvian festejo y lando which I learned to love as an adult, and ever present in my parent’s household, huayno with its blues-like lyrics.  I honor my family history from the mountain village of their childhood to our family life here in California. I love hearing my little girl saying she is Peruvian and Mexican and identifying herself as brown.  

Being Peruvian is wonderful.  And no one, especially not George Zimmerman, can ruin that for me. 

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Prayer for hope

“A glooming peace this morning with it brings.
The sun, for sorrow, will not show his head.
Go hence, to have more talk of these sad things.
Some shall be pardoned, and some punished…” William Shakespeare, Act 5 of Romeo and Juliet

“America I’ve given you all and now I’m nothing.” Allen Ginsberg

The morning after a tragedy is quiet on many levels.  There is the usual quiet of mornings.  Also there is the lull of reflection.  Of course, there is the silence associated with various emotions: the numbness that accompanies grief, the tense muteness preceding or following rage, the stillness of shock. So often we are at a loss after a tragedy, however close we may have been to those involved.  I didn’t know Trayvon Martin and yet I, along with millions of others this morning, feel the weight of his loss and the failure of the court system in freeing the man responsible for his death. 

When I first wrote about this case over a year ago (Media misrepresentation in Trayvon Martin case), I pondered how my distance from the events led to my misunderstanding and confusion about the events as news. I also pointed out how the many layers of my life experiences impacted my thoughts.  At that time, I knew Trayvon Martin would impact us as a nation.  This morning, I realize Trayvon Martin has impacted me as a person. 

As a mother, as a woman of color, as an educator of at-risk youth, and as a proud American, the verdict delivered  in the trial of George Zimmerman exacerbates the fear, worry, and heartache I have about race relations in my country.  I live in a country where children can be attacked simply because how they look. 
Talented Sebastien De La Cruz, aka El Charro de Oro, came under fire for paying homage to his Mexican culture as he performed his National Anthem. 

Brand-name cereal Cheerios shut down online comments on their YouTube video feed after their charming commercial featuring a biracial family inspired racist reactions. 

I live in a country in which a TV show featuring several Latinas as sexy maids reaps high ratings and positive buzz despite the stereotypes perpetuated. 

So while we battle these issues in the media and the social networking worlds, I trust that our legal system will not be affected by racist images and misconceptions.  I am crushed when I am disappointed. 

Somehow, I carry and hold up hope.   As an artist, I choose to embrace all people as we come together creatively to build community. 

 As a mother and girlfriend, I choose to stay in my community because it offers an opportunity for my daughter to grow up in a different America, one where all people can live together. 

I choose hope. 

This morning, I offer a prayer for hope, the hope that Trayvon Martin’s death was not in vain, that as a nation we recover from this tragedy in the spirit of reconciliation, and that the families most affected by this loss find peace.