Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Upside the head

“Just because you don’t believe that I want to dance…” The Gap Band

Nothing makes you more “woke” than a projectile launched at your head. It was a helluva year at work and no amount of running, samba dancing, concerts, books, film, and hugs from M can change that fact. With a few days left in my beloved vacation, I am reflecting on the year that was and the year to come. It will be my 21st year in high school education; despite the patronizing attitudes and perceptions of certain colleagues, I’m a grown ass educator.  There are times when I feel like not much has changed since I stepped straight off my college campus into the classroom. Thankfully, I have so much more experience, knowledge, and patience (one of these days, y’all gonna wear me out!) to stay committed. 

The projectile story illustrates some of the issues I consistently ponder.  See, what had happened was (you know it’s going to be a good story when I open with that phrase), we were having an ongoing issue with lunchroom fruit being launched against the walls.  Our school, like many public schools, does not always receive the care we would appreciate; it can sometimes look a mess.  So, we encourage our students to pick up after themselves to help maintain a clean campus.  
One overcast morning, I had said something along those lines to one of my students, A, as he exited the cafeteria with two apples, “I swear to God your auntie is going to get a call from me if either of those gets thrown today.”
“You won’t need to call her because you know I wouldn’t do that with you standing here watching me.” 
We laughed and he took his usual seat at one of the long tables in the quad.  Another student, B, approached A immediately and they engaged in a whispered conversation.  A shook his head and waved B away; he made sure I saw him do so. In the meantime, a group of students asked that I open our multi-purpose room so they could get out of the rain.  I opened the door and stood there so I could watch both groups simultaneously.  To my left, I noticed B grab one of the apples. I figured he would launch it at the wall in defiance of my earlier directive.  As the apple flew towards my face, I stepped away quickly. It struck the door with force. Pieces of fruit splashed onto my eyeglasses and face. The apple tumbled to the ground in chunks. Both the quad and multi-purpose rooms went silent.  I immediately called for B to approach me. Students began to use profanity as they expressed their disbelief at what they had witnessed.  I directed the apple-thrower to head to the office and used my phone to call his parent. I took photos of the ruined fruit and then continued with lunchtime supervision.  

This incident isn’t unusual on a high school campus.  Every day, a teacher or administrator faces incidents of defiance and disruptive behavior. Every day, students make choices that result in consequences that affect their academic progress.  Every day, parents are faced with the challenges of navigating adolescence with their children. Every day, I am called to treat each individual with respect and to remain calm in the face of volatile situations. Every day, I need to be ready to step aside for my own safety. 

There are two main reasons the apple-dodging incident strikes me as unusual.  One is that it was a first. I’ve been defied, ignored, cussed out. Once a student kicked my office trash can over. But I’ve never been physically threatened in two decades of physically breaking up fights and talking down angry students.  I can admit it shook me up for a day or two.  But that temporary anxiety does not compare to the trepidation I feel in working with certain persons.  I would rather field more flying fruit. That actually WASN'T the worst day in the work year; that is the unusual and somewhat sad reality.   After twenty years, the kids still aren’t the problem.  
Pretty much a daily task 
All this talk of rattlesnakes in pockets, el chamuco sitting up in that room for the exorcists to show up(Advice from The Exorcist) and finding my #innermongoose( #innermongoose) are extended metaphors, mi gente.  If you don’t know, now you know.  Y ahora que?  It’s time to woman up, get back in my heels and do what I do best: Lead.   

Still slaying in New 52 costume

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Party girl

M turns 8 in two months but I’m already planning her party.  Actually, we started planning her party in April, a full five months in advance.  I have a list that breaks down guest list, location, and favors.  No, no soy one of those Pinterest moms.  My gluing skills are limited to dance and Carnaval costumes.  While I love to cook, this year we’ll be offering all-American burgers and chips.  Like every frazzled parent I know, I sigh and say I’m done with the big birthday parties every year.  Then the cycle starts anew. 

As a child, my parents always threw us huge parties. My dad’s entire soccer team and their families, my godparents and my brother’s godparents and their kids, and any relatives would come. There would be tons of Peruvian food, a giant sheet cake, a piƱata for the kids, and dancing to salsa and merengue.  Because I was an introvert, I found all the people and activities overwhelming. But memories were made.  Like the time the big boys decided to tightrope walk around the fence in the backyard and were threatened by the mean next door neighbor  Or the time we realized we could Tarzan swing across the garage.  I especially like how happy my mom and dad always looked. And still look. Because you best believe mi mama isn’t letting a birthday go by without some sort of gathering. 
Celebrating my 44th. Notice the look on my mom's face(she's on my right). 
Unlike me, M doesn’t seem uncomfortable at her birthday parties. In fact, she says she loves the attention, the little diva. Ever the assertive leader, M has helped pick a theme for her celebration from the time she was 4.  They have been often been tied to a favorite TV show.  Lately they also incorporate her Halloween costume (yes, we are a family of planners.)
Yo Gabba Gabba  Dancey Dance Party
Princess Costume Party 
Wonder Woman party 
Wizard of Oz theme. Notice her tee. Her dance recital had the same theme. Why not stretch out a good theme? 
So while I may balk at the work and expense that goes into planning birthday parties, I do love the memories we’ve shared.  They are moments that remind us of what truly matters.  

Sunday, June 26, 2016

The case of the missing memento

The mystery began with a disappearance.  The grizzled old woman in the black headscarf went missing one morning. Those familiar with her knew her to be harmless; still negative perceptions persisted.  She was suspected of being a witch.  Even in 2016, there are those (okay so it’s one person) who would believe a hunchbacked old woman is partaking in the black arts.  I had a suspect. I had a motive. It was time to get Nancy Drew. 
My girl.  I used to want to be Nancy Drew. How about Nancy De La Cruz?
I began by questioning witnesses.  Had the one person, the one fearful of witchery, been seen with the missing person?  It didn’t take long before an eyewitness confirmed that the old woman was forcibly removed to an area inhabited by several international residents.  The eyewitness had defended the old woman from the witchcraft allegations; the old woman now had a new home.  I resolved to protect the old woman from continued harassment. At one point, I had to physically escort her home because the old woman was once again forcibly evicted.  For now, she is safe.

Antes que llamen a la policia, know that the tale I have told is fiction loosely based on a true event.  When sharing your home with folks, be they family or friends or tenants, things will sometimes get misplaced.  While I may give the side-eye, I don’t make a fuss. I play detective and right the wrong as best I can.  The high road is best in these situations. 

For the record, la befana is a witch but she’s not a sign of my participation or endorsement of black magic.  In Italy, the befana delivers the Christmas gifts on Epiphany eve, rather than Santa.  So while Italians do have Christmas trees, the tradition continues.  
Does this look like a sorceress to you? 
I got a Befana doll in Piazza Navona as a keepsake from my trip with my parents to Italy where we spent an amazing Christmas complete with Midnight Mass with St. Pope John Paul II.  To me, the befana reminds me of those happy memories and, ironically, as a reminder of the faith my family shares.  She used to be in my kitchen but now hangs over the fireplace in the company of Russian nest dolls and Thai elephants on the mantel. 

Family dynamics can be complicated. (Previously on our family sitcom)  One minor change or disagreement can trigger uneasiness, tension, and confrontation.  With patience and a sense of humor about these situations, those negative feelings pass.  


Sunday, June 12, 2016

Beyond bling: the politics of Carnavalesco costuming

For those of you who think feathers, beads, and bright colors when Carnaval costumes are mentioned, you are only getting about 15% of the experience. In my contingent, Oakland’s SambaFunk, our yearly theme has current political undertones and overtones. The theme is visually presented through graphic art, discussed in class to explain the choreographies to guide our movements, and pondered for those of us who want to take a more method acting approach to our characters.  Heady stuff if you were expecting that we simply focus on shaking our tail feathers.  And shake we do but always with a message.  This year, however, the villains in the epic battle between good and evil would be portrayed by the dancers.  Given all the time I have spent analyzing and strategizing about the real villains I have known in my personal life(When you have to go bad )as well as the real-life bad guys aiming for increased power, I was immediately drawn to playing a Janker. 

A Janker is a cross between Batman’s Joker and a banker.
Jack Nicholson's Joker was the inspiration for our characters 
Jankers are the international(and domestic) bankers who have exploited communities for their own personal gain. They are currently above the law but the whole point of our presentation this year was that Jankers could be brought to justice.  In my mind, I began to think about Jankers in popular culture.  
Damn Jankers
I also thought about an individual I know who I feel has demonstrated the manipulative and self-aggrandizing tendencies of a Janker. My character was created. 

With character in process, it was time to focus on costuming.  Costuming is hands-on work. While seamstresses may sew some pieces of the costume, dancers must individualize and “bling” their costume.  As a “freshman” in my samba school, I was clueless about this process. I didn’t help with costume construction and only attended one “blinging” party. When I arrived on Carnaval morning, I realized how generic my costume looked beside others.  As with Carnaval makeup, the Carnaval costume can express character and theme. Four seasons later, I knew to be purposeful in finishing my Carnaval look. 

The Janker colors were green, royal purple, and iridescent or clear. I was responsible for decorating my cane, top hat, vest, and pants.  After a tedious process in which M and I sorted several bags of acrylic gems by color, shape, and size, I chose specific gem styles to use in varying patterns.  I chose green circles to represent global domination. 


Clear and irisdescent gems would represent wealth as in diamonds. Purple and green gems would literally represent jewels like emeralds and amethysts. The teardrop became my symbol of choice. 

Top of my top hat 
Back of my top hat reveals the purpose of a Janker 
Purple rain of tears
What does that mirror reveal? 
Striping on pants 
As a result of Janker thievery and trickery, many have shed tears of anger, grief, and hopelessness.  So teardrops are the shape you see all over my costume.  I even placed teardrops near my eyes as part of this year’s makeup. 

So while Jankers  as characters and symbols are bad, we sure did look good.  
2016 Jankers: Making bad look good 
Janker dance at Oakland Carnival 2016 

As I have stated before, Carnaval is a creative process that has allowed me opportunities to grapple with experiences and thoughts that are challenging in a way that is ultimately empowering.  Viva Carnaval!