Fandango Fronterizo 2016

I want to acknowledge my daughter,Carmen,  for having introduced me to this beautiful event and reawakened my passion for the music I grew up watching my grandmother sing and dance to.

Photos from my experience at this year’s fandango:

This is a son I have written in Spanish.  See explanation of the son and translation into English below.

Aqui yo vine a cantar

Bajo esta cerca traídora

Con lagrimas que perforán

Mi alma undida en el mar

La migra no borrara

El amor de mi querida

Intenso como la vida

Sones, cultura, y amor

Las huellas de mi corazón

Raíces empedernidas

.

Veo tu cara en fragmentos

Se me a olvidado tu olor

Mis recuerdos llevan dolor

Es sofocante el lamento

sin tocarte un momento

Esta reja nos separa

Quisiera yo tener alas

Para volar hacia ti

Interrumpir tu sufrir

Pa’que en mis brazos soñaras

.

Mis ojos sufren angustia

por no poderte tocar

Como espinas de un rosal

Que florese rosas mustias

Mi amor no te renuncia

Te toco esta jarana

Con estos versos mi Jiliana

Pa’que te acuerdes de mi

Tu pretendiente colibrí

Cuando tu amor por mi reclama

Son Jarocho is a style of music from Veracruz, Mexico with its origins rooted in Indigenous, African, and Spanish influences.  Son is a kind of song, Jarocho is the name given to people and things from the Mexican state of Veracruz. The verses of a Son Jarocho usually follow one of a few metric and rhyming forms. A typical form, called décimas, is a ten line stanza of verses that follow a predictable metric and rhyming pattern. Between or directly before beginning a son, participants in a fandango may verbally recite a décima. Using the décima or similar structure, whether spoken or sung, the speaker may improvise verses. Improvising means making up your own words, melody or rhythm that still fits the piece you are performing. In Son Jarocho, the improvisor (called the pregonero if the lead singer) often refers to something or someone in the community. They may comment on a beautiful woman on the tarima, or poke fun at some other member of the community.

The jarana is a central instrumental component in Son Jarocho. It is a small, guitar-like instrument with 9-10 strings, most of them double. It provides rhythmic and harmonic body to the son.

Fandango, the traditional context of Son Jarocho, as a community celebration, where a great many members of the community gather around a tarima (raised wooden platform used as dance floor with percussive resonance) and participate singing, playing and dancing. As the whole community knows the songs and dances, they take turns singing, dancing and reciting verses, often into the wee hours of the morning.

Translation of verses in English:

I came here to sing

Under this fence of betrayal

With tears piercing

My soul drowning at sea

Border Patrol cannot erase

The love of my dear

Intense as life

Sones , culture, and love

Footprints of my heart

entrenched roots

.

I see your face in fragments

I have forgot your scent

My memories carry pain

I am suffocating in regret

Without touching you for a moment

This fence separates us

I wish I had wings To fly to you

Interrupting your suffering

So that you will dream in my arms

.

My eyes suffer anguish

Without being able to touch you

Like thorns of a rosebush

That blooms wilted roses

My love will not resign

I play this jarana

With these verses my Juliana

So that you’ll remember me

Your hummingbird suitor

When your love demands for me

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Todo Sabe Mejor con un Pellizco de Amor/Everything Tastes Better with a Pinch of Love Part 2

PART 2

SICK

“Enfermo que come y mea, su Tita que se lo crea,” she would say when I was sick, and she’d make me caldito de pollo, Mexican chicken soup.   This was her version of medicine for almost any illness, but I suspect it was el pellizco de amor that lured the illnesses away. That, and some vaporub on my feet. She would rub vaporub on my feet as if she was rubbing a magic lantern, which would make them feel tingly and cold, and then she would slip socks over them.

Every time I became sick, she’d start concocting her delicious chicken soup. I could here her sing the song she always sang to me when I was a baby, “Negra, Negra concentida. Negra de mi vida. Quien te quiere a ti?” Then I would respond, “Tú, Tita. Tú me quieres a mi.” You, Tita. You love me. She always served my soup with a chicken drumstick, my favorite. And she was serious about making sure I ate every last bit of it. “Otro poquito,” she would say. A little bit more, until I finished it all.

At night before I’d got to bed, she would make her delicious té de canela, cinnamon tea.  “Para que se te caliente tu pechito,” she would say.  So your chest can warm up.  A stick of cinnamon, a little carnation evaporated milk, and the sweetness of brown sugar – it’s all I needed to fall asleep.

The sacrament of food

Artist: Peter Bolland

Tita Carmen was many things. She was a grandmother, a mother, a daughter, a lover, a fighter, a nurturer, and the main ingredient in our family. She was also an eater. As much as she loved to cook food for others, she also loved to eat. If you had food left over, she would gladly eat it! If you offered her food, she would take it in a heartbeat! Food was her way of connecting with family, friends, and life.

Mamá tells me that once when I was a baby, she caught Tita feeding me caldito de pescado, fish broth, through a straw, and when Mamá protested because I was too little to eat that kind of food. Tita simply told her, “A buen hambre, no hay mal pan.” For a good hunger there is no bad bread. Tita was not afraid of food. To her, it was a symbol of love and nurture.

Three things that she could never do without were, jalapeños, tortillas, and frijoles. She had to have at least one of those in every meal. Sometimes she ate the funniest things like spaghetti with tortillas. Or if we ordered take-out, she’d eat orange chicken and beans. And I think if she was craving it, she would have eaten cake and jalapeños.

That was Tita, adventurous and daring. Like the time she survived her first earthquake. She was in Mexico City and the earth shook like a giant maraca, a magnitude of 8.1! She said the buildings crumbled like, biscochitos, Mexican wedding cookies. Or the second time she was camping on the beach in San Felipe, the epicenter of a 7.2 magnitude earthquake where the sand shook like flour going through a sifter. But none of these scary incidents stopped Tita from living and exploring. In everything she did, she taught us to love life and food.

Artist: Minerva Torres Guzman

Artist: Minerva Torres Guzman

Maybe this is why it was so difficult to see Tita Carmen lose her appetite. I knew she was sick when she no longer wanted to eat.   Mamá or la familia would cook some of her favorite dishes to open up her appetite, but even swallowing became difficult for her. The dichos she once said to entice us to eat were not enough. “Tripa vacía, corazón sin alegría.” An empty gut is a heart without happiness,” we would joke with her to put her in lighter spirits, hoping she would eat a little more.

As she became more ill, she ate less and less. She would only eat sopita de fideo, banana, and atole. Her sister would sing to her, “Vamos a tomar atole, todos los que van pasando, que el atole está muy bueno y la atolera se está agriando.” When Tita had enough energy, she would sing along, the way she would sing it to me when she made it for breakfast and served it with pan dulce. She could only eat a few spoonfuls at a time, but she tried her best for us, her family.

I remember feeding her sopita de fideo and banana. Tita had always been the one to take care of us, and now we were taking care of her. I fed my Tita the way she fed me when I was a baby, gently scraping the banana with a spoon because she could no longer eat it in chunks. Even when she could no longer eat, she would ask us if we had eaten. No matter how sick she became, she never stopped loving us, never stopped caring for us.

cooking

Artis: Bones Nelson

Tita always said, “Las penas, con pan son buenas.” As long as there was food, and family to share it with, we would be able to overcome our sorrows and problems. That is the legacy she left us. On the days that missing her just feels too overwhelming, Mamá and I reconnect with her, her spirit, by cooking the food she cooked for us with so much love.

 

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.  Gratitude make sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.  -Melody Beattie

 

Today (and always), I am remembering that my survival is a result of the strength, sacrifices, and pure, divine grit of my ancestors. Their survival ensured my presence here, today. They dreamt me into existence because they believed in my capacity to continue the work of healing, liberating, and transforming. I owe them and honor them. They are the roots from which I am nourished, from which I grow, from which I become. May I, and those that come after me, never forget.

There are many ways to connect to our ancestors and our roots. One of my favorite ways is to cook the foods that the women in my family have cooked for generations. Wearing my Tita’s favorite mandil, every Dia de los Muertos, I work my way through the kitchen and feel her presence as I cook the mole in her honor, celebrating the way she taught me to cook it. This goes in my ofrenda as I prepare to welcome my ancestors back.

Though I always call upon my ancestors and know they are guiding me, this time of year allows me to see death as a beautiful process, a spiritual one, rather than eerie and gory. I get to cook the favorite dishes of my loved ones who have transcended, and welcome them to dinner, and speak their name through tears and laughter, and meditation. This is a time that is intentionally dedicated to commemorate my loved ones, but beyond these days, I continue to set intentions to connect with them through out the year. In a sense this is an opportunity to set new intentions and new ways to find deeper, meaningful connections to my past and my heritage, in order to flourish beautifully in the future.  It is a time of gratitude and appreciation.

little girl

 

Todo Sabe Mejor con un Pellizco de Amor/Everything Tastes Better with a Pinch of Love

PART 1

My grandmother helped me raise my daughter – she was her other mother.  The wonderful and beautiful woman that my daughter has become is in great part to the influence my grandmother had in her life.  The following is a narrative I wrote from my daughter’s perspective.

IMG_1689

I was raised by two moms. Mamá and Tita Carmen, my great-grandma. She helped raise Mamá, and when I was born, she helped to raise me.

When I was born, as Mamá held me in her arms, she asked my Tita, “Es mia? Es mi niña?” Is she mine? Is she my little girl? My Tita responded, “Si, es tuya.” Yes, she is yours. But as long as I can remember, my Tita would grab my arm or my leg and say, “Este cachito es mio.” This little piece is mine, and pretend she was eating a piece of me.

When Mamá was at work or attending college, my Tita took care of me. She would teach me about all kinds of different foods from México. I watched in wonder how she used ordinary ingredients to create extraordinary flavors. I didn’t know it then, but she was teaching me about my culture and about the importance of using food to pass on traditions and bring family together.

Tortillera Dia De Los Muertos - By Pristine Cartera Turkus

Tortillera Dia De Los Muertos Print By Pristine Cartera Turkus

Tita loved making gorditas, a thick tortilla stuffed with black beans. It is a typical food from the state of Veracruz, Mexico where she was raised. She taught me how to make the ball of maza by rolling it in my hands, making a dimple in the center and stuffing it with beans, and finally flattening out the ball with my hands until it looked like a round golden sun. As she showed me how to pat and flatten the maza with my hands, she would sing, “Tortillita de manteca pa’ mamá que está contenta. Tortillita de maíz pa’ papá que está feliz,” Mexico’s equivalent to Patty-Cake. We would then fry them, and they would become puffed tortillas, like golden bubbles. I would become so excited when I saw them inflate like balloons, I would scream, “Se infló, sen infló!” I would pop the top of the bubble and my Tita would top my gordita with salsa, not so spicy for me, and queso fresco.

beans

Prisarts Gallery

Tita was always cooking up something special for us. Every morning Tita would wake up by 5:00 to greet the tortilla sun, eager to prepare our breakfast. My alarm was usually the clinking and clanking of the pots, especially when she would make her delicious black bean burritos with salsa verde. She’d begin by mashing the beans she had previously made in her olla de barro, a special clay pot that had been seasoned from years of cooking beans. Then she’d warm up flour tortillas on the comal; tortillas so soft, like her plump cheeks when she kissed me good morning. A little shredded cheese and salsita verde,y listo calisto,” love wrapped by tortillas awaited at the table. “Panza llena, corazón contento,” she would exclaim. Full stomach, happy heart! Through her cooking, Tita made sure we were always protected by her love.

maiz

Artist: Bones Nelson

At the end of the school day, even though Mamá would cook dinner in the evenings, Tita always prepared a little meal for me; it was her way of welcoming me home. One of my favorite meals was sopita de fideo, Mexican noodle soup. Sometimes she would put banana rounds in my soup, mmmmm. This was a trick abuelas, grandmas, would use to get the little ones to eat their soup. And when she would forget, I would remind her, “Tita, se te olvido hecharle platanito!” Tita, you forgot to add the banana. As soon as I’d get home from school, I would smell Tita’s cooking and see a placemat on the table with a spoon or a fork neatly wrapped in a napkin the way she always wrapped herself around me with her hugs. Before I could even put my backpack down, she would announce what she had cooked especially for me, “Te hice sopita mi niña, ven a comer.” I made you soup my little girl, come eat. That was one of the best parts of coming home.

mole

Artist: Deb Hart

Tita Carmen had many ways of showing her love to us, but the way she loved us the most was through the food she cooked. She believed that if you were hungry, you could never enjoy the beautiful things in life, and you definitely could not be hungry and laugh at the same time. She made each one of us feel special by cooking the foods that made our eyes twinkle like luciérnagas, fireflies, and our smiles wrap around our faces like brilliant streamers.

On special occasions, like on our birthdays, she made mole, a delicious potion of love. She would start early in the morning by setting out all the ingredients she would need for the big meal. Mole is made with over twenty different ingredients! It can take up to two days to make the paste from scratch. Even though she bought the mole paste, she always added her secret ingredients, or “su pellizco de amor,” her pinch of love. Mole is a special treat in Mexico and many families have their own varieties passed down for generations.

“Bate, Bate chocolate con arroz y con tomate. 1-2-3 Cho! 1-2-3 co! 1-2-3 la! 1-2-3 te! Chocolate, chocolate,” She would sing as she stirred the mole paste into a semi-sweet and spicy sauce of love. This took a while, as it had to have the perfect consistency. The house would smell of chocolate, chicken, tortillas, tomato, onion, garlic, beans, cilantro and spices like roasted chiles, sesame seeds, and clove. It was a celebration of food, family, and love. Tita was like mole, loving and comforting during discouraging times, strong and bold during hard times, and daring and sassy in the face of defeat.

baking

With such a big family to feed and little time to cook, Tita figured out very quickly how to cook meals with little ingredients and lots of love. Besides raising her own children, she also helped raise five grandchildren, and me! She was a farm worker for fourteen years and that meant working long hours. Sometimes 14 hours a day, seven days a week under the scorching sun! She would get up at 4:00 o’clock in the morning to be in the fields by five. She spent a huge part of her day bent over or on her feet pulling weeds or harvesting fruits and vegetables like strawberries, grapes, tomatoes, cabbage, and onions.

Even though she would be too tired to cook after a long day’s work, and cooking for so many people could mean spending a lot of time in the kitchen on her feet no matter how simple the meal, she always figured out a way to cook a feast. “Todo sabe mejor, con un pellizco de amor.” “Everything tastes better with a pinch of love,” she would say.

Tita always cooked with her mandil; that was her superheroine cape with which she created magic in the kitchen. She could always make something out of nothing. Mamá told me that growing up, there were times when food was scarce. She remembers once when all there was, was a pack of hotdogs in the refrigerator and a bag of rice, and somehow Tita managed to cook a delicious meal. She chopped the hotdogs, sautéed them in onion and garlic, and cooked them in a tomato-chipotle sauce she made by blending tomatoes and a couple of chipotle chiles, and served them over rice. Mamá says those were the best hotdogs she ever tasted. Tita never worried about there not being enough food. Her philosophy was simple, “Le hechamos más agua a los frijoles.” We will just add more water to the beans. No matter who came around, she always had enough food to feed us all.

Gotitas de Lluvia (Drops of Rain)

Saying goodbye was difficult for the students as their session came to an end, I just didn’t realize how difficult it would be for me.  As I think about all the unforgettable experiences I lived in Costa Rica, I conclude that the pain of saying goodbye is worth those moments I lived.  Sometimes we get so close to people, and the impact they make in our lives is so life-changing, that we can’t fathom the idea of potentially not seeing them again.  We come across so many people in our lives, many for a very brief moment, like a drop of rain cascades down a leaf.  Others become part of our journeys, embracing and supporting us through our growth, the way soil anchors the roots of a tree during its life-span.

Leaving was much more difficult than I anticipated; I had such beautiful encounters there. I had started to grow roots in its nurturing soil, and was pulled out of a place, I didn’t realize, I wasn’t ready to be pulled from. People there walked around with their hearts opened, literally zinging me with love. I was wrapped in love, not only by the people in Costa Rica, but also by the students I served and some of the adults I worked with.  Of the students and the impact they had on my life I will write in a later blog.

The following are some of the little drops of rain that nurtured me during my stay in Costa Rica:

Don Gregorio

Don Gregorio tended to the volcanic mud baths in the Rio Negro Hot Springs that surround the Rincon de La Vieja Volcano. I had built a small connection with him during the few times I had been there with the students. He was a gentle, soft spoken man with an accommodating demeanor. He had hard working, brusque hands, callused and heavily worn by his experiences.  The kind of hands that could hold on to the heaviest burden and caress the most diaphanous butterfly.  In contrast to his hands, despite being an elder, his face was supple and radiant.  Aside from a few fine lines on his face, his cheeks were like two perfectly polished Pink lady apples nestling his eyes, which had a child-like gleamer in them.  He seemed to enjoy watching my antics as I struggled to adjust to the heat of the hot springs, clumsily scrubbed the dry clay off my skin, and cowardly committed to the cold river, all part of a detoxing sequence.

As I rounded up the students, I realized that that might be the last time I’d ever see that place again, and the last time I’d see Don Gregorio.  In that instant, he approached me, grabbed me by my shoulders and looking into my eyes, said, “Bueno Muchacha, ya no vienes mas?”  Confirming what I already knew in my heart – this would be my last encounter with him.  “Cuidate, que Dios te bendiga.  Eres una muchacha muy especial.”  In his eyes, I saw his sincerity, and I also saw God, and the beautiful connection our two souls had made.  I couldn’t help but to believe his words, not because they boosted my ego,  but because there was a deeper source that told me so.  Perhaps, because he seemed to believe it more than I did.

Doña Veronica

Doña Veronica was in charge of coordinating and preparing all meals for the program.  Her coordination was no easy task when you consider all the dietary restrictions she had to adhere to when designing the meals.  Some students were vegetarian, others vegan, still others were allergic to peanuts, kiwi, fish, dairy, even lentils.  On top of that she was cooking for 52 people, of which 45 were very hungry teenagers.  Every day, she showed up like magic, with a heart full of love, which manifested in the delicious meals she cooked, and a smile as radiant as the ablaze warm sunsets of Costa Rica. She knew exactly who needed to be served what, without looking at any notes, might I add.  Most of her day was spent serving or preparing for the next meal, and yet she always had time to pause, look at us in the eyes, address us by our names, and ask us how we were doing.  I don’t remember when I began hugging her, but it happened, spontaneously, the way the morning gives way to a new bloom.

The last week of the program, I was exhausted, emotionally and physically.  Being responsible for the well-being of 45 students 7 days a week had started to take a toll on me after six weeks, not to mention the challenging working dynamics that occurred when staff members also interacted with each other 7 days a week and lived on the same premises.  Saturday morning, as we were headed out for our last weekend excursion with the students, unexpectedly, but not surprisingly, Doña Veronica called out my name as I was about to get on the bus.  She pranced toward me, with her arms opened, and gave me an embracing, loving hug, the kind I looked forward to from my grandmother when I needed refuge from life’s complications. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I needed that hug; I needed her nurturing love to get me through the weekend.  Being so far away, with people I had only met a few weeks before, had left me yearning for the unconditional love I was so used to back home.  The kindness with which that hug was given blunted the challenges and intensity of the weekend.

Playa Naranjo

Playa Naranjo is a secluded beach in Costa Rica, and in order to get to it by land, one must ride in a 4-wheeled vehicle with a vigorous suspension capacity through the forest for approximately an hour.  The students were brought to this majestic place to surf, camp, and observe sea turtles nesting.  As the sun prepared to descend behind the robust mountains, it began to tinge the clouds with golden hues of amber, cerise, and coral. Apposite to the direction of the sunset was the most brilliant, colorful rainbow I had ever seen in my life.  I sat on the fine, bold volcanic sand marveled by this spectacle of God, pondering how I had gotten so lucky to witness that moment.  I was filled with so much love, it began to pour out of my eyes.  All of these amazing things in the world flowed inside of me like a river – they seemed to be a gift to me, like Doña Veronica’s hugs, and Don Gregorio’s words.

Don Gradvin

“Buenos Dias, Cristina.  Pura Vida!”  Was how he greeted me every morning with the most sincere and spirited smile I have ever encountered. Don Gradvin made me feel as if all of Costa Rica was smiling at me.  He exemplified the phrase, Pura Vida, a term which literally translates to pure life, but has a more profound meaning for the Costarricenses.  Pura Vida reminds us to be like a river and flow in the direction that life takes us; to persist the way the trees persist in the rainforest, but also to surrender, to let go and transform from what con no longer be, the way the host trees surrenders to the Matapalo trees, a strangling species, which envelops the host tree as it struggles for light in the darkest areas of the forest; and to remember that no matter how much or how little we have in life, life is here to be embraced and enjoyed.  Don Gradvin was my hummingbird – he brought out the joy, playfulness, and enthusiasm for life in me, and in everyone that engaged with him.

He was one of the bus drivers that drove us everywhere. Aside from fulfilling his duties as a bus driver, he also gave of himself and made all the experiences so much more vibrant by participating alongside the mentors and students, whether it was shoveling gravel, wheelbarrowing cement, or making tamales, he was always present,  allowing us to feel that we were the most important thing to him in that moment.   Even the bus rides from the service sites were exciting.  At the end of the day, exhausted as the students would be from the toil, they’d yell out, “49,”  in Spanish. The number to their favorite song on Don Gradvin’s CD.  They’d dance in celebration all the way back to home-base, where Don Gradvin would   chant “Pura Vida” as each student got off the bus.   The same words he told me as he bid me farewell from Costa Rica.

#49

I am so grateful to God for bringing so much love into my life, whether it’s through people that exist briefly in my life or people that are on this journey with me.  Even in the midst of being so far away from “home,” I felt God’s love through the people that manifested their brilliant light. Through Katia, the year-round administrative manager to the villa we were staying in, who invited me to stay at her house my last day in Costa Rica to celebrate Mother’s day (August 15) with her family, who also welcomed me with generosity and warmth. Through Alex, one of the mentors, whose big-brother presence, even though he was younger than me, made me feel supported and encouraged.  Through Bernarda, one of the housekeepers, who despite the poverty and struggles in her life, was a vibrant and gregarious woman.  She’d surprise me with specially made gallo pinto or hand-made corn tortillas.  I appreciated her hands, and the smell of the maize when she’d make the tortillas, for in those moments, I was reminded of the way my grandmother poured her love into me through the food she made.  I’ve felt her, as much as I felt God,  in the small interactions filled with love that I experienced in Costa Rica.  As challenging and exhausting as the program could be, there was hardly a day that passed by that didn’t offer Costa Rica magic – “the unexpected and sweet happenings that stood out in stark relief” to the stressors of the program.

 

Migration is Beautiful

I took these photographs on April 5th, a nation-wide day of action to stop these senseless and unjust immigration policies and deportations. Migration is a human right.  Every day more than 1,000 are deported.  It was predicted that by April, over 2 million people would be deported by the Obama Administration. There are open borders for commercial trade and profit, yet the border is closed to those who are exploited for the labor that lines the pockets of the very people that benefit from policies like NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement).  On April 5th, groups across the country held events to say: 2 Million 2 Many!  Not One More Deportation!

Place cursor over photographs to view captions or click on any photograph to view as slide show.

 

Ramona’s Dream

A short screenplay based on conversations I have had with students in the past month.  As I continue to explore the importance of reclaiming our past, connecting to our ancestors, learning our heritage, and actively participating in passing these components of identity to future generations, I am also paying deep attention to the subversive ways in which colonization, racism, and poverty continue to devastate our children.

Int. Public School Classroom (K-8) – Any given school day

A dated resource classroom with brown linoleum floor and yellowing

perforated ceiling tiles with some water stains. 

Some pseudo motivational posters with messages like: “The Difference Between Losers and Winners is Attitude” and “Learning is an Adventure.”

Classroom furnished with five round tables with four chairs at each table. The classroom serves for small group instruction for students with IEPs (Individual Education Plans).

Resource books, instructional strategies written on posters, and some computers line one side of the room.

Three students are in the classroom with their support teacher who is helping them write their history essay which is already past due. The essay topic: Segregation in the South.

Two of the students, Jesus and Alberto, 8th graders, are giggling and murmuring to each other, searching through their back-pack for their work. They don’t seem interested in doing the assignment.

Ramona, the third student, also an 8th grader, is sitting across from them, to the right of the teacher, Mrs. Malo. Her head is bent over her textbook, and she stares intently at its cover, a photograph of the Statue of Liberty with a backdrop of the flag of the United States. Her hands are grasping the chair by the side of her thighs, as she drags her feet back and forth.

Ramona wears brown lackluster eyes, brown skin of a heritage indigenous to the central coast of Mexico, and long flowing hair that fall like Raven feathers along her arms.

Jesus has more pronounced indigenous features with hair that covers his head like a thick knitted cap.

 

Mrs. Malo

(Sternly and compassionately speaking to the boys)

 

Guys, come on, get your work out. We have to get started.

 

 

Jesus and Alberto

                  (giggling as they are pulling out their work)

 

Ramona

                  (bewildered)

What are we supposed to write about?

 

Mrs. Malo

                  (matter of fact)

You’re writing your essay for history. You have to write about segregation in the South.

 

Alberto

                  (inquisitively)

What’s segregation?

 

Mrs. Malo

It’s when Blacks were not allowed to live alongside Whites. They had to use separate bathrooms, sit in different sections of a bus or restaurant, attend separate schools, and were treated as having less value than Whites.

 

Ramona

                  (appalled)

That’s racist!

 

Mrs. Malo

                  (in agreement)

Yeah. So if we work on this essay, it will help you to learn more about how segregation caused a lot of suffering for Blacks who lived in the South. And actually, there have been many different groups of people that have suffered segregation in this country.

 

Students listening intently to Mrs. Malo

 

Mrs. Malo

                  (Cont)

Mexicans also had to deal with segregation, but most of the segregation Mexicans experienced happened in places like California, Texas, and Arizona.

 

Alberto

                  (confused)

Who made segregation?

 

Mrs. Malo

Segregation laws were put in place by White people.

 

Alberto

                  (even more confused)

But why?

 

Mrs. Malo

Many reasons. Hate, fear, control, power, and also this idea called White supremacy.

 

Alberto

                  (confused)

What’s White supremacy?

 

Mrs. Malo

It’s this idea that Whites are better than the other races, and should have control of those races. But this same idea exists in many countries, not just the United States. For example, in Mexico you see that many of the people who hold power and wealth are disproportionately White.

 

Ramona

                  (enthusiastically)

My dream is to marry a white guy!

 

Mrs. Malo turns to Ramona in shock. Mrs. Malo instinctively assumes Ramona wants to marry a White guy because she has learned to see her brown skin as inferior and it would give her more accessibility into a world of more privilege, but quickly catches herself, so as to not criticize or judge what Ramona has just stated. Instead probes Ramona to understand Ramona’s perspective.

 

After Ramona’s comment, Jesus bends his head toward his textbook with his hands in the pockets of his hoodie.

 

Mrs. Malo

                  (probing, trying to hide her disappointment)

Why is that your dream?

 

Ramona

                  (enthusiastically)

Because, they are so cute and they have money, so they can take care of me.

 

Mrs. Malo

                  (trying desperately not to sound judgmental)

 

What about just saying, “My dream is to find a guy that is caring and understanding who will support me with my dreams?”

 

Ramona looks down on her essay, takes her thumb and rubs it on her paper, as if she is erasing something with it.

 

Mrs. Malo

                  (Redirecting the conversation)

What’s your dream for your life?

 

Ramona looks at her with a blank stare.

 

Mrs. Malo

                  (Cont)

What do you see yourself doing when you graduate high school? I know that’s a few years away, so you may not know exactly what you will be doing, but do you have an idea?

 

Alberto

                  (mocking Ramona)

She’s not going to graduate. She’s failing all her classes.

 

Ramona, withdrawn, begins to rub her thumb on her paper again, as if she is erasing something with it.

 

Mrs. Malo

                  (sympathetically)

Ramona is having a challenging time with her assignments, but she can and will improve her grade; that’s why she is here getting extra support.   We all have times in our lives where we go through challenges, but it doesn’t mean we can’t bounce back.

 

Alberto

(becomes pensive and then jolts out)

 

She failed all her classes last year too!

 

Mrs. Malo

                  (still trying to be sympathetic, probes Ramona about her relationship with her parents)

Ramona, what do your parents say about how you are doing in school?

 

 

Ramona

                  (exhaling gently in a resigned manner)

Yeah, they always punish me. I’m used to it now. But that doesn’t really do anything for me.

 

Mrs. Malo

                  (still probing)

What about all your parents have had to go through in leaving their home and sacrificing themselves in an unknown country for a better future for you? Doesn’t that push you to want to do better?

 

Ramona

                  (a bit aggravated)

This work is too boring. I don’t get it. If I could go back to Mexico, I’d rather study there.

 

Mrs. Malo

Did you do good in school there?

 

Ramona

I never went to school there. But maybe the teachers there would understand me better. I don’t know.

 

Mrs. Malo

                  (probing)

Well, what do you see yourself doing once you graduate? Sometimes that helps us figure out how to get there.

 

Ramona

                  (slouching to the side a bit)

I’ll just work in a hotel like my aunts. They make good money. And since I have papers, I will get paid more. Plus it’s easy to start working there since my aunts work there already.

 

Mrs. Malo

                  (disappointed at Ramona’s response)

MMmmmmhh? What would you do?

 

Ramona

                  (with a confused look)

I would do housekeeping. They make like $25 an hour if they have papers.

 

Mrs. Malo

                  (disappointed at Ramona’s response)

 

Is that all you aspire to? Cleaning after people for the rest of your life.

 

Ramona

                  (counteracting)

What’s wrong with cleaning rooms. My aunt’s do it. They make good money.

 

Mrs. Malo shifts in her chair, uncomfortable with Ramona’s question. A bit embarrassed that Ramona might feel that she is degrading the work that her aunts do.

 

Mrs. Malo

                  (still trying to make her point)

Are they happy?

 

Ramona

                  Yeah.

 

Mrs. Malo

                  (trying not to sound judgmental)

All I’m saying is, wouldn’t you rather pick the journey of your life based on your passion instead of what is easy? Many Mexican women, including my mother, have worked as housekeepers in this country because they had very few other options. But you have more opportunities. Yes, maybe you’ll make good money as a housekeeper, but why not make money doing something that you love so much, it doesn’t even feel life work?

 

Ramona

                  ( unconvinced)

The good jobs are for the white people.

 

Mrs. Malo

                  (persuasively)

That’s not true. I’m a teacher – I graduated from college. Your principal is Mexican.

 

Ramona

                  (dismayed)

He’s not even nice to Mexican people. You should see the way he treats my mom. He’s always rude to her, and tells her she needs to pay attention to us.

 

Mrs. Malo

                  (with a stronger tone a bit more animated)

 

Okay, but what about all the people I know? Many of my friends who are Mexican are professionals. I have a friend who is a cop, another friend who is a lawyer, a bank manager, a veterinarian, some own their own businesses. Just cuz you are Mexican, doesn’t mean you can’t be anything you want to be.

 

I had a baby at 18, but made a choice that I would not give up on my journey and went on to graduate from college. But it’s not about graduating from college; it’s about believing in your dream and that you deserve to have that dream.

 

Alberto

                  (animated, jumping forward on his chair)

Oh yeah! Like that guy who is running for mayor. He is Mexican. I saw in the news he would be the first one in San Diego!

 

Ramona cracks a brief cynical smile, looks down on her essay, staying quiet for a few seconds.

 

Ramona

                  (trying to sound convincing)

I’m still going to work in housekeeping. I have papers and I will get paid more than the women who are illegal.

 

Mrs. Malo gives Ramona a thwarted smile, asks the students to open their textbook, and begins to guide them on how to structure the next paragraph of their essay.

 

 

 

 

 

 

                 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where I’m From (My Version)

Driving through the winding street lined with multi-story homes, tall pine trees, and manicured lawns, on my way to Point Loma High School, I am a bused-in student making my daily trek to a school worlds apart from the place I come from.  A feeling of alienation, of estrangement comes over me.   I don’t know if the students with skin the color of earth are wanted, or even noticed.  I wonder if, like me, they feel inferior as they are confronted by a world that knows nothing about them.  Not inferior because we are different, but inferior because the bridge to cross is only one-way.

IF YOU WANT TO BE SOMEBODY YOU MUST COME HERE.

Every day, the trek cuts deeper into my self worth.  Reminding me that where I’m from is not a desired place to visit.  I think about what we leave behind, hidden, when we cross that imaginary bridge.   A part of me, concealed like the basements in the multi-story homes.  Gaucamole, chipotle, burritos and sombreros.  Those are things you know about me, but they are not the whole me.  Why is it easier to acknowledge those things, and deny that I AM a part of you.

HOW CAN YOU SEE ME AS SOMEBODY WHEN I AM INCOMPLETE TO YOU?

Whose story is told?  Whose story is heard?  The danger of a single story, an incomplete story, is that it creates stereotypes – incomplete portrayals of a person’s living experience – and robs people of their dignity.

Where I’m from the grass is parched,

blades of dreams grow from earth

so scabbed it can’t feel its roots.

.

Where I’m from sowthistle and prickly lettuce

break through concrete to catch desire

in a ray of sunlight.

.

I am from café con leche

with buttered bolillo

so early in the morning

you can hear the silence of God.

.

I am from frijoles and tortillas

from long lines and waiting,

from oil-stained driveways

and broken down cars.

.

Where I’m from family extends

like the limbs of the majestic oak,

and songs arouse memories of

of cornfields and agave nectar.

.

I’m from Corridos and Boleros,

from Marimba and Jaranas,

from my grandmother’s wails

for a land whose syllables

she never relinquished.

.

I am from eyes that cautiously wait

for a day’s work at corners,

where hope for a better life

totters on the capitalist horizon.

.

Where I’m from the border is 2,000 miles

of decomposed aspirations and desires,

the precipice of human will

deceived by a mirage.

 

Where I’m from letters with serrated edges

embellish chipped painted walls,

proclaiming – I AM Somebody!

.

I am from hands stuccoed with masa,

the hustling  entrepreneur

who sells tamales from her van

or pushes his carrito de paletas

in an illusive street economy.

.

I’m from mi cielito lindo, mi vida, y

mi corazón.

From the Salinas circuit of

lung-filling pesticides,

the arthritis that seeped into

my grandmother’s bones like

the frosted dew in the toiled soil.

.

I AM from the warmth of the Temazcal,

The might of the limestone mountains

who guard the central deserts.

From vanilla dreams of copal awakening

jaguar spirit within.

.

I am from the moment of courage

my grandmothers had when they

left their abusive husbands.

From the 12 hour work shifts

followed by laundry loads and

piles of dishes yearning for attention.

From Ojalá and Si Dio Quiere.

.

I am from the little voice in my

ancestral  tree whispering,

Si Se Puede.

Inspired by conversations with youth, my experiences, and the poem, “Where I’m From” by George Ella Lyon.