Black Lives do not Exist in a Vacuum

Our ancestors did not have the resources or avenues for resistance that we have today, and they still resisted, however they could, even if it was in subversive ways. It was their resistance that made it possible for us to have more rights, however minimal those rights are, we have more than they had.

For that, we owe them. We are obligated to look at our participation in the violence of our world. I am not accusing anyone except Mr. Wilson for the direct death of Michael Brown. However, we have to look very deeply and honestly at ourselves and ask, HOW DO WE PARTICIPATE IN EMPOWERING THE VERY SYSTEMS THAT OPPRESS AND ASSAULT US? We certainly didn’t put these oppressive structures in place, but how have we contributed in making them as powerful as they are?

Black lives matter. Not just in Ferguson, not just in America. Black lives do not exist in a vacuum.

Black lives matter in the Congo, where children, men, and women die from mining the very minerals that create the LCD screens we so enthusiastically use on our smart phones and wide screen TVs.

Black lives matter in Sierra Leone, where we indirectly support deplorable child labor conditions from the mining that yields the very diamonds we wear on our engagement rings and necklaces. No, there really isn’t such a thing as conflict-free diamonds. How is it that diamond miners can be some of the poorest people on the planet?

Black lives matter in Guatemala and El Salvador where companies like Oceana Gold displace people from their homes to mine gold and silver, contaminate the waterways with arsenic, and make millions of dollars in net revenue

Black Lives Matter in Brazil where thousands went missing to “clean up” the streets for billion dollar stadiums, while the rest of the world indulged in their nationalism and bought national soccer jerseys made at the expense of some brown Indonesian child.

Across the world, we live in postcolonial societies under systems that were created to protect and empower those who believe in the colonial system. This is not just about NOT shopping on BLACK FRIDAY. It’s about critically analyzing the kind of world we want to continue to participate in, and the kind of world we want to create. What choices will we continue to make? Not shopping for one day will not change the corporate power structures in this country. In America,  80%, eight out of ten people, own seven percent of this country’s net worth between them. That means, that our economic freedom, even if we own our home, have a healthy retirement stash, and a decent wage, is an illusion. Under this system, as long as we continue to use our money to fund corporate growth, we will continue to have no economic leverage, no political leverage, and frankly, very little moral leverage.

So to insist upon a system that functions under capitalist and colonial principles that Black lives, or Brown lives, or any lives matter, is simply ineffective on its own, unless we participate in actions that will resist and transform the systems that are backing us into a wall. Capitalism is not to improve society but to maximize the personal wealth of the capitalist. The only real power we have, is our social leverage – the ability to organize ourselves, and mobilize with a collective purpose to create systems that benefit all individuals within the good of the whole.

“We are constantly being astonished at the amazing discoveries in the field of violence. But I maintain that far more undreamt-of and seemingly impossible discoveries will be made in the field of nonviolence. ” Mahatma Gandhi

We are entering tough times. Probably no tougher than our ancestors had it, although the pain and injustices seem to be much more far-reaching. I don’t know how we will navigate through this proliferation of injustices and violence, but I hope, collectively, however we decide to do it, it is in a way that we don’t dehumanize each other any more than we already have. I hope we come out whole at the end.

We start there, with ourselves first. Rather than only insisting that those in power understand our collective humanity, that we come from the same source, first we have to live intentionally based on that idea. For as long as our very own actions do not recognize that we are all connected, whole, than how can we insist on it to someone else? Our actions must be intentional. We must #stayawake to how our financial choices devalue lives, not only here in America, but across the world. In a global society, where those in power drive an economic machine that operates on supply and demand, cutting costs for greater efficiency, growing profits, and net revenues, our financial choices are vital, if we are to overcome. It is not just about political awakening to institutionalized racism; it is about a spiritual awakening to institutionalized human exploitation.

The world has been created with the illusion of division, violence, and inhumanity. Any action we take that promotes these very illusions that have been set in place to keep us fragmented, will only serve to perpetuate the conditions we are living in now. Our responsibility now, is to imagine a different way, a different world, a non-violent world. We created this world, and through our intentional or unintentional actions, we have sustained and maintained it. The opposite of violence is not peace, it is creativity. It is time we start thinking differently, and create another kind of world. Creativity requires that we let go of the past thinking and behaviors that no longer serve us. “We cannot look behind us for answers. They do not live there. We must imagine ourselves forward, envision the world we want to create, and feel the new reality in every cell of our being.” – Jan Phillips Peace will only be an outcome of this.

We must speak our ideas, even if we fear they will be criticized and resisted. We must dare speak, even if in what we speak there only lays a fraction of an idea, for these thoughts are the only building blocks we have to a loving and safer world. Audre Lorde once said, “We have been socialized to respect fear more than our own needs for language and definition, and while we wait in silence for the final luxury of fearlessness, the weight of that silence will choke us . . . The transformation of silence into language and action is an act of self-revelation and that always seems fraught with danger. We fear the very visibility without which we also cannot truly live . . . and that visibility which makes us most vulnerable is that which is also the source of our greatest strength.”

Now more than ever, the greatest question we must ask ourselves along every process we engage in is, What are we living for, and why?

Post Blog: My thoughts this morning after more meditation and reflection:

If the strategies and solutions come from the same place the problem originated, unconsciousness – then the conditions that brought us to where we are now will persist. We have to ask ourselves, “What are the thoughts and beliefs I’ve been conditioned with? Are they serving me, the world? Leave no answer unquestioned. Violence has never yielded peace, capitalism has never benefited the masses, and yet we keep moving forward under these false premises. It is time to let go of what no longer serves us. Time to look at new ways of being. ‪#‎Stayawake‬ means to become conscious of who we are, recognize our wounds “and call up the courage to transcend the limitations these wounds place on us.” said it before, the greatest revolution I have ever embarked in has been my self-healing. It’s time to transform within. The external work will mean nothing if we don’t awaken to who the person observing all of this is. Who are we? What are we living for, and why? What do we want? The solutions will always be temporary if we don’t embark in the journey within. Don’t look to the past…look within.


La Patita

I was sitting on my mother’s lap; I must have been six or seven years old.  She wasn’t running around disciplining my brothers, or arguing with my grandmother, or with her boyfriend.  She was holding me, giving me the gift of her presence.  I remember feeling safe and wanted, not dismissed or hurried.  Like most children do, I started to talk, to ramble off about anything and everything I found amusing or curious.  I had my mother’s undivided attention, and that was my opportunity to be visible – to shine!

La Patita was one of the many childhood songs I grew up loving by Cricri, Francisco Gabilondo Soler, the most recognizable singer of children’s songs in Spanish.  It’s a song about a mother duck who loves and cares for her ducklings – the quintessential nurturing and protective mother.

I decided to create a new story using La Patita as my character.  I don’t remember what my story was about, but what I do remember was the intent look in my mother’s eyes.  Her gaze as she looked at me with admiration and kindness.

The next morning, I awoke to a yellow inflatable plastic balloon, the kind you win at fairs, in the shape of a leg, on the sofa.  La Patita is also a colloquialism in Mexico for a little foot.  When I saw it, I felt a surge of hummingbirds beating through my veins.   It had been a reward – for spending time with my mom, for the story I created, for being special.

And then thoughts of unworthiness, camouflaged by questions, settled in like the desert scorpion settles into the sand dunes.  Had she gotten it for me?  Where did she know to find it?  I had just told her the story the evening before.  Did I deserve it?

Something deeper than my thoughts knew it was for me.  I’ve held on to that feeling my whole life. The way I held on to the smell of the strawberry and grape scratch-n-sniff stickers on my school awards that hung in my dad’s office; or my very first staff ID, which my grandmother carried in her wallet so she could parade it around and say, “My grandora es a ticher,” in the Spanish syllables she never relinquished.

La Patita sparked a storyteller inside of me.  The storyteller who came to believe she was worthy of telling her story.

“La Patita, de canaste y reboso de bolita, va al mercado a comprar todas las cosas del mandado. Se va meneando al caminar, como los barcos en alta mar. La Patita va coriendo y buscando en su bolsita centavitos para darles de comer a sus patitos.  Porque ya sabe que al retornar toditos ellos preguntaran, Que me trajiste mama qua qua. . . ”

Green Cat Liquors Series – Part IV

Superman!  I am Superman!  Watch me Ma’!  The little boy shouted over the blaring TV as Superman flew across the skies.  He ran across the living room in his Superman briefs, wanting to be visible.  To be revered the way his favorite super hero was.  He had the same dreams that every child is born with – to be of purpose, to find his passion, and to leave a legacy that undeniably states, “I am somebody.”  That’s what he saw in Superman.

He grabbed the polyester beige curtains that hung heavy on the window, stained by the neglect of poverty, like the sidewalk and alley that bordered our apartment complex.  A cape that would allow him to fly beyond the screeching cars, drunkards, and sirens that kept us in.  He twirled and twirled, losing himself in an intoxicating feeling of vertigo; feeling his weightless body floating off the ground.

He flew from the second floor, they said.  Ay Dios Mio what a tragedy.  It was the mother’s fault – why wasn’t she watching him.  Too many kids to look after.  No.  It was the landlord’s fault.  That window sits just a few inches from the floor – he should have put bars on the window, but he is too cheap.

The little boy was lucky the paramedic said.  The concrete ledge allowed him to fall in a seated position, avoiding trauma to the head.  The little boy never flew again.

Driving Was To Her What Flying Is To A Hummingbird

In one of her journal entries, Carmen wondered why our Tita had always been obsessed with getting her a car.  She describes that Grandma would always say to her, “Te voy a dar dinerito para que te compres un carro,” and then she’d wink and smile with that mischievous smile she’d often give.

Tita Carmen, or Abue, never drove.  When she was young she attempted to learn how to drive with a Jeep, but crashed under the anxiety that her second husband’s stern and rigid coaching caused her.  He had no patience for the process or for life.  She never picked up the keys to a car again.  She spent the rest of her life waiting for transportation – whether it was the trolley, the bus, or a ride.

She was such a free spirit, an explorer and adventurer at heart.  Her spirit was too wild to be contained, and that was evident in her decisions to leave both of her husbands, even when she didn’t have a penny to her name.

Tita Carmen never saw her lack of driving as an obstacle, however.  She knew every bus line, every trolley stop, and every transfer point.  We didn’t always have money to spend, but growing up, my grandmother and I would get on public transportation and discover places we had never seen before.  Sometimes going somewhere would take hours, but we’d both peer out the window the whole time – I imagine that seeing new things was as exciting for her as it was for me. It was also a way to daydream and escape some of the more difficult and painful experiences in our lives.

When we lived in San Ysidro, we would take the trolley to Seaport Village every Sunday.  We would pack a lunch and spend the whole day there.  Seaport Village always hosted a band at the Kiosk located at the Eastern side of the village.  There were always the regulars, mostly older folks swing’n and groov’n to the quintessential and nostalgic Americana music.  My grandmother having had a long and drawn out challenge with chronic hip pain and deterioration of movement watched with joy as the couples showcased their jitter-bugs, square dances, and two-steps across the floor.  She’d sometimes reminisce about her dancing adventures with Rumba, Cha-Cha-Cha, and Danzon.  She’d describe her sequenced Casablanca evening gowns, her wedged platform shoes with rhinestone ankle straps, her black fur stole held together with a crystal brooch, and her pin-up hair.   This era of her life would be a far cry from the 14 years of back-breaking work she endured in the agricultural fields of California.

She had her first hip replacement in 1984.   Summer was in full swing, and there was going to be a free Latin music festival at the Embarcadero, not too far from Seaport Village.  We had little money, but we were always looking for new opportunities for excitement and a slice of happiness in our lives.  No matter how adverse the circumstances were around us, I always saw in my Tita an incredible desire to take in life at its best.  She loved celebrations and the opportunity for a new experience.  She wore a leg brace that span her whole leg, but that did not stop her.  The day of the festival she took the 13-mile trek on the trolley to the Embarcadero, and had, what at that moment felt like, the best time of her life.

She loved Vegas, and though she didn’t drive, she always found a tour bus to travel with.  She had spent her entire life caring for others, including helping to raise my four brothers and I.  Once I graduated from high school, she found the space and freedom to be able to explore life a little more on her own.  Before I’d know it, she was packing her clothes announcing she’d be leaving to Las Vegas the next morning, and would leave us instructions on what time to pick her up from the bus depot.  Somehow she managed to never be confined.  The last few years of her life she couldn’t do spare-of-the-moment trips to Vegas anymore, but she still managed to take the trolley and  shuttle buses to Viejas, Barona, or Rincon Casino.  After she passed, I found 7 different player’s cards for the nearby casinos in several of her purses.

Though public transportation never inhibited my grandmother and I from traveling adventures, once I was able to drive, there was no stopping us.  My daughter Carmen, Tita, and I were always on the go – from road trips to camping, to local adventures.  I remember Driving to Vegas several times a years.  My daughter says most of her childhood theme park memories all trace back to Las Vegas, though I did take her to Disneyland once or twice, I’m sure of it.  My grandmother’s sister and mother, my great-grandmother Tita-Chocolate, would often visit from Puebla, Mexico, and the road trips to Las Vegas became more adventurous.  Ay Dios Mio, did my Tita Carmen and Tia Mary love to gamble.  They always had their little superstitious rituals.  Tita Carmen always carried a small golden Buddha with a plump belly in her purse.  She would explain that if you rubbed its belly, it would bring you good fortune in your finances.  And of course she hated for anyone to talk to her when she was at the verge of a winning streak on a slot machine; she and Tia Mary believed their good fortune would be chased away.  They also believed that when one’s hand itched, it was a good omen for coming into money.

On one specific occasion I remember driving to Las Vegas with Tita Chocolate, Tita Carmen, and Carmen.  Ha!  That was a torturous adventure.  A-hundred-and-ten-degree weather, two stubborn viejitas who thought they could walk the strip, and a four-year-old who wanted to get on every ride she saw.

I specifically remember driving home from Vegas.  My stereo wasn’t working, and they slept most of the way back.  Aside from my grandmother’s snoring, you could hear a pin drop.  Sunburned, dehydrated, and a little hung-over from cafecito, sugar, and slot machines, they all slept dreaming of the neon signs and flashing lights we had left behind.

At some point life slowed our adventures down.  I started to share my time with David, my teaching career, and personal interests.  For a while Carmen became my grandmother’s partner in crime on the bus and trolley.  The bus drivers loved Tita Carmen.  She always carried chocolates in her purse, even though she was diabetic.  She said they were for her friends, the bus drivers.  She’d always have a little treat for them, and was always so grateful, especially because they would take the time to help her up the stairs with her walker. Sometimes when she’d be in the car with me, she’d wave at them while they were en route, and with genuine smiles, they waved back at her.

At some point though, my grandmother got older, so traveling on public transportation was more difficult for her.  She became more dependent on others for rides.   I imagine this sense of dependency is what fueled her obsession to get Carmen a car.

Jelly Sandwiches

Is what we looked forward to eating for dinner, if lucky, with a glass of milk.  I’d keep excited vigilance standing on the freeway overpass for my uncle’s arrival with the gallon of milk. Like a child who awaits the melodic tune of the ice-cream truck.  Sassafrass street would be his exit. Tita always scrambled enough change for a loaf of white bread.  She kept the jelly in the fridge – so clean and spacious like the refrigerators on display at one of those electronic stores.  So much room we could-of fit 100 jars of jelly!

On the days we had milk, our next-door neighbor would lend us six cups – plastic.  We’d sit around the kitchen floor – jelly sandwiches in our left hands and cup of milk to the right – imitating some kind of place-setting structure.  The sound through the window of cars heading to some unknown destination and the sound of the airplanes arriving from some unknown destination made me feel joyous and excited.  These sounds implicated possibilities; unexplored realities.

I hated predictability like I hated jelly sandwiches.  Sometimes our neighbor got lucky and had leftovers that she shared with us. Those days felt like the sounds of the cars and the airplanes.  Her home smelled of beans, corn tortillas, meat, chiles, and cilantro.  Her kitchen was filled with cooking artifacts: pots, a blender, utensils, spices, cookie jars, and food.  I imagined my grandmother in her kitchen.  At night I’d peek through a crack in the neighbor’s blinds and gaze at the soft pink velvety Louis XVI sofas with doilies placed on the back rest; curtains, heavy and plush with golden fringes, draped behind; pictures detailing important achievements and mile stones; and plastic runners to shield the soft suede-like carpet.  For a moment I’d pretend I was staring into my home.  I thought if I believed it enough, the emptiness of my house would disappear.

We’d always look forward to the weekends.  We’d put on our best clothes and walk to Seaport Village, pretending to be tourists.  I’d imagine we’d just disembarked from one of the spectacular cruise ships and were here to explore San Diego for the very first time.  My brothers would skip along or do some risky thing like walk on the edge of the sea wall taunting the seagulls and the boats that patiently waited for their own adventure.  I’d stop and read the menus that flirted with the passer-by’s palette, and enticed mouth-watering enthusiasm for the specials of the day: coconut-crusted tilapia, Teriyaki mesquite grilled shrimp with creamy pineapple dip, and pacific mahi-mahi charbroiled over hot mesquite coals served with a side of herb yogurt with a hint of sweet and spicy chipotle.

Once I’d made the careful selection, I’d pretend to call the restaurant and make reservations for six, calculating precisely how long it would take us to make our way through Seaport Village.  The chatter and laughter made me feel happy.  I felt normal.  The cruise ship, like the airplanes and the cars on the freeway had a mystical destination, another adventurous stop where someone like me awaited.  At the end of that summer, we were evicted from our house.  A full size mattress, a stack of blankets and a few bags of clothes served as reminders of how little we owned.  The weekend walks and my grandmother’s love served as a reminder of how much I had.