Viejo Cara de Hacha

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I was in 8th grade, roughly 14 years old.  I lived in San Ysidro, a border town on the U.S./Mexican border.  We moved a lot, but the one thing that had stayed constant in my life was the school I attended.  So when my grandmother, Tita Carmen, finally received approval for low-income housing, we found ourselves in a little apartment in San Ysidro, about 13 miles away, and an hour-and-a-half on public transportation from my school. Every morning, I woke up before the morning star cast its arms across the sky and boarded the trolley no later than 4:45  in order to arrive to school before the bell rang at 7:30.

There were many men that rode the trolley during that time, mostly construction workers and day laborers or men who worked at the naval shipyard. There were also students who woke up earlier than me, who came from Tijuana and went to school on this side of the border, chasing the American dream. Most morning, my Tita walked me to the trolley station, but some morning, the cold made her bones swell up. I got lots of stares, a few cat calls and whistles here and there, but most of the time, I didn’t pay attention and focused on finishing my school work.  Until one day, an older man, whom I perceived to be around fifty or sixty years old, started to harass me.  He wouldn’t take his eyes off me. I was like a birthday gift that he couldn’t wait to unwrap.  His eyes glazed over with lustful craving, he’d lurk around the trolley station making sure he was always a few feet away from me.  He’d make noises like psst, psst to catch my attention, and when he’d catch my eye, he’d lick his lips or make some kind of nod with his head.

He started to creep me out enough that I told my Tita about him.  So the very next day, my grandmother accompanied me, but told me to stay a few feet in front of her and to pretend that we weren’t together.  As we anticipated, the old man was waiting for me and began his perverse behavior toward me.  When the trolley arrived, I got on as I always did, but I wasn’t sure where my Tita had gone.  I sat down and as soon as the doors closed, I heard a loud commotion a few seats behind me.  That’s when I saw my grandmother with her cane whacking the shit out of the old man! People all around watched as if frozen onto their seats.  At first I turned back around and pretended not to know what was happening.  I could hear my Tita screaming profanities in spanish. “Pinche viejo cara de Hacha!  Porque no se mete con viejas come yo?  O que, estoy muy vieja, por eso le gustan las muchachitas!  Pinche limon chupado! I was scared for my Tita, but more scared for the man.  He had his hands up in the air, trying to block every blow, screaming, “Ya, senora! No mas!”

A passenger stood up and tried to stop my grandmother, telling her to calm down because she could hyperventilate.  But he was no match for her fierce anger and strength.  So a couple more passengers pulled her off from the old man, and with commanding, sweet language helped her to have a seat, as she loudly justified why the old man deserved to get the shit beat out of him.

He got off at the next stop. So did my Tita.  I don’t know what else happened, and she never talked about it, except to ask me once in a while if I had seen him again.  But I never saw that man, and no one at that station or on the trolley, not so much as looked at me.  That day, my Tita taught me that all women have a roaring tiger inside.  And that it was okay to let him out.

 

*Viejo Cara de Hacha – old man with a face shaped like an ax

Forty Things Every Woman Should Know By 40 . . . And Counting

 

1.    Kegel balls are indispensable.
2.    Forgiveness is the greatest gift you can give yourself.
3.    Allowing stillness and quiet into your life will get you closer to your vision and your spirit.
4.    You still have another 50 years to accomplish your dreams.
5.    If you stay up late, drink some Emergen-C first thing in the morning.
6.    Aerosoles, Born, Clarks, and Azalea make shoes that are sexy and comfortable.
7.    If you’ve never gone to therapy, start now, it will reduce your suffering during menopause.
8.   Explore your body and tell your man/woman what you want during sex.
9.   A good orgasm can (should) make you cry.
10. Always carry feminine towelettes with you.
11. You need to get a personalized braw fitting as soon as your bras start to feel uncomfortable.
12. Be comfortable in uncertainty.
13. Have an intention that is authentic to you for everything you do.
14. Surround yourself by women who are spiritual and thought-provoking.
15. Try something new at least once a week – it will keep you adventurous.
16. You can’t ever heal/flourish within a system that oppresses the very essence of who you are – create new systems!
17. You are absolutely and undeniably beautiful.
18. Listen to your intuition – it’s your spirit guiding you through the journey of your purpose.
19. If you have children and/or a partner, dedicate to yourself the same amount of time you dedicate to them.
20. Saying No is part of being rooted in your intentions.
21. Learn a sexy dance like Salsa, Tango, or Belly Dancing.
22. Art is the manifestation of your soul – create something.
23. Don’t search for status – find a legacy to leave the world better than you found it.
24.  Do something child-like every day – it will keep you youthful: cartwheels, hula hooping, riding a bike, swinging, jump roping, etc.
25. Do something you’re so passionate about, you lose yourself in time.
26. Have life insurance, a living trust and power of attorney, especially if you have children.
27. If you have a husband or a partner, make sure he/she has this too.
28. Know how much you have in your retirement account(s), be proactive in how you are diversifying your funds, and ensure your money is being invested in socially responsible companies.  (I’m still grappling with some of the structural violence that exists within the investment world . . . there’s got to be a better way).
29. Never blow off any physical concern; no matter how insignificant it seems, follow-up with your doctor.
30. Be around children – it will continue to open your heart and keep you humble.
31. Listen to the sounds of the earth – it’s God’s way of speaking to you.
32. There’s a little black dress for every decade.
33. Listen to the stories of others and learn from them; it will allow you to understand your humanity is wrapped up in theirs.
34. Start being and stop doing.
35. Don’t just give/do charity; have solidarity with those you serve and be in the struggle with them.
36. Know who paid the price for you to be where you are now.
37. Make plans, but learn to surrender for sometimes the universe has other plans for you.
38. Wear clothes that feel comfortable.  A sexy dress will stop being sexy if you spend the whole time tugging, pulling, snapping, and stretching.
39.  Travel, even if it’s an hour away – explore the gifts the earth has to offer.
40. Allow yourself to experience vulnerability, for only through vulnerability can you get to courage.
41. Feel Alive!  Feel Alive!  In every second that you live, try to feel Alive!

What’s on your list of 40 things to know?

The Mirror Doesn’t Lie to You

Have you ever looked at yourself in the mirror, stared into your eyes, told yourself you were absolutely perfect and beautiful?  And believed it?

The mirror doesn’t lie to you.  So a few years ago, I stood in front of the mirror, the truth laid bare, looked into my eyes, and I declared, “You are beautiful.”  The mirror didn’t lie; in my eyes I could see that I didn’t believe it.

My mind was my worst enemy.  It was the only entity in my life that was constantly attacking me.  You are worthless.  You are not good enough.  You are not smart enough.  You will never make it. You aren’t deserving.  Who do you think you are?  What if you fail?  What if they don’t like you?

I’d look in the mirror and notice how one side of my nose was slightly higher than the other; the enlarged pores on my face; the softness around my belly that pressed against the bathroom sink; the cellulite like dints to an already injured self-esteem; the stretch marks like overweight scars and wounded perfection; and my untamed hair like wiry knotted up black thread.  I would look in the mirror to attack myself.  It’s just Fucking crazy how harsh and poisonous we are to ourselves.

Where were these self-destructive thoughts coming from?

Maybe some of it came from commercials like Revlon that promised foam foundation for a poreless finish; shampoos and hair straightners that promised smooth silky hair; flawless women on TV and magazines concocted by weird science notions of perfection; and cultural and social norms that weighed in heavily on choice of hair color, skin care, nail care, clothing, etc.  During my visit to Philippines this past summer, I observed most skin care products were advertised as having skin whitening agents, and I wondered what kind of self-destructive thoughts this created in a society where so many were already struggling to maintain their dignity among so much poverty and injustice.

Maybe some of the self-destructive thoughts came from the degree of rejection I had experienced in my life.   To understand how an experience in my life affects me profoundly, I must dig beneath the pain of the experience.  At the root of each experience is a message of worthiness or worthlessness; of belonging or exclusion; of acceptance or indifference. My father’s criticism and absence served to remind me that I wasn’t good enough.  The poverty we lived in showed me that I wasn’t deserving.  The anger and violence that surrounded me screamed that I wasn’t special enough.  The uneventful birthdays silently seeped in as worthlessness.  My poisonous mind never let me forget.  It continued to attack me.  Some of it, I didn’t even know was happening inside of me – I wasn’t aware because I wasn’t connected to my spirit.  The two aspects in my childhood that kept me from complete self-destruction were the love that my grandmother poured into me, and the constant encouragement I had from the man I would come to know as my father.

Maybe it came from not being able to forgive myself, because without knowing it, I was my worst judge.  I needed to learn to forgive myself for the time I punched my mother with fists of anger and resentment as we tussled on the ground like enemies.  I needed to learn to forgive myself for the times I treated my grandmother with less than veneration; for using her vulnerability as a punching bag.  I needed to forgive myself for robbing Carmen of a father for the first ten years of her life.  I needed to forgive myself for not being there when my brother Alex most needed me.  I needed to forgive myself for the few moments of insanity when I unleashed my anger against Carmen.  I needed to forgive myself for the abuse I had inflicted on David.  I needed to forgive myself for the abuse I had inflicted on myself.

Maybe some of it came from a male dominated world that shaped me to not trust my feminine spirit, and to trust this insane mind that was my poison.

I came to understand that it was all of it.  The truth was I needed to learn how to love and accept myself before I could believe that I was beautiful.  I needed to quiet the noise that distracted me from my spirit and kept me from discovering the love that existed within me, so I began doing things in silence.  I wasn’t use to the silence, so it was uncomfortable at first.   But something in me began to yearn for more of the silence.  There was a calm solitude that accompanied the quiet.  I could hear things that had often been drowned by the noise of the business in my life – the whisper of the wind, the rustling of the leaves, the singing of the birds, the quivering of the grass, the silence of the mountains, the vastness of the sky, the journey of the water.

The silence allowed me to notice the surrounding beauty, and I started to feel the beauty inside of me.  I welcomed stillness into my life, and absorbed more of the beauty.   If you take a bowl of muddy water and allow it to be in stillness, the mud will settle at the bottom and the light will sparkle through its transparency.  After a while, I started closing my eyes and listening to the whisper of my breath, the singing of my heart, the silence of my soul, and the vastness of my spirit.  I was filled with beauty.

My hair dresser once told me, “There aren’t ugly women, there are only women who have neglected themselves.”  No hay mujer fea, solo mujer descuidada.  One of the most powerful messages I learned from my Tita, was the message of dignity, to have self-worth.  She struggled with her sense of identity and self-worth for a greater part of her life, but in her latter years she came to understand that the love she poured into others, she needed to pour into herself.  Loving herself meant she made time to get health appraisals and follow up with her doctors; instead of always lending money to family members, she began using it to travel and discover new adventures; and she never stopped feeling pretty.  She never got too old to dye her hair red, wax her eyebrows, get fuchsia pedicures and manicures, wear  jewelery that shimmered like flowers in spring, or dress fashionably; not even too old to wear a cute bathing suit.  The love she had for life and for herself was manifested in her colorful and bold appearance, her robust yet dainty walk, and her sense of adventure.  She was beautiful outside because she was beautiful inside.

We all have to find our own beauty.  About a year ago I decide to allow my greys to bloom again.  I love them!  Does this mean that because my grandmother dyed her hair she didn’t really love herself or embrace her natural beauty – absolutely not.  It is up to me to understand whether I am whole or not.  I know that if I am not whole, dying my hair will only give me a false sense of  beauty, but the real work will still remain at a spiritual level.  Attempts at a concocted beauty rather than the beauty that naturally grows from within will only get me temporary beauty.  I want to be my grandmother who despite  her wrinkles from working under the harsh sunrays, her arthritic hands, and slight limp due to four hip surgeries, still felt worthy and beautiful enough to make herself over.  She wasn’t vein, nor was she trying to hold on to some false sense of depleting beauty – she just wanted to look the way she felt inside.

I’m discovering my beauty on my own terms, through the love I am learning to draw from within.  As I discover the beauty within, I learn to be more comfortable and accepting of my exterior appearance, without needing to fulfill societal expectations of what beauty should look like.  Do I love myself enough that I could go bald and still think I was beautiful – I’m not sure.  The point isn’t to go bald simply to go against social norms; the point is that if being bald is something I yearn for, then I must love myself enough to be who I yearn to be and find it beautiful.  It’s a continued part of my journey that I am all too humble and excited to continue.   The measure of my beauty will always be whether I can stand in front of the mirror, look into my eyes and declare, “You are beautiful,” and  believe it regardless of my outward appearance.This April 22nd I will have lived 38 years.  And I feel more beautiful than I’ve ever felt in my life!