The Act of Patience in the New Normal

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The first ray of sunshine I saw after Harvey

Dear Reader,

The weeks after Harvey has been, let’s say, a crash course in patience.

Patience in and with FEMA.

Patience in myself and my own healing.

Patience in the new normal.

Patience. So much of it.

And then, without warning, or maybe with some warning, my sister in Cuba dies. She dies after the hurricane it but her death was a long time coming. As most Fernandez do, she suffered from high blood pressure and there was no medicine on the island.

Let me repeat that, an island with the best doctors in the world, the same that found treatment for a specific type of cancer, did not have blood pressure medicine for my sister. So she died after not being able to take her blood pressure medicine. She’s buried in Havana.

This was my Harvey aftermath. At first, I was mourning in private and then when I couldn’t anymore, I went to my Facebook page and announced her death.

They say, when you are mourning, it’s important to take time and mourn. It’s important to have a routine so you take comfort in it once you are done mourning enough.

Mourning enough? Who says what is enough? How do you mourn when a piece of your flesh and blood is in the ground?

I’ve cried enough tears to flood Houston all over again. I’ve yelled enough to make ears bleed. But I feel like it’s not enough.

So I go about my business, teaching my online classes, grading, running errands only because they have to get done. And when I drive around, I remember something I want to tell my sister. I begin to make a mental note to tell her the next time I call and then I remember. There’s no one to call.

When those times happen, I open up my bullet journal for the week she died. In the to-do list, my guilt is marked in black ink, the proof of how bad of a sister I truly was. I was supposed to email her the Monday before she died. But I scratched it out and moved it further in the week. But I didn’t end up emailing her. I was busy…with other people’s shit. Busy enough not to take 20 minutes to email her. Busy enough, just enough, to put her on my to-do list right next to “FEMA” and “finalize beginning online lessons”. Busy enough to write the words on paper but not do the action.

I had moved my sister’s return email three times that week — Monday, Tuesday, Friday — remembering her last email “Everything is fine. We’re okay. Don’t worry. Write me back.”  

That’s when I cry the most. When I remember how bad of a person I was to her.  

But patience. In this new normal. I live with regrets like boulders. They sit on my chest.  They crush me in the moments that I forget. Forgiveness right now is just a word in the dictionary, as foreign a concept as I have ever encountered.

But patience. This passes slowly, this grief, this guilt. These flashbacks of the one and only time I met my sister in Cuba. She was so happy to meet us (my blood sister and I). Hermanas. She always called us that. Not Icess. Not Leslie. But her hermanas. No names needed. Blood recognized blood.

But patience. When I hear her voice still in my ear. The Skype call surprisingly clear. Her reminding me she was an old woman. Me reminding her that we were ageless.

But patience. When I place my fingers on the keyboard and nothing comes out. I want to write about her, immortalize her in words with a poem, a story, a memory. My fingers freeze. My mind punishes me with blankness. Bad sisters don’t deserve to use their gifts.

But patience. Hiding my tears from my own mother, who is afraid I’ll go into a depressive state again. Mourning but not fully mourning. The agony of keeping it hidden is a kind of atonement.

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My dad and my sister. The last time they saw each other. 

But patience. Adding my beautiful sister to our family altar. The act of buying her flowers. The act of lighting her white candle. The sucker punch to your throat and you yelling to God and all the Saints how it was too early. The candle is too early. The white roses are too early. Her picture next to dad’s is too early. Not getting a response back.

But patience. A message. Dad, please take care of my sister. Watch out for her in the hereafter. Tell her that I love her. Tell her that I’m sorry.

But patience. Opening windows to sunlight is a kind of unexpected healing, just like the first time I saw the sun after Harvey. The world continues but in a different way and yet somehow you’re grateful.

The new normal is a reminder that life starts over again and again. Usually without warning. Always in the most inconvenient of times. And even here you must have patience. You must move in the world slowly but deliberately.  You must take care of yourself if only just enough. Your moments are deliberate. Your anger will subside. Your bargaining will stop. Acceptance? Only when you’re ready. You will know when. To hell with the world, you will know when.

The lesson is to be present beyond mindfulness. It’s the small things that bring you the most comfort. A message from a friend. Time with a loved one. The invites to attend events, even if you can’t, even if you’re still dying on the inside. The first time you smile or laugh is the biggest relief. The second biggest is, of course, remembering to breathe.

All this requires patience. And it will come, as it always does, when you least expect.

Like in a simple ray of sunshine after a storm.

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The rain, the flood, the trauma

Dear Reader,

I wasn’t going to write, not anymore. I promised myself that this week. I was prepared to end my love affair with the writing life, not out of frustration but of trauma.

My words, they failed me and the energy wasn’t there to pursue them.

Since Harvey sucker punched Houston, I wasn’t interested in putting my experiences out into the world. Outside of my morning journal pages, I was not interested in pushing myself. But I did try. As soon as we returned from evacuation, I opened up my computer and put some words down but they weren’t right. I waited more days. Tweaked the words. They still weren’t quite right.

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When a writer friend led a Harvey recovery writing workshop, I thought this was my chance to write the words that would convey what I was feeling.

But I didn’t want to talk to anyone.

I still don’t. I don’t want to see my friends. I don’t want to see strangers. I don’t have the energy to answer the “how are you” question.

Not great, I want to scream.  I just want to sit still.

I’m faking my smiles. My bright eyes. I dance when people ask. I laugh at jokes, even if they are not very good.  I have a horrible poker face until it’s important to have one. That’s when I’m a beast at faking it.

Since the waters receded, I have kept myself together by diving into work. It’s a superpower, to throw myself into work like it was an emergency. That’s how I was prepared to evacuate–one duffle bag, priceless things in Ziplocks, to know what exactly to pack — antibacterial wipes, flashlights, ibuprofen, and know what to leave behind–my beloved memories only worth a breath in between sobs.

Then, today, it started to rain. Three weeks of dry since Harvey and now it’s pouring. And I cannot look at rain the same. Thunder is a warning, not a signal of a lazy summer storm. Rainwater is acid on my skin. The shiver in my bones originates from ghost droplets of Harvey rains scraping my back like the Devil’s fingernail.

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Images from Harvey and Irma (and what will be Maria) have carved themselves into the gray matter of my brain and I am scared in places only I know about or can access.  Rain now is a trigger. Where I have used it to relax from long, hard days or as soothing background noise to the writing, it is now a cause for concern. Rain sounds force me to look out my front window, mentally measuring puddles against ticking minutes. How fast do they grow? Will it flood? Can the drainage system handle it?

The bright yellow duffle that held my clothes and provisions during evacuation have yet to be unpacked. I’ve dug in there for some things but the big things like t-shirts and pants are still there, just in case.. Because hurricane season is not over.  Because I saw the image of five twisted hurricanes on the monitor today. Because people have lost everything and me very little and the next time it will be my turn. Because everything was taken away from me once before so I should be able to handle it a second time. Or a third. Or a fourth. Because I fake strength. Because I am good at lying when it counts. Because, because, because…

I don’t know what compelled me to write today. I’m not even sure how to end this thing, whatever it is. It feels like I’m rambling like my thoughts are shooting out of me because they don’t have anywhere else to go.

Or maybe this is the only way I know how to process and old habits die hard.

Or maybe I wanted to answer the how are you doing question without seeing people’s reactions. I can’t bare it. Not now. Maybe next week.

Or maybe it’s the rain triggering me in the way it used to, a signal that it is time to sit down, create, and share.

Until next time,

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Why do I love teaching writing?

Dear Reader,

Someone recently posed a question to me. When you think about teaching creative writing, what does that mean?

The answer was easy and came to me quickly. This is all about empowerment. Writing, especially creatively, is about being empowered and empowering others.

This is why I love teaching writers. In my career, I’ve taught children, college students, and adults.

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And each time I’ve taught, no matter what the age group, something magical happens. Students’ opinion toward writing change and, while they may or may not get into it, they start appreciating it and writing becomes accessible.

Accessible: (adjective) easy to approach, reach, enter, speak with, or use.

For me, English wasn’t always accessible. That’s because another language came off my tongue first.  My first language was Spanish. I went to kindergarten not knowing that much English, just whatever I heard on Sesame Street and Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. I remember a teacher thinking I wasn’t very smart when I first started school. Surprise, surprise, East Harris County in the 80s was not nice to daughters of immigrants.  My mom, with her limited English, complained to the point that the teacher was fired.

I was put in ESL classes and had to have extra tutoring in English. My mom would read to me every night in her broken English until I practically memorized books.

And then, in 5th grade, something amazing happened. I skipped a reading level. Now I was one level away from the gifted kids. That’s when I made a promise to myself. I was going to do this English thing — reading and writing —  better than the smart kids. If being able to command this language in the written form was seen as  a magic trick, I was going to do that magic trick better than anyone else.

By high school, I was in English honors courses and taking AP English classes. For me, writing was empowerment. It meant that I could write and understand the world around me in a way that other people couldn’t. And that meant, if I got really good, I could write my own ticket in life.

Empower: (verb) give (someone) the authority or power to do something.

Fast forward to my first adjunct English class. I started my college teaching career in Louisiana.  And in my class, I had students who were parents, adults who worked, folks who returned to college after being gone for awhile. For all of them, English was the subject that they couldn’t pass. They weren’t good at it. I didn’t understand. They grew up speaking this and reading this language, why was it so difficult?

 

Because no one told them that this space was for them and that they’ve already succeeded just by showing up. No one told them that this is how they make a mark in the world and that these words are just building blocks to create the thoughts in their heads.

No one told them that their voices matter.

And my existence tells them the opposite of what they’ve have been lead to believe. If that’s not empowering, I don’t know what is.

In life, as I’m learning, you get a microphone, a chance to do or say things that help impact the world. The size of the microphone depends on popularity, I’m sure. For example, Beyonce’s mic is bigger and has a longer reach than this website. But this is MY microphone, my change to change the world. While Queen B does it with music and concerts, I do it one student at a time, one word at a time, one class at a time.

When you make something that was formerly non-accessible completely approachable and relatable, you’ve just empowered someone. That’s why I teach writing.

So here’s my new motto: Empower to elevate.

Eso mero.

 

Feeling like She-Ra,

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Being a writer in the age of Alton and Philando

Dear Reader,

This is a website about writing. And the writing life. It is about dispelling those myths about what the writing life actually is.

It takes courage to live this life. It takes more courage to live this life as a writer of color. Today is one of those days where writing is my salvation. Reading is my salvation. And reflection is needed.

As a writer of color, I can’t ignore a day like today when we are mourning the murders of two black men at the hands of the people who were sworn to protect.

I’ve personally seen both sides of officers. I live in Texas — guns, God, family and country — is the motto of every die hard Texan. We have an allegiance to those who put their lives on the line, a duty to support them to the ends of the Earth. It’s a blind duty that has hurt more than helped. It has hidden instead of honored.

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My dad

I was about six when a Harris County deputy slammed my father to the ground in the front yard of our house. I was in the car. My mother came out and screamed at the top  of her lungs, “He has a heart condition.” The shrill is still there as I remember this memory. The only other time I heard my mother that way was when we found my dad had passed away.

That day of the bad deputy, I yelled, too. “Get off my daddy!” I wanted to get out but he had closed the door. Dad told me not to get out for any reason. “Get off my daddy! Get off my daddy!” My piercing screams filled our family car. My ears rang, the tears like coals on my checks. I banged on the window

The deputy’s knee was in the middle of his back and dad couldn’t breathe. Then, the deputy looked me. His cowboy hat didn’t hide the angry in his eyes. My pigtails didn’t make my anger any less than his. I hated him, right there, for doing this. Why? Why would he do this to my daddy?

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Because Dad didn’t immediately stop when the deputy put on his lights. But the deputy flashed his lights in front of our house. Dad pulled into the driveway because there was no other room on the street. Did he deserve what happened for that?

The deputy stopped. Picked Dad up. Ticketed him. And left. I never saw him again.

We, at the time, were one of the few families of color in the neighborhood.

Flash forward many years, on vacation to visit family in Central America. Dad stays behind. Mom receives a phone call. There is a shooting. An attempted robbery at the house as Dad was coming home at night. Guns were drawn. Dad shot first. He is alive.

When we arrive home, our driveway is still stained with the bad man’s blood. Dad is still shaken. It was the typical stand your ground case. No charges.

A deputy, different than the one from my childhood, drives by the house to check on us. He asks us if we are okay. When he catches me speeding in the neighborhood a week later, he looks at my face and he sees trauma. A warning. “Call if you need me,” he says. “Anything. That’s why I’m here.”

I don’t see him again after that.

Yes, I’ve seen both sides. But I see one side more than the other. That 6-year-old girl is frightened. She doesn’t want to see anyone else’s daddy on the floor. She doesn’t want anyone’s mommy crying. She doesn’t want her tears to be repeated. And yet they are. So many times.

See, to be a person of color right now is to live in a constant state of fear. Alton and Philando and Trayvon and Sandra and Tamir and everyone else is the reason why. Because I never saw the good deputy again but I see the bad deputy all the time.

Because when I get pulled over in the weeks after Sandra for a taillight being out, my body tenses even though it’s not my fault. Because if I had known the light was out I would have replaced it. Because I place my hands on the steering wheel and hold my breath. Because I am grateful that it’s a busy street down the street from my house. Because my body relaxes when I see the deputy is black. Because he just wanted me to know it was out. Because I tell this to my mom and her eyes grow wide and she realizes that her daughters are in constant danger. Because the country she immigrated to, worked in, and built a life in are hunting her greatest assets and there’s nothing she can do.

I’m tired. For me, the hunting of black bodies didn’t start in the past couple of years. It started when that deputy slammed my dad on the ground of his own home.

I write. Write about this. I share my story. I share that I’ve seen the good and the bad. I share that the bad has cause trauma. I share that I have no solutions. What I have is a magazine, a notebook, and some books to read.

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My self-care today.

So, I immersed myself in self-care today until the words bubbled like grease. I poured them into this blog post. Now, I spread them like dandelion seeds across the universe and watch what grows if anything.

That is what the writing life is today for me. Sometimes, that’s all it can be.

In a state of sorrow and fear and praying for strength,

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Stop apologizing: What independence really means

Dear Reader,

One of the very first things I heard during my VONA experience was this:

“You are allowed to take up space.”

The words weren’t foreign to me but how they were put together were. Space? I nodded thinking that I knew what that phrase meant.

All through my week, I kept hearing that phrase over again like a mantra in yoga class. During our workshops and in conversations with my workshop leader, this phrase was the bad penny of conversation but, like with everything else from that magical week, I took it with me to mull over and consider.

Fast forward to this morning and my scrolling through social media. Forbes posted this gem and the first item on this list was this:

Don’t apologize for taking up space.

But this time, after more than a year, I know what that phrase means. I feel it like one feels cold or warmth. I feel it like how one feels pain. It is instinct now.

For people of color, women of color in particular, we play this inherited game. We walk into it really, the second we accept our first job. We learn to get better at it. We shrink ourselves in ways we’re not conscious of. We learn when it’s best to talk in the meeting even though we had that great idea two weeks ago. We learn to dress professionally, with just enough colors to be seen or even be considered fashionable, but mixed with enough muted colors to blend into walls and cubicles. Our voices are softer and lower, our tones calm, our speech rates slower so that we are understood but don’t come off as “passionate”,  a code word for threatening. We change the texture of our hair — we relax it, we weave it, we place it in buns or ponytails. Our laughter in the workplace is limited least we are thought of as lazy and non-compliant despite working longer hours and working harder.

In short, the goal is to take up enough space to be seen as a professional but not so much that we’re seen as intrusive.

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Writing is like that sometimes. Take up enough space to do your art but don’t demand any more than that. And getting paid for your writing? Well, that’s absurd!  Writing for art? Who do you think you are? Hemingway? Writing the truth of the world around you — well now you’ve gone too far!

How dare we ask to take up the space that is not only due but required to just make sense of the world around us? I, as a writer, a woman of color, the daughter of immigrants, an Afro-Latina, take up this space because, simply, I am human.

So, nah, I ain’t sorry. I am allowed and required to take up all the space I need.

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That is what independence is to me. That freedom of being and creating in my space. Being who I truly am. Not apologizing for it because none is necessary. I am human after all and we need what we need to survive and thrive in whatever way we chose. If that means I take up more space than I’m allotted then so be it. Making myself smaller physically or on the page serves someone else, serves a game that I’m not willing to play anymore.

I am allowed to take up space. I don’t have to apologize for it. I am free.

Happy Independence Day,

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How the worst time of my life became the best

 

 

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Welcome to Miami. There are palm trees everywhere.

Dear Reader,

Today, I am dreaming of Miami.

It’s been nearly six months since I last stepped foot in that town and it changed my life. That was when I felt something break inside of me and a shift happen. There was bound to be change. That was June 26.

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Me at VONA in Miami

It wasn’t even a month later that my life completely changed. I left a rough and difficult situation for home, where I wanted to be for so long. Looking back now, had I continued in that situation, I’d be dead within six months. That’s where my head was.

I’m not ashamed of it now, I was at one point suicidal. There was a time I curled up into a ball and cried. The crying didn’t stop and I soon found myself being diagnosed in a psychiatric hospital.

However, I had help getting there. I know now the dark side of humanity and that it pleased some to create the situations that lead me down this dark path.

So when Miami happened and that shift happened, a new life happened. Happened. Happened. Happened. I have that clear in my head, the last year happened, to me, around me, and in my heart.

During the week of Thanksgiving, I wondered if I would have something to be thankful for. I was upset that I wouldn’t. Surely this is the bottom of the low of my life. But a phone call from a former student, actually several phone calls from former students, reminded me how close I came to ending it all. They reminded me how life in 2015 started one way but is ending in a completely different way and that’s okay.

Those phone calls reminded me that, to live a life worth living it is not about how much of one thing or another you have. It’s about what you contribute to the world. And it’s being here when it’s easier to not be. It’s about feeling the dark and the light.

These past six months have been the most creative in several years.  I started a writer’s retreat. Did a live streamed reading. Won an award. Taught amazing students. Wrote a short story in a genre I never thought I’d write and I went to VONA where on June 26 everything changed. 

I’m not done. If all goes well I will finish 2015 with three more submissions to publications and contests.  And I’ve met my tribe. My beautiful Afro-Latinas who knew me before they knew my name. For them I am forever grateful. 

Dark comes in anticipation of the brightest light.  This is what I know  to be true. (Click to tweet this out.)

Miami, I love you. With every visit, I learn something more of myself. This last one was a doozy. Thank you for that.

Miami dreaming,

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When the N word doesn’t make sense

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Dear Reader,

One of the most eye-opening experiences about teaching college students in Houston is the international feel of the classroom.

In my English classes, I have students from countries in Africa (too many to name) Iran, India, South Korea, China, Haiti, Mexico, Venezuela, Peru and Colombia.

These students are from these countries. First generation. They know nothing about certain things.

So when a Mexican student said the word “nigger” in class the other day, it was a teachable moment I knew was coming.

Now, before you get up in arms, Dear Reader, I want you to know the context. It wasn’t in an effort to name call or to demean. It wasn’t said while saying the lyrics of the latest rap song. It wasn’t even said as a term of endearment as some have decided to use this term.

This was part of an assignment – to read essays in their textbook to find out how to write a certain type of essay. They were to do a presentation on how they think a definition essay should be written.

One of the essays in the chapter deals with the N-word. While my other American(ized) students decided to skip that word and/or that essay, this student didn’t. For him, nigger is a word like cat, or dog, or cup. It means something. There was a definition in a dictionary but it didn’t mean more than the letters it took to write it.

That word was even difficult for him to pronounce. With its double g next to the r, it took so much energy to try to say correctly. N-eh-gg-rrr. Ne-gr. Nah-ah-gar.

Hearing him say it, even with an accent, during the presentation made my skin crawl. I gasped as did some of my other students. The international students looked confused. What did this word mean? Why were some students in shock while others weren’t?

Then came the teachable moment. I looked at my international students and explained that that word, although part of the English language, means something very dark and sinister. We talked about the origins of the word, Jim Crow, and how, at one point of American history, I wouldn’t have been allowed to be their teacher.

Then we talked about the word now. The meaning could not be separated from the connotation, they were one in the same. Some use it in a positive context but it doesn’t erase what is was and still is to some people.

This moment here, this is why English and liberal arts are important. Listen, I can go into this whole tirade about why a liberal arts education is important. I can go into how classrooms need to be protected because that is one of the last forms of a pure free speech. I can politic this into next Tuesday.

But all of that doesn’t matter.

Once upon a time there was this word. And it was hurtful. And the people who said it were hurtful. And the people who they said it too, bad things happened to them for a very long time.  But now that word is a teachable moment for the next generation, the next flocks of immigrants who want to make this their home country. They learned from something that still infects society and understood that a word, one single word, is powerful. By speaking it, they aren’t just saying dog, cat, or cup, they are evoking the past, something they are not interested in repeating. What they are interested in is learning from it and moving forward.

I can’t wait to see what they will do with these essays.

 

Humbled,

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That Latin Explosion documentary…incomplete

Dear Reader,

Sometimes being Afro-Latina comes with stomaching the obvious — being left out of the narrative.

I tried to avoid the HBO documentary Latin Explosion because I already knew what it was going to be, a celebration of Latino achievement in America.

And it should be celebrated — Rita Moreno, Jose Feliciano — their very presence started a chain reaction that allowed Rick Martin to dazzle at the Grammys or Shakira’s hips not to lie.

But where are the Afro-Latinos? Are we not part of the story?

Usually, we are not. Usually, we are the other, the dark-skinned tio in the closet no one talks about. The Afro part of being Hispanic, whether you’re Mexican or Argentine, is usually swept under the rug.

But this documentary is very music heavy. We talk about salsa and include Desi Arnez in the conversation. The Fania All-Stars are mentioned. And yet, where is Celia Cruz?

We talk about acting and yet where is the infamous Zoe Saldana who was in one of the highest grossing films in recent memory?

Continuing with actors, how about Gina Torres who has had an entire career with little recognition of her Latina roots. And she doesn’t run away from it either as we can tell from this video.

Can we also mention Laz Alonso who is an actor on The Mysteries of Laura, which was adapted from a Spanish television show?

I find it difficult that the Estefans were part of this documentary and didn’t mention their friend Celia once, or the fact that they made a living with beats that came straight from their African roots?

Like this moment never happened.

Or at the very least that her life was on Broadway. Yes, THE Broadway.

It’s harsh when not even your own recognizes you and most especially when they were your friends.

It’s obvious that the documentary made me angry but it doesn’t surprise me. I don’t like that as a people, Latinos are not united. We have the potential to do great things and yet we insist on not accepting and telling our entire narrative. We, as a people, seem to be okay to just tell one side of the story and accept it as complete — this is who we are, not that other side.

Newsflash, there were slaves in Latin America. They have last names  like Fernandez, Gonzalez, Guerra, Martinez. They speak Spanish. They dance salsa and bomba and tango. That music you are dancing to? Came from the motherland. That pride, part of that came from the motherland too. We are Latinos and we deserve to be part of the narrative of being Latino, not only in Latin America but here, in the US, which seeks to categorize us as African American.

Documentaries like this make me tired and upset. Story, my dear reader, is currency. Those with the currency have power and can frame the narrative in any way they choose.

That’s why it’s so important to tell our stories, the Afro-Latino story. It’s just as beautiful and varied as everyone else’s and it’s just as important to tell.

So, I’ll tell it.

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The best night of literature and words

 

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The most brilliant women I know. They make me look good.

 

Dear Reader,

I am exhausted and with good reason.

On Wednesday night, I was part of an amazing livestreamed reading. Culture, Love, and  Identity: An Afro-Latina Reading. 

It was amazing and just knocked my socks off. You know when you work on something for so long and you don’t know how it’s going to turn out but you just can’t stop to think about it. That was that moment.

Wait, it’s all jumbling in my head like a brand new jigsaw puzzle. Let me start where all things start, the beginning.

I had this idea. What if there was a writing retreat for Afro-Latina writers? Like why wasn’t there before? It just seemed to be this was a thing to do.

You have to understand, Dear Reader, that when I thought about this, it was for an award given by a lit journal. It wasn’t really thought out completely. It was half baked on its way to being fully baked, as most ideas are.

But then I won it and all of a sudden I became something more than a writer. I became a person who created space for other writers. I became a person who went from writing in the shadows to asking people to apply to spend a weekend in a Houston in Galveston, Texas. I became a person with a voice and an opportunity to do something different.

Talk about adulting.

And I took it seriously and it was amazing. The five ladies that joined in were just amazing writers and people. It was surprising how close we became in such a short period. So much so that I can’t imagine my writing life without them.

Then we did this reading. This crazy awesome reading of our work and now people are saying they were inspired. I read a section of Jennie Manning, my novel in progress, and now people are asking about my character.

And yet, this feels like my life’s work, something that I should do always and constantly. Something I should explore because there’s an answer there somewhere, I think, though I have no idea what the question is.

And so this reading happens. It happens the same week I grade what feel like a million papers. It happens the same week I get some distressing news from my past. It happens the same week I questions a list of truths I’ve grown up with.

This reading happens just as life happened. As it should.

So here, I give you the reading. I hope you like it. I hope it inspires you. I hope it fuels you.

As always I remain your humble storyteller,

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Can you create a community that’s been there all along?

We all need community. Writers are no different.

Dear Reader,

Today, I’m thinking about community.

On a day where most of the country is voting on local elections, it’s not a bad topic to think about. What is a community? How does one form? How does it govern itself for its collective goal?

Since coming back from the Afro-Latina Writer’s Retreat, I think about community all the time. It’s mostly in exclamation points like I can’t believe how awesome that was! I can’t believe how great those women are! How did I get so lucky! They truly get me!

That last sentence — they truly get me — that sentence is what my brain continues to mull over.

Afro-Latinos wrestle and consider identity. Given. Are we more one or the other? If we are truly both, why the guilt? Or why is my culture decided for me?

Never have I felt that four strangers (one I knew before the retreat) knew me in that way. It’s usually a matter of adapting. I adapt when I’m around my Latino and I adapt when I’m around my African-Americans.

It’s not that one experience is more than the other, it’s just that’s it MY experience. That’s my super power to be able to survive. This concept is difficult to explain unless you live in a cultural duality unless you live your life straddling that line. But it doesn’t stop me from trying. That’s what my work is about, it’s about voice. However, I’m also slowly adding identity.

This reading on Nov. 18 will be amazing. Everyone will get a chance to see and hear what I’ve been talking about. There is amazing art out there that’s created by those who seek to form their own identity.

I think what I find surprising is that this Afro-Latino community exists. It does! We have Boricua Chicks doing their thing and they do their thing well. We have my girl Alicia Anabel Santos, a member of the retreat, doing her thing as a producer of a documentary about Afro-Latinos. Just discovered this new blogger (new to me). There’s a festival? Yes, there is! And even the academics are helping to tell our story. And that’s just a couple of people who are doing their thing!

There is a community out there for me and since announcing the reading, we’ve been welcomed with open arms! We even got some press on it.

Community. It’s a thing. And it’s my privilege to join it already in progress.

Write On,

Icess

P.S. Spaces are filling up fast for Culture, Love, and Identity: An Afro-Latina Reading.  Make sure you reserve your spot. Click here to do it.