The dinner party that will never happen

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Editor’s Note: This post is part of a 28 day blogging challenge from Imperfectblogging.com. The goal is to develop your blogging voice. To learn more, click here. 

Who would you invite to dinner (living or not)? What would the conversation be like?

That’s the assignment for today’s Imperfect Blogging. Since this is a writing blog, I thought it’d be easy to pick my favorite writers and maybe write a scene about how dinner would go. I’d write about what I would serve and the phenomenal, creative, inspirational conversation that would happen around my table.

But that’s not the dinner I want to happen.

The dinner I really want to happen will never happen. Because Death, the bastard that it is, is permanent and everlasting. Also because, just as bad and semi-everlasting, is Fidel Castro.

The dinner I want to have is with my family — my dad, my sister, my long lost brother, and my half sister and brother in Cuba.

Embed from Getty Images

I’ve not written about my long lost brother, well, ever. I never thought we would find him. I was right. Last year, he found us. The thing about blogging is that everyone and anyone can look for you if they really wanted to find you, you just have to put yourself out there. I did. I wrote about my dad on one of the anniversaries. And then suddenly I get an email through WritingtoInsanity.com while I was watching a movie that was so ridiculously boring that I couldn’t recall it even if I tried.

My brother. He emailed. He’d been looking. It took a good 10 minutes before I could react.

When I finally saw a picture, I could see dad in his face. Mr. Fernandez lived in the face of a 40 year old man from Arizona. Dad died wanting to know his son, to hug him, to talk to him, to explain so many things. He wanted to explain to him that life did what it did and that was why they didn’t grow up together. He wanted to ask him about his life. He wanted to tell his son about his (there’s so much to tell). Simply, dad wanted to be a dad to his son.

But that didn’t happen. No matter how much we search and tried, we never could find him. I’m glad that he found us.

So, it was up to me to tell him everything daddy couldn’t. I was able to tell my brother that he had another sister here, in the US and another brother and sister in Cuba. He told me I had three nieces and a nephew. And darn it if one of my nieces doesn’t have the same facial expressions that I do, which I learned from dad.

My sister in Cuba and my sister in Texas were stunned to hear that we had found him. They want to get to know him, embrace him into the Fernandez family. They wanted to welcome him home.

But the Castros being who they are and the sticky red tape being, well, sticky, that’s a long way off. Way off. Not saying it couldn’t be done, but we’re not there yet.

I’m recalling all this because today is dad’s birthday. He was a spring baby and it seemed fitting because he was a person of constant renewal.  “No te aogas en un baso de agua” (don’t drown yourself in a glass of water) he’d say. That’s because there were an infinite amount of ways to move, or solve a problem, or do whatever.

I wonder sometimes how that dinner party would go. It would be a long one (the family tends to be long winded). There would be plenty of tears, some yelling, laughing, anger, and love. Above all love. I’d serve roasted pork. Dad would watch me make it and give me some tips and then I’d hand him a beer and tell him to go watch the game. My blood sister would arrive late and she’d make a bee-line to the rice and beans and ask me when dinner would be done. I’d slap her hand away from grabbing a mouth full and tell her to go sit with dad. My Cuban brother and sister would put on music and dance and that’s when the party would start. Loud talking would sound like yelling. The trio would teach my blood sister to dance salsa even though she’s got moves no one has seen yet (her words not mine). The smell of a wonderful dinner would wrap itself around this moment. That’s when I would wish and pray that the smell of pork and yucca would just keep this moment going forever and that time would be my friend again.  My long lost brother would arrive and that’s when I would emerge from the kitchen, to watch the moment I’ve always wanted to see, the reunion of the Fernandez children with their father.

Then, the healing begins….

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Lessons along the writing journey

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Editor’s Note: This post is part of a 28 day blogging challenge from Imperfectblogging.com. The goal is to develop your blogging voice. To learn more, click here. 

Where were you one year ago today?

Think about it. Where were you, at this moment one year ago? I knew where I was. I was taking this picture.

And I thought about placing this picture on my wall.

When I took this picture, I was looking for beauty in the smaller things in life because the bigger things weren’t so beautiful.

Far forward to March 2014 .The same tree, which is outside my window, is blooming again. It’s growing toward a bright, spring sun in a fearless way. It doesn’t matter if its cold or windy or if the sun is a little less bright, these flowers still grow and blossom. Why?

Because no one told them that it was a bad idea to bloom on a cold day.

I’m relearning this lesson, which started during the year of revision. It’s one of the things I wish I had told myself when I was younger.

So, in the spirit of growing (literally and figuratively) here’s some advice I would give myself if I could go back in time a year ago.

  • Trust your gut. It’s right. 100 percent.
  • You need to understand that you are capable of so many things that you don’t even know of yet. Follow that instinct.
  • No matter how talented you are and show it, there will be those who don’t think you are. Ignore them.
  • There will be a time where you no longer believe in people. That moment passes and who you become after that moment is amazing.
  • Your voice is the most important part of you. Defend it at all costs.
  • Fearlessness sometimes means staying home and watching Doctor Who.
  • Keep being stubborn. It’s your best attribute.
  • Happiness comes in small things — gestures, packages, moments.
  • You’re stronger than you give yourself credit for.
  • Chocolate fixes everything. Just FYI.

If you could go back in time and give yourself some advice, what would you tell yourself?

Secrets to a good confession

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Editor’s Note: This post is part of a 28 day blogging challenge from Imperfectblogging.com. The goal is to develop your blogging voice. To learn more, click here. 

Have you ever seen the movies where people confess to a crime right before something big happens? It’s one of those trademark things that always happens in big blockbuster movies with explosions and such.

Well, there’s a reason those confessions happen before the big BOOM. Confessions are BIG and SCARY and well, draped in all kinds of truth.

Yesterday, I wrote about truth in S.E.L.F as part of the 28 days of imperfect blogging. Today, I write about confessions and I tell you one of my secrets. Here goes…

I am afraid of success.

Shocked? When I came to that conclusion, I was as well. But it seems that I’ve always been afraid of success. Here’s a video of me talking about being accepted and about to start one of the best chapters of my life — grad school.

Yup. Fear. It was written all over my face at the time.

While some folks fear and run from failure, I embrace it. I love failing. That means there’s more work to do. But success? At one time, it meant suffocating. As a result, I’d sabotage myself in so many different little ways. I didn’t want that bomb to explode, I guess.

About three years ago, I got the best advice, however, from a business woman at a convention I was at. My fear of success wasn’t about the success part, she said. It is a deeper issue, something you need to meditate on.

She was right. I wasn’t afraid of success. I was afraid of being done. If I was wildly successful, then what? What do I do with myself? If I write a book that everyone LOVED, how can I write the next book?

As a writer, something like that can block your creative juices for a while. But I realized that success wasn’t about other people, it was about me. I determine what is successful and what it looks like. I determine what the next step to my path is.

The secret to confessions is that you have to be true to yourself. Only by being truthful can you do the work worth doing.

Click to tweet

For writers, that’s a lot of heavy lifting. But it’s also great material for the page.

Now, it’s your turn. What’s your confession?

Embracing the truth in S.E.L.F

thine own self

Editor’s Note: This post is part of a 28 day blogging challenge from Imperfectblogging.com. The goal is to develop your blogging voice. To learn more, click here. 

When you think about Shakespeare’s famous quote (the one in the picture above) what comes to mind. For me it means finding a place of authenticity within yourself and being okay with it.

As writers, journalists, or storytellers, this is crucial because that’s where stories come from, a place of untouchable authenticity. That’s step one to the story, to find its truth. Step two is to tell it.

For Dr. Maya Angelou, that place of authenticity within one’s self is the thing one must keep pristine, clear from anyone and everyone, including yourself. That’s that one place where no one can tell you about yourself, the core of the truest true and the purist pure. Your most authentic self.

So, what’s my truth?  Now, that is a GOOD question.

Many times in my life, when people wanted to define who I was (and there have been many) I asked myself that question. Who am I? What’s my truth?

I started that journey so long ago and from that moment, and all the moments since, I remember (as if I could forget) who I am.

I am a writer. A sister. A daughter. I believe in the truth in all its forms. I believe words are a form of truth and that using them for anything else is blasphemy. I believe in empowering not only myself but others in any way I can, most especially when it comes to writing or storytelling. I am my father’s daughter, my grandmothers’ grandchild.

And I am complete.

My theme is called S.E.L.F

S: Self-acceptance, even when it’s hard.

E: Endless searching for the truth

L: Love in all its forms

F: Finding my path (no matter where it takes me).

What about you? What does Shakespeare’s quote mean to you? 

What is SXSW doing for Latinos this year?

Stephen Kaufer, Jeffrey Housenbold, Carley Roney, Michael Dell
Credit: The Associated Press

My first assignment for NBCNews.com was a great one — write about what SXSW is doing to attract more Latinos to the festival. 

Gotta say, one of my favorite freelance assignments so far.

So, what are they doing for Latinos this year? Lots with lots more planned in the future.  The festival, essentially, put all their Latino programming together in order to highlight it. It’s a start and depending on this year’s reception, this thing, SxAmericas, will grow. 

Read more about it and what Latino panelists at the festival have to say about it. 

Afro Latinos connecting through the Internet

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This week, my latest commentary was published in The Guardian and boy did I open up a can of worms today.

As of right now (about 1:30 p.m central) there is more than 129 comments on my commentary. I haven’t read the comments yet but friends have said it’s pretty vicious. Frankly, I expect no less. I wrote somethings that probably set some people on fire.

But that’s the great thing about the Internet, no? It’s the opportunity to express opinions even if people don’t think that they’re valuable.

For Afro Latinos, the internet and more importantly, social media, has been a blessing. Because of  social media’s purpose (the ability to connect people) I can join my fellow Afro Latinos on the east cost and in other parts of the world.

For someone who didn’t grow up with other people who looked, acted, or sounded like her, being able to reach out and talk to other Afro Latinos through Twitter or even this blog has been amazing.

So for my fellow Afro Latinos, I want to know…how has it been for you to connect with others through social media?  What have you discovered through the Internet that you didn’t before?

What do the new 30s look like?

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Me on by birthday

There’s something about being on the later side of your 30s that makes you re-evaluate every decision you’ve ever made. That’s when you think…

“What the heck am I doing?”

That’s when that sudden feeling that those plans you made in your 20s, when everything was bright and new and shiny, has, indeed, been just hopes, not really plans.

My birthday was last week. I’m now officially closer to 40 than 30 and am wondering what the heck am I doing with my life! What the heck did I do with the beginning of it? How did I get here?

I never had a quarter life crisis; I was too busy living and working to question my role in the universe or the direction my life was taking. There was a stubborn focus at 25 that I laugh at now, a little girl spinning her wheels with a map of Narnia in her pocket. But this was how most of my friends were at that age, career focused. That was until everyone started getting married. So, marriage was like that game of  musical chairs (Do kids still play that?) when we were growing up — everyone was so keen and quick to attach themselves to someone quick before the music ran out. I laughed at that. It’s not time yet, I’d say. I happily continued toward Narnia.DSC02973

Then came the babies. Babies became the new marriage. Everyone had one. Some have several. Some had babies and houses. All of these precious moments in taunting unison on social media. Tick, tick, the music is about to stop and soon you’ll have nothing. It was still too early and Narnia beckoned.

So, now here we are and the music has ended. Usually this is the part of the blog post where there’s some sort of personal empowerment speech, some I’m happy being the fish-out-of-water moment. There’s none here, I’m afraid. While I don’t feel sorry or sad or even as if I wasted my Narina journey, I do feel that some of that journey was just busy work.

If 30 is the new 20 then 40 should be the new 30? I hope not. Forty should just be 40, wise and intelligent and in a position to laugh at the 20/30 year-olds with a twinkle and a glass of Riesling. I want there to be a sense of security at 40 that I thought I’d get at 30 and that the lessons from so much wheel spinning and work come to fruition. I’m looking forward to that.

Direction? What the heck is that? I’ve thrown my map to Narina away a long time ago and decided not to play that game of musical chairs. Not that that decision hasn’t come with some heart break but it’s come with more wisdom than pain.

Humans yearn to live the life worth living, what ever they think that is. However, that is the question they’ll spend a lifetime answering is what exactly that will look like. At this point, dear readers, I can’t tell you what it looks like but I can tell you what it doesn’t and for now that’s good enough.

Meanwhile, there’s this wardrobe I need to go sort out….

PUBLISHED: Does being Latina exclude me from being Black?

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Thanks HuffPo Latino Voices for this image! Kinda wish I had her hair.

As usual, I’m really bad at telling people when stuff like this happens. You would think as a communicator, I’d be better. My Twitter and Facebook followers got a good dose of this yesterday, though. And of course those on the email newsletter list were among the first to know. 

Huffington Post’s Latino Voices published one of my pieces Wednesday.

The piece is actually a rework of one of my more popular posts on this blog with the same title — Does being Latina exclude me from being Black?

I decided to rework the piece a bit so that it was clearer and more focused. I’m excited that HuffPo decided to run it.

Check out the piece when you get a chance and kudos to their web team for the picture. It’s like my favorite today.

The myth of the Latina bombshell

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Sofia and I could be twins, right?

I don’t look like Sofia Vergara. Guess what? Neither does Sofia Vergara.

J- Lo, Shakria, and even Katie del Castillo don’t look like what you’ve seen on TV. These are Latinas whose images we are bombarded with as standards or definitions of what Latinas should be. Sorry to tell you this but  this is all myth. These are not what true Latinas bombshells are. These are just examples of how a good push up bra and the best makeup money can buy can fuel a stereotype that, frankly, we’ve lead you to believe because it’s easier to make money off of it than actually trying to debunk it.

This definition of being of a Latina is distorted at best and absolutely inaccurate. Ridiculously inaccurate. This appalling stereotype only exists because someone, somewhere, in some place in time, thought that women with Spanish surnames were the best and most exotic thing since the banana or cocoa.

Banana or cocoa. Yes, I took it there.

And now we have super Latinas. Bombshells. They sing, dance, act, and have photo shoots. That’s all great. There’s nothing wrong with that hustle. If I had that opportunity to make my money that way, I’d run to my next magazine cover shoot in my Louboutins, too. But here’s the thing…that’s not all there is to us. Never has been. There is so much more to being a Latina than you see on your movie and television screens or on magazine covers.

What is the Latina Bombshell? By the modern “definitions” she is sexy, sassy, loud, beautiful to the point of being obnoxious, sometimes sex-driven, and submissive. That’s the important part. She is submissive to “what is in her heart”, which in many interpretations is to her relationship partner.

Those qualities do not define me. Nor does it define my friends. Or the mothers of my friends.

Growing up, this was the stereotype I’ve had offered to me as a Latina woman. This was my only option because the goal was to attract life opportunities by shimmying my moneymaker in front of decision makers who would then take care of me some how. I needed to embrace it, society said. This was who I was and I already had two strikes against me — Black and Latina. I needed to use that exotic mix to get anywhere in life.

But in my mind, there was never a question of embracing that stereotype. There was always a certainty of rebelling against it.

That was the gift of two progressive Latino parents. The rule in the house with my Cuban father was always to speak up. The soft voice will get you no where. Speak up, Papa said.  There’s a voice there that needs to be heard and mi’ja, people need to hear it.  

Education was paired with sacrifice.  Homework first, television second. College first, then marriage, if you chose that. Keep going. Always keep going. Stubbornness was called perseverance in my house. Adapt. Survive. Win.

I know I wasn’t the only one who was raised like this.  This is what being Latina means to me.

So, because I rebel against this stereotype,  here is what I’m offering in this blog post today, a new definition of the the Latina Bombshell.

Latina Bombshell = a woman of Latino descent with the following qualities: intelligence, opinionated, leadership, strength. The new Latina Bombshell uses failures as opportunities.  She’s a hustler — driving business and commerce as easy as she can bat one of her eyelashes. There’s no apologies for being different because it’s an honor. Different means unique and being a trailblazer.

Actually, come to think of it, these characteristics sound familiar. This sounds like how I would describe my mom.  And the more I think about it, the more it sounds like a lot of moms and my friends who are raising their own little bombshells.

Interesting.

Maybe the true Latina Bombshell has been there all along, we just had to get past the smoke, mirrors, and the push up bras.

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New look, focus for Writingtoinsanity.comIcess Fernandez Rojas is a writer, blogger, teacher, and journalist. Her commentary has appeared in The Guardian and on Huffington Post Latino Voices. Her fiction has been published in literary journals/anthologies such as Minvera Rising and Soul’s Road. Her first book, the beginning of the Jennie Manning series, will come out next year.  In addition to writing, Icess teaches fiction writing classes. To learn more, sign in and receive regular emails. (No spam ever.)

Why I became a writer

Despite it all, I always had my stories.

I could say that I didn’t have a great childhood but I’d be lying. It was great and in retrospect, I didn’t know that growing up in east Harris County in the 1980s was anything but ideal. I do remember, however, being chastised for being different. Different hair, face, color, language. But despite it all, I had my stories.

This was how I coped with the world. I told to stories to myself in my head. In my mind I was a pop singer/lawyer/astronaut who saved the world while simultaneously having the number one record in the universe. In my mind I was She-Ra, princess of power, and in reality I was royalty but had to keep my secret identity in order to stay safe from the enemies of my people.

To say I had an over active imagination was putting it too mildly.

My dad told me stories, too. He told me about his world in Cuba, what it was like to live there and to grow up there. He told me about the time Castro paraded into Havana. He told me about escaping his home country by pretending he was two years older than he was and how my grandmother had an employer who helped with the “transfer”. There were nights my dad would tell me about hunger, and poverty, and pain – concepts my small mind couldn’t completely understand.

My mom read me stories. In fact, she was the person who taught me how to read in English and instilled in me a love of Spanish soap operas. There was the one where the poor girl was really the rich girl but the father/mother/family never knew they existed. However, the evil villainess did everything she could to stop them from knowing. Then there were my mom’s stories, filled with poverty as well but also love from a strict mother and a protective father.

I became a writer because I was raised as a storyteller.

I wish there was some sort of deep thought to this “becoming a writer” thing. Like maybe because I want to change the world through words. (I’m a journalist. I already do that.) Or maybe there is nothing else I’m capable of doing. (There’s a little bit of that but surely I am capable of doing other things. Not sure what they are, though.) There is no deeper meaning to being a writer for me than this: I love a really good story.

There’s something comforting about a story with a beginning, middle, and end, to tell someone a tale and have them interested in it. I love live readings because you can feed off the audience. They want to know what happens next and they listen, sometimes at the edge of their seat, for your next work.

I love the way stories keep us, the human race, hopeful. We know that life doesn’t always have a happy ending but our stories, most of them, have them. And they have meaning and structure and, in a weird sort of way, there is a justice there that we can’t find in our average lives. Hope. That’s what stories do, they give hope, and writers distribute that. Writers give the world hope.

So, in a weird way I am a writer because I am hopeful and believe in silver linings and wishing upon a star. I write the heartbreaks that are healed by righting the wrongs. Bad people get their just desserts. Good people walk into the sunset a different person than they were before.

And those people who were different – different hair, face, color, language – they get their happy ending, too. I make sure of it.

As for my over active imagination? Well, it’s not quite as active but still useful to me as a writer. However, it doesn’t take over my brain as it used to as a kid. Those days, unfortunately, have passed. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a long to do list today. I have to run off to save the world while cutting my next hit chart-topping hit.