Women’s March on Washington D.C. (Chicago Version)

Being part of this epic movement of women and people across the world marching to battle racism, hatred, sexism, misogyny and xenophobia, I felt energized. Like in the past, I’ve felt united with my people, however this massive event makes the other protests look small. I saw people of all ages walking, chanting, singing some Aretha Franklin songs and capturing the moment. Of course, though, the signs were the best. We saw Carrie Fisher make an appearance, men reminding everyone that they can be feminists, too and of course the epic Shepard Fairey posters that came in every size.

Thanks for taking a look. Leave a comment. Share your photos, too!

Being a Chingona is hereditary

I don’t know if you know this, but I’m a Chingona. Not a chillona. Not a cachetona. A Chingona. It’s not easy being one, though many in my family are and we learned it from the most confident, hard-working, know-how woman that we probably ever will meet in our lifetime: our grandmother.

15369147_10107163019328660_1503421221294478142_oNow, if your family is anything like mine, they wouldn’t appreciate the use of the word Chingona unless they have grown to understand the power of our culture and how it has evolved since the days of our families crossing the border into the candy land dream; the same one that has challenged many of us into thinking we weren’t worthy to eat the fruits of our own labor.

But let me show you the power that was instilled by those planting seeds so that we should succeed as the fruit that blossoms to make this world a sweeter place, with more abundance and more to offer.

My grandmother, the Mera Chingona as I like to call her, came to this country knowing that she had to keep her family together, make sure her children were provided for and wasn’t going to let anything stop her from doing that.

She was tough, she wouldn’t take crap from anyone and her ideals shone through her like a light. God was her shoulder to lean on when no one else could give her what she was searching for and her faith in Him never wavered. She taught us how to pray with her. She always asked that God bless us, and her explanations of certain aspects were built on the fact that, sorry Charlie, a lot of what happens in this world isn’t about you.

But challenge us all she did. We wanted to make her proud. Knowing about her journey to the states, hearing stories about what she and my mom and aunts and uncles went through, there was really no other option but success. She carried the seeds and planted them right where we needed to be set. Now, it is up to the rest of us to show just how great her actions were and become testaments of her legacy.

Despite the adversity, nothing stood in her way. The culture of storytelling in Mexican families runs deep and if there’s anything that has stayed with this family, it’s that tradition. We heard about the houses and neighborhoods growing up, the challenges but also the great moments. From hot dogs on Friday nights after my grandmother got out of work, to the Christmas gift tradition of pj’s and only one toy for each child, we knew very well where and what our parents came from.

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Her stories of Mexico and living in Michoacán made me want to go back with her as she ate her fruits and ran through the fields. Conversations I’ve had with her old friend Anita also gave me a different perception of the same place. “Todo lo mejor viene de Michoacán,” Anita once told me. “Pregúntale a tu abuelita.” I’m not arguing with that!

My mother was born there, too, and because my grandmother was a chingona, most naturally, she is one as well. As protectors and care givers (sometimes the lines got crossed like when they got scared, they didn’t necessarily talk to you nicely, but they’d yell at you for scaring them after realizing you’re OK), they would do absolutely anything they had to for their children. Like any parent, right?

But it wasn’t that they may have yelled at a school bully, which they didn’t, but they did one better– they would give you everything you’d ever need to look out for and have confidence in yourself. It might not have seemed like that at first, but that’s exactly what they did because we still use those dichos and pieces of advice more than we ever thought we would.

A Chingona doesn’t just look out for their families, she makes sure that they’re able to take care of themselves. Because of that, our parents passed on her teachings and treatments. She passed them on herself. Whether it was talking to me about cooking, her childhood or chatting about what I had been up to, it felt good to communicate, to let her know I was building myself up as a Chingona, too, just like her and my mom.

A Chingona doesn’t let you get away without knowing where you came from first. Whether it was knowing our Catholic faith or being sure to be good hosts to others in our home, my grandma was always the first to teach us prayer, the power of faith and how to make sure visitors felt welcomed and respected. It was tradition; it was values; it was ethics and morals. She told parables, not just stories and each time she had something to say, she had a point.

Stories over dinners were deep and meaningful to us. She told us about her childhood, her brothers, her Nino and Nina who raised her and history about her own grandparents. She also told some traditional stories about the towns, celebrations or experiences in Mexico that she bounced off my father who would agree with her most of the time and tell stories of his youth as well.

A Chingona has beliefs beyond those of religion that rely more on culture and worldly experiences more than anything else. Natural remedies, odd concoctions and the power of energy and faith were instilled in my ways of being to this day. Her wisdom extended beyond her almost 94 years of life on Earth.

My cousin Michael and I always wanted to record her stories but we never got the chance to do it. How I wish we would have made the time. However, those stories are now for us to tell.

A Chingona doesn’t let anything stand in her way. I wrote about her life a few years ago on this same blog. It told her story and afterwards soon realized how happy I was to capture that– through stories and pictures. She was determined and knew that failure wasn’t an option, something she shared with all of us.

We all knew her well in our own way, have our own memories and experiences with her that no one will ever take away from us. When we said goodbye to her on Dec. 4, 2016, it was probably one of the hardest goodbyes, but one of the most joyous. After seeing family members pass before their time (at 42, 35 and 12), it’s a blessing to know that my grandmother lived a full life.

The following are memories that have been creeping into my mind since she passed last Sunday. Thank you for reading and as she would say every time we parted ways, “Que Dios te acompañe.”

When I came home from college during Thanksgiving break my freshman year of college, my mom and cousin Desiree cornered me in the kitchen and started grilling me on my tattoos. “Why would you do that?” They asked, among many other things that were being said. My aunt Marina and Carmen were trying to help me through it, but weren’t really getting anywhere. My furious mother told me, “go show grandma,” as if I was really going to get it from her. I walked into the living room and told her that my mom wanted me to show her my tattoo. “Enséñame la,” she told me. When I did she said, “hm.. esta bonita.” I went and with the biggest smile on my face told my mom she said it was pretty.

Walking into my grandmother’s house was an experience all in and of itself. There were bells on the door that jingled and the sound of the door slamming will always be ingrained in my memory. On the walk up the stairs, you could smell the nostalgic sent of food, memories and love. I would make a right at the top of the stairs and at the end of my tunneled vision, I could see grandma sitting at her kitchen table, where she played solitaire and turned her head to the right to watch the television that sat on top of her dresser in her bedroom. Usually, she would turn when I got to the dining room, smiling as I would say, “Hi, Grandma! ¿Cómo esta?”

When we went to grandma’s for dinner, she would cook for us and warm up tortillas while we all sat in the dining room talking and waiting for her to finish. When we offered to help, she would tell us to sit down. As a courtesy, we didn’t start our meal without her. I remember it taking forever for her to sit down with us. “Ya comen,” she would tell us. But out of defiance and respect, no one started without her.

When I came home from studying abroad in Spain for 4 months, I remember being in the car talking to my parents about my trip. When we got off the expressway way too early, I asked where we were going. My parents took me directly to my grandma’s house where she had made my favorite dish and my aunts and cousins were there to welcome me home.

Christmas always meant tamales for us and to me always felt like a bonding experience, especially for all the women in the family and my dad. When I would asked to help, I was always told to go play. Those times I tried though, I remember sitting at the long table that sat so many family dinners, attempting to spread the dough evenly across the corn husk, while grandma would stand at the head of the table with the large pot on her chair, arranging the tamales for steaming. It was an assembly line and we would talk while we passed the tamales down to have meat and salsa added to the center, folded and placed in the pot. Grandma would tie mine together so that I could find them easily. 

When I was little, around 4 years old, I was going to pre-school in Humboldt Park. Around that time, my parents bought a house on the southwest side of the city and moved us out of the neighborhood and out of grandma’s building (we lived in the basement). But since I was still going to school there and my dad worked all the way up north, he would drop off my mom and I at my grandma’s before she went to work and I went to school. I would sit at grandma’s desk, that had a little pull out table just for me, to eat my breakfast and watch cartoons. When my mom left for work, I would either stay in the room or go hang out with my tía Carmen before she took me to school. I got yelled at once by my grandma for sitting in her recliner and refusing to get up for my pregnant mother. Oops! 

A few years ago when I still lived at home, I was up in my room listening to music. My favorite song was on at the time and I was belting it out. My grandma was visiting and sitting downstairs. When we were in the car, I was singing softly to myself and my grandmother told me something along the lines of, “Sing louder. You have a voice equal to that of the girl singing. I think it’s even better.” At the time, I was embarrassed that she heard me at all! Now, I’m just proud. 

I remember going with Grandma to get her numbers. Down the stairs, though the gangway, across the alley, through a yard and to the bodega. When we got in there, the cashier and possibly the owner would already know what she wanted and asked how she was. She would get me a treat and we’d walk back through the winding road to get back to the house.

I’m not an immigrant and I’m still scared. This is why.

The journalist side of me tries with all its might to stay objective. The Latina in me caps the emotions that I feel toward people who hate.

I’m used to writing about elections from an objective standpoint. However, this year has been hard and the lack of communication and understanding by so many is making the results of this election and presidency much harder to handle.

I’ve been paying attention. I’ve been listening and watching. I wasn’t a fan of either candidate and although I agree with so many that said, “I want a nominee that I can stand behind and that will represent who I am, not someone that’s just an alternative to hate,” it was really hard not to want to just stop Trump.

Since the beginning the things that he was saying seemed like the biggest joke. Extreme, inconsiderate, hateful and usually targeted to particular segments of the population– Mexicans, Muslims, people with disabilities, women. In a country that supposedly stands its ground on Christian virtues, the same population that says “there’s a war on Christmas” and always aims to bring Christianity into politics– how do you support hate?

I was always taught to look out for my fellow human being. I was taught to help, be a woman for others. Even though I did not grow up undocumented, poor or under privileged, I’ve seen the impacts on my community because I chose to be a part of it. I also am because of my skin color, because of my name and because I’m bilingual. Those are things I cannot deny.

Privilege

This election really brought out the question of privilege. Male, white, wealthy privilege. I’ve had my run-ins with it on varying degrees.

This is an example of what white privilege is: At a point in time, I was in a position where I had to communicate and work with older white men with more money than I can conceptualize. I was at a bar, sitting with one of them when we struck up a conversation about college. “So, where did you go to school?” he asked me. “University of Illinois in Champaign,” I responded. He says to me, “Oh! My son is there. He’s fourth generation Illini.”

Let that sink in for a second. Fourth generation. Fourth. Not first, not second, but fourth. This man’s grandfather had obtained a college degree. That means a good job, money, savings, understanding of corporate structures (because he probably started one), business savvy, and something to pass along to his children. By the fourth generation, college is a given– not a question. By the fourth generation, money issues (if dealt with well) aren’t a problem. Language, no issue. Then after graduation, you have a multitude of resources, parents that know just what you need to do to be a white-collar worker with nothing to complain about besides the lack of a raise.

I said the only thing I could say, “Wow. That’s great.” What else could I say? I was a first generation college student. Although my uncles had degrees, my mom had an associate’s, my father graduated high school and my grandmother didn’t even get an eighth grade education. How am I supposed to compete with a fourth generation college kid? Our worries were not the same. Our concerns were not the same. Regardless of the situation, I was always going to have to prove myself.

College wasn’t exactly the most welcoming place either. It didn’t matter who I was, but what I looked like mattered to many. We were feared after a frat party decided to celebrate a Tacos and Tequila event by dressing up as Mexicans– border jumpers, pregnant, wearing the flag. We were called spics in the street. I was talked to plenty of times only in Spanish and it was usually assumed that I was born in Mexico.

Once after being around my friends at La Casa, I returned to my dorm upset only to be asked, “Are you upset about some Mexican thing again?”

After college, outside of my comfort zone, people tried to pigeonhole me. They tried to figure out why I spoke English so well. “You’re so articulate!” I’d hear as if it were a surprise. Was I supposed to say thank you?

Since I talked to my friend Teresa about it, I will always remember something that she gathered from an instructor of hers: “They don’t know what they don’t know, so they don’t know.” It all made perfect sense after that.

The Last 18 Months

I never liked Trump. His smugness was so stereotypically masculine. He had all the money in the world, he turned his nose up at people who didn’t like him and he wasn’t prepared at all. I guess you can say he was a real white rich man in America that could do what he wanted because– privilege. Money gets you everywhere. Didn’t you know?

Then started the Mexican talk. Then the people with disabilities talk. Then the condoning violence and the beating of innocent people because… because… the man was Latino? Then came the accusations of bias because of heritage. Then the whole pussy-grabbing thing.

This man was in no way representing me. At all.

Voters and supporters of him say, “American Sovereignty!” Sure, I believe that since you know, his platforms and plans are so well thought out and planned, right? I don’t have a clue what this man wants to do besides put up a wall on the Mexican border, try to deport Puerto Ricans and end the Affordable Care Act.

To that I say, whatever. The American government will never please everyone. If he makes America function better than it has, great. White men have always governed this country and they will continue to for a very long time.  

My greatest fear is for all of us who are different. Because of what he has been saying, because of his mockery of people, because of his attitude, he has made it OK to harass the minority. He’s made those intolerant people show their true colors. He’s making it OK to demean, hurt and put down these individuals for what?   

Trump has said in the last 18 months everything that makes racists xenophobic, bigots homophobic and intolerant, and men pigs. He’s brought to light anything and everything that could possibly upset the white privileged and less educated people. Simple words, simple phrases that stuck. Those same phrases that made me say, “What the hell?!” made other people nodd in agreement.

And as Van Jones said on CNN, “It was a white lash.”

The Fear

I remember learning about the Holocaust. Learning about slavery. Learning about how Mexicans were treated as second class citizens. I remember learning about Japanese internment camps, the Native American trail of tears and the fact that every president during those time frames were some of the most vocally racist people this country has seen. I just saw 13th on Netflix that connected all the dots for me.

I don’t want to live through that. In a country where we’re taught that freedom prevails and equality is justice, I’ve seen very little of it that is blanketed over all people.

It doesn’t exist. It’s an ideology that people keep saying we have, but I don’t see it.

For the most part, after reading about all that has happened in history, I want to just think that it’ll never happen again. Everyone out there is going to have enough sense to say, “I’m sorry, no. Genocide is not right. People are citizens with rights if they’re born here. Human rights apply to all people.”

We’ve seen Hitler’s rise to power. We know what Stalin, Mussolini and Franco did. For those of us who have any idea of what happened during the World Wars, the rhetoric and jargon used in this election mimicked that of horrible times in history.  

In many, if not all, of those instances, there was a cleansing of the countries. Getting rid of the problematic people, uniting under one God, one flag, one country.

For those of us who have been verbally pinpointed by our president-elect, he may as well have put a target on our back. That’s the first step, isn’t it? Making the target feel less than and letting everyone else know they’re susceptible to indiscriminate behavior is the way to start breaking people down. Kids at Royal Oak Middle School in Michigan are already doing it. They heard what the man said and they’re acting upon it because they can. Then there’s this— a recap of what was done and said after the election. We’ve already seen it throughout the campaign trail and now that their leader is the president of the “free world” what more validation do you need to hate?

What Next?

I’d love to say that I could give him a chance to lead, but I’d be a liar. I’m scared. I don’t want to be a number, I don’t want to be harassed more than usual. I don’t want to be put down because of my last name or because I’m Latina.

As far as the government goes, it’s been Red before. I just hope that they all have the common sense to put a stop to the hate and stop him from being the next dictator. It will be the end of anything “united” and in fact, will divide the country as it’s doing so right now.

I’m proud of those who are speaking out and calling the election for what it is. Those people are the ones that start the conversations and bring the issues never spoken about to light.

The protests that happened across the country last night were against the fact that this person could be put in a position of power. It was a staging of First Amendment Rights. It was a staging of energy, anger and fear for what’s to come and proof that not all of the United States are backing a man just because 50 percent of the country voted him into the White House.

Those people that came together are activists, organizers and community folks who’ve been working their tails off for a more just society. They work at non-profit organizations, they work with the people of the community, trying to better their situation and way of life. How do you think so many people knew about and acted on the protest? Because of organizers.

There were some good things to come across the election– quadrupling the number of Women of Color in Congress was one. Let’s see how they do against the privileged Red. More states are legalizing marijuana on different levels.

After the Black Lives Matter movement, the senseless killings and all the other messes we’ve found ourselves in recently, we want to move forward. But in all the different ways of looking at it, as a proud Latina, I’m afraid we’ve just taken one giant step backward.

When Gender Roles Don’t Make A Difference

If you’ve read my blog before, you know that I’ve been in relationships. Whether I write non-fictionally about them here– well, that’s a different story. But this story is more about gender roles than anything else.

In recent times, gender has been an increasingly important topic of conversation– not because it should be, but because this whole bathroom conversation brings up the issue. We’ve also seen the way women are treated as a result of the patriarchal society we live in that serves men in every way, allowing them to obtain certain rights and privileges just because they have a penis. This goes from the rich rulers of the world to the working-class; men are seen as the go-getting, intelligent, ambitious bread-winners and what adds to it is that they think that way, too.

Women are women. Men are men. You have a part to play, so play it. At least, that’s the underlying message. Women serve men, are nothing without men, whose sole purpose is to find a man, right?

I grew up enveloped in the concept of gender roles. I heard it all. “You act like a boy,” “You were raised like a boy,” to “That sport isn’t for girls,” and “You don’t know how to be a girlfriend.” Because it never made any sense to me (I asked my parents if they would treat me differently if I were a boy. When they said yes, I started to defy them.) and rationale was weak, I began to run in the opposite direction of what was expected of me. I wasn’t going to fall into any expectation, if I could help it.

I wanted to be equal to all the boys. I saw the difference in how they were treated versus how I was being treated. I wanted to be treated the same, with the same privileges. I always believed that I could take care of myself but I don’t have a clue where that came from.

As a girl growing up, I was told that as I got older I was going to have big boobs and a big butt. I gain and lose the butt, but my boobs aren’t as huge as I had been left to believe they would be. Suddenly, I felt less than because every other girl grew into C and D cups, while I was stuck on a B.

Subtleties, however both affected my identity and gender. I was too strong. I wasn’t like the other girls. I didn’t have what I was “supposed to.”

When the first boyfriend I had in four years decided to cheat on me repeatedly, I stayed because I thought, “He said he loved me. He must. Is this the best I’m going to get?” I actually thought it was going to be that way. Then when I realized that I was worth too much more than that, I left. But it made an impact. If this guy said he loved me, but did the complete opposite, would they all be like that? Did I have to play that game, too? When I talked to other guys, he made me feel terrible as if I was the one cheating. He put all the blame on me. Because he was the man, he could do what he wanted and all he had to do was apologize and I’d take him back. But I felt less than. I wasn’t good enough to keep him.

As an adult, I’ve had men stop calling me because I voiced my opinion or start a fight with me because I talked to my guy friends without him around. “A taken woman doesn’t do that,” he said. And there I went, feeling less than again.

Then, I was gas-lighted. The guy I was with didn’t at all act like he cared about me, when in fact he was in love with me but wouldn’t admit it to himself or me and he couldn’t show me his true feelings, let alone tell them to me. He did the minimal to show he cared until it seemed he didn’t care at all, and I left. And there I went, feeling less than again.

But men don’t talk about their feelings unless they’re intoxicated. Men do whatever they want because if a woman was desperate enough she’d wait. Not me. I never had a problem leaving.

Lastly, I was made to believe that if I couldn’t conform, I wouldn’t get married. Plain and simple, I was too bro-ish, too man-ish, too aggressive and “twice the man I can ever be.” Why couldn’t I just be a really strong woman? Stronger than a man?

I can also get into the way I’ve been talked to professionally. “With a smile like yours…” “You should get on that getting married tip,” “She was really pretty, just like you,” “Oh, are you his assistant?” Would any of that be said to a man? What does anything have to do with the way I work or the way I do business?

I was taught that if I have to meet with men, to take a man with me. I couldn’t get into a room and close anything all by myself. When I say that to certain people, they ask me, “Why do you think that?” It’s easy to say, “because I’ve lived it.” I’ve gotten to the point, though, where it doesn’t bother me.

I always believed that the people you love are not defined by their body, but their souls. The connection isn’t just touching, but looking at each other’s eyes, laughing and being happy. It is the happiness in your heart when your best friend calls or the feeling of loving energy radiating from your father’s chest as he hugs you. Without that soul, the body is lifeless, it is nothing. I’ve truly loved people in non-romantic ways and have felt that I’ve connected to their soul.

Hence my dislike for gender roles and the idea that you are your sex.

Then I met my current boyfriend. There never was a sense of roles we were defined by. He told me he never wanted me to change, I told him the same. In six months, we’ve cried to each other, fought with each other and talked through everything together. Never has there been a doubt in our minds to sleep on it or leave it unresolved for too long. We talk everything out, are honest and feel even more confident in this relationship we’ve shared together.

How we “act,” doesn’t matter. For weeks, when I went from job to job and worked at home, too, he would cook for me, clean the house and do the laundry. And he worked the night shift. He didn’t sleep very much. When he moved in, he wasn’t working at all, but I told him I’d be OK supporting him while he found something. He in turn, took on the responsibilities at home because someone had to. I was extremely tired from working so much and only really cleaned on the weekend, much anything else.

He already knew he wanted to take care of me and I him, in every way. How we acted, the roles we played didn’t exist. There were no roles because we were being ourselves in the truest sense– authentic about who we were, how we acted and why.

Over the years, I’ve learned to get rid of those people who thought I had a role to play and instead found those who didn’t care about what I looked like or that I was a woman, but looked deeper to find my heart, my brain and my soul. I’ve found male counterparts that I can converse with, hang out with and work with who have made me even better and stronger and more self-confident and self-reliant. I’ve tried to pass that along to other women as well, calling them “Chingonas” and “hustlers,” because what you DO and GET DONE is not at all defined by your gender. And women should always support women.

When you find that person or persons who let you be yourself, don’t look down on you for being a man or a woman and who don’t expect anything because you are, keep them. Keep them in your lives for the longest time. As long as you can. Forever.

 

Jose Luis Pérez AKA Uncle Joey

I could write a book about Uncle Joey. He was a character.  A fun-loving, truth-telling, dancer of a character. Everybody loved him. I know plenty of people who say that about people who’ve passed, right? But I’m actually serious. Everyone he came across saw the light that we were so blessed to have in our family.

Uncle Joey was a dancer. He was a ballroom dancer, something that started when he was in high school. The job took him places we had never been like Hawaii, South Carolina and Alexandria, Virginia. He was the reason most of our family traveled outside of the Midwest on vacation.

wpid-wp-1446493281573.jpegBefore the era of the internet, we used to record and send VHS tapes to each other, giving updates, saying hello. The last one we found was from Mother’s Day and my birthday. I don’t know if he would edit them or would have someone else do it, but since he was in competitions we couldn’t get to, he’d have them recorded and then placed within the video he’d send us. I can still hear his voice telling us when and where the competition took place.

My grandmother used to call him Luís and man, what a momma’s boy he was. I got confused when I was a kid. I didn’t understand why he had multiple names until I was older. Uncle Joey was also my godfather. He was a great one, too, always giving us gifts and telling us stories.

I think our favorite was the story of Ms. Fuchi. That’s right, ladies and gents, he created the story of Ms. Fuchi, a little ballerina girl that he taught to dance. She didn’t wear shoes and always had mocos coming out of her nose. The real reason he made up the story was because we had these spinning ballerina dolls that flew up into the air. He saw it and created the story for us on the spot.

wpid-wp-1446489511522.jpegDon’t get me wrong though. Uncle Joey was also mean. I don’t mean malicious, he was like me. It’s weird to say, but after he passed in 1995 my family would look at me and say, “Oh, my God. You look just like Joey.” Or “That’s totally something Joey would say,” or “That’s exactly the kind of face Joey would make.” I was basically him incarnate and then I realized how much more I was like him. He was the honest truth-teller. He also called people out.

Let me give you an example. I used to like to chew big wads of gum. Why? I have no idea. I was a dumb kid. I shoved a whole 5-stick pack of gum in my mouth, you know, those Extra bubble gum flavored ones. Before I could get the stupid wad out of my mouth, Uncle Joey looked at me and said, “How many did you stick in your mouth? All of them?” “No!” I said, clearly embarrassed to which I proceeded to spit out the gum in the trash.  You didn’t want him to think you were stupid.

Another time, he had a briefcase with him. I’m pretty sure he came to my house right after flying in– something he’d do a lot. He always had gifts for us, like I said before. He told me to sit down in front of him and he pulled out a little something for me. I don’t even remember what it was, but I tried to peek into the case, to which he grabbed it and turned it so I couldn’t see inside. “Hey! What else are you looking for?” he said to me. I was a spoiled brat.

See all the things he made me realize without really even saying it?

When Uncle Joey came in from out of town, it was a huge event. One Christmas, my parents “went to the store.” I’m kinda really close to my parents so when they didn’t come back quick enough for me, I kept asking where they were. The whole family was gathered at my grandmother’s house waiting for everyone to get there. This was also when we could all FIT in my grandmother’s house. All of a sudden, we heard the bell of the door downstairs jingle. The door opened and up walked my mom, dad and right behind them Uncle Joey telling us kids to shush. As he walked into the dining room, we heard a scream from my tía Rosa. The kids laughed and then ran over, waiting patiently to hug Uncle Joey– after he said hello to grandma and his brothers and sisters first.

Once we surprised him at his gate (pre 9/11) during a layover. He walked out and we were all sitting there patiently waiting for him. I forget who, but someone stepped up to him as he walked out of the gate. He was so surprised and then those of us who were sitting in the seats turned around. He was thrilled to see us all there waiting for him.

The last time we went out to D.C. to visit him, it was during Shark Week and I just so happened to be into sharks. We camped out in his living room (basically hung out on the sofa bed) and watched hours and hours of shark action. He couldn’t believe he had done that either, but it was fun. I also remember that that’s when I got to see his tattoo for the first time.

Those were fun and almost magical times.

I saw the worrisome and pained Uncle Joey, too. Not that I really like to talk about it much, but I’m starting to understand it as I near his age. He would call our house late at night to talk to my mom or my tía Carmen if she was around, but I always got to talk to him before it got to them. If the phone rang after 11p.m. it was usually him and I would race to the phone saying, “I got it! It’s probably Uncle Joey!”

There are times I’ll never forget, especially when I saw the pure child that lived inside him. Once he grabbed a photo of my grandfather and kept asking, “I look like dad, don’t I? Don’t I look like daddy?” The desire to be tied to someone that everyone lost early on was apparent, just like me today.

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Tía Marina and Uncle Joey at a wedding

Uncle Joey died on the first day of winter. He was born the first day of summer. When we realized this, it almost made sense to us. I learned so much from Uncle Joey. Too much to recount here. He made life fun and loved to laugh. Whether or not he knew what was coming, he never seemed to be worried about it. In his final days, he had admitted that he wasn’t afraid to die anymore– something that gives me solace as I think about it. He knew he was going to be with his father, with my first Wendy, and that things would be OK.

Keeping him alive in our memory is easy, especially at weddings when the song “Last Dance” by Donna Summer is played. The song reminds the family (and those who were alive to witness it) of the time that Uncle Joey and my tía Marina danced to the song in high school for a dance competition.  I played it today as I left the cemetery, the only time in the history of visiting the cemetery that I ever played music. I thought it was appropriate and that Uncle Joey would appreciate it.

My First Wendy

I’ve known a lot of Wendys in my lifetime. I have friends that tell me they’ve never met a Wendy before and I answer them with “I know at least five.”

But there is no one like the first Wendy. The one I met a few days after I was born. She was nine and my big cousin. She lived upstairs from us in my grandmother’s building with her brother and sister and her mom, my tía Rosa. She might as well have been my big sister, along with the other two siblings.

She would hang out with me, take me outside for walks and eat pickles on forks. Her favorite movie was The Little Princess and she would always carry me around on her hip. If you take a look at her, she wasn’t very big and a little skinny, but she could still lug me around.

She was a happy little girl. As much as I remember, there’s a lot I don’t being so little. My favorite is watching my dad’s home movies of all of us in the basement–where we lived for a little while. The last one we saw that I can remember was from Halloween. Wendy was a bunny and her shrill little voice is almost shocking because it hasn’t changed. It never will.

Three years after I met her, Wendy was taken away from all of us. A mishap, an accident, whatever you want to call it, the result was her no longer being there. And what a tragedy it was. She was gone 10 days before her 12th birthday– a bit unfair to say the least.

I was so close to her, they say I felt her death so deeply– as I see it, the energy was being ripped away from me. They didn’t let me go to the wake, so I didn’t get to see her sleeping. I also got really sick during those days of her being gone and her burial — high fevers, weird dreams, hallucinations. As we were driving somewhere, I apparently said I saw her running alongside the car, but that she didn’t have glasses on. They buried her without her glasses.

wpid-wp-1446489503018.jpegMy mom and my tía Carmen both say that it was one dream that liberated me from being sick and sometimes I claim that I still remember it because it was so real. She came for me. She came for me and we went flying in the clouds. She had her glasses on, her gown was white and she took me by the hand. We laughed together and floated from cloud to cloud. It was amazing. After that, my fever broke and that was it.

I think about her all the time. She’s my guardian angel and I know it because I feel her. Sometimes I meditate and I go to her. I see her sitting outside in the back porch of the house she grew up in, eating candy and listening to me as I whine about my life. She looks up with me and says, “Christy, it’s all going to be OK.” I also know she’s around because a heavy bout of energy comes over me and I cry uncontrollably but it’s not out of sadness. I smile through the tears and I say, “I feel you. You’re here.”

I haven’t had any dreams about her lately, but the last one I did have was magical. I was in a field with a lot of women, including my mom, my tía Carmen and some friends of mine. In the middle of this field, there was what looked like a mailbox. They told me to go and open it, that I would receive a message. I walked up to the old, gray, wooden box and opened it to find a three-page, handwritten letter from Wendy. In it, she told me how proud she was of me, how she sees what I do and that she’s always with me. She signed it with a big W and that was all I needed. As I read it, my mom and tía kept asking me what it said and I cried. When I woke up, I felt a sense of peace.

It’s hard to think about her still and the fact that she would have been 39 this year. What would she have become? And what’s funny is that I feel like it’s because of her that I have the other Wendys in my life. She didn’t want me to ever forget her. I look at my friends and I see pieces of what her life would have been like: success, beauty, intelligence, marriage, motherhood, families. They all have beautiful lives and in a way, I see what she would have had.

Over the years, I’ve learned a lot from being around Wendy. She was kind, innocent, loving, smart. I thank God everyday for the chance to have met her. A piece of me also feels like she’s in me, like she is in my little cousin Wendy Christella and my sister Caroline Wendy.

She’s buried with my grandfather at Queen of Heaven Cemetery. They look after one another. I wish I could write about him too, but I can’t because he passed long before I was born, but I do think of him often and the kind of man he was.

They would both be extremely proud to see how far our family has come.

Macoris. Classic Lou. Vallenato.

“Giordano’s.”

“Ew, no. Too much cheese.”

“What?! That’s the best part. You’re not a real Chicagoan if you’ve never choked on Giordano’s deep dish cheese!”

“That’s not even right. You’re not a real Chicagoan if you’ve haven’t had Lou Malnati’s.”

“Now, that is gross. For that, you might as well say UNO’s is the best and we both know that lying is just, plain… WRONG!”

“Hey, hey, now. UNO’s isn’t bad. I do prefer Pequod’s over UNO’s though. No lie.”

“The pizza place on the corner is better than UNO’s…”

The classic Chicago debate would have continued had they not seen a band walking out and into a venue.

“Wonder what’s going on there tonight,” asked Sam, the Classic Lou fan. His taste in food was extremely picky. His taste in music worse.

“Let’s go check it out. I’d be down to see some music tonight if you are,” said Mac, the Giordano’s supporter. He was a foodie, loved to taste a bit of everything and had a pristine sense of musical taste. His choice in friends– questionable.

“Only if it’s some rock shit. I can’t take that indie pop that’s going on nowadays,” said Sam. “Or EDM. Who invented that?”

“Dude, I keep telling you,” began Mac, “you have to open up your musical horizons and interests. It makes you a more well-rounded person.”

“Blah, blah, blah. As true as that sounds, in the end, I know what I like.”

“Fine,” said Mac. He learned when to stop.

The duo walked into the bar where the musicians were setting up. Musical instruments native to Latin American countries could be seen all over the floor getting their mics added on and getting hooked up to the sound system. The musicians shook hands with others in the venue, smiled, laughed, chatted.

Mac felt like he was walking in at a personal moment. One of the artists with a hat on came up to him and shook his hand. The hat he wore was a traditional Colombian piece called a sombrero vueltiao that Mac recognized from his excursion to Ecuador, a bordering country to Colombia.

“Rey Márquez,” said the musician.

“Macorís Rojas,” said Mac.

¡O! ¿Dominicano?” asked Rey.

Mis padres, si. Yo nací aquí,” said Mac, who didn’t really speak Spanish most of the time but did only because the conversation started that way. Sam didn’t speak Spanish either, even though his family was Puerto Rican.

Hola, Samuel Ramírez,” said Sam, in his butchered Spanish accent.

¿A que hora van a tocar y que tipo de música?” Mac asked what time and type of music they were going to play.

A las 9. Regresen para escuchar vallenato. Aquí estarémos,” said Rey. Vallenato, along with Cumbia, were the most popular and native types of music originating in Colombia– hence the hat.

OK. Luego volvemos,” said Mac, promising to come back.

Hasta pronto, entonces,” said Rey.

The friends walked out and decided to get some pizza from the local spot. It was better than they expected.

“Do we really have to go back?” asked Sam. “I don’t even know what valle… valleviejo is. Is it like tribal music?”

Vallenato. Vallenato. Vallenato,” said Mac. “And no, it’s very similar to Cumbia. I actually kinda like it. It’s chill.”

“More crap I can’t stand,” said Sam. ” You might be going back alone.”

It was 7:30 and they were venturing around the neighborhood, so calling other friends and letting this guy wallow in his Latin ignorance wouldn’t be a problem.

“That’s cool. I actually might just go back alone. It’s not too often that you get this type of music in a Mexican-identified city, you know?”

Sam ended up walking home and Mac texted one person– a girl he’s had a thing for for the past couple of years. They were friends but she never picked up on his good intentions. He wondered if she’d be interested in the show.

“Hey, Sara, what are you up to tonight?” He texted.

He started walking around the small neighborhood he lived in. The air was warm and the sun was setting– almost too romantic, he thought, that he’d might just say hi to Sara instead of actually asking her to come out. He didn’t want to scare her away.

His phone buzzed: “Hey Mac! Not too much. Just hanging out with my brother and sister. What’s going on?”

Should he ask? He was going to bite the bullet. The worst that could happen was getting a no and if there was anything Mac was used to, it was getting rejected– from girls, schools, jobs, sometimes life– but it was good for growth. At least, that’s what his mentor said.

“There’s a Vallenato show happening on 19th. We were walking by and met the band. Would you like to check it out with me?” He sent it.

His stomach turned a bit and he was already thinking of “cool” ways to accept the rejection text message. “Oh, no problem. Maybe next time.” Or how about, “Oh! That’s cool. No worries. We’ll chat later.”

Buzz. Buzz. It was her.

“Sure! What time? And where do you want to meet?” He smiled wide.

“I’ll swing by to get you,” he texted back.

By that time it was already 8:30. He took the walk to her place. By the time they’d get back to the bar, it would be around show time.

His arrival to the house was not a secret one. The giant pitbull next door started barking as soon as he turned the corner. With that, there was no need to knock on the door, since Sara came out before he could get to the stoop.

“Hey!” she said, giving him a hug. “How’s it going?”

“Not to bad,” said Mac. “Ready to get going?”

“Yeah, let’s go.”

As they walked they talked about Sam’s lack of culture, the pizza battle and music.

“Oh, I’m so down with a classic Lou Malnati’s pizza,” she said. “My uncle took us there for the first time. It’s like a Chicago staple. You have to have Lou’s. But we get the thin crust.”

“Hey! Me, too!” said Mac, a little too excitedly. “I love it and although there are a lot of places that give it a run for its money, it’s still my favorite.”

“Plus,” she added, “real Chicagoans don’t even eat deep dish all the time! Thin is the way to go.”

They arrived at the bar and upon walking in, Rey came up to greet them.

¡Hola! ¿La bonita es tu novia?” he said asking if Sara was Mac’s girlfriend.

No, no. Solamente una amiga,” Mac said nervously.

Pues, hombre. ¿Qué te pasa?” Rey asked what his problem was– basically egging him on.

Soy Rey Márquez, mucho gusto,” he said extending his hand to Sara.

Hablo un poquito de español,” Sara smiled shyly. “Soy Sara Pérez.”

They sat down and ordered mojitos waiting for the music to begin, carrying on a conversation about how they’d never been to that bar for as long as they’d lived in the neighborhood.

As the music started, the night crept up on them. The music was calm, the storytelling was impeccable and the essence took Mac back to his excursion to Ecuador.

“This is great,” said Sara. “Thanks for inviting me.”

“Anytime,” Mac said.

It was the perfect way to end the day.