Love given is never wasted.

Yesterday was a good day for me. It had nothing to do with work, or writing, my home life or really even me. It had to do with the people who remembered me.

I don’t want this to sound like I’m tooting my own horn. And still, it might. But I want to tell you these stories anyway, because they inspire me and keep me going every single day.

For the longest time, I’ve understood the importance of giving back. Whether that was my Jesuit education or my mom’s desire to be a teacher, I always thought that if I could be of help and service to others, the world would be a better place and more positive things could happen.

For example, as an eighth grader, I worked with younger students and tutored them. As a high school student, I worked with kids from a dual language school who were smarter than I’d ever be. I realized they didn’t need tutoring as much as they needed mentors and someone to look up to.

We went on service trips in high schools where we constantly heard, “it’s not your agenda.” We were there to serve. I learned how to connect with people and make them feel good. I learned to love in a variety of ways.

Right after I graduated from high school, I worked for the school as a teaching assistant for seventh and eighth graders who were aiming to work on their math and reading not because they lacked the skill, but because they wanted to go above and beyond. Mini overachievers. I had them aiming to get a perfect score on their multiplication tables tests that I gave them every morning. And I think they all did it once.

During my summer with this program, there was a little seventh grader (like, for real), with big hair. His name was Carlos Hidalgo and he had asked me what kind of music I listened to. I told him the truth, that I listened to Depeche Mode, the Cure, basically ’80s synth-pop. He told me he listened to the same thing and that his brother and uncle heavily influenced what he listened to. I didn’t believe it. When he showed me his music collection and told me stories about going to concerts to see these bands, I was stoked. After that, he became my best little buddy. He eventually became my sister’s classmate since they were the same age and they became friends. He was a great kid. Now a great man. 😉

At that time, his brother Gustavo was in high school. A rock-a-billy type with slicked back black hair and cuffed jeans, I thought he was cool but never really had the opportunity to meet him until my sister told me about a band that she knew that was playing in Evanston. I took her because I wanted to see what this was all about, too. To make a long story short, I met Goose and eventually managed the band he and his friend Jorge had created for about a year and a half, maybe two years. They called themselves The Black Roses. We grew together and I learned a ton in those years. I got really close to the guys in the band who were some amazing musicians. We had gigs every weekend and spent at least four days out of the week together. I did all I could to support their musical endeavors, and after working hard at making connections, we could have a show whenever and where ever they wanted.

Once Goose and I were talking about my weird fascination with singing on stage and being a front woman. After watching so many shows, I felt like I had what it took. Then he says to me, “We could start a band called Grace and the Go Carts!” Where he pulled that from was genius. Goose played bass, Carlos played guitar and their little brother Arturo played the drums. Get it? Go Car and the over lap of Art– it was all of their names combined. They could have been a family band. It also cracked me up as a real possibility to get on stage. It never happened.

A few years later, I started EXPO Collective and had developed an art festival alongside my partners. We were in search for a photographer to document the day. A great photographer and friend of mine reached out to me. He knew a young photographer looking to get into the scene and especially looking for practice. It has to be known that I hadn’t seen Carlos since he DJ’d an event for me before EXPO Collective even became an official thing and Goose had been doing his own thing around Chicago for a while.

The young photographer’s name was Sebastián. OK, I said. I took my friend’s word for it (he said he was really good and had a lot of potential) and asked for his number. He emailed me and lo and behold, I saw his last name. Could it be? I thought to myself as I dialed his number. It has to be.

He answered the phone. “Hey Sebastián?” I asked. It was him. “Hey are you Goose’s and Carlos’ little brother?” He said he was and I laughed, almost giddy with excitement. “I used to manage The Black Roses and I’ve known Carlos since he was in seventh grade! I got your information from Jose. How are you?” I asked if he wanted to be our photographer– I’d help push his work and his brand, making sure to give him credit where it was due. I eventually asked where Sebastián came from; it’s his middle name. I was amazed that I had worked with and had the opportunity to work with all three brothers.

His work was nothing short of  awesome. You can find his pictures on our website and Facebook page. He had new ideas that he shared with me and his passion shone through him. He was a documentarian, a photojournalist. He eventually made his way into the photography circle where he met another amazing photographer that we worked with, Max. He recommended Sebastián for an opportunity at the Chicago Reporter and he just kept going after that. I usually bumped into him in Pilsen, wandering around with his camera. I’d see him at art shows and asked how he was and how his brothers were doing.

A few days ago, The New York Times Lens blog featured Sebastián’s pieces and stories, highlighting work he had done in Pilsen. Knowing his parents, his brothers, his aunt and seeing how far he had come and how much he had grown, I felt privileged to know him.

I felt privileged to know his whole family.

His brothers had their families; Carlos had lived in Malaga, Spain with his wife (they’re back in the States now) and Goose, who now goes by Jack, also got married and had children– successful in their own ways.  But maybe it was the journalist in me, the fact that Sebastián had fulfilled a dream of mine and I knew just how amazing it was to have one of the greatest newspapers in the world recognize you and the story that you’re telling– of the people, of your people– that really struck a cord in me.

I shared it on my Facebook page. I tagged his family. And he thanked ME for believing in him.

“I love that you [tagged] my family in this!” he wrote. “Thank you, Christina, for your support and believing in me.”

If there was anything easy for me to do, it was believe in him. Not only because of him, but because of his brothers who were also brilliant and talented and driven. It’s now his turn to chase a dream and go for it hard. I had believed in his brothers and now it was time that I passed that same love and support on to him. He has the passion and the drive and the ability to make it. There’s no doubt in my mind that he’ll go as far as possible and his love of photography will take him there.

[Side note: The world is tiny. A few months ago, my fiance introduced me to his friend Ivan, who he’s known for years. I recognized him. “I know him,” I said. He believed me since he had been in the neighborhood. No, I thought, not just in the neighborhood. Goose had introduced me to him. He was his uncle. The next time I saw him, it felt weird to say, but I said, “I was the Black Roses manager. Goose’s band.” This was the uncle Carlos had initially told me about.]

As a young adult I learned about the importance of mentors, finding someone who was where you wanted to be and following in their footsteps. Then I got myself one. In college, I realized just how much journalism and writing down someone else’s story is a form of service. I was tasked with telling other people’s stories. I got to learn about people, build relationships and build long-lasting friendships. I had the opportunity to make change happen.

As a reporter for Café magazine, I got to know the interns and helped them with writing. As an editor for EXTRA newspaper, I aimed to mentor, coach and develop writers. Not only were they getting time with me, sitting down to go over their stories and developing better writing, but they were able to publish their stories in a credible paper.

That’s where I met Evan F. Moore, who has gone on to write for various publications (and by that I mean hundreds, maybe more). Not to say he was younger than I, but he was new to the world of journalism. I met him through a blog community we were both part of and although his writing needed work, I recongnized that he had the qualities to be a really great journalist. He was great at research and had no fear in asking the right questions. All he needed were clips and proof of his storytelling capabilities. He also was enthusiastic about writing and actually listened to my advice on the subject matter.

After I left the paper, he continued to thrive and I was so incredibly proud that he had become a freelancer for various magazines and newspapers. His social media presence grew and his voice was being heard. On my side, I smiled. He was actually taking the steps to accomplish his dream. Every now and then, he would send me texts thanking me for pushing him like I did and for giving him the opportunity. To have him remember me, or to even say that he wouldn’t be where he was without the support I gave him with the resources I had, made me feel like I was on top of the world. “You gave me my first byline,” he said to me recently.

I’m so happy that I did give him that opportunity, that I saw it in him. Sometimes, that’s all we need– the faith of another person to push you to the next level.

Then there was my one intern at EXTRA, Wendy Esparza. I met her through my sister. They went to Loyola together and worked together. I’m pretty sure Wendy recommended my sister for a job after school. In return, my sister asked me to talk to her because she wanted to be a journalist, so I did. [UPDATE: I stand corrected. My sister got the job first and recommended Wendy for that as well. Oops!]

I offered her an internship with us, giving her an opportunity to write and get published. It became a lot more than that. We talked and got to know each other. She wanted to be on television, be an anchor on Univision. Her mom was in Mexico with her brother and she was here, figuring out what to do after she graduated. Needless to say, we grew close.

Because of my good friend Abel, who was also EXTRA’s production director at the time, Wendy was able to get an internship at Univision and I was extremely proud of her because I know that’s what she wanted. I posted a message on Facebook. It was 2013. 

Yesterday, she wrote a comment on that post, since it was exactly five years since I had written it and it came up as a memory. “I continue to celebrate this day and the gift of knowing you & learning from you 💕,” it read. I cried. 

What I haven’t told you is that Wendy moved back to Aguascalientes, Mexico and became a model and started entering pageants. She became Nuestra Belleza Aguascalientes and eventually became Nuestra Belleza Mexico in 2014. She competed in the Ms. Universe pageant and came in the top 15. I hadn’t really heard from her, but the fact that she continues to remember our relationship and commented on this memory twice in two years, makes me feel so loved.

I knew her as a student and saw her achieve what she wanted and more. When you feel the most distant, it’s then that love pulls you back in.

I’ve met a lot of people in my life and in reality, you never really know how many people you affect or touch. Giving of your time and energy, belief and support is never wasted. I’ve always wanted to give back in multiple ways and I continue to in any way I can. I’ll offer my ear, the guest bedroom in my house, my time and my resources, my knowledge and insight. I’m forever appreciative of everyone who has ever expressed what many never do– gratitude.

These instances in no way blow up my ego. In fact, it’s times like these that make me feel the most humble. For that, I am forever grateful.

 

 

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What is Community?

What is community? I ask myself this a lot because I want to be able to make it and build it and strengthen it. In the past week, I’ve seen so many answers to this question and the most amazing part is that although I’m observing it, I’m also part of it.
 
Community is mourning the loss of a great souls, mentors and friends. Telling stories, keeping them alive and celebrating the life they’ve lived. Always a time cut too short, they’ll forever live in us and in our memories.
 
Community is seeing people who’ve worked their ass off get somewhere and celebrating it with them. It’s knowing that people hold special talents and ingenious creativity and helping them get to where they want or need to be.
 
Community is seeing all the hardship happening and deciding that you want to do something about it. It’s organizing events, meet-ups, or a time to be together to lean on each other for love and support.
Community is challenging the status quo and encouraging other people to do the same. It’s standing up to authority in the name of people other than yourself. It’s asking the right questions and helping people to understand the fact that not everyone may be looking out for their best interests.
 
Community is asking if family members are OK because people know you have loved ones in countries hit hard by natural disasters.  Backgrounds don’t matter or what country you were born in, people are suffering and someone you love may be affected. 
Community is checking in on one another and making sure that you’re getting through everything with sanity in tact. Whether it’s to ask how they’re doing, sending virtual hugs, prayers and good vibes, positive thoughts and feelings go a long way.
Community is not defined by location or ethnicity. Community is not confined by blood. Community doesn’t just stay in the ‘hood and die in the burbs. Community is not just organizing for the good fight or just in the streets during a protest.
Community is love, compassion and a shared strength. When I look at my community I am proud and feel empowered. I see people who have my back. I see people that I’ve supported since day one get to where they want to be. I share stories with amazing folks who are shaking up the world– reporting on it, painting it, telling its stories, singing its songs, uniting its people, helping the less fortunate and documenting our journey on it.
Here’s to my community.

Privilege doesn’t stop me from feeling

I’ve been trying to wrap my head around this world for some time now. Everywhere you look, there are people attacking our communities of color– black and brown. Since I was a teenager, since I started being aware of what MY reality as a Latina was, more and more emerged– things I couldn’t erase from my mind; situations I couldn’t undo. There’s always something to speak up against, to fight for, to protest. I’ve been to marches, I’ve told the stories, I’ve cried, I’ve spoken out and I’ve gotten angry.
 
I know I’m privileged. I know I didn’t have to worry about a lot growing up. I know I had everything I needed, and wanted. I know that I grew up with an “American citizen” status, even though my heart bleeds mexicana all the same. Yet, here I am thinking of ways to make waves, to support and to defend my people.
 
Through my work, both paying gigs and passionate gigs, I’ve encountered so many amazing people who didn’t have the same privileges I did. That fight because they have to. That feel like they couldn’t/can’t succeed because of their status. That have superseded and have done amazing things. That believe in justice and truth. That believe that this United States is “OUR” United States, regardless of how many ignorant people there are out there who have no concept of history and its context.
 
I thank all of the passionate people for teaching me what I didn’t know– who’ve taught me about things that have made me more aware, who got me out and moving, who organized me, made me volunteer, made me sign a petition, taught me the ins and outs, gave me opportunities to help.
 
My heart and hugs, support and thoughts are with those DACA recipients I know. I admire you. I also know many of you who would tell me that that’s not what you want, *but you can’t change the way I feel*. You are amazing individuals that have opened my eyes to things I didn’t know and have continued to educate me, whether you know it or not.
 
I wish I had the answers. I wish I knew what we could do to make this go right. I wish we lived in a better world. I wish we had intelligent people who want to fix the past wrongs, be inclusive, understand the importance of diversity and cultural insight. I wish the racist mindset would subside and that karma worked like a lightning bolt.
 
But I’m angry. I’m angry and there’s no other way to describe it. I sit here with watery eyes reading the news, watching the protests, the walk outs, the rallies, wishing there was an easy fix. Though there isn’t, we can’t stop here.
 
If there’s anything that our communities hold it’s resilience. We are warriors and we shall not surrender.

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.