#NaNoWriMo Day 1: What’s going down?

I’m back. And I’m participating in #NaNoWriMo again this year. I’m excited. I have to write. And instead of writing out a book like I did the first year, or try editing the book, like I did the second year, I’m going to use writing prompts to share a little more about myself and document it for the few who will click to possibly read.

I bought this book for myself while shopping at Target. If you’re like me, well, I can’t have enough journals or books. This one, though, I thought was cooler. I didn’t necessarily have to write in it if I didn’t want to, but use the questions as prompts. So here I am taking about 30 questions out of 3,000 Questions About Me and today is the first day.

I was going to ask folks for random numbers and I’d look up the question that correlates and I’d have to answer it, but then I didn’t think anyone would have so much interest to even want to pick a number. So I’m opening a page, running my finger down the line and answering….

How do you feel about getting older?

Well, I feel all right about it. I don’t dread it, besides the fact that biologically it does shrink my time for an attempt to have a family. I understand that it’s a part of life and that just as any cycle, our time here must end only to begin again elsewhere.

I’ve learned to accept the fact that this cycle of life happens. I don’t want to stop it or even slow it down. I want to enjoy it. I want to love my family as much as I can and be as happy as I can with them because time is of the essence. I’ve been OK saying goodbye to loved ones recently who I know lived long lives and who were dearly loved by those around them. I’ve come to accept the fact that I’ll eventually have to say goodbye to everyone I know. What a lonely thing to consider, but at the same time I’d also come to accept the fact that I would too leave.



Things my mother taught me

A year ago, I moved back to where I grew up. This time, I was 14 years older, had a good paying job and, for lack of a better word, was an adult. My fiance (now husband) and I bought a house near the park where you could find us every Sunday, the grammar school I attended and my parent’s house. We are now also not too far away from the Midway Orange Line that I take to work every day.

Because I live so close to my parents, they’ve decided to spoil me rotten and pick me up every morning to head to the train to go to work. Don’t worry, it wasn’t just for me, but also for my mom who still works downtown at a law firm. She taught me how to ride the train to meet her for lunch at 10 years old, during the summer when I was out of school. She taught me the importance of directions and explained how to find my way around when I got lost. Luckily, in Chicago, we’re on a grid and well, it’s not too hard to understand and learn.

Since I’ve been riding the train with her for about a year now, and like I said, am substantially older than I was when we rode the train together when I was in high school, I’ve come to realize just how much of a gift it is and have learned to cherish the time we have together in the mornings, telling stories, laughing or complaining about how tired we are.

My mom and I are a lot alike. If you know me and you’ve met my mother, you’d probably say, “Duh.” But I’m also a lot like my dad. I’d like to think that I’ve won the best qualities of both of them. Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about not necessarily how alike we are, but WHY we are alike. I pride myself as being a good listener– I can listen to understand, even though I act like I’m not listening at all– and it’s something that I learned because of my mother.

So I decided to compile a list. Not necessarily about lessons that my mom taught me because I don’t even think she thought she was teaching me when I learned these things, but about what I learned because of her.

Don’t force anything. I’m extremely impatient. Mentally, I want things to happen quickly especially if I can control it. I wanted things to happen instantly. I wanted my parents to always say yes to me when I asked to do something. I wanted to be like my friends so I would have them and they wouldn’t think I wasn’t cool. I wanted people to like me because– they didn’t. Be patient, my mom told me. Don’t force it. I didn’t understand that until I became an adult. If things are supposed to happen, they will. With time things will emerge and they will grow into something more to my liking. I also realized that I couldn’t control what was out of my control.

Later on, I learned that the only person I could control was myself and that any consequences that may have occurred was because I allowed it to happen or I made it happen. From then on, I took my dad’s chill approach to things and made a lot more intentional decisions in my life.

Learn to understand but don’t waiver on your morals and values. This was not easy to learn. Like I previously said, I learned the importance of understanding as a kid because my mother would always tell me how good we had it. We would never know what my mom and her 7 siblings had been through. She was right and when I finally put two and two together, I told her, well, we’ll never know because we didn’t live through it and because you don’t tell us about it. So she started telling us why we had it so good. Later I understood why my mother and her siblings were raised the way they were because I listened to my grandmother, and even then, I came to understand my mother better because I had a feel for what she experienced.

This later emerged into something I liked to call my “spidey senses” because I learned to understand individuals based on their experiences. From this, I could understand why people acted the way they did and in a way I was putting myself in their shoes. I realized later that a lot of people didn’t think this way.

I also challenged my mother. I know that. I wasn’t the easiest kid to deal with because I didn’t necessarily ask for permission and I am incredibly independent and stubborn. When I started to get exposed to things outside of my realm in high school, we would get into the roughest of arguments all over one topic: Religion. I was learning about atheist philosophers and questioning life’s meaning. Who was right? Who was wrong? Why not ask questions?

My mother fought me back and said, “I have faith because I was taught to believe, not question.” She wanted me to do the same, but instead I chose to question everything. I didn’t understand accepting things as they were and sometimes I still don’t as someone who’s open to different theories and philosophies. My mother isn’t like me in that regard, but those are her morals and values and I have to respect that. I get upset sometimes that she may not understand (and may not want to), which is how she taught me the importance of doing just that.

Hard work and merit live above and beyond favors. Oh the irony in being a Chicagoan! Mom always taught me to do things myself. If I wanted a job, I had to search for one. If I wanted an internship, I could ask around and look for resources. She hardly ever helped or did any of that for me. She never asked her bosses for favor or did she have me work in her office. She let me do my own thing because I was going to meet people and build my own network. Now, maybe she just thought that I wanted to do something different from work in a law firm, but a little introduction would’ve gone a long way! Nevertheless, I realized that I could go out and do it on my own and I learned the power of my will and motivation. Not to mention, the thrill of completing or executing a project because of the work I put into it.

The moment I realized that it was true was when she told me that a former boss of hers was writing letters to his friends on his son’s behalf. “Can you believe that?” Yes, mom because a lot of people I knew had their parents do that for them. But not my mother. She was going to make me work for what I wanted– and so far, I have and the reward is very, very sweet.

Follow Through. Oh, man. This is one of my favorites. It came in handy when I played basketball, too. When I was in grammar school, I was in numerous activities. In my younger years, that included choir and band. After about 3 months in choir, my friends wanted to quit and did because their parents let them. I couldn’t. My mother told me, “You wanted to do this, you committed to it and you will finish the year.” What a drag!

When my friends all got tired of band and they quit, I told my mom I wanted to quit, too. “Why?” I had no good reason! And that’s when I heard, “If your friends jump off a bridge, are you going to, too?” Fine. So I stayed.

Needless to say, I got used to finishing what I started and I learned to keep my word. I really learned how to see things through because I knew that it would bring me a feeling of accomplishment in the end. Although I did quit the choir, I played flute all through high school and am really glad that I did.

Be humble. Keep striving. My mom always showed us that you shouldn’t brag about things. She taught us that we shouldn’t let good things inflate our ego. This has probably stayed with me and built a foundation in me, creating the person that I am today. I’ve realized that even if I talk about myself, it could be used to inspire or work with others — not making it about me. I’ve always strived for more.

Four years ago now, when EXPO Collective put on its first art fest, I couldn’t appreciate how wonderful it really was. I can now. But back then, I just thought– there’s more to be done. This isn’t the last of it. I could never really gloat or brag about things because for me, those things were not the end– they weren’t worth the brag. Instead, my mission was to continue the art fest year after year and try to benefit as many people as I could along the way because everything I was doing was a means to an end.

Gender what? Gender roles existed only in tradition in my house. As a Latina, (and if you’re Latinx, you’d understand) I was taught that girls were nice and pretty growing up. We didn’t use bad words, we were supposed to serve our fathers and we were supposed to stay home. Yeah, not me. I rebelled hardcore.

“Would you treat me different if I was a boy?” I asked my parents once. Yes, they said. It wasn’t fair and I told them so. They were going to treat me like a nice little girl because I didn’t have a penis, yet I could play basketball, softball and be a tomboy climbing trees and getting dirty. I understand now that they wanted to protect me and that’s the way they knew how, but I saw it as a reason to empower myself. I knew I was as strong (mentally) as any boy, and that I could do what I wanted.

My mother did tell me that I could do what I wanted and she definitely has a privileged mind-set, not letting anything stop her from doing what she needs to do, but after thinking about it you could understand the conflict that she felt.

Growing up in a traditional Mexican household versus growing up in the states where we were told we could live the American dream was one big conflict. My mom and aunts stood up for me when my grandmother insisted that I serve my father and boyfriends. They told her that I should be able to go out because that’s what life was about. They told her not to worry about me being a callejera or that I was out with friends, though they probably worried themselves. I remember when my grandmother asked how I was supposed to get married if I didn’t just settle down and stop traveling so much or wanting to do such big things. My mom told her that I’d find someone who wouldn’t mind and would go with me (and I found him). They all didn’t want me growing up that way, they said.

As I got older, I noticed that my dad was home with us usually after school and he would cook for us. My mom even complained once that his rice was better than hers. There was no role to be played in the house based on gender with my parents. They were a team and still are. I learned then that my dad would probably always be physically stronger than my mother, but we wouldn’t be where we are today without her motivation of our education, passion for learning and stubbornness.

Of course, I owe that to my father as well, for not being a machista and thinking progressively about women’s roles (especially since he was surrounded by us all the time), among other things like having faith in his daughters. As much as I think my father would have liked a boy, I tried my best to play the role. ;p

But what makes me believe of my father as a feminist and progressive is that he’s even said it: we wouldn’t be where we are without my mom.

And that’s pretty dope.

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.



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.


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.