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.

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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.

 

My Testimony: The Daughter Of Immigrants

There was a point in my life when I would write about myself on a daily basis. What I thought, how I felt, the drama in my life. I didn’t share it often and when I did, it opened a sort of Pandora’s Box. It was a blog that people couldn’t tie to me. Now, they can’t tie it to me at all. The email address is canceled, I can´t even log in anymore, but it’s all still there. I go back and read some of it and try to figure out what is still me in those pieces, if anything at all.

I also look back on it and think, damn, I was young. But I can’t really frown upon what I wrote and how I wrote it. It was the beginning of my writing adventure and the development of my thoughts through a keyboard. It was probably pertinent to my style and I was able to develop a distinct form of communication while I traveled and experienced college in the most stereotypical way.

Nonetheless, it was around the same time that I started closing up the door on personal expression and sticking to the objective, journalistic ideals along with forming opinions on fact for my blogs. It was difficult enough to open up about the fact that I have diabetes and it was part of my every day. I didn’t know how to rock that story until put in a position where I could with a factual standpoint.

MojadaHowever, last week, I had the opportunity to attend a sneak preview of Luis Alfaro’s new play, “Mojada” along with my friend Amor Montes de Oca, owner of Arte y Vida Chicago. The play is based on Euripides’ Medea; a story about immigration that takes place in Pilsen in Chicago. Present were Alfaro, the director Chay Yew, and a few of the actors.

For those of you who don’t know, I returned from Mexico last week, where I absorbed a lot of what was going on there and how it applied to our lives up here en “El Norte.” I was observing, listening and paying attention while on my trip. I learned about politics, I read the paper and I brought a lot of observations back with me.

During this preview, Socorro Santiago who plays “Tita” set the scene for the border crossing. The performance laid out a lot of what I had experienced and observed in Mexico. Mind you, I didn’t cross the border with a coyote or anything like that, but I have heard stories upon stories about crossing the border. From individuals who did it to stories from coyotes themselves.

So I decided to make a comment then ask a question. Alfaro claimed that it was more of a testimony than anything else, and after, told me that I should write it down. That’s when I realized that the issues that I had seen and my experiences have not made it on any blog that I have going right now—and I technically have three. My opinions have been confined to the spoken word, not the written and after my “testimony,” I remembered being in a dialogue with Stephanie Elizondo Griest, journalist and author, who told me that I could write the stories about what I’ve seen. She was also the first person to tell me that I was an artist, even as a journalist and that no one could ever tell me different.

***

As we stood in line at the immigration desk to come back into the United States, I could feel my nerves moving. I was antsy and ready to speak the best English of my life.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a U.S. born citizen, raised in Chicago by parents born in Mexico who eventually became naturalized citizens. I was blessed to be born dark, as was my sister; Dark skin, dark hair, dark, demon-like eyes.  In kindergarten, my classmate told me that I couldn’t like certain boy because I was too dark and he was too light, although later on I found out that he was Puerto Rican.

In the doctor’s office bathroom as a child, a woman complimented me on my skin color and asked where I was from. I told her I was Mexican, though my parents didn’t see it that way. “You’re American,” they always told me. But since the beginning, I was tied to my Mexicanidad, whether I wanted to be or not.

As a college student, it boggled people’s minds to think that I was a fluent Spanish speaker without being born in Mexico. “Where are you from?” was a common question. Now that I look back on it, I ask myself, why was that important?

***

Back at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport, there were three desks open as I stood in line with my sister and my father. All I could think was, I hope they don’t stop us; ask us too many questions; question our visit to Mexico. The thought of having a man question me was worse. I don’t fear a lot of things, and usually, when I’m alone, I’m more confident. This time, I was with my family. I didn’t want them harassing my sister or my father.

If I tell this story above, people will ask why that would happen. I know people can relate to me when I say this and by no means am I ashamed. If there’s anything I’m ashamed of, it’s my American paisanos who don’t know how to respect other people.

2013-06-16 12.45.39My father is amazing, but like many other fathers, he has an accent when he speaks English. He’s dark, which is where I get my year-round tan from, and he’s a badass. But when you have people who don’t know that, and hear the accent, and look in from the outside, making racist assumptions, the accent is the affirmative that “he’s not one of us.”

I saw it when I was younger. I saw my dad go through situations like that in front of me and I hated that I was a child. I hated that I couldn’t speak up and I couldn’t defend him and I couldn’t do anything. When my dad would tell me stories about being stopped at the airport and questioned even though he had proof of citizenship and everything else that comes along with that, I wished so hard that I was there to make it stop.

Coming in from Canada once a few years ago, my parents were in the front seat of the family van. The immigration officer wouldn’t let up on my dad and my mom, with no Spanish accent whatsoever, yelled from the passenger side window, getting heated and upset. Again, I was too young. I didn’t know what was going on and I didn’t say anything.

My aunt and uncle who were in front of us went through with no problem. My aunt, light skin with light brown eyes and my uncle who’s Cuban and Honduran, born in Chicago but looks Polish had no issues.

They pulled the van aside and made us go in to double-check my parents’ status. My mom pulled out her ID and said, “Look us up to make sure everything is kosher.” As strong and upset as she was in that office, she went home and cried to my uncle about the feelings she had during the whole ordeal.

The only thing I could tell my mother was that we were different and no matter how much you want to fit in, we’ll always be different and that’s OK.

Is it still considered assimilating even when you’re not accepted? If you reject your own heritage and aren’t accepted by the “new” one, where does that leave you?

***

The immigration officer was a white woman. The fact that she was a woman made me feel about 10 times better. I spoke to her in clear English, being amiable, telling her about our cancelled flights. Hearing her say, “Welcome home, guys,” was almost ironic to me, since a tiny piece of me felt that one of us would be rejected from “our country.”

This made me think of the time that I was pigeonholed and questioned because I spoke English too well. It makes me laugh now, but just like the ignorant people don’t know how badass my father is, people don’t know anything about me.

Some of my friends find it arrogant that I talk about my experiences, but they don’t know just how many people I’ve come across who will easily make assumptions about me if I didn’t tell them about who I am and what I’ve done.

I’ve gone to school, I have an education, I’ve worked with multiple people and yet, there is still a sense of needing to prove myself. I feel that it’s almost something passed down, like the color of my skin. I love my skin. I love that when people look at me, they can tell that I’m some kind of Latina and that they even question my multi-cultural look. I love it.

I don’t regret, resent or feel any type of shame, but the heritage that my parents passed down to me came with much more.

***

Baggage, Alfaro called it. We all come with that cultural baggage. It’s true, isn’t it?

At the end of my comment to him, I said, I feel so tied to my Mexican culture. I feel so tied to the people, to the stories, to the prejudice and assumptions. I’m so tied that I feel the same way that my father and grandparents did when they crossed the border and started living in this country.

By the way, have you ever thought about the will power and strength it took to do such a thing?

***

My father overstayed his visa as a teenager and crossed the border back and forth. He became a permanent resident in 1981, when he married my mother who became a naturalized citizen that year.

2013-06-16 13.55.58
Dad and Mom on their wedding day.

As a lot of people might see it, I was born with some sort of privilege. My mother, who I call the half generation since she was born in Mexico and raised in Chicago, pushed my sister and me to get an education. That was what was going to make us intelligent and active members of society. In a way, it was supposed to make us more American. I totally get that. And she probably got a bit more than what she expected.

As my mom sees it, her parents were the immigrants. My mom got the light end of the stick, looking more Italian than anything else. Moving from Pilsen and what is now University Village, my grandparents along with eight kids eventually settled in Humboldt Park in the ‘60s. My mom knows the city like the back of her hand. Until that day trip to Canada, she had never felt harshly judged and I love my mother because of that. She’s always felt that she had just as much the right as anyone else to do what she wanted and no one was going to stop her. She was going to live the dream.

Growing up, my mom corrected my Spanish as well as my English, taught me about preparation and always pushed reading, learning and gaining experiences. My mother gave me the drive to learn, without a doubt. I’m lucky that my first teacher has always wanted to be a teacher.

My father, who was orphaned at 16 and crossed the border at 19 to join his cousins in Chicago, is our tie to history and who we are as Mexicans. With family in Mexico City, Oaxaca and El Narajno, a town that still knows who he is and has more stories than my dad can ever tell me, it’s this story that makes me appreciate what makes me unique, different and beautiful.

He taught me Spanish, for which I owe him, and is an avid supporter of my work in the bilingual community. He’s proud of my sister and I and you can see it all over his face and his hugs and his conversation. He kept us grounded to what kind of people we should be and told us that it was good that we spoke Spanish as often as possible. Without ever saying it, my dad and I probably feel the same way about language: It ties us to the centuries of history we carry in our blood.

In 1990 my parents bought a house, moving us out of a gang-infested neighborhood where gunshots were common and discussion of who had gotten shot over the weekend took place around the dinner table. My sister and I grew up with a backyard, going to Catholic school and surrounded by family. We had our ups and downs, like anyone else raising teenagers, but in the end we came out stronger for it. I went off to school, got a master’s degree and came back to a family that was well-off and never in need.

My parents, you can say, did it right. Yet, the anxiety of physical perception on those rare instances, like crossing the border, still brings out something in me that I can’t describe but know and feel very thoroughly.

***

That was a testimony to what we live, Alfaro said in so many words after I handed him the microphone back. He said that because of the work he was doing, he was opening up the doors for other writers to share their own stories.

I told him that someone had to start writing the “Next Generation’s” story. There are a lot of issues we, as children of immigrants, face that no one pays attention to. The majority feel that we are immigrants or undocumented, but neither is true. We have our bicultural ways of living and loving it with all of our hearts.

When Alfaro said that he probably wouldn’t dive in to the Next Generation story, he told me that I should. I have observed quite a few things over the past few weeks which has made me begin my own dialogue in my head and with other people who are in the same situation as I am.

Again, this will not hinder who I am or what I do, but I aim to start a conversation, above all else. There are certain realities that we live that we have to see from a different perspective and start talking about. Alfaro’s work does that. Although I’m not a playwright, sharing my stories can only put a dialogue into motion.

I have been told various times that I should write this down and so here’s to the beginning of that process. Here’s to telling my personal story based on my created fact and the fact that I lived through it. That’s all I have and that’s all you need to identify.

Unnamed: Part 3

The phone rang. It rang again.

Hello?
Oh, hi, how are you?
I’m doing well, just cleaning my house. I’m glad you called. It’s been a while.
No, no, I needed a distraction. Haha.
Yeah, same job, same place, same old stuff. What’s going on with you?
Uh-huh. Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.
Yeah, I understand. Not a problem…
Yeah, uh-huh.
I know, I totally understand. What caused that?
What?! Oh my…
Really?
Like, how hard?
You’ve got to be kidding me.
No, me? I’ve never been through anything like that.
Well, it’s good though. You…
Right, right. Who can deal with that?
And Carlos? How’s he?
Well of course, but did you explain what happened?
He saw it?
Did he say anything to you when it was….?
I see.
Well, I’m so sorry to hear that but I’m so happy that it’s over.
Now what are you doing?
Oh, really?
Right, right, you’re mom’s in Columbus.
What about your sister?
Right, because then you don’t want to have to explain the whole thing. She’ll end up lecturing you.
Ben will kill him.
Exactly.
Well, no. Gabriel is gone.
Yeah.
Next month.
Here?
Well… I mean, you don’t have anywhere else, right?
Of course you can.
Both of you.
Today? Oh yeah. I don’t want you to worry about him.
Right. Come….
What? You’re outside?
Wow, yes I see you.
Your hair’s longer than I remember.
I guess so… Two years.
Well, come up, don’t just stay down there.
Ok.
All right. 3F
Ok, ok. You’re welcome.
Bye.

Unnamed: Part 2

She opens the door and sees that the cafe is packed. The woman in a suit on a Saturday afternoon, walks in with her briefcase supported by her slouching right shoulder. Damn it, she thinks to herself. I’m most likely going to have to share a table with someone.

She approaches the coffee bar. “Excuse me,” she calls out to barista, who turns around and smiles. “Do you have any other open spots? Is there another room somewhere? It’s crowded in here,” she explains. The barista looks around, as if she had never looked out at all the tables before and with a perky, almost annoying tone in her voice says, “Nope! That’s all the room we’ve got! Can I get you something to drink?” The woman smiles condescendingly, wishing that there was another coffee shop in the area with free Wi-Fi. Why do they say “free” anyway, when they expect you to buy something in the place?

“Yeah,” says the woman,”What’s the cheapest thing you’ve got?” When she asks, she actually looks at this girl, who couldn’t be any older than 18, with a frumpy, old smock of an apron covering her athletic build and sky blue polo. She sort of felt bad for the girl, but figured it must of been the only gig around that would pay a girl to serve coffee out of a giant, pump-able coffee container. “Well,” said the girl, “the cheapest are these single cookies right here for 50 cents each. But if you want coffee, we have a small regular coffee for $1.25.”

The woman couldn’t help but let out a sigh and say, “Give me one of each. That’s what, $1.75?”
“$1.88 with tax, ma’am.”
“Ma’am” every time the woman heard that she either smiled or frowned. When did she get old enough to be called “ma’am”?
“Do you want it for here or to go?” the girl asked.
“Might as well put it in a to-go cup. If there’s no room here, I’m going to have to move elsewhere,” answered the woman taking her change.
“You can always share a table with someone else. People do it all the time,” suggested the girl as she grabbed the cookie out of the jar and put it in a small white paper bag.
People don’t have as much paperwork and crap to do like I do, thought the woman. It’s not like I can get work done anywhere else.

She took the small bag and coffee in one hand, her briefcase hanging over the opposite shoulder, and turned around. “Have a nice day, ma’am. Come back soon!” said the girl, behind her back.

The woman scoped the place one last time. There was one open spot against the wall at the bar-like table that sat five comfortably. She squeezed her way though all the hipsters and the young folk, white ear buds plugging them into the computers, blocking out the rest of the world. Without saying a word and hitting only two tables and a chair, and without spilling her coffee, she finally got to her seat. She put her coffee cup and cookie down, hung her briefcase on the chair and tidied up herself by pulling down on her suit jacket, making sure her hair was still up in one bun, preparing herself to sit down. Once she finally did, she opened up her leather briefcase a special someone had given her with her initials on it and pulled out her laptop.

As she did, out flew a stack of papers and the outlet to charge the computer. “Damn it!” she said out loud, flustering others around her as she hurriedly jumped off of the stool chair and went after her documents. No one else moved, except for the girl from behind the counter who had obviously been making rounds, cleaning up after people who had left messy tables and had not pushed in their chairs. “Don’t worry, ma’am!” she said, “I got them for you!” As they were both on the floor bent over, scrambling to pick up the papers, the woman said, “Oh, you don’t have to… that’s great… oh, can you reach… Thank you.”

They stood up and the girl handed her the disorganized stack. As she tried to fix them into one coherent batch, a few fell out again. As the girl bent over to pick them up, she couldn’t help but read one in dark bold letters: “Financial Agreement,” it read. “Certificate As To Divorce.” She looked up at the woman’s face after staring at it for a bit too long, handed it back and said, “Sorry, I didn’t mean to read it.”

Behind her, the door bell jingled. She picked up a glass and headed back to the front counter. “Hi! How are you today?” she said in her high-pitched, chipper voice. “What can I get for you to drink?”

Unnamed: Part 1

He sat on the steps with his head in his hands, lip fat and pouty, eyes red but no tear marks, yet. His chin shrunk together, quivering, hoping that that little moan he had in the back of his throat wouldn’t escape. His knees touched, his elbows rested on his thighs, like one of those old photographs or paintings from the 60s. All that was missing was an ice cream man coming to save the day.

His parents inside argued. His mother raced around the house, picking up after Andrew, his sister Sarai and their father. She waved a dish towel around as she ranted, Andrew’s father following closely after her, close enough to grab her by the arms and stop her, but he didn’t. “Just leave me alone,” she yelled. “Leave me alone.”

His father backed away, “Fine,” he said putting up his hands, his t-shirt soaked with sweat, beads of prespiration sat on his forehead. He crossed his arms and put his left hand up to his upper lip, cleaning away the sweat with his finger. “I’ll leave you alone. Hopefully, you’ll cool down and we’ll be able to talk about this later.” The air conditioner was broken again, the flies flew in through the back door bringing in the scorching heat and humidity along with them.

He turned to walk away, and she said, “I don’t want to talk about this later.” She scrubbed the dishes hard. “I don’t want to talk about this ever again,” she emphasized with a jerk of her head. Her hair was up in a pony tail and her v-neck blouse was too, blotched with sweat around her underarms and breasts. “Take the kids out for a walk,” she told him. “Andrew’s outside.”

Andrew could hear his father’s beat up shoes coming for him and he knew what question was coming. When he heard the shoes get close enough, he said, “She’s under my bed,” to buy himself more time to clear away the tears that finally left their tracks on his cheeks. His father turned around and headed to Andrew’s room. Under the bed, Sarai was curled up with a worn out stuffed kitten, that used to be white, and wore a purple pajama. She didn’t cry anymore, but she just didn’t want to be around the fighting. “Where are we going this time?” she asked her father as he peeked his head under the dark blue skirt of the bed. He reached his calloused hand under to help her out. “Well,” he sighed, “there’s always icecream, raspados, or that new juice place they opened around the corner. Let’s go see what Andres wants.”

By the time his father and little sister came out, the older brother stood against the house, one leg up, looking tough, even though he was only 12. “Where do you want to go, Andres?” asked Sarai. “Oh, I don’t care. I don’t even want anything,” he responded. And the three walked down the block.

You know what this is? It’s a connection.

People want to feel connected. It’s nothing like finding someone you feel connected to, right?  A new friend, a co-worker who suffers as much as you do, someone who also plays the saxophone horribly. A connection. Do you have a favorite song, some tune that just hits home, makes your eyes water, makes you feel something?

The other day, my friend Rich Cantu played at Katerina’s, a jazz bar here in Chicago. Rich is known for singing in Spanish and even translating a few lyrics in well-known English songs into Spanish like Hey Jude and Something by the Beatles. He’s also known for singing those classic Mexican songs that make you feel so sad, so sorrowful yet makes you appreciate the beauty that is the song. He sang a few songs by well-known Mexican lyricist José José , someone who he also admires as a vocalist. One of them, if you understand it, chokes you up and makes you want to sob because you know what that guy is feeling and with the kind of voice that Rich has, it transfers through. Toward the end of his set, had parts of the audience rise for an ovation, others whistled and so many (especially with Hey Jude and Something) of us sang those songs.

When we sang Hey Jude, he introduced it like this: “Let’s have a sing-a-long.” After that he said, “Now, we’re going to have a sing-a-long for the [Spanish] speaking folks. And if you don’t know this song, you’re not a [Spanish]speaker.” We sang Si No Te Hubieras Ido by Marco Antonio Solis. When everyone was singing Hey Jude, which was quite loud since everyone there was an English-speaker, people sang their hearts out, eyes closed and all. They knew that song from long ago and they felt the connection with everyone else in the room. It was great.

The last song Rich sang was El Rey by Jose Alfredo Jimenez. The room went crazy, being a predominantly Latino crowd. People whistled, others stood and all of us sang, “Llorar y llorar! Llorar y llorar!” then when prompted “Rodar y rodar! Rodar y rodar!”  The English-speakers looked around at the rest of us and smiled in wonderment. They felt our happiness and our admiration for the song. We felt that connection. Because not only was it a song we knew, it was a tie back into the place that we were from. Our roots, our culture, our ancestry came from the same place that the song came from and because we know our roots and our heritage, we also know the song. It was pride and happiness all rolled into one. We applauded and we cheered and we whistled at the end, not just because he sang it amazingly, which he did, but because he chose that song. It is an old classic song that I’ve put up on this blog before in my “Some of the Songs I bump in My Car” blog.

But this thing, it happens all the time. It appears in multiple forms and fashions, but this was one that was most apparent to me. It made me remember that I’m part of something and naturally, as a human, I think it’s all something that we search for.