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.

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Jose Luis Pérez AKA Uncle Joey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Those were fun and almost magical times.

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

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

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Tía Marina and Uncle Joey at a wedding

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

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

My First Wendy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’re friends with your family on Facebook?

It all started with my mother. She decided to get on Facebook for some odd reason. She claims that it was to keep in contact with her old friends from the neighborhood and to find out what was going on in their lives.

It’s funny when your family gets onto a social network only you knew about and have been a part of for the past eight years. Yes, that’s right. I’ve had a profile on Facebook since the days of http://www.thefacebook.com and when it was strictly limited to colleges and universities. There’s a certain process that everyone goes through I think after creating a profile. In college, we talked about our addictions and you didn’t really realize it until someone pointed it out to you. Now, it’s almost a necessity to stay up-to-date and plugged into the worlds that you’re a part of. Yes, worlds. Plural. With an S.

When my mom got on Facebook, and more recently my cousin Desiree, it suddenly seemed they had more to talk about. “Did you see that [insert family member here] went to [insert tropical location/event here]?” Or “Why does [family member] always talk about [obscure messaging inserted here]?” Yes, they had been bit by the social media bug. It was incredible that about seven years later I was discussing the basics that I had learned as a freshman in college.

I had a friend who would start a conversation by saying something like, “So I saw on Facebook that you went to that show yesterday.” One day, I got sick of it and called him out. “Dude,” I said, “we’re friends. I’m sure you can come up with something more original than, ‘I saw on Facebook…'” I wanted someone to know me for me, not for what image I portray on Facebook. I think that’s the main difference between being involved in media and not. You HAVE to know the difference and how it’s going to affect who you are and who you network with.

But I digress. Last night, I had the opportunity to talk to the teenagers at the Christopher House Youth Leadership Program about the damage that social networks can do to not only relationships but your chances at things like internships and potential jobs. “Don’t put up anything you wouldn’t want to see on a billboard,” I told them. I gave them a mini-branding session of sorts, explaining that not only do they have to be careful of what they put up, but they also have to understand how Facebook can help them. “What would I learn about you if I looked at your profile right now?” I also told them, be careful, especially if you’re friends with family members. I can’t begin to describe the looks of disgust on their faces, the laughs and scoffs in the air.

I proceeded to show them my profile with my big face projected on the wall. “See? There are all my family members right there,” waving the mouse over the left side of the screen. “When you have a family of 62 it’s easier to keep up with everyone via Facebook.” And I realized that we had (at least those of us who are friends and comment, like and chat on the social media program) become closer. I could see pictures of my nieces (the ONE) and nephews (the HOARD) in their Halloween costumes and now Christmas pictures. I know how they’re doing in school, what they did over the weekend and at a distance, I’m still a part of their lives. I have family who live quite a distance away, so seeing them every weekend is not practical. Plus, we all have lives of chaos.

What’s interesting is that we have festivities like birthday parties, holiday parties and all of that good stuff, where we invite EVERYONE. That’s right. This is my mother’s side, by the way. She grew up with seven other brothers and sisters, so you can see how the duplication happened. Our oldest cousin is already in her 40s so we continue to multiply by vast amounts. A new wave of us is born about every two or three years. We can pack a house, to say the least. Oh and don’t forget the boyfriends, girlfriends and family friends who come along with the packages already instilled in the Perez blood line. Family gatherings are never boring. There’s always someone to talk to.

Having our family on Facebook is like having your own special club where you can tag everyone in a picture and have your other friends be jealous that you are so in touch with cousins and extended family. There are inside jokes and comments to be made. It makes you feel more in touch, even if it IS over a computer.

I remember when I didn’t even HAVE the internet. Remember AOL? And Dial-Up? Exactly. I didn’t have that and my best friend, who at the time moved out to Plainfield, did. I remember her saying, “Well, once you get the internet, we can chat and we won’t feel so far away.” We were still writing letters to each other occasionally. Letters! Snail mail! Needless to say, we ended up being roommates for two years before she moved to Georgia then Florida, getting farther away from me. So guess how I get to see her two little boys who I consider my children? FACEBOOK! And text messages and picture messages and all that stuff. Sometimes she’ll pass the older one the phone so I can figure out what he’s trying to explain to me. It’s cute. I love them.

The way I see it is like this: Facebook makes sure you remember the ones who play some sort of role in your life and the way you use it is important. It becomes Matrix like. If you’re not on it, you’re out of the loop. If you are, you have to know how to use it to your best benefit. There are tons of new applications and ways to use these social media sites, but it’s up to us to educate ourselves on them, as with anything else.

It literally helps me to stay connected and up-to-date with the people I love the most.

God and the swing set

It was a sunny day in June. The weather was warm enough to walk around outside without a jacket. The tumultuous weather in Illinois is something else, which is why it felt good to be bare-armed in the breeze. She walked with her head down, staring at her feet as she took her slow and steady steps, one foot in front of the other. In her ears played a Spanish song about leaving; leaving and never coming back and that’s exactly what she wanted to do. What am I doing? she constantly asked herself. This is was not where I want to be.

Since she was a little girl, she loved the swings. It was a place of refuge, a place to be free and to get away from the world. As a child, it was time with her dad who pushed her high enough to kick the leaves on the tree in front of her. In grammar school it brought about the swinging competitions; who could swing higher then who was brave enough to jump off. In high school it was a stress reliever, where she and her friends would go to feel like children again and now, it was the only place where she could feel at peace among the mess that she had found herself in.

Graduated, no job and scraping the bottom of the lowest low in her life. Running away seemed to be the only answer, yet at the moment, the swing set seemed to be the only relief. She walked to the park closest to where she lived. Slowly but surely she made her way there. Beneath a tree, there were two people sitting at a picnic table; a man and a woman.

She sat on a swing and the song played on repeat in her ears. She felt sad. The look on her 23-year-old face must have said more than words could at that point. She looked at the tree as she swung. When the song from her iPod stopped playing just to repeat itself, she realized that the swing she chose to sit on was quite possibly the noisiest one. The rust on the swing made it whine like a dying cat, or so she thought.

She decided to peel herself off the swing because she didn’t want to bother the people sitting under the tree with the sound of the swing. She walked to a black bench and sat down to admire the greenery and in an attempt to calm her mind and the million things running through it. With her ear buds still in her ears, she pulled out a book to read about something that didn’t have to do with her life. She couldn’t take reality any more.

As she looked down to stick her nose in her book, she noticed a shadow and a man mouthing words to her. She put her book down and removed her ear buds. It was the man who was sitting at the picnic table. “Excuse me,” said the balding older man. “I’m sorry to bother you, but I just wanted to say that I couldn’t help but watch you on the swing. You looked beautiful.” She looked at this man and didn’t know what to say. He wore a white shirt, khaki shorts and running shoes with white tube socks. She said thank you.

“You reminded me of my daughter,” he continued. “I used to push her on the swings and she loved it. But I lost her about 23 years ago.” As she looked up at him, the sky a bright blue behind his balding head, she could only say, “Oh.” He looked back at the woman at the picnic table. “Anyway, I just had to come over and tell you that. Sorry to bother you again,” he said as he turned and walked back to the table. “No bother,” said the girl.

All of a sudden, she felt overwhelmed. She felt strangely safe and strangely loved. There was hope and love and meaningful loss in the world. She didn’t know his story but her swinging reminded him of what she remembered as a child. It was the most comforting, yet distant source of security.

After he sat at the table with the woman, she noticed that he didn’t look her way again. Instead, she felt the need to go home and take a nap. Oddly enough, she had found what she was looking for.

Gobble! Gobble! Squawk!

Tomorrow is that blessed holiday called Thanksgiving where in school they teach us that the pilgrims (or shunned and prosecuted people from England who in turn prosecuted and shunned others) came together with the Native Americans (or more correctly, Native Indians) for a nice meal of turkey, mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce. When in reality, the food was cheap amounts of money given to them in order to buy off their land and massacre an entire people. But who wants the real story when you can have the pretend ones, that make you want to make a turkey from an outline of your hand and list the things you’re thankful for?

I suppose that that idea of Thanksgiving has changed though. Maybe not in children, but in my mind, obviously. Now it’s a time to be with family and although we would all like to believe that at some point the pilgrims and Native Indians were friends, the outcome is still the same and history doesn’t lie. We just have to face the facts.

But now what has Thanksgiving become? A day to be gluttonous and sleep to just get up early the next day and splurge all your money on gifts for Christmas? Man, it just goes from one extreme to the other, doesn’t it?

An old, former friend of mine use to tell me that there was a war on Christmas. I laugh every time I think of it. He said there was a war on Christmas because people forgot the “reason for the season.” He was also a Bush-loving Republican (no disrespect) who thought that everyone should be Christian and that being anything else was not an option, although he was the most dishonest and deceitful person I’ve ever met. Anyway, his ideas mimic that of many other people who believe that in order to celebrate Christmas, you have to be Christian. And all I can say is that there’s a history of Christmas and paganism that stares everyone in the face, but no one wants to acknowledge it. Let’s just be clear here and say that Jesus, Mary and Joseph did not have a Christmas tree. Neither did the 12 Apostles after Jesus died for our sins. That’s if you believe in him. No hard feelings if you don’t.

But I do appreciate the fact that people are making Thanksgiving a time for food donations, volunteer opportunities and a time for actually being thankful for everything they have. Yesterday, here at Christopher House we packed vans for our five different sites with bags of food that were going to feed over 400 families. Isn’t that amazing? All of these families are low-income families who are underrepresented in the community and send their child or children to daycare/preschool/early childhood programs here at the House. To see people carry of turkeys and food, knowing that they will have a full thanksgiving is heart warming. Christopher House does work like this all year around for their families. But mainly, the work done is for the children first and foremost.

These are the times, with this economy and world, where you should be extremely thankful for having jobs, families, support, money, everything! But at the same time, sharing the love and the support you have with other people may be exactly what is needed in both you and the person you “help.”

This morning I heard a man speaking to the clerk at 7-eleven, explaining that he didn’t know if he was going to get paid this week and he was worried. He talked about how he and his co-worker had no idea if the boss was going to come in or when exactly they would have money to pay for things. I didn’t know what I could have done, besides asking for the boss-man’s number and asking directly for him, but I’m sure being able to talk about it helped him. It might have also increased his worry. Nonetheless, it’s times like those that I want to do something but I don’t exactly know what. I feel so terrible that there are people suffering and I want to do something about it.

Because Christopher House also offers mentoring to high school students, I’ve decided to take on the job of being a mentor. I feel that if I can at least influence one person in their lives and how they go about thinking of things, I can make a difference and it’ll all be worthwhile. Especially since I won’t be a “teacher” or a parent. Whew! I’d rather be a friend anyway and be the person to explain college, writing and the importance of going to school to someone. I get excited thinking about those things.

I digress… So it’s up to you to take the time and make something of this Thanksgiving. Be thankful to those around you, friends and family; be grateful for the delicious food tomorrow and make a turkey out of construction paper and hang it on the fridge. I know I will.

To fight hunger in the US, visit Feeding America.

To find a place to volunteer or find a food pantry visit FoodPantries.org.

What’s the Real Story Here?

Yesterday I had the privilege of attending a swearing-in ceremony of one Ignacia Moya, a 106-year-old native Mexican woman, who has spent the last 20 years of her life attempting to become a United States citizen after failing the test the first time. She was brought to the States by her son in 1970, who is now in his 80s himself. It took place at La Casa Michoacan in Pilsen.

Ignacia Moya

People have asked, why did she wait so long? What was the issue. Well, see, 20 years ago when she was 86 you had to take the test in English and it didn’t cost so much. My mom paid $60 when she became a citizen. Now it costs about $700 and for the entire process, close to $1000. So how many people have the money for that? Especially in these times?

Secondly, like I said, the only option to take the test was in English. Now, if you’re over a certain age, you can take the test in your native language. They take into consideration that it’s harder for a person over a certain age to learn a language or it’s hard for them to read or see. There is also an option to take an oral examination, where the questions are asked aloud.

Well, this time that Moya took the test, services over at Congressman Luis V. Gutierrez’s offices helped her out and asked Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to waive the fee for her. I mean, she’s 106, what kind of damage is this woman going to do now as an American citizen? Well, they waived it.

The two reasons why she wanted to become a citizen was because her children were and she wanted to be like them, and she wanted to vote, something that she has never done in her life.

Of course, Gutierrez was there. Of course. Because of his office she got her citizenship straightened out and he must be there to maintain his glory.

I’m just going to tell you the real story here. Have you ever seen a 106-year-old person? I mean, they may be alive, but they can barely walk, this woman couldn’t see any more and I’m even surprised that she could hear. I honestly don’t think she knew what was going on. I kind of felt bad for her.

This woman had to wait this long. And have you ever heard about those kids that go into the Army, who don’t have papers or are residents and die in the honor of the country and are THEN given citizenship? It’s insane. They legalize a corpse.

My question is, is this what’s going to happen now? I mean, it’s ludicrous to know that there are so many legal permanent residents in this country who can’t afford to become citizens and are just sitting on it. This woman was going to die without being a citizen just because she didn’t pass the exam 20 years ago and didn’t have the means to actually try again. I mean, she couldn’t afford it. She’s now a great-great-great grandmother. Five generations of her family were present yesterday at her ceremony. Like Gutierrez said, her devotion to this country and assets to it are clear. Look at the family she has. But what about so many other families who are living and can’t or won’t be able to enjoy a moment like this?

Of course the politicians were there basking in the glory of the moment and this story was used to rebut the Arizona state bill 1070 that’s happening over there. Gutierrez made it a point to explain that the city council members present were also immigrants and naturalized citizens of the country and that immigration was a good thing, not a bad thing– something he’s been preaching for years.

I guess this blog is more of a bunch of random thoughts being thrown out there because there really isn’t a point here, is there?

Will this woman actually enjoy her citizenship? I don’t think so. What was this whole thing proving? That a person can wait until passed their deathbed for something that so many people want and can’t have? In the last 20 years, over 50,000 people have been naturalized citizens in this country. That’s great. But what about the rest of them? They give this poor woman, who doesn’t know any different, a privilege that many people can’t afford to have, that could be used to their benefit of a better life. I’m not saying that it’s a waste, because it most definitely is not. This is satisfaction for a woman and her family that have been fighting for this privilege.

A ton of media were present at this event. Why? Was it just a fascinating story or were they going to curve it to their advantage as well? What was the real story here? That’s what I’m asking. I’m going to attempt to get to the bottom of it myself this Friday. I’ll let everyone know what happens.

Citizenship shouldn’t be offered just to those who can afford it, but to everyone who is eligible for it.  — paraphrased from Cong. Gutierrez.