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

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

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

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

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

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

Privilege

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Last 18 Months

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Fear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Next?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just some thoughts on history…

My boyfriend and I were talking about this again as we were reminiscing about our road trip to Kansas City with a pit stop in St. Louis. I had mentioned before that while in St. Louis, that dead, dead city, we stopped in at the Westward Expansion Museum that literally depressed us both and made us sick.

We began talking about how it was for the Native Indians here on this earth before the Europeans came over to claim the solid fact that “We have guns and ammo and disease, and you don’t.” We also talked about the Vikings that came over to Canada and Minnesota and of course the Spanish who first reached Florida, then Mexico and then California.

But the question arose: Why is it that the Europeans fought their ambitious ways to the other side of the pond when the Native Indians didn’t have to? Well, we also remembered from history and the lack thereof, that the Mexica, later the Aztecs, were a bunch of warriors. Remember they were written about as savages? Yeah, exactly. They were brutal to each other. But why is it that they didn’t evolve like the Europeans?

My argument was that they left the Euro area before they could learn from each other, crossing the Bearing Straight and traveling down to all the way to South America. Since they were alone on “this” side and very separated from other tribes, their mechanical evolution was slower. Not their mental evolution. Natives had figured out calendars and the phases of the moon, not to mention the way the sun worked. They had mounds, pyramids; built things from the ground up. They used pulleys and created massive works of art. They learned how to respect animals and the earth. They were more spiritual without any written word but believed because that’s how it was done.

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art we can see that thousands of years B.C., Archaic cultures existed and they were using small tools. We don’t know anything about their life or existence until the Spanish arrive in the 1400s and with that, while the well-known worlds of Alexander the Great, the Roman Empire and the Chinese Empire were flourishing, all we know is that there were communities of indigenous peoples here on this side of the world.

Think about this: At the same time the Native Indians were in their primary evolution (based on what we know from archeology), over in Europe and Asia there was a Roman Empire. There was Roman and Byzantine Rule in Africa; in Mexico the Teotihuacan State had evolved; in China the Han Dynasty was in power and the Huns’ power was expanding. This was all between 1-500 A.D. Isn’t that amazing? And at the end of that, Attila the Hun had taken power, around 434 A.D.

Very interesting indeed. But a lot of this doesn’t get covered in our everyday history books. We also don’t know what it was like between the time of the Bible and the printing press when we were learning about this in high school, much less grammar school. And in order to learn about this, you had to take special classes in college.  Why does time just skip? Ahh… the luxuries of paying attention to history. I guess it moves from the cave people to the time of Jesus and then to the Roman empire. All of these things were happening but what was happening in the Western World? We don’t know. Either we don’t know, or nothing was happening.

What we do know is that those Native tribes were spread all over the North American continent. As time passed, cultures, tribes and communities flourished even more. But as my boyfriend concluded, it all depends on your surroundings and your place of living. I suppose that the Europeans had the opportunities that Natives didn’t. Clearly. Over in Europe and Asia, they had the blessing of different metals that they knew how to use and obtain from the earth. Come on now! Based on digging, we know about the Xia dynasty that went as far back as 2100 B.C.! Incredible. They were far more advanced because they had been around for so much longer. Insane, I tell you!

But back to what I was saying before. No one gave anyone the right to claim sanctions over the other person. They did it then and they’re doing it now, in so many different forms. It’s not just through war and invasion, now it’s also through governmental practices and bills, laws and think-tanks. I was just looking at some images of people protesting; of the Tea Party and how conservative they are and how our government allows them to be. I see how racist people can be and it makes me sick. All of those people who claim supremacy over anyone else can go to hell. Time and time again, history has repeated itself and not one of those people who supports those nasty opinions and ideas now has learned or has tried to learn from the time before.

Sure, you can call anyone savages, but they’re still people with souls and minds. Just because the Europeans were  around first, doesn’t make them any better than the people they so unjustifiably killed when invoking the idea of Manifest Destiny on soil that wasn’t theirs. And to think, the pilgrims came here to escape persecution. You would think they would understand the feeling of not wanting to assimilate. They took advantage because they could, because they outnumbered and because they bore arms.

Like I said, it continues til this day. When are we going to finally come to the decision to put a stop to it all. No one is illegal to the world and everyone belongs to the human race.