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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Guatemalan Airport. 4 People. UNO.

“Draw four!” Sara screamed as she slammed down the colorful Uno card that made her opponent moan and lean back in his chair.

“Ooooh, man!” Jose huffed as he leaned over the backpack roll they made into a makeshift table in between the rows of seats to pick his cards.

“This is the worst thing you would’ve done to me. I have like 20 cards already!” he exclaimed.

“Just hush up and pick your cards,” said Tony. “This game is going to last us through our delay with the way we’re playing.” Tony threw down a green two.

“Really, Tony? Ughh…” said Melissa as she started picking from the pile.

This is the best situation they could find themselves in after four hours of waiting for their flight.

“My legs are falling asleep,” said Sara. “I can’t sit on my backpack anymore. Does anyone want anything? I’m walking down that way toward the bathroom.”

They all shook their heads. Tony put his cards together in his hands after having all 15 fanned out. “I’m going to see if they have any updates at the desk,” he said as he stood up and he put his cards down on the ground in front of them, face up.

“Hey, man! I just saw your cards! I thought we were going to keep playing! I know you have like 10 blue cards, now,” said Jose, sorely disappointed. It was his idea to play Uno.

“Chill out, Jose. I’m tired of playing already, we’ve been playing for like 3 hours.”

“I was so close to winning!” Melissa said as she put down a stack of cards.

Tony walked over to the desk to talk to the flight attendants. “Are there any updates to our flight? We’ve been waiting for quite some time,” he said as she started at him blankly.

“We will update everyone when we have information, sir,” she said matter-of-factually. She looked away from him and pretended to be busy. He rolled his eyes and turned around to see a tall, strikingly handsome young man talking to Melissa.

A little pang of uneasiness bubbled up in his stomach and the middle of his palms tingled as they started to sweat. He looked around for Jose. He needed someone to talk to to get his mind of off what Melissa might be thinking about this guy. She laughed. That’s all it took.

He looked down and walked toward the bathroom.

Sara was in the bathroom washing her hands and looked over to see a woman yelling at her little girl. “Stop crying!” said the woman. “You’re embarrassing me…” She grabbed the little girl hard and was on the verge of shaking her. The child whimpered and cried silently, mouth open and frowning, tears rolling down her cheeks, her nose and eyes red from rubbing them.

Melissa laughed. Who was this guy, she thought. He just came out of nowhere and walked directly over to her. She hadn’t noticed him before he was standing five feet in front of her, as she was wondering what she could have done to win the stupid Uno game.

He was good looking, tall and a doctor heading back home from doing pro-bono work in Guatemala. He was tan and was asking what she was doing and where home was. She smiled, giggled and blushed.

“Dude, where have you been? Check out what I found!” Jose grabbed Tony by the arm and showed him the newest edition of Game Informer. “I didn’t know they had this here!”

Tony was still distraught. He could see that Melissa was still talking to the tall guy. “Yeah, cool, dude,” he said to Jose. Jose looked up at Tony, his faced scrunched up in confusion.

“You all right dude?” he asked Tony.

“Yeah, man,” he said as he glanced over to Melissa again. “Let me see what you’re looking at there.”

“Dude. Dude…,” said Jose. “You totally dig Melissa, don’t you? I knew it! I totally called that!”

“Nah, dude,” replied Tony. “She’s a cool girl and all but I don’t know if I can be with her like that…”

“But you totally want to mack it to her, dude!” Jose was getting loud. “Why don’t you ask her out or something, man?” Tony put the magazine down and turned his body completely toward Melissa and the young doctor.

“I’ll get over it,” he said definitively, “I mean, this is just one guy, right? And he’s a stranger. What’s going to happen?”

Sara walked out of the bathroom and couldn’t take her eyes off of the mom and her little girl she just scolded. Now she was pulling her as she walked, the baby still crying her eyes out. Sara knew the feeling. Why couldn’t the mom just stop and nurse her a bit to get her to calm down? She wondered what the little girl wanted.

The intercom went on. “Passengers for flight 1434 to Houston, Texas your plane has arrived. You will be boarding at gate B5 in approximately 30 minutes.”

The friends all looked at each other and met where their backpacks sat, waiting for them. “Yes! We’re going home!” screamed Jose.

“Thank God,” said Melissa and Tony in unison.

“Well, it was great meeting you,” Melissa said to the doctor. “Here’s my email address.” She handed him a folded up sheet of paper and smiled as she walked around him to pick up her bags.

“Who was that, Meli?” asked Sara.

“I’ll tell you on the plane. We have a few hours to chat,” she responded. Jose stepped on Tony’s food and Tony shot daggers at him.

“Let’s go,” said Tony. And they all walked down the terminal to the gate.

Ñ bar. 26. Macchu Picchu in Peru or the Lost City of Petra in Jordan.

There were only a few days out of the month that she allowed herself to let loose and go out to have a good time. Being a loner with very little downtime and too much work to do, it wasn’t often that she would go out to a bar just to go. As a doctoral student studying archaeology  she understood that her work was important, but she also knew that her time would be up before she knew it. I’m going to be an old, child-less woman with dogs, she thought more often than not.

“Don’t you go out with your friends? You’re only 26. No need to stress yourself out this much,” said her mother.

“I don’t have any friends,” she responded on the phone earlier that afternoon. The work had been getting to her. Her lips had become chapped from frequent nervous biting. She hadn’t been out in public for two days and her friends were starting to ignore her because, well, she ignored them first.

“This isn’t right,” her best friend told her. “You need to have a life. What you study is dead and gone anyway. It’ll be there in the morning for you to pick up where you left off.”

“I’m not like you,” she responded. That conversation was two weeks ago.

http://www.skateboard-city.com/messageboard/member.php?u=1423
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She stared out her window. It was cold. It made it easier to be a hermit. She wasn’t made for cold weather.

Her phone vibrated in her pocket. She looked at it and sighed heavily. “Come out tonight,” said the manly voice. He had been trying to get her to go out for a few weeks now with him and some of her other friends. He was a colleague. He knew what it was like to be in her situation. “I’ll think about it.”

She did laundry, ate dinner. Thursday was her day off from school and research and her phone typically rang at least twice to ask if she was going out on Wednesday nights. She opened up the wooden door to her closet full of nice clothes she didn’t wear anymore. She pulled out a long, green dress; thick and made for fall. She felt the material between her thin fingers. Fine, she thought. I’m going out. One day won’t hurt. 

This part becomes literally the scene from “She’s All That” when she transforms from the girl with the glasses and the ponytail into a gorgeous woman that men want to strike up a conversation with at the bar. And her friends were impressed, though this wasn’t the first time she cleaned herself up. “There’s that beauty we all know and love,” he said as he opened the taxi door for her.

The bar was already packed with people. This was normal for Ñ on a Wednesday night. The windows were steamy and the smell of cologne, perfume and sweat mixed together just right for a sense of a tropical atmosphere. She walked in and looked around, always aware of her surroundings. It didn’t matter how cold it was outside, people inside were dressed as if they lived in Miami. He took her coat for her and her friend grabbed her arm asking, “What do you want to drink?”

A young man in a dark shirt sat in the booth against the wall. The color of his long-sleeved t-shirt matched her dress. He was with a group of people, talking, laughing and just as she waited a second too long before looking away, he caught her with his eyes and again with his smile. She let her glance linger another second then turned away to speak to her friend that handed her a coconut mojito. What was THAT?! she asked herself. I’m not looking over again. I’m sticking to my friends. 

The temperature in the bar was increasing steadily as more people packed in and even more decided to dance. The more they consumed the more they felt the beat of the percussionist and the electronic melodies of the DJ’s song selections. She laughed, she danced, she was having a good time.

Standing in front of the bar, she felt a strong hand on the small of her back moving her to one side. “Excuse me,” said a masculine voice behind her. As he gently moved her to one side, she turned to see that it was the man with the matching long-sleeved t-shirt. He looked straight into her eyes and she noticed his were hazel. Her face turned red. She felt the heat rise from her chest to her head along with a tiny pinch in her gut as he leaned against the bar to order a drink. People closed the gap between them and she saw him turn to look at her again. It must be the drinks, she thought. I should stop. She sipped down the last of sweet juice from between the cubes in her glass. She fought her way through a layer of bodies to place the empty glass on the bar. She slid back out from between two people and back into her spot surrounded by her friends.

In between a laugh, an arm came up from behind her and placed another coconut mojito in front of her face. Her two girlfriends raised their eyebrows and looked at each other. Her colleague was not too impressed with what he saw, but she turned around to face the long-sleeved-shirt man. “Thank you,” she said. He asked her name and where she was from. His eyes pierced into hers, as if he was reading her thoughts, or at least trying to. He was being too attentive. No one paid that close attention to what she had to say. She had nothing to offer besides the insight into research she was doing at the moment. People started yawning five minutes into their conversations with her and their eyes glazed over as her academia shone through. If they didn’t already know her, they had nothing to talk about, sadly. But this guy, he listened to every word, so intently that it made her stutter. She was nervous.

“Do you like to travel?” he asked. He looked like he did a lot of jet-setting. “No,” she said. “Being in archaeology  it’s hard to believe that I don’t travel, right? But I have a fear…”  The music’s volume soared and everyone screamed from excitement in the room. “I’m sorry,” he said, leaning in closer. “What did you say?”

“I have a fear of flying.”

He smiled the warmest smile a stranger could give. Then he asked a question that surprised her. She didn’t want to underestimate his intelligence, but how often does someone find a question posed like, “Would you rather visit the Lost City of Petra in Jordan or Machu Picchu in Peru?” Her jaw literally dropped as she tried to find the words to tell him that she’s been reading about the Lost City since she found out about it as a kid. She  grew obsessed with Indiana Jones when she found out it was shot in Petra and it had always been her dream to get there, except for the flying part of it all. The idea of ancient civilizations inspired her to find out as much as she could about them, hence her career choice.

He followed everything she said, asked follow-up questions, bought her another drink. Her friends were lost in the crowd, dancing the night away, yet constantly glancing over and whispering among themselves about this captivating stranger. For once, her research and passion came in handy for a night out. She impressed herself.

She felt like Cinderella. The time passed swiftly as she continued her conversation with this random but not so random man she bumped into with her eyes. As the time came to leave the bar, she strangely didn’t feel the need to continue the conversation. He didn’t ask for contact information, yet neither did she.

“It was a pleasure to meet you. You’re a beautiful woman,” he said. She smiled, feeling the warmth of the rum, the heat from the dance floor and a sense of accomplishment. Her girl friends surrounded her, giddy, as he walked away and her colleague handed her her coat. In the cab, the girls said together, “So…?”

“So what?” she answered and stared out the foggy window.

The Disappearing Woman

She was shrinking. There was no other way of putting it. She was literally shrinking.

“I must be losing a lot of weight,” she told her friend over a lunch of wine and cheese downtown. “I put on this shirt this morning and it felt a size too big! I’m not complaining, but I’m just wondering what’s different now than last week.”

But that wasn’t it. Her shoes were too big. Since when do you lose that much weight in your feet? Her toes had to reach to meet the top of the shoe. Was this normal?

The doctor, said another friend, go see the doctor. She didn’t like doctors. She didn’t like waiting rooms. She didn’t like the smell of the office. No, I’m going to figure this out, she thought. Her eating habits were the same. She didn’t feel any different. She wasn’t sick or feeling faint, or extra thirsty or… anything. She couldn’t put her finger on it. Her tiny, shrinking finger.

It didn’t stop there. She continued to try on clothes that fit her figure perfectly a few weeks ago, even new clothes and her arms suddenly became too short to fill the blouse. Her skirts were too long to be considered skirts. She looked at herself in the mirror and she reminded herself of being a child in her mother’s clothes.

She suddenly wanted to run to the phone, to cry to someone, anyone, but there was no one there but the dial tone. She had wanted to disappear about three years ago. She remembers it well. Her life was just beginning until the world toppled over on her. Losing her house, her job and her lover, she didn’t think anything could bring her back from such a dark and deep depression. She stayed with a friend, on her couch, crying herself through the day and wishing that her life could just end; wishing she could disappear.

Through good friends and people who genuinely cared about her, she bounced back and made it to where she was right now. She never forgot her lover, though. The one person she dreamed of every night. The face was always the same, it never changed. Her feelings never evolved to anything different or greater. She just never loved again. Her life was fine the way it was, until now.

She sat down on her couch, called her job and asked for a day off. She opened a bottle of wine and over-poured a glass for herself. She leaned forward with her hands on her face, peeking through her fingers. Her head felt smaller. But oddly, nothing else about her was changing at all. She was just shrinking.

She got up and decided to take action. Any logical human being would go to the doctor, so that’s where she was going.

The hospital was practically empty. “I have an emergency,” she told the nurse. “I need to see my doctor straight away.” The nurse took one look at her and thought she was slightly disturbed since her clothes and shoes were by far too big for her delicately small frame. “Ok, have a seat and I’ll let the doctor know you’re here.”

She sat and looked around. She hated waiting but because of that, she also knew she wouldn’t have to wait very long. The doctor knew her, knew her past and knew she hated waiting; the one other time she came in very ill, she made it known very loudly that she would wait no longer than 10 minutes. She had a way of getting her point across when she wanted to. Within the next five minutes the nurse came back out. “He’ll see you now,” she said propping the door open.

“Thank you,” said the woman and in she scurried to the third open door. She sat on the cold, papered exam table. She realized that she was shaking. The doctor walked in. “An emergency, huh? What seems to be the problem?” She didn’t know how to explain, so she stood up.

“Why are your clothes so baggy?” asked the doctor. “That’s what I want to know!” said the woman frantically. “I think I’m shrinking, doctor! I’m shrinking!”

“Now, now, don’t get ahead of yourself here, let’s measure you and take a look,” he said with a calm sincere smile. “We’ll have to take some x-rays of your joints as well.” She nodded. As she stood up and against the measuring tape, she heard the doctor sigh heavily.

“Well,” he said, “you seem to have lost 4 inches off your height. When did you notice this happening?”

He said it, it was true. She was shrinking. She couldn’t talk, but instead began to sob. What in the world was happening to her? Was this a punishment? Had she lived her life in a completely unorthodox way? Was her wish from three years ago coming true?

The thought depressed her and she shivered from the chill of the doctor’s office. The doctor began to perform scans of her body. The whole time she sobbed. The machines went over her joints, trying to decipher what the problem actually was. As she sobbed, she felt smaller and smaller.

There was nothing. There were no marks, no cuts, no bone fragments, nothing. Her skeleton was normal. Flawless. Just smaller. They sat in the doctor’s office a week later.

“I’m sorry,” he sighed. “I have no idea what to diagnose you with; nothing seems to be the matter.” The little woman sat, unable to reach the floor. She had lost three more inches off her height and she was an emotional wreck.

“Well, doctor. What am I supposed to do now? Plan for my funeral? Tell my extended friends that I won’t be around much longer? Am I dying or will I shrink to the size of a pea?” She played the cynical card for she had no idea what other card could be played in a situation like this. Not only did she continue to shrink, but at a faster rate. She began asking a seamstress friend of hers to continually alter clothing for her small body.

They had seemed to get a hang of the shortening rate that her friend had already made her clothes in advance. It had come to the point where she couldn’t drive anymore. She couldn’t reach the pedals. When she walked around in public, no one could see her. She was pushed around and not noticed.

Her friends didn’t know what to tell her. They knew that she was emotionally scarred, knowing that she would eventually shrink to nothing. What would the end be like? He voice was already changing, she couldn’t be heard unless she screamed. Pens and pencils were too big for her small hands, and she walked around in children’s shoes, her feet were so small.

“You’re going to have to carry me around in your handbag,” she scoffed while sitting in her friend’s home. “It’s not like I’m getting younger, either! I’m disappearing!”

“Now, don’t say such foolish things,” said her friend. “I mean, how small are you really going to get? This has to stop at some point, right?”

“I’m not so sure,” said the woman. “I can feel it now. I can feel my body getting smaller. Look at me! I’m going to be the size of a germ! I will be eaten by an ant!”

They looked at each other and the woman began to laugh, then cry, then laugh again. “This is a story for the ages! The incredible shrinking woman! The woman who disappeared! Surely, I will live forever,” she announced to no one. “I will have a tale for those I see in heaven and you’ll have a tale for your grandchildren!”

When she finally got home, she sat on the floor. She didn’t have much to do these days. Although her boss felt bad, they let her go with a large severance for being such a great employee. She didn’t go out much and a drop of wine was already too much for her to bear.

As someone who’s dying, or quite near it, what would she want to do? What did she always want to do? And it came down to the one thing she never wanted to do, but allowed herself this one shot. She picked up the phone and dialed a number she’d never forget. On the other end, the sweet voice answered.
“Hello?”

She held her breath. She didn’t know if she should say anything or just hang up.

“It’s me,” she said, slightly panicked. “Hi. It’s me. How are you?”

The phone clicked.

She sobbed.

Filipino boxing legend. Atlantic Ocean. Uplifiting-meloncholy.

The boat was almost gone now, the last of it being lapsed by waves as the current was taking him out to only God knows where. The sea salt was already drying his lips white. His eyes were bloodshot from the stress and the water. Now what was he going to do?

The wreck all happened so fast. There was no time to find the life boat that was packed away somewhere on board. The other two went under with the boat and that was it. Now he was stranded, in the middle of the open sea; a vast desert with nothing but unclean, undrinkable water. He had the strength to keep him going for a few days, he knew that. As a boxer, you were taught to carry with you tons of stress, allowing for months to recuperate. He could surely sit on this piece of wood he found in hopes that something would come and find him.

He had no communication. He had nothing to eat, nothing to hold on to. It was just this man, alone, at sea and nothing compared to the romantic Hemingway tale. No, this was worse, real, devastating. The boxer had no legitimate way of reaching anyone. He didn’t even know where he was, just the direction he was headed and but after tumbling around, tossing and turning in the ocean, fighting the fierce velocity of the sinking vessel, he was disoriented. And thirsty.

How was he going to make it out alive? His parents and a few of his friends knew that he was going to be out on a trip. Meditation time with a couple of friends before the next big fight. Ironically, the ocean calmed him, now it would determine his fate. He grew up loving the ocean, making his way to the beach to swim almost every day as a child growing up in the Philipines. That’s where he started to build his muscle, his character, his every being. After training, he jumped in the pool, but nothing could relax him like the ocean waters. He closed his eyes and remembered the happy times that the ocean had packed away in its abundant memory.

If he had so much faith in the ocean as a boy and now as a man, why wouldn’t the ocean have faith in him? He sat there and talked to the ocean, prayed to God, telepathically spoke to his mother back home. “I’m lost. I’m lost at sea. Please send help.” He had absolutely no other choice. There wasn’t a paddle, there wasn’t another piece of plywood. It was just him.

After a moment, he decided to paddle. He looked around, as far as he could see and had no direction in what way he should go. He looked over his shoulder again to see the last tiny bit of the boat sinking to the bottom of the ocean. If the boat sank in the opposite position it had been going in, that means he should head west because that’s where the boat was coming from. He prayed.

He adjusted himself on the piece of wood, almost like a boogie board and began to paddle himself with his arms and hands, pushing the tons of water down below him. “Pace yourself,” he thought. “You don’t have the strength nor the energy to waste on a sudden burst.” He slowed down. He pretended he was on a long recreational swim. Except this time there wouldn’t be a luscious filling lunch waiting for him afterward.

There was no reason to think negatively now. Not at all. This was the same mentality he was going to bring to the fight. There is no losing. There is no “I can’t.” There is no “He’s going to kick my ass.” It was always positive. “I’m going to win.” “I’m going to take this to the third round.” “I’m taking home the belt.”

It was the same mentality. Exactly the same and he wasn’t about to let the cold ocean waters defeat him. He continued to paddle. He didn’t know how long it would take for anyone to find him, or if anyone would find him at all. He hoped his telepathy worked. He hoped his prayers worked. But if they didn’t, he was ready. He was going to fight every bit of his way back to where he needed to be. Little by little. “Let’s hope there’s not another storm,” he thought.

 

A man was drowning in the middle of the ocean. “God will save me,” he thought. As a boat came by, a man leaned over to help him. “No, go on,” said the drowning man. “God will save me.” He swam and struggled until another boat came passed, those on it willing to help him. “No, go on,” said the man. “God will save me.” Finally, a third boat came along and to it he said the same. “God will save me.” The man died and in heaven greeted God. “Why did you not save me? I had the ultimate faith that you would help me, yet you did not.” God replied, “I sent you three boats, all of which you allowed to pass you by.”

Tales of the Matriarch

The Foundation with Santa. Some are hiding.

Life isn’t short, but it can damn well feel like it.

In 1952, the matriarch of the Perez family stepped foot in the United States of America with a determination that couldn’t keep her from doing what she was here to do. With that determination, she had a lot of baggage—pregnant with twins and two young boys. After landing at Midway Airport, in the early morning, she took a taxi cab to the address from where she was receiving less and less money every so often.

Back in the ‘50s when men would come up to the United States for work, they would naturally send money back to their wives and children. Regardless of where they were the men were still the source of income to the family. All over the country of Mexico you hear these stories: Men would send money home and when they got back they expected things to be better off. When situations weren’t better, men would get upset and storm off; others would drink away their money and still others had the audacity to beat their wives. And yet, there were still the others who stayed in their new country, building a new life without the thought of baggage. There were good men, too, who came back after making their money and finding new jobs in Mexico with no problem.

When the taxi cab arrived to their destination, the driver turned around and told her not to get out of the cab until he made sure they had found the right person. The driver walked up the stairs and knocked on the door asking for Jesus Perez. There he was. The driver explained that he had his wife and kids in the cab. Jesus said it wasn’t possible. Lo and behold, there came the little train of his tiny family (compared to what it became) marching into the house.

Because of that fateful decision to find out what exactly was going on in this new country to which she was losing her husband, I am here. My grandmother is one of the strongest women that I’ve ever known and because of that determination, she continued her life along with the other eight children she would have after those little boys.

The "Kids"

My uncle Jesse, uncle Jerry (the two little boys) still remember that day and can sit and explain it to you, step by step. From the letters that they received in Michoacán, Mexico from my grandfather, to the plane trip and all the places they lived after that, my uncle Jesse will tell you with sincere accuracy down to the years and months when everything happened. The surviving twin is now my tia Rosa, and after her came by tia Carmen. My mother came next, followed by my uncle Tony, my uncle Joey and the baby, my tia Marina. My grandmother gave birth to 10 children. She lost two in their infant years and my uncle Joey passed away in December 1995. She has seen more children go before her than any woman would want to see, but still life goes on and she is the epitome of that.

With eight kids growing up, you can just imagine all the stories my cousins and I hear. From kids being placed in different grammar schools to climbing on sand mounds to hearing about all the friends that everyone had while living on Harrison and Morgan to stories of Taylor Street, it’s a book in itself.

They tell stories about how they would stay up as late as they could just to wait for hot dogs or pizza on Friday nights after my grandmother got home from work. They talk about how they had to share beds, how many tempers emerged when someone lost a game, how brothers and sisters snitched on each other, and about how they built snow forts and tunnels during the exciting blizzards. I heard about how they all would go out and walk around the city alone at eight years old. How the girls had to take care of the younger kids, how the younger kids never had to do anything, how the boys would torture the girls, use the younger kids as punching bags and how the phone book deliveries really did take place. I heard about the different jobs that my grandparents had, the friends that they made with the other families around them who lived in the same communal building. I heard about who the boys liked and who the girls liked and about the trouble everyone would cause together or on their own.

I heard about the trips to Mexico, the mattress made of clothes, the melting ice cream in Texas and the snake holes in the ground. I heard about how my grandparents loved to dance about how it was hard with my grandfather being an alcoholic and how the kids were sent to drag him out of the bar and home to where he belonged to sleep it all off.

My grandfather passed away from alcoholism sometime in April of 1972. He was about 45 years old. My mother was 15 years old. My dad was already in the picture. My uncle Jesse was already married and moved out. And thus began the struggle of a single mother raising seven kids still in the house.

It was a challenge, but it worked out, amazingly. She worked hard, disciplined harder and saw all her kids grow up to have kids of their own. Now, the next generation has started and my cousins are having all of their babies.

Last Sunday, we had a bit of a scare. After my uncle Jesse, the oldest son, made a toast to my grandmother and her 87 years of life, my grandmother fainted without a pulse in her chair at the dinner table. We were in a restaurant, all 45 of us were there, and my uncle began performing CPR on her. She was revived and rushed to the hospital. After plenty of tests, we were told that one of her arteries had 99 percent blockage. She would have passed on had my uncle not have been there to perform CPR on her. After three days in the hospital, she now has a permanent pacemaker and is doing well.

This is only the beginning of my family history. I keep saying I’m going to write it down and I haven’t until now. This is just a start.