Archive for July, 2009
You would think that we lived out in the sticks given the stuff that we encounter around the yard. Besides snakes that come inside and snakes that lurk just outside, we also have an enormous albino skunk, a ground hog the size of a coyote, red foxes, moles, and the old standard issue deer. Forget the normal stuff like birds, bugs, and squirrels. Those are just vanilla in these parts.
So, I should say that I was surprised to find this little critter in the basket underneath baby’s stroller when we were out strolling this morning, but because we live in animal mecca, I wasn’t. I can’t figure out if it is just a baby snake or a hoss of a worm but the weird thing is that it’s head is shaped like a hammerhead. Never a dull moment around here.
This week, I am sharing an essay I wrote in the days just before leaving for Ethiopia six months ago. It’s a beginning, really, but as I was reflecting on our six months home, I was reminded of these early thoughts I had begun piecing together and decided to dust them off and share them here. I have divided the piece into 4 parts. You can read Part 1 here, Part 2 here, and Part 3 here. Here is the final piece, Part 4.
Back on the porch, my proactive tendency overtakes me. I call one of my dearest friends and confess my fear to her. I tell her that I do not want to do more harm than good; I do not want to be naive. Her words to me, crackling over our tepid cell phone connection, are like salve.
“What if your whole life– everything you have experienced up to this point, your own personal experiences of being the other, your growing up bi-cultural, your decision to design a major in African-American studies, your work with African-American boys, your teaching at a majority minority high school, your work capturing the stories of Latinas so that they could have a voice and a vehicle for expression in the mainstream– what if all of that was simply your dress rehearsal for this- for being this boy’s mom? What if you already have everything you need to help your son grow up here?”
The humidity of the morning dries my face. I nod, coming to understand once again how life works. We are handed the lessons we need to learn over and over again until we learn them. Once we do, they are more than just something to sit in our personal tool kits. They are the responsibilities we bear to others. And because the universe has unfolded just as it should, we—my red-headed husband and I- have everything, most of all the sensitivity and spitfire, that we need to raise our baby.
I sit in front of the television fraught with nausea and nervous excitement. I am a former United States history teacher. I came to this country when I was two years old, and I understand and appreciate how being raised here has profoundly shaped my life. Our political and governmental systems are a divine experiment that we work everyday to get right. There were moments throughout this election season when my mouth hung open in awe, hope, and possibility, but none of those moments can top this night, if it turns out as I hope.
As I watch state after state being called, my computer signals a new email. I open my inbox, my eyes searching for the message. The subject line reads, “Hey Mom and Dad, wish you were here” and a 3 month old picture of our baby boy is attached.
“No, little baby,” I whisper back to him, “I wish you were here.”
Moments later, Barack Obama, a man whose ancestry is African, is announced as our 44th President, not because his ancestry is African but because of who he is and what he has to offer as a person.
The next morning, I am talking to my mamacita about the election. I am almost out of words– because, really, its beyond words and all just about a feeling right now– but then I find myself saying, “Now, when we tell our son that he can do anything– that the world is indeed open to him, that our histories do not limit us, that our uniqueness is the personal prize we each get to carry in life, there is historical proof that he can believe us.”
I hang up the phone and drive out to the nearest newspaper box and buy a fresh, crisp edition that screams the news to put away in a memory chest, just the smallest gift for our son to enjoy one day during the future of his own creation.
This week, I am sharing an essay I wrote in the days just before leaving for Ethiopia six months ago. It’s a beginning, really, but as I was reflecting on our six months home, I was reminded of these early thoughts I had begun piecing together and decided to dust them off and share them here. I have divided the piece into 4 parts. You can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here. Here’s Part 3.
Once, in my middle school hallway, a girl whose locker was next to mine insisted that I tell her whether or not my mama was white and my daddy black.
“I’m Puerto Rican,” I explained to her, and she seemed put out with my answer. It was South Carolina in the mid-1980s. Race mattered as much in friendship as kindness and decency.
“You gotta be one or the other, white or black. I’m just gonna call you white ‘cause you’re smart.”
That was it. She closed her locker, walked off happy, and later asked me to spend the night. Even then, so young, I knew that question was loaded with so much more. Yes, racially, I was white. I understood that even then. But culturally I was not just white (no one really is, are they?) and to be her friend, I would have to be someone other than who I was.
“I can’t,” I told her.
I was groped on my way onto the school bus each day; boys telling me their uncles loved Latinas while I pushed their hands away and fought back tears. Some days, it was too much, and I just missed the bus on purpose. When I wasn’t wanted for my Latinidad, I was hated for it, spit at and cursed and patronized for being that which was different from them.
All of this made me strong and certain, self-sufficient and careful, and I worked hard to protect my parents from these elements of America I was experiencing. I wanted them to feel satisfied with their decision to stay in the States. I wanted to keep the suitcases from coming off the shelves, the For Sale signs out of the yard. I wanted America, the only home that I could remember, despite the fact that not all of her people wanted me, so I learned to protect my parents from what no one wanted to believe could happen here. But there was something else I embraced in this experience and it was the thing that would become quintessentially me: I learned I would be fine most anywhere I ended up. I became clear that what was in me was enough. And I became certain that what I needed to give the world—give each person I encountered—was the understanding that the same was true for him or her. When I went into a high school classroom as a first year teacher at twenty-two, this was the lesson I had to offer my students. I didn’t know whether or not I had succeeded until ten years later, when some of my students came to a book signing I had in their new city. I visited with them afterwards and the conversation inevitably turned to the classroom we shared a decade before.
“I couldn’t believe there was a teacher who wasn’t black who loved her black students,” Teresa exclaimed, and I gasped at this statement.
“Teresa,” I started, and Donald waved me off.
“It’s true, Miss Moli,” Donald, using the affectionate nickname they had for me at that time, interrupted. “I’d never had a teacher who cared about black students the way that you did. You taught me more about black history, culture, and pride than any other teacher- white or black.”
Driving home that night, I cried. Not at what I had done for them, but at what they had to endure for so long. I cried, too, I think, for the girl that had inspired me to love my students into loving themselves.
This week, I am sharing an essay I wrote in the days just before leaving for Ethiopia six months ago. It’s a beginning, really, but as I was reflecting on our six months home, I was reminded of these early thoughts I had begun piecing together and decided to dust them off and share them here. I have divided the piece into 4 parts. You can read Part 1 here. Here’s Part 2.
When I told my mother about our pending adoption, she must have been reminded of my seventh grade self. Proud, clear, certain, she said reflectively, after exclaiming her excitement, “You have always said that you would adopt.”
When my husband and I began to think about how our family might come together, when and in what way and from where we might adopt, we considered all the possibilities- international and domestic- and what we had to offer. We devised a five month plan to lead us to our answer of where, how, when, and what agency to use. And then we took one step on that path. The very first question we asked resulted in our answer. It resulted in our boy. As soon as we heard one whisper about him, we knew that he was ours—that we were his. It was just that simple.
Our decision was so obvious, and so we started moving forward, becoming quick students of adoption and its processes. That is how life is, really, sometimes. You map out a five month plan and then get your answer in a step. When you follow the path life takes you on, you have to be a willing recipient of the journey.
Two days after the phone call introducing our boy to us, I awoke with a palpable discomfort. I went out on our front porch, sat on the swing that I had envisioned myself rocking on with our baby just the day before, and I wept. At first, I wept for this baby boy and his mother. At the imbalance of wealth and health in this world and how reconciling those two right now means that sometimes a boy will have two mothers, how reconciling those two long term is so enormous and daunting that I can barely wrap my head around it, and I know that’s why so few do.
Then, I wept at a mama’s love for her child, at his birth mother’s bravery and vision for him, at her unselfishness and faith. I wept at the enormous responsibility we had to her in becoming his parents. I wept about whether or not we could be the stewards she and our boy deserved.
And, finally, I wept because I wondered if it was terribly selfish to bring an African child to the United States—to the American South no less— where he might encounter race and racial bias in a way that does not even have words in his native country. I wept because I wondered if we were naive to think that love and effort and care were enough to give an African child the life he deserves here. I wept because I knew what it was like to be judged for being other, what it was like to be denied for being other, what it was like to be spit at for being other, and I worried that we might be complicit in subjecting a child to a lifetime that would not be impoverished in the traditional sense but was impoverished in another sense that was just as crucial to his development.
This week, I am sharing an essay I wrote in the days just before leaving for Ethiopia six months ago. It’s a beginning, really, but as I was reflecting on our six months home, I was reminded of these early thoughts I had begun putting together and decided to dust them off and share them here. I have divided the piece into 4 parts. Here’s Part 1.
I found him while reading the newspaper. He was that week’s Waiting Child, a twelve-year-old just like me. I read his story. Mom dead. Dad dead. Everyone gone. Just him, that fetching smile topped by sad eyes, and his basketball now settled in a foster home, waiting for his forever family.
“That’s us,” I thought, and I cut that image out of our newspaper, contact information for the adoption network attached.
“He belongs here,” I thought as I put the clipping at eye level on our refrigerator.
“Please, God,” I prayed that night. “Bring him home.”
I walked into the kitchen the next morning with the hope of prayers having been answered. The newspaper clipping was gone.
Twenty-three years later, a ringing phone call on a sunny Friday afternoon in August changes everything. When I answer, I hear the response to that prayer whispered so long ago.
I am back in the kitchen of my childhood home just weeks after that phone call, eating lunch with my parents. Over tuna fish salad sandwiches, the contents diced uniformly almost into nothingness, and homemade vegetable soup, I visit with these two people who have given me more than a child can imagine, more than one can truly wish for in a lifetime.
My dad is rawer today than he was just five years ago. Three rounds of cancer treatment, a cancer born of Agent Orange exposure, will do that to you. My mother is softer, the anxiety she had over our coming of age– in a country she did not know– and making something of ourselves giving way to sweet relief. We, the three of us and my brother and sister not here right now, are all survivors of the same thing: the difficulty, the disparity of growing up brown- not white, not black- in the 1970s and 80s South. For years, as Puerto Ricans, we were either invisible or too visible. And even in the hard times, when the discrimination was wrought, when the longing for home was fraught, when my brother and sister were done with school so much earlier than I was and my parents were only waiting for me, these two people stayed here—in this country that I loved but that I knew was hard for us, this country that could give us plenty while sometimes telling us that it thought we were taking far too much— for me and the education and life that I could earn here. I know what it’s like to come home, the relief of it sometimes, how I long for my mother’s tuna fish sandwiches when I am sick and how she is just a couple hours away and, thus, can deliver them to me if I would just ask. My parents didn’t give themselves the option of that relief, that gift, because they gave me a different one. There are no words sufficient enough to describe that type of love.
My mamacita interrupts my thoughts.
“So I have a question,” she says, and she is careful now with her words. “Will you tell the baby that he is adopted?”
I want to laugh, but the sweetness of this question stops me. It is almost winter, and I have lost all hints of a summer tan. My skin is sallow, the palest shade of olive on a color wheel. My mother, to my left, is porcelain, a Madame Alexander doll. My father, to my right, is afternoon coffee with cream and sugar. My baby, the one that will join our family in just months, is a cinnamon-skinned African. My mother has loved him into us already. In loving him so much, she has made him our own.
“I don’t see color,” I sometimes hear someone proudly insist in diversity workshops or team building exercises. And he or she thinks that they are doing those of us “of color” a favor. But the truth is that no one “of color” is asking you not to see her color. A person of color wants you to see her color because it has informed who she is and how she has come to be and not count it against her, not use it to interpret her in some lens of your own understanding. But that is not what is going on with my mamacita. She really isn’t seeing color. She is seeing a baby that is ours. And she wants to know what I will tell him so that she won’t make a mistake later by telling him something different.
“Yes, mamacita, we will tell him that he’s adopted,” I whisper. The unspoken words keep playing in my mind, “I will tell him that he is loved by two mothers. That two women dream and pray and hope over his life every single night.”
6. That great big ole grin.
BF has made an interesting observation about baby and his grin. Whenever we run into people and baby gives them this smile, they always say one of two things– either “Look at his teetheses” or “Look at his toofeses.” I didn’t believe BF but then I paid particular attention when every other person on the beach last week stopped to talk to us about baby (that’s a whole ‘nother blog post) and promptly said, “Look at his teetheses” or “toofeses.” Not one person said, “Look at this teeth” or used “teeth” to describe what was going on in his mouth. Isn’t that just funny? Wonder if the same thing would happen in New York City or Middle America or the West Coast or if it is just a Southern thing. Anyway, look at that baby’s toofeses in that great big grin. That’ll turn a bad day around.
7. His need to carry something in his hand whenever he crawls.
8. His love of the outdoors.
9. The sweet little way he’ll relax into us for just a second.
10. His total little boyness and the chronic path of destruction that he takes.
11. His beautiful chattery voice and happy little belly laugh.
This weekend marks baby’s 11 months of life and 6 months with us. So in keeping with the milestone tradition, I’ll share 11 things over the next two days that make us smile about our little guy.
1-2-3 His love of all things water. That means he’ll plunge into the ocean, tub, and, unfortunately, toilet just as fast as he can.
A little story about the pot stirring: It was Tuesday, midday and we had just finished our lunch. I put baby on the floor and took the dishes to the sink. In that time (keep in mind we have a small, small house), baby had busted a move to the bathroom. By the time I made it to the bathroom, baby had managed to throw a shoe, some mail, and his hair product in the toilet and then vigorously started stirring it with his arm. The bathroom wall lines up with my office wall where my desk is so I grabbed the camera stat to capture the grossness in all its glory. I bathed baby and myself in Purell and soon it was time for him to go down for his nap. You can imagine how my stomach turned when baby tried to stuff his fist into my mouth while drinking his bottle to go down. As my sister said, “You just don’t know if you missed a spot.” The toilet lids are now shut and we’re contemplating going the Tina Fey route in Baby Mama since we have one determined little boy.
4. His curiosity. He is just so interested in so many things. When he concentrates like this, it sorta breaks my heart.
5. His latest little quirk. I love little kids’ quirks. They just make me happy. And our little kid’s latest quirk is that he pops up from his crawl like a Meerkat, extends his hands like the Heisman trophy, makes a hissing noise and then claps. What can get better than that?
Look for items 6-11 tomorrow!
The first week of July, we held a day camp for the Circle de Luz girls. Our goal was to give them an experience that would be new and exciting for them and that would introduce them to concepts and activities that would help them to live healthy, meaningful lives. The week was a wonderful success– the girls had a great time as did all of the volunteers (thank you, volunteers!), and we all enjoyed being together. Some of the more touching parts of the week for me were watching the girls unwind with yoga and repeatedly declare the love for it and seeing the more shy girls in the group slowly come into themselves, more confident and sure. Seventh grade is such a tender time. I remember it well. And it’s nice to be a part of giving these girls memories from these years that are meaningful and joyful.
We created Circle de Luz with this mission in mind: to radically empower young Latinas by supporting and inspiring them in the pursuit of their possibilities through extensive mentoring, programming, and scholarship funds for further education.
We launched last spring, received our national non-profit status last May, signed on the women to support our first class– the Class of 2014 who just completed camp- last summer, and selected and began working with those girls last fall. The women who support the Class of 2014, we call them M’ijas, hail from Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona, Louisiana, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Indiana,Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and New York. They number 55 and with their combined resources over six years, eight girls will graduate from high school each with over $5,000 in scholarship support to pursue the educational ambition of their choice. Along the way, the M’ijas serve as phone mentors, pen pals, camp counselors, career panelists, ropes course partners, hiking guides, dinner dates, etc. as we provide experiences for these girls to become the women that they dream of being. M’ijas do not need to live in the same state as the latest school in the program to have an impact– we have m’ijas from Rhode Island, California, Oregon, Louisiana, etc serving as phone mentors and pen pals.
Our long term dream is to have Circle de Luz be in cities all over the country in a few short years. Our short term goal is to grow just a little bit this coming year. We have 55 women in the Class of 2014 who are providing mentoring, programming, and scholarship support to 8 wonderful girls. We want more than anything to be able to do this for 10 girls in our Class of 2015 come this September but time is running out. Our goal is to get 30 more women signed up, and at least 4 more scholarships covered, by the end of July. There are just 10 more days. Can you be one of 30 women to download the letter of commitment today and mail it in to us?
As a Circle de Luz m’ija, you commit to donating $90 a year for each of 6 years in honor of our Class of 2015. Your donation is not due at this time and it is not even due in full this calendar year. Our calendar runs June to May and we ask that our donors contribute each year’s commitment in 2 payment– $45 by September 15th (we send a reminder to you by August 15th) and $45 by March 15. We keep you up to date with the public general blog, a private class blog, and periodic Mija emails. You can be as involved with the organization as you would like or choose to just be a financial donor. Every woman who signs up to be a part of Circle de Luz is investing directly and powerfully into the lives of girls who have not been given much of a chance. When they learn that they have this cadre of women standing behind them, a group of women who choose to believe in them simply because we should and because they deserve it, their hearts are overtaken by wonder, hope, and possibility.
If you’ve attended one of my talks or read Hijas or even hung around this blog much, you know that I can get way worked up real fast about the way Latina women are characterized in the media, music, and everyday culture. Last week, Eliana Grijalva-Rubio contacted me about an article she was writing for Latinitas Magazine’s MyLatinitas online community. Here is the beginning of her piece with a link at the end to the rest of it. Thanks, Eliana, for your work in raising awareness!
The Hypersexualization of Latinas in television and film
By Eliana Grijalva-Rubio
There she is again, that over-sexy Latina, “tramp”-ing around in my TV screen in her usual mini-mini skirt, all cleavage and tan legs. Usually I lunge for the remote and change the channel in disgust, but now I watch in a kind of trance, just waiting to see how Mr. Smith and Mr. Goldberg are going to skewer my culture next. Twenty years ago, there were hardly any Latinas in any kind of mass media. Unfortunately, the price we’re paying now to see ourselves represented is a set of exaggerated, overdone stereotypes that put the African-American bad boy and the bespectacled Asian math whiz to shame. Even in TV shows that are almost there when it comes to positive portrayal, like ABC’s Ugly Betty, while the fashion-challenged Nuyerican scampers around doing good and saving White people from themselves, there’s her sister Hilda, lounging around in her apartment in plunging necklines. And yeah, so it’s character development, and I’d be the first person to say she’s entertaining. I think she’s hilarious and she’s one of my favorite characters. But if we’re talking about stereotyping, she’s in.
I am beginning work this week on a new body image project. There are more details to come on it, but, for now, I’d love for you take part in this quick poll sharing whether or not– or to what degree– you are happy with your body. A lot of people come through here each day (thank you!) but you don’t often share what’s on your mind. Will you take a minute to anonymously answer this one question poll? I’ll have other polls in the coming weeks and month to help me put some perspective on my project, and I’ll have more details on the project to share in the next couple weeks once those details are worked out so that you know what your insight is informing. Thanks so much!