Archive | January, 2013

Uniforms, Poverty, and Inspiration

29 Jan

In the 8th grade, I was about 13 or 14, I was elected student body president. My teacher, Ms. Kane, was very passionate and talented at instilling patriotic ideals and an appreciation for the little we possessed as well as reminded us of the world that lay at our doorstep.

Her mother was a Holocaust survivor; a slowly fading tattoo of her serial number that was her only identity during the war, still marked her for what she had lived through. When they came to America, they were dirt poor, completely displaced from their home, their bearings still rattled by one of the most grotesque series of events in human history.

Someone was being immature in class and teasing another student about what they were wearing. Ms. Kane became another person. Always on task, she became impassioned and emotional as she described how she only had one black skirt and a white long sleeved collar shirt that she wore to school every day. This was her uniform. But problem was she was the only one wearing it at school. It was her only outfit. As she described how she would be so very careful not to soil her outfit for the next day and how she would fanatically wash it every third day, I fought to check my tears. A few students looked to me to see whether they should laugh and teaser her too and I scowled at them, trying my best to look hard (as hard as I could now look as a student body council prez) and communicate it was best to just stay mum.

Ms. Kane’s story hit a chord with me then, it made this Jewish woman much more relatable to me, a Mexican-American teenager whose only exposure to white people were through a handful of teachers. It also reminded me how important it was that we had uniforms.

You remember how you used to detest wearing school uniforms? Those awful, often scratchy, completely unflattering plaid or horrid solid jumpers and skirts (that I am sure manufacturers dye just to embarrass legions of youth every year), you remember right? Or as my fellow Latinos and/or George Lopez fans would say, “You member right? You member!”

I remember them too. The deep evergreen jumper that I owned when I was in elementary school where some genius decided to send home flyers advising parents that they would be implementing a uniform policy and the colors parents should purchase for their children. All the while in small print it mentioned that this would be a voluntary measure and no one would be forced to purchase or wear these uniforms.

The first day of school I arrived in my jumper, one of two that I owned, and found myself the only one in said jumper in my class. It was quickly pointed out to me by other students in the school yard that I was the only kid that they could see that was wearing the uniform. Well apparently they had not caught sight of my sister.

Every day I walked to school knowing I would be ridiculed, that I would be bullied by the older kids, taunted for being poor and only having the one outfit. I became highly skilled at using words to make those bullies feel stupid but I still walked away feeling wounded, feeling small, feeling inadequate.

I am a PTA member at my daughters’ school, I became the Fundraiser Chair this year, and one of my highest priorities was enacting a school uniform policy. There were complains about the lack of self-expression, about forcing parents to purchase these uniforms, as well as supporting arguments that it would be good for the sixth grade students to have their wardrobe choices checked with the new guidelines. The usual supporting arguments of it lowering the gang and/or explicit music affiliation were mentioned and it became a back and forth stalemate.

I got up and said, “I’m a single parent. I would have no problem making the initial investment of purchasing uniforms for my children since the benefits of not worrying about them being up to the latest fashions, reducing the time of getting ready in the morning, and quite frankly it is much more affordable than buying them several different outfits throughout the year.” Another parent piped up and brilliantly mentioned that we could fundraise for those unable to purchase the uniforms and we could hold an exchange of uniforms amongst parents as children outgrew their uniforms. We pushed and went through the motions and months later my kids are happily wearing uniforms.

It’s not just about leveling the field in the shallow self-expression through clothing amongst children, it’s about leveling the field of the haves and have not’s and instilling a sense of inclusion at a young age for our next generations.

I went to Washington D.C. with Ms. Kane that year and we wore our uniforms all week. We groaned, hollered, and dragged our feet but when we got there we frequently received compliments from elderly white women (again pardon my then limited interaction outside my East LA school neighborhood) about how polished and classy we looked compared to the scantily dressed youth of nowadays. We spend many lunches having a conversation with strangers about where we were from, where they were from, it was almost as if we forgot if we were white or not, we were just human.

So remember, even as awful as these uniforms may seem, they make everyone seem human and approachable, at least a little bit more so, at least as approachable as LA people can be…

-Susana Benavidez
Native Angeleno (so don’t rag on me for talking smack about LA ;) )

Lost in Translation

28 Jan

I was 15 and missing class for the day as I walked along my dad to an immigration one stop shop to renew his green card. By then, our relationship was distant, making for awkward conversation as we waited, mostly in silence, for his number to be called.

He had walked into my room the previous evening, looking slightly nervous, to ask me if I could take the day off school and help him with paperwork and translating questions. He didn’t mention what kind of paperwork and I didn’t ask. I simply said, “Claro que si papi!” And he walked back out, his shoulders noticeably relaxed.

The following morning we got up early and briskly walked to the bus stop. As we waited, he asked if I would miss much school work. I shook my head and we rode in silence, using the noisy backdrop of multiple conversations, music, arguments, and laughter from our fellow bus riders as noise filler.

“Numero 143!” The loudspeaker was all base and garbled sound that you had to strain to hear it, followed by multiple questions of, “Que dijo? Cual numero?!” I looked down at our number, #257…

I looked around and saw the snaking line in front of us, and even longer mess of a wait behind us. I had the large manila folder close to my chest, its contents all neatly filled out and in the appropriate order. We went through the questions: Color of Hair -, “Negro no?”, Color of Eyes -, “Cafe”, Height -…and so on. What year did you enter the US? Have you ever illegally done this, that, and other idiotic questions that were meant to trick you into losing your green card.

“Numero 257!” We hurried up to the window, my father a step behind me, and I beamed brightly at the zombie-esque employee behind the window. I pushed the paperwork toward him and he rattled off a litany of questions, each to which my father would look to me before responding in the affirmative or negative. He looked so serious, that face that I came to know every time he was in front of a figure of authority, that face that thinly masked the knots of nervous terror that threatened to snake through his pores. His yellow pallor and slight suffle from his left to right foot reflected his fear, this precarious arrangement by the US government that allowed him to be in the North side of the Mexican/US border with his family – his wife and kids that is. I was standing next to him so I did the only thing I thought to do, I reached for his hand and held it in mine and gave it a slight squeeze. To my surprise, he squeezed back and released a pent up breath. Those long heavy breathes that you release when you forget to breathe.

Thump. The stamp of approval came down on my father’s paperwork and the zombie gave me the proof of renewal as well as intructions of things to watch out for in the mail.

As we stepped away I saw hundred of people just like my dad, a yellow tint betraying their fear, their unsteady stance on slippery ice of the INS.

As we left that dimly lit and dingy building and walked out into the bright sunshine of Olympic/Soto, he cheerfully asked me if I wanted to grab a bite. “Quieres una Hamburguesa?” I didn’t. I wanted to go home and rid myself of the depressing images of hope and broken dreams that the building had left behind in my mind. I wanted to stop the awkward company of my father and lock myself up in my room to listen to music and read a book. But his smile was so rare, it seemed out of place in his usual solemn face, and I remembered how he had returned the squeeze when we held hands that I nodded my head and smiled so he could remember his five year old Chuchi that had always quickly done anything he requested.

Instead of hopping on the bus we walked to Tom’s Burgers on 4th/Soto and ordered burgers, fries, and a shake for me. I told him about how my swimming was going, about my history class, about all of the subjects that I enjoyed. That afternoon I had my father back; the one that used to help me with homework art projects, read to me and protect me when I was in pre-school.

It dawned on me then how hard and embarassing it must have been for him to ask me for help for a matter that I would never have to face since I won the lottery at birth and was born in this country.

My mother always came to me when she needed translating, documents filled out, appointments for me to attend with her, but my father… He had never asked for my help before then and I was happy that I had quickly assented, that I had agreed energetically to having lunch with him.

He told me about his adventures as a young man; stories about crossing the border, the comedy he peppered in didn’t quite hide the perils and unfortunate events that crossing illegally with a pollero invited. The fry scratched my throat as I chewed and tried to swallow the mouthful along with my sense of shame of not having wanted to prolong my stay with my dad. But the shame was nothing compared to the ache that I felt for the millions of unfortunate undocumented fathers out there whose standing on the North side of the border was even more precarious than my father’s.

President Obama will release his immigration reform plan tomorrow and I have a seed of hope hesitantly sprouting that his plan includes a major upheaval of our class system: the third class that suffers in silence and moves noiselessly from unwanted job to job without any right to vote or voice their injustice, the second class that holds green cards but are not yet citizens and do not have the right to vote, and the rest of us – US Citizens (via birth or naturalization) that are free to enjoy 100 % of our rights, as disparate in education and economic mobility opportunity as they may be, there is still a door for us that grants us 100% of the right to seek those opportunities. And with shame I acknowledge that I have often forgotten how fortunate I am for having a US birth certificate, that sacred paper that allows me to live the life I have led…

I hope that President Obama pushes his immigration plan forward and doesn’t allow for the stories of suffering undocumented millions to be lost in translation.

Moments with you

21 Jan

I brush my mascara on
Look up and see you
Smiling and dancing towards me

Your smile mirrors mine

I follow your gaze
An inch away from me
My skin burns for your touch

I slip my dress over my head
Hurry onto my heels
Flip my hair over and look my best for you

Your smile mirrors mine

You dance closer to me
Captivate me
Suspend me in time

You bend over me
as you lead me
on a slow dance

Your smile mirrors mine

In the car
Holding hands to sweet melodies
The city lights our candlelight

In the parking lot
kissing me as we clamber out
to the night
full of laughter

And your smile mirrors mine

Dance the night away
the band is out
and we run back to
Late nights over King Taco

Sipping and swaying to the whiskey
In our home
Barefoot and dancing

And your smile mirrors mine

Moving Forward

20 Jan

How do you balance your own dreams and ambitions with those of the collective good? The collective good being: your family, your people, and for those so inclined, society as a whole. How do you balance any dreams with the reality of a failed attempt? How do you move forward when life seems stalled or worse yet muted?

When I was a kid I thought anything was possible. I was living in low standards (in quality of life, expectations, and interaction) that I drew up my own world of existence. When I try to recall memories, many of them are of me just sitting, lying, standing – alone, lost in thought. A loud buzzing is in my ears as I lose track of time and wake from my fantasy to find that hours and sometimes only seconds have passed.

The hours spent dreaming were my escape from my life. My time spent reading and writing were a respite from admitting where/when I was living.

And in these dreams with limitless skies I saw myself as an attorney, as a businesswoman, as an inventor – with an empire that would spread its wings in Boyle Heights and provide a higher quality of life to its residents: to teenage moms, to boys on the cusp of being lost to drugs/gangs/apathy, to immigrant parents providing for a better life. I dreamt of a world where I wrote my way to the top, sharing my stories, and then my profits to this community. Buying a beautiful house for my parents and siblings; making enough money so my parents could stop their backbreaking work; financing the education of my siblings so they could escape the soul crunching cycle of poverty; realizing these goals would make me happy I thought.

Yet along the way my heart wasn’t strong enough, my mind became weaker, and I dreamt longer and longer. My escape became a necessity and I would lose track of time, lose track of my goals and ambitions, until I just lived. I breathed, I ate, I woke and I slept. I loved with an immature sense of what this meant or what it would bring.

And those goals became silly notions meant for another. My self-questioning became louder, a feverish pitch of self-doubt that drowned out any positive thoughts and immobilized my inner sense of worth.

A failed marriage, an unaccomplished degree, and single motherhood at 23.

It seemed the only dream I had “accomplished” which I couldn’t even take credit for was growing into an attractive woman. As a child, I had wished daily to be beautiful, graceful, to possess the ease of human interaction – the ability to connect and feel with others, but this desire was misguided as I did not know the difference between healthy and unhealthy connections in relationships.

I was in a downward spiral that was quickly finding its way to the bottom. I had no sense of where I could go from there, of what life meant anymore if not my definition of a perfect loveable family.

But with pain, failure, and darkness comes revelation. You cannot hide from yourself when all that is left is you.

So I took the shreds of my motivation and began a painstakingly slow mending process. I recognized my faults, which were many, and realized that no matter how sympathetic a past I had, it did not constitute an excuse for where I had landed.

And 5 years later you find me here, full of life.

I didn’t give up on life. I placed one foot in front of the other and though I had many missteps, I keep walking forward. And I feel a sense of pride in my life; I have two young daughters that grow lovelier every day, I have a career that I enjoy and brings me a sense of fulfillment, and I am ready to go back to my restarting those childhood dreams – even if that only means coloring the life of my loved ones with my happiness.

We can spend days philosophizing about what true happiness means and what we need to possess it. We can spend an equal amount of time debating whether the singular task of making ourselves happy contributes to the improved happiness of the collective; I believe that it does. By being a happy mother, daughter, sister, friend, and partner I am bringing that positivity into the lives of those connected to me. By sharing my stories, I hope you feel the hope that has carried me through daily and how this hope has changed as I have gotten older. I once thought happiness would come when I married and had children, a family to love me and receive my love.

But I learned that you can’t smother the darkness, you can’t swallow the bitter memories, you can’t hide from the gray that is nestled inside you and lures you into endless sleep; you have to face it in order to bring a sense of peace and happiness into your own being.

Imagine that you are in your dark hole, surrounded by darkness that eats at your perceived happiness away, that chips at your will to live, that hammers you down when you try to move forward, that suffocates you when you try to take a breath of hopeful air. You are left slumped on the ground choking on the hurt, the pain is so strong it keeps you pinned to the floor and no matter how hard you try to ignore it; the ringing in your ears makes it impossible for you to function at a higher level than mere existence. It becomes a sub existence and time passes by, passing you by.

But there is a ladder amongst this darkness. Barely visible at first but you feel it with your hands as you wander around unrelenting in your desire to escape. Each rung on that ladder brings you a different memory – a painful shameful moment in your life; and in order to move past a rung you have to come to terms with it and the implications it has caused in your life.

If you were abused, you need to know that you did nothing to invite this undeserved attack onto yourself. There is nothing wrong with you. You do not have something in you that can elicit this behavior in others toward you. You may have been repeatedly abused, by many, but you need to realize that it is not your fault. You were a victim but over time and with a lot of work you can heal and stop living like one.

Whatever hard reality was or is your life you have two choices, same as anyone else; climb the ladder or cower in the false safety of your known darkness. Don’t beat yourself up for decisions and choices you made, even if you ended up hurting others. You have to learn to forgive yourself and push forward. If you don’t, your “reality” (your self-inflicted continuation of that twisted world) will always remain your captor.

I’m not credentialed to tell you how to get better, I can only share what I have gone through and have done to get to a better place. One thing I can tell you, when you climb high enough up that ladder, you will savor the ease with which you keep climbing and you will begin to shed your old tattered self and embrace the new stronger, happier, and more productive self.

I am not at the top of the ladder; I don’t know what I will find when I get there. But I do know that I am relishing the journey upward and that I am improving this world a little with my own sunshine brightening this beautiful new day.

Reflections

6 Jan

The four of us walked along
the cool night air gently biting our cheeks
Laughter and mirth filled the air and nothing else was there

Surreal to look around and see the crystal like sharpness of this new reality
A gift, really.

The smiling, silly, quirkiness of Iza as she contorts into a hundred personalities: she makes me believe in things beyond what is here and tangible, the unattainable becomes feasible with her, she IS magic surrealism.
She’s a dream all in her own.
She makes waves of laughter; raining bubbles of giggles wherever she waltzes through.
And that is her: etheral in her magical purity – untouched by the gray all around.

The balance of her comes bounding by – her sister – so logical and angular in her gist of existence.
She’s kindness measured by well-meaning. She pulls you up and makes you see it for what it is but never unkind. She is loving and profound, deep in her perceptions, observant and uncanny, real and steady. A beauty that runs deep.

And now I see the charge I have been given. No longer a child to begrieve what may have fallen; I am now a witness to beauty that unfolds for all to see.

Hope.

They endlessly give me the desire to go on to the next horizon. To reach for that line where the sky meets the distance of the land.

__________________

I tailed my dad wherever he’d go. I was his shadow whether he cared for it or not. The best times spent were when he found himself among his native land, his native tongue, his learned ways.

The small town where the sun comes down hard, making the top of your scalp prick up and take notice; where the arid wind blows red earth onto your skin, your clothing, and sticks to your tongue.

He would sit around the kitchen table with my abuelito in the morning, the horizon an hour away, drinking a cup of the oily black cafe de olla. Eventually he would make his way to the labadores where he would find his childhood friends drinking and retelling stories I grew to memorize verbatim. After a few more refreshments their thirst for adventure grew until they were finally moved into action. This day as I crouched behind a walnut tree I heard as they prepared to go on a hunt for rabitts to test their shot.

They hastily stamped out their fire and scurried over to their horses where they mounted the remainder of their drinks, food, and the long tantalizing metal of a gun.

The desert laid before me as I walked about 30 feet behind them, keeping a slow quiet stride so they wouldn’t notice Pepe’s girl trailing them.

When they stiffened, I knew this was the spot and my muscles were so frozen that I soon began to ache in every unused muscle of my body. My father turned and looked directly at me where I lay pressed to the ground and motioned with his finger to wait and remain still. One of his friends took aim, shot, and was rewarded by the dust cloud of the wild hare kicking up its last step and laying down to later bed fed to a family. A chorus of congratulations and hearty manly laughter broke out and when I looked up, my father was there, with his hand outstretched for me to join them properly.

We spent the evening walking and following a scent/trail and when they would relax, I would run to and from them as fast as I could with their cheers giving me fuel to pump my little legs even faster. I looked out onto the furthest point where land seemed to kiss the sky and I thought if I ran fast enough I would be able to jump onto the clouds from that point. I spent the day running at full speed trying to reach the blue sky but it kept slipping away from me.

As dusk came it brought colder temperatures and a change in the group’s mood with it; everyone said their goodbyes and parted their ways, my dad and me walking hand in hand back home with a conejo and his rifle hanging over his shoulder.

________________________________________

This memory comes to me as I walk with my girls and I see some of my qualities in them; how amazing it will be to see them grow up with love, patience, encouragement, and nurturing.

How far they will go.

Hope for Happiness. But no longer just for them, for me too, for us. Hope for us all.

2012 in review

2 Jan

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 4,700 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 8 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

Lucesitas.com

Inmigracion: Intercambio de experiencias, consejos y preguntas sobre la CITA en CIUDAD JUAREZ

On the Fast Lane with the Flying Monkeys

What Happens when the Three Musketeers Meet a Charming Prince?

Nineteenfifteen

Know thyself

Bucket List Publications

Indulge- Travel, Adventure, & New Experiences

ChicanaBlogs

Smile! You’ve entered the poet's Blog

Flat-Footed

Surviving Los Angeles one step at a time

WordPress.com

WordPress.com is the best place for your personal blog or business site.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 689 other followers