Tag Archives: east la

Helpless

15 Mar

The tide recedes
each time
a bit further
taking with it a little pain
and a little strength

When the sun is out
it warms my face
On my palms
it tingles
and I sigh
relief

I hear the birds sing again
the sky, a gorgeous hue of blue
beauty everywhere
fresh air
never tastes sweeter
sharp
full of promise

I want to run
but not away
towards something, someone, somewhere
Clearly defined

peace

I smile
wide and free
show my teeth even
and giggle endlessly

Self love
the color of my skin
the way it shimmers in the sun
the shape of my body
the softness of my lips
in harmony with my strength

I feel
and more importantly
I Want
to feel

A day, a week, or a month goes by
and I wake up
feeling strange
unsettled

Heaviness sets
my thoughts pained
a cold sweat
as the memories take hold

Alone
the quiet scares me
as it creeps in
the lack of sound

In a fog
everything hurts
my mind lays
Dormant
withdrawn

Those muted days
I don’t wish on anyone

Sadness fills me
at the thought of
Wasted youth
in a frenzy to feel nothing
to fade

Release the gray days
for the clear blue days
learn to feel again
Not so
helpless

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 ;) )

Link

Please Support: Los Angeles Theatre Academy Presents: Pastorela “Camino a San Conrado”

21 Dec
Pastorela: Opening Night 7PM

Pastorela: Opening Night 7PM

This past week, I was honored to become a Board Member of this incredible non profit that promotes theatre, music, dance, and the happiness that results in these adorable children. Please support this important and dear to my heart endeavor! The girls will be borreguitos (sheep).

Opening Night TONIGHT at 7PM $15 Adults $7.50 kids 5 and Under FREE. Experience the cultural holiday tradition of a Pastorela in a beautiful setting surrounded by trees and the gorgeous LA sky. Listen to the angelic voices of DoReMi and just try to contain your fits of laughter induced by our comedic take on “El Camino a San Conrado” followed by Pinatas! Who doesn’t like pinatas?? :) Los-Angeles Theatre-Academy is the first theatre for kids, by kids, in Los Angeles. We are a non profit and gratefully accept donations via our paypal account. Please check out our website http://latheatreacademy.com/ It’s tax deductible.

Thank you, Gracias! De Todo Corazon!

Susana Benavidez, Board member, Los Angeles Theatre Academy

Stop Feeling Guilty

19 Nov

I tend to do it myself.  I feel guilty, constantly. 

I had a great conversation with an unexpected source recently; I will admit (shamefully) that up until a year ago I did not realize that this woman had any depth to her.  I wrote her off as a beautiful woman with no substance nor intelligence.  After listening to her countless cries of attention through dieting tips, conquest stories, and her endless grooming I found myself speaking about an author series that I was attending.  And the unexpected happened.  She knew exactly who I was speaking of and she asked if she could be my +1.  This was over a year ago and I still feel stupid, rude, and naive for judging her exactly as I have been unfairly judged. 

Recently we had a follow up conversation about growing up in Boyle Heights, in East LA, in Westlake…  Growing up as an attractive female with 0 self-esteem and what that brought down on us but in a more insightful slant –  the root of what our reactions were stemmed to.  As she described what she went through: feelings of rejection, judgement, constant criticism from adults as a child (bullies); I began to understand more of what I felt, of what I did, of who I was, as I heard her tell her stories.

She is an incredibly striking woman with piercing green eyes and a hell of a personality and yet she had soft heart, a vulnerability that her surroundings did not respect, much less notice.  She is extremely intelligent, observant, and insightful – yet she receives no credit or acknowledgement for her innate gifts, qualities that she has retained despite her challenges.  She lives life thinking she is wrong, misunderstood, defective…

As I heard of what she witnessed as a child, of what she went through growing up, of what was unsaid but I could so palpably feel it that I could practically hold it with my fingertips…I understood her pain.  A pain that is so deeply rooted that it takes a hell of a strong person to face it in order to start healing; facing it means accepting that you were unloved, overcoming it means knowing that you are not un-loveable.  I saw this in her.  I heard it in the crack of her voice as she tried to remain composed and to the naked eye she was -  fine. She was perfectly fine.  But I was there; I knew better.

As she unfolded her worries before me I found the common theme of Guilt.  Guilt pervades all those who have succeeded in improving their lot in life while still being surrounded by negative influences. 

But it made me Angry.  Angry that life could be so cruel to her (and countless of you lovely women and men) and still invade her being with a sense that she did not deserve to find inner peace whilst her family was still in such a state of disarray.

It really upset me because I constantly feel that way.  Guilty.  Guilty when a guy wants to pay for dinner.  Guilty when my career is taking off.  Guilty when my children are doing well in school.  Guilty when I am spending money on myself.  Guilty when I am spending money on extracurricular activities for my kids instead of funneling it elsewhere.  Guilty when I want to for once, get taken care of.  When for once I would like to relax and feel vulnerable, and feel like a woman who wants to be shielded from worldly problems.  I want to know what it feels like to be sheltered.  I want to feel like what it feels to be taken care of without having to feel like I have to be the strong independent woman I have always been. 

I love who I am.  But just because I am strong does not mean that I am not soft as well.  I am strong and independent because there is no other way nor any other choice for me.  If not me then whom?  Who would step up to be the head of the household in my life?  No one.

So I remind myself not to feel guilty.  I deserve happiness.  I realize I will never have a childhood again where I can hope to feel cared for in that manner but I do some day want to feel the sense of comfort of knowing that I can rely on someone – completely.  And I will not feel guilty because I would care for that person right back.

So stop feeling guilty. 

Stop over thinking your future.  Life is life and it will continue to happen whether you allow it to or not, whether you plan for it or not.  Be the strong person that you are but give yourself merits for what you have overcome and what you have worked out for yourself.  You are incredible, special, and beautiful.  Anyone would be lucky to have you.  Why?  Because you have chosen to embrace life regardless of what it dealt you early on and you DESERVE to expect happiness.  It’s a good reminder for us all.

Stop feeling guilty.

Thoughts after sharing

26 Sep

Thoughts swirl around my mind, words trying to get themselves on paper, stories pushing out of my mind to be shared and I have abstain from releasing them.

I started this blog with the purpose that one day I would be sharing these stories, the ones that are dearest (and most painful) to my heart, with the hope that someone/anyone would read them and relate to them and not feel so alone.

It has been a  few years since I first opened my wordpress account and for the most part I ignored logging in, I wasn’t ready you see.  I wasn’t ready to give that part of me because when I share these words with you I am giving you a piece of me and I must admit, they leave me drained at times.

When I go back and read my posts, I notice that I tend to share in segments, bursts of feelings and experiences revolving around a time period but mostly a person who was a central dominating figure in my life.

But after the last two posts that I shared I have been left with a gaping wound and I try to heal.  Maybe I shared them too soon.  Maybe I got a response that made me feel defensive.  Maybe when asked for more details and I dumbly agreed to divulge a part of my life that I was unable to part with, I crumbled a bit inside.

I lost you all over again and I realized I never grieved you.

I have many drafts saved here, many stories hanging from my fingertips aching to be shared but I hold them back because I am grieving you now my dear, a light that was extinguished much too soon.

I miss you my dear.  I hope you know that now and I hope you knew then.

Rest your eyes in sweet surrender,
Drift by sorrow of life,
Where the shadows may never reach you,
Darkness was never meant for you.

Little Man

10 Jul

Little Man

I saw you grow from a small scared child cowering by the door,
Anxiously looking back and forth for acceptance before setting foot inside.
Endless nights filled with terrifying cries from your nightmares,
Some past reality on replay in your mind
You shook like a leaf and held on for dear life to our bed post,
You abhorred the darkness and begged for light, begged to stay by our side

Slowly you grew and you found your place
We loved you greatly Little Man
Part of us like any other
I saw your fears start to wane and a smile crept in its place
Mischievousness replaced uncertainty

But it lasted briefly
We let the past take hold again
Thought we did the right thing,
The compassionate and proper thing,
But we didn’t shield you as we should have.
If only we had followed what our heart urged all along,
If only we had not failed you Little Man.

So distant and detached
You have become another
Not my Little Man
Lost and floating you seem to travel though this city
All Faded you claim

Come forward from your haze
Break though the heavy drapes of apathy

Bring you near once more
Shake you awake and make you see
Who you are,
Who you Are Not
You could be anyone and anything
That doesn’t end here, it truly only begins to be your time

If only you could see what I see in you
What lies within you trying to break through
You medicate your soul to keep the pain at bay
The hardness in your eyes does not fool me
I know how it hurts
And I want to be there for you
Little Man

I want to see you smile once more
The hope fill your face with future dreams
Fulfilled by you
Deserved by and preserved for you
Lying in silence
Until you awake
Little Man

Little Things

14 Jun

Your little hands are folded over your plump short legs, your feet flat on the ground; you sit on the concrete steps outside our room with your inquisitive face tilted up towards the sky. Your eyes stare off into the distance, past the rusted chicken wire thrown on the ground, past the tree that bends against the neighbor’s chain link fence, past the abandoned cars left on the hillside… Past all the decay that dominates our view- what do your little eyes see?

The sizzle of the hot oil in the pan makes you turn and your chubby cheeks ride high on your face as you smile at me when you catch my eye. I throw another taquito de papa into the pan and you giggle at the hiss that follows. You stand and smooth over your pink, orange, and white polka dot sun dress and steady yourself against the doorway as you lift your small leg over the entrance.

“Mami? Esta bien?” I look down at you and see your concerned face. How can an infant know that something is wrong? You have only been on this earth for a few months and you have been able to pick up on the sadness that hangs from my face.

“Claro que estoy bien mi amor.”

“Comer mami?” I motion for you to stay away from the stove but quickly lift you up in my arms when I see your eyes sadden. You point at the taquitos inside the pan, and inhale the delicious smell of the tortilla, quezo fresco and papas being fried.

I hold you tight in my arms and kiss you; trying to erase any of my sadness that has touched you.

“Lets rub noses! Like the Eskimoses!” You smile and kiss my cheek as I sit you down to eat on your highchair.

I stretch my aching back and look around at the small room: the sofa and kitchen table three feet from each other, the refrigerator, stove, and your high chair competing for the remaining scarce space, and down to my swelling belly that grows with impatience.

Holiday Cooking – I get you Mami

12 Nov

I checked the rice for the third time; adjusting the oven so it would encourage each grain to soak up the broth and form a fluffy pillow ready to pop into my mouth.

I moved in a fluid motion around my kitchen as I chopped the garlic cloves, red onions, sweet and spicy bell peppers, then heard their sizzling song as I tossed them into the pan over the fire. The nacho toppings were done, the beans were boiling in a soft murmur, and the sangria! Ay the sangria.

Here I am, a modern strong-headed woman, following in your footsteps.

I used to look at you, confused and angry as I saw your figure bent over the oven, the stove, and the table – furiously stirring, chopping, and tasting your feast that would feed the entire extended family.

I was angry that you let them put all the cooking on you; annoyed that you didn’t see that they were taking advantage of you. I wanted you to say, “Basta! You will make your own meals and host your own parties, and leave the heaping mess of beer bottles and discarded bones in your own backyard.” But every year you would cook a turkey, your famous costillas, mashed potatoes, gravy, ham, rice, beans, the list would go on and on.

But I never heard them say thank you and I was pissed, in a way that only teenagers can be. I hated that you had to come home from your longs hours on your feet as a cook, only to be welcomed by the heat of your kitchen, your work never done, only stopping in the wee hours of the night. Only to wake up at 5 to get to work. Why? Porque ama?

Yet here I am, running around buying all of the supplies, ingredients, and necessities for the party – in the metro no less, just to see my chiquitas smile…

You confuse me in so many ways yet I love you so much. I can’t bring myself to be truly angry at you; I try by recalling all of the pain you gave me to inherit – but it’s a farza. I love you mami.

Everything you have done, you thought you were doing for us. Whether I agree with the steps you took along the away or not- my heart still beats thanks to you.

The girls aren’t spoiled with material things but sometimes I wonder if I smother them with all of the things I want to do for them.

Will they know mami? Will they know how much I love them, how my whole body swells with pride and joy at the mere thought of them.

As I grow up and see my friends around me; I understand you a little more. I don’t condone what you did but I get it. I have so many friends that grew up like me: short on love and full of need.

As they became young mothers some of them took all of the emptiness from their childhood and filled it with the love for their own offspring. Their children, like my own, saved them. They were done looking for love in loveless sex, booze, packets of powder, and needles.

But a lot of them grew up and turned into their mothers: slapping their kids around to unload their fury at life, becoming self-obsessed with self-pity, and abandoning their kids emotionally while they continued their search for the right elixir that will dull their pain. They are stuck in childhood, arrested emotionally and erratically lashing out in anger.

No one was there to hold your hand when you were left alone to care for your siblings. I can’t imagine how lonely and scared you must have been. You had no one but strangers to turn to when the migra came to the factories where you pulled double shifts before you could even be called a young woman. So alone, so full of pain; I never realized just how strong you really are.

I need to tell you how I feel. I wish I could take you in my arms and cradle you in them, guarding you from harm – the way your parents were unable to do for you. That’s what I do with my own girls, I express feelings I was unable to express with anyone else. You and dad grew up in fragmented harsh realities; you did the best you could and I thank you. Thank you for showing me what strength and resilience is, even when I had to use it around you both – thank you.

Escape to College

10 Nov

“You have to write an essay about college and what you think you need to get into one.” Mr. Escobar was writing furiously on the board. There were three columns ‘community college’, ‘cal state school’, and ‘UC’s’. “What about private schools Mister?” “What do you know about private schools Lorena?” “Like Harvard and Yale or Georgetown, what if we plan on going to a private school?” “Don’t worry about private schools, you can’t afford them. Focus on high school before you get married.”

I drowned him out and started thinking about what the requirements were to get into each school system. The library at school didn’t have anything about colleges, it didn’t seem to get used either. Instead of walking home I headed over to Malabar library and started pulling out the college prep books. An hour later I ran home with essay in hand.

Shit… As I got closer I could already feel his daggers sinking into my skin. My tio was standing by the gate with a beer in hand, blocking the entrance. Beer cans were all over the front garden and steps. Mi Apa was leaning on the fence with his head back beer to his lips. He gulped it down and before he could squeeze it and throw it aside, my tio handed him another Bud Light.
I hated it when they drank in front of the house. That’s why I never invited anyone over, why couldn’t they drink in the back?

“Hola tio. Hola papi.” “Saluda a tu tio bien, ven para aca.” I walked back and gave my uncle a quick hug, trying to mask my disgust.

“Donde estabas?” “En la biblioteca, tenia que escribir-” “Ve ayudale a tu madre!”

I ran up the stairs and went inside. My mother was in the kitchen heating up the food cursing my uncle for making my father drink, as if he had to be persuaded! She looked up just as I walked by. “Where were you?!” “I went to the library. I had homework.” “Get the table ready and take off your uniform.”

I cleaned the table, took out the salsa and started warming up tortillas. “Go call your father to dinner.”

“Papi, ya esta la cena. Papi, ya esta servido sus platos.” “Huhhh. Hmmm!”

All he could fucking do after so many beers was grunt like a stupid animal.

As they finally pulled themselves away from their beer they sauntered over to the table. I tried to sneak back into my room but my uncle pulled my arm and told me to sit next to him. I hated that fucking smell. He placed his arm around me and asked me about school.

“Para que tienes que ir a la bibliotheca? Aqui tienes todo lo que necesitas para hacer tu tarea.” My dad pointed to his head.
“Pero no tenemos computadora para el internet papi.” “No necesitas internet, cuando yo era nino yo aprendi todo mientras que trabajaba en las cosechas.”

Always going on about he was so smart in school and how he learned everything faster and how he had to do it all while he worked in the farm and missed four months of school during the crop season. He could never say anything good about me, neither one of them. If Mexico was so fucking great, what were we doing here? Why hadn’t he gone beyond the 3rd grade?

“Que Buena esta la comida Maria.” “Gracias Jorge.”

“Esta mierda? Si no vas a cocinar bien, ya te dije que no cocines!”

“Yeah whatever.” My mom got up to clear her dish. “Can’t even talk with your stupid crooked mouth. You look so ugly when you‘re drunk.”

My father got up, grabbed his hot plate and threw it at my mom, beans and hot pieces of meat flying all over my mother’s face.
“Pinche babosa! Callate la boca!”

My father’s eyes were opened wide full of rage. They seemed to change color when he snapped, his bloodshot eyes bulging out and his eye brows two angry lines cut into his face.

I got up and stood between them. I started to clean up and I could see him swaying over me unsure of what to do before he walked to his bedroom and slammed the door so hard that the veneer cracked.

My tio got up and muttered an apology before he scurried off.

My mother started crying uncontrollably about what a miserable asshole he was so I led my younger siblings into their room.

“It’s okay mom. He doesn’t deserve you. You deserve so much better. Just ignore him, he’s drunk.”

“Why does he always have to call me names? I told him so many times to not call me stupid! He’s stupid, he couldn’t live without me. When I leave then who’s stupid!”

“Mami, we CAN leave. We can live in an apartment and we would do all of the cooking and cleaning. You could go back to school and take computer classes and you could get an office job like you wanted. If you got a divorce we would go with you and help you mami. We don’t need the house and we could be happy.”

When she looked at me I knew that I had gone too far. She would never leave him. She would never be able to walk out the door.

“I stay with him for you guys. For my kids, that’s why I stay. So you can have a family and have a better life.”

“Yes mami, I know. I love you. Do you want to sleep in my bed? I can sleep on the sofa.”

I finished cleaning the dishes as she went off to my bed and I felt a huge lump of guilt bobbing up and down on my throat. What if he heard me? I should have known. She would never leave.

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Zack Hunter | Phenomenological Fiction

Zack Hunter is the pseudonym of a Californian poet, author, artist, musician, and researcher. He lives on a farm and spends his free time reading and writing about whatever it is he is passionate about at the time.

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