la Mapu horseback riding in Puerto Aysen

Daughter of the Earth : Mapupüñeñ

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My first born has returned from a visit to the country she left when she was a growing secret inside of me. When I left her at the airport On Christmas Eve, I worried like most mothers would. It was her first international trip. She couldn’t be bothered to learn Spanish including key phrases I made her write over and over in her journal like “I’m in trouble please call my father,” much less Chilean colloquialisms. She didn’t read Chilean travel books or Chilean history. My partner made her read an essay about returning to Chile by an exile who left during the Pinochet dictatorship and my heart sank, I felt like a failure when the question she left with after reading was “Who is Pinochet?”. I felt less worried about the logistics when she messaged me via Facebook from the plane, impressed with the little details of international travel many take for granted, like real airplane meals, separated into neat little sections and wrapped in plastic, free headphones, a pillow, blanket, and an eye mask. My partner scoffed a little when I shared this detail with him. Like he saw her as not worldly enough. “Jibara” my mom and sister would say. I thought it was sweet. It made me remember my first international flight and my own fascination with these same little details. When I woke up at 4 a.m. Pacific Standard Time and saw that her plane landed and that she made it through immigration quickly. I confessed to someone I work with that I worried about her being let into the country. I worried that since she is only 17 they would question why she was traveling by herself. I worried they wouldn’t believe that she was there to see her father whom she hadn’t seen since she was a toddler. I was worried they wouldn’t believe she was meeting an entire side of her family she has only known through occasional internet photos and carefully dictated anecdotes.

Then I worried about her feelings. What is it like to spend every day with a man who is your father but who hasn’t been present throughout your life? What is it like to travel through a country that is part of your DNA but you have had no connection to except in Violetta Parra songs sung to you as lullabies? What is like to travel into the campo where your arrival will be greeted by the killing of a sheep in your honor and where you have to navigate your head, heart and tongue around Spanish, English, and Mapundungun? Soon the pictures came. Snapshots of her sitting in a dimly lit room in Chanquin around a table. She is sitting there with her grandfather, her great uncle and two great aunts. They are all the same shade of reddish brown, the color of earth, Mapu. Mapuche, people of the earth. They are drinking tea and there is dried meat on the table. In other pictures her father helps her with her life vest for a rapid rafting trip down a river in the Patagonia. Her grandfather looks on. There are more touristy shots, her on the beach in Viña del Mar, riding the funicular in Valparaiso, the Santiago Metro Map, her walking in a forest in Puerto Aysen. Aysen is her middle name and she is there, on that earth, Mapu.

As the weeks went on I was irritated by messages from her father who noticed things I have lived with for the last 17 years, like how she needs to be reminded to shower. Welcome to parenthood I thought wondering what I was expected to do from thousands of miles away.
“Take a shower” I texted. I could feel her roll her eyes at me and at her father.
When my partner, his son, Poroto and I picked her up at the airport yesterday she was tired but seemed happy. Would you go back? I asked. She said she wasn’t sure. I’m sure it was/is alot to process. I asked questions gently. How was your grandmother with you? What were your cousins like? Did you learn any Mapundungun? All she could remember was the word for crazy. I wonder if that is because it’s how she felt, a little crazed by it all. I know I would. But she was happy to share. She emptied wool bags gifted to her by her great aunts. They were filled with tiny paper tickets from the micros in Viña and Valparaiso, seashells from Chanquin, and a brochure from la Sebastiana, Pablo Neruda’s home in Valpo, and jewelry her grandparents gave her. Earlier this evening she shared more pictures of her rafting, horseback riding, kayaking, flying over the 11th region of Chile in a tiny plane, and more mundanely, petting her father’s cat, Orejas. In all the pictures she is clearly happy, smiling, laughing. That is how I want her always.

View from my old apartment in Corona, Queens

Can’t Say Goodbye to All That

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Real rain in Los Angeles is a wonder. Just this morning I was on the phone in my yard with a cup of coffee and a cigarette, marveling on the phone with mom in Rego Park, Queens, New York City how the lemon tree is flowering again and I even have three small lemons growing. The tree hadn’t been doing well so I welcomed this sign of rebirth in January. Meanwhile she spoke of how the cold had kept her inside the apartment I used to live in. I felt bad but I also wished I was with her, watching bad reality shows (that is an oxymoron no?) with at least one window in that apartment open because the radiators make the space almost too warm. I look at my friends’ Instagram feeds. They are filled with selfies of their beautiful black and brown faces almost completely covered by hats and scarves, I’ll see a peek of bold lip color, bright eyeshadows. I don’t miss that bundling up but I miss the moment of unwrapping when I enter an apartment. That shedding of layers among laughter, tears and food. The ache I feel for New York is real.

One of my Christmas gifts was a book from my partner’s brother. It’s an anthology of writers, so far all women, writing about leaving New York City. When I opened the box with the book tears filled my eyes. It was such a thoughtful gift and also such a timely one. Since a trip I took to back last summer, the five boroughs, well the four (sorry Staten Island), the fact that New York City is my home and that I need to return has been on replay in my head and on my heart. When I moved to Los Angeles 2 and half a years ago, I moved to start a new life with a new partner, but la sangre llama y my sangre is 100 percent New York City.

The anthology, Goodbye to all That published by Seal Press (yes, that Seal Press so I shouldn’t be THAT surpirsed) so far is mostly white women who weren’t born in New York City but who went there lured by its mythology. For white women of a certain privilege this mythology has been bolstered and fed by television shows like Girls, Broad City and most recently Mozart in the Jungle(yes, I would fuck Gael Garcia Bernal in a heartbeat but this show, ugh). For the white writers and the white protagonists of the aforementioned television shows, New York City is a rushing mass of dark energy fueled by alcohol, drugs, cultural appropriation and sex with damaged men and this is seen as romantic, as a right of passage before moving to a suburb or smaller city where things are slower, friendlier and less toxic.

For women of color like myself who grew up in New York City and who have witnessed the shifts in wealth through brunch spots and outrageously priced condos where there were once bodegas and community art spaces, this myth feels flat. For example in an essay from the book, “Leaving My Groovy Lifestyle,” Chloe Caldwell refers to the chain store Strawberry as a “cheap chain”. While it is a good spot to get a pair of inexpensive leggings, it was also where my mother worked for many years as a manager in order to raise my sister and me. It was from a Strawberry store in the concourse of the World Trade Center that my mother escaped death, not once, but twice, after attacks on the buildings. Strawberry was my first job and was where I would buy a change of clothes after pulling an all nighter with a lover so that I didn’t go to my job at Goldman Sachs wearing the same clothes two days in a row.

While white girls “slummed” it by shopping in cheap chains, women like my mother who migrated to New York from Puerto Rico served them to earn a living and young workers like myself relied on them to provide accessible professional looking clothes. To the white women like Caldwell, living in New York City always meant accepting the broken, like toilets that required you to make the extra effort of jiggling the handle or half-assed friends. But for me, the broken, like the perpetually drippy bathroom ceiling in my mom’s Rego Park co-op or the perpetually drippy ceiling in my bedroom in my apartment in Corona, was home. It was not about living up to some imagined notion of what New York Life should be, it was my New York life.

If/when I return, it will be with a vieja’s refrain in my mouth, remember what restaurants used to be on certain corners of the Lower East Side and Brooklyn where I would engage in foreplay with lovers.

I’m going to keep reading the book with a critical eye but also with a longing heart, eating oranges I picked from the tree in my yard this morning wondering what neighborhood will ever welcome me back home.

Note : This is my first full on post of the new year. I’ve been posting little poems since the first, poems based on my last night of 2014 in my Los Angeles home. While the words that seems to be resonating with me as I start 2015 is joy and transparency, these have not been easy concepts to hold front and center. One of my processes for the new year is to write more on the blog again. At first the resolution was to publish here every day, already I have missed two days. So I am already scaling back to my goal being three times a week. I also am letting go of the idea that what I publish here has to be perfect, polished and sanitized so as not to offend anyone. I am not the same “Mamita Mala” who began writing and publishing in the 90s and I don’t want to be. But there are parts of her/my fearlessness that I miss. So aqui salto, carefully but saltando none the less. A ver

Futbol & Me

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Soccer (er futbol) and I have a complicated relationship. I never grew up playing the sport. My parents never watched it or followed it. It wasn’t until I was 19, in 1996-1997, while studying abroad in Chile, that I began to appreciate not just the sport but the fervor surrounding it. I would listen to local matches on the radio with my roommates, other college students. I even picked my own local team to get behind (Colo Colo). Back in the United States, the first World Cup I sort of followed was the 2002 South Korea one. But to be honest, my relationship with soccer has been tied up with whoever I’m in a relationship with.

When I was living with baby daddy #2, el Chileno, soccer had a pretty strong place in our shared lives. He would often go to Flushing Meadow Park, along with so many other Latino Americanos and play with his friends, predominantly Colombians. We would often go with these Colombians to people’s houses or when we had cable they would come to our tiny ass apartment to watch different matches. There were also trips to bars and restaurants to watch games, even with our kids. Even now that we are not together anymore, futbol has a place in how we deal with each other. El Chileno is going to Brazil for two weeks, coinciding with the time our daughter usually goes to New York City to visit him. While he isn’t specifically going to see any of the matches (tickets are expensive and hard to come by), he will be amidst all the celebration and protest.

When I moved to Los Angeles, my pareja, an Ecua-Guatemalan, was into soccer but not in the same way as el Chileno. In the weeks leading up to the world cup, he would share articles with me about the protests happening in Brazil and the corruption inside FIFA. Occasionally we would watch a game.

But tomorrow is the start of the World Cup and everything has changed. This morning when I checked our shared Google calendar, I noticed that every single World Cup match was put in. Since the kids are off from school, we were supposed to go to the zoo together but those plans were abruptly changed when my pareja realized that tomorrow was the opening match. Instead of going to the zoo, we are hosting his best friend from high school.

I want to say it’s coincidence that the antenna was fixed so we can get local broadcast channels but really I know it’s so that we can watch the World Cup.

Let the games begin!

Are you watching the World Cup? Will it be at home in a bar? Who do you think will win?