la vida

Sin Llaves

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Handing over those three metal keys, separated for the first time in five years, from a family of keys that included the keys to my mother’s apartment where I work and the key to my pareja’s house on the other side of the country, felt like a defeat. It felt like an acknowledgement of my failure as an independent adult woman. It was ad admission of my inability to keep a roof over my daughters’ heads. I walked down a street, that wasn’t particularly a beautiful street, it was crowded with garbage and people, and tears filled my eyes. I had walked down that street so many times in my life. When I was in High School, I walked down that street in the opposite direction, to the house where I lived with my father, his wife, and her daughter. Back then the Italian immigrants had (grudgingly) made room for the Dominican immigrants. Five years ago, I was 7 months pregnant, and I moved into my tiny one bedroom, with my then partner and my daughter. That street was no filled with Italians, Dominicans, and Mexican families. I knew every shop keeper and would wave and saludar a medio mundo everyday.

Three years ago, when we broke up, I was determined to keep my little apartment, with it’s leaky ceiling, loud neighbors, and occasional mice. Two days ago, I felt like I had surrendered.

My landlord and I parted ways with a chorus of apologies. They never did fix the leaks. I never seemed to be able to pay my rent on time and I bounced alot of checks.
“You’re a nice lady”, the husband of the husband and wife team told me.
And I left thinking they were a nice couple and in many ways they were. They never threatened to evict my little family, even as the rent came later and later and then in pieces.

On my ride on the 7 train to my mother’s, where I have temporarily moved my family into, I fell into deep sobbing surrounded by two big shopping bags of the last items that slept in Casa Mala : A vejigante mask, a box of chocolate cake mix, a Piri Thomas cd, among other things.

I don’t have keys to a home that is truly my own. In many ways I never did. I didn’t own the space that once was casa mala. Why do we even feel like we need to have/own space as opposed to share space? What is it about this place/country/society that makes it feel dirty to return to living with an extended version of family? Independence is praised and interdependence is looked upon as deficiency. Clearly I internalized some of these messages myself, even as I opened up casa mala to numerous friends.

There’s an overused saying about one door closing and another one opening. A donde los llaves que me quedan me llevan.

Transitioning Away from Casa Mala

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I am contracting my life.
Getting rid of things that no longer fit into the small room I will share with my daughters for the next few months.
Not just physical items – like clothes that don’t fit, redundant appliances, books I never really liked, cheap flatware
but emotions, memories too
struggle.
The last 3 years have been an enormous struggle.
Left with Casita Mala – my small ass 1 bedroom apartment in a lovely hood of Queens, after my relationship with el chileno ended, has always been a struggle.
Paycheck to bounced check
utility shutoffs
mice
roaches
a nearly empty fridge
leaking
flooding
laughter
birthday parties
christmas dinners
wine
cigarettes
amigas
one night stands
short term lovers
lovers who never arrived
parejas you never want to leave
tears.

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Going to try this personal blogging thing again

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Since I am working less hours this summer, the least I can do is make the effort to take up,use space and time in other maybe important ways.

I returned to live-journal this morning (yes people still use that)

I will return here as well. Things I want to write about:

1: My long distance relationship
2: monogamy (or not)
3: queer identity (or not)
4: mami’hood
5: poesia
6: my organizing/activism
etc

In the meantime I also have to work on the rest of my website to promote my readings and other activities.

My vida is a sort of open book again.

On the Eve of my 34th Birthday

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There are things that are expected of/from mujeres as we reach certain ages. Milestones, accomplishments. They usually include relationships, familia, career, ownership. Most of the touchstones are based in stereotypes around gender, race, class. What for example is expected of a mid-30’s Nuyorican mujer?

I struggle with commitment to some things. I get easily distracted, as proven by my failed attempt to do a poem a day last month but I do have all of the things above – not in traditional forms – not simply- but I have meaningful relationships including friendships, strong family bonds, romances, sexual affairs, working relationships with people in my line(s) of work. These are what have sustained me the most. Sisterhoods and people put in my path for very specific reasons and lessons. We support each other and sustain each other. For example, over the past few months I have been travelling around, sharing space with mamis, artists, hermanas, new lovers and friends. Sharing space always requires negotiations that are not easy but are exercises of love and growth. I feel like I am negotiating – balancing daily. Some days it leaves me feeling isolated and defeated. Other days I feel strong and more confident than ever.

I have a beautiful little familia with my hijas – brilliant beings on this earth who frustrate me to no end but also blind me with their talents, abilities and gifts. I will defend them and us with all I am because our life – the way we live- interact-share is a manifestation of the world I want for me, them, and all of us really. Seriously, Casa Mala with all of her imperfections like no hot water, , little privacy, no space, leaky ceiling, mounting debt, loud arguments, teen eye tolling, pre-school trantrums – is a microcosm of a universe centered on love where I want to live forever. It is no accident that many have stayed in Casa Mala – some for a few nights some for weeks. I want my home to be as open as my heart and I want my hijas to see that. And I believe – I know that this is given back. Casa Mala West anyone?

Career is a little more complicated. Earlier today in a correspondence with a group of mujeres I am building with I wrote about the need I felt for a word to replace work. I have worked. Retail, FX Analyst, stripper, non-profit puta : those were all jobs. What I do now, maintain VivirLatino, write and perform, mami, tutor, workshop and build relationships requires energy, thought, and time. Very rarely do any of these things pay enough to support my familia. And really money is not that point. I mean clearly I need it to live pero the things that I do – the “work” is also a matter of living according to values that are important to me. By many standards I am considered a failure. A woman my age with two kids shouldn’t have to struggle so much with money, live without health insurance, worry about food. But I do. I don’t think that makes me a failure. I think that makes me like so many other people in this world- struggling to be valued for who I am not as a machine in part of a larger machine.

Along the same lines I don’t own anything. I don’t own a home, a car, hell I don’t even own a pet. I have no real desire to own a home or a car. Would I like a nice place to live- yes. Do I need to make it mine by signing on the dotted line and paying taxes on it. No.

Everyday I am reminded about how wonderful my life is. How I am surrounded by the love and energy I put out and how I receive it back.
I am so ready for this 34th year of my life.

Bring it y let’s go.

The Privilege I Carry on My Espalda : Identities I Still Struggle With Uno

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In preparation for some people that are coming to film me for a project, I began looking through my collection of journals and papers (seriously, casa mala reminds me of my mentor’s (RIP) old office on the 9th floor overlooking 22nd Street and Park Ave. South, filled with piles of papers in no particular order.

I was looking for specific things, but found other things that reminded me of identities I don’t talk about, identities I rarely claim because I have the privilege to not have to claim them. Well, not too often anyway. Well, not publicly. I will invite lovers that I feel close to to trace my naked back with their finger so they can feel where my spine curves away from the path it is ‘supposed’ to take. The last person I fell in love with even mentioned it in a poem. As I get older, I have to own up to it more. I can’t carry as much as I used to, can’t stand up for as long as I used to. Hell, can’t even sit still for as long as I used to. Usually I own up to it my head, and usually it’s with fear. Will I end up a hunchback like that man who sits in the local McDonald’s, every paper he owns scattered on the table before him, alone.

I don’t talk about it because it feels appropriative. It feels a little shameful and thinking about it this morning has even brought me to tears. The years encased in plastic that I tried to decorate a la Frida with quotes and stickers and drawings. But I am no Frida. There are no pictures of me in my brace(s). At least not that I have ever seen. I have to ask my mother about that.

Today all I have though is the memories of x-rays, physical therapy, electrodes on my bare back, the fear of the electric handsaw every time my torso was wrapped in plaster and I needed to be cut out of it for a new brace. My daring kids who teased my in the first grade to punch me in the stomach so that they would hurt their hands against my belly covered in medical grade plastic. My preteen years and feeling so fucking ugly as I wore huge dresses that could never quite hide what I had to wear underneath. Questions from my doctor about my period and relief when it came because whatever state my spine was in then, would be the state it would stay in, until, as I aged, it would get worse.
And today, a paper that I found, of how a kid like me was supposed to wear her brace in the summer.

(Mas later)

Trabajo

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This week I have broken down crying twice.
Once was because of the kind words sent to me from the other side of the United States.
The other time was because of feelings of guilt and uselessness.
Both tie into work and how work is compensated or not.

The message from the West Coast, a coast that always seems to catch my heart’s desires, reflected an appreciation for my sacrifices, struggles, public unpeeling of multiple layers and my lack of pragmatism.

The message from my mother at her kitchen table, the message from my landlord, and the gas company is that it’s just not good enough. It’s the same message I get whenever I reach out for public assistance. The message is that my writing, the time I take do to political blogging, plan workshops with other amazing people, curate tweets that go to congressional staffers to shift their perspective on issues, the time I take to pretend to be afraid of a four year old hiding underneath a blanket every morning, the time I take to sit with Indian Muslim children of immigrant students drawing lines from the history of this country they were born and to the country their parents left is not enough. It is not enough to keep the gas on so I can cook relatively healthy meals for the kids. It’s not good enough for la Mapu to have some choices when it comes to where she will go to high school in September and be happy. It is not good enough to not have favors / sacrifices thrown in my face. No those things are reserved for other people who seemingly work harder, more than me.

And yet today I am have a phone meeting about a conference I am presenting at and no I am not getting paid for. I tutor later will earn a small amount of money that still keeps me below the poverty line. I am thinking of the political website that earns anywhere from a dollar to 10 a day even though thousands read it. Poroto is wearing her birthday dress and I will skim through the news, for free, for immigration news that attempts to prove that how this U.S. is doing it now is not working for people, my people, your people.

Cada dia trabajo in multiple ways, in multiple roles pero parece, se siente que no es suficiente.

Resolution : Connect

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One of my resolutions for the new year is to communicate better with people. By communicate better, I mean not via twitter, facebook, email, or text message. I want to have conversations with people on the phone and exchange letters.

6 days into the new year and I feel like a failure already.

Part of it, and it’s not something I admit to alot, is that calling people on the phone and sometimes even talking on the phone makes me really anxious. I will sometimes put off calls because I worry that I won’t have anything interesting to say, that the person on the other end will think I’m bored, will reject me.

The other part of it is having an almost 4 year old who is very active and very well 4. She thinks every phone call is from someone who is her friend or should be. In some ways I’m envious of that fearlessness but the reality is that for the 12 hours of the day that she is awake and with me, there is a constant noise level. Singing, music making, storytelling, playing and as soon as my phone rings, she stops and has to say hello. Just ask people who have had the pleasure of being on conference calls with me and her.

This also means that the times she is sleeping or when she is with her dad are the times I take to write, to blog and breath in a little silence. I need to find a way to make phone calls during that time too. Calls to amigas, tias, primas. No se…maybe I need to schedule better?

And then letters. I spend so much time on the computer that longhand writing, pen on paper feels like a luxury as well. I have been writing in my journal first thing in the morning. I want to add letters y cards to that routine. I have received so many lovely cards and notes from dear people and have poorly reciprocated. I want to change that too. I haven’t done very well with that resolution yet either…not a letter/note or card sent. But day 6 of the new year and all that. I worry about the price of stamps and when it comes down to it, milk comes before stamps pero que 44 cents verdad?

I also want to sit with people. Have cafe, wine, meals. I am thinking of some amazing people who live right here whom I do not see. I want to change that. Again, I get all anxious when I make plans to see people sometimes.

This one feels harder in some ways pero si, connect

El Camino Se Hace Al Andar

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The 50 degree weather on the first two days of 2011 meant that I could walk again, walk the mile and half to my mother’s house, walk past the block where I had my first kiss at age 16. I know there will be someone standing outside the Argentine club smoking a cigarette. I will politely greet the dirty old viejo who always asks when I am going to invite him up to my apartment. I will try and rush past the UPS truck before UPS dude sees me and can ask me about seeing me again. I will wave at the pizzeria owner and the guy who mans the chair closest to the window at the barber shop. The men unpacking the fruit at the marketa will smile their greeting and the woman at the register will call Poroto by her neighborhood name, “traviesa”. Everyday that I walk I fall in love with my neighborhood again.

When I travel, I admit that I judge a place based on how many people I see walking. I have been spoiled by New York City, where despite it’s crowding and fairly efficient mass transit system, NY’ers we walk. The sidewalks are crowded with people, vendors, carriages, scooters, skateboarders and bikes. When I see a city without people walking it makes me feel less safe and makes me grateful for my toes, feet, legs.

It’s cold again now though. Too cold to walk especially when I am battling a cold. I wanted one of my new year’s resolutions to be walking everyday in my neighborhood pero no se con este frio.