How Long Until

I worried over my outfit, my makeup. I didn’t want to look like I was trying too hard. I didn’t want to be too dressed up but I didn’t want to look too casual. A red lip would have been too much. The occasion in my mind called for a certain level of respect but I wanted to be me. I only lined my upper lid, I would cry for sure. I texted my mother about how nervous I was. She texted back for me to tell her all about it when it was over.

I did the math in my head and then on paper to double check.

How long had it been since I had first learned about him?

24 years.

He had been gone for longer. He had been gone since I was five years old.

I asked questions to the spirit because the person I wanted to ask had been gone physically for 14 years.

What did it feel like when you wrapped the flag that hung from the statue of liberty around her?

What did you say to her?

Thank you seemed appropriate but not enough. It certainly didn’t feel like enough for the 36 years.

On the drive over I promised myself I would try not to cry too much. Falling at his feet would be too dramatic. I needed to be as composed as he had seemed since he was released. Why the fuck would I cry? I hadn’t endured solitary confinement. I hadn’t been taken from my family. I had written letters, read, marched, chanted but I came and went about my life as freely as I could.

 

When I walked into the living room of the gracious hosts he was sitting on the sofa, dressed casually, speaking casually. I didn’t cry, not immediately. He stood up, gave me a warm hug and put a fist to his chest, over his heart. I sat next to him and we chatted, about his trip here, about his dislike when people fell asleep when he spoke, about how other former political prisoners were doing. As other people entered I cried as we greeted each other. We were all mostly strangers but we shared respect, dare I say reverence. One person told me he too had met Richie as a teenager. Richie, had helped bring us to this moment. I put my hand on the shoulder of this now no longer stranger. We were connected even though we hadn’t met before yesterday.

 

Yesterday I met Oscar Lopez Rivera, Puerto Rican former political prisoner, at an intimate lunch that jumped off a week long tour of Southern California.

 

It was hard to eat the delicious fresh food prepared for us as we sat around a table and he placed his imprisonment and release in a larger historical context. I wasn’t reading his analysis as I had in books and letters. He was looking across the table at me. I got to tell him who I was. I got to share my own concern, reflecting back his concern about how the independence movement for Puerto Rico had become elite. We talked about what needs to come next after he shared his vision of the work post Maria on the island. We got to talk about the role of the diaspora, of what solidarity looks like and how to make entry points accessible and real. He smiled, nodded. He is a small man in stature but such a presence. He reminded us how critical the current moment is. What is at stake and how if we love Puerto Rico and all it is how we have to fight.

 

After lunch we all drank coffee and posed for pictures. In the pictures you can’t tell how I cried a little. I am beaming. What is Richie thinking as he watches this scene.

 

When he hugged goodbye I tell him I will see him again. There are a few more speaking events I will be at. There will be more people so this one on one time is gold. I soak it up. All I can think about is what a gift this moment is. It’s like when I met Dylcia Pagan in 2008. I was speaking at LaGuardia Community College and she is in the audience. When I came off the stage and hugged her and thanked her, I also didn’t cry. Even though I wanted to – thinking about the sacrifice, not being able to raise your child. Would I ever be that brave if it came down to it? If I was called in the same way? La Patria really is valor and sacrificio and there are real, living examples.

 

Tomorrow evening my younger daughter will meet Oscar. She begrudgingly reads up on him at my insistence. She doesn’t get how important, how special this is. I didn’t either at 11 so while I want to be mad at her, I control it. How long did it take me? 16 years. That’s not so far away but I don’t want her to feel the same anger I did when I learned that Puerto Ricans were killed and imprisoned for believing in and acting on behalf of their sovereignty. Why hadn’t my parents told me? Why did they raise me to believe I could be anything, including free? I know it was well-meaning. I know it was a parental act of protection but especially now I wonder how long until my own children will realize how much more we have to do – until we are free. 

Access

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After 20 years of mamihood, I should be less surprised by the hoops various systems make you jump through in order to be “engaged”, “involved” or whatever other term these systems use to judge “parental involvement”.

But I’m still shocked, even as I go through the hoops with all the privileges that I have: language, citizenship, a certain level of education, a certain level of experience.

The latest adventure involves the Los Angeles Public School system and the hoops needed to jump through in order for me to chaperone my child on an overnight field trip.

Part of me gets it. We all want to ensure the safety of our children. But to be this level of “volunteer” within the LAUSD system means submitting oneself to physical examinations (to make sure I don’t have tuberculosis), submitting oneself to fingerprinting (to check my criminal record) and filling out a form that asks for my social security number and country of citizenship.

I don’t have much doubt I will “pass”, be determined to be healthy and moral enough. But those who can’t even read the application? Those for whom submitting to fingerprinting is too much like the biometric checks when they came to the US, were in various types of jails? Those who don’t have social security numbers? Those who see the question about citizenship and wonder what if this is used for something other than for just me wanting to be with my kid at an overnight trip?

Better to not “participate” at all but then risk becoming considered not engaged, not interested, not participatory enough.

Every Monday there is an assembly at my kid’s school. The routine is always the same. Pledge of Allegiance, some patriotic song, announcements, awards, and the school song. When I attend I’m the only parent (that I can see) who doesn’t do the pledge or sing the patriotic song.

But I submitted my fingerprints

Danger

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The other evening, on my bus commute home from work I was reading the Parable of the Talents and suddenly I recalled how my mother understood the danger my work/life puts me in before I did. I burst into tears on the bus

When my little apartment in Corona was broken into and ransacked, around the time I was writing about minutemen, she was the first person to suggest this wasn’t a regular break in. Nothing was stolen. My laptop was on my bed where I left it. I didn’t want to believe my words, actions, being had power or could perceived as a (counter) threat to a revived white supremacist movement. Now as doxxing, harassment, and other forms of digital turned real violence has become more commonplace, it’s easier to believe, even for me.

But there are other betrayals, violences, violations that our parents, our families don’t warn us about directly. Over the holiday break, on our last evening together between wine, cheese and the Real Housewives of somewhere, I confessed some of the challenges I was facing in my cohabitation. This felt like a huge admission as I moved cross-country to be in this relationship, leaving my family, my support networks, my city behind. She became emotional and I wasn’t sure if it was because she felt bad for me, felt sad for me, or if she was being empathetic. She said that after her own marriage with my father ended, she never trusted men again.

“ I know this is wrong,” she admitted but it was what it was.

I fought back my own tears. I felt sad for relationships she could have had and didn’t, relationships she did have and maybe never gave them all they deserved, and the relationship she thought she had but in the end didn’t.

I felt like she was crying because she was afraid for me. She doesn’t want me to end up like her. I worry that it’s too late – for both of us.

NaBloPoMo 2015 Day 1 – Dia de Los Muertos

I heard (read) about this Blog Month thing from Viva la Feminista y dije porque no.

To be honest I’ve been hesitant about blogging because:

A: There are things I would write more honestly about if I knew my pareja wouldn’t read them.

B: There are things I would write more honestly about if I knew people who want me to fail at my new gig wouldn’t read them.

And really the two go together. I don’t feel like my partner thinks I can be a good Executive Director and I know there are plenty of people who don’t want me to be. I try not to talk about my job too much to my partner who nitpicks at my word choice or will question my credentials/skills/knowledge. And I purposely am keeping space between myself/my org’s work and some other people who have a complex history with my organization.

And it’s like I have come full circle, to when I was a young single mom, deep into organizing in NYC but felt a little outside of the circle. I’m not young. I’m not really a single mother since my partner and I live together and I’m not as broke as/living from pay check to pay check. And yet I feel like there still aren’t many spaces for women of color in organizing to be honest about how race, gender, ethnicity, sex, motherhood in our day to day lives interacts with our roles/places in organizing (and especially in the messy, super competitive Los Angeles immigration non-profit world).

So I will try – this will be an attempt at thinly veiled honesty.