Semester 1 – Week 4

Like most important decisions of my life I did it on a whim. What if? One weekend day I completed an application to go back to college and then returned to my life of cooking, cleaning, doing work from home, taking care of my 11 year old kid. I kind of forgot about the application until they called me to interview me and then accepted me.

Mural in Austin Texas. Background paint is deep blue with a zebra skin pattern border and the text of the Violeta Parra song "Gracias a la Vida"

Oh shit.

So on a sort of whim I accepted. It was such a whim that I didn’t even tell anyone. I have to admit that part of me was ashamed. I wasn’t ashamed that I didn’t finish college when I was supposed to. People who have been following my writing online in its various forms know that as I have gotten older, struggled with raising one then two kids as a mostly single mother, worked my ass off as a writer, stripper, furniture and men’s clothing salesperson, organizer and now executive director of a nonprofit – I have often stressed how not having a degree doesn’t make me (or anyone else) less smart, less valuable. I’ve done, accomplished enough, in fact a lot. Maybe from dumb luck but more than likely it’s because I’m kind of smart (my sister says my intelligence makes her sick).

So what was I ashamed of?

I bought my books and jumped into classes (I’m doing a 100 percent online format- once again the internet comes to my rescue) and two weeks and four papers into classes I still hadn’t told anyone.

I was ashamed that I dared to do something that was just for me. I don’t need the degree to get a promotion. I’m not looking for a job. I’m not applying to grad school (yet?). I don’t have a grand plan of eventually getting such and such title. I was doing it because it was something I wanted to do. I want to read and write and discuss things and analyze. I’ve always liked that about school and since I’ve been out of school I still like it. Deep down I’m kind of a nerd.

I was ashamed because I was being selfish and didn’t feel like I deserved it.

It felt like an indulgence. I am working at a job that requires long hours and honestly I’m a little bit of a workaholic so I never really am “off”, despite the admonishments of my family and even my work team. I, like many women, carry the bulk of the household duties and the planning behind that from cooking, cleaning, kid school shit, kid life shit. Plus, something that I have alluded to but haven’t gone into explicitly here or other online spaces where I share pieces of my life, is that my personal/romantic life is in somewhat of a crisis.

So who the fuck do I think I am that I should, that I can, that I would dare to do this thing that I don’t really have to do but kind of want to do? Who says I can or should make the time from my already heavy, busy life that requires and uses so much of my brain, heart and spirit energy.

I slowly started to tell people. Casually. I posted a few things on social media and I recieved so much support. I didn’t (don’t) think I deserve that most of the time so that was nice and affirming.

I’m now deep in week four. Yesterday after a grueling day that started at 4 am so I could take an early flight to Oakland for a meeting and then come back to LA to cook dinner for my kid I stayed up past midnight working on a draft paper I needed to submit. I’m definitely not getting enough sleep. My body, heart and head are tired but my spirit is pushing me. Plus I’m getting all A’s.

No shame in that.

The Day After…..

 

IMG_20181027_163912039
A brightly colored mural in Austin, Texas showing a cart with la Virgen de Guadalupe, water, and a candle. 

…is really just another day. Although this morning, I did observe that the buses and trains were emptier. Was everyone out organizing like they said they were going to do the day after elections? Was it because the mass transit wasn’t free? What wasn’t emptier this morning after was the street where I change from one bus to another. Los Angeles residents were packing their tents along Spring Street, along where a huge new development is being built that according to the banners “ was now leasing”. What wasn’t empty was a conference hall where a white woman challenged the daughter of a domestic worker saying that a housecleaner could lessen her exposure to toxics by using gloves instead of asking the employer to not use toxic chemicals. The disconnect between what is promised and what is real grows wider.

 

On the near empty bus, my 11 year old child asked me about the election results. Who won? What propositions lost? I went through the list. There were more women of color in certain offices including the youngest woman – a Boricua-like my child- in Congress. We still won’t have rent control. The mastermind of state turned national anti-immigrant policies was out of office. White women voted a Texas Republican Senator to serve another term. One racist Sheriff was replaced by another who will probably be just as racist but under the cover of a Latinx last name.

I sat at a table with house cleaners, moms, immigrants and not a one asked me about the election. They were too busy telling other women how they organize and educate, educate as organizing.

In so many ways today is just like another day because our lives don’t revolve around election and other spin cycles. In so many ways it’s a day where people wait and see if the promises made, the ones they bought into in exchange for a sticker they can post on Instagram , will be kept. It’s a day where the organizing that never paused continues, at least for some.

My daughter asked me if people would be talking about the election today then she asked me for money for ice cream. It’s another day for us to continue to move forward and redefine what power looks and feels like beyond pushing a button, pressing a pen into a little circle.

Hold My Face

Hold my backback.

Hold my purse.

Hold my drink.

These lines

These words signify moments.

They signify places.

They signify something was / is about to go down

And your

Girls, your sisters, your women, your crew

Would be witness

Or

party to something.

On the corner around your / Our school.

In a club.

 

I graduated as an adult with a certain title

To holding my face.

Literally in a meeting I can / could be seen holding my face

Because it doesn’t  hide much.

I have a hard time holding in my expressions:

Twisted mouth,

Pursed lips,

A slight sigh of exasperation.

 

There is an expectation now as an adult

As a woman

With a certain title

To maintain a certain decorum that I will admit I’m not always good at.

 

I’ve become somewhat of an expert at holding my voice,

Holding back a curse

An accent

But my face always gives it away.

 

Today as a meeting ended I was told by a dear colleague that I was all in during the meeting.

I think I held my voice but I didn’t hold my face.

I didn’t apologize but just said something about it being a new year

With less fear,

Less desire to hold in things.

 

I’m still navigating my own presence

My own power

And balancing the expectations that come with being

A woman

Of a certain age

With a certain title

But

I need to own that I also have graduated

And have had certain experiences

That don’t require me to hold in so much.

There’s too much going on

For me

For others

For us

To keep holding in our breaths

Our faces

Our understanding of reality based on decades of

work/life.

The Accidental (Interim) Executive Director

I didn’t enter the organization with my eye towards the position I’m in. I was reluctant to be in the non-profit world to begin with and those who have read/followed me for years are familiar with my critiques of those in leadership positions in non-profits, especially in immigration non-profits. Those criticisms followed me when I accepted the interim executive position I have now been in for 8 months. I know there were (and probably still are) people who upon hearing the news or met me along the Los Angeles non-profit way who eyed me with suspicion. Most only knew me in this and other media spaces and my big, uncensored mouth. I know there are others who don’t think I have the chops for this type of work – because I wasn’t already an NPIC insider, because I wasn’t from Los Angeles, because of my (lack) of certain education credentials. My own partner has expressed his doubts and hearing these doubts hurt. Not because I don’t have my own self-doubts ( I think a little bit of self doubt within the NPIC is a good thing) but it hurts none the less.

I had heard that Executive Directing at a non-profit is a lonely job/position and I have felt that. I don’t know if being an ED at an org in NYC feels different, but the non-profit world in LA feels super cliquey and small with too much personal/professional lines crossing. Hell my own partner works at a non-profit that I engage with professionally. It’s messy messy messy and full of chisme/bochinche.

There is a special loneliness to being a woman of color Executive Director in the realm of immigrant worker rights, an area that has been dominated by men and cults of personality surrounding those men. In the immigrant worker context I’ve seen this play out in many ways. I’ve had my life choices of not always working for pay in movement spaces (i.e. working retail) used against me.  I’ve heard that I’m too young (at 38), too emotional, or someone to be careful around, perhaps because I’m don’t show the appropriate amount of deference and/or because of my public critique of baptized “champions” or “leaders”.

I don’t know how long I’ll be in my current position and I’m not too concerned about career longevity. Sadly (maybe) I never have been. I don’t have that kind of ambition. Whether it is a writer, an Executive Director, or even not without a title – I’ve been outspoken against injustice, about the realities of women of color in the face of state violence and the different ways that plays out for over 20 years. I don’t imagine that ending anytime soon whether I get paid for it or not. I will make mistakes but I will also try my best in my current role. I may have many haters but I also have many supporters. My real bosses are the workers I am lucky enough to work with/for daily not whatever the current popular, fundable narrative is and those chosen to carry that message. I know this is considered not being a team player but I was never the first chosen to be on any team anyway and I’m ok with that.

Never Say Never

Never say you will never live with a man again because you will end up moving cross country and doing just that and have nights like tonight when you wonder if it was the right decision.

Never say you will never work in a nonprofit because you will end up being hired by one and by some strange twist of fate end up running one and run into someone you knew, someone who also said they would never.