Did you know that in Mexico (and throughout Latin America) Valentine’s Day is known as the Day of Love and Friendship? (Colombia also celebrates el Día del Amor y la Amistad, but it’s in September, for some reason? Colombianos, explain yourselves. ; )
It’s always been one of my favorite holidays, for obvious reasons: I love pink. I love hearts. And I love friendship. I actually always forget that it’s known as a super romantic ~couple’s holiday~ and I don’t think I’ve ever celebrated in a couple-y way. I also always forget that the color red is associated with Valentine’s Day, so clearly I live in my own valentine bubble!
I do like to celebrate by throwing a big party with my friends and making my home as pink as possible. This year Devin and I made it a dance party, featuring some of our friends’ favorite songs (we asked everyone to include their favorite dance song when they RSVP-ed). It ended up being really fun, so I decided it would be fun to share the playlist plus a few photos of our Valentine’s Day treats!
In college, I told my mom I was in a group for women of color, and she looked at me unsure. “Are you a woman of color?” she asked. It’s the same look she gave me last month when we talked about race and migration. “I don’t really think of you as an immigrant,” she admitted. “But we moved here together,” I reminded her. “I know,” she said, and we laughed, remembering the things we went through. I’d get in trouble in school for following my teacher’s directions literally because that’s the only way I understood English. Drivers would stare at us on our walks to the grocery store––making it very clear that we were the only people who walked places in the Texas suburbs. A few months later, we were tricked into buying a car that would break down every 20 miles. After pouring water into the radiator or changing the oil, my mom would say “It’s God-powered, remember?” and I would nod, assured that our precarious rides were really miraculous adventures. My mom and I have gone through so much together, and yet I know exactly what she means when she wonders if I am a woman of color or a Mexican immigrant like her. Despite our similarities, in the United States, we have always been treated differently. I am perceived as White and American. She is perceived as brown and un-American. This difference in perception has enormous consequences –– consequences we’ll likely never know in full.
But, even though I have a lot of White privilege, I am often reminded of the fact that I am not White. In high school, I slept over at the house of a friend who told me her brother had been robbed while delivering a pizza in the “Hispanic part of town.” The next morning, I went home replaying her words in my head. I decided that she didn’t mean anything bad by it. I reasoned that she didn’t think that hearing “Hispanic” equated with “criminal” or “dangerous” would be hurtful to me because she didn’t think of me as Latina. I mean, we both liked feminism and indie music and writing instant messages in lower-case letters. We were in a lot of the same classes. As far as I was concerned, we were practically identical. A few months later, I was accepted to the liberal arts college she’d told me about, and I got a good financial aid package, too. She was a grade below me, and I couldn’t wait to tell her. “I got in! I got in! Now you just have to apply, and then we’ll go to college together!” In my mind, our future was set. Our lives would be a spinoff of a teen drama on the WB.
Her eyes narrowed, “I probably won’t be able to go,” she said, before telling me that she didn’t have my advantages. What could she mean by that? Was she saying that being Mexican and having a single mom were advantages, implying that I didn’t deserve to get in? I mumbled something about “need-based financial aid” and kept encouraging her to apply. I cried when I got home.
In high school, I rarely talked about race or my immigration story. I knew the kinds of things White people said when they thought people of color weren’t around, and it didn’t feel safe. (I wrote a little bit about this for Enormous Eye, under the section titled 1:43 pm, my mom’s car.) College felt safer. My roommate was from Miami, and she told me that even though her parents were from Venezuela, her mom loved Mexico and Mexican culture. Sometimes we’d stay up late, singing our favorite Alejandro Fernández songs, and I didn’t feel self-conscious speaking Spanish on the phone with my mom. One day, I was telling a story about my hometown in Mexico. A White friend of mine laughed and said, “I like you because you’re Mexican, but you don’t, like, make a big deal out of it.” Her tone was light, but it felt like a warning.
People often say things like this to me. Their words are subtle reminders that I can belong to their club, as long as I know my place.
* The title for this post is borrowed from the blog Conditionally Accepted, “a space for scholars on the margins of academia.”
I met Erica Garner on December 18, 2014. I know because I made a video of her singing “I Can’t Breathe” with fellow protesters on Staten Island that night. The song was inspired by Eric Garner’s last words and written by the Peace Poets (original version here). We sang it on the steps of the Staten Island courthouse after marching to protest the killing of Eric Garner by the NYPD and lack of justice in the case. Most of us sang:
“I can hear my brother crying ‘I can’t breathe’ Now I’m in the struggle, and I can’t leave Calling out the violence of the racist police We’re not going to stop [clap, clap] ‘Til people are free” But Erica sang, “I can hear my father crying ‘I can’t breathe,’” and I thought about how some of us choose to become activists and others have activism thrust upon them. I looked around. We were all protesting the same injustices, but most of us imagined those injustices abstractly. Erica lacked that luxury.
I had come to Staten Island after seeing a picture of Erica lying on the sidewalk in the place where her father died. She tweeted that she had been all alone that night and asked #BlackLivesMatter protesters to come to Staten Island, where she was protesting every Tuesday and Thursday.
I took the ferry to Staten Island the following week. We were a small group that night: 20, maybe 30 people. It was nothing like the big protests I was used to. Staten Island is the least populated borough in New York City. It felt desolate. Like it was just us and the police on the streets that night. As we marched, I was keenly aware that the cops shouting “Get off the street” and “Stay on the sidewalk” probably knew the man who killed Eric Garner.
We marched from the courthouse to the site of his death and back again. The march was subdued. It felt like a space to reflect on the life of Eric Garner –– a person with a family just like all of us –– and the impact of his death on his family, some of whom marched with us. We lay silently in the street at the site of Eric’s death for eleven minutes –– one minute for each time Eric Garner said, “I can’t breathe” while pleading for the police officer to release him. We marched back to the courthouse and sang on the steps.
After that, we boarded the ferry back to Manhattan. On the ferry, Erica talked about her dad who loved Christmas and her daughter Alyssa, who was five years old. The ferry was pretty empty, and it felt safe. Most of us were in our twenties or late teens. We talked about justice and freedom, but we also laughed and sang. Erica had sad eyes that reminded me of my mom’s. She had a slow smile that lit up her face. She sang and we sang along. She freestyled and we listened. When we got back to Battery Park, Erica and I stood outside the subway terminal, figuring out which trains would take us home. We both lived in Brooklyn, and we bonded over the fact that she lived in Williamsburg, which was my first New York neighborhood. She was one year younger than I am.
At the time, activists on Twitter debated whether Erica Garner should have a public platform because in her early media appearances, she said she wasn’t sure if racism contributed to the death of her father (because Black police officers also perpetuate police brutality).
I thought it was unjust to expect the young daughter of a police brutality victim to have a critical race analysis on par with scholars who have spent years studying racism. But she grew to be a powerful voice, challenging systemic inequality and fighting for change on every level. She understood that, as a result of the tragedy she endured, she had a powerful platform and decided to use it. Her biggest concern from day one was being an activist with integrity. Instead of partnering with big-name organizations, she organized marches on Staten Island by herself, on Twitter. She worked with the volunteers who showed up and marched along with her.
And she was relentless in her search for justice. She revisited her father’s murder over and over again because she wanted to make sure that no other daughter had to suffer like she did.
When we remember Erica Garner, we should think of an incorruptible activist dedicated to racial justice.
It’s hard for me to reconcile how good 2017 was for me personally with how I felt about the world in general.
In general, it felt like everything was on fire, and all I had was a bucket of water. How do you know where to pour your bucket? How do you find other people with buckets and decide which fire to put out together? It’s been 12 months, and I don’t really have an answer, but I’m looking forward to focusing my energy on the U.S. elections in 2018. My hope is that we can elect people who will use their power to fight all the fires.
But you’re probably not reading this for my trite political metaphors. You’re probably reading this because you want to hear about my life (or because, like me, you’re fascinated by everybody’s life). My life has been good. Really good.
I’m better at taking care of myself. I understand my feelings and can put them into words. I have a supportive partner. I’m passionate about my work. I’m astounded by the generosity of strangers who made me feel like family. My house feels like a haven, for Devin and for me and for the people we love.
2017 was the first year I felt at home in Madison. When my mom visited in November, she squeezed my hand and said, “You’re not lonely anymore.” The next week, I looked around our living room. It was full of friends laughing and eating ice cream, and I realized she was right.
When I think of 2017, this is what I want to remember.
My mom just left, after being here for a week, and my heart is so full. My head is also full, with the realization that I am just like my mother. I could illustrate this point with a million anecdotes, but let’s just talk about ducks. My mom is really into ducks, and when I say she’s “into ducks” what I mean is that she likes to eat dead ones. And somehow eating duck meat has become associated with Devin and me in her brain? It started when she came to visit us for Thanksgiving in 2013 and we ended up at a tiny Thai restaurant on the Upper West Side on Black Friday. “I’m going to get the duck,” she proclaimed. After dinner, she said, “That was the best duck ever, ever, ever.” And now, when the three of us are together, my mom remembers the Best Duck Ever and takes us to a Thai restaurant where she invariably orders the duck.
The funniest part about it is that she doesn’t eat duck meat all the time. When my mom and I hang out without Devin, she usually eats whatever I eat. But when we are all together, eating duck is A Thing. I suppose it’s our family tradition, which is weird because Devin and I are vegetarian.
This year Wisconsin upped the ante on our tradition because Devin and my mom found a raw duck in a little local grocery store in his hometown, where we spent Thanksgiving. They found the duck on Black Friday, and my mom thought it would be a nice gesture to cook it and share it with Devin’s family as a thank-you for hosting us. Except guess what. Practically nobody in Devin’s family eats duck. So we came back to Madison with a frozen duck and no idea how to cook it. Last night we found a recipe and cooked it in the slow-cooker after a very dramatic duck chopping session (we learned the hard way that quartering a duck does not require cutting through its spine. OK, OK, all I did was read the WikiHow page out loud as far away from the whole process as I could be, but it still feels like something we did together). Earlier tonight, Devin and I were staring at the yet-to-be-washed slow-cooker remembering our duck adventure, and he said, “You and your mom are a lot alike,” which is exactly what I was thinking. I mean, I don’t make duck, but there is this beet recipe with pomegranate seeds and pistachios. I have fed it to everyone I know. I make it for Devin at least once a year, even though Devin has never expressed any preference for these beets and would probably prefer that I stopped. But when it is November, and I see pomegranates for sale, I am overcome by the conviction that it is Time for the Beets, and I have to make them. Of course, before beet season, it’s You’ve Got Mail season, which again does not seem to be important to anyone but me, and yet I regularly watch You’ve Got Mail with all my friends. OH. There was also the time that I ended up at a Christmas tree lighting in downtown Portland, singing carols with five of my friends, none of whom had any interest in Christmas trees or Christmas carols, but I was so excited that they didn’t have the heart to tell me that they didn’t want to go (I didn’t realize they weren’t that into it until I asked my friend Alison why she wasn’t singing, and she said, “Actually, I’m Jewish”). That’s the thing about genuine excitement, isn’t it? It’s contagious. It makes you do things that you might not do otherwise. Devin and I don’t have any interest in eating duck, and we definitely had no desire to cook it. But my mom loves to eat duck with us. She really loves it. And so, in a weird way, we love it, too. My enthusiasm is definitely not as endearing as my mom’s, and I don’t think I could convince people to do half the things my mom gets her friends to do by virtue of being so excited about them. But I do tend to get excited about things in the same way, and I’m lucky that sometimes people get excited with me.
Sometimes I remember something that feels good to remember, and I have to write it down.
Like the time Devin and I rode home from Philadelphia on the Megabus. It was summer. I was wearing a sundress. And the A/C was turned up so high that I couldn’t feel my feet. My eyes were frozen grapes. My goosebumps had goosebumps, which had goosebumps, which had even more goosebumps––generations of goosebumps on all my limbs. I covered myself with everything in reach (my backpack, Devin’s backpack, his button-down shirt), but I was powerless against the cold. And I knew that just outside the window, it was hot. Sunny, sweaty, sniff-check-your-deodorant hot.
This cold was a man-made problem! It could be fixed with the turn of a dial. If only I could get to the driver’s seat… I pictured myself a spy: Kim Possible minus the cargo pants on a mission to turn down the A/C while the driver fumbled with the radio. But Devin napped the whole way back, and I was in the window seat. Powerless.
We got off the bus in Chelsea, which was convenient because we could catch the 2 train right there and ride it home to Brooklyn. The bus dropped us off right at the subway stop, and we started to go down the stairs, but I was cold. I was still so cold, and I knew the train would also be blasting the A/C. I turned back to look at Devin, who was oblivious to the whole thing. Angry New Yorkers scowled at us for holding up traffic on the subway stairs. I yelled, “No! I am not getting into another air-conditioned vehicle! I would rather walk home!”
And Devin, who had no idea that I had transformed into the world’s worst enemy of air-cooling technology while he slept, said, “Sure, we can walk home.”
We could have been home in 40 minutes, but instead, we walked 2 and a half hours. It felt exactly right.
This week I read Dahlia Grossman-Heinze take down rape culture in two posts (one about Woody Allen, the other about Harvey Weinstein), and it got me thinking.
Do you ever wonder what our lives would be like if predatory, abusive men didn’t get a free pass?
I was only 3 years old when Woody Allen’s sexual abuse made headlines. I was 8 when he married his stepdaughter. All of this was common knowledge, and he got to keep making movies and winning awards. In high school, I thought he was brilliant and hilarious. I wanted to grow up to be Annie Hall. Nobody told me that he didn’t deserve my admiration, even though plenty of people knew.
Same with Bill Cosby, who got to host Kids Say the Darndest Things, even though his history of sexual assault was an open secret in Hollywood.
And same with R. Kelly, who got to release everyone’s favorite party anthem “Ignition (Remix)” in 2002 even though he illegally married a 15-year-old in 1994 and has been accused of raping teenage girls countless times, beginning in 1996.
Even Bill Clinton. I know it’s controversial to mention him in our bipartisan political context, but even the most dyed-in-the-wool Democrats have to admit that he was, at best, a creepy boss who took advantage of unfair power dynamics––both in having sex with subordinates and later discrediting them in the media, long enough for their lives to be ruined even if the truth came out eventually.
There are so many men I grew up admiring only to learn later that they had a history of disrespecting or outright abusing people like me. I think about how their crimes were known and their reputations were untarnished. Then, I think about how they are still out there, succeeding, largely undiminished by their “scandals.” I wonder how many other, younger men are still getting free passes. And I wonder how long it will take for us to stop giving them out.