In which I refuse to watch TV like a sociologist and instead throw popcorn at the screen

Recently Devin and I have started watching a TV show that centers on an extremely heteronormative family. The dad works. The mom stays home. The children fight. Challenges arise, but at the end of every episode, everyone is happy and adorable. You know exactly the kind of show I’m talking about, right?

At some point in the show, the dad dies, and after he dies, the mom marries the dad’s best friend. I hate the dad’s best friend. When he appears on screen, I boo and make snide remarks in response to all of his lines.

“Why?” Devin asks. It doesn’t make sense.

I’m a sociologist, so I should understand that who you (re)marry is a simple matter of your social network. You are probably much more likely to marry someone you’ve known for decades than to marry someone with no connections to your life, especially if you’re a lifelong housewife who doesn’t get out much. Besides, it’s a cheesy TV show that I’m mostly watching because it’s month 11 of our very strict social isolation due to the pandemic, and I’m lonely. It’s absurd for me to care about the plot of this family drama. I know this, but it doesn’t matter.

“Don’t you dare marry my best friend if I die! ” I tell Devin, and he agrees. I stop to think of a good or else to add on to my warning. “If you do,” I say, “I’ll haunt you … but not in the way you expect. I’ll just do little things.”

“Like what?”

“Oh, things like leaving the refrigerator door slightly open or letting the faucets drip. Putting your favorite snacks on the lowest shelf of the pantry so you have to bend down. Things like that. So small you won’t be able to tell anyone about them.” This, to a writer, seems like the ultimate injustice. To be haunted and not even get a good story out of it!

But Devin just shrugs.
 
“OK,” he says, “I promise I won’t.”

(Please tell me I’m not the only person getting overly invested in TV shows these days…)


In which I refuse to watch TV like a sociologist and instead throw popcorn at the screen

Ten Lessons in Ten Years

Pictured: me in my favorite floral blouse, Spring 2020

1) Life is happier when you love people as they are instead of trying to change them (that goes for everyone: friends, family, yourself).

2) You only fail when you try, and all your worst failures eventually become your best anecdotes, so really everything is a win-win.

3) Migration is a human right, and 100 years from now, people will be horrified that we ever thought otherwise, so we should work for open borders now.

4) If you compare yourself to people who have more, you’ll feel like you don’t have enough. If you compare yourself to people who have less, you’ll realize how much you have, and you can use that awareness to motivate you to give more and work harder to create a just world.

5) Food tastes better when we share it (even if all we can do is drop it off at a neighbor’s door).

6) Dogs, sunrises, flowers, toilets that flush, elevators, buses, cats, music, funny tweets, tiktoks, homemade signs, chamoy, babies, abuelit@s, strangers doing nice things for each other, choirs, cookies, lipstick that matches the dress and the shoes! Everything is incredible if you really think about it. You just have to stop to think about it.

7) You’re the protagonist of your own life, so do the things that matter to you and don’t worry about what other people think (they’re mostly busy starring in their own lives!).

8) I don’t think anyone ever regrets saying please, thank you, I love you.

9) Ask for what you really want, and never expect anyone to read your mind.

10) Vote, join a union, work together, help take care of the people around you! Independence is a dangerous myth. Interdependence is powerful (and it’s the only choice we have, anyway).

(I wrote this last year as I reflected on the decade that was coming to a close, and re-reading it has helped me take comfort and make better decisions this year, so I decided to post it here. Also, wow, number 10! I thought I knew about interdependence, but this year has shown us how connected we really are. Our lives are in each other’s hands. I try to remember this every day, and I think it’s helped me keep things in perspective.)

Ten Lessons in Ten Years

MADE: Sandwiches, Cranberry Chipotle Sauce, and Caramelized Green Beans

This year for our little Thanksgiving, Devin and I skipped the main meal and went straight to leftovers, opting for sandwiches instead of a main course. I loved what we ate so much that I decided to put all the recipes here so that we can find them in future years, when I hope we will be able to share them with more of the people we love. They’re also good recipes for anyone who’s wondering what to do with leftover turkey (or tofurkey : ), an extra bag of cranberries, or frozen green beans.

Devin and I eating in the kitchen, by candlelight

OK, so first things first: The Sandwich.
Devin made sourdough bread using a recipe from Flour, Water, Salt, Yeast, a very good cookbook for any aspiring breadmakers. The bread was fresh from the oven, and we just added a little mayo (my favorite kind is Just Mayo, but any kind works) and some tofurkey (but you could use turkey or any other kind of meat or “meat.” My favorite are the Tofurky-brand Hickory Smoked deli slices. Non-vegetarians are always skeptical, but everyone I’ve fed them to in the past 15 years has loved them!) The crucial finishing touch for this sandwich was cranberry chipotle sauce (see recipe below).

Cranberry Chipotle Sauce

  1. 1 12-oz bag of fresh or frozen cranberries
  2. 1/2 cup sugar
  3. 1/4 cup maple syrup
  4. 1 or 2 minced chipotle peppers in adobo, depending on how spicy you want it to be. If you don’t have a can of chipotles in adobo, use 1/2 tsp. or 1 tsp. of chipotle powder.
  5. 1 orange, juiced
  6. 1/8 teaspoon cumin
  7. 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

Combine all the ingredients in a small pot and cook over medium heat until the cranberries begin to burst (about 5 minutes). Lower the heat to medium low and cook for 5–10 more minutes. You’ll know it’s ready when the mixture has thickened up. This recipe is adapted from Alyssa & Carla.

Cranberries in a pot, green beans in our skillet

Caramelized Green Beans

We also ended up with a big bag of frozen green beans, so I tried to find a new way to use them and ended up using this recipe by Lynne Curry. You can make it with butter, ghee, or olive oil, and we didn’t use the full amount (I think we used approximately 4 tbsps.). We also used onion instead of shallots and no mushrooms because we didn’t have any. The result were smooth creamy green beans that tasted like a whole other kind of vegetable, and best of all, no squeaking! (Have you ever noticed that frozen green beans usually turn out squeaky?)

We also sautéed some purple kale and had it with our meal. Even though we missed being able to gather with friends and family, it felt special to make a meal, light some candles, and sit down to eat together. (Usually, Devin and I eat at totally different times, so it really felt like an occasion!) And we even dished up a little plate for Chloe.

Our table by candlelight

I hope wherever you were, you felt loved and supported. These are hard times for all of us, but I’m finding hope in following the news about vaccines and improved treatments for COVID-19. Public health experts are still begging us to stay home, mask up, and practice social distancing,* but there is an end in sight, and I’m praying that we can all hug and breathe the same air safely someday very soon.

*Did you know: in the U.S., we call staying six feet apart maintaining “social distance,” but in Mexico, it’s called “sana distancia,” which means “healthy distance.” I think that’s kind of beautiful.

On the morning of Thanksgiving, someone wrote this in chalk on the sidewalk in our neighborhood: May you have hope, May you have strength, May you have some joy, May you be safe and well.


Here’s to healthy distance and better days ahead.

MADE: Sandwiches, Cranberry Chipotle Sauce, and Caramelized Green Beans

Ofrendas

A few weeks ago, Devin and I made an ofrenda for our grandmothers. Even though I’m Mexican, my family has never been big on Día de Muertos. In fact, one of Abbita’s favorite sayings was “En vida, hermano, en vida,” which basically means “If you want to do something nice for someone, do it while they’re still alive.”

As I prepared the ofrenda for her, I could imagine her laughing and shaking her head at me, so I decided to add something she couldn’t refuse… In addition to her coffee and cookies with cajeta, I placed her favorite novel, Domina, which she liked because it is about a woman who overcomes the obstacles in her path to become one of the first (fictional) female surgeons. (Knowing her life story, it’s pretty obvious why that story would appeal to her). I also found the last book we read together, Las Yeguas Finas, so I put that one out, too. I know that if Abbita did come back to Earth for one night only, the first thing she would want is to sit down to read, and I could picture her eyes twinkling at the sight of these two books.

We also made an ofrenda for Devin’s Grandma Pat, with her favorite evening snack: cheese, crackers, and Irish whiskey. She learned to drink whiskey straight because her dad told her that it was better to know how much you were drinking than to risk drinking too many fruity cocktails, and she stuck by that rule her whole life. She also loved Charlie Brown, so we put out a book of Peanuts comics for her and an angel figurine that she gave us a couple of years ago.

One of the hardest things about the COVID-19 pandemic is that we weren’t able to gather with Devin’s family to commemorate Grandma Pat’s life. When this is over, I hope we’ll be able to go to her memorial service and share all the things we love about her with her kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids, but until then, it’s been nice to find small ways to commemorate her life, like making her an ofrenda or buying her favorite chocolate (Fannie May milk chocolate buttercreams) to share.

On the night we made the ofrendas, I thought about how I met Grandma Pat a few months after Abbita died, so they never got to know each other, but looking at their pictures in the candlelight, I could picture them talking and laughing together. It felt magical.

 

Ofrendas

It’s not all or nothing: tips to travel and gather safely during COVID-19

Deciding to visit our families during the COVID-19 pandemic can seem like an all-or-nothing decision. We either stay home and follow all the rules, or we get together and break every rule, putting ourselves and the people we love at risk. The good news is that it’s not an all-or-nothing choice. We can take steps to keep everyone safer even if we do choose to get together. With that in mind, Chloe and I made this short video with a few ideas to keep ourselves and everyone we know as safe from COVID as possible!

And here’s some information about why this matters

Families can also prevent exposure by getting tested before the holiday, gathering outside or opening doors and windows to increase air flow, using disposable plates and silverware and having one family member serve all food or requiring each person bring their own food to the gathering.

These precautions were recommended Thursday at a weekly coronavirus press conference where Mayor John Cooper urged Nashville residents not to let Thanksgiving become a “superspreading” event. The coronavirus outbreak is already surging, and Thanksgiving has the potential to make it worse.

“While the very safest holiday is a virtual holiday, we know that very many people are planning Thanksgiving gatherings,” Cooper said.

  • It’s also important to consider how risky it is to gather in your area. This map is useful for seeing COVID risks in the U.S. In Mexico, each state has its own “COVID-19 traffic light” system so people can check if their state is at a red, orange, yellow, or green level. (Red means don’t go out unless you absolutely have to.)
  • When we don’t follow safety precautions, we not only risk infecting the people we love most but also a lot of people we may come into contact with in other ways. For example, most of the people who got COVID as a result of a wedding in Maine did not go to the wedding themselves––including all the people who have died.
  • After reading all of the news and safety guidelines, I’m opting to embrace winter for outdoor socializing and planning fun virtual events, too! My hope for Thanksgiving is to plan a game night on Zoom (my favorite game is this free online Pictionary) or maybe a movie night where we all agree to watch the same thing then get together online and talk about it after. Another idea is to pick the same recipe to make and eat “together” on a video call. Most of all, I want to embrace the positive side of this holiday––gratitude––and do my part to keep everyone safe until it’s safe to hug again.

It’s not all or nothing: tips to travel and gather safely during COVID-19

We won this election together

Front page of NYT.com, 7 November 2020

If you started out knocking on doors in Iowa and ended up helping people in your pajamas from the living room… 

If you put a Biden/Harris sign in your front yard even though you were afraid your neighbors would destroy it… 

If it hurt to vote for Biden because you were hoping to elect a more progressive candidate, but you voted in solidarity with the people who are most vulnerable under the Trump regime… 

If you got over your phone anxiety to call voters in a faraway land called Wisconsin…

If you learned to use Zoom, OpenVPB, or ThruTalk to phonebank…

If you volunteered to get out the vote even though our current system won’t even let you vote yourself…

If you started a Facebook community to empower people to organize within their communities, using their skills and their own platforms… 

If you moved to Wisconsin to help organize a ragtag band of volunteers (including a couple who was kind of fanatical about composting) and kept organizing even when the pandemic made everything so, so, so much harder…

If you trusted me to translate election information and help lead phonebanks in Spanish… 

If you dedicated your time to organizing Latinx voters (who are largely overlooked and increasingly targets of disinformation and suppression campaigns)…

 If you learned to say “register to vote,” “absentee ballot,” and “early voting” en español…

If you phoned a friend, texted an ex, or otherwise reached out to voters in swing states… 

If you shared your most personal stories to remind people about what was at stake in this election…

If you found the courage to talk politics with your co-workers, your grandma, or your aunt… 

If you spent your time talking to people who have every reason to distrust the electoral system and convinced them to vote and keep fighting for justice… 

If you called me, texted me, talked to me, listened to me, brought me Mexican candy, sent me care packages, and otherwise kept me going when I felt like I couldn’t…

If you volunteered to be a poll worker or an election observer (or supported other people so they could volunteer)…

If you led countless Zoom calls with confused volunteers and comforted us when we worried this election would be impossible to win… 

If you remembered all the times Trump called us animals, criminals, and rapists and refused to let him get away with it again…

If you voted and organized with hope even when it was hard to feel hopeful…

This message is for you. I love and admire you. I am infinitely grateful for your work. If I asked you to volunteer, I will almost certainly ask you to volunteer again to keep fighting for justice and human rights…

But today I feel more hopeful about those fights than I have in a long, long time. And it’s all thanks to you!

We won this election together.

We won this election together.

Jolin Polasek draws a sign in chalk on a street in Harlem after former vice president and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden was announced as the winner over Pres. Donald Trump to become the 46th president of the United States, Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020, in New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan). Caption text and photo c/o Yahoo News.
We won this election together

We interrupt my regularly-scheduled anxiety for something truly joyful

Asking someone for a ride during the COVID-19 pandemic feels kind of like asking for a kidney.* I know my friends would probably be happy to donate one of their kidneys to me,** but I hope I never have to ask.

However, because I still do not know how to drive despite making it one of my New Year’s Resolutions and because I am not the kind of cyclist that bikes anywhere at any time, it was kind of inevitable that I’d need a ride at some point.

And that point was today.

It happened because, unbeknownst to each other, Devin and I both signed up to help out with today’s election (I, a poll worker; he, an election observer), and we were assigned to different polling places on opposite sides of town. (Devin was a little sad about this, and I agree that it would have been nice … in theory. I mean, I get and appreciate the need for election observers. It is a noble and necessary duty. And it would have been very nice to ride together. But it is one thing to have a civilian observe the electoral process to guarantee free and fair elections and quite another to have your spouse watching you to see if you make a mistake. ; )

And so it came to pass that the other day I texted my friend Lisa to ask if she would maybe possibly consider picking me up from the polls and giving me a ride home. She said yes.

And look what she drove to get me…

* This is probably hard to believe, but I don’t have the kinds of friends who drive stretch Hummers or even mid-size family SUVs, so riding in a car together necessarily means breaking the 6-feet-apart rule. (Here is a handy guide on how to share a car more safely, including making sure to roll down the windows.)

** I have unbelievably good friends, I know. :’)

We interrupt my regularly-scheduled anxiety for something truly joyful

What I Saw at the U.S.–Mexico Border, Summer 2019

The memories come in fragments. Standing at a bus station parking lot in El Paso, the sun directly overhead. My head is throbbing from the heat. I am looking for refugees. They are easy to spot because their shoes have no laces, and they carry no luggage. All they have is themselves and a piece of paper from the U.S. government telling them what day they should show up to court. These are the lucky ones in 2019. They are allowed to stay in the country until their hearings.

I remember a mom holding a 3 year-old in her arms. I remember approaching them and offering them all we had to give: menstrual hygiene supplies, frozen Gatorades, clementines, and bananas. I remember the child clinging tightly to her mom, like she was holding on for dear life. I remember reaching my hand out to give them the bananas and how the child extended her own hand and said, “Mamá, Mamá” as she pointed at the bananas. I remember looking at her little face and knowing that it had been a very long time since she had eaten a piece of fruit.

I remember rushing to stock up on Children’s Tylenol after hearing children cough like lifetime smokers and shiver with chills from fever. This was before COVID-19, but kids were getting the flu at immigrant detention centers.

I meant to share these stories when we got back from the border. I wanted to collect backpacks to send to the border. I wanted to keep helping, but in order to do that, I would have had to talk about what we’d seen, and I couldn’t find the words.

See all the pictures I posted from this trip in this Instagram story.

We went to shelters on both sides: in the U.S. and in Mexico.


I remember the father in a Juárez shelter telling me he was trying to get to Arkansas because his wife had been allowed to remain in the U.S. after applying for asylum, but he and their 7 year-old son had not. His wife was pregnant when she crossed, but she went into early labor when she got to Arkansas, and she and the newborn had been hospitalized since then.

I remember an old woman, her hair in silver braids, telling me “I didn’t want to leave my country, but they were going to kill me. If I go back, they’ll kill me.” She didn’t know anyone in Mexico, she explained, but she had family in the U.S. “It’s my only option. I want to go home, but I can’t.”

I remember the little boy who, after hearing Devin speak English to me, walked over to us and looked at his feet while he started to sing

Pollito, chicken
Gallina, hen

and how he looked up and smiled when we sang back

Lapiz, pencil
Y pluma, pen

I remember the three of us finishing the song

Ventana, window
Puerta, door
Techo, ceiling
Y piso, floor

The toilets in the Juárez shelter were broken that day. (They were broken most days, a volunteer explained, because the shelter had exceeded its capacity many times over. People slept in hallways, in spaces that were supposed to be classrooms for kids. And the toilets clogged and overflowed. Too many people. Too much shit.)

The smell lingered in the air.

As we sang with that little boy, I remembered my own grandmother singing this song with me, and I thought about how kids are always kids, no matter where they are.

A statue of a saint stood on a table to our right, covered with wristbands from CoreCivic, a private prison corporation that runs immigration detention centers in the U.S. People cut off the wristbands when they were released and offered them to God with their prayers for asylum, for a return to the U.S. under less terrible circumstances. I looked at the saint and felt the prayers, and my stomach churned. To the asylum-seekers, these wristbands symbolized incarceration, starvation, and being denied showers for up to a month. But to investors (maybe even to me or to you or to anyone with a 401k or at an institution with an endowment that invests in such things), these wristbands symbolized profits. 

I remember the church-run shelter we visited in Juárez and the group of girls who told me they loved to play school. I asked them who liked to be the teacher, and they pointed at a tall girl with curly hair who smiled shyly. The shelter was in a very rough neighborhood with unpaved dusty roads, nestled right against the border. I could see El Paso behind her, and I knew that if I could just get her across the border, she could have a teacher like my mom and a school with a library where she could read any book she wanted. 

I wanted so badly to help her and her parents cross that line. 

 I remember the shame I felt at the shelters when people asked us over and over, “¿Son abogados?” and we had to shake our heads no and explain that we weren’t lawyers.

We were just Americans, there on behalf of other Americans because we didn’t agree with what our government was doing and we wanted to help. I tried to explain that, in cities across the U.S., people were protesting against the cruelty these migrants had experienced. I said, “No están solos” (“You’re not alone”). I said, “I’m not a lawyer, but I want to do what I can to help.” I felt very small, and I thought they probably didn’t feel any less alone.

I remember the nuns in El Paso telling us about the volunteers. “The volunteers here are struggling with depression. Our shelters are empty. They want to help.” The shelters in El Paso had plenty of space, beds with clean sheets, showers, bathrooms. But the migrants were being sent to Juárez instead, where the shelters were overcrowded and falling apart. The world felt upside-down. 

On our last night in Juárez, we waited at the bridge to re-enter the U.S., and I fought back tears as we stood in line. When we got back to my aunt and uncle’s house in El Paso, I cried so hard I almost threw up.

I knew I had only seen a fraction. I thought about how there were makeshift shelters and tent encampments all along the border. I tried to comprehend how many more people were stuck there and thought about how many of them had family members waiting for them here in the U.S., ready to take them in if only they could cross.   

I remembered Melania Trump wearing a jacket that said “I DON’T REALLY CARE, DO U?” in response to reports of children being caged like animals. I pictured Donald Trump smiling with glee at hearing about the suffering that his policies were inflicting. I knew that they were working exactly as intended. 

The work we did and the supplies we took were meaningful. I know they made a difference. But it was a very, very tiny difference. To ameliorate a problem that was manufactured and could be eradicated.

This cruelty is being done in our names and being paid for with our tax dollars. And it could very easily stop.

I knew this and knew that if I wanted to help it made more sense to work to vote Trump out than it did to fundraise to try and help the people suffering under problems he created. So that is what I have done, and it’s why I’m begging you to vote for Biden and Harris if you haven’t already.

Please hear this: I have spent my whole life crossing the U.S.–Mexico border. I have never seen anything like what I saw the summer of 2019. All things considered, we saw very little of the pain that people are experiencing at the border, and we’ll never know what it’s like to live through this cruelty ourselves, but the suffering I witnessed will haunt me forever. I don’t think I could bear to see how much worse things could get if Trump gets four more years. I just keep thinking “This cruelty is being done in our names and being paid for with our tax dollars. And it could very easily stop. It is our responsibility to stop it.” 

I am begging you to vote for Biden and Harris because I don’t want to find out. 

What I Saw at the U.S.–Mexico Border, Summer 2019

Pasos Sencillos Para Prevenir el Contagio de COVID-19

Esta semana, Cecilia Rico y yo tuvimos la oportunidad de trabajar con America Edwards para traducir estos consejos sobre cómo prevenir infecciones de coronavirus (COVID-19). Toda la información fue tomada del artículo de Time ligado aquí, escrito por el Dr. Jose-Luis Jimenez: https://bit.ly/2QsuE5C

Para más ideas de cómo cuidarnos mutuamente, visita Cadenas de Solidaridad. Antidepresivo Universal

See the original images in English here.

Pasos Sencillos Para Prevenir el Contagio de COVID-19

7 Reasons to Vote for Biden/Harris

A selfie I took today after dropping off my ballot

This election, I’ve been hearing a lot about how we have to pick the “lesser of two evils,” why “voting is like taking the bus,” or how “at least Biden isn’t Trump,” and I agree with these sentiments wholeheartedly, but there are honestly so many reasons why I think that Biden and Harris are the best choice in this election. Here are just a few that I jotted down earlier this week:


    1. Reversing some of the most inhumane immigration policies––including child separation from their families (remember the horrific pictures of kids in cages?) 
    2. Reinstating DACA and making it easier for DREAMers to get financial aid (Some of the most dedicated, brilliant students I’ve taught are DREAMers, and they’re working to become doctors, teachers, and counselors. Not giving them the opportunity to contribute to our society is a loss for all of us!) 
    3. Finally providing a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented Americans (if this sounds radical to you, remember that Reagan did it in 1986, so this isn’t really partisan)
    4. Investing in clean energy and holding corporate polluters accountable (because we can’t reverse climate change with small individual actions, and I should know. I take a lot of small individual actions!)
    5. Reforming the criminal justice system, including investing in social workers, disability advocates, and mental health experts to de-escalate situations that police officers never should have been expected to handle; and eliminating private prisons and cash bail (because if locking people up is a business, then doesn’t that create incentive$$$ to do so?)
    6. A comprehensive COVID-19 plan that prioritizes health AND economic concerns––they’re not separate issues––including free, rapid testing so that people don’t unwittingly infect the people in their communities; ensuring fair access to treatments (this pandemic won’t ever end if only the wealthy can get tested and treated); scaling up unemployment insurance; and halting evictions (I live down the street from a park that now has a homeless encampment because so many people have lost their jobs and can’t make rent. They’re my neighbors, and honestly, it could be Devin and me if we lost our jobs. We live paycheck to paycheck.)
    7. Paid parental leave (because I love a lot of moms who had to go back to work pretty much right after their babies were born, and because maybe someday we’ll have kids, too.)

Not convinced? Here’s a hundred more!

7 Reasons to Vote for Biden/Harris