Las Guayabas

goya_blancs

19 July 2016

Sometimes my identity feels like a party trick.

“Oh, you’re from Mek-see-koe!,” a wide-eyed voice exclaims.

I nod eagerly.

And I feel like a poodle on its hind legs.

But sometimes, my identity, which is so often unseen for reasons beyond my control, feels like a superpower.

The power to subvert expectations.

It happened yesterday at a Patel Brothers grocery store in Schaumburg, Illinois where I was helping my friend Ariel fulfill mango orders for the Indian diaspora of Central Wisconsin. (Ariel’s partner Shashank is from India, so they are very connected with Indian families that live near them, and when one of them is near an Indian grocery store, they bring mangos back for the group. I want this system but for Mexican snacks, please and thank you.)

There I am, inspecting boxes of mangos and realizing there aren’t nearly enough when I overhear two employees speaking Spanish. I turn and ask if there are any mangos in the back, and one of them, who seems to be the Chief Mango Stocker––clearly an essential job in a store that specializes in produce from the subcontinent––seems happily surprised to hear me speak Spanish.

“Where are you from?,” he asks.

I tell him I’m from Chihuahua and his look of surprise transforms into a grin that fills his whole face.

He leaves and returns, hidden behind cases and cases of mangos on wheels. And as he gradually reappears, transferring the cartons of mangos from the rolling contraption to our two waiting carts, he starts telling me his story.

“See those guavas?,” he points to a display, “I’m from Aguascalientes. My family grows guavas.”

On his phone, he shows me pictures from his family’s orchard. A close-up of guavas on the tree. The house he built with money he earned stocking the guavas he used to grow. Guavas he left behind because he couldn’t make enough money to live. A house he hardly ever gets to visit.

“I had a son,” he continues.  “He was two. He fell in the pool. I couldn’t even go to the funeral…”

There is a pause, and I think we are both asking ourselves the same questions.

What if he’d never had to leave Aguascalientes? What if the border were just a line on a map that everyone could cross? What if he could have brought his baby here? What if he could have saved his son?

He attempts a look of resignation. “Así es la vida. Difícil…”

I nod.

What I really want to do is yell, “No! Your life shouldn’t be this hard! Nobody’s life should be this hard!”

By then, our carts are full of mangos; customers approach him to ask for help; Ariel and I say goodbye.

Of course, I don’t know that he shared all of this with me because I’m from Mexico. Maybe he is always this vulnerable with strangers. Maybe he tells everyone his story. Maybe this is how he grieves.

But I have this experience often. I say I’m from Mexico or I talk back in Spanish, and I see the other person loosen. It is the shift from “You are different” to “We’re the same,” from distant to close, from gringa to paisana. It is the collapse of a small border.

Driving away from the grocery store, I think about a talk I saw Mia Mingus give in which she talked about the importance of articulating not only what we’re fighting against, but what we’re fighting for and making real plans. She wrote about it on her blog:

“[W]e are good at resisting. We are good at fighting for the world we don’t want. We are good at analysis and analyzing things up and down (and sometimes into oblivion). We are skilled at naming what we don’t want. I think we are less skilled at naming what we do want; our visions for liberation. And not just vague things like, ‘ending white supremacy and heterosexism,’ but how are all the children going to get fed? Who will clean the toilets? Who will take out the trash? Who will cook the food?”

OK, I think, what do I want?

I imagine having to articulate my plans in front of Congress, but all I can picture is me, standing at a podium, looking at the legislators and sharing my new friend’s story. I conclude with my call to action: “If his family grows guavas in Aguascalientes, don’t you think it’s wrong that the only way he can make a living is by stocking guavas in Illinois? I mean, how does that even make sense? If they grow the actual guavas, and the guavas are what’s being sold, why can’t they make a profit?”

Good questions, Kristy, but no plan.

I try again.

I picture myself hitting the podium to emphasize my point that we must repeal NAFTA––which decimated Mexico’s agricultural sector––and punish U.S. companies that conduct unethical business abroad, like Wal-Mart, for example. I picture myself demanding that the U.S. government open the borders because human rights shouldn’t be determined by an accident of birth––especially in a time when photos, words, ideas, and corporations transcend borders every day.

I don’t actually think I’m qualified enough to speak in front of Congress about immigration reform. It’s just… I think the people who hear immigration stories most often are other immigrants. And most of the people who determine border laws are not immigrants. In my daily life, I hear lots of stories like this. When they walk into a grocery store, they just get guavas.

And so the borders stand.

If I could be anything, I would like to be a bridge.



Las Guayabas

A Brief History of Costumes

I have costume block.

Halloween is two weeks from now, and I don’t know what I’m going to be. Devin and I are invited to childhood-faves theme party, so I have a lot of ideas, but they all seem really hard to make. For example, we could dress up as characters from our respective Sesame Streets. Devin could be Big Bird from the U.S. version of Sesame Street, and I could be Abelardo from Plaza Sésamo, Mexico’s version of Sesame Street. I’m into the idea, but it totally breaks my costume rules. When it comes to costumes, my goal is for them to be 1) easy to make, 2) inexpensive, and 3) sweatshop-free. The last part is the hardest because there are so many cool costumes you can buy in stores, but they are all made in horrible conditions (do you ever think that the womp womp sound effect is the perfect soundtrack to life under capitalism?). When I can’t find another alternative, sometimes I buy very small things, like pipe cleaners or felt, that are made in sweatshops. Anyway, I can’t imagine how hard it would be to make our costumes out of feathers, but maybe I will find a way.

In the meantime, I’ve been looking at pictures of costumes online, and I stumbled upon a lot of my own costumes from previous years, which I am sharing with you in hopes of earning costume-inspiration karma in time for Halloween. ; )

beatniks
Beatniks

city-mouse-country-mouseCity Mouse, Country Mouse

frida-and-trotsky
Our fastest costume: Frida Kahlo and Leon Trotsky. We were going to a party and hadn’t thought of a costume until 15 minutes before it started.

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Audrey Hepburn in How to Steal a Million

american-gothic-in-sepia
American Gothic in sepia

the-color-purple
Possibly my worst costume of all time. I layered purple clothes and called myself The Color Purple.

phyllis-schlafly
My scariest costume of all time: notorious anti-feminist Phyllis Schlafly.

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Ruth Bader Ginsburg

the-jetsons
George and Jane Jetson at a very rainy parade. (You can’t tell, but Devin is wearing blue polyester pants.)

french-toast
French Toast

bear-market
During the recession, I was a bear market. I don’t know why the “sexy Halloween” industry hasn’t capitalized on this. Think about it: “sexy bear market” or “bare market,” and of course, the men’s version would be “strong bull market.” (Honestly, I really dislike scary costumes and sexy, hyper-gendered costumes, but somehow I still love Halloween.)

And finally, my favorite costumes of all time…

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Pizza Rat

and

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the subway.

A Brief History of Costumes

Ring, eat, repeat

bells

Recently, I joined a writing group with a reward/punishment system to create accountability. It started out simply enough. We each had to create punishments to give ourselves in the event that we did not meet our weekly writing goal (most had to do with bringing snacks for everyone else in the group). But then someone had the idea to ring a shame bell every time someone failed to meet their goal. And someone else decided that it would boost morale if people got to ring a success bell every time they did meet their goals. So we unwittingly became a writing group centered around ringing bells and snacks. No, the Pavlovian connotations are not lost on me. Yes, I am cringing a little. No, I won’t give up the bells or the snacks, thank you very much. The man was clearly on to something.

This week two of our members had to drop out of the writing group, and when I heard the news, my first thought was, “But how will they write without bells?” I made it my mission to find some for them, and luckily, I found a whole shelf of bells at the thrift store. The hard part, it turns out, is not finding bells but finding bells that don’t commemorate a significant wedding anniversary. Most of them say 25th Anniversary or have 50 written in huge gold cursive letters, and why is that?

Were they gifts exchanged by couples to symbolize their undying devotion? After all, nothing says love like, “You can ring this bell anytime you need something but don’t want to get out of bed.” (Maybe this seems particularly romantic to me because it’s cold in the mornings now, and the thought of being able to ring a bell and have Devin bring me a warm fluffy robe to make getting out of bed slightly less painful, makes me want to fast-forward to our twenty-fifth anniversary tout de suite, even though, now that I’ve admitted this, I’m pretty sure I’ll never get an anniversary bell.)

My other theory is that these bells were gifts for guests at anniversary parties––ceramic precursors to the dreaded-but-somehow-omnipresent commemorative t-shirts. (What’s the deal with those? Related: what happens to shirts that commemorate something that doesn’t end up happening.)

I don’t think we know enough about the fine American tradition of commemorative consumer goods, and maybe that should be your next writing project? Let me know. I’ll send you your bells.

Ring, eat, repeat

an anniversary video

Usually on our anniversary, I like to post a wedding picture, but I figure everyone has probably already seen all of them. Multiple times. (What’s the statute of limitations on posting pictures from your wedding? Are You There, Emily Post? It’s Me, A Millennial.)

This was also the first anniversary we spent apart, so I asked Devin if we could make a Q&A video (partly because we played a Q&A game at our wedding and partly so I could watch it on our anniversary and laugh at Devin side-eyeing me with the fire of a thousand suns).

It’s been a couple of months since our anniversary, but this has never been a timely blog, so here it is for your enjoyment/bafflement. Happy anniversary, Devin! I love you.

an anniversary video

Every taco is a walking taco

walkingtacofritopie

Last year, when I was volunteering in school cafeterias dressed as a vegetable, I encountered a Wisconsin dish called the “Walking Taco” consisting of Fritos chips, ground beef, and yellow cheese. I’d seen this combination in Texas, where the dish is known as a Frito Pie, but its Midwestern moniker gave me pause. “The taco is an inherently portable food! I will prove it by making real tacos for all the children!,” I shouted in my head. “Provided you buy the ingredients,” I added because I’m trying to be better about budgeting, all the time, and that includes daydreams.

I was talking to someone about tacos recently, and they asked, “Do you mean the ones with the hard or soft shell?,” and my heart shattered, so I’ll pause to explain what a taco is. A taco consists of a fresh tortilla, which you top with meat and/or vegetables and Mexican salsa and lime, like so:

 

tacos-mexicanos
Photo via chef.mx

You can just pick one up and walk with it if you want.

But then I started thinking, what if Wisconsin is the type of person who puts too much meat and salsa in her taco y se le rompe la tortilla y su mamá le dice, “Ay, m’ijita ¿por qué eres tan batida?”

Maybe Wisconsin decided she was too messy to eat tacos, and she decided to pretend that a bag of Fritos and some canned ground meat could be a suitable substitute.

Pobre Wisconsin. A mí no me molesta si te manchas la ropa.

 

 

Every taco is a walking taco

Notes on a Surprise Party

When I introduce Devin, I like to tell people that he’s from a hippie community. “No, like a real hippie community,” I clarify. I explain that his parents grow most of their own food, that people have names like Tree, Chamomile, and Forest––and oh yeah, Devin and his three best friends were all born at home and delivered by the same midwife.*

This year, the spouses of those four born-at-home hippies decided to surprise them with a birthday party. The midwife came. It was in the house where one of them was born. And––at the height of the party––the mothers did dramatic readings of their birth stories that bordered on performance art. (OK, the last one is a lie, but I wish I’d thought to suggest it.)

 

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The four born-at-home hippies with Tree, their midwife
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The party-planning spouses

At first, the surprise party seemed easy enough to orchestrate. All we had to do was get the guys to go home on the same weekend, have them show up at the same place at the same time, and keep it a secret until then. In the end, it was less “piece of cake” and more “learning experience.” I took some notes in case you’d like to learn from my mistakes!

1) Coordinating party plans from three different states can be really confusing. You’ll probably send a lot of text messages. If you don’t want your surprise target to get suspicious about said texting, change the names of your co-conspirators in your contact list. Otherwise, your partner may see your phone light up with a text from his best friend’s partner and say, “Hey! Look who sent you a text message!” thinking you’re going to tell him that they’re coming to visit or something, and instead you’ll get cagey and mumble that he shouldn’t look at your phone.

2) Related: figure out a plan so that your partner doesn’t talk to any of his best friends in the weeks leading up to their joint surprise party (and then report back because I still don’t know how to do this).

3) How do you explain coming home with 45 pounds of cheese? You can’t. Don’t do the party prep at your place––or figure out a workaround for party prep altogether. I recommend throwing your surprise party with people who don’t mind doing a potluck. Luckily, hippies are so down for potlucks (though really, “potluck” is an understatement. We had so many cakes that we hardly made a dent in the official birthday cake! It was like a cartoon banquet come to life.)

4) This might seem like backward advice, but trust me: you don’t want to be too good at hiding the surprise party. I was so focused on keeping the secret that Devin thought I wasn’t going to celebrate his birthday at all. And he planned his own party. Oops. Miraculously, he decided he wanted it to be a brunch at his parents’ house on the same day as the surprise party, which was a dinner, so we were able to do both (back-to-back!), but it was nerve-wracking for me and confusing for Devin. So confusing in fact that when everyone yelled, “Surprise!” Devin turned to me in a panic and said, “Do my parents know about this?” because he was worried they hadn’t been invited. (They had to wait until we left their house to drive to the party.)

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Devin’s morning party with our Madison friends (photo by our friend Kate)
dinner party group photo.jpeg
Devin’s evening party with his baby friends (and their babies!)

5) The saying “two can keep a secret if one of them is dead” definitely applies in this situation. Surprising four people is impossible! By the end of our party-planning sojourn, half of the birthday guys knew about the party, and you know what? They didn’t enjoy it any less than the dudes who didn’t know.

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Happy birthday, Devin, Jackson, James, and Morgan!


I’m honestly not sure if the moral of this story is that a party doesn’t have to be a surprise to be fun OR that now I know how to do better next time. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see!

*I told Tree, the midwife, that this is my favorite fun fact about Devin, and she asked me to note that she does not deliver babies. The way she sees it, the person giving birth does all the work. She’s just there to assist.  

Notes on a Surprise Party

Happy Birthday, Bethany!

This summer I visited a friend I hadn’t seen in a while, and the first thing she said to me was, “How do you know ArchedEyebrow?,” which thrilled me because I love Bethany Rutter, and I think everyone should know her.

And since the internet told me that today is her birthday, I decided to answer that question for the world wide web.

bethany rutter

Bethany in front of the Brooklyn Museum, spring 2015

I met Bethany at a wedding, waiting in line for appetizers––they had these little food stations featuring different cuisines in addition to a seated dinner and multiple desserts. It was food heaven (or as I like to call it, heaven. Because if it’s true we get to create our own version of heaven, mine will consist of grocery stores, farmers’ markets, kitchens, and restaurants).

Back to the wedding buffet…

When I met Bethany, I was spending a lot of time with super cool women who unfortunately had terrible relationships with food (like a lot, if not most, women living in our patriarchal, body-hating society), so social eating situations made me apprehensive. (It’s hard for me to hear people make negative weight-related comments about food, especially when I’m about to eat, and all I want to do is enjoy it!) I didn’t realize how much I had come to expect fatphobic food talk before every meal until I heard Bethany exclaim, “This is delightful!”

We bonded over how excited we were to try everything, and honestly, that interaction was enough for me to love her. But that wasn’t all! She was also wearing a dress I still daydream about. And she was the wedding DJ. And she played ***Flawless by Beyoncé for me, so by the end of the wedding, I had a major friend crush.

She lives in London, so I wasn’t sure if I would get to see her again, but somehow we ended up going to see the Kara Walker exhibit in the Domino sugar factory before she flew home. All of the art was made of refined sugar and represented Black bodies, and at the exhibit, there were lots of non-Black people doing awful things to the sculptures (like taking photos in front of the art while making lewd or violent poses). Bethany took in the scene and said, “Someone should take pictures or make a video to expose all the racist things people are doing.”

I decided on the spot that we were destined to be friends, even if she did live across the Atlantic. (Later we learned Kara Walker had been filming us all along because she’s brilliant.)

It’s been two years since that dreamy wedding, and I’ve only found more reasons to love Bethany, including her fabulous fashion blog, her hilarious twitter, her sense of fun, and the way she doesn’t just stand with her arms crossed when she sees something unjust (see, for example, her “You Look Great!” campaign in response to one of the worst examples of fat-shaming harassment I’ve ever heard of).

edama me

arched sushi

Happy birthday, Bethany! I’m so glad you exist.

 

Happy Birthday, Bethany!