My Mother, Myself (and like a dozen dead ducks)

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.


My mom and a plate of duck at a Thai restaurant, 2017

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.

My Mother, Myself (and like a dozen dead ducks)


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.


Free Passes

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.

Free Passes

“Please don’t forget about Zacatepec. Nobody has come to help us.”

Dear friends,
My friend David Reyes and his family are coordinating relief efforts in Zacatepec, Morelos, Mexico, and they need our help. Zacatepec is a town located 7 kilometers from the epicenter of the earthquake. If you look up #Zacatepec on Twitter, you will see photo after photo of a town reduced to rubble and read messages that say, “Please don’t forget about #Zacatepec. Nobody has come to help us.”
Because it is hard to get money and supplies to Zacatepec, our efforts are extremely time-sensitive. David is leaving for Zacatepec on Thursday, so we need to get funds to him by Wednesday (9/27) to buy supplies. His family is working with a team of volunteers, including 40 doctors from San Luis Potosí, in a gym that has turned itself into a relief center run by volunteers.
Our donations will be used to buy medical supplies to provide care to injured residents as well as tarps, portable stoves, and potable water to those left without homes. If you would like to contribute, I can accept cash or checks in person or you can donate online through the following accounts, one is managed by me, the others, by Emily Reyes (David’s wife).
Chase Quickpay: Email me for account information (
Paypal: Email me for account information (
I am including photos of the Zacatepec relief efforts that David is helping with in this post. Anything that you can give helps keep these efforts going.
Thank you to everyone who has reached out this past week and asked how to help. I am proud and grateful to call you my friends,

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“Please don’t forget about Zacatepec. Nobody has come to help us.”

DACA Renewal Directory

Are you looking for the Illustrating Immigration survey? Click here. ¿Buscas la encuesta de Inmigración Ilustrada? Haz clic aquí.


Screen Shot 2017-09-17 at 1.24.08 AM.jpgImage via Campus Compact of Oregon

The Trump administration recently announced that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program will be terminated. This means that 800,000 DREAMers could lose their temporary protected status. However, despite the end of the program, DACA recipients will have DACA status and work permits until these documents expire––and some are eligible to renew DACA issuances. If you have a permit that will expire between now and March 5, 2018, you must apply for a two-year renewal of your DACA by October 5, 2017.

Applying for DACA is costly. Many of the young people who have DACA are unable to pay the application fees––around $500––on such short notice. This page is a directory of lawyers and organizations offering to process DACA renewal applications at no cost. It is meant to be a resource for for individuals eligible to reapply. It will be updated nightly from now until October 1.

If you are able to give money to help cover DACA application costs, click to donate to United We Dream’s Renewal Fund.

If you know of other resources, lawyers, or organizations that should be on this list, please email their contact information to

Continue reading “DACA Renewal Directory”

DACA Renewal Directory

Illustrating Immigration/Inmigración Ilustrada

illustrating immigrationAnja Riebensahm and I are continuing our project Illustrating Immigration. This time Anja will be illustrating stories from immigrants of all ages! If you have moved  from one country to another, fill out our survey, and/or send it to someone else who has.

Survey in English | Encuesta en español

Illustration by Anja Riebensahm

Illustrating Immigration/Inmigración Ilustrada

A long story about books and shame and dreams for Latinx babies


I’ve written about this before, but when I moved to the States, the first thing I learned was that being Mexican and speaking Spanish was not cool (unless you were a talking dog that said “Yo quiero Taco Bell.” That dog was everywhere, and everyone seemed to think it was hilarious).

I’d grown up hearing, “El que sabe dos idiomas, vale por dos,” watching Follow Muzzy to improve my English over the summer, and attending a private school that prided itself on teaching every subject in Spanish and English. Everyone in my family spoke at least two languages, and the grown-ups taught us that being able to communicate with lots of different people was one of the coolest things you could do.

In Texas, the opposite seemed to be true.

The public school I went to was starting an English-Spanish bilingual program, but there were no books or materials. My mom was actually the lone bilingual teacher in charge of implementing this program. Her job was to teach all the kids from kindergarten to sixth grade, and faced with an empty classroom, she did the only thing she could think of. She got on a plane and flew to Chihuahua to buy books.

As I got used to living in Texas, it became harder to feel proud of my culture or to speak Spanish in front of other people. Once, at the grocery store, I noticed a White woman giving us a dirty look while I asked my mom a question in Spanish. My cheeks felt hot, and I stopped talking.

On the walk home, I asked my mom if we could speak Spanish at home and English in public. She said no. I asked if we could try to speak Spanish softly, instead of yelling. Suddenly, we seemed intolerably loud, and I wanted to do anything I could to make ourselves acceptable to the people around us.

I wasn’t the only one. At school, students told my mom they didn’t like their “ugly brown skin.”

“Why would you want to have lighter skin?,” my mom would say. “Our skin is kissed by the sun, our skin is the color of cinnamon. ¡Están hermosos!”

She taught us to sing “Ojos Negros, Piel Canela” and march around the classroom to songs by Cri-Cri.

Soon my classmates (most of whom had not learned to read in any language despite the fact that they were in 2nd grade) were reading and writing in Spanish. Their parents could read what they wrote! And their families looked really happy when they came to parent-teacher night to see my mom.

Against my wishes, I was soon transferred to an English-only classroom because the school said bilingual education was only for kids who didn’t speak English.

In my monolingual classroom, I met Latinx children who didn’t speak any Spanish at all. Many of them had parents who spoke limited English, and they seemed to rely on the older children in the family to interpret between the parents and the little ones.

In the past two decades, I’ve met countless families like this, and I’ve thought about how to prevent intra-familial language barriers.

The two things I believe we have to do if we want Latinx kids to grow up speaking Spanish in the United States are the things my mom has always done for her students and for me:

1. Teach them about their culture. Too often, schools––even schools that serve a majority Latinx population––neglect to teach kids about Latin American and Chican@ cultures, so we have to make up that difference ourselves. I once babysat for a family that only played Spanish-language music, movies, and television in their house. The little girls in that family understood Mexican culture despite never having been to Mexico. They laughed at their tía’s jokes and played “A la vibora, vibora de la mar” with their cousins.

2. Teach them to read and write in Spanish. Even when I wasn’t in a bilingual class, my mom kept buying me books in Spanish; my cousin Caren shared the novels she was assigned in school; and I felt really cool when I got older and could read books like Love in the Time of Cholera in their original form. (My aunt Martha Cecilia still buys me a book in Spanish every time she is in a bookstore because she’s that thoughtful.) Through my books, I learned words that made me gasp “There’s a word for that?!” and were impossible to translate. Thanks to my books, when Texas got to be too much, I had a way to escape to places where I wasn’t weird, and my culture wasn’t considered inferior. 

Now that I’m older, I often meet people who say they want their kids to grow up speaking Spanish. I take that super seriously because I know the difference it has made in my life.

I am not exaggerating when I say that being fluent in Spanish made the difference between having a close relationship with my grandmother and growing apart, between being proud and ashamed of who I am and where I’m from, between being myself and being someone altogether different.

That’s why I will always speak to your babies in Spanish if you want me to, and I will always get them books so that they can learn for themselves. That’s why when my cousin Vanessa told me she was starting Sol Book Box, I was all in.

It might seem strange for a childless person to be so excited about a book subscription service for Spanish-speaking children, but I signed up as soon as I could because it is hard to find books in Spanish at U.S. bookstores, and every time I give a book en español to a Latinx baby, I am praying that they get to grow up in a better world than I did.

A long story about books and shame and dreams for Latinx babies