Friday, March 16, 2018

Let Them Eat Guns

The first time I held a gun I was around seven-years-old. I remember the feeling of being at the outdoor gun range with my mom, which in El Paso is really just the desert with some wooden barriers put in the right places. It was bright. I squinted even wearing my mom's oversized aviators. The hot but cool heat of her .357 service revolver in my hand was heavy. I felt like Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry and every other western I'd seen on TV with my grandma only I was wearing pink Converse.

When I tell this story, I get looks. I get the pursed lipped looks. I laugh the judgement off just like I've learned to laugh off the other things on the ever growing list. It's easier to judge when someone wasn't  there. When they don't know. Their faces change dramatically when I follow up by saying my mom worked in law enforcement, and that she showed me how to use a gun so I understood what it was. Suddenly, I'm no longer some hellion from Texas who went around swinging guns in the air like they swung balloons and fucking rainbow unicorns.

That revolver and later the .45 she carried on her hip on a daily basis meant many things. It meant she was going to work when it lay on a stool near her dresser in her bedroom. It meant she was staying home when it hung near her bedside from the headboard. It meant she might have to kill someone who wanted to hurt her when it hung from her hip. As a child, it meant it might keep my mom safe. Even when I realized it was only the intention of the person holding the weapon that determined its use for good and evil, I prayed at night that my mom would be safe when she went to work a graveyard shift.

Guns have a lot more meanings than the ones above, though. Especially now. They mean fear, death, loss and more importantly they mean money. Now, as an adult, I like to say things to bait my gun connoisseur mother because I see how much more these metal shaped objects mean. That's why people get so angry and defensive, right? That's what gives grown men the right to call teenage girls "lesbian skinheads"? Guns have become a warped symbol of antiquated American ideals. Guns covered under the 2nd Amendment from the 1700's should not be compared to AR-15's. This is not a to-mato tom-ato discussion. This is 800-rounds-a-fucking-minute.

This past Christmas as many times before the topics of mass shootings came up while I was in Medellin, CO. "¿Pero por qué pasan esas cosas en los EE.UU?" my in-laws ask. Obviously, I don't have a response. But one has to stop and wonder, when people from one of the countries with the most violent histories is asking what our problem is,  maybe there's a fucking problem. I believe that many are clinging so hard to ideals that are only filling already rich white men's pockets because they are eating  spoonful's and spoonful's of propaganda. As long as we keep fighting amongst ourselves, they win. It's no longer, "Let them eat cake". It's "Let them eat guns."

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

I Want to Be Like Jules

A few weeks ago, I went to the screening of Pulp Fiction at the Alamo Draft House.  I was excited to see the movie in the theater. To be honest, I can't remember if I saw it in the theater the first time, but even if I did, I probably didn't get the subtleties of the film and really just thought all the shooting and fucks the movie used were amazing. Because I mean, they are amazing, but I'm older now. More mature. Yeah, that's it.

On an odd but serious note, I think this was apparent in the connection I felt with Samuel L. Jackson's character Jules. I know that may sound crazy. I don't shoot people for a living. Arguably, I don't cuss as much. The N word is definitely not dropped from my lips outside of singing along to Jay-Z or Kendrick alone in my car. But what rang true for me was the end.

No, not the part about the bacon. While Jules makes a point that pigs are filthy animals, I can't help but turn around and eat bacon. It's too delicious to pass up. The part I'm referencing is about walking the earth. Now, I don't have a bad motherfucker wallet to fund walking the earth, but Jules' lines about eyes being wide open about wanting to be a better person stood out.

2017 was a trying year for me. The year felt like a beautiful pair of shoes that pinched and left my feet throbbing by the end of the night. It was the year where I feel I stumbled a bit more than usual. Hell, the year started with my right leg in a boot from an actual fall. My book series was canceled. I fell prey to the third-year tenure stress, etc. Nothing was horrible, but there were only small glimmers of really good. My husband. My family. My friends. My dogs. All good. Yasmin's funk. Not so good. Because I was literally in a funky mood. Funky foot. Funky. Funky. Fucker shit funk. But fuck that funk.

2018 is about wanting to be better. If Jules can be a bad motherfucker and spare Honey Bunny and Gotta-Pee-Yolanda, then I can go back to finding a balance. I can "walk" my own earth and return to my glass half full optimism. I can be better. Right now, I don't know what that entails. I still haven't found the time to write more. I haven't read as much as I would like. But, I've been obsessed with fitness. The gym is meditative for me. My classrooms are lighter. Happier. I feel happier. Lighter. And, it's not just the lbs around my middle.  I don't know if it's my excitement, or my students are better, maybe a bit of both, but I don't dread them as much as last semester. The positives have by far outweighed the negatives so far.

So in the movie's final scene. As Jules, Honey Bunny, Gotta-Pee-Yolando, and Vincent stood around holding guns at each other. I thought, "I want to be the shepherd."


Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Listas de Colombia

Number of hours spent traveling: 20
Days spent in Colombia: 29
Cazuela de frijoles comidas: 2
Tres Cordillera cervezas tomadas: 15
Shots of aguardiente shots I turned away: 6
Shots of aguardiente I couldn't turn away: 4
Veces que usé tenso equivocado en español: unknown
Ceviches I ate: 6
Days at the beach: 4
Micheladas: 10
Showers taken: 58
Sunblock application: 10
Usos de la palabra chevre: 5
People asked why I was a brown gringa: 4
Times I was offended by this: 0
Times people thought I was Colombian until I spoke: unknown
Apologies made on behalf of United States for Donald Trump: 1
Explanation of the El Paso/Juarez border: 5
Uso de la frase, "ese man": 20
Photos taken: 88
Veces que escuchú salsa: infinito
Ramen from Formosa restaurant eaten: 3
Max number of hours of speaking only Spanish before mouth and brain hurt: 4
New tattoo: 1
Book read: 1
Books started and left unfinished: 1
Reruns of CSI: Miami watched on AXN: 20
Ubers rides: 15
Chicharonnes eaten: 12
Jaras de sangria:10
Times I saw how others view the United States: 36
Visits to the gym: 3
Yoga sessions: 2
Confused faces when I spoke Spanish: 10
Confused faces when I spoke English: 15
Montadas en metro: 2
Pedadso de chunchurria comida: 1
Most steps walked 15,534
Bags of coffee brought home: 30
Hours awake before arriving home: 22
Time needed to recover from vacation: unknown




Saturday, August 26, 2017

Dear People Who Hate Us

Last night, I spent the evening laughing and talking with a group of women writers I'm proud to call friends. At the table, our conversation bounced around in English and Spanish about books and shows and general gossip. As we laughed, the music, a combination of cumbias and current pop Spanish hits, at times drowned us out, so we talked louder. We ate our nachos, enchiladas, and chimichanga. I felt safe. I got to forget just for a moment about the rest of the world. As soon as I got home, my phone overflowed with notification of the president's latest blunder. The warmth I had just felt faded just a little. The reality of the hatred many feel for people of color burst my bubble. I feel the weight of it on my body. I feel it chipping away at my usual hopeful demeanor.

I want to say,

'Dear People who Hate Us, 

What have we done to you? Where did you learn to hate so hard? What have I done to you? Do you even know my family has probably been here longer than yours? Do you know that the United States of America was never white? Do you know that you are probably not as white as you think you are?

Do you know when you tell African Americans to go back to Africa that it might have been your ancestors who forcibly brought their ancestors? Do you see the irony in this? Do you know that the world is laughing at ashamed of us right now?

Do you know that this country was built on immigrants and unless you're Native American you are the product of immigrants? Do you know that there is already a giant metal fence on the border? Do you know that instead of blaming brown people for your problems you should probably look in the mirror first? Do you even know why produce is so cheap? Do you know that crops are rotting because no one wants those jobs you were complaining were being taken? 

Do you know that you spend hours in the sun just to be my color? 

Do you know that knowing two languages makes us smarter? Do you know that everywhere else this is celebrated and the United States of America is one of the only countries who snub their nose at it? 
Do you know that there's power in being able to call someone a fucker and an hijo de puta without a blink of an eye? Do you know that I think you are hijos de putas for hating us just for being brown? 

Do you know how petty it is to hate someone for that reason? Do you know that while you're busy hating us, we are working harder to be creative and love and be positive? Do you know that even though sometimes I cry because of how you feel, treat, act out on fellow people of color, I still get up the next day and ready myself for a new fight? Do you know that I am educating your children on diversity? Do you know there is an army of educators fighting right now? 

Do you know that even though I want to hate you, I can't? 

And to you, yes you, the person reading this who doesn't hate but is silent in the wake of this chaos, what will you do when they come for you?' 

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

No, I Didn't Mean Turns, I Meant Tiendas

I've been thinking a lot about being bilingual lately. In June, my sister-in-law visited, and at the beginning of the visit I tried to speak mostly Spanish, later it was more Spanglishy-English because I was tired. My brain got tired, and also, I'm going to be honest, I got lazy. For those of you reading this who are bilingual(ish), you know what I'm talking about. I'm grateful that my husband lets me be lazy. (Also, it's hard to talk to someone in a different language if you're used to speaking in another. Try it. It's weird.)

I have a friend who is Puerto Rican, and I while I envy the ease in with he seamlessly switches back and forth between the two, accent free, I doubt my discipline in practicing enough to get there. I want to. I really want to. I promise, but it's like going to the gym or eating better, everyone is always better in the beginning. 

Last week, my editor and friend in chief sent me a text with a translation project suggestion. I didn't understand where she was coming from until she said, "You should do more with your bilingualism."  Así lo dijo. No, beating around the bush. Just there, do something, Yasmin. That's the thing though, right? I take for granted that I understand a whole other language because it's how I grew up. That was/is my normal. 

In the age of Trumpism, my kind of bilingual isn't special, though. Spanish is being spat upon. If I spoke French, Swedish, or German, I'd get the special treatment. Intelligence and skill are being shadowed by willful ignorance. And in this age, I realize I have to stop being lazy. Even if it's in little ways. 

One of those ways to combat my laziness and lack of knowledge of accents in Spanish is that I added the Spanish keyboard to my phone. I can switch back and forth between languages with a quick slide of the button. Easy, right? Nope. In my haste to type a funny response to a dog meme my sister-in-law sent me, I often forget to switch the keyboard. So I type tiendas and my phone's auto correct makes it turns. Turns? I'm not sure how it got there. I understand the switch of fuck to duck, but not turns. (How many times do people type duck, anyway?). 

But, there's a metaphor in there, isn't there? Even with the necessary tool to assist my Spanish skills, it's a simple flip that hinders my fast response. At Lowe's this weekend a woman stopped me and asked where I had found a plant on my cart, and my brain froze. How the fuck do I say aisle?? 

"Lo encontré contra la pared en la primera," I said gesturing with my hand. 

The woman smiled and nodded. She was polite and didn't point out my loss for words. I walked to the car and racked my brain for the word.  How many times does one use the word aisle in any language anyway?

My husband told me about a student he has from Iran. He is taking Spanish class with him. Spanish will be his fifth language. It begrudgingly made me look at myself. No mames, Yasmin.  

So where is this all going? I'm not sure. I thought it would come together here, somehow, but it really hasn't.  Has it? Maybe that's the thing. It's almost like having two differently formed thoughts, and it's sometimes hard for them to come together. In my head, I speak super good Spanish, but then ladies come up to me a Lowe's and I forget the word for aisle. 

Ducking aisle! 

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Tough

Nine days ago I went into my first ever surgery. While minor, I was still nervous, like peed six times before they gave me the good drugs nervous. Something about losing time with anesthesia really bothered me.

I'm home, mostly in my bed, for the last nine days. I'm lying. Today, I'm on my couch. The doctor told me the recovery for a tonsillectomy for an adult was rough. He definitely downplayed "rough." Last Thursday, four days after the surgery, I went back to his office convinced I'd developed an infection because my neck was so swollen my jaw line was almost gone, and the pain so bad it brought tears to my eyes. He told me I needed to be tough and this was normal. I cried in his office.

Tough.

I find this word interesting because for a large part of my life people around me have used this word to describe me. I'm not sure what makes someone tough. Because I often cry. In fact, I cry for almost each of my emotions. Happy cry, angry cry, sad cry, I do them. So what makes someone tough?

As I've been slowly healing, I don't feel tough. I feel pain. I feel a burning pain each time I try to swallow. More than a few times, I thought I wouldn't be able to swallow. I felt like I would die. Literally. I felt like I was going to suffocate because I couldn't will the muscles in my throat to contract. When they finally did, the burning pain started in my throat radiated up into my ears and more than once brought tears to my eyes.

Is that tough?

Part of me wants to laugh at how silly it sounds. Why is a surgery that children often get so painful for an adult? But then I get a twinge of pain as I try to swallow cold water through a straw. So, I'm trying to be tough as I spoon baby food into my mouth. I'm trying to be tough when I go to bed with an ice pack on my neck.

Next month, when I can finally eat solids, and this will be a long-ago memory, I will be glad the tonsils were taken out. I'll be glad that our bodies aren't capable of remembering pain. I'll be glad I can hold a conversation for longer than a few minutes before my tongue starts to ache. And I'll say, yeah, "Fuck, tough."



Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Everything I Never Told You Bares All: A Book Review

I gave Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng four stars because it was really good. In fact, it was so good, it hurt. I don't know if I could read it again, though. I felt a lonely ache each time I read it, but I would encourage anyone to read this at least once. I didn't want to give it four stars. I wanted to give it less, because while I would devour the book in lengthy segments of time, it hurt to read it, so it took longer than usual to read. This is a testament to Ng's talent.

I loved the omniscient narrator who gave readers insight into each of the characters innermost thoughts without influencing in anyway. It hurt to read because all the characters were so silently raw and unwilling to speak when needed. There were several times that I wanted to shake any one of the characters, "Say something! Say what you mean!", but I had to remind myself they were not real. Ng made them real. She made the hurt real and while reading, I became almost like the youngest character, Hannah, joining the narrator in "watching" the family.

I would recommend the book for several reasons. For writers, this is a wonderful book for reading an exceptional omniscient narrator as well as how to build flesh and blood characters who will annoy, love, anger, feel sympathy for. As just a reader, it gives a wonderful sense of otherness. If anyone has never felt different or like an other, the novel does an amazing job of showing how a family of others still feel so alone.