Thursday, June 26, 2014

As I Walk

As I walk in the hot summer El Paso sun to my classroom at UTEP my shoulders sizzle. I sometimes feel like a rotisserie chicken. My skin browns more with each rotation to and from the parking lot to the Classroom Building where I meet with my students. Beads of sweat begin to pill at the base of my skull and race down my neck even as my hands snap to wipe them away. I loathe how hot I get. This is my daily routine. By the end of the month my shoulders and arms will be a deep coffee brown while my legs will be latte. I will never be evenly brown.

As I walk I look at the people shuffling, biking, running, strolling past me. Today, a little girl around ten years old scurried toward campus as I walked away. She looked so odd because I wondered why she was by herself. As I stared, I forgot this. She ran pitched forward from the weight of an overstuffed backpack. The tips of her ballet flats were the only thing to touch the hot concrete. She skipped across as if she were skimming the surface of water. Her black pigtails flopped. Her long pink dress flowed in the wind. I wondered if I imagined her.

As I walk I think about the dream my mother told me she had last night and what she thinks it means. I think of how somber her voice sounds, and I can hear the dream clinging to the words as she explains she dreamt my dad. She thinks the dream is more than a dream and that something is wrong. He's sick. I stay quiet after she says this. I walk into the building and sigh with my whole body as the cool air hugs my front and the hot air grips my back. I stop listening for a moment. I don't want to hear the dream. She stays quiet after she's done. The silence makes me feel like she wants me to do something.  "Maybe you should text my Tia Elia," I finally say.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Chica-no/Chica-si

When one first begins to write, at least for me, I didn't have a sense of where the writing was going, who my audience was, and if there was a greater message of my culture, and I suppose more importantly where do I, Yasmin Ramirez fit into the literary landscape.

I first started writing fiction. Short stories. I just wanted to write and I wanted it to be good. My first pieces fell toward a film noir surreal genre. Had a read any of surrealist? No. Were they good? I'm afraid to look. Later when working on my MFA I found I didn't know what to write about. I was finally simply supposed to write and my mind drew a blank, so I began to write what I knew. Stories I told many times over and made people laugh over the dinner table and now seemed to be working on paper and in workshops. These stories about my grandma, Ita, and being raised in El Paso became my thesis and now the book I'm attempting to finish by the end of this summer.

Now, as I've published several (12 to be exact) of the pieces from my memoir focused on my Ita, I've stumbled across things I had not thought about. For example,

Who is my audience?
Is there too much Spanish for English readers?
Am I a Chicana writer? Will I always be a Chicana writer?
Am I automatically a Chicana because my last name is Ramirez?
Does it matter that I don't like the word Chicana and finds it leaves my mouth in a cacophony of angles and hard syllabus? How do I explain I was just trying to write my stories and I don't want to be spokesperson for all Latinos if I believe all Latino experiences are different? How do I explain that I read many different things and the brown section on my shelf is a bit skimpy? And how do I explain I don't identify with much of the brown books I've read? If I'm not brown enough will I be shunned by brown writers?  Will my last name and the fact that I love tacos and don't pronounce it tah-cos always make me too brown for general readers? How do I explain I am not denying a heritage if I don't have a tangible link to the "motherland"? How...Does...Am I...Where...Brown...White...Labels...Categories...How...

The list of questions goes on. I find that as I finish the pages of my childhood and of my Ita, thinking of these things begins to tarnish my memories/stories. I began them not only as a way to heal but because in someways they are universal. I wanted to share my love I suppose. Perhaps that is idealistic. Perhaps I'm full of shit. But, as half of my work is done--the writing of the book--and I approach the second half--marketing my book, myself--I'm beginning to reconsider which part is more difficult.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Work in Progress: The Scars of the Body

If scars tell the stories of our lives, my grandma’s body, fair skin loosened by age, held a map of lines disclosing the life my Ita lived. These are their stories. I’ve pieced them together and filled in the rest.

Forehead
In a fight before I was born, she ended up with a scar at the peak of her forehead, where a widow’s peak would have been. The fight, I imagine from the stories I’ve been told, takes place in the living room. She yells about where he’s been, how much he’s been drinking. He, Gil, tries to walk away from her and she swings. 

He ducks, “Mamita, todo esta bien,” he says, but he still wraps his arms around her and holds her to him like he will never let go, and in a way he never did.

She struggles trying to pry her arms away from her side. She grunts and yells, "Dejamé carbon,” but he keeps his arms where they are. He knows if he lets go her left hand will come out swinging and instead throws his head forward.

 Smack.

The sound of two stubborn heads echoes through the house and silences the argument for a moment. It stings his head, but Gil doesn’t let go. A small bead of blood runs down the center of her forehead. “Ya mamita, ya,” he says his voice low hoping it will stop the rush coming towards him.

Mastectomy
At age 42 Ita had a burning sensation on her breast.  She touched the skin quick, swatting as if a bug had bitten her, but instead her fingers found a small lump. After talking with my mom, visiting the doctor, and having a biopsy the diagnosis was confirmed: cancer. Her right breast was removed soon after, and she was left with a bright pink diagonal scar against pale white skin. For a long time she was depressed.  She wasn’t quick to make a joke or make up words to songs. Instead she grieved the loss of her womanhood and vanity at the same time.

As a child, I watched her adjust the silky skin of the soft prosthesis in the pocket sewn in her bra. I saw the now pale scar on her skin. It was normal that Ita didn’t have a breast. I didn’t question it, but I do remember the look on her face as she smoothed her tops eyes focused on her chest, her waist as she turned smoothed, turned, and smoothed again before we ever left the house.

Hysterectomy
At age 37 Ita had a hysterectomy.  The scar along her abdomen was faded, and I hardly remember it. She never spoke about it. My mom told me she’d had to have it done because she was have endless periods. I imagine her changing bloodies pads day after day wondering what was happening to her body. I wonder if after everything she saw the hysterectomy as a punishment also.

Ankle
She had small white scars left from large metal needles inserted after she hemorrhaged from an ectopic pregnancy. This was her last pregnancy. My mom remembers they lived on 811 N. El Paso when this happened. She, my uncle Robert, and Tony sat in the hospital waiting room after the doctor told them, “We’ve done all we can. The rest is in God’s hands. She’s a fighter, but the next 72hrs are critical.” He walked away as my mom sat next to my uncle and looked from the retreating doctor to Tony trying to understand just what that meant.

Gallbladder
The removal of her gallbladder at age 39 marked the beginning of the many stomach issues my Ita had. It was a mean jagged scar across the right side of stomach. It made me wonder how big a gallbladder was and why it had been so dysfunctional it demanded to be removed. My sister, Angie, who looks the most like my Ita, now has problems with her gallbladder. Hers gets angry on a frequent basis also.

Later, my Ita had her small intestine removed because of frequent issues with colitis. She was banned from eating anything spicy. This was a source of sadness not just her but for me. Ita had trained me in the ways of making spicy chilé and now we would no longer share our spicy bond. I watched as she’d tostar the chilé and tomates then peel the blistered skin from them. I helped at this point careful not touch my eyes. Sometimes my small fingers burned like when my hand fell asleep and the ants woke it up.


Last, she’d squish them all together with a glass she saved from Doña Maria mole. I watched eyes round and ready with a tostada to taste test the finished product as the chilé mushed together and suctioned in and out of the glass. When she was done she’d wash away the small red and black pieces clinging to her hands.