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.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Review of Helen on 86th Street and Other Stories by Wendy Kaufman

This is an odd book. At first there doesn't seem to be any link between the short stories, but then a common thread starts to show in seams of the pages. The narrators are all women who want to be brave even in the most seedy of situations. They all want to "fake it till the make it". While some of the stories are stronger than others they all have small slaps of reality that linger with you after you've put the book down. Definitely worth a read.



For more book reviews check out my Goodreads 

Thursday, April 20, 2017

From the Center of the Rounder

When I was a kid, and my grandma took me shopping downtown, I used to hide in the rounders filled with clothes Now, I know they're called rounders. Then they were just a giant circle of multi-colored fabrics I could sit in the center in and feel safe. It was always cooler in that shaded center. Less fluorescent. Less department store noise. When I looked up it's center and saw the tunnel of light, I had view of the outside, but inside I was safe. What is that? As children we liked to be surrounded by over stuffed pillows or rainbow quilted forts. I wonder if it's reminiscent of the last womb we felt safe in.

Today, when I got home from work, I sat on the floor outside my husband's closet saying hi to our dogs and telling him about my day while he sat at his desk. Behind me was a pile of dirty clothes, and although I knew they held his musky scent from the gym, I flopped back into the t-shirts and track shorts, jeans and colorful socks, and looked up into the row of hanging clothes and flashed back to my childhood.

Above me hung green and blue and red and pink t-shirts and dress shirts. The bottoms all faced me, wrinkled from being pressed together. The tile floor was cool on my back and the clothes beneath cushioned my head. For a moment, I was six again. I was safe.

Friday, March 3, 2017

The Church of Rock and Roll

Last night, I saw Green Day live at the County Coliseum. It's the second time I've seen the band. The first time, was in the early 2000's when they toured with Blink-182, and I was too you to know all the small things really wasn't going to matter.

When we got there, the place was already packed and the super fan music-heads were sprinkled in with their newer fans who sported updated 2017 grunge wear. I pointed to D and laughed. Flannel and El Paso didn't work in 90's and climate change hasn't made it any friendlier.

I really didn't know what to expect from the band, though. When I tried to think back to that first concert, I didn't really remember it much. Now, I've gone to a fair amount of shows in my life, so they do start to run together, but I usually remember at least one thing, but with the 2002 show, well, I really couldn't, which in retrospect was maybe a good thing. I was going in with a clean slate.

Thirty minutes in, after the crowd cheering to things like " No racism. No homophobia. No sexism. No fucking walls," the energy was reaching peak levels. Green Day's mission, and they said it several times throughout the show, was to make us feel joy.

Joy.

It's a really simple word, but not one we use often. I can't remember the last time I said it or wrote or felt it. That's odd, isn't it? I feel happy, a lot of the time. Content. Happy. Upset. Sad. But, joy? When he first asked us to show him joy, we all screamed and cheered at the top of our lungs, but even as I did it, I just felt like I was screaming. I wasn't feeling joy. I was trying to be loud. Billie Joe crinkled his nose and nodded unconvinced. I didn't know where it was going, but Longview was coming up, so I quickly forgot.

Fast forward thirty more steamy minutes and Tre Cool did leg kicks a la Vegas showgirl while singing Jame Brown's "Shout." We all sang along, and when Billie Joe and Tre switched places and they got us to all sing "a little bit softer now" Billie Joe withered on the stage and said,

"Rock and roll is going to set us free."

Then we sang along to him to Rolling Stones, "Satisfaction."

"This is unity," he said while we sang.

And it was. I looked around for a moment and saw all the raised hands and the voices singing as loud as they could, and I saw it.

Joy.

The kind I've never understood that people get by going to places like church. Even as I saw the word church, I wrinkle my nose. I find organized religion odd and stifling. And when I've seen that weird kind of elation on TV, it's never quite made sense to me. But last night, in the damp, dank seats of the Coliseum, a sea of people felt joy as they sang along to their favorite songs with arms raised and voices going hoarse. That's when he smiled.

"This is joy," he said.

And it was. And it was rock and roll that took us there. And it was freeing and wonderful not thinking about anything other than that music, singing that word, moving my body to the music.

Today, my throat is a little raw, but the feeling remains. It lingers in my mouth like the last taste of something delicious.

Joy.



Friday, January 27, 2017

As the World Goes Crazy

As the world goes crazy, the essay I wrote for Entropy magazine swims in my head. The title, "All They See is Brown" is on repeat in my mind. And when I feel a panic bubble up through my chest from all the talks of Mexico and walls and anti-abortion marches and pipelines andandandand the title repeats.


Alltheyseeisbrown Alltheyseeisbrown Alltheyseeisbrown Alltheyseeisbrown Alltheyseeisbrown Alltheyseeisbrown Alltheyseeisbrown Alltheyseeisbrown Alltheyseeisbrown Alltheyseeisbrown Alltheyseeisbrown Alltheyseeisbrown Alltheyseeisbrown Alltheyseeisbrown Alltheyseeisbrown Alltheyseeisbrown Alltheyseeisbrown Alltheyseeisbrown Alltheyseeisbrown Alltheyseeisbrown Alltheyseeisbrown Alltheyseeisbrown Alltheyseeisbrown Alltheyseeisbrown Alltheyseeisbrown Alltheyseeisbrown Alltheyseeisbrown Alltheyseeisbrown Alltheyseeisbrown Alltheyseeisbrown Alltheyseeisbrown Alltheyseeisbrown Alltheyseeisbrown Alltheyseeisbrown Alltheyseeisbrown Alltheyseeisbrown Alltheyseeisbrown Alltheyseeisbrown Alltheyseeisbrown Alltheyseeisbrown Alltheyseeisbrown Alltheyseeisbrown Alltheyseeisbrown Alltheyseeisbrown Alltheyseeisbrown Alltheyseeisbrown Alltheyseeisbrown Alltheyseeisbrown Alltheyseeisbrown Alltheyseeisbrown