Writing: On My Writing Process and Writing Practice

Before I am anything else I am a poet–I was formed as a poet, I survived my youth because of poems and poetry, and I’ll die as a poet.

It was the first kind and form of meaningful writing I experienced, that I felt connected to, was able to see myself reflected in, was able to freely and fully express myself through, and the first kind and form of writing that I fell in love with, and still love most.

I approach all forms of writing (personal essays, memoir, academic essays, recipes, etc.) as I would a poem, which typically is by discovering and laying down the title, or the first/last sentence, or a word that caught my ear or heart with interest and that I organize the rest of the writing around. Begin with the ending, middle or beginning, feel and work my way backwards or frontward, instinctually.  Fill the rest in with movements, colors, feelings, sights and sounds.

I’m called to task typically from inspiration, or steel-eye focus, or desire, or curiosity or a driven mission to: reveal, understand, discover, or come to terms with.

My advisor recently asked me to write a reflection on my writing process and writing practice.

How does one describe a constant breaking, a mending, a finding, a losing?
A (re)discovery of tongues, and language, and pieces of one’s self that were never there to begin with?
Never meant to be whole?

“How to tell a shattered story?
By slowly becoming everybody.
No.
By slowly becoming everything.”
–Arundhati Roy, “The Ministry of Utmost Happiness: A novel”

To be a good writer, you have to be a good reader. At least, for me, they both go hand in hand. I have always been an avid reader. In my family I am known not as a reader, but rather as The Reader. Singular title-possessor, capitalization and all. From my foundational years as a toddler in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, I began my intimate relationship with books and reading as a proud library card carrying tiny citizen, begging my mami, tia and babysitters to take me to the library near the train station weekly if not daily. I consumed picture books voraciously, and escaped into worlds within worlds, far away from my own. Through reading I learned that there were other worlds out there, and that other worlds were possible.

Years later, once I began working and earning physical money, I began to buy books. By then I had stopped going to public libraries, and stopped borrowing books, because my relationship to reading had changed. Reading was no longer an intimacy between my eyes, sight, words and text, but now included my fingers and hands; included the act of writing. When I began owning books marked the pivotal moment I began writing on pages and in books: underlining words, writing questions and comments on the margins, documenting reflections and reactions to what I was reading. I wrote to understand, make sense of and with. I needed to own my own books to do this kind of writing. Able to possess and claim them as my own.

I guess you can technically say that I began writing after I learned how to trace and form letters in kindergarten. Slowly I began to understand that these shapes were letters that formed words that formed sentences and paragraphs that were contained in pages bound in things that were called books. I didn’t truly understand or feel connected to writing. Up until then, and all throughout my primary schooling, writing was more of a task that served a particular purpose and function that took place in mandated tasks: countless classnotes, book reports, assignments,  etc. There was no choice, and thus, did not feel intimate or have the similar intimacy the way that reading did.

Writing took a turn for me in middle school when I started to write poetry. It began the same night after I saw Billy Corgan, from the band The Smashing Pumpkins, being interviewed on the Regis and Kathie Lee morning talk show, where he described his writing process for songs, song lyrics, and music. He shared that he kept a writing journal next to his bedside, in which he wrote down his dreams and memories, and these would sometimes turn into inspiration. That night, I too began keeping a writing journal next to my bedside. I didn’t think much would come of it, but little by little, I began to fill out the pages. I was always an avid dreamer.

That same year, my mother’s friend let me borrow a small copy of Maya Angelou’s poetry collection. Reading it on the way back from Jersey to our apartment in Queens, I didn’t understand most of what Maya wrote about concerning love and heartbreak. But even at that young age, still, I felt something inside me stir. I know now that Maya’s words and poems solidified for me back then that writing and poetry was what I wanted to to do. To create. To aspire to. So I began to write poems.

Writing poetry is how I single handedly survived middle and high school. Otherwise, I would not have survived. That’s a fact. I will always say, acknowledge and give credit to that fact. Poems and poetry were the creative outlet where I was able to express myself, see, describe and author myself. Write myself into existence. Write myself into a world that constantly and actively wrote me out of it. Denied me. Tried to take me out.

When I didn’t see myself in any of the curriculum, texts or assignments I was given at school, I wrote poems to discover and understand myself better. When church would call the likes of me as abominable from the pupil, I wrote poems to convince myself that my life mattered. When my mother would pray to God to cast demons out of my body, I wrote poems as prayers to heal and reconcile myself.

Writing for me back then, as it does now, is fully sensory and embodied. To write, I need to feel connected and a connection to. Need to feel the need and desire in my body. Writing begins with a feeling, or an emotion, or a sound or a movement. It might be a word that I deeply love, or one that I do not know, and want to know better. It might be a throwaway line heard in passing that lingers and haunts me until I write about it, and soothe its longing and aching. It might be a title, a quote or passage from someone else’s writing that captivates and enraptures me, and serves as an anchor that grounds my own writing.

For years, I have documented such words, lines, quotes and passages across physical and digital documents that exist across mediums: scraps and pieces of papers, journals, Word documents on my computer, iNotes on my iPhone and on online cloud platforms. I go to these first when I am feeling stuck or in need for inspiration.

However, academic writing–that is, writing that is written with the purpose to be seen, evaluated, given merit and value to and by viewers and readers in the academy–does not come as easy. It is similar to what singer-songwriter Sarah McLachlan once described, in a live concert, her songwriting as “scrapping blood from a rock.” Similarly, for me academic writing is not easy. It is work, and it takes work. It is not my primary or desired form of writing. For this poet, it will never be.

How does one describe a constant breaking, a mending, a finding, a losing?
A (re)discovery of tongues, and language, and pieces of one’s self that were never there to begin with?
Never meant to be whole?

Writing is my Universe-given talent. It has taken me a lifetime not to understand that, but rather to claim and accept this truth as my own. To be able to wear the identity of a writer like a second skin, my own skin, that cannot be replicated or worn by any other than my own bones. Unlike some of my friends who possess/ed more physical, artistic talents, like singing, dancing, acting, playing sports, etc., or my own “father” (or sperm donor as I often refer to him) who is a well known painter and art professor in Honduras (and shouldn’t that kind of talent be transmittable? inheritable?) my talent did not always feel like a talent because it had/has always been bound too close to schools, schooling, “formal” learning and “formal” education. A creation bound to be created in an aesthetic-less, sterile vacuum. How does one learn to develop, cultivate, and hone in on one’s talent, on one’s craft, when it is exists within constraints and constructs? Within structures and confines that historically, currently, and never has not, silenced, invisibilized, rendered worthless, eradicated and erased its creator from existence. When the defining of the talent, craft, and artist is always being defined by the colonizing colonizer?

And then I think about my grandmother, mother and sister. The three women in my life, the three pillars of individuals who have most shaped my life, having only received an elementary, a high school, and a partial-college education, in that order. Three generations in my family where “formal” learning and education played little-to-no function or purpose: my grandmother, having gotten pregnant at a young age and given birth to too many children back to back, settled into a life at home caring for her children and grandchildren; my mother, once a small business owner, having fallen in and out of love with said art professor, moved to the states with her two small children and settled into a life of cleaning other people’s apartments in addition to her own; and my sister, who navigated New York City’s public and bilingual education systems, who had choices and access beyond her forebearers, never found her calling, passion or purpose, gave up, and settled into a life not too far different than that of our grandmother’s.  

What purpose did schooling or education serve any of them? To any of my family’s lives, aside my own? But also, what purpose does school or education, does writing, serve me or my own life when my own family does not understand what it is that I do? When my own family is so far removed from the things that I think, the things that I read, the things that I write? From the ways I move, navigate, exist and operate in the world? When I, after all these years, still don’t fully understand myself what it is that I do, or what I want to do? Does writing, my learning and education, then serve any purpose or function at all?

Ironically, my mother blames my education–and later on when I went to college, my “liberal education”–for “corrupting me,” “turning me away from the Things of God,” and making me a “sinner.” She “formally” found out about my sexuality when I was a junior or senior in high school, when the mom of my best friend back then–who too was on a self-discovering path of her own sexuality, used me and our friendship as a connecting bridge to her cover ups of all her outings and escapades that remained question marks to her mom–knocked on our door to inform my own mom that her maricon son had corrupted her daughter. It was an unremarkable Thursday evening, 7:00pm, and my mom was in the kitchen making dinner when the doorknock arrived. Straight out of a tv sitcom.

But let’s be honest, formality or not, she had always known, because this is the kind of intimate thing that all mothers know, on some kind of level: on the surface, superficial, deep rooted, or ignored. And it wasn’t the fact that I had been raised by women, as ignorant people would often say to me back then and still today. But rather, I was brought into the world, her world, as both her saving grace and her cross: the sweetest taste that resembled and reminded her of her very own image and reflection, while also being that which challenged and uprooted every facet of her faith and conviction. And somehow, to her, my education is what caused it all.

How does one describe a constant breaking, a mending, a finding, a losing?
A (re)discovery of tongues, and language, and pieces of one’s self that were never there to begin with?
Never meant to be whole?

“How to tell a shattered story?
By slowly becoming everybody.
No.
By slowly becoming everything.”

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Academia: On What Happens to the “Urban Student of Color” After High School, After College and Beyond the Classroom / or When the “Urban Student of Color” Becomes the “Urban Teacher” / or Not Your Token Guinea Pig, Show Pony, or Likable Person of Color: Refusing to Seek Validation From White People in Positions of Power / or When Attempting to Tokenize the Untokenizable / or When Wild Tongues Can’t Be Tamed and Cut Out / or Coming to Terms With Burning That Bridge When It Was Fucked up to Begin With / or A Break Up Letter With Academia

What I wish I could tell my 14 to 18 year-old high school self working in the NYPL (New York Public Library):
Stay. Don’t go. Don’t attend college in search of a career or path. You know what you know, and what you’ve always known. What’s already been known. By you and those before you. Those that paved the road for you and for those like you. What you already know is suffice. Academia cannot, will not, change that. The truth and funds of embodied knowledge already exist inside of you. Are etched, sketched, and embedded in your DNA. In your bones. Line your marrow and courses through your blood. That which is ancient, inherited, passed down to and through you. For you.

The violence of your education will continue to replicate and reproduce itself, no matter how many degrees, accolades or institutionally and artificially designed knowledges you obtain. Because that is what education in America is designed to do. It is not meant for people like you. The brown/the poor/the queer/the immigrant/the borderland/the gutter likes of you. That is not you. Was not made by you. Does not belong to you. It is not yours to own.

See those books? They are your friends. They have always been your friends. They have never let you down. Stay with your friends. The answers will never come from that which seeks to destroy you.

Sincerely yours,
Your future self.

**

So here’s the thing about grad school: it’s hard as fuck. And not just the actual work of reading and writing—because if you have gotten to this level you probably have somewhat mastered those skills by now—but rather hard because of everything else that surrounds the actual work, and the things that one goes to grad school to work on and think through.

Here are the things that they don’t tell you about being brown, first generation, poor / slash / rising working class, attending graduate school and navigating higher education:

  1. You will be made to feel that you have to be a martyr; have to choose between your studies and full time employment that produces actual, physical and substantial monetary checks that adults, like one that you are, should be receiving;

  2. There will come times when your bank account will threaten to close, and at other times completely deplete, because of bureaucratic bullshit, and old wounds, triggers and past trauma of growing up poor will flood you all at once–undo you, undo adult you–and threaten to engulf you and bring you under its tide;

  3. White people will talk about poor and working class people and communities of color, make gross generalizations, unapologetically right to your face and in your presence, in your company, and not flinch or bat eye, but rather, gloss over you, and invite and expect you too to join in;

  4. White people will align themselves with you if they see they can benefit from you, pick at your brain (for free) and profit off of your thinking and theorizing, off of your trauma and lived experiences, while building lucrative careers off of the likes of you and other communities of color, and invite you too to join in;

  5. You will truly find out the meaning, through lived experiences, how “not all skin folk are kin folk,” time and time again;

  6. You will find yourself having to simplistically and reductively describe the complexity of what you do to your family, the people that raised you and have known you the longest, as “going to school,” “work” and “studying”;

  7. You will arrive to your aha-moments of crystal clear clarity that a) education is bullshit, b) that your higher education is a replay of your entire K-12 education, and that c) American schools, American schooling and American public education is not meant, was never meant, will never be meant, for folks like you to survive.

**

Here’s the thing about grad school, in an era of social media and technology: you, your words, your thinking, your image, will be constantly surveilled, by friend and foe alike. Will be used against you, held up to the White Eye and White Light, whenever possible.

You will never be able to appease everyone: your family will threaten to disown you if you keep posting “radical” and “liberal” things. Your childhood friends will get annoyed by all your work-related educational queries and questions. Your grad school acquaintances, work affiliations and professional connections will get annoyed by all your “personal posts.” Even people who you don’t have on your Facebook, or who don’t have Facebook at all, will know what you have written because people will always find a way, reason or excuse to have your name in their mouths and other’s ears.

Words like “professional” will be thrown around to measure, evaluate, judge, critique, and control you. When in reality what they are saying without saying, what they are asking without asking, is: be more WHITE.

“Sometimes people try to destroy you, precisely because they recognize your power — not because they don’t see it, but because they see it and they don’t want it to exist.” ―Bell Hooks

Here’s the other thing about grad school, in an era of technology and social media and: I post “personal” and “professional” things on my Facebook because I am person and a professional. I cannot divide or separate those two things. Asking a person of color to do so is colonialist.

I am a person of color in professional settings and spaces. Settings and spaces that were not designed for me, or people like me, but that I––that we people of color––no matter what, still have to participate in and navigate. Defining what is professional and what is not to a person of color is colonialist. You can’t hold people of color accountable to things they never agreed to, created, or asked to be evaluated by. As Audre Lorde has been reminding us: “The master’s tools will never, ever, dismantle the master’s house.”

I post about grad school to dispel any (White) myths about this (White) ivory tower because navigating it ain’t easy. I post for all the people of color who wonder what grad school is like and who they themselves will never get to go.

I post about grad school to write myself into a structure and system that constantly tries to write me out of it.

My grandmother had an elementary school education, my mother a high school education. No one in my immediate family has graduated college, let alone gone to grad school. I post about grad school to honor them. Because there have been too many women of color in my life who have worked their fingers to the bone so that I can have an opportunity to do something different. Something that’s not manual labor, like they had to do. I post about grad school to honor them. Because I carry them, their hard work, their dreams and visions, their fighting spirits inside me all the damn time.

I post about grad school to convince myself that I am not crazy and to be in community with others that fear that they might be too.

“When I was in college I was told that if I learned the codes of power I could then use my knowledge of these codes to work to challenge the marginalization of communities of color. Now that I am positioned by many people as proficient in these codes of power I am now told that my critiques of dominant conceptualizations of language that marginalize communities of color are invalid.

The system is rigged. People of color who are positioned as not competent in the codes of power are blamed for their own marginalization. People of color who are positioned as competent in codes of power are told that they cannot critique this marginalization. People of color are damned if they do and they’re damned if they don’t. Meanwhile, white supremacy remains intact.” –Nelson Flores

**

When I got accepted into this Ph.D. program, I left the transfer high school I worked at, and stopped working in Pre-K to 12th grade schools altogether, to further my own studies. To spend time with my own thinking and thoughts. I thought that doctoral studies would be different–as a student, as a practitioner as an expert. Having completed a masters in teaching program and degree–having proven a mastery of a discipline and a craft–I thought that engaging with adults, and at this level of my academic and professional career, would somehow be easier. Having been a professional student for the past 25 + years, for the majority of my life, I thought I had it all down. Thought I understood the system, and how to navigate it, only now better with age, time, emotional distance and lived experience. I had grown up.

Four years into this program, and now in my 5th year of teaching in higher education, I’m realizing more and more how glaringly similar and parallel Pre K to 12th grade public education and higher education really are: the hoops, the obstacles, the forms of assessing knowledge, the gatekeeping, and the overwhelming and unbearable Whiteness of it all. How they are designed to inform, mirror and reflect each other. How they are cut from the same cloth.

Academia, and American schools, schooling and public education, are and have been colonial projects. Are institutions and practices that exist and operate on stolen land. The most destructive force and dangerous nature–currently and since the inception of this nation–has been the White, male (and almost always heterosexual) ego. Of the deep investment of White people in Whiteness and White supremacy. Of the deep investment of White people in White people. Have been founded through violent, genocide, White supremacists and White supremacism. Are cut from the same cloth. Thus are designed to inform, mirror and reflect those same principles, processes, practices, tools and tactics.

Being part-time faculty at private institutions like The New School makes me grateful that I am no longer an undergraduate student, there or anywhere else. Honestly, nothing’s changed there since I graduated. Only now I have language–something I did not have back then. I have the language, theories, frameworks, and tools to articulate that which acutely felt and experienced but did not have the language for yet.

And still, I’m constantly worried about how much time, energy and effort students of color put into trying to change structurally racist, violent and dehumanizing policies and practices while also trying to get an education and graduate. Trying to change the university’s White culture. Trying to change White administrators. Trying to change the hearts and minds of White people.

Policies and practices don’t just exist in vacuums or on their own accord. They are created, shaped and carried out by individual and collective people’s ideologies. Schools, schooling and educational systems are microcosms of our society, societal culture and values at large. They reflect the culture, ideologies and beliefs of our society. What we value. They have value because we give them value–knowingly and unknowingly; implicitly and explicitly. Thus, policies and practices that schools, colleges and universities carry out have value because we give them value. So generation after generation, cohort after cohort, student after student, these institutions will continue to exist, function and operate the same or parallelly similar because our larger society does as well.

It is the responsibility of White educators, White faculty members, White administrators, etc. in schools and educational systems to really step up and help create these structural changes. To reconceptualize and redistribute power–their own power– because students and folks of color shouldn’t be the ones carrying the brunt of this work––both the lived, racialized experiences as well as worrying and working themselves to death for change. For a change to the systems and practices that they did or their people did not create.

Four years into this program, and now in my 5th year of teaching in higher education, I have come to the realization that academia is just as corrupt, if not more, than private corporations. Just more fucked up because they–we–know better. And like Maya Angelou has been telling us: “…when you know better, do better.” We know better, yet still do wrong.

But White people will always think they know more than you. Better than you. Study you, and believe that they are the experts of you, in and about your own life. “Pick your brain,” learn from you, and then co-opt and steal your own production from you. Use your own words, tools and analyses against you. Benefit from you, and then discard you when they no longer need you. When you are no longer, to them, serviceable. Then blame you for what has been done to you. Leave you to survey your own damage, assess your own devices, and still have the nerve to charge and bill you for you.

**

Growing up White folks never tried to befriend me, in or outside of school settings. Never introduced me to their families. Never invited me into their homes. Never asked me to participate in their extracurricular activities. Regarded and treated my mother–a visibly brown skin woman of color–and her two children like roaches that dared to walk on their streets in broad daylight. Dared to take their subway trains. Dared to sit on their seats. Dared to shop at their stores and establishments. They always made the extra effort to remind us that these, and other things, were theirs–not ours.

The higher, further and deeper I get in academia, in my teaching profession and political activism––that despite it all I made something of myself––the more White people want to befriend me. Want to sit down, converse and “pick my brain.” Want to have and spend time together-–my time––with no form of compensation or at least the tact to inquire about forms of reciprocation. Without crediting me for my intellectual work, intellectual production and intellectual property. Want me to be their connection and bridge to their liberation. Want access into my–our world–while humanizing and legitimizing theirs.

They fetishize us/fantasize about us/want to be us. Without actually giving up their power and privileges. Without taking on our issues or problems head on, by locating its source and origin, and aiding in its destruction. Without challenging the systems that they, and their people, historically and currently, create, recreate and participate in. The systems that disenfranchise, silence, and eradicate us. Want to absolve themselves of all responsibility and lull themselves into historical and cultural amnesia. Want to be seen as singular and individuals, while people of color will always be forced to speak on behalf their entire race. Want to seemingly befriend and surround themselves with us, yet go back to their White worlds, White families, White lovers, and White lives that remain untouched. But then they wonder why and when people of color desire to not, and actively choose to not, engage with them. When and why people of color tell Becky” “No, you can’t sit with us.”

The reality is that no matter how many years of teaching a White educator can have under their belt, how many courses or students of color they may have taught throughout their career, how well traveled or “authentically” well they may speak non-English languages, how thoughtful they “participate” in cultures not their own, how many years they may have lived in “urban communities” in proximity to people and communities of color, how much they want, feel or believe to sympathize, empathize or understand issues that effect and impact people and communities of color: these things cannot, will not ever replace the racialized, lived experiences of said individuals/people/communities of color. Point, period, blank. End of discussion.

While there is certainly no singular, monolithic “people of color experience”––has never been and will never––a racialized body is a racialized body. Is read and treated in society and in schools as a racialized body. Something a White body––a White person––cannot ever experientially understand. A racialized experience and existence that cannot ever be (re)created or (re)replicated unless personally experienced, and thus never understood intimately. Always at a distance and never in lived proximity.

While it may be perhaps important to create opportunities for White educators and White people to share their, perhaps, unique, individual stories and life trajectories, these  cannot center or privilege those stories and narratives while (consciously or inadvertently) glossing over, dominating, silencing, invalidating and erasing those of individual people and communities of color. Not on our time. Not on our watch. Simultaneously, White people need to know is that people of color don’t need White allies. What we need are accomplices: White folks ready to get and go down when shit goes down.

And often, that’s where, in my experience, the alliance from White people ends.

**

Teaching: On Adjunct Teaching While Brown, Queer and Latinx

LaGuardia Community College holds a special and soft place in my heat. Having grown up a few blocks away between the neighboring borders that intersect Woodside and Sunnyside, the sight of LaGuardia’s buildings always signaled to me, while crossing the 59th Street Bridge on train or by car, and from Manhattan into Queens, that I had arrived home.

Going to schools in the neighborhood where one lived in wasn’t an option for me, or my sister, or other families like ours–but rather a given. Yes, we went to neighboring schools perhaps because they were the most centrally and conveniently located. However, the real, often untold reason was because they were the only options that either, one, we knew about, or two, that we were told about: by teachers, school administrators and other people that knew better. Framed as options, but in reality, they were the only choice.

I went to Flushing High School because it was a straight-shot ride on the 7 train to the last stop. I rationalized that I could easily catch up on sleep or get homework done during the solid, uninterrupted commute. Afterwards, I went to Hunter College on and off again for three and a half years before transferring to the New School. It was the only college I had applied to because it was the only college I had heard about, a family friend had gone to their school of social work years before. No one in my family had gone to college, and no one aside from me has since graduated. I don’t remember the specifics of the application process, but I do know that I wasn’t encouraged to apply to other schools–other CUNYS or private schools–or that going away for school was an option.

I say all this, and give this context and background, because it shapes and informs my decisions, pedagogy and politics and as an adult, a practitioner and professional. Choices and options. It why I went into teaching (rather than other more profitable fields or professions), why I teach where I teach (rather than in other institutions that pay more for similar or even less work), and why I teach the things that I teach (rather than teaching from packaged curriculum or textbooks.)

Teaching at LaGuardia, and returning to my childhood community, is my choice and option.

**

Teaching is hard. It is fundamentally the most humanizing kind of work.

But being a person of color, a teacher of color, and a student of color–existing and navigating between these textured, multilayered, and interlocking identities–is the most jarring, out of body, kind of experience. The most difficult kind of work. The kind of work that white people will never have to experience, let alone understand. We have survived what this writer describes as surviving institutions that were not made or designed for us.

I often describe my coming into teaching as accidental; the role and identity of teacher never feeling quite natural. Who am I to be in front of the classroom? What do I have to offer? To contribute?

“Because white eyes do not want to know us, they do not bother to learn our language, the language which reflects us, our culture, our spirit. The schools we attended or didn’t attend did not give us the skills for writing nor the confidence that we were correct in using our class and ethnic languages. I, for one, became adept at, and majored in English to spite, to show up, the arrogant racist teachers who thought all Chicano children were dumb and dirty.” –Gloria Anzaldúa, “An Open Letter to Women Writers of Color,” This Bridge Called My Back

Teaching for me is a political act; a purposeful and intentional reconceptualizing and remapping of what gets taught in the classroom. What constitutes as knowledge and intellectual production, while simultaneously interrogating, challenging and re-envisioning who gets to do the teaching.

Teaching, on the macro, is a political act, but on the micro–the nitty-gritty, everyday, on-the-ground praxis–is fundamentally humanizing work. Vulnerable. Scary as fuck.
Having to navigate dualing and often competing identities of being a person of color, a teacher of color, and a student of color often feels contradictory.

**

As an adult, practitioner and professional, as a person of color, a teacher of color, and a student of color, in the fields of teaching and urban education, there are little to no safe spaces for me, and other people of color like me.

Being in mixed racial and class spaces, and listening to white people in positions of power talk about students of color, and about/across race, class, poverty, immigration, education, etc.—often in an abstract and non-lived experiential ways—as a person who intersects all these spheres and categories is the most cringe worthy, out of body experience. The colonized at the colonial labyrinth listening and witnessing the colonizer talk at and talk roundabout colonizing and colonization.

White folks who talk about how “diverse” and important community colleges are, and praise all the folks of color who graduated from CUNY colleges and come back to teach at CUNYS, but according to Le Google, they all went to private and elite universities:

17553578_10155119671293670_9117875145401715096_n.jpg

**

Here’s the thing about being a person of color: no matter how many years you study, or how many degrees you accumulate, white people will always think they know more than you. Better than you. Study you, and believe that they are the experts of you, in and about your own life. “Pick your brain,” learn from you, and then co-opt and steal your own production from you. Use your own words, tools and analyses against you. Benefit from you, and then discard you when they no longer need you. When you are no longer, to them, serviceable.

Then blame you for what has been done to you. Leave you to survey your own damage, leave you to your own devices, and still have the nerve to charge and bill you for you. For what has been done to you.

What a profound neurosis, what a deeply disturbance, is the white ego.

How pathetically sad.

**

When I walk through LaGuardia’s door I remember my year’s at Hunter College. How I too was once a SEEK student.

I was a SEEK student during my three and a half on and off undergraduate years at Hunter College. Every time I enter LaGuardia’s buildings I am reminded of that. Back then, I remember experiencing (though lacking the words or language able to fully describe) the program and the “services” it provided like a white person’s hand extending a handout festered with pity, stinking of low expectations and presumed incompetence.

I knew that pitiful stank all too well.

Remember feeling stupid and worthless taking math remedial classes, the bane of my existence, even though I had scored college credit earning grades on my history, English and French advanced placement exams. Remember feeling all the pre-established course requirements like an extension of high school’s regent diploma, the high school experience I had just left not that long ago. 

I didn’t even know what the program’s name stood for (which now I know is Search for Education, Elevation and Knowledge Program), nor its herstory/history (which now I’m learning is incredible, activist-centered, feminist, rebellious and militant). I remember SEEK just being that extra check that allowed me to pay the books white teachers who taught the anthropology courses said I needed to have. The canon. Books I have never touched since again. 

I was once a SEEK student.

**

It’s funny how we give so much value to a piece of paper. 

This paper has allowed me to walk through doors and have them opened. This paper has allowed me to be hired over the phone or over email before even meeting me face to face. A piece of paper that gives me so much power and yet can still be treated like shit and assumed, by white people, that I know nothing. Resurrects a wall of difference and disconnection between me and my family. 

It’s funny how we give so much value to a piece of paper.

**

It was my second week of teaching at LaGuardia and I was sitting alone early one morning waiting for the reception to bring copies of readings for class, I was bombarded by two faculty at the department where I’m teaching a course at. 

They: who are you? How did you get in here? What are you doing here? Students are not allowed here!

Me: My name is José Alfredo. I’m a new part time faculty and visiting fellow from the Graduate Center. And sorry, who are you?

They: ohhhhh.

Me:

**

Real talk: 75-95% of the time I feel like I’m not meant to be a teacher. And it’s not because I don’t know to teach, or that I’m not creative and innovative in my course design, materials and assignments, or that I am not smart enough and don’t know a lot about a lot of things, or that I don’t know how to give good feedback, or that I am not flexible or compassionate. But rather, it’s because those who are the most unqualified—have never taught or been trained as a teacher—offer uneducated opinions, and often unsolicited advice, on teachers and teaching. Assume to know more and better than you. Pick and pull at one’s teaching and pedagogy apart, in ways they have never and would never dare a cis, white male teacher. 

As a queer male of color, that shit has followed me in every aspect and sphere of my life: familial, academically, profesional, personal, etc. The most unqualified people always assume that they know better or more than me.

People always wonder and talk K-12 public education, “at risk” youth and students of color, and how to best prepare them to enter the “real world.” Well let me tell you what can happen to said student in the real world: no matter how much you study and prepare yourself, no matter how much prove your intelligence, skill sets and gain credentials, no matter how much good you do in what you do, there will always be people—almost always white people, but also the occasional person of color—who thinks that they know better than you, at what you do and at what they do. Will break your back and then ask you why your back is hurting. Will humiliate you and then ask why you are emotional. Will drain and deplete you, not replenish you, and then ask why you are stifled in your imagination. Give you paper and glue to make wings but when you fly and soar too high, burn your wings to the ground so that they can fly higher.

Somehow everyone wants and feels magically qualified to assess teachers. But how many of those very people wanna put in the sweat, labor, and costs that it takes to be a good teacher? Go get trained, study and get degrees to be teachers? Clearly by what’s currently going on in America, and in the confirmaron of this ridiculous secretary of education, the answer is clearly not enough.

**

Last Thursday, after class and on my walk to the train station, I made a stop at a fancy gourmet supermarket and stocked up on way too many overpriced food items. Afterwards I stopped by the local wine store and picked up a nice bottle of wine. I told myself in both occasions that I had worked hard these past couple of weeks, and deserved to treat myself. I had earned the splurge. I climbed into bed, and even before finishing a glass of red, I knocked out and slept for a solid two or three years. It was only 2 in the afternoon.

Here’s the things that students don’t know about adjunct professors:

  1. We are typically students ourselves, studying, working on our Ph.D.s, while navigating similar bureaucratic bullshit, like them, except on a deeper, higher and more pervasive level, and with more complex and career altering consequences;
  2. We get paid per credit, per class, and often have to teach 3-4 classes to make a pale semblance of a salary or work several part time jobs and still struggle to make ends meet, like this adjunct professor. Full time tenured faculty at CUNYs and private colleges typically teach 1-2 courses as well, but have, you know, an actual salary, and carved out time to advise and meet with students one-on-one as many times as they need to throughout the semester because it’s part of their paid job description.
  3. If you’re a good professor and thoughtful teacher you construct and build all of your own lesson plans, materials and curriculum from scratch, pull from multiple lenses, disciplines and theoretical frameworks, rather than teach from a standardized textbook or the same crusty, outdated course year after year, like many professors even at the doctoral level do.
  4. Your work as an adjunct professor is a tireless, never ending and often a thankless job because at the end of the day you and your course are just one small small small fraction in a factory model that tends to over burn and overturn adjuncts and over churns students until the next adjunct or student comes along.

**

From 10 plus years of teaching and working with people, one of the biggest learnings I’ve had to wrestle and come to terms with is that you can’t go into teaching or education wanting to “save people.” Especially people of color. It’s contradictory, paternalistic, and ego-centric; the self-serving need to help and “save others” as a means to humanize our own existence. To feel our roles and titles as important, necessary, and having purpose in this world. Especially for white people.

The reality is that we won’t be able to “save” or make an impact in each and everyone student and young people’s life. 

Heck, we might not even be “liked” by many or all of our students. And that’s okay. People need to want to save themselves. Be able to save themselves. Given access to opportunities and structural support to fuck up and make mistakes. To stretch, grow, learn and evolve. To try again and again. To save and realize themselves for their own selves.

We can (and need to) support, provide guidance, compassion and encouragement along the way. Be their #1 cheerleaders all the way til the finish line. But we can’t carry them to the finish line. Can’t walk or run their journeys for them. Can’t own or assume the weight of their decisions, mistakes or journeys as our own.

Neither can we lose sight of our own saving, journey–of our own selves–in the process.

**

I’ve been mediating and reflecting a lot lately–today in particular–about teaching and what it means to be a teacher. What it means to be regarded as the teacher and expert, while also being a listener and learner. What it means to be the shaper and wielder (of the course content), while also being malleable, flexible and adaptable to change (as a community member). What it means to be the craftsman but also a consumer. What it means to be the assessor yet holder, possessor and keeper of so many multiple, intersecting and competing things. To carry all these things in your mind, heart, spirit and body.

I’ve been mediating and reflecting a lot lately–today in particular–what it means to be a teacher. What it means to be teacher of color, who they, themselves, have undergone the same or similar kind of teaching or educational environment that they, then, return to. Have experienced a lifetime of a sanitized, white-washed, colonized public education. What it means to be a teacher of color who have mostly had racist, privileged and mediocre white teachers. Teachers who have never given a shit about them, their lives, their identities, or their cultures. Teachers who have never asked to hear their stories. And in spite of this, or perhaps because of this, do everything in their power and human capacity to do and be better.

Everyone has (and can have) an opinion and critique about teaching and a teacher’s pedagogy: what was said + what could’ve been said, what was done + what could have been done. Endless and infinite would’ves/could’ves/should’ves. Sometimes dids and sometimes did nots.

But who is thinking about these teachers and what it means for them to be the assessor and holder, possessor and keeper of so many multiple, intersecting and competing things and carry all these things in their mind, heart, spirit and body?

To all the teachers of color,  past, present and future: I am thinking of you.

I see YOU.

Travel: On Things I’ve Learned While in London

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Day 1:

  1. Travel jetlag is a real thing. Plan ahead.
  2. Book separate travel accommodations for trips with connecting flights in cool places like Iceland. You’ll feel real dumb afterwards if you don’t.
  3. Really grateful for friends who provide room and board for you.
  4. Fish and chips are a thing because they are delicious. Those peas on the side not so much.  
  5. Research, research, research. Plan out your travel ahead of time. Screen shot your travel between sites. Cause not having cellular is annoying as fuck and it ain’t like NYC subways in other places of the world.
  6. Race, racism, colorism, racial discrimination and racial (re)segregation are things. They operate in all corners of the world in similar and unique ways. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
  7. Get a haircut before you leave. You wanna feel fresh and sexy as fuck as a tourist. But you don’t want to trust your hair with anyone else but your barber.
  8. Your mom will be calling and texting you triple more times than she usually does. Because she imagines every place in the world like a sinking hole on a mission to take her baby out.
  9. You will miss your friends in real life. Plan ahead.
  10. Gay apps like Grindr can be helpful and lead to new friends/tour guides.

Day two:

  1. On this second day of traveling alone I am feeling better and more at ease in my own skin. I got lost for hours in downtown London, traveling between buses, with no wifi, and made it back in one piece. Baby steps for this introvert.
  2. With that said, there’s nothing like eating alone that REALLY pushes me out of my comfort zone, and challenges me to the umph degree. I am never at ease, never have been. I just think and feel food is meant to be shared in community. Shared with people.
  3. Londoners aren’t impressed with Americans. Meh. Neither am I.
  4. Fascinating that there are Londoners who have not visited some of the touristy sites, like the National Museum or the Big Ben. Bus drivers who don’t know where it’s located. Like New Yorkers who have never seen the NYE ball drop and avoid Times Square like the plague.
  5. I experienced my first London rush hour. Here I thought NYC was popping at the seams, but its more like the world is bursting with overcrowdedness.
  6. I restore myself when I am alone.
  7. Real wine being available for purchase at the local corner store makes the world a better place.
  8. Cheese being available for purchase at the local store should come with a warning label for lack of aging and flavor.
  9. My school, fellowship and all its affiliates, really needs to stop contacting me and other graduate students when the semester is not in session. We don’t get paid for that shit. The month of January is our OFF time.
  10. As much as I love/loved One Day at a Time 2017, can Latinx shows ever exist and be aired if having NO proximity to whiteness or with no white people in the cast. Sadly, I think not. And not because we Latinx can’t or don’t want to. But rather, because white people–white audiences and white consumption–need and crave that shit. Need and crave to see and be represented. Always. But who are white people without proximity to people of color? Without having to eat, pray, love their way around the globe to find and discover themselves?
  11. I sleep while y’all are awake, and I am awake while y’all are asleep. Ah!

Day three:

  1. As a New Yorker, there are VERY few places I have seen myself being able to live in that are outside of New York City: Mexico, Hawaii and Brazil. Flirted briefly with Washington, DC. I would now add London to that very short list. I’m really enjoying it here. Except their daily rush hour commute would be the death of me.
  2. To be collectively grieving with your people and your country and yet not physically be there with your people and in your country is an out of body experience. But I have been there with y’all day today, while also trying to self care, distract myself from reading the news and hoping we all wake up from this nightmare.
  3. To be, as an American, the laughing stock of other countries is also an out of body experience. We’re the joke fam. Yet we did not create the joke, did not vote for the joke, knew the joke all along, and def ain’t laughing. But, sadly, everyone else is.
  4. The world as it is so gigantic, and yet literally so small sometimes. You never know who you will see where. I ran into my friend and old roomie while crossing the bridge here in London, and we spent the whole day hanging. A gift given to the Universe to both of us.
  5. Spending pounds here in London, and local currency abroad in general, always feels cheaper because its unfamiliar bills and money in one’s hand. But literally here in London its definitely not cheaper. The dollar ain’t worth shit. Another running joke that ain’t funny.
  6. Spent the whole day with the question, “What’s next? What do I/we do next?” sitting heavy in my spirit. No answer answered back.
  7. I haven’t hooked up or met anyone in London and I am proud of myself for that. Just really spending time with myself alone and getting to know myself as a traveler. Getting to know myself on another level. And I kind of like myself.
  8. I spent $50 bucks or more at Borough Market because it’s dope and I am a shopaholic.
  9. Big Bus Tours London are dope and worth the price and experience.
  10. When I push myself–gradually, compassionately, forgivingly–out of my own comfort zone(s) I excel. I grow. I just hope others can learn to do the same–for themselves and for me.
  11. “There are years that ask questions, and years that answer.” – Zora Neale Hurston

Day four:

  1. Been thinking a lot these past couple of months–and these past couple of days in particular–about what exactly makes us “nasty women” and “bad hombres.” What makes us, to others, so nasty and bad. It is our nerve, our will, our dare, our courage, our bravados, our huevos to speak truth back to power. What Audre Lorde describes as our abilities to define ourselves for own ourselves and not be crunched into–by white people, whiteness and the white imaginary/imagination’s–definitions of who they/it wants us to be: “If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.” –Audre Lorde
  2. Been thinking a lot how these are telling and critical times: about truths that some of us have always known, about truths that some of us have known and have suppressed and ignored these knowings, about truths that some of us are just getting to know, about truths that some of us will one day know and about truths that some of us will, sadly, never get to know because we do not want to get to know. And while I am a firm believer that we each have our own individual journey that will develop at our own pace and at our own time, these telling and critical times have made it clear that the time has come and that it is now. Has and will continue to remain now. Either we each get on board–or get out of the way for the folks who are ready to do the work.
  3. While that being said, if you’re feminism or your “work” ain’t intersectional–reflective and critical about intersectionality, reflective and proactive about inclusivity–then it ain’t feminism at all. It’s just white feminism. You can keep that.
  4. This Bridge Called My Back, This bridge we call home: radical visions for transformation, and Making Face, Making Soul/Haciendo Caras: Creative and Critical Perspectives by Feminists of Color are as relevant today, particularly at the Women’s March on Washington and around the world, as they were when they were first published. Audre Lorde has BEEN warning us that: “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House.” We all really need to go back and dig into the third world feminist movement’s work, contribution, and labors of love. I am looking forward to rereading, relearning, digging and sinking my teeth into, and recommitting myself to figuring out ways to bring these, and other recent feminist writings, back into the classroom. To use the classroom as a site of learning towards resistance and action.
  5. Been thinking a lot how I–even as a queer, male of color–still benefit so much from being cis and male privilege. How even I still need to constantly be introspective, reflective and proactive in doing the work on myself inwardly before doing the external work.
  6. My mother, even at 31 years of age, still reminds me each and every time we speak to check the street both ways before crossing. It annoyed me so much in NYC her telling me this before I left. Now in London, that shit is real. I be checking them streets all ways–right and left, north and south, backwards and forwards–cause the way traffic moves and the driver’s seat is on the right side of the car, but drivers drive on the left side of the street, makes no sense.
  7. 2017 is the year I give a committed, monogamous relationship a try again. I think I’m ready.
  8. Grateful to have Color Theory Pod and #52essays2017 as platforms to think, write, speak and create. This is the year where I continue to soltar mi lengua.

Day five:

  1. These past four years I have been sleeping on grad school opportunities to travel, study abroad, apply to travel (and really any other) grants and funding, and capitalize on what will be my last experience as a graduate student. I have been so entrenched in trying to survive academia, as a queer man of color, that I have yet found my groove. Yet thrived in graduate school. Yet. They don’t teach us these things on where I come from. But I have one more year or so to make this grad school experience the most that I can. Or maybe surviving grad school was the thrive in of itself, the lesson and joy of it all.
  2. I was having a conversation with my friend Fabiola today about being Latinx and the pressures that we face in many of our families and communities to procreate. How having children is the ultimate marker (to them) of our achievements and success. How there’s little-to-no-space for Latinx folks–immigrant communities of color specifically and folks of color in general–to be asked what or how they define success. To be asked what they want from and out of life. To be given space and room, permission to imagine one’s self outside of societal and cultural ideas of who one should be. The reality is that just because you can procreate it does not mean you should procreate. Not everyone is meant to be a parent. Not everyone should be a parent. And that is a heavy, hard and unconventional truth-pill for many to swallow. While parenting, I am sure, is a difficult yet rewarding experience, let’s stop shaming people who choose not to be parents, until they are ready to be parents, if ever or at all.
  3. Sometimes the pressure of traveling abroad is to cram and site see it all. Do all the touristy things before you go. But there is also beauty in making room for intentional days of slowing down, of doing one or two small things, like having dinner with friends and walking through to and from back neighborhoods, or doing nothing at all.
  4. Been thinking a lot about James Baldwin’s decision to leave the states and to move to Paris in his twenties. Did racism work the same way back then as it does today? How could he write and articulate so deeply about race in a country that saw/sees itself as race-less and be in romantic, intimate relationships with people who saw/see themselves as colorless? Why do so many prolific race scholars, thinkers, activists, etc. people of color so often date white people, sometimes exclusively, then and even today? Can one separate the two in one’s own home, in one’s own bed? I cannot and won’t dare to speak for other people. But I came to the conclusion tonight that I, myself, cannot.
  5. It’s a beautiful feeling to know in your gut and heart of heart when it’s time to go home.

Home: On Returning (to a Place That Has No Return)

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“There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.” —Nelson Mandela

The moment I saw the Exxon sign, I knew I had arrived. Though the gas station’s name had  since changed–its original I cannot remember–what it represented had not. I felt it. It resided in my body: inside the tissue that lined my red flesh, was written into my bone marrow, and etched its tapestry into my skin. There was no mistaking that familiar street. It beckoned and tugged at my hand, as if asking: Remember. Remember? Instantly, I became five again: my sister holding my mother’s left hand, and I, as always, her right.

As we approached Willoughby Ave, and soon Vanderbilt Street, I became that child again, expecting to see the gas station’s neon sign burning bright, beaming, like a welcome home sign.

Fifteen years had passed since we moved from Brooklyn. Unlike the many nights I crossed these streets with my mother and sister, the three of us side by side, this time I traveled alone. Well not completely alone, but rather with a who I had met on a gay hookup site only weeks before, who had a ridiculous, unidirectional crush on me. But when he heard my story, he suggested and offered me a pilgrimage ride, in his beat up white jeep, back to my roots, I accepted. I had returned–just not with them.

As he drove down Vanderbilt Street, passing through the underpass that lead onto Hall Street, my heart began beating so fast, I kept my mouth closed just in case it decided to crawl out.

I wanted to revel in this moment. Capture each scene, each second, each moment, like a photograph. But with no camera in hand, I would have to remember and rely on my memory instead.

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There it stood. 83 Hall Street. The four story building I grew up in. Our 2 bedroom apartment still directly facing the park across the street, overlooking the swings and trees where Asia showed her vagina to 6 year old me–the first and last I would ever see face to face. Overlooked the monkey bars, two slides and the enormous basketball court which took up significantly more space than children’s side of the park.

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It was during these formative years that I enjoyed a luxury I would not know of again until I moved into my first apartment. I had my very own bedroom.

We parked and remained seated in the car. The silence of strangers sat as a third passenger between us. Cushioned, desireful and curious.

My eyes shifted its gaze and focus back to 83. Traveled its length. Felt for its texture and scale. Assessed its change. But it had not. My eyes then climbed to the second floor, where our apartment had been located, but now was occupied by someone else. Some other family. Not my own. My focus then shifted and became fixated on the window that belonged to my old bedroom. The fire escape–the cold, black iron bars–still remained outside, cradling the window in its ribcage, connecting the bedroom to the kitchen adjacent to it.

I closed my eyes and attempted to remember the details of my old room: rectangular in shape and medium in size, with a singular closet, neatly tucked in the back, which held the Boogyman and all the ghosts that at night desired to play. My bed was placed right in the middle, adjacent to the window. As a child, I always feared and had a reoccurring nightmare of someone–a bald headed, pale skin man with blacked out eyes–would climb up from the fire escape and crawl inside my bedroom through this window, and do us harm. Do harm, first to me.

It was a constant fear; a fear that made me double and triple check at night that all of the windows were locked before resigning to sleep. It was too, this fear–which would follow me as an adult–of  having a bedroom next to a fire escape, or be seated in the emergency exit window seat on an airplane. The enormous responsibility of alerting others that an emergency was taking place.

The first and only emergency we had to use that fire escape for was the one time my sister lost the keys to our apartment while at school. She was a chronic misplacer of things. My mother, at work, would call us, like clockwork, every day after school at 3pm sharp to make sure that we had gotten home alright. That particular day we had not. I remember my sister having to ask her classmate and best friend, Ivan, who lived on the fourth floor with his nuclear family of four, to help us get back inside. Of course we would have been able to wait it out in his apartment, his parents and my mom being friends and all. But we feared most missing our mother-call. If we were not on the other end to receive it, her mother-fear would kick in, full gear, imagining we had been kidnapped, or worse.

I remember Ivan looking at me suspiciously, his eyebrows raised, as if asking without asking, “Why can’t José Alfredo do it? Boys should able to do this.” His eyes–like the countless the male eyes I would continuously encounter throughout my life–scanning, questioning, assessing, accusing. Scaling my maleness up and down, measuring back and forth. Eyes that have no warmth or depth, with no desired attempt to understand or empathize. The expectation and assumption that, of course, I would not be able to–rather dare to–venture out and onto the fire escape stairs. “He’s just a fag,” they said without saying.

But because Ivan had a crush on my sister, he of course would not miss the opportunity to impress her or turn this favor down. In a matter of minutes, we watched Ivan crawl out from the his apartment window, onto the black, iron bars, climb down the fire escape until landing one story below to ours. He  pressed the palm of his hands upon the kitchen window pane, until the glass gave away and lifted upwards, and allowed enough room for his body to crawl inside. He levered his legs until they were firmly anchored onto our window sill and slid effortlessly inside. From upstairs we could hear his footsteps thumping below, as he ran across our kitchen and through the living room, the sound of the front door bolt give away and unlock. His voice traveled up the stairs to us, announcing: “It’s open!”

—-

I had a twin sized bed frame, made of light and smooth pinewood. It had four posts, one for each side of its frame. On top of each post carved wooden bulbs, the size of really large apples, sat perched. Stickers of all shapes and sizes lined the bed’s headboard like soldiers. Stickers I had collected throughout the years. Whenever I was given one at school for reading the most books or for having perfect attendance, I would save it in my book bag, anxiously waiting for the school bell to ring so I could get home and place it on the headboard.

Eventually one day, my mom being upset about something I can’t remember, forced me to take them off all of. “No quiero que me dejes ni uno ahi!” The smallness of my fingers worked and searched for the in-between space between stickers, glue and wood–for removal–using my fingertips and the smooth edge of a butter knife. Gorilla-sized-tears streamed down my face at the loss.

I remember a feeling entering and lining the pit of my stomach as I watched my mother move back and forth from the refrigerator to the stove. A feeling I could then not name then but would continue to follow me throughout my life, and one day reveal its name to me.

—-

Every night, after washing dishes from that night’s dinner and before going to bed herself, my mom would make it a habit to visit my bedroom to check and ensure that I was actually asleep. With my quilto pulled up to my chin, I would quickly close my eyes as soon as I heard her footsteps traveling on and between the peach plastic kitchen floor tiles that always seemed to creak and crack no matter how much one avoided shifting their weight to avoid making noise. My mother would then pry my bedroom door open, a sliver of fluorescent kitchen light streaming inside, spilling onto my bedroom’s wooden floors in silent drifts.

Sometimes what she saw would suffice: silence and stillness. Satisfied, she would close the door and retrace her steps back to the bedroom she shared with my sister. Most of the time, however, mami would step into my room, not satisfied with just seeing the outline of my body nestled beneath and within the folds of my blanket. She needed to know. She needed confirmation.

She would gently whisper and call my pet name out into the dark: “Alfredito. Alfredito?” It was more of an assurance than a question. “Alfredito? Alfredito.” Even if I was awake, I wouldn’t dare answer her back. Afraid of being scolded or getting her upset.

The air would give in and shift. The weight of her body negotiating and compromising with the limited availability of aire that inhabited my room. She would then place the palm of her hands–never too cold, never too warm, surprisingly always cool–upon my cheek, as if checking my temperature, before residing and kissing me goodnight. Other times, she would choose one of the other pet names in arsenal: bebe, bebsito, mi niño, mi gordito, and my grandmother’s favorite: mi perrito.

—-

I was nine, my sister 10, when we moved from Brooklyn to Queens. It was during the month of November, a month known for its susceptibility to change. As the fall leaves began to adjust to new shades of color, I too faced the biggest adjustment in my life. Unlike the two-bedroom apartment we had in Brooklyn, we now shared a one bedroom apartment: my mom and sister sleeping in one bed and I in the other. Although it was a spacious bedroom, able to fit two beds side by side, I was used to having own bedroom. I was used to having my own privacy, behind the safety of a closed door with a lock that actually worked. The way my mom positioned the beds reminded me of how Lucy and Ricky Ricardo had their beds arranged on the show: distant enough to not be sleeping in the same bed, but close enough to hear the other’s breathing. It was during these years, and because we were in the same room, the ability to be reassured that we were sleeping without having to physically check in on me me in another room, is what I think my mom enjoyed most.

Years later, my sister and I decided to rearrange the bedroom as a surprise mother’s day gift. After school one day we worked hard throughout the afternoon and into the early evening to achieve this. We pushed the enormous mattress and box spring off each bed and positioned them against the wall. We dragged the heavy bureaus and bedroom furniture across every corner of the room, trying to figure out where they would look best. We finally agreed on where everything should go and eagerly waited for my mom to get home so we could show her how talented we were. We waited. We then heard her keys jiggling in the hallway and the familiar click and opening of the door lock as she entered the apartment. We hid behind the bedroom door, and giggled with excitement, as the sound of grocery bags that she was carrying were lowered onto the kitchen floor. “Niños,” she commanded–not asked. She walked into the bedroom and we yelled, “Surprise!” But the look on her face was not of excitement or of particular interest. She simply said, “I don’t like it. Change it.” And that was that. I felt crushed, to say the least.

—-

Throughout her life, my mom suffered from sleep deprivation, and once asleep, she could not be awoken or else it would take hours for her to be able to fall back to sleep. Because of this, she insisted that we all slept at the same time. That our bodies and sleep schedules would magically synchronize. With time, my mom’s senses became extremely hypersensitive. Each stir, each movement, even the slightest irregular breath from either of us, registered on her radar. If not synced, in her view, correctly, produced a reprimand. “Estate quieto.” Be still and stop moving, was a phrase so commonly used it began to be my new pet name.

We continued to share that bedroom until I became an adolescent. Once puberty kicked in, I think it finally clicked for her that we, in fact, did not have the most adequate sleeping arrangement. I began sleeping in the living room, on the thin and hard sofa bed mattress hidden inside the largest couch. It was part of a three piece, peach colored living room collection set. I remember as a child, really hating the color. Perhaps this is why I still despise the color peach or pink or any color that resembled the color of those couches. It wasn’t the same as having my own bedroom, but it would be the most privacy that I could get at that time.

My mother was chronically cheap, or what she would referred to as “carefully budgeted.” When she decided that we needed new couches she contracted one of her friends, who reupholstered for a living, to strip off the peach cotton fabric from the couches and replace them with a deep purple/lavender leather-faux material. In her mind, reupholstering would be much cheaper than actually buying new furniture. This might’ve been the case. Nut what was a “guaranteed” two month project turned into a project never completed. Instead, she faced months of unanswered phone calls and missed appointments. This led a friendship of many years to slowly but surely go sour. To ferment.

In the end, the couches ended halfway complete, with the exteriors of the arms and chest replacements installed while the back of the couches left emptied and hollow out. The foam of the cushions too remain uncovered, exposed and bare. For years, my sister and I were forced to tuck bed sheets over the naked and unfinished foam cushions, a time consuming, dreaded task that always made me late for school. At times, I did not even want to even sit on the couches, and choose instead the seating of the cold floor, so I would not be the last one to get up and have to stretch and fix that week’s assigned bed sheets that covered the cushions. Of course my mom my mother would not have any of that. “What would people think of you–of me–if they knew you were sitting on the floor! I’ll tell you what they’d think: that I did not raise you well!”

My friends would always wonder why I would not invite them over for dinner or to watch a movie. One of the reasons was because I did not want anyone finding out that I did not have my own room, but instead, slept in the living room. The second was because I was too embarrassed of them seeing the ugly, unfinished couches in our home.

Years later, when my mom and her friend ran into each other at family gatherings, they would stand around and make awkward conversation. My mother, in true Christian form, was always polite and courteous. It’s what Jesus would do, right? This happened for quite some time, until that bridge of uneasiness was finally lowered and burned. They were able to turn this misstep into a something comical, and make the “sofa crisis” the life of the party. My mother’s friend would comment how difficult it was to find the purple/lavender colored faux-leather material my mom had picked out. He would say, “You know Rosita! It has to be her way or no way!” In my mind, I would think, dude you have no idea, but would never say these words out loud, in fear of having my face smacked and smeared against the palm of her hands. My mom would then take over the comedic thread, and offer up another stitch, and explain how for years we had to cover the unfinished cushions with bed sheets, her face turning beet red as she spoke. If only my mom would’ve turned to look at my sister and me, and seen the embarrassed looks on our faces. To understand what this reveal of information meant to us. How and why was she telling everyone this?

Eventually my mother gave in, years later, and finally purchased a new set of couches–overstuffed, olive green, velvet ones. Though none had a sofa bed mattress for me to sleep on neatly tucked inside.

—-

As I sat in that white jeep, parked in front of 83, the hum of the engine rattling in its cage, I closed my eyes and pressed the back of head against the car seat. My heart began to contract, as the rush of these memories I had so long forgotten began to surface, and were asked to be reremembered. Remember. Remember?

It had been 6 months since I last saw my mother.  3 months since our last phone call. Since I had moved out of her apartment, yet again. Silence, the size of boulders, lodging gigantic-ness between us, yet neither of us budging to bridge the divide.

Tears streamed down my face, but I did not bother to wipe them away. Even during what should have been an intimate, private moment. I needed someone to bear witness. Someone, something, beside the stranger I hardly knew at my side, a person who could never understand how this moment felt or the profoundness of what it meant to return home. I needed my mother and sister by my side.

I didn’t care or bother to explain. But he took my hand into his, in an attempt to connect. He asked: “What’s wrong? Why are you crying?”

I removed my hand from his, as though his skin was a burning flame. Flesh ablaze. My voice escaped, and I heard myself request, “Let’s go.”

He asked: “But why? Are  you sure you want to leave? We just got here.”

Questions upon questions. He heard me, but had not listened.

“I saw what I came to see and now I am ready to go home,” I replied.

The words reverberating in my ears. As though speaking them into the night, I was convincing myself of a truth I did not fully believe.

Home: On Setting Intentions in a New Home and in a New Year

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The first time I moved out on my own I was a smooth year or two out of high school. I can’t immediately recall the nitty-gritty specifics: my exact age, how my then roommate (the high school best friend whose mother also outed me out to my own mother) and I found the apartment, what the actual moving process was like, the weather or season. What I do remember were the feelings: my huevos dropping heavy with audacity and bass after announcing my departure to my mother’s face; the rush of release once the tether that anchored me to her snapped open and cut loose as I walked out through her door; and the feeling that settled at lining of my stomach’s floor in my new bedroom after the move.

For the first time in my life I felt…free.

Felt free not because I had an actual plan in place. I didn’t have a significant amount of money saved, or even a clue about what the fuck what I was going to do next. But rather, this new feeling of free—of freedom—felt new because it was a feeling foreign and unknown to me. New in my body. Having been raised by a single mother, a Pentecostal Christian immigrant woman, not only were costumbres Americanas—such as opinions, options, independence or even autonomy over my own body—not even within the purview of options available to me, they were so inaccessible and far out of reach that I did not dream, desire or long for them.

Once I finally had access to this new freedom, I did not actually know what to do with it. How to hold it. What to name it. How it felt to exist in my body. What mattered was that it was the first time in my life that I would no longer live with her. No longer be around her. No longer have to be in her presence or within the perimeters of her jurisdiction. No longer be suffocating, without breath, caving and shrinking into myself at the weight of her shadow and beneath her mother-grip.

The truth is I had no actual plan. Just heavy huevos and legs that could and did walk away.

What may be considered as important details to most often get rendered lost in my own retellings and rememberings. At 31 years of age my memory, more often than not, fails and betrays me regularly, as the people that know me best already know or have begun to discover.

“I told you I can’t eat seafood.”

“No I never met my grandfather. He died when I was three.”

“Don’t you remember I’m deathly allergic to cats?”

Enters my blank stare.

I find myself often piecing bits and pieces together in hopes to make a semblance of a full, whole memory. And when I can’t rely on myself I rely on others to stitch the gaps and fill the seams in. Help me thread a whole memory together. At first I began laughing my “forgetfulness” off as an ongoing running joke. But little did or do folks know that for me it is a joke of the cruelest kind. The kind that is frightening and paralyzing. Forgetting. I do not want to keep on forgetting. I eventually began mentioning this real reality more casually and entering it into everyday conversations in order to make it feel less scary. But the older I am becoming the more I am starting to think about it real seriously; the severity it, perhaps, one day may turn out to be.

Enters #52essays2017 and my journey this year into what #relentless writer Vanessa Mártir describes as digging into memory.

To be honest I am not sure if I actually do forget—have forgotten—these and other life-significant memories, or if my mind has selectively blocked out the difficult things that are for me to remember and reremember. Recall for the retelling and pleasure of others. Perhaps instead my mind purposely creates and recreates truncated, packaged versions of my history in order to auto-pilot-self-preserve itself. Its own way of ensuring that it, and I, now adult, have the opportunity to begin again. To begin anew.  Reconstruct and remake myself, over and over again. Be the adult-person now that my child-self needed back then.

At 31 years old I have moved a total of nine times since that first move 13 years ago. I know there have been nine moves because recently my sister made me recount each of them, teasing and asking why I moved for each, while on a long drive to Target to pick up storage bins the day after Christmas. The ride right before we had our most recent argument and fight. Perhaps as an effort to connect, she too having recently moved. Trying to connect even though she has yet to make time to visit said new apartment.

For years I’ve thought about writing about each of these homes, and the circumstances that surround their moves to and from. Map and trace them out. Sit with my grief and disappointments. String and connect them together. Make sense of them. Perhaps someday I will. But for right now just know that they happened. That there were lessons learned, growths made and stunted, pieces of me and my/self lost and gained. Each, and the conglomerate of them all together, have made me who I am today.

Fast forward.

Two months ago I moved into my new and current apartment. After two-and-a-half years of feeling physically, emotionally and financially stuck—unable to move or make a move—I finally left the semi-basement of a private home that I rented from the-Greek-landlord-from-hell. When this jackass of a landlord raised my already ridiculous rent an additional $150, despite not providing basic things like heat for the past two winters, I knew then that the Universe was pushing me out—giving me an out—and that I had to listen. When I refused and informed him that I would not pay the rent increase, he mocked me and said that I wouldn’t be able to find anything better. Two weeks later I announced that I had found something better, and that I would be moving out.

I left white-as-hell-Astoria, Queens and moved back to my roots—my home base—that is Woodside, Queens, a mini United Nations in a sea of overwhelming whiteness. I moved back to the same zip code that I grew up in and lived for a 1/3 of my life. I moved back home—not to the same literal apartment building or cross streets, but back to the same zip code and same piece of New York City concrete that comes to mind when someone asks, “Where’s home?” Back to the neighborhood where I first moved out from, untethered, with walking legs, heavy huevos and all.

A smooth two weeks after moving into the (my?) new apartment, after a night of cooking food and hosting a Friendsgiving, my apartment was broken into. He—the alleyway security cameras would later reveal—climbed up the fire escape and through the living room window I had opened the night before so the chilly night air could cool us down while my friends and I danced. I finally lived in an apartment that provided heat—though perhaps this time a little too much heat. Be careful what you wish for. He climbed through my window. A recurring nightmare I used to have as a child when we lived in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn.

The next morning I discovered that my laptop was stolen. I was asleep, laying naked in bed (with my ex?/exlover?/friend?) two rooms down while it happened. I spent that Sunday morning and afternoon swept in a hazy whirlwind of police questions, clouds of fingerprint dust from the investigators’ search for evidence, and the sound of strangers’ heavy feet walking in and out of my apartment. Doing their job, their lives remaining untouched and undisturbed, while my own crumbling at the seams, readied for collecting.

For weeks since then I have been unable to have a single night of restful, uninterrupted sleep. Like clockwork, around that time when the burglary took place, my body wakes itself up. I search to find my face, cheeks drowning in pools of saliva, dreams and my heartbeat suspended midair, hovering over me. Every sound that the walls to my left and right reverberates, every creak that the wooden floorboards above and below makes, I imagine have been produced by this man-who-stole-my-laptop, who has now returned, returned for more, because he knows this apartment holds more for his taking. Or is it the man from my childhood nightmare returning for me?

Each of these night I tumble out of bed groggy, heart in throat, walk through the hallway, and into the living room, assured that he, this man, too will be there. Instead I am greeted by that fire escape window in the living room, now draped and covered in curtain, standing out like a sore eye. Its firm, closed, locked-ness and silence mocking me.

Christmas came and left in a blink. Having been raised by the most pessimist, anti-holidays-yet-fanatically-spiritual Christian that I, and probably you, have ever met, holidays were and are for us like any other day of the year. Growing up we would typically get new socks and underwear—the essentials—for Christmas, a home cooked meal and Dominican cake for our birthdays. Das it. So when New Year’s Eve arrived this time around I wanted to do something. Knew that I needed to do something different. Although I already had agreed to spend the evening at a houseparty, I decide to stay at home and gift myself a meaningful gift: sit with my grief and disappointments. Map and trace them out. String and connect them together. Make sense of them. Needed to mark and remember them. Could not allow myself to, once again, forget.

I began the night by soaking in a bath and repeating prayers of forgiveness and surrender to myself. Allowing myself the space and room to finally cry and grieve. Giving myself permission to finally let go to the guilt that I was carrying and that was consuming me. Having grown up in a Christian home and church, my relationship to prayer was only one-dimensional and one-directional, directed to God, asking Him for forgiveness, but having really little to do with me.

The hardest part of this experience was not the physical loss of something so valuable. Both of my laptops before the last had been previously damaged: the first, I spilled a beer on it and the second a cup of coffee. Rather the most difficult part about this particular experience was how hard I’ve been on myself. That’s because I felt I did everything right. I stopped carrying liquids in my bookbag. I did not eat over or around the laptop. I even did the grown-person shit and got it insured, and after three years, didn’t even use that insurance because I had taken such good care of it. I was disappointed because I had let my guard and defense down. Left my side-eye, chip-on-my-shoulder, guarded, New Yorker-ness off for the night, and instead engaged in that we-are-friends-with-our-neighbors-and-leave-our-doors-and-windows-unlocked-because-we-trust-everyone-white-country-people shit.

Felt free.

Man did I feel dumb. Still do. New York and my momma taught me better.

I spent the rest of the night naked and alone, setting intentions in my new apartment. I fully swept the floors from the farthest corner in the bedroom, making my way into every room, until reaching the entrance of the apartment doorway. I then mopped the floors in the same rhythm, using the home cleaning/cleansing products my friends picked up from a local botanica in Queens after finding out what happened to me. Saged and then incensed each room, setting intentions: what I need to let go, what I want to manifest, what I want this home to be. I threw the broom and mop out. I showered again. Poured myself a glass of wine and sat down with the jar of memories I had been collecting over the past two years. I read and gave thanks to the Universe for each of them. I burned the hurtful and hateful letter my mother had written to me during the-years-of-silence, condemning me to hell for being gay, bible quotes and all, and burned it into forgiveness and with prayers for new beginnings. I spent the next hour writing intentions, saged and burned into existence. Reshifting energy. Setting intentions in my new-new apartment.

2016 be gone.

2017 come through.