We are our mothers. Until we choose not to be. (excerpt)

I now have two small, young kittens. And sometimes, because of all my bigness, its hard to remember these two obvious, but important facts. And the real reality that I have no idea how these two kittens think or process information. Do they process? Do they rationale? Do they know what they are doing? Those moments that I am awaken at 5am by their two hungry mouths (gosh, they always seem to be hungry) yawning, tongues licking or teeth gnawing at my checks, waiting to be fed. Or when I hear them galloping between the living through the bedroom across my bed onto the window sill and flower pots, dragging dirt everywhere in between. Or when I find them chewing at wires, licking whatever scraps of food left on the table or fallen to the floor, gnawing at phone chargers and extension chords, hanging from the window screen like plastered flies or play fighting with one another for hours on end.

Sometimes the occult and hidden desire to snatch them and fling them across the room, or lock them in the bathroom until they “learn their lesson,” rises up and lures to seep it. To give me a break; respite to think and collect myself. As an adult who was once a child reared in a home ruled by fear and intimidation, emotional and physical abuse; whose backside was often on the receiving end of the hard plastic of an iron chord or greenness of a a new tree branch, whose knees were often on the receiving end of a mat filled with hard, dry, uncooked beans or rice, and whose face was often on the receiving end of backhand or open hand slap, my brain is wired and trained to seek and revert back to that which I experienced. Not necessarily, if ever, to actually do that which I experienced, but for these things to run across my mind. For those forms of control and power, punishment and “lesson learning” to be readily available in my arsenal. Trauma exists, resides, and seeps out of our bodies long after the injuries have occurred.

Recently I mentioned to my mother in passing that these two kittens were so much work. Not having seen or spoken to her in a year and a half, I find myself often scrapping and searching for topics and threads of conversations to have with her. I mentioned it in passing because I had assumed that my sister had already told her that my cat Tubbs–the cat that I got when I was in 6th grade without her permission and that for the 20 years that she lived, became one of the strains in our relationship–had passed away back in March. Their names were not asked, no pictures were requested to be seen. Instead, a quick reaction that there were TWO of them. She responded that human beings–that men–were supposed to procreate and have children–not supplemental children with pets and animals. Convinced, somehow, for some reason, that that was/is what I am doing. Picking up that same thread of conversation she laid out during the first 10 minutes of our first face-to-face conversation after a year and a half of not seeing or having spoken to one another. There was no asking of my teaching, or the progress of my degree. No asking of how I’ve been or what occurred during this time. Or why did stop talking? Most certainly no apology. Just a critique of my weight, my hairstyle, a hand laying a prayer that I will return to God’s righteous ways that ended with a spoken desire that I will give her grandchildren.

Little does she know that the reason I don’t want/cannot have children right now is because I am still learning to take care of myself; learning to architect the home and home environment I so longed for but I did not have growing up. Learning to give myself the emotional support and belief in myself that I was not given when I needed it most. Learning to loving myself–not in bits or pieces, parceling myself in fractured crumbs–but rather in my totality. Learning to keep myself sane and healthy. Learning to keep myself alive. And that I am barely succeeding at that.

Little does she know that the reason I don’t want/cannot have children right now is because I am still learning to step outside of her shadow. Learning to grow and claim skin. Learning to embody an identity that is not constructed by her or others, but rather one that is my own.

We are our mothers. Until we choose not to be.


The psychological and physiological effects of poverty run bone deep

The psychological and physiological effects of poverty run bone deep.

Even at this age and stage of the game in my life, I still have moments–particularly when frequenting supermarkets, wine shops, department stores, or shopping in general–where I am viscerally and emotionally transported back to times in my life where I did not have access to financial resources to make (or not make) the same decisions that I can today.

Transported back to my 9 year-old self, having to watch the childhood friend I walked to school with buy chips, juice and candy for his afternoon snack, without a quarter to my name because my mom did not believe in giving an allowance (Allowance? Que allowance? No me vengas con esas constumbres Americanas); transported to my 11 year-old self and embarrassingly having to gather soda bottles in my building and cash them in at supermarkets–similar to this one–in order to make my own allowance, although barely enough to buy a slice of pizza with friends after school; transported to my 22 year-old and recent college graduate-self on food stamps, and spending all of my unemployment benefits to rent a room because I could no longer live in the oppressive environment that which was with my (sadly confused) religious homophobic momma–having a college degree in hand but no job on deck cause higher education places are so good at “preparing you academically” but really shitty at helping you secure employment, you know in the “real world” you hear about throughout k-12 grades once you leave their institutions and finish cutting out dem tuition checks; transported to my 26 year-old self, possessing a masters degree, yet living check-to-check off a 4 hours a week teaching gig, scrapping exactly enough to pay rent in an illegal basement apartment while surviving the summer of the devil without air-conditioning, and waiting for the Universe to throw you a lifeline.

Enter Ph.D acceptance letter.

The psychological and physiological effects of poverty run bone deep.

It fundamentally shapes and informs my impulse at splurging and buying $2000 worth of furniture in a single day/click (i.e. this morning) yet foregrounds the reasons why I still can only buy items on sale, cook at home and can’t bring myself to paying for an expensive meal at a restaurant. Foregrounds my uneasiness in financially oriented events or engaging with financially well off folks/social circles. Foregrounds my inability to calculate tips, perform or understand simple arithmetic math. Foregrounds my inability to save money. Numbers just don’t register in my brain. They don’t teach you this shit in school.

The psychological and physiological effects of poverty run bone deep

Traveling. I’m Always Traveling.

Traveling. I’m Always Traveling.

By José Alfredo Menjivar

“i know only that i am here waiting remembering that once as a child i walked two  miles in my sleep. did i know then where i was going? traveling. i’m always traveling.”

–Sonia Sanchez, “Poem at Thirty.”

Born in Honduras, and raised between Clinton Hill, Brooklyn and Woodside, Queens, schooling­­ and education were foundational cornerstones in our bicultural, bilingual, first-generation American home as far as I can remember. It wasn’t that my mother spent hours helping my sister and me with our reading, writing and arithmetic homework. Nor did she read bedtime stories, hoping to strengthen our linguistic repertoires­. In fact, she never did any of these things. As a single, working-class, mother of two, her time outside of the home was consumed with various part-time jobs in order to make financial ends meet. By the time she got home, the assumption and expectation was that our homework was completed–which it was, most of the times.

Thus, from an early age it was communicated and understood that schooling–the act of attending an academic, institutional setting–and education–the processes of learning–were my sole responsibilities as a household member. And for a while, they were. But somewhere along the path of my educational trajectory the commitment to upholding my end to mami’s parent-child contract began to slowly deteriorate. In middle school I began to cut classes, and then missed entire school days. I was bored and disengaged with academia primarily because my hybrid Latino-American culture, languages, or myself were not represented in an overwhelming white, male and heteronormative curriculum taught by all white teachers.

When I turned fourteen years old and began public high school, I took a part-time afterschool job at a New York Public Library. During the school day, I would stare at the clocks and count down the seconds until the school day was announced over. I could not stomach the thought of staying an additional second more than I was required to. Therefore, I did not partake in any clubs, extracurricular activities, or college now opportunities. By the end of my high school career my resume was skeletal and bare bones. In spite of this, I was able to still able graduate on time, with honors, at the age of seventeen.

As a result of not seeking post-graduation guidance, I attended Hunter College primarily for two reasons: one, it was the only college whose name I heard before, and two, it was the college closest to home, thus requiring the least amount of travel to and from. While at Hunter College I majored in cultural anthropology primarily because culture was what I spent most of my life navigating and trying to understand. A semester shy from graduating, the responsibilities at my full time job increased, and caused me to take a year off of school to reevaluate and collect myself.

A year later, I was encouraged to apply to The New School. As apprehensive as I felt, knowing well I could never afford to pay the cost of tuition, I applied to Lang College through the HEOP. To my surprise, I was accepted, given scholarship, and allowed to transfer half of my credits from Hunter College. For the next year and a half, I worked hard to accumulate credits for my new major, Urban Studies. If it were not for HEOP, I would have never been able to attend a private university, and would have never discovered my passion for social justice education. Once graduated from Lang, I taught for three years in a pre-school and various primary school classes as a literacy coach and an assistant teacher. Afterwards, I completed a Master of Arts in Teaching Degree in Literature at Bard College, and worked as a guidance counselor and literature teacher at a transfer school in the South Bronx.

This past summer, I had the privilege of returning to The New School and worked closely with HEOP staff to develop and teach two original courses: Feminist Identity Politics: From Margin to Center, From Theory to Action and Queer(ing) Cinema: Gender, Sex and Sexuality in the Films of Pedro Almodóvar to incoming freshmen HEOP students through the “Summer Bridge Program.” Currently, I am a doctoral student in the Urban Education Program at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY), a board member for the organization Queers for Economic Justice, and an active member of the New York Collective of Radical Educators (NYCoRE). After a lifetime of traveling, it seems my feet have found root and rest in the terrain that is urban education.