Tag Archives: family

Después del Huracán

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Mi abuela Margot y mi abuelo Quino vivían justo frente al Río Guayo. El puente que une a la municipalidad de Adjuntas con la municipalidad de Lares está justo frente al que fuera su hogar. Era en este río en el que nos bañábamos en el verano. Cuando pasaba el huracán, era en este río donde nos hacíamos más familia y más comunidad.

Dice el dicho que después de la tormenta, viene la calma. Esto es quizás así; pero después de la tormenta también vienen los desafíos de cómo vivir sin las necesidades básicas a las que nos hemos acostumbrado. Después de la tormenta también vienen los días sin luz, sin agua, con comida limitada… vienen los días largos sin saber cuánto tiempo será antes de que la vida vuelva a la normalidad. Después de la tormenta viene el resuelve, como le llamamos en mi pueblo.

No es secreto que cada vez que hace un viento fuerte, la frágil infraestructura de Puerto Rico sufre. En mi barrio, digo yo que cada vez que alguien destornuda duro, la luz se va. El agua potable también es un reto. Esa viene cada dos días; a veces un poco menos seguida. Prácticamente casa cuenta con sus tanques de agua para recolectarla cuando está disponible y así mantener el suministro cuando se vuelva a ir. Cuando chiquito, teníamos acceso a una quebrada de la cual sacábamos agua para tomar. El agua para uso diario la traíamos también de allí, pero por tubos y con bomba que mi papá instaló. Había conexión al sistema de la AAA , pero no dependíamos de ella para abastecernos de agua.

Recuerdo que después de los huracanes, cuando tanto la luz como el agua se iban por semanas, trasladábamos algunas de nuestras rutinas diarias al Río Guayo. Allí, debajo del puente que une a Adjuntas con Lares, un grupo de mujeres – la mayoría de mi familia – sacaba barras de jabones, paletas, cestos y tablas para lavar ropa. Sentadas en piedras o en banquitos que sus maridos le hacían, las mujeres comenzaban a lavar las ropas de sus familias. Con cada estrujada de ropa, con cada movimiento de limpieza, comenzaban los chistes, las carcajadas, las noticias del día y los chismes de barrio. Con cada pieza lavada, se enteraba uno de los planes para las comidas comunitarias de más tarde, de las posibilidades de que la luz y el agua llegaran más tarde de lo esperado, o de dónde ya estaban vendiendo pan caliente…

La niñez recorría el puente y nos tirábamos al río. Las madres nos gritaban que nos quedáramos quietos porque algo nos podía pasar. Algún niño o alguna niña, siempre, nos arruinaba el día cayéndose entre las piedras y abriéndose alguna herida. En ese momento se paraban todas las actividades para darle consuelo primero y un buen regaño después – o quizás era al revés, no recuerdo – al niño o la niña lastimada.

Los maridos, mientras las mujeres limpiaban las ropas, se iban a seguir limpiando los caminos. Vivir en el campo significa dos cosas: siempre hay mucho árbol en la carretera cuando pasa una tormenta, y los caminos no han sido construidos de la mejor manera así que siempre estarán en necesidad de reparación. Recuerdo que mi papá se llevaba la guagua pick-up, su machete, su sierra y cualquier otra herramienta que fuera útil, coordinaba con otros y se iban por caminos que sabían que los gobiernos municipales y estatales no les darían atención. Así era como comenzaban a ayudar a que los vecinos se conectaran. Después del huracán, la comunidad se juntaba para levantarse.

En algún momento del día, cuando ya las ropas estaban limpias, se reunían las mujeres para cocinar. Las ollas eran de tamaño enorme, como para alimentar a un ejército. Se cocinaba lo que hubiese: arroz, habichuelas, gandules, bruquenas del río, chopas del lago, pollos, puerco, guineos, ñames, yahutía, malanga, chayotes, plátanos, huevos… En fin, lo que hubiese por allí se hacía de comida para todos y todas. Después de la comida salían las sillas y las mesas, el juego de dominó estaba listo. Esta era la parte favorita de mi abuela paterna: el juego de dominó. No había en todo Castañer una persona más fanática del dominó que mi abuela Margot. Sus hijos e hijas le temían en la mesa. Ninguna o ninguno la querían tener como pareja de juego, porque si perdías la mano de dominó, ella te desheredaba. ¡Doña Margot no jugaba con su dominó! Abuela gritaba, se emocionaba, se vivía el juego desde el comienzo. Verla jugar dominó con una estrategia nítida, desarrollada por años de devoción a su juego favorito, era toda una experiencia.

Para mí, de niño, el tiempo después del huracán era más como una película de acción y de aventura. Era el tiempo en que la familia y la comunidad se unían. Era el tiempo de jugar debajo del puente del Río Guayo y comer en familia. Era el tiempo de ver las estrellas en el cielo al final del día, cuando se abría el firmamento y se iluminaba el cielo raso con un millón de estrellitas que nos recordaban tanto la fuerza de la naturaleza como el tesón de un pueblo que se levanta su dolor para alcanzarlas.

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Filed under familia, Heritage, Hispanics, Hispanos, Huricaine, Identidad, Identity, Latino, Puerto Rico, Recuerdos, tradiciones

While Waiting for News of My Family After Hurricane Maria

69735502People have asked me how I’ve been able to function these past few days. It has not been easy. My parents, sister, and I had been estranged for years. When I was diagnosed with cancer, they reached out. My husband and I visited with them for the first time on December 25th for their Christmas party. We’ve been in communication ever since.

As the hurricane approached, we stayed in communication through text. Then I called a few days before to check up on them. My mom was calmed and not too worried. Cellphone signal had came back just the day before I called. They still had no power in the neighborhood, but the water was back. They were prepared; they had water, food, fuel, and an electric plant. My sister – who works for the Department of the Family of the Commonwealth – had visited a shelter and checked up on her clients. They were ready to face the hurricane. The last I heard from my mom was a reply to my text saying: “yes, I am calmed.”

Those are the last few words I have from my family. I have not heard from them yet.

I have read news reports that tell me my neighborhood is fine and that there are no registered deaths in my hometown as of today. I read about the efforts to clear the roads and make sure that people have access to larger towns to get supplies. But there are no ways to get in touch with the outside world. How does the word go out about what’s happening? People from the metro area in San Juan who have family in Adjuntas go down to check up on them and then share what they had seen and heard on social media as the limited access to cellphone coverage allows them to.

But now going back to the question: How have I been able to function?

I have compartmentalized my self. Having to communicate in English helps. It is not my language. It is not my soul. It is not what connects me emotionally to the world. I focused on the tasks. I focused on the routine (of not having a routine), and pay attention only to the work in front of me. I have the news in the background and read the texts and news that I get constantly. But those are in español, those do not belong to the workplace. Those belong to mí.

I have compartmentalized my life in the past few days. Sure, I have shared news with coworkers and friends who ask. I have even shed a tear or two while doing so. I have tried to perform what is asked of me by the US society: calmness, be collected, show little emotion when talking about such things, etc. Like always, I have learned how to perform according to the social rules of the social mores of the society I live in. I have completely disconnected myself from all, creating walls that separate the mí from the me.

When I am home, or when I am speaking with a close friend, or when I am alone in my office and listening to the news, I cry. I let it all go and finally feel mí.

I know that my family is fine. Something within me tells me so. I also know that it will be probably weeks before I hear from them. I, too, am from those areas in the world where nobody cares about you; where the government has nothing to gain but votes every so often, where “charities” have no good faces or locations for photo-ops. I am from the place where the only thing that helps us is ourselves: the community who stands up, puts on their boots, picks up their machetes, brave the remainder rain and winds, and goes out to join one by one as they clear paths and help restore their comunidad. That resiliency is what helps me function. I am a jíbaro, and jíbaros don’t give up.

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Filed under Español, ethnicity, familia, Heritage, Hispanics, Hispanos, Huricaine, Identidad, Identity, Latino, Puerto Rico

I March For My Niece

My niece, Emely, is nine years old. She is bright, and funny, and loves to read, and loves math, and wants to become a singer and actress. A couple of years ago she had a list of books she wanted me to buy for her. Of course, as a bibliophile, I complied and bought all the books she asked me for and more. When I visited her again, she told me about one of the books I had given her.img_7249

I still remember when Emely started school. Since Emely grew up in a Spanish-speaking household, when she started school she didn’t speak English. She learned the language from her teachers and her classmates. On one occasion, when I asked her to speak Spanish with us and use English for other conversations in order to help her stay bilingual, she said something that shook me to my core. “Spanish is UUUUGLY!” she said. With a heavy heart, I asked her why she said that. She said that everyone in school said it. Spanish is ugly. English is beautiful.

I have talked with Emely about the importance of learning as many languages as she can. I have told her about the importance of using both English and Spanish to communicate, and to take any opportunity she might have in the future at school to learn other languages. I have told her how proud we are of her. I have continued to make sure that she is proud of her Mexican heritage and that she understands what it means to be a USAmerican too. I have shared with her my own Puerto Rican culture and heritage and have encouraged her to adopt what she might want to adopt from it. I have shared with her how wonderful it is to have a non-traditional family, and what a blessing it is that she has a wonderful, supportive, caring mother, and two dads, and so many uncles and aunts, and siblings who live in different homes, and a madrina and a padrino who care deeply for her.

img_7149Today, as a white supremacist, xenophobe, and sexual predator took the oath of office as President, I worry about Emely and her future as a Latina woman growing up in the USA. I know I cannot protect Emely or her brother all the time. I also know that her parents’ immigration status prevents them from providing all the protections that she – both of them, my niece and my nephew – deserve. But there are some things I can do. I can join the RESISTANCE and stand up for my niece.

And so, Emely, I will march tomorrow, Saturday, January 21st. Emely, I will answer the invitation from other women around the USA and the world to stand up to injustices against women. Even though you might be too young to understand, I will march because I love you, because I respect you, and because I believe in you as a woman.

There are also other reasons why I march in solidarity with my niece tomorrow. These are not the only ones, but here are some reasons to march:

I march because I believe that my niece Emely’s brown body is hers and only hers. No one, no matter what position of authority they might have, even if it’s the Presidency of the USA, has the right to touch your brown body, let alone grab it violently and without permission.

I march because I believe that you have the right to education, and that you have the right to make choices as to how far you want to take your education and what profession to pursue or not pursue. You have the right to access a job that is suitable to your abilities and your passions, and to be paid fairly and at the same rate than any male who will do the same job.img_9337

I march because, when the time comes for you to make choices about your body, it should be you, and only you, who make those decisions. Because your brown body is yours and deserves to be respected and honored. Because your brown skin is beautiful, and normal, and is neither “exotic” nor a stereotype to be paraded at the whim of those with power.

I march because I know that your parents can’t be exposed to deportation and because I want to continue being your uncle, not having to be your foster parent should something were to happen to my brother- and sister-in-law.

I march because I believe that, although you have been raised Roman Catholic, you should have the right to make the decision that makes YOU comfortable. I march because, if in the future you want to wear a hijab, you should be able to do it without fear of intimidation. I march because if in the future you choose not to believe in anything, you should not be punished for having no religion.

I march because I believe that you should feel safe in wearing whatever the hell you want to wear in public. I march because I believe that you should feel safe walking down the street and that no one should be cat-calling you, or intimidating you, or threatening your life and safety.

I march because I believe that you should be free to choose to love whomever you want to love, just as I love your uncle who gave me the blessing of being welcomed by this wonderful family that now both you and I, as outsiders, call “nuestra familia.” I march because I believe that you should love as many people as you wish to love and not being condemn for it.

I march because, if I march today, I know… I know… that by the time your Quinceañera comes, this will be a safer place for you and all your loved ones.

I could continue listing reasons to march, Emely, but I can’t. My eyes are filled with tears – you know how much I cry – and I can’t write anymore. But be sure, sobrina, I will march for you. I march for you, mi querida sobrina. I march because I know that staying home is not an option.

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Filed under Culture, discrimination, ethnicity, familia, Feminism, Heritage, Hispanics, Hispanos, History, Human Rights, Identidad, Identity, immigration, justice, Latino, niña, niñez, niño, Peace, race, racism, resistance, Social Movements, United States, USA, Women rights

Seeing God in Abuela

When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up.
Psalm 27.10, KJV

My abuela Palmira left this world on March 30th, 2014. She was the last one of my grandparents to leave us. I had been blessed with three sets of grandparents as my father had two sets of parents, his birth parents, abuelo Quino and abuela Margot, and the couple of welcomed him into their family when he was quite young and working away from his hometown, abuelo Jobito and abuela Ester. My maternal grandfather, abuelo Juanito, left us when I was 8 years old but I still remember him very well. Every Sunday afternoon, when the family gathered at their home, he would sit on his rocking chair and tell us funny stories that would make us laugh for hours. Abuela Palmira would stand next to him and laugh with all of us.

Abuela Palmira   There was something peculiar about my maternal grandparents. They practiced Spiritism, a religion in which every human being is of sacred worth and where spirits guide us to be in communion with the Great Spirit that is sometimes called God. At their home, everyone was welcomed and celebrated. They never rejected anyone. My grandparents believed in serving everyone and in welcoming everyone without distinction. Although I was too young when my grandfather died and thus not even aware of my own sexual orientation, I know that my grandfather would have accepted me and celebrated me. My grandmother, however, had the chance to know who I am as a whole person and she always, without doubt and without excuses, celebrated me for who I am.

When I think about abuela Palmira, the verse that always comes to mind is that of Psalm 27.10: “When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up.” When my parents rejected me for being queer, it was abuela who welcomed me. She always supported me and celebrated my life. When I introduced her to my now husband, I was told that she spent months telling everyone who would listen about the wonderful man I had met. Recently, while talking with an aunt, she told me how they found among abuela’s personal items the wedding invitation I had sent her for my marriage. I knew she would not be able to attend my wedding due to health problems, but she had kept that invitation as an important memento. Through these actions, I can say that abuela embodied the Holy One in my life. Thus, when my parents disowned me, God took me up through the love, support and affirmation of my abuela Palmira.

The Sunday before abuela departed this world, my husband and I spent time with her. We had been in Puerto Rico for vacation, and of course I had to go visit abuela. She made us laugh with her witty remarks. This was abuela. She was always making jokes and laughing about things, even when her health wasn’t the best, she always found joy in living. I am not naïve to say that she was perfect, because none of us are. She had her flaws and made mistakes like the rest of us. But her love and support meant the world to me, and it is those values that will stay with me throughout my life. Her love, her support, her laughter that last time I saw her will always be the manifestation of God in my life. I will keep her memory alive as long as I live and I will always share with the world the values that she shared with me.

Abuela Palmira, you are now gone from us, as you would have said, you are now “unfleshed”, but your spirit will continue to guide me just as the spirit of abuelo Juanito has never left me. Gracias por todo, abuelita.

 

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Filed under amor, Culture, Dios, familia, Gay, Heritage, Hispanics, Latino, Lesbian, LGBTQ, Puerto Rico, Queer, Theology

An Update

It’s been a while since my last post on this blog. Way too much has happened since. I hope to be in a more regular schedule of writings in the months to come, but for now, I thought appropriate to share some of the reasons I have been so silent in the past few months. 

First, I have traveled quite a bit these past few months. First a mission trip to Tijuana, México where I was volunteering at a women’s shelter. Then a short vacation to Puerto Rico with my spouse and some friends. Then spent some time in Cuba for the International Journey Against Homophobia. I promise I will share some of the stories later in the year. 

Second, a painful loss in my family. My beloved abuela, Palmira Rivera, died on April 30th, the same day I was returning to Seattle from my vacation in Puerto Rico. Thankfully, my husband and I got to spend a great time with my abuela the Sunday before she died. Abuela Palmira made us laugh… she laughed and made jokes and had a great time. I feel at peace knowing that the last I saw of my abuela was her laugh. There are many other stories about abuela that I’ll be sharing with you. For now, all I want to say is that she was the biggest one of my supporters. Even when my parents cut me off their lives, abuela welcomed me and showed her unconditional love for me and my spouse. I will miss her dearly.

Finally, some big news: I will be moving from Seattle, WA to Madison, WI. I had been called to serve as the Executive Director of The Crossing, an ecumenical (American Baptist, United Church of Christ and United Methodist) campus ministry at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. This is a huge change for me. I am leaving behind over 15 years of parish ministry and starting something completely new. I am both excited and nervous about this new chance. I look forward to working with students and also reaching out to local congregations and individuals who are passionate about reaching out to new generations of leaders. 

I have done quite a few other things here and there. But right now I am in the middle of important transitions in my life and the life of my family. I look forward to the many more opened doors that are ahead of me and to close some chapters in my life as well. That’s it for now. I will be coming back with more stories and commentaries in the coming weeks. 

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Family Matters

On Saturday was my wedding. As the minister was preaching, our two-years old nephew danced in front of us, and then approached my husband to sit on his lap. I looked at the first row of chairs in the sanctuary, where my husband’s family was sitting, and noticed that our six-years old niece wanted to move and join us to. I did what I thought was appropriate: I signaled her to come forward and sit with us. 

There we were; my husband holding our nephew on his lap, and me holding our niece on my lap. Then I looked around and saw my new family. There was my brother-in-law and his (female) partner, my husband’s cousin and his girlfriend, and a couple of friends who have been like brothers to either my husband or me. There was not a single one of my blood relatives. None could be there for different reasons and my parents and sister have already decided I am not part of their lives. But as I was looking around at my new family, I realized how “family” is such a wonderfully diverse reality. 

ImagePeople talk about “traditional families” as if there was always such thing. In reality, families have always been diverse. There is no such thing as a “traditional” family. There is ideal of family. Our families come in many forms and expressions. I looked around and saw how my family present there was the “new normal” if you will. My brother-in-law and his partner have been together for many years but are yet to get married. He is raising her eldest daughter, who spends time with her birth dad and his family every other weekend. Our nephew was born two years ago, the product of the love of my brother-in-law and his female partner. Then, there was my husband’s cousin, who is dating a lovely, young, white American woman who speaks no Spanish (believe me, that in itself is a HUGE thing!) They were attending the wedding of two men who had decided to commit to each other and to love each other.

Believe it or not, this is more common than people want to admit. Families come in so many varieties and forms! It is such a wonderful thing to see the diversity that exists in life, and to enjoy this diversity with all of its wonders and beauty. Family is family is family… no matter what form it takes… 

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