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First and Last Confession

 

My brother in law told me that I had to go to confession. I imagined a wooden closet the size of a phone booth with a screen over the window, but I was directed to the priest’s office instead. He was sitting behind his desk and gestured for me to sit down in the empty chair. I wanted to reach up and touch my wedding pienado, the large looping bun on the top of my head, held in place with half a can of hairspray and about one hundred bobby pins, but I knew better.

            “Shit, shit, shit,” was all I could think.

What if I didn’t understand him? What if he spoke that kind of rapid fire Spanish that my college Spanish couldn’t keep up with? I had told my husband, the man that I had already been married to, by the state, for two years that I also wanted a traditional Mexican wedding.  Naively, I hadn’t quite realized that all this church stuff is what he thought I meant, when what I really meant was Mexico, his family, some birria, and Mariachis.

“How long has it been since your last confession,” the priest asked in Spanish, a phrase that I half understood and half expected.

“Um, nunca, nunca, he confesado,” I stammered not wanting to lie straight away.

“Nunca?”

I shook my head.

I was baptized as a baby, but that was it. Once my mother left my father, she left, Los Angeles, and in some ways, Mexican culture, and definitely religion, behind. I was only allowed (deemed eligible, by men, of course) to marry my husband in the Catholic Church because I had done six months of adult catechism in a progressive Catholic church in the Bay Area. Six months of Tuesday nights talking about Jesus. I wouldn’t have minded six months of talking about La Virgen de Guadalupe, but six months of talking about Catholics, and the Bible, and Jesus just made it clear why I steered clear of religion in the first place: the holy trinity of male deities, too much patriarchy, and way too much misogyny. Still I’m Mexican, a Xicana, and I was marrying a Mexican national, I figured it wouldn’t kill me to learn more about the church, the rituals, and more about the interconnectedness between Mexican culture and its predominate religion.

Fortunately, my brother-in-law, Mario, who planned the wedding, had filled the priest in on my unique situation and I had been sent to Mexico with a letter from the local diocese that assured the Mexican priest I was eligible for the sacrament of marriage once he performed my first communion and confirmation. Fast forward sacraments, each would follow the other in quick succession, the first communion; hold this candle, sip this wine, and the confirmation; please, padre, I prayed silently, please don’t drip oil on my white dress, all performed before my immediate family just before the start of the wedding ceremony itself. It was a lot of waiting before I got my mariachis, but none of it would happen until I had my first and last confession.

The priest’s office was heavy and dark. The priest furrowed his brow, unsure of what to do or say, for I’m certain he’d never been in this situation before. I sat, my hands folded in my lap on my wedding gown, watching him decide what to do, nervous that he’d expect me to recite some prayer in Spanish that I had never even said in English.

“Entonces, dime ha sido una hija obediente?”

Had I been an obedient daughter? To whom? My wife beater father who I never knew? My mind raced for a suitable answer and the right words to express them with in a language that I struggled to speak smoothly, and I decided I didn’t need to count my father.

“Si, Padre,” I said, though no one had used the word obedient to describe me since I was in the first grade. I wanted to crack with laughter, but I knew this wasn’t the time.

“Has sido una hermana buena con tus hermanos?”

“Si, Padre,” I said, even though I had told my blonde sister she was adopted, and beat up my brother when we fought until he grew taller than me.

“Muy bien,” he said, and he blessed me, presided over my first communion, confirmed me, and married me to my husband in his family’s church, which brought great joy and comfort to his family who hadn’t seen him in ten years because he wasn’t a citizen, didn’t have legal residency, and couldn’t travel back and forth. So I knelt, and I stood, and I stood, and I knelt, and squeezed my husband’s hand, and sweated in my heavy gown, and mouthed, “watermelon, watermelon, watermelon,” while everyone else recited prayers memorized from childhood. And I stared up at the towering Jesus on the cross, unable to escape his sad eyes and the irony of it all, until we busted from the church and into the arms of family, a showering of rice, and the celebratory sounds of Mariachi horns all around us.

*Previously published in Joaquin Magazine

I Swear Rachel Dolezal’s In Full Color: Finding My Place in a Black and White Word, Is Not Satire, But This Is

In the summer of 2015 we learned of Rachel Dolezal, the wannabe black woman who headed up the Spokane Washington NAACP. In an event almost too shocking to believe, yet, somehow totally believable in America, the news of Dolezal’s deception created widespread use of a word, sure to make it in the dictionary, faster than whites seeking representation for claims they were victims of race-based, discriminatory hiring practices.

The word dolezal, Czech and Slovak in origin, meaning lazy — as of late, especially in light of her new book In Full Color: Finding My Place in a Black and White Word, has come to mean quite the opposite. By popular usage the word dolezal is used to describe someone who works rather hard, going to extensive lengths to pose as someone they are not.

Practical examples include claiming to be descended from a royal line, to be Native American, or having a Native American grandmother or great grandmother, probably Cherokee, or claiming to be Mexican for the purposes of writing a best-selling memoir about growing up in LA, and not common until quite recently, claiming to be African American.

To dolezal, or to dozal for short, describes the act of expending a great deal of energy, time, and even money to coopt and perform another ethnic identity while concealing one’s own. This phenomenon seems to afflict those vulnerable to insecurities about their actual ethnicities, or those who believe that white American culture lacks a specific cultural identity, one with full rights and privileges so omnipresent as to be invisible.

In the recent past, one can find numerous examples of people of color, passing or attempting to pass as white to avoid racial discrimination, or to gain access to the aforementioned rights and privileges, but we can all agree that this behavior, while unfortunate, is excusable, while choosing to be white when its convenient, and to dolezal for a prestigious position that one could have earned as an ally is not.

dolezal

verb

The act of going to extensive lengths to pose as another ethnic identity while concealing one’s own

dolezal

adjective

He married a woman from India, but he’s no dolezal.

zalling (informal)

Verb

She married a guy from Mexico, and she is zalling like she’s Mexican.

Synonyms: wannabe, poser, fake, opportunist

Antonyms: sincere, true, truthful, ally

 

The President Elect’s Ministry of Truth

1984-2

I can understand the urge to boycott things as a form of resistance, but I forced myself to listen to and watch  — not my president’s—first press conference since the election because as exhausting as it is and as it will get, I need to get angry and stay angry. We all do. “Let fury have the hour, anger can be power/D’you know that you can use it?”

All that said, I’m not the first person to point out how Orwellian things have gotten in American politics, but having read 1984 with my students just about every year for the past 13 years, and having the ability to recite several parts of it by memory, I feel it’s my duty not to simply make the comparison, but also to point out that Orwell’s chief concern in writing 1984 was to warn readers about authoritarian rulers and the tactics they use to manipulate, confuse, trick, and control. As a disciple of Orwell’s, I realize, all this comes a bit late bit. I should have started writing this sooner, but as a disciple of Orwell’s I also know that one must continue to resist – to keep a record, to remember, to stay focused, vigilant.

1984

If the Party could thrust its hand into the past and say of this or that event, IT NEVER                     HAPPENED—that, surely, was more terrifying than mere torture and death?  (Orwell                        43-44)

‘I didn’t say shut down immigration.’ Donald Trump

http://thefederalist.com/2016/03/24/10-things-trump-said-but-says-he-didnt/

1984

The Party said that Oceania had never been in alliance with Eurasia. He, Winston Smith,               knew that Oceania had been in alliance with Eurasia as short a time as four years ago.                   But where did that knowledge exist? Only in his own consciousness, which in any case                   must  soon be annihilated. And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed— if             all  records told the same tale—then the lie passed into history and became truth. ‘Who               controls the past,’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present                   controls the past.’ (Orwell 44)

The day after the Brussels terrorist attack (3/22/16), Trump said in an interview with CBS “This Morning,” “I didn’t say shut it down. I said you have to be very careful. We have to be very, very strong and vigilant at the borders.”

On December 7, 2015, Trump issued a press release that begins, “Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” He read and reaffirmed his statement at a rally that day.

http://thefederalist.com/2016/03/24/10-things-trump-said-but-says-he-didnt/

Video begins at attack of the press, dictatorial behaviors displayed by the pres elect in the recent past.

1984

Winston sank his arms to his sides and slowly refilled his lungs with air. His mind slid                     away into the labyrinthine world of doublethink. To know and not to know, to be                             conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold                           simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and             believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying                   claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian             of democracy, to forget whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into                     memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again:               and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself. That was the ultimate                       subtlety: consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become                         unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word             ‘doublethink’ involved the use of doublethink. (Orwell 44-45)

Jan. 28, 2016: Asking for Megyn Kelly’s removal from a debate

Trump’s war with Kelly led to him boycotting the Fox News/Google debate in Iowa. An hour before the other candidates took the stage, Trump insisted on CNN his absence was due to a mocking Fox News press release and he “never once asked that (Kelly) be removed.”

We found several instances of Trump and his campaign telling reporters and tweeting about skipping the debate because of Kelly. He went so far as to say Kelly “should not be allowed” to moderate, that she “should recuse herself,” and she “shouldn’t be in the debate.”

http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/article/2016/jul/06/17-things-donald-trump-said-and-then-denied-saying/

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My Very Own Midlife Mixtape

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Me & Ivy of Kamala and The Karnivores

My friend, Nancy Davis Kho, writer, blogger, and other mother extraordinaire invited me to be a guest on her blog Midlife Mixtape, and she’s giving away a free copy of my book The Spitboy Rule Tales of a Xicana in a Female Punk Band.

Nancy and I met when we both earned spots on the San Francisco Listen To Your Mother cast in 2013. I loved the name of her blog Midlife Mixtape the moment she told to me; little did I know that I’d be going into perimenopause within a year or so of meeting her. 

Now a proud perimenopunk, I’ve made a guest post on Midlife Mixtape, and I got to make my own mixtape — check it out here! The Spitboy Rule Mixtape  and enter the free drawing for my book!

Why The Hero Narrative is Hurting America

My husband, Ines, is from Mexico. He views America and American culture from somewhat of an outsider perspective, and he often complains while watching the nightly news that in America, everyone’s a hero. I see his point that when everyone is called a hero that no one really is, but I used to scold him anyway for being so pessimistic, or not quite appreciating the goodness in people that these stories seek to display. However in the midst of another season of mass killings and the worn out hero narrative, Ines’ familiar complaint is starting to make a great deal more sense.

The TV news media does have its favorite heroes: the teacher hero, the quick-thinking by-stander hero, the immigrant with an accent hero, the child hero, and even my personal favorite, the hero pet.

In this week’s shooting, the Lafayette, Louisiana, shooting, the heroes are teachers, two quick-thinking women are being hailed as heroes. One woman shielded her friend, took a bullet even, and the other had the presence of mind to find and sound the fire alarm. As a teacher myself, I love the hero teacher narrative, women who soothe or shield young children, jump into action, as if on instinct, women who use their bodies and their intellect to save others. There are male teacher heroes too, the men, some muscular, some not, who tackle the gunmen and hold on until authorities arrive.

The two teachers in Louisiana, Jena Meaux and Ali Martin were really brave and probably saved many lives, but we don’t know that for sure. And that’s the problem – probably dressed up in a touching narrative about heroism in the confusing, sad, and intensely emotional days following a mass shooting provides solace in the face of inexplicable and senseless death. Probably gives us something to feel good about, something to cling to, a story to tell when what we should be doing is asking the obvious questions. The first question is why? And then, what the fuck is wrong with this country? Why are there so many angry gun-toting white men? What would motivate this epidemic of random killing? And the police shootings, all the black Americans shot and killed in quickly escalated episodes, those detained, often dying in custody, the violence against women, human trafficking, and sexual abuse of children, often by acquaintances or even their own family.

I hate to say it, but in the midst of this violence, the sadness that is our country, heroes, while they may feel necessary to go on, to allow us to breath a sigh of relief while we sip our morning cup of coffee, they are beside the point. They detract from the problem; they keep us from asking the hard questions, from doing real work, insisting on gun control, insisting on increased funding for family support and education to end the cycle of violence and for mental health services, insisting on better police training, insisting on just and equitable housing and educational opportunities for all Americans, and some very real soul searching about our racism problem. So after every mass shooting, stop waiting for stories about the community coming together to help the families of the victims; stop waiting for slogans, and wrist bands, and stop waiting for heroes, the anticipated, comfort of the hero narrative, and the elusion that alone without your participation that the heroes make it all better – at least until the next shooter opens fire.

Piano, Privilege, and Being Put in My Place

Piano

I’ve always admired those stories where some little kid walks up to a piano and starts playing a song by ear, or that one about the child who composed her first song at the age of five. No matter that it was probably a pretty shitty song, I’ve always admired those stories. While many will tell me that he got a late start, my son began playing the piano when he was only seven. He’s thirteen now, but it only occurred to me recently that these stories are about privilege. You don’t just walk up to a piano and start playing a song by ear or composing on the piano at the age of five unless you own one, unless you grew up listening to music, classical or jazz, and not watching reruns of Bonanza on a twelve inch black and white TV.

Once we realized that our son was serious about piano, wasn’t going to give it up after two weeks like he did tot-soccer, we got him one for free. It turns out that privileged folks in the Bay Area give them away to make space in their houses, and other privileged folks pay $200 to have them moved by a piano moving company. That’s right we paid $200 to move a free piano. Moving a piano seems an almost impossible task, but I learned that that all you need is a handmade, twelve by twelve inch wooden dolly with a piece of shag carpet nailed to the top. After rolling it out of the van, the movers put the piano on this wooden dolly, and wheeled it up to our house. The two men, neither of whom was particularly muscular, lifted the piano up the three steps to my house, managed it around the bend at the doorway, and up the last step. The large, dark wood, upright piano with its yellow keys like old chipped teeth fit in just right with our scuffed, deco style dining room table.

Since I grew up in a small town on welfare in a house that looked more like a shack, with its tin roof and make-shift rooms, I never thought I’d own, or even live in house with a dining room and hard wood floors, a house with space for a piano, and I never imagined I’d own a piano, not even a hand-me-down, though I loved the idea of having a child who played one. Growing up Chicana in a hick town, piano seemed unattainable. They cost a lot of money and you couldn’t learn to play piano at school like you could the clarinet or trumpet. I played the flute; borrowed one from the school until my mom could afford to rent-to-own. When I got my flute, I decorated the case with unicorn stickers and carried it to school everyday by the slender leather handle, feeling fancy, and glad that I hadn’t decided to play trombone.

As an adult, I’ve had many wild piano playing fantasies, me playing the theme to Bizet’s “Carmen” in a red dress. I even tried learning to play alongside my son, but I don’t remember wanting to learn when I was young. I know now it’s because Piano was not an option. I suppose that my appreciation for piano, reading, and writing, the finer things in life, can be attributed to my sister’s dad, David. David was one of those crazy geniuses, a man who literally suffered from schizophrenia, a man who played every piano he saw. He wrote poetry too. For some reason, my mom’s friend James Garcia had a piano in his doublewide trailer. Before all the adults drank too much beer and smoked too much pot; before someone got mad and yelled at someone else, David would play the piano, a different song each time. I’d sit on the couch nearby and watch in awe as his fingers glided over the keys to a song he had locked somewhere in his memory. Watching him play, I came to understand that David had grown up differently than we had, a psychologist for a father, new clothes, his own room, and lessons, but he never talked about any of that because none of it made him happy.

And now, in spite of my background, I’m the privileged one. My son has his own room, a drawer full of skinny jeans, guitars, an amp, a piano, and lessons. It’s a strange thing to admit, a bit disorienting after internalizing shame about being Mexican and collecting Welfare, after sharing a room with my brother, and having only one pair of warm tights in winter, but I’d be a fool not to admit it and a fraud. Still, I weird out sometimes, thinking about how different my son’s childhood is from mine, from his father’s dirt floors in Mexico, how we can afford instruments, private lessons, and jazz concerts, the means to support his dream. And because suffering is cool, and having privilege is not, I feel bad sometimes, decadent, for being proud of my son who plays jazz piano instead of punk rock like I did, for owning a home in the Bay Area, and being married, for having all kinds of stability that I never knew growing up. Then sometimes because I’m Mexican, people say things like, “good for you,” when they learn about my success, like I’m a child, and that’s weird too.