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Hey Baby ¿Que Paso? Reflections of a Linguistic Contortionist

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“Sometimes I don’t speak right, but yet I know what I’m talking about.” ~ WAR

I have a visceral reaction when people correct what I say. Sometimes, I use the wrong tense, or wrong word altogether, when I am speaking. Sometimes, I can’t seem to find the right word. At work I use extra energy to fight through my brain fog. At home I can be a mess of words as I’m more relaxed and less self-conscious.

As a bilingual person, I wondered if this had a factor in the experience. I grew up in a bilingual household and community. My parent’s were bilingual in English and Spanish, and they chose to speak primarily in Spanish. So much so that my siblings and I spoke to them only in Spanish/Spanglish and often translated for them in English. I mainly spoke English and Spanglish with my brothers, sisters, and school friends. When I had English teachers it was English only, and when I had Chicano teachers, I mainly spoke in English, Spanish, or Spanglish. The whole process of switching and mixing languages just happened naturally.

As a young pup I enjoyed English/Language Arts in school. I was good at spelling and loved to write books as a kid. In middle and high school I continued to enjoy writing and was acknowledged for my work. Simultaneously, I had the neighborhood pocho slang down thanks to my brothers, sisters, and older neighborhood kids. I also had the tendency to speak really fast and was at one point called Speedy because of it. Navigating between English, Spanish, and the DIY Chicano/a Spanish of my community didn’t seem confusing or complicated as a child. Over time that would change.

As I grew older, I lost a lot of my Spanish as I mainly spoke in English or Spanglish. When it was brought to my attention that speaking too fast was a hindrance, the pace of my speech slowed down. As time passed, and college entered my life, I lost my neighborhood accent and the use of sayings such as “aye” (fuckin’ aye), and “how stupid!”. I adopted what I call academic English. You know, the kind of English that works great for resumes, academic papers, and job interviews. With family, old friends, and other Chicano/as, I spoke Spanglish. At work and school I spoke “good English”. What was once effortless language gymnastics became an issue of purposeful self-consciousness and social acceptance. I wanted to be “good enough” on all fronts.

What I notice lately is that with age and various moves across states, cities, and communities it seems harder to find the right words and my tenses get mixed up in any language. I often find myself saying “Como se dice…” and “What’s the word/saying for…?” It’s as if both languages are at war in my brain. I find it harder to find the words to express what I mean. I’m simply at  a loss for words in any language.

Two years ago, while in graduate school, one of my professors commented that my being bilingual may have something to do with my writing errors. At first I was offended. Then I realized that the academic world requires an active voice where the subjects do, and are not done to. For example, “Marlene fed the dog” instead of “The dog was fed by Marlene”. Casual Spanish tends to commonly use passive language, and in my opinion, adds a beauty that is hard to translate. I never knew how much my passive voice dominated my papers and I am thankful for the lessons in writing in an active voice. I also believe that a passive writing voice isn’t wrong. There is a place for each, and once again, it’s linguistic contortionism.

Initially I thought it was just my bilingual background that was a factor, then with more introspection, I began to question if there is something else at play.  Over the last four years I have grown into my emotional self; meaning, I am much more connected to my emotions than before. This has helped me have a more balanced emotional life and deeper connection to myself in general. Because I experience things on this level, I often find that what I experience is hard to be captured by words. Actually, it is the English language that is limited in capturing emotion. The article “21 Emotions For Which There Are No English Words” provides a few examples of emotional experiences captured in other languages, that English has no equivalent for. I suppose, it is the limitations of my English speaking brain that hasn’t caught up with my heart yet.

Which brings me back to how I react when people correct what I am saying. I feel angry, sad, and insulted. It recalls moments where my intelligence was questioned. It slices right into the place where I have felt like I wasn’t good enough.  Over my course of my life, my intelligence has been questioned because I am a woman, a Mestiza, a U.S. citizen, Mexican, American, Chicana, fat, not wealthy, under-educated.

In these moments of cultural complexity, I turn to Chicana voices to guide me. Ana Castillo, Sandra Cisnseros, Gloria Anzaldua, Cherríe Moraga. They have become my living and non-living saints. My connection to the Creator when I feel alone and in-between. I take in their words and re-calibrate my heart, soul, and mind. I become reconnected to the person I buried underneath all the societal “shoulds” I adopted over time.

“But Chicano Spanish is a border tongue which developed naturally. Change, evolución, enriquecimiento de palabras nuevas por invención o adopción have created variants of Chicano Spanish, un nuevo lenguaje. Un lenguaje que corresponde a un modo de vivir. Chicano Spanish is not incorrect, it is a living language.” ~ Gloria E. Anzaldúa, “Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza”

I have spent my adulthood trying to undo all those places of inadequacy. Speaking English “right”, speaking Spanish “right”, going to college, losing weight, and trying to build a career. So when what I say is corrected it’s as if my body screams “What the fuck! Is it never good enough?!?” I know what I am saying. You know what I am saying. Does it really matter that it’s not “correct”? Being corrected feels like chains. Like punishment. Like trying to break a wild horse. It feels limiting and conforming. Like forcing a snake not to shed it’s skin. I feel resistant to it. I’m tired of undoing places of inadequacy. I have no space for it since I am growing into a place of self-acceptance. If my speech does not sit well with you, it’s not my problem to fix.

My language is a self-defined living language that cannot be heard by ears eager for acceptance through conforming. My language cannot be heard by ears not fully connected to emotions. If you can hear me, crooked speech and all, then you experience me fully.

The way I speak is not merely about code switching or speaking Spanglish or pocho. It’s inclusive of my emotional self, that has yet to find words. Like eager children, my words come rushing out with mix-matched clothing and uncombed hair. My words may not follow correct grammar, but they are alive in a new playground. My younger years learned the rules of old playgrounds, and followed them with ease. However now, I am allowing myself to un-learn mental rigidity, and embrace this messy, rich, and exciting language free of rules and “shoulds”.

Now, I’m not saying that there is no value or need in speaking or writing any language well and correctly. For a time I considered myself a member of the grammar police, and I still cringe a little when people misuse of their, there, and they’re. However, I struggle with the concept that grammar = intelligence. It doesn’t. In my past, English, writing, and grammar were my strengths. With time this has changed, and my skills in these areas aren’t as sharp. Does this mean I am less intelligent?

When I hear Calo, Pocho, and/or Spanglish, I hear home. I smell earth. I hear unfiltered heart and soul. When I hear English I hear dreams, adventure, and possibility. My life has become a mash-up of these experiences, and so I suppose it’s fitting that my language reflects this as well. With the addition of my emotional language, I suppose I am multilingual.

“I will no longer be made to feel ashamed of existing. I will have my voice: Indian, Spanish, white. I will have my serpent’s tongue-my woman’s voice, my sexual voice, my poet’s voice. I will overcome the tradition of silence.”  ~ Gloria E. Anzaldúa, “Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza”

Will I Hate My Body or Love My Body?

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I attended an event last night that excited and empowered me like very few events have. Jes Baker (creator of The Militant Baker blog and many other amazing things) gave a talk at Curvy Girl Lingerie in San Jose, CA. Her presentation wasn’t just on body acceptance or loving yourself. Her talk, Change Your World Not Your Body addressed so many angles of the body shaming issue, that a socially and psychologically conscious gal like me can’t help but soak it all in.

I learned about Jes a little over a year ago, and was smitten by her bold, honest, creative, and positive energy. She touches on various aspects of body love and includes every body in the discussion, understanding than people of varying body sizes, abilities, and genders are pretty much fighting the same battle of body shame. She, and other women, dare us to see body acceptance as a means to revolutionize society.

I have been to many different types of conferences before, but I had never been to a conference that focuses on body issues or body acceptance before. It’s a topic I have shied away from due to my own shame. I believed that if I went to a fat acceptance event, then I would, well, have to accept my fatness. However Jes Baker’s approach to the subject has helped me see the negative impacts of having this shame, and normalized it. Last night, she posed the question that I didn’t even know I was asking myself: “Will I hate my body or love my body?”

As a bonus, I also met Vergie Tovar, who is currently rockin’ my world big time. If you don’t know about her, you need to. She is all the cute, smart, funny, fun and  gorgeous.

There are so many topics I can go into based on last night experience that I feel I need to highlight significant take-always now and go into these and other topics separately in future posts. So here it goes.

~FAT

The word itself is loaded. The emotional reaction I get from the word is painful and long-standing. For years I have tried to own this word, but fell short of truly embracing it. After last night, I can now say, I AM FAT! Wait, what? Duh! Everyone else knows I’m fat. Am I that late to the party? ¿Que nuevas?

I now realize that, throughout my life I have allowed everyone else to define what my body means to me. I avoided the F word out of the fear of what others have decided the word fat means. Specifically: ugly, undesirable, wrong, lazy, gross, etc.  What is new for me about saying I AM FAT is that I am finally owning the word fat and deciding what it means for me. For now, what fat means for me includes: I am human, I have a body, a body that takes up space, a body that works, a body that demands attention, a body that stirs up emotions and reactions,  a body that is bountiful. My body is only a part of who I am and it has things to tell me. I get to decide how I relate to my body. As most things go, what fat means to me will change over time, and at all times, I get to decide it’s meaning. So yeah. I’m a fatty fat fat and love every part of me, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

~I SAW ME

On the daily I would see my reflection in a window and cringe. I would sigh and feel shame. I would see everything I thought was wrong with me. My short legs, my wide body, my broad shoulders, my round stomach. I saw my failure as a human being.

Sitting among more than 25 women of varying larger sizes for 2.5 hours was life changing. I noticed how everyone chose to dress their bodies, their topics of conversations, and overall presence. In Jes’ presentation, she mentions neuroplasticity and the power of exposing ourselves to more diverse body shapes regularly as a way to bolster our own body love. This is crucial as we are purposefully bombarded with non-realistic images of bodies and, despite knowing better, believe that these are what “perfect” bodies should look like. Well, let me tell you, being exposed to bodies similar to mine, works. At the end of the night, after being in the presence of these women, I caught my reflection in the window, and for the first time, I saw me. I saw ME and for THE FIRST TIME EVER I didn’t have a knee-jerk cringe-y reaction to my big body. FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER, I saw my reflection and said “Oh, hi there!” I am grateful beyond measure for this singular experience.

~TAKING UP SPACE

As a chubster, I take up space. I have slowly been trying to accept and get real comfortable with this reality, but my fear of fat kept me from being able to accept this fully. Funny thing is, being afraid of fat doesn’t make me “not fat”. Fearing fat doesn’t suddenly make me 60 pounds lighter. Instead, being afraid of (and not accepting) my fat keeps me from myself. In essence, I cancel out my own existence. Sad. Hugs.

Many of the women I was with last night took up space, owned their size, wore big bright bold patterns and form fitting clothing, short skirts, spoke honestly about real topics, and laughed loudly. There was a lot of unapologetic laughing out loud last night that I couldn’t help but feel elated. I also wondered how many of us audience members dial ourselves back for fear of taking up space. Last night, I’m glad so many decided not to.

~PHOTO ADJUSTING

I have never had the experience where, when someone took a group photo, there was a simulations group movement of self-adjusting for the photo. You know, tugging at shirts and skirts. Pulling our clothing that folded into our lonjas (fat rolls). Sitting up and finding our best pose to hide a chin or two. It was absolutely the funniest, most endearing, cutest thing ever.

Me, Virgie Tovar, Jes Baker, Dana

Me, Virgie Tovar, Jes Baker, Dana

~ EVENTS

There is an online Fat Activism Conference coming up next month with the most reasonable registration fee I’ve ever seen. Vergie and Jes will be presenting there. http://fatactivismconference.com/

The 2nd annual Body Love Conference is being planned and could use your support. http://www.bodyloveconference.com/

Memory Mash-Up

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Well, it happened. I graduated with my Masters in Counseling Psychology yesterday with an amazing group of women. You would think that I would be excited about all the free time I will have now. Instead I have such a mixed bag of feelings that relaxing into leisure time just doesn’t feel quite right yet. My mixed feelings began in our last quarter. I was nervous as I knew my time with my cohort, and receiving academic support from professors, was coming to an end. I was excited about the free time I would have in 3 months. I was worried that I wasn’t skilled enough in my field, and that I would soon have less consultation. The last day of class I felt more sadness and uncertainly. I wondered if the paths of my cohort and I would cross again. However, the days between the last class and graduation day helped me ease into this transition.

Graduation day was surreal for me. All the emotions I felt throughout the quarter hit me hard, and I felt pangs of anxiety throughout the ceremony.”Wait, is this really happening?” That thought sat with me as I remembered the day that I decided to take a chance and apply to the program, and was now about to graduate. It wasn’t so much the act of graduating that was intense, it was the tangible experience of having an idea of what I want for myself, committing to the work it demanded, and crossing the finish line to receive what I originally set out for. The reality that I could have an idea and see it to fruition hit me with such clarity. I realized that I truly can do anything I choose to do. Anything.

I also couldn’t help but also notice how much my family influenced my dedication to school. I come from a very hardworking family where my father commonly worked 12-hour days, 6 days a week. My mother would wake up early in the morning to cook breakfast and lunch for my father, go to work, then come home to make dinner and run the home. Most of my siblings are hard workers too. As kids most of them woke up before day-break to work the fields. As adults they continue to be great workers who take pride in the work they do. This attitude towards work definitely shows up in my ability to do the work that needs to be done. Grad school alone is demanding, however, I also had to work full-time to keep a roof over my head. Although it was hard, I had an understanding that this was simply what I had to do if I wanted my degree. I was willing to do the hard work, even though I wished I didn’t have to. I credit my family for my ability to take on tough demands, and I am thankful for that.

These last two years weren’t easy. Two of my brother’s passed away and I packed in more types of support groups to help me through tough times (ya’ know, with all that spare time I had). I faced a lot of demons and grew in some ways, and felt stunted in others. As a counselor my life experiences keep my heart open and my feet on the ground. In general, I see my experiences as a way to keep me in line with my belief that we are all humans trying to do this “life” thing.

When I think back to the first quarter of grad school, it feels like so long ago. I feel I was such a different person then. I also try to remember why I wanted this degree. What was my passion? What was my motivation and vision? School focuses so much on the technicalities, that it can lack a lot of soul. After two-years of study I feel like I lost some of my spiritual aspects of practice as my brain wants to run things more. Trust me, that isn’t good. So I am looking forward to re-connecting with my heart, intuition, and spirit as I know these aspects are what help in the healing process.

So I’m grateful for the opportunity to learn, grow, and heal. I am grateful for the blending of mind and spirit. I am grateful for meeting new people and building a network of support. I am grateful for this new chapter in my life.

Mother’s Day Reflection: Grieving the Woman Who Could Have Been

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This mother’s day has me thinking a whole lot about my mom. She passed away in 1997. I was 25. She was 65. Since then, mother’s day hasn’t been too big a deal for me. There isn’t a charge of melancholy either, but this year, I dunno, I just feel more emotional about the whole concept of motherhood, and my mother.

I was watching a video partially titled: Famous Figures Share Lessons From Their Moms and it started me thinking about what my mother taught me. She never taught me practical things like how to cook, sew, or do laundry. Years after I moved out and was in my early 20′s, I asked her why she never showed me how to do these things. Her response? “You never asked”.

My mother was a quiet and very modest woman. Her whole life was dedicated to tending to the needs of others. These sound like noble traits, but to me, they leave me feeling sad. From her childhood until she died, she was at the demands of others. As a child she had no choice. As a young woman she didn’t know better. As a grown woman she believed she was powerless to experience a different life. I believe she did the best with what she had. She was from a different place and era. An era where many woman were not asked what they wanted, they were told what they would do. This is why I cringe when people praise my mother for her dedication to others and her consistent ability to place others needs before hers.

Out of her nine children, I am the youngest. This offered me the luxury of getting to spend more one-on-one time with my mom. I didn’t have to share her as much as my siblings had to. This gave me the opportunity to get to know the woman behind the title. In getting to know her, I saw a woman who was creative, a dreamer, and who never had a chance to really be herself. I don’t even think she had the luxury of being able to know who she was. I also saw a woman who swallowed her dreams and let out her desires in stolen moments. She would tell me that if she were able to go to high school she would have joined sports. How she use to love to run as a child. How she thought marriage would bring her freedom.

Once in Guanajuato, Mexico we were on a bumpy bus ride. I looked over to see my mother with her mouth open. Like a child she let the bumpy ride allow her jaw to hang and make funny sounds come from her throat. It was a rare moment seeing my mother so childlike and free.

Growing up, I never really appreciated my mother. I took her for granted and I know I’m not the only one. I know this is so because she told me that when she died she didn’t want a funeral. “People should see me when I am alive”. Perhaps the most telling moment was when I tried to apologize to her for being rude. “I’m sorry mom. If I have kids I’m sure I’ll get my pay back”. Without hesitation and with a sharp anger in her soul she yelled “I never did anything to deserve what all of you have put me through!”

There are so many pieces to put together when I think of my mother. What rises to the surface after all these years is, I wish she had a different life. I wish she could have lived her life. I use to think that she never taught me domestic skills because she didn’t want me to be like her. She wanted me to be free. Now I think that she couldn’t teach me how to be a person in the world, because she didn’t know who she was. If she could have lived her life and had a chance to get to know herself, I wonder what she could have taught me.

As for what she did teach me, I can honestly say that most of what I learned from my mother was covert. In my adulthood I yielded my mother’s lessons. I learned to blame myself when things went wrong.  I learned to stuff my anger and let it out in fits of rage. I learned to not ask my partners for what I wanted. I learned how to resent. After she died, I swung in the opposite direction. I spoke up, I craved freedom. I took chances. I lived the life she never could. Now, I am still understanding what works for me. Not in spite of or in light of my mother or my family. It’s pretty tricky and I’m assuming a lifelong process.

Oh, but there was the time when I was a kid, she taught me how to put my underwear on right. She also taught me how to thread a needle and quickly tie a knot in the thread. That was cool.

I know she did her best, and I know she loved me. She was a mother who did whatever her family needed. I just wish there would have been opportunity for her to be with and give to herself. I honestly don’t think her children were her life by choice. But it was her reality and she did her job well. Given a choice, I know things would have been much different. I not only grieve the mother I lost when I was 25. I grieve the woman who could have been.

I Am the One Who

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“I am the One Who” Soul Collage created by the author

I am the one who…
Is in search of the impossible
Accepts big challenges
Feels big everything
Thinks too much
Longs for peace and happiness
Is resentful and doesn’t forget
Values truth spoken boldly

Congratulations! You Kicked It Old Skool!: KIOS Blog-A-Thon, Day 31

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Today’s is the last day of the KIOS Blog-A-Thon, and so, today’s final prompt is: What would you like to celebrate about this month and Kickin’ It Old Skool?

13960-oldskoolbadgeroundedwithstars250x250This was my first time participating in anything like this so I’m glad I was able to do so, AND stick with it! I want to celebrate the accomplishment of a month’s worth of blogging since this blog has become stale over the years. It was cool to give it some life. Also, I’d like to celebrate getting to know other bloggers, checking out what they are up to, and getting to know about some cool services people offer.

Thanks for the fun month of blogging and I hope to “see” you all soon!

Kickin’ Recipes: KIOS Blog-A-Thon, Day 30

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Today’s KIOS Blog-A-Thon prompt is: Share one of your favourite recipes!

Tempeh is something that took me a while to really like, however Talya Lutzker’s recipe for Quick Coconut Tempeh took it over the moon for me. It’s fast (15 minutes!), easy, healthy, and oh so scrumptious. You’ll love it in a sandwiches, salads, solo right outta the oven, or my favorite – with steamed greens, quinoa, a squirt of lemon and a dash of flax oil.

Seriously, if you eat tempeh, you MUST try this recipe ASAP.

Quick Coconut Tempeh

from: The Ayurvedic Vegan Kitchen: Finding Harmony Through Food and grokker.com

Servings: 2
Cook Time: 5 minutes
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Ready In: 15 minutes

Ingredients:
Tempeh
Coconut Oil
Coconut Aminos  (I use Braggs Liquid Aminos)
Water
Salt
Nutritional Yeast
Cumin
Herbes de Provence ( If I don’t ave Herbes de Provence, I use mix of coriander, fennel seed, & cardamom)

Directions:
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

2. Slice the tempeh (use tempeh without barley to keep this recipe gluten-free) into 1/2-inch cubes. Melt the coconut oil in a large, shallow skillet over medium-high heat. Put the tempeh in the skillet. Drizzle with coconut aminos, water, salt, nutritional yeast, cumin and herbes de Provence.

5. Cover and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, or until all the liquid has evaporated. Stir a few times throughout the cooking time to prevent the tempeh from sticking to the pan. Transfer the tempeh to a baking dish in a single layer. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, or until golden brown and slightly crispy on the outside.

Check out Talya’s site at: http://www.talyaskitchen.com/

Her cookbook The Ayurvedic Vegan Kitchen: Finding Harmony Through Food is filled with amazing recipes and available through Amazon.com

 

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