Friday, December 30, 2016

Power to the People

“To be honest Anissa, I thought you were half black,” a floormate of mine confessed to me as I was brushing my teeth before bed. I asked her why she assumed such a thing considering I don’t have any black physical features (whatever that should mean). She responded with, “It’s because you’re always talking about black social issues ... and well ... your pajama shirt has a picture of the Selma march.” After my initial reaction of laughter, I understood where she was coming from since I am a vocal supporter of the Black Lives Matter Movement and I am engaged in such organizations as “Sojourn to the Past,” an immersion program that takes high school students along the path of the Civil Rights Movement. During my junior year of high school, Jeff Steinberg, the director of Sojourn to the Past, came to present the trip to my class. After hearing about this trip, where I’d have the privilege of traveling to Georgia, Alabama, and Arkansas to meet Civil Rights leaders and go to several key locations of the movement, I knew I had to go on this trip. After school that day I asked my mama if I could attend the trip, promising her that I would raise the money, but since it cost well over our financial ability ($2500) she had to say no. I was devastated. Therefore, I went “behind my parents back” by asking my high school’s activities director for financial assistance. My high school ended up giving me $1250! I think the reason I was offered so much help was because they could see how eager I was to go on this trip. In the end, I wrote a letter and sent it out to family and friends asking for donations … I ended up only paying $200 for the trip! To this day, I am so proud of myself for accomplishing that!
Anyways …
Sojourn to the Past was a life-changing trip that has caused me to be who I am today: An activist and supporter of the Black Lives Matter Movement who believes in getting in “good trouble” and using nonviolent tactics to end violence. On the trip, I met my favorite man in the world: Congressman John Lewis. He was dubbed one of the Big Six leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, as he was named chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), was a leader of the Selma march which helped hasten the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and was a part of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. (man oh man how I love that man … if you haven’t watched the movie Selma what are you doing?? But in all seriousness, take the time to watch it). On the trip, I also got to meet leaders of the Children March, Simeon Wright (cousin of Emmett Till), Medgar Evers's wife and children (Medgar Evers was assassinated by members of the White Citizen’s Council because he fought to enact social justice and voting rights), Minnijean Brown and Elizabeth Eckford (two courageous members of the Little Rock Nine who were the first to segregate an all white high school), and the sister of Denise McNair (who was assassinated in the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing in 1963).  
I can talk for hours about the Civil Rights Movement … I am so passionate about it … just by writing this and remembering all the things that I have learned about the movement has got my heart beating! So if you’re interested in the Civil Rights Movement or need to write a paper about anyone involved in the movement, feel free to hmu! In fact, I helped my roommate write her final term paper for her Afro class this semester because … well… I know my shit!
Anyways …

I can already envision my mama’s grimace when I tell her that I’m considering minoring in African American studies and or Criminology. She has never fully supported my passion for helping to solve social issues affecting our black community because I know she’s thinking, “Those aren’t your kind.” But what does that mean? Black men and women might not “look like me” but that doesn’t mean I don’t consider them to be my brothers and sisters. Afterall, as Congressman John Lewis once said, “If not us, then who? If not now, then when?” I believe that justice will prevail, but we must bind together and fight for our fellow brothers and sisters. 
Love yall. Attached is my essay that fortunately got me into CAL, it is titled "Flutterfly" and I hope you enjoy it. 
Despite it being a day when my heart has grown heavier and heavier with the things that I’ve seen, the things that I’ve heard, and the things that I’ve been forced to acknowledge, I am surprised to feel the familiar flutter. As I hold hands with my newfound family of Sojourners around the Civil Rights Memorial, my first inclination is to nip the feeling because it doesn’t seem appropriate at this time. Although I feel drained and disappointed with the vivid history we retraced throughout the day, I feel a flutter of excitement.


My first memory of fluttering was when I was four years old. It was a rainy day, and I noticed some ants huddled under a leaf. I thought it was unfair that the ants had no home so I became inundated with visions of myself building each ant a stable hut to outwit the rain. I became so lost in this vision of catering to the ants that I didn’t notice when my hands began to move rapidly until my mom interrupted my daydream mid flap. According to my parents, flapping my hands, or what they affectionately called fluttering, was a big part of my childhood. I can’t say I remember how often it occurred and even the hand flapping is a blur, but what I do remember is the flutter within and the sense of euphoria that came with it. A simple flutter evoked images and ideas into my mind, bringing a moment of clarity as well as a sense of wonder. My parents never let on that they were concerned, even nicknaming me their “flutterfly”, but I now know that they were. I was seen by doctors, psychologists, and neurologists, but because I continued to meet all developmental and social goals, it was concluded that I was not on the spectrum and that more than likely it would all disappear with time. They were both right and wrong. Over time, I no longer felt the need to flap my hands, but the flutter was mine to keep.


In the chill of the night with no one around except my hundred and fifty fellow Sojourners, the flutter is still present as our hands intertwine and we begin to sing in unison, “Darlin’, here in our hearts, we do believe, we shall overcome someday.” Our individual voices sound soft and subtle, but together we are so powerful that I am transported to another place and time and to memories not of my own, but of children who watched their fathers beaten to death for peacefully protesting their right to be served in local diners, and of educated black women who were denied the right to vote for being unable to calculate the “correct” number of bubbles in a bar of soap. At this very moment, I am surrounded by a hundred and fifty souls who although have different backgrounds, have all faced individual struggles and discrimination. I am hand in hand with future members of Congress, teachers, lawyers, and social workers who want nothing more than to carry out the sense of unity brought on by singing the Civil Rights anthem. I anticipate going home to tell not only my family and friends about what I learned on this trip, but also to people I don’t know, so we can have a conversation about how this history directly connects to our present societal struggles. I then see myself as an intern at Sojourn to the Past and a grassroots activist in college taking part in making people realize that despite their age, gender, or background they too can make a change in their community. As we begin to sway to the music, it is clear that the flutter I’m feeling tonight is different in its purpose and confidence, for this time my hands are steady because they are in the hands of the future.



Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Fake Love

“Anissa por que no tienes novio,” (Anissa why don’t you have a boyfriend?) my lita (grandmother) asks. Tell me why I get asked this question all the damn time and I never know how to respond because although I grew up surrounded by my parent’s authentic love, I have also grown up witnessing some toxic relationships. Within my family, there has been physically and verbally abusive husbands, husbands in prison, husbands who are unfaithful, boyfriends who are cheaters, boyfriends who have left at the first sign of commitment, etc etc. Although this is my blog and I would like to write everything down so that I may feel some control over these problems, I know that it is not my right to talk about other people’s difficulties, but just be aware that these difficulties are ever-present.
Unfortunately, as I grew up surrounded by men who were unfaithful, I began to normalize the action of cheating and internalize the misconception that women must be obedient to men (Let me just tell you … I DO NOT believe that now). But as I grew older and surrounded myself with powerful, independent women I learned that 1. I wanted to be an independent women 2. I shouldn’t feel embarrassed to defend my values 3. Not all men are bad. After this realization, I began dating. Let’s keep this short and simple: I “dated” this guy .. he lied to me .. I forgave him .. we broke up .. two weeks after the break up he had a new girlfriend. Great. Wow. What a slap in the face. So much for the whole dating thing. Now I was back to where I started: mistrusting boys. But that was a few years ago … a lot has changed since then. For instance, instead of wanting to be an independent woman, I am one.
I have to admit, I still have trust issues in any relationship, due to the fact that I have experienced several people leave my life because ... well … they were cowards (still shoutout out to them for leaving because you have only made me stronger). However, I have come to terms with the fact that some boys can be deceiving in their intentions, but not all … and that is an important distinction. So thank you to all the men who have chosen to stay in my life. Most importantly, thank you to my papi for not only being the best damn father/husband there is, but for also being an all around great guy and teaching me to be patient for love … afterall I’m only 18! Till next time. Love yall.

Authentic Love

For those who know my parents, they know that they are what some people call “relationship goals.” Before delving into their story together, I must first share a bit about my mami (pronounced mommy). My mami is the strongest woman I have ever known. She has gone through so much pain and humiliation, which has caused her to be the resilient and determined woman she is today. When my mami was a little girl she was fat, defined as “having a large amount of excess flesh.” During her younger years, my mami exceedingly surpassed that of a healthy weight. When I was little, I asked my mother why I had never seen pictures of her when she was a little girl. She responded with, “Well, I destroyed all the pictures of me.” As I was merely 7 or 8 eight years old, I didn’t quite understand why she would do such a thing. That is when she finally shared her story …
Mija, when I was a child I was heavily overweight. In fact, your lito (grandfather) would have his friends come over to watch me eat. He would bet his friends that I could eat 10-15 McChickens on my own. He treated me as if I was a mere act, a form of entertainment. This brought me to become psychologically damaged. In middle school, I was fatally bullied. My nickname was applecheeks … even to this day I am embarrassed by my fat cheeks, that is why I rarely smile with my teeth. Anyways, I remember one day in junior high I had to rush home to babysit your tia (aunt); therefore, I went out the front door of the school, instead of the back .. like I normally would do to avoid the tormentors. The instant I stepped out the front gate, I was met with several bullies with rocks in hand. They began to chant things like, “Oh applecheeks you know you’re not welcome on this side of campus” or “applecheeks there’s no one to protect you.”
That day mija, I was sure I was going to die.
The bullies began to chase me home, which was only a few blocks away, but for me (the fat kid) it seemed like miles away. I ran as fast as I could as the bullies threw rocks at me. I could barely see, as I was blinded by tears and sweat (At this point in my mami’s storytelling she began to cry, something I had never before witnessed). Flashforward to the end of junior high, I made a promise to myself that I would lose the weight, be it in a healthy way or not. I called my tia and begged her to take me in for the summer because I knew that she would help me lose the weight. I begged her not to tell your lita (grandmother) what my plan was: to lose over __ pounds over the summer (I don’t know what the exact number of pounds was, that is why I left it blank, but just know it was a hell of a lot!). So, I went to live in another part of LA for the summer. Your tia made me exercise for the majority of my stay, only feeding me carrots, celery, granola bars, etc etc. It was an extremely unhealthy way to lose weight, but I lost it. I remember coming back home, and your grandmother was so angry she was brought to tears. I was paler than ever, but in my mind pale was okay because it meant I was skinny. Flashforward to my first day of high school, a day to remember. I walked in and all I could hear were people whispering, “Wow, that’s Mary she looks hot!” I sat in my first class and there was your father. I had known your papi a bit in middle school, he had always treated me with respect and never brought up my weight. Thus, I knew when your papi asked me out on a date he was being genuine when he said he liked me for me.”
Hence, my parents were highschool sweethearts. They began dating their freshman year, separated for a year, got back together their junior year, and have been together ever since. The year that they “separated” (their sophomore year) my dad told my tia I don’t care if we’re separated for years, I will wait. She is the one I want.” The fact that he was so confident in their love at 16 years old … shit, if that’s not beautiful I don’t know what is. Now, in present day, (and I mean like right this second as I sit in a cafe in SSF with my parents across from me) I appreciate and see my parent’s love flourish. Afterall, they have been best friends since they were thirteen. I love witnessing their inside jokes, and when they bicker but then make up a minute later. I also love how now that my sister and I are older, they are doing more things for themselves. For example, right now they are busy planning a mini vacation for just them two. Although, I have to admit I’m a bit jealous they won't be taking me, (lol) I am happy that they will have time alone. They deserve it. 
Well … I have decided to make this post a two parter because this is getting too long (lol .. again). See you in my next post where I will explain why, despite growing up around my parent’s love, I still have some serious “trust issues” (I mean who doesn’t). Love ya’ll.  


Tuesday, December 27, 2016

For you

I hear the phone, “ringing off the hook,” a saying that I hear a lot in my household as their are always people calling us (we’re just that popular). I run to go catch the phone, but it goes to voicemail. I hear through the intercom my mom’s worried and shaky voice.
“Anissa, please pick up, pleaseeee.”
I pick up the phone.
She tells me that as she was driving to my old high school for my sister’s awards night, she saw that there was an immense fire in San Bruno. My mama was worried that our friends might be in trouble because the fire looked to be in close proximity to their home. At this point I ran to my porch (located in the back of my house) and I saw houses and trees engulfed in a ball of fire. I scurried downstairs to find my binoculars, in order to get a better look at the fire. Once I got back outside the fire had doubled in size. Finally, my parents returned from their quick “trip” to my sister’s awards night (since they never made it there). My mama comes in saying, “I’ve called Jackie’s cell phone several times and she won’t pick up, I’m going to call other members of her family.” About ten minutes later, she got a hold of Jackie’s oldest daughter, Gabi, and explained to her that their was a fire close to their home and that her mother wasn't answering her phone. My mom didn’t want to worry Gabi as she was at tennis practice, but she couldn’t help but panic. I then ran up to my parent’s bedroom (located in the front of my house) because I wanted to be as far away from the view of the fire as possible. While in their room, something hit me. It felt like a ton of bricks. It felt like I had just swallowed something really heavy and it sat in the pit of my stomach. I proceeded to fall to the floor. I cried like I had never done before. In that instant, I knew my best friend, Janessa, and her mother, Jackie, were gone.
That night I was sent to bed early because 1. My parent’s were trying to shelter me from reality 2. It was my 13th birthday the next morning. However, I could still hear my parents and sister watching the news, awaiting the list of the victim's names. Surprisingly, that night I remember sleeping. I had convinced myself that everything was going to be all right, afterall I had seen Janessa two days before …
“Happy 13th Birthday, mija!” I had almost forgotten it was my birthday. That day (a friday) I went to school and then went to play mini golf with some of my closest friends. I hadn’t brought up the fire to my friends because 1. I was trying to shelter myself from reality 2. It was my 13th birthday and I wanted to enjoy it … So much for enjoying it though. I mean how could I when I was so damn worried the whole day. I just wanted answers.
The next morning my mom came into my room and told me to meet her in the playroom (a room in my house that has board games). I sat on the couch awaiting the truth. I wasn’t nervous, in fact, I was calm. I think back now, and the reason I was so calm was because I had known the truth the whole time: My best friend and her loving mother (whom was my mom’s best friend) did not survive the tragic fire.
But I write today not out of sadness, rather out of love. There is sooo much I want to share and get off my chest … thus this is a warning that the rest of this post might be all jumbled and represent my “scattered brain.” This incident, be it tragic, has led me to who I am today. 1. A believer of God 2. A confident Latina who is unapologetically myself. I’ll start off by explaining #1 … how I am now a strong believer of God. The reason being, God had sent me so many signs that the fire was going to happen and he was going to take Janessa and Jackie from us. For instance, I had met Janessa through my Mexican folk dance classes when I was merely six years old. The week of the fire we were preparing for Fiestas Patrias, a performance that Janessa and I were both excited about. Thus, we had extra practices the previous week … I had seen her more often that month than ever before (So that was sign #1.) Also, the week of the fire her mother asked my dad if we could drop Janessa off at her home after a dance practice. When we dropped her off, I remember distinctly that she wouldn’t shut her front door until we fully drove off. She enthusiastically waved goodbye, and I only wish I had known that was going to be our last goodbye. As we drove off, my dad made a wrong turn and we entered the cemetery (sign #2). While stuck in the cemetery, I remember feeling a sense of heaviness (sign #3). In short, I do believe God gave me those signs in preparation for what was to come, and I thank him each day for allowing me to spend more time with Janessa during that month.
But the most important thing I have gained from September 9th, 2010 (the day of the fire) is my guardian angel. Today, I do not live my life solely for myself, rather for Janessa and all those that have had their lives cut short. During their funeral, I promised myself that I would live my life to the fullest. That means 1. To surround myself with positive people who love me for me 2. Cut ties with those that make me feel less than what I am 3. Remain selfless, but still do things for myself. This “tragedy” or what I prefer to call it, this “beautiful mess” has caused me to be grateful for everything that I have and that I have experienced … meaning I am grateful for experiencing my first love, my first heartbreak, etc etc. Because not everyone is privileged with the time to experience these things. 
I want to end this by saying: Thank you to my guardian angels for pushing me to be the best version of myself. I do it all for you.

Monday, December 26, 2016

My Voluptuous Body

“Are you sure you want to wear that, don’t you think it’s a bit revealing?”
 “Hey shorty do you need help grabbing that?” 
“You have a big butt for a petite girl.” 
These are a few phrases that I have received that directly attack me and my body. Most people wouldn’t know this because I try to be as confident as possible, but I have struggled my whole life to accept and embrace my body. I am nearly five feet with what my mama calls a “voluptuous” figure. I have thick thighs and a big ol’ booty that refuses to fit into skinny jeans. Not only that, but I am also of bigger built … “on top.” Thus, my body type has caused me to not hate, rather despise going shopping. I get so frustrated when I try on 5, 10, 15, 20 pairs of pants and can’t seem to find any that fit. They either drag on the floor or they will not button close (ugh just thinking about it gets me heated). When I finally find the perfect pair of pants that accentuates my body and makes me feel like a million bucks … I check the price… $70! To some, seventy dollars is a fair price for a pair of pants, but my mama has taught me to only buy clothing on clearance or from thrift stores. I’ve never been allowed to buy clothing that isn’t on clearance or without using every coupon I could possibly find. I try not to complain because I know how much my parents struggle financially because of my sister and I; however, I’ve got to admit: It suckssss. Even when I have money I feel guilty if I buy clothes not on sale. In fact, when I do "treat myself" there is a 50/50 chance I will return it out of guilt. In short, I am not a fan of shopping due to my disproportional body.

Anyways …
I think what I hate most about my body is that I feel the need to hide it in order to make others “comfortable” with it. For instance, in high school, I remember one hot, sweaty day - the type where your thighs stick together and you can feel sweat drip from the back of your neck - I saw other girls wearing tank tops and short shorts. However, these girls were skinny and didn’t have a “bigger top” like me. This caused me to hesitate while I took of my sweater … but I still did it because IT WAS HOT AS HELL. I then walked down the hallway, passing several others with tank tops on, only to be confronted with a uniform infraction.  
You’ve got to be kidding me. 
Do you know how it feels to be degraded because of your body? Well, if you don’t, it sucks. After that incident, I stopped wearing my school uniform … an internal protest I am proud of. I couldn't understand how I was being punished when there were soooo many other girls wearing the exact same thing as me, but according to the teacher I was being “too revealing.”
Time has passed and I can finally say I no longer cry when I see myself in the mirror (In fact, I even posted a new full body selfie on my insta). Nonetheless, I am still in the process of learning to love my body. And for all you ladies out there, actually scratch that .. for anyone out there (fellas included) just know that you are beautiful. Also, please be cautious when talking about another persons body because you never know the impact it will leave on him or her.
 If you’re still reading this and would like to read a bit more, I have attached an essay I wrote about my body, but this time it is titled “Confidence.” I hope you enjoy it.
Confidence
    Hair
    Every Latina has gone through a “Dora the Explora” stage. When I was two years old my mom, against my dad’s judgment, decided I would look cute in a bowl cut. With my hair cut short, and my dad dressing me in Power Ranger t-shirts, people would mistake me as a boy, calling me mijo instead of mija. This was when I began to identify myself as a tomboy. All through elementary school, I prefered to play with boys. I treasured the moments where I was chosen first for kickball, or when a girlfriend asked me for advice on how to talk to her crush. Thanks to my hair, I became the “it” girl during my elementary school years.
    In middle school, my hairstyle changed just as much as my personality. I grew my hair out to my lower back, and I adorned it with pins and hairbands. In 6th grade, I strayed away from being friends with all the boys, to having a romantic interest in them. I specifically liked this one boy, who will remain unnamed, because we shared similar interests, such as the same taste in music, and we were both enthusiastic about our Leadership club. We became close, and I felt comfortable joking around with him, until one day he took it too far. He said in a degrading tone, “Wow, your mustache and eyebrows are thicker than my own.” I was deeply offended by this, because I had already been self-conscious about my facial hair. I went home that day in tears, as I no longer felt comfortable around boys.
    Skin
    My dad’s family is from a little town in Mexico called Puebla. There, people have skin the color of cafe con leche, that is, they are olive skinned. Recently, my uncle told my dad, “Anissa’s face is completely Poblana.” I took this as a compliment, as I know people associate Poblana’s to be hard-working.
Another time I was volunteering at a local food kitchen in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco, when a homeless man initiated a conversation with me by asking, “You’re latina right?” I was surprised he sounded so confident, since most people assume me to be of Filipino descent because of my straight black hair. Nonetheless, I answered with a cheerful, “yes.” The man began to describe my skin color, and how he could easily “spot his kind.” He introduced himself as Enrique, and told me he was from El Salvador. He had traveled to California in search for a better paying job, so that he could send money to help his daughter pay for her private college in El Salvador. He also told me how I should be proud of my skin, as it represents my ancestors, and how he was jealous of my skin because unlike him I am not prieto, or dark-skinned. Enrique, whom I helped feed that morning, taught me to be confident in my own skin. He ended up helping me more than I helped him.
Height
My grandpa calls me chaparrita,which is latin slang for “short.” I am five feet tall, but around my family I am of average height. The house that I live in now was built by my mother’s uncle, who was a mere five feet.  We bought the house in 03’, because my mother wanted to raise my sister and I away from the Daly City fog. The house was once my grandparents, so as it was familiar, it was a comfortable move. When we first welcomed in visitors, we realized how our house wasn’t fit for those of average height. Once, our neighbor came in and he bumped his head on the entryway of our kitchen. Now, whenever we have new guests that exceed five and a half feet, we tell them to proceed with caution, as to avoid hitting their heads.

My height has never been a problem for me. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been called names, I just choose to ignore the comments because I am happy with my height. Being five feet allows me to squeeze in the front row of a concert, and it enables me to pay $5 less at movie theaters (since I can pass as a twelve year old.) I am grateful to have grown up surrounded by family who have instilled in me the confidence to ignore negative remarks and to love the body I am in.