You just don’t even see
I’m going on 5 years living in Silicon Valley. In this ridiculously overpriced, overhyped, overprotected, over-homogenous small town called Menlo Park. It feels like a five year old collar that has been shrinking, itching, suffocating the pure smog air that I miss from my dear LA.
Why do I miss LA you ask? Why miss a city that chews up so many dreams? How can I love a city that draws so many non-Native Angelenos and transforms them into pompous, vapid, ass-holy replicas of Entourage characters, or better yet – reveals who they were all along? Because I was born there, simple as that. And of all loyalties that I hold, my relationship to LA is a blood connection. And blood, blood is not easily erased.
LA is the relative I will never disown, the friend who keeps stumbling and falling in public but who I keep defending because hey, she has heart you know, she’s been through some stuff you know?
LA is my birthplace, the only place where I will ever truly feel like I’ve arrived home. My mother gave birth to me at LA County General Hospital and she won’t miss a beat to tell you that she was confined to some God-forsaken corner of some ill-gotten wing of the ancient, creaky hospital to give flight to her screams of pain. Minute by minute she will tell you how my birth, her second, took 18! No 20! No 24! No 36 hours of pain as I stubbornly refused to exit her short, warm body. But can you blame me? Did I know the world that awaited me?
And through some very windy, bumpy roads I find myself here. And not only here for here’s sake but here because shit is happening for me here you see. Attending Stanford and all, majoring in CS and all, and yet I feel so ready to ignite like 4th of July Fireworks until I descend back onto a city that sees my brown-ess not as just a nanny to my own daughter, not as just an interesting story, but as me. As my chingona self.
In LA I can howl. I can run, I can grab and lift and throw.
And here I feel so muted, lying in wait, tick tock, for shit to happen, to make shit happen, until I’m seen for what I’ve done and not who I am. To be a sum of my parts and not my whole self.
And then I remember sullenly that I left LA because it was drowning me in its glittery promise of a simple, sated life that did not include and exclamation point after my name. LA, my dear LA, would have left me in a ditch if I let it.
SO here I am in Silicon Valley until I make a name for what I carry inside, the desire for positive change. To leave the world a better place than I found it. And seeing it that way, that itchy, blindingly white collar is tolerable for a bit longer.
I want to climb big mountains
with my brown bare feet gripping the dry earth
propelling forward at lightspeed.
But I live surrounded by hills that end in city dumps.
I want to consume large quantities of
so I read and read and read
but I don’t know if I’m reading the right thing when I’m stuck in my
I walk aisle by aisle, reading methodically every book
in every library my two dusty feet can take me to.
But I’m not sure if I’m walking in the right direction,
am I a fish swimming round and round in a fishbowl
confusing it for a the great big ocean?
I want to roar
like an animal
who don’t give a fuck,
but I open my mouth and it chokes on all of the hands pressing against me.
I want to feel, I want to dance, I want to be beautiful,
but my neighbors are watching,
the nuns say it’s indecent,
which my parents have never read,
must surely have a rule against it.
I want to strut,
like the Big Bad Bitch I am,
look down on the dirty, cracked concrete that the city never fixes,
but a 40 year old Veterano throws a penny inside my shirt,
pulling me down to the same gritty, grimy, tired, hood that we both live in.
I want to be a Queen and Rule
who is rooting for me?
I want to be a King
but who will by my subjects?
I want to stomp and devour,
I want to scream.
But who is listening?
I want to be written about in books,
not, I think for vanity,
but to be read about
by girls like me.
I want to inspire.
I want to experience.
I want to make it count.
I want to help a people, all people
but those people don’t want to help me.
I want to take
I want to give
I want to make you remember
I want to make you see
I want to
I want to
I want to achieve the American Dream
but so many don’t see me as American.
I want to
I want to
quick hehehe’s and hahaha’s and silent cackles exploding inside
Our front brown stoop steps are crowded
Five Year olds shushing their baby sisters, rocking them in their arms.
Mami and Papis nowhere to be seen.
The older girls resting their elbows on their knees,
Raising their head and eyebrow, mouth pulled to the side
every time a chump walked by
Under the microscope, flat on a slide,
dissecting with the precision of a surgeon’s knife until they kept walking.
Yeahhh, you best keep walking.
“There’s a fair across the street and over the hill.”
“That hill?” I don’t like going there unless I’m feeling brave.
“Yeah, just over and around the abandoned building.”
We’ve poked around there many times, Michael and I. We look for good sticks to use for our canes. Hobble and wobble along the broken concrete and shake it at each other. Sometimes we wake up the bums who sleep under cardboard boxes pushed against the crumbling earth. Not on purpose.
Sometimes we wake up the skinny women but they always go back to sleep when they see it’s just us.
“I’ll take you,” Chico offers.
I want to go to a fair. I can’t remember going, ever.
Except last year, around Christmas. The firemen took us to Knotts Berry Farm. We rode on a Ferris Wheel and petted animals and ate cotton candy that melted so fast in your mouth, I kept grabbing more. My warm, thirsty tongue could melt a giant, pink, fluffy ball in a second. The cops gave us baseball cards. We ran to their cars, crowding them, pushing against the metal, “More Dodger cards!” More Dodger cards!” we chanted and danced, our skinny arms pumping in the air, our street worn feet running in place. They high fived and laughed and they were so happy with us they came back with real, wrapped, Christmas presents. That, that, was a great Christmas.
“Let me go get Lili, she’s right inside, esperame.”
“NO. Hmmm. No, I only have enough money for two tickets,” Chico explains, holding up two chubby fingers.
“Why are you taking me then for?!” I want to yell. But I just stare at his stubby fingers. A fair, a fair, I want to go shoot at a clown and get a big fluffy Teddy Bear, so, so, big he can’t fit inside my door. I want to feel a pillow of pink inside my mouth turn into a tiny pebble. Not cotton balls, I tried those dipped in sugar but they just tasted dry and it took my mom for-eeeeever to get it out of my mouth.
I take Chico’s warm, sweaty hand and look up at him, making sure he’s not playing another mean joke.
We cross the street, he lets go my hand. I have to keep holding on to the long strands of dead grass every time my shoes slip. He’s ahead of me and I see him walk towards tall shadows. Not soft and clumsy like him. Tall lines with more lines poking out, no roundness.
I look up to the sky, so baby blue. There’s a bird, he’s telling me to forget. To sleep.
And I never remember the fair. I never remember what happens next. So don’t ask.
My Eyore among wolves. I wanted to kiss your cheekbones to see if their sharpness would cut me. How many time did I ask you to pull your ponytail off so I could admire your long silky hair?
Psst. Mariiii. Psst.
I heard you the first time but your soft voice was music to my ears. I liked your attention, Our friendship. I turned around and you were holding up a Winnie the Pooh drawing.
What do you think?
Did you trace that?!
No, I mean, it’s really good. It looks just like him. That’s crazy, you just drew that?
Your cheeks are a high red now, and you pull at your stretched sleeves, trying to hide behind your hands.
Yeah..It’s for you. If you want it.
Thank you! That’s so beautiful, thank you.
I put the pencil drawing inside my folder, careful not to place it against another paper that has writing on it and around to look at Ms. Rosen again.
Hey, did you guys hear? Vicky comes over and puts her arm around my shoulder. I take her hand and push it off.
About Apenimon, he’s dead.
I feel light-headed, like someone yanked my brain, heart and stomach in three different directions. I want to throw up.
What are you talking about?! I ask impatiently, with attitude, placing my hands on my waist. No time for this nonsense.
Yeah, he was playing Russian roulette last night and shot himself. His moms found him in his room. Crazy… Hey did you guys do the math homework?
Yeah, but I don’t get number 7.
I keep walking, dragging my legs with me.
One, click. Two, click. How many times does it take to get to the middle of the –
I’m wearing a cream chiffon dress.
I look lovely.
Should I dart in front of that truck?
My tanned skin glistens in the sun, screaming Southern California health.
The windows were open on our 15th floor lunchroom.
I averted my eyes, blocking the windows out, the LA sunshine.
Pretending everything was okay, eating my lunch.
I run to catch the bus to pick up my daughters and I remember.
I can’t leave.
I can’t leave them.
This conversation, and many iterations, airbrushed versions, quiet cries, fake smiles, masked feelings, shuffling raw sewage of hurt dripping away to make it blend. Blending. Existing, surviving, smiling, living.
Walking through life wanting to not only survive but to find MEANING.
So many times, so many days. I wanted to stop it. Just stop.
And it was always them that kept me present. That saved me from myself, from my brain that was hurting from the frantic energy buzzing inside, from the inability to neatly file shit away in a folder. No folder could hold it.
Like The Nightmare Before Christmas. Sewn together, coping. Hoping to hide the seams that were bursting, screams pushing outward to free the energy that I have for life.
When you want so much but you are given a 1 square meter space to fit into. The space given only gets smaller as time progresses. People tune out. They sign off on your failure.
Not knowing what is inside.
Bubbling out. Leavening. Like rising bread.
I take a bite and I enjoy the taste. So I keep kneading and baking.
I hate baking.
It makes me uncomfortable.
But I keep pushing.
And today, now.
I am a balloon filled with so many voices, so many stories, so many paths.
And I am asked, “Who Are You?”
Expected to answer in 2 sentences.
And I always take longer and I fight the feeling that I am taking up too much space.
I want to shrink onto myself.
Because when I let it out, when I roar,
it fucking hurts.
And when I hear that roar from others,
that low growl before the end
it fucking hurts.
Why does it have to hurt so much for so many?
I am okay. I am fine.
I am even.
I can say this with honesty now.
I can say this with confidence.
In the face of the questioning looks, of the wonder, of the hostile unwelcomes.
This place can be so unwelcoming.
Almost a joke.
How cold, how faceless, how irritatingly alike so many people choose to be.
See me please.
Because I strive to see you.
Because how hard is it?
To See with Kind Eyes?
I have many hands
To Hold Me in
Pull my corazon inside
I have many faces
portray only the goods ones
only the logic and indisputable
they will see
But it keeps pouring out
Like a boiling pot hissing steam
So many hands
To hold me In
Cover my mouth
Close my heart
So many Hands
I hope they burn
when I let it out
So many hands
and None of them are mine
I saw an old man and I wanted to cry.
I see him everywhere, always surprising me.
In the shade, hunched over, under a tree by the courtyard, looking small.
Selling cookies at the Farmer’s Market. Quiet, drawn into himself, no customers.
So I buy in abundance.
Nothing I need with money I don’t have.
I see him everywhere.
His weathered face, mustache hiding his quiet lips.
Never moving, always leaving me wanting to hear more.
And when they do, sometimes I can’t run away fast enough.
Into myself, bracing myself.
Against what I want so badly.
My father is an immigrant. He crossed the Mexico/US border as teenager, on his own, to find another life. My father is from a small, rural, town in Mexico. We live in Los Angeles, the second largest city in the country. The Second Largest City in the Country. His town’s population hovers around 1,000 people. Los Angeles’ population hovers around 3.5million.
Can you even imagine the difference? My high school had a population of 5,500 students. My freshman class, at 1,500 students, was larger than his town’s population. But don’t worry. My senior graduating class magically pared down to half of his town’s population to 500.
I could tell you about MY memories from the first time I visited Mexico, the first time we traveled to his town. But I’d rather not. I’d rather focus on my dad.
Can you imagine being 18 and leaving your town, your state, your country, your mother, your brothers, your sisters, your father, your mother tongue, your culture, your identity, your pride…All behind?
Can you imagine jumping on trains, finding a way across the desert, finding a way across. Across. A hostile crossing.
Can you imagine –
so Painful that it cuts into your being,
cuts you down.
Every rejection, every categorization, every generalization,
Every Migra Threat.
Fear so cold that it freezes your blood on its tracks.
Fear like an ice pick piercing your heart.
Fight or flight.
Can you imagine ignoring both and choosing instead to
Keeping your head down. Smiling. Paying taxes. Ignoring condescension.
So that one day you would have children, your own family, and hope to –
To believe that they could break the chains of fear because they Did Not Belong to
Anyone but America.
America the Free.
And they came, and they came, and they came, and they
Will Continue to Come
whether you care for it or not.
Whether you care for it or not.
They will come. As you did.
And they will borne others like Me.
I shouldn’t read Maya Angelou books
With a knowing greed
I tear through them waiting
Waiting for the lurid secret revealed
And as I devour the foul thing
my insides expand
and my breathing labors under the weight of it
There’s a pressure from within pressing outward
trying in vain to find release
Who did this to you?
Who did this to you?
I don’t know
I don’t know
I’ve seen blood in my hands before
Who was it?
Writing on top
Willing with dead eyed stares
I won’t tell, it won’t help
It won’t ease the howl within me
As I brush my teeth,
it tried to escape
but I hold it in
It won’t leave me
The pain and emptiness stay until the next time
that my rage and fury unleash
in silent howls within my head
They won’t leave me, I won’t tell