Survivor’s Guilt It Is Not

I have survivor’s guilt. It’s survivor’s guilt. You are experiencing survivor’s guilt.

No, it is not.

It’s not survivor’s guilt when you feel off about you ‘making it’ and your family not.

It is not survivor’s guilt when you feel sick in your stomach that you have one foot in success and one foot in trying to figure out your family’s mess.

Why can’t you lift them out of this?

Why can’t they just…

STOP

Being so messy.

So wrong.

So guilty.

So easily captured by the rules and laws written surreptitiously to capture your own.

Survivor’s Guilt Is is Not

When the system was meant to oppress you and everyone like you

When you and those like you were thrown away as soon as you could suck

on Your mother’s tit

Full of nourishment

and bitterness

Survivor’s Guilt It Is Not

When the system is designed to embitter your mother

with back breaking work

with the stress of finances

with the stress of feeding you

with the stress of being carried away each time a siren is sung

A siren sings

Migra! Migra!

Weeeeooooo Weeeeeeoooooo!

Red lights

Blue Lights

Still make your insides cold

Arrest your body

As you realize

You have not survived

One foot in “success”

One foot in the mess

created by the system to pull you and those like you down

Down

Down

Until you drown

Almost

Yet bob up and find a way to peek

Step

Gingerly

then break into a thundering run

away

From survivors

A burden

by a system’s maker

to feel guilty

for living

existing

Guilt

is not yours

It’s not you that

Keeps you

in Guilt and Wonder

Why me?

When you could ask, instead

why this?

Change this

Hermanito

I wonder how you are doing.

That part is easy, it could be a feeling of self satisfaction, wondering how you are. Where you are. If you are in the streets again or have a roof over your head.

But it doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt just the same. The wondering, the not knowing, The wondering if you know that I care and that I want to help. Truly help. Not like yesterday.

Because I still swallow the bile in my throat every time I remember coming to see you after you asked for twenty bucks. Groceries in tow, things I knew would not go bad. Because I’ve been there. Without refrigeration, squatting under a roof and four walls but no assurance for tomorrow. Gathering the bread, staples, things I hoped would last. Things I hoped would keep you alive, all the time wishing you’d come with me. Sweet brother of mine.

I love you.

And yet I’m too much of a coward to really wonder where you are. Because every time I see a statistic on the LA Times I wonder.

Is it you?

I devour the description, the tattoos, looking to see if they cover the beautiful surface of your face.

Your eyes, so kind. Those gorgeous almond-shaped eyes that haunt me every day. Those eyes that haven’t changed since you were two years old. I have loved you. Always, and yet, I know nothing of where you are and how you are.

And none of it should be your fault hermanito, and yet it seems only you pay for it all but we all pay. Over and over again I would pay, to have you safe. And those you love.

What is Abuse?

It was dark, in the middle of the night, and cold. I stood shivering in my thin polyester Scooby PJs peeking at the swollen, disfigured face of my aunt. Flashes of red, blue, and very bright lights pulled up into our driveway.

My aunt crying again with a new bruise blooming in her cheek and eye, swollen belly before her, carrying my cousin who at nine months in the womb was ready to burst into this world.

A beautiful dinner of carne asada, salad with generous slices of aguacate and tomate on top, and beans – always freshly made – on the side. As I inhaled the plate before me I heard the crack, centimeters from my ear. I coughed on flecks of porcelain dish that sprayed throughout the table once it ricocheted off the wall. The wall where my dad did not aim, my mom beside me. Was she beside me? Or standing by the comal warming tortillas as she always stood, her face hidden in the walls away from everything and everyone, away from him, from us.

The red eyes. The staggering walk and angry whispers to himself. To themselves.

All of these memories are jumbled and sometimes, hard as a I try – I can’t ensure I know whom was who and what I saw or what I was told – over and over again by my mother. Her stories. her account. Of me, my dad, my life – it’s hard to disentangle what I know to be true to what I hope I can convince myself happened, the happen she wants, her truth I hope for.

Velour pants, copper-colored, matching velour jacket hugging my body. Curled hair after hours with a curling iron, glossy lips and my eyelashes curled. I pulled the jacket down to cover the thin strip of skin exposed every time I stood up straight. I’m ironing his shirt and as I turn it over to him, I’m not sure what happens. I go back to the bed curling the last strands of hair and he makes a comment about Who Am I Dressing For? And then there’s the smell of burning flesh, the iron stuck against my hip, an angry red strip. He’s crying and I’m trying not to implode from wanting to run away but having nowhere to go. DJ is loud and everyone is drinking and dancing at my mom’s house. Oh You Know How Clumsy I am! I wave off the burn that is beginning to blister but I don’t cover it.

I can’t bring myself to share more than that.

The shame, the shame, the shame.

Shame of having failed at marriage. Of not putting up with it, of not being better, or good enough to deserve better. The oily feeling of failure sticking to your skin, the fear that your pores are emanating a stale smell of desperation. The feeling of having to depend on only yourself when you feel so broken and bone tired. The angry words of disappointment and disgust of others for not staying. Prostituta. Cualquiera. Mujer de la Calle. Desgracia.

And those two little faces looking up at me wondering, What Next? In our car in the cold nights, bundled in their car seats. The constant prickling of tears that refuse to spill because that’s not a luxury you can afford.


It’s taken me years to forgive myself for leaving, for failing. Even now, against all logic, I feel guilty, guilt intertwined with incredulity at How Did I Get There in the First Place? I left that abusive relationship only to fall into another that would take more a few more years to get out. To finally get out of the reach of the same cycle that preyed on my insecurities, my precarious financial situation, my housing instability, and low self-esteem. I grew up in an abusive home and walked on a path that naturally led me to another abusive home, this time as an adult. I was fortunate enough to have had the strength, the looks, the luck of getting out without the help of my family. The family that normalized that abuse and would gaslight me each time I had tried to leave. I’m out and have been out of abusive situations for years and all I can think of is how I would mourn that younger me if she were still in that basement being hurt in silence or in that loft in a luxury building being hurt in different ways. I mourn those still in those situations.


My aunt came to our house time and time again until she stopped. My aunt was a beautiful woman, deep caramel brown skin that shone whether day or night, and she loved me. How she married my uncle remains unclear except for the fact that she was the darkest of her family and was simply ignored and sidelined. She may have wanted what so many of us wanted, what I wanted, what my mother wanted and didn’t know how to give – she may have wanted to feel wanted. She stayed with this man her whole life, no matter how many times he beat her. No matter his illogical jealousy that resulted in a swollen lip, no matter how pregnant she was he still unleashed the same anger against her jaw and stomach driven by some slight he imagined she had committed by having another man open the door for her.

She tried to leave, she moved so many times. No one ever offered her safety and I don’t know that she even thought to ask. Each time, he seemed to find her. And each time a new child would fill her swollen belly which would make him kinder for a time.


I didn’t understand how lonely, how painful it was for her until I stood in her shoes. If you can, check in and be there for your friends and family who may in similar situations. And no matter how many times it takes them to leave, be there every single time.

Normalizing Failure with Scott Hanselman

I think you sense a theme here 🙂 My partner once told me that he filters the associates he wants to work with by seeing if they’re the type to run towards a fire or run away from it. Well I know that I’m the kind to run full speed towards the fire, take my sweater and beat the shit out of the fire in order to put it out. Call that what you will, but what you can’t call me is someone who would run away from a challenge. Or the possibility of failure.

I had the joy of being a guest speaker on Scott Hanselman’s podcast where we chatted for <1/2 an hour on Normalizing Failure. I humbly believe that you will relate and find it refreshing.

Con mucho amor, much love, all the time:

– Susana AKA Miss Chingona, La Mera Mera, La Coder, La Honey, La que / the one that will always keep it real with you. I hope you enjoy!

10 Things to Manage Stress

How to manage your workload and goals amidst a pandemic

The pandemic and shelter in place orders have been a massive stressor on all of us. Personally, this Spring I was carrying 20 engineering units at Stanford while caring for my 4yo and helping my two teenage kids with their sudden online learning. This Summer I started a new job, moved back to LA from the Bay Area, had to find schools and register my kids, and experienced remote work for the first time. These stressors have a compounding effect as it adds to stress you already had.

Needless to say I was stressed. Stressed to excel at work while managing all of my parenting responsibilities. Stressed by the move (we did it all ourselves to minimize contact). Stressed to find a new doctor and therapists. Stressed about dental work I had to get done.

Stressed, stressed, stressed!

gif of SpongeBob SquarePants stressed out

Stress caused weight gain, troubled sleep, difficulty unplugging from work, and it made my memory and recall slower, short temper, and a constant feeling of no matter what I do, I feel like it’s not enough.

Stepping Back and Assessing Your Situation

My brain felt cluttered, unorganized, and slow. I felt like I was at risk of burnout. I finally asked myself, what do you feel? I made space for those feelings which allowed me to approach the issue with some distance and curiosity. I then wondered, why was I living like this?

I realized that I have lived under extreme stress my entire life. Since my childhood, to being a single mom of two, to working at high pressure companies, to studying CS at Stanford – it has been nonstop go go go. This made me realize that some of my stress was self-induced. I was working at capacity needlessly. I had to adapt to my new situation and find my sense of agency. I pushed back on meetings, delegated work, reassessed timelines, and most importantly I was kind to myself. At night I tell myself, “Yes you’re right, you have a lot do do. You also accomplished a lot, just look at your checklist!” This allows me to reframe the panic in my brain to a gentle self-assurance that I will get to it tomorrow.

Structure & Routine For Ambiguity

Reflecting on what was on my plate made me realize that I had to think big picture and invest in myself. I thrive under structure and routine – probably because I didn’t have any as a kid. I’m also really good at dealing with emergencies, projects with ambiguity, and am a great strategist.

By planning ahead and setting up my framework and processes, I created structure that maximizes my capacity, allows me to remain creative, and gives me the intellectual and emotional capacity to deal with issues that come up unexpectedly.

Creating Structure At Work

I love my work. It’s my first job where I feel valued, mentored, and like I belong. It’s also comes with the high investment of self and juggling of responsibilities that startups are associated with. To manage my long term and short term goals I did and led with the following:

  1. Create a work plan. Excel template here. The goal at the top of the sheet is to find out what you want, what you need, your goals, and generally come up with your North Star and Mission. I go over this with my boss during our daily check-in and update the goals I have at the top, as well as changing priorities and progress. It makes it easy for them to see that I am handling things and what my capacity is. It also makes it easy for me to remember any questions I need answered.
  2. Daily Checklist. I use my notes app as a daily checklist and include everything I hope to achieve that day. I copy over items I didn’t get to the next day. I love checking off things I get done. I also include a short blurb on what I did for exercise, what I did to prep my daughter for school, etc. This allows me to remind Myself What My Capacity Is. It’s helpful to see everything you do and reminds you that you are managing a lot and doing so amidst a pandemic.
  3. Gauge Priority Level and What is In Your Control
    • Ask Is this a Priority Today?
    • Ask Is it in My Control to Push Back the Deadline?
    • Communicate your priorities and updates to those involved.
    • Use your work plan to show everything on your plate.
  4. Tracking Your Growth, Communication, and Transparency: I use a google doc for my Update and Insights Report. This includes the milestones, wins, and learnings (e.g. what went well, pain points, and ideas) from the past week and the Next Steps for the week ahead. I keep a Susana Notes doc for daily notes on meetings and projects, my daily priorities, and brainstorming sessions. Everyone in the company has access to both docs. Both of these documents, along with my work plan, help me track my progress and my professional growth. It communicates what I am up to and provides full transparency into my output – This is especially important for companies (and startups in general) new to remote work.
  5. Calendly. This is critical for me since I average 20 client-related meetings a week.
  6. Add 10 Minute Buffers to my calendar so I can take a bio break, stretch, get a snack or coffee. Before I did this, I was regularly ending up with solid back to back meetings from 9AM – 5PM with no opportunity to do any of the above.
  7. Block Off Time for Lunch. I’m going to admit I am not good at taking breaks but it, at minimum, allows me a break from meetings and calls.
  8. Respect your Needs. I have therapy once a week. I have a Hard Block for this time with a buffer on each end so I am not late and to provide a break for me to process. I have to pick up my 4yo from preschool by 5PM so I schedule 30 minutes so I can walk over and get her. I avoid early morning meetings because I exercise, work from bed with my daughter cuddling next to me, and get breakfast and my daughter ready. I like to shower and get ready unrushed as well as have everything on my desk that I need (coffee and a lot of water). I burn my palo santo, meditate, and do my affirmations. It’s important to know what works for you.
  9. What Activates You. I have a heavy workload and take a lot of video calls. To stay energized and reset I:
    • Brush my teeth (The minty flavor is revitalizing)
    • Satisfy any bio, food, or water need: when you meet your body’s needs, your mind has a lot less to worry about.
    • Run cold water on my wrists: shake off sleepiness
    • Play 90s Hip Hop: I mean do I need to explain? 😀
  10. What Calms You. When I find myself starting to get overwhelmed and anxious I:
    1. Walk out to my balcony and people watch
    2. Think of a specific memory with someone I love and loves me back
    3. Hug someone or something you love
    4. Call my sister or husband, talking it out or just hearing their voice is soothing.

If you’ve read this far, you’re a go-getter, a hustler, a chingona, a manifestation of everything Little You could never dream you would be. You may be mining for ways to do even more. But I hope the above serves you and everything you want to accomplish while not losing your sense of self, your boundaries, and your health.

A Perspective: What a Canceled Commencement Ceremony means to a First Gen College Student

I knew that life was going to fundamentally change when reports of COVID-19 projected a global pandemic but like many Americans, I tried to shut my eyes to it as I continued with life. In the eve of Winter quarter finals, my life was consumed by long hours of work at Huang basement, raw emotions, and constant sleep deprivation. I was carrying 19 units with four computer science classes and to keep from breaking down I willed myself to take it one day at a time whispering to myself that I was almost there.

What kept me going was knowing that Spring quarter was almost here. Spring quarter embodies hope, a calm over the campus, photoshoots of senior fountain hopping, and bodies browning under the gorgeous California sun as they study in the lawn in front of Green library. And this Spring quarter would also mean accomplishing a goal long deferred.

My life has taken many turns; three and a half years ago it took a turn up as 14 years after graduating from high school I had the privilege of going back to school full time as an undergrad studying CS at Stanford University. With thick skin and mental strength acquired by experience I was better equipped than my Latinx / First gen peers but in many ways, being a non-traditional transfer student (and a mom to three girls), I was even more of an outsider, even more of a square peg trying to fit into a round hole.

Walking across that stage and getting that degree would mean it was all worth it. So when Stanford confirmed all of our fears and officially canceled our commencement ceremony, it didn’t just hurt us, it didn’t just dash our dream –  it dashed the dreams of our parents, our siblings, and for some of us that of our children.

I know that I will still get my diploma and that I will be okay. But it still feels like we have been robbed of a moment – our moment, to give our parents the greatest source of pride seeing their first generation American, brown, children thriving in a four year institution and being celebrated along with white American children as equals.

Because just as this was all worth it to us in order to get that degree, for our parents: the sacrifice of immigrating to this country with nothing but the sweat and labor of their hands; the fear of living in this country and contributing to its economy while undocumented; the desaprecios from their employers; the humiliation of having to continually rely on their children to explain it in Spanish; the unceasing ache in their bent necks as they walked through life with eyes downcast – it was all going to be worth it the moment they heard their child’s name called out and saw them walk across that stage, diploma in hand. Heads held high, broad smiles with aching cheeks, tears brimming, and dressed in their Sunday best – our parents would feel the pulse of their rich cultural history and ancestry emerge. They would sheath their too-long practiced peasant shyness and would look up and exclaim to all that could hear, “That is my Susy! That is my daughter.”

And when with heavy hearts we called our parents to tell them the news, they quickly without missing a beat, responded, “Mija, we are so proud of you. The graduation doesn’t matter. What matters is, que tú luchaste mija, tú lo hiciste!” And we smiled through the phone swallowing the lump in our throat knowing how much it very much did matter.

So when we say that missing out on a graduation ceremony is bigger than us, this is what we mean: We lost the opportunity to elevate our parents the way they have carried us on their shoulders our whole lives.

And while in the big picture this remains just another consequence of a terrifying global pandemic, to those of us who grew up in a small, restricted, and confined existence, this was our biggest picture.

 

Let’s Talk Tech Interview Anxiety

Your resume is beautiful, readable, and within the limit. You have polished that resume until it shines so bright it blinds you with your dazzling achievements.

Rosie Perez strutting into a room

You’ve been to countless career fairs where you’ve continually broken through your introverted + imposter syndrome tendencies to talk to the engineers + recruiters and convince them that they need your resume.

gif: pick me

And then it happens. You get a call / email inviting you to add your calendar availability to schedule your first interview. And you want to book the furthest away possibility because – you’ll totally have more time to study. But really you just want to avoid it.

gif: man hiding in car

It’s like you forgot that this is what you wanted.

So What Happened? And How Can You get through it?

First off it’s perfectly normal to be nervous. If it didn’t mean anything, then you wouldn’t care. My therapist put it beautifully when they said, “A balance of preparation and a little nervousness is healthy. You don’t want to not be nervous at all because then you won’t prepare. But you also don’t want to worry too much because then it’s too overwhelming to prepare.” [paraphrased by me]

When I first heard this I was like Wait What? I hadn’t considered that ‘worry’ could be a good thing. That ‘worry’ was an emotion that when moderate could motivate good behavior.

Or that ‘worry’ while being a strong emotion is an emotion that runs its course if given time.

IMG_2996

But when we avoid it, that ‘worry’ grows because we never face it long enough for it to run that course. So we learn to only avoid. And our fear of the unknown grows. And we get locked in a series of crashing and overwhelming emotions – so overwhelming that we can’t even think about it.

IMG_2997

We close our own door. We don’t try. Because if we don’t try, we can’t get rejected right? Wrong, we are being rejected by default. We are in essence, rejecting ourselves. And this is a vicious cycle that invites harsh, unhealthy, and unhelpful self-critique. Doesn’t that sound exhausting???

So What Can We do?

I’ll give you a recent example. Because of many reasons I get incredibly anxious as an interview nears. I try to cancel, postpone, convince myself that I don’t want this or need this, that this is a terrible idea because why would I work for x company?! I come up with incredibly convincing stories that all say the same thing: Don’t try, it’s not worth it.

But what I’m really telling myself is: I’m not worth it.

And I recognize that voice. That’s an old voice. A voice that has harmed me for years and whose power grows when I listen to it, when I affirm it.

But let’s take a step back. Put yourself in the shoes of the listener and the speaker is your daughter, sister, best friend, someone you love. They share their struggles with imposter syndrome, with that voice that says that they won’t succeed. What do you say to them?

You are worthy. You will succeed.

Then you problem solve with them.

  • What is the worse that can happen?
  • How likely is that to happen?
  • What are you afraid of?
  • What do you struggle with?
  • Is that an immutable situation or can you do something about it?
  • What can you do?

Here’s a walk through of my answers to the above:

  • That I will go blank, prove that I am stupid and that I know nothing.
  • Not very likely, I will at the very least be able to solve some of the problems and be able to answer most questions.
  • To confirm I will fail.
  • I feel ‘cold’ every time I interview.
  • No, it’s not immutable. Yes, there is something I can do about it. *Side note: This will be your answer 99% of the time.* 
  • I can set aside a few minutes each day to attempt interview questions. I can carve out an hour on the weekend and create a roadmap of what I want to master.

Reframe the Situation

And most importantly, I can bet on myself and move forward with the interview. That sounds easy but it’s the hardest part right? Some tactics I find helpful is to reframe the situation.

For example, I can:

  • this interview is for practice, doesn’t matter if I get the offer or not, knowing the questions they ask in this type of interview is what matters (this doesn’t mean don’t prep – this means accept many interviews so that you can get that real time practice in)
  • this is a data point. I can assess what went well, what I struggled with / stumbled on and this will inform my study roadmap
  • this is for my community. I will document the process and blog about it to remove the stigma around performance anxiety. This is one of my favorites. 😉

Can you think of other ways to reframe this?

In Summary

La pura verdad, this sh!t is hard.

I have to walk myself through this every time. The thing is that once the interview is over I’m always like – huh okay. That wasn’t AS BAD as my imagination made it out to be.

So now we both have a road map – because you bet I’m going to come back to this time and time again. I hope that this helps you make the space to ask and answer these questions and to believe in yourself enough to put in that prep work and go for it.

Because chingados, we’re worth it!

Jennifer Lopez looking confident in a gown

A Conversation with Ellen K. Pao, tech investor and advocate, the former CEO of reddit, and a cofounder of the award-winning diversity and inclusion nonprofit Project Include

A few weeks ago I attended Write/Speak/Code, a non-profit dedicated to promote the visibility and leadership of technologists with marginalized genders through peer-led professional development that hosts an annual conference and meetup events designed to help you fully own your expertise through writing, speaking, and open source.

That’s a mouthful but they live by every word and more. I can’t stop saying how life-altering attending that conference was for me. Being in a space full of womxn in tech, including brown and black women, was what my heart and soul needed. I needed so badly to feel like I belonged in tech, that it wasn’t me that was the problem with the lack of diversity at work, but that my experienced were reflected in many others.

I promise I will write up a post on what I learned and experienced at that conference, I tweeted up a storm when I attended. 

This conference and the incredible speakers inspired me to start responding to Calls for Proposals to present at technical conferences, to apply to technical workshops, and to apply to get my research published.

But I digress, I told you I would tell you about moderating Ellen K. Pao: Fighting for Inclusion In Silicon Valley.

So when I got an email from Michelle N. (whom I hadn’t had the pleasure of meeting) back in July, saying Julie suggested that we connect given our common involvement in CS + Social Good on campus, I was excited to hear more when she mentioned the possibility of bringing Ellen to speak on campus.

For context, Julie and I took a two-quarter CS + SG course: CS 51 Designing Social Impact Projects and CS 52 Implementing your Social Impact Project via a chosen technical framework. I highly recommend committing to these courses if you’re a student at Stanford. It doesn’t count towards any requirement and the 2 unit load should really be 5 but it is completely worth the time and effort. You can read more about the course here. Julie and I were both summer fellows and worked as ambassadors for Stanford’s Haas Center for Public Service where we collaborated on getting the word out to our respective communities, many at the intersection of race, gender, and tech.

Julie recommended me to Michelle and attested to my commitment to combining tech with social good and honestly I was deeply moved that Julie noticed and believed in me enough to think of me.

This is the power of your network, of putting yourself out there, and of being vulnerable enough to voice your opinions and perspective in rooms that aren’t always reflective of your experience. 

Michelle pulled off the major feat of connecting with Ellen, inviting her to speak on campus, organizing student groups Women in CS (WiCS), Stanford Women in Design (SWID), and Stanford’s entrepreneurship community ASES to come together to plan the logistics, culminating in a beautiful event last night.

I am still riding high from the honor and privilege of serving as the moderator of this incredibly inspiring conversation with Ellen. Bellow is a tweet that makes me giggle every time I read it.

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Following the event, a pic with attendees and our hero Ellen K. Pao

Honestly, I have so many emotions following the event that I am having a hard time expressing them. I am speechless, and that is rare.

I will say that I will continue to work towards making tech more inclusive and that the resilience, strength, and commitment to what is true and good that Ellen possesses is what we should all aspire to.

If you haven’t had the pleasure, read Ellen’s book Reset: My Fight for Inclusion and Lasting Change in which she tells her full story for the first time, and Project Include, whose mission is to give everyone a fair chance to succeed in tech. Project Include is a non-profit that uses data and advocacy to accelerate diversity and inclusion solutions in the tech industry.

But Why Don’t You Listen For Yourself?

Ellen says it best, to watch some of last night’s conversations:

I hope you are inspired for a more inclusive workplace.

I hope you work hard and concretely to move toward a more inclusive workplace.

And I hope that you know that you are not alone in these beliefs and that we will make an inclusive workplace a reality together.

Much love,

Susana

Leaving LA

The process of moving and telling others that I am leaving LA has been a mixed bag of highs and lows.

I am a native Angeleno and I love my city with all its misunderstood and under appreciated idiosyncrasies. I grew up in Boyle Heights near El Tepeyac and Evergreen cemetary. I moved around but always in LA: downtown, Chinatown and a brief stint in the valley.

I’ve experienced so much within one county which includes the large swath of land that is home to 15 million.

I’ve lived the LA of East LA where you naturally fall into the lyrical song of Spanish, the early conversion to cool of Downtown LA, the ridiculous parties and outings that only LA can outlandishly provide, and the quieter and sweeter moments of growing a parent community as a mother.

Every memory of this city remains etched in my mind; from my early years of living on Union by McArthur Park: drive by’s, elderly neighbors who always had hot apple pie, my grandfather handing us a quarter for a bag of pepinos and even the kind LAPD beat officers who handed out baseball cards to us.

Now it’s a golden sunset setting on my rear view mirror.

I drive past the grapevine, by the acrid smell of cows, the rolling hills covered in blankets of wheat and the fruit stands of Gilroy – to land here. Silicon Valley.

I’ve been here less than a week and already I feel the dull ache of a lost one long loved. I sense the need to see the awesome landscape below the hills of City Terrace. I miss the daily reminder of my connection to a city, a place, my memories… I fell the pull.

Los Angeles.

The bad, dark and shallow times we shared remain on my mind. The empty promises linger on the avenue of broken dreams. Not Hollywood. The place where broken dreams go to bury the pain is always darker than the pretense of the avenue of the stars. In the streets of daily living lie the real stories of LA. On Cesar Chavez Boulevard, Whittier Boulevard, Hoover, 41st, 18th, in every single corner that the downtrodden go to blend into the indistinguishable mess of sadness.

Los Angeles. Like a good-looking love that I can’t get rid of, no matter how bad you know they are for you. You cling to me. Days of fear and anger intermingle with days of triumph and evenings spent toasting on rooftops thinking we’ve done it all. I love you.

But for now, we need to take a break. I need space, I need time, I need a place to lay my head and make a mark before I come back to you. To you I toast, dear city of mine.

Ciudad mia, adoracion de mi corazon, dame tiempo y paciencia y con los aires de la suerte llegare a tu lado de nuevo.

Until then dear LA, find someone else to claw your heartless charms into. I need a break.

Letter to my Dear Eliza on her 7th Birthday

When I see your face, your uninterrupted innocence, and feel the silkiness of your cheek when you rub it against mine in affection I am mesmerized.  I am awestruck and grateful for the simplicity in your joy and outlook in life; by your dreams full of cotton candy clouds, rainbows bursting through the sky, pink princesses leading the world; and your mommy loved above it all. 

You hold my hand, tilt your head to the side, giving me one of your crooked half smiles that can’t contain itself and I am filled with a radiating warmth that makes the world around me livelier.

 I work hard instilling a joy for life, an appreciation for everything around us; whether it is observing the morning dew glittering on a blade of lime green grass or sitting quietly taking in the fiery and purple hues of our LA sunsets.  I pray, in my own way, that you take what happiness you can from each moment in life and that these moments become a permanent state of happiness for you.

Each time I threw a penny in a wishing pond, each time an eyelash fell and we pressed it against our fingers, every birthday cake wish since I’ve had you two, I have fervently wished that you grow to be Happy and Kind – wonderful women.

 Along the way of finding ways to improve your chances of a better tomorrow, I have found bits and pieces of happiness myself.  As I looked for a better education for the two of you, I found a way to use my skills to volunteer and received a higher sense of fulfillment.  As I pushed you into the arts, I became immersed in a colorful world of music, acting and dance. 

 We have grown happier together.  We have grown stronger together.

 Today you are seven years old. 

 I was 21 and a mother of two with a growing sense of dread and an urgent need to raise you on my own before you were marred with witnessing what I did as a child.

 No one knew what went on nor do they need to know.  I set out with the two of you and we carried on as three.  It is the hardest decision I have ever made.  Not because of what I needed but for fear that I was being weak by not putting up with a bad situation so you could have your father. 

 In many ways I have never been a child but more of a half adult.  I experienced life’s travails and physical exigencies while still trapped in a child’s body.  Like a Matryoshka doll, I forced forward the strength of an adult to appease the need of others when inside I was physically and deep down, emotionally, still a child. 

But since the first moment I laid eyes on you, I Loved you.  You were my renewed link to life in many ways, my dear.  With time, I have found my own place, independent of you two, I discovered self-love.  But what remains unchanged are the tears that threaten to spill from my eyes, the ache in my chest, in my soul, when I think of you and the love I have for you. 

 I say all this in tribute to you; to the strength that you have as a seven year old, to have lived through the many low’s that life dealt us in the past but retaining only the good.

 You take heart in the beauty of dying embers even when the fire burned.

 Your eyes, full of honest and raw adoration looked up at me and thanked me for a weekend that reminded you of how special you are.  I will never forget what you told me that night.  I share it in hope that it inspires the formerly unloved to focus on the care and love of their own children instead on love that was not received. 

 The night was bitingly cold but we happily lingered in the moment as we walked back from your birthday dinner.  I took your small fingers in my hand and caressed them with the magic that hung, suspended in the air.

 You stopped and looked up at me, your eyes shining with tenderness, and asked me,

 “Mommy, you know how you can happy cry?”

 “Yes?”

 “When you read me your card, you made me happy cry.”

 —The contents of said birthday card will remain private because I whispered those words, meant only for you, into your ear—

 “Iza, you’re making me happy cry now.”

 “Thank you Mommy.” And you hugged me tightly.

 That in a life continuously assaulted with the love for Things, with the need of bigger, better, brighter!, you chose to focus on and appreciate the love that I show you, made my wish come true.