First Timer’s Guide to Grace Hopper #GHC19 A Non-Brief Interjection #LatinxInAI

6 Oct

Welcome back! Continuing with my First Timer’s Guide to Grace Hopper series. Make sure you read Part 1 of the series.

Celebrating #LatinxInAI News:

You know how when things go wrong we blame ourselves and when things go right we tend to minimize it and say things like, “no problem!”, “it was nothing!”, etc.?

This type of minimizing language tends to sneak up and in the spirit of being self-aware and unlearning this behavior I wanted to share my exciting news I received on Tuesday night.

How did this all come about?

For some context, I attended the Write/Speak/Code annual conference this summer as a scholarship recipient from the Kapor Center. This conference was life altering for me and I will write up a blog post(s) about my experience! I tweeted up a storm under #WSC2019Conf feel free to follow me at @susanabenavidez. This all happened as a consequence of my #networking at a Techqueria event hosted by Slack.

Reframing your narrative slide from write session by Angie Jones listing words that undermine our accomplishment inlcuding:

Among my favorite sessions were Angie Jones’ write day session. Follow her, she’s amazing: https://twitter.com/techgirl1908

After the Write/Speak/Code Write Day Session with Angie Jones 🔥 I was inspired to start applying to conferences and other activities around branding and representing as a Latina in tech 👩🏻‍💻.

This past Spring I took CS 224U taught by incredible Professor of Linguistics and, by courtesy, of Computer Science, and Director of CSLI and Stanford NLP Group Christopher Potts and equally impressive Director of Proactive Intelligence at Apple and Consulting Assistant Professor of Computer Science at Stanford Bill MacCartney.

With mentorship from incredibly supportive Cindy Wang I co-authored (with my awesome fellow transfer and also CS major Andy Lapastora) a research paper “Improving Hate Speech Classification on Twitter” detailing existing natural language processing and understanding and machine learning work in this space as well as explaining the motivation of our hand built features, transfer learning, and AI models. We applied to present our paper and our paper got accepted by:

LatinX in AI Research at NeurIPS 2019
The Official LXAI Research Workshop is co-located with NeurIPS in Vancouver CANADA

Major shout out to Latinx In AI Chair and Founder of AccelAI Laura Montoya and Visiting Researcher en Montreal Institute for Learning Algorithms (MILA) Pablo Fonseca who announced the opportunity on Techqueria’s slack and guided me in the submission process. This is what being an advocate and mentor is all about! #LatinxInAI 
During the conference I emailed Cindy Wang, now at Sentropy.io and professor Chris Potts to thank them for their guidance, opportunity, and support. I also emailed Professor Potts for a faculty letter so I can apply to Stanford’s grant program for undergrads to attend conferences in which they present their research. His letter made me cry. Talk about being an advocate and ally to inclusion for Latinx In AI. I have never felt so believed in and sure of the decisions, ethics, and values I hold when working in the exciting field of Artificial Intelligence. I will link the paper after the conference!

I’m going to be a published researcher in the field of Artificial Intelligence and Natural Language Processing / Understanding…well let’s let the Reyna explain my feelings 🎉💃🏻

source

Takeaways

I hope you didn’t mind my veering off the #GraceHopper flow but I wanted to share my win because Si No Yo, ¿quién? Roughly: ‘If we don’t Pump Ourselves Up, then Who?’

Never lean away from celebrating your accomplishments and if you struggle with tooting your own horn, ask yourself, how would I respond if my friend shared this news about themselves? You would totally pump them up right? Then there you go, your friend here is you.

By the Way This is Totally Related to Grace Hopper #Networking

A MAJOR component and benefit of attending conferences is the incredible networking opportunities. Don’t shy away from them.

We all feel nervous 😩 about networking but I will share how I approach networking. Networking is one of the reasons I was able to pivot from my accounting clerk job (I hit a ceiling due to not having a degree) to the much more profitable and portable field of business development. Shout out to Anne Marie for connecting me not once, but twice to opportunities that led to promotions and major life moves! 💕 If I had not made that move, I would not have been able to support myself and my two kiddos when I was a single mom in LA and would not have met my partner.

In the next post as I talk about Day 3, technically the first full day of Grace Hopper, I’ll share how this introvert weaved in #networking and being a #socialConnector into the conference many sessions, sponsor events, and career fair. I highly recommend reading Minda Harts The Memo. You’re welcome 😉 and thank you for reading!

First Timer’s Guide to Grace Hopper #Newbie #GHC19 Part 1 of Series

4 Oct

After applying to attend Grace Hopper three years in a row, Stanford sponsored me along with other fellow Computer Science undergrads + masters (majority) to attend GHC19!

Today is the LAST DAY 😭 and while I rest my poor feet 👣 before the closing celebration 💃🏻I thought I’d share my experience so far (while the impressions are still fresh on my mind).

DAY 1: MONDAY 9/30 TRAVEL DAY ✈️

What I did: The first day was a travel day for me. Not knowing when to head to the conference I booked a Monday morning flight connecting in Houston with 1 1/2 hour layover. I arrived in Orlando at 6 PM and to my hotel before 7 PM. Stanford made and paid our hotel reservations (2 Stanford students to a room). I wish they paid for our flights up front as I had trouble coming up with the airfare so by the time I booked my flight in late August, the nonstop flights were $1200+ so I booked a nonstop flight ~$750 which was the cheapest I could find. We will be reimbursed after the conference for up to $700.

On my early flight SFO -> Houston -> Orlando

GHC flight to

What I wish I did: I wish Stanford had provided me with the funds to book my flight as soon as I was accepted. I would have taken a nonstop flight on Tuesday as I really just lost a day to traveling and getting behind school lectures + coursework.

I wish Stanford had made a reservation to dinner / meetup before the conference so we could have a chance to meet friendly and familiar faces.

Day 2:  TUESDAY 10/1 Registration + Career Fair Crawl + Techqueria Meetup!

What I did: I made the very rookie mistake of arriving at 4 PM to register before the career fair (5 – 6 PM). I ended up waiting 3 hours to get my badge. I did some homework while I was on the snaking line and chatted with my new friend and roommate.

The career fair crawl came and went while we waited and waited and waited…

registration line

Silver lining of the very long wait: I got to know my roommate really well as we talked about classes, aspirations, our backgrounds, our shared first generation experience, and so much more.

At 6:50 PM as I handed my student ID to one of the registration workers I got a notification from Grace Hopper apologizing for the inconvenience but the SYSTEM WAS DOWN and for attendees to return the next day at 5 AM to pick up their badges.

As I held my breath for my badge to print I thought how the heck am I supposed to find the silver lining in this? My badge printed and I let out a huge sigh of relief.

I booked a Lyft and ran to the ride share pick up to head to the Techqueria meetup.

Techqueria is a nonprofit that serves
the largest community of Latinx in Tech 🌮
👉🏼https://techqueria.org/ to signup

slack meetup info

I was so appreciative that members of Techqueria formed a Grace Hopper channel and volunteered to make the above beautiful invite, plan the reservation and get us all together. Shout out to Yanessa and Mitzi for making this happen!

I have never felt so at home than I did with these amazing Latinas. My ears were so happy to hear the English -> Spanish -> Spanglish vocal dancing.

Whether we were from Boyle Heights, Seattle, Chicago, New York, the Bay Area, or donde sea (wherever) –  we came from shared experience and seeing my experiences reflected in these warm and beautiful faces filled my heart and soul with hope. Can you imagine if we got to work in the same company? Las maravillas we would build!

The connections I met that night were meaningful and deeply personal and I will always treasure the conversations we had.

We had 40+ Latinxs attend the meetup at local business Amor Em Pedacos, a Brazilian empanadas restaurant

techqueria meetup

After the restaurant closed at 10 PM four of us went looking for a place to keep chatting. I am so glad I put myself out there because the payoff was that I got to be in a space where I could voice my experiences to and in tech without judgement, I felt understood and I made friends that I want to keep collaborating with.

What I wish I did:

You could say that I missed out on the career crawl but honestly I think if it hadn’t been for the long line, I may have experienced the career fair from a place of trepidation and isolation. I wouldn’t have got to know my roommate and I don’t know that I would have had the mental energy to attend the meetup. I was reenergized every time I bumped into one of these amazing ladies during the conference and I felt like I was here with my family, not alone in a crowd of 25,0000.  Finding this beautiful community reminded me again that I belong in tech and that there is a large and vibrant community of Latinx in Tech.

This Latina’s non-traditional path to tech: Part 0

24 Sep

I’m Susana, mom to 3 amazing daughters, Latina in tech with much to say.

I left a lucrative job in legal business development to pursue my undergrad computer science degree full time at Stanford.

Why you ask? Some may say I am a masochist but I say I am a life long learner that wanted to lead by example for my daughters and show them that fulfilling your long term goals is worth the hard work and risk.

The long story goes way back to my HS days and immediately after (which will require a separate post). The shortish overview is that I took a leave of absence from Loyola Marymount after one semester (spoiler: I never went back) to work full time and help my family, I got married soon after (them Catholic conservative parents) and had my girls at 20 and 21.

I quickly found myself living in a leaky basement illegal unit in East LA with a man that was abusive and no way to support myself and my girls.

I’ve worked since I was 14 but working and making enough to pay for childcare in addition to basic necessities was almost impossible. I applied for a city job as a clerk typist at the recommendation from a HS Economics teacher. Eventually I was able to find a way out of that dangerous situation (so many separate future posts).

Let’s fast forward to me living in downtown LA where as a side hustle I started writing human interest pieces for a local publication (for free because I strategically used it to build my brand and portfolio). Through the parents social media group I founded (creating a diverse and powerful network and augmenting my side hustle), I met an incredible supportive friend AM who believed in me and introduced me to her network. She’s done this twice for me. Both times it has been pivotal to my being here.

In 2015 I was a business development specialist at one of the top global firms where I was the Technology Transactions and Life Sciences Business Development Lead. It’s a mouthful. It’s also still one of my proudest achievements. My peers were graduates of ivy league universities and most had advanced degrees. Here I was with my High School diploma from Roosevelt High School in Boyle Heights (Go Roughriders!) and I had the respect of the firm’s leadership. But it took a lot of moves and sacrifices to get there and my neck was sore from my head tapping the ceiling I’d reached.

I could have stayed there. It was a high pressure and stress environment where my professional learning was exponential. But I knew that I wanted my degree. I wanted my degree because the unfinished nature of it was ensnared in deeply painful memories, as a first-generation / low income woman of color I valued having a degree, and I understood the importance of signaling and portability.

I was enthralled with all of the pitches from startups that crossed my desk and I kept seeing a recurring and dominant profile of founders: White male grad from Stanford, major: Computer Science.

I can’t nor care to change my ethnicity, skin color, or gender but I could get a degree and it seemed like I was going to have to get it from Stanford. Major? Computer Science.

I’ll leave you with this initial seed that sparked my interest so you can get a sense of my path to tech (i.e. I have to get my three year old to sleep).

Where I’ve Been + 1st day Senior year @Stanford

23 Sep

First, I’ve been super inconsistent with posting. I’d been taking several intensive creative writing classes at school and all of my efforts was poured into those courses. But happy to get back to writing. You will see a shift on what I write about, I will still share my experiences but I will also start writing about my technical experience and journey.

This has been a heck of a year with many setbacks but also opportunities for growth and introspection and I feel ready to share.

Biggest update: I’m a senior at Stanford, as in I am only 3 sweet quarters away from having my computer science AI track diploma.

As many of you know, it has been a long road here folks. All of my courses are grad level this quarter – I love me some study groups w/ students who aren’t stuck on the high school hamster wheel of competing and lack of collaboration. I’m excited for Andrew Ng’s CS 229 Machine Learning course (this morning’s lecture – talk about natural high) and (Hi! Moses Charikar! Loved CS 221 Artificial Intelligence in the Spring), CS 230 Deep Learning course (also w/ Andrew Ng), CS 224W Machine Learning with Graphs because I mean come on talk about cool, and CS 238 Decision under Uncertainty (still trying to figure out what is not covered in this course). I have another class but one of these has to go bc go-hard type A 20 somethings may like taking 19 units but this mom of three already has a heavy load. You try raising a 3yo, 13 yo, and 14yo with those units and then get back to me. 😉

But to back up and give you some insight as to why I am so excited…

I’ve been working hard to face and work through my past traumas (and boy are there many) to meaningfully improve (not just patch which I’m great at) my mental health.

I could write a book about how difficult it is to get help as a first generation / low income Latina. There are so many hurdles to just being able to admit that you need help, that you need to slow down and really change how you cope with hurt and past memories. I’ve always been pro-mental health resources for others but for myself? It took extreme events to crack me wide open and even then I resisted. So I am proud of all of the hard work I’ve done and continue to do to make sure I am in tune with myself and with what makes me feel safe, healthy, and happy.

Earlier this summer

I was in a bad car accident on the 280 N

on the way to my internship where I collided with the cement barrier at 70+ mph when a car swerved onto my lane (the fastest lane). That collision ricocheted my 2006 Honda Accord across all lanes of the freeway (with minimal driving visibility as all airbags deployed) until the car kept going up the hillside and I thought to pull the emergency break on the way down before I reversed back onto morning traffic. I managed to climb out of my totaled car as it was smoking only to start violently shaking after a couple of steps. I looked around to make sure I didn’t hit anyone else and scanned for the other car. It never stopped, just kept going. And it’s crazy to admit but that really got to me. It hurt my feelings deeply that someone wouldn’t even stop to check if I was okay after they caused the accident. Two very kind and generous samaritans pulled over and helped me dial 911. I wish I remember their names because they did just what I needed. To take control and get help and to hold me so I wouldn’t have a full panic attack.

It took me a while to get over that accident. When I collided with the barrier I was terrified my car would flip over to the other side (and onto oncoming drivers on the 280 S) where there is a significant descent. I thought to grip and control my steering wheel but as I careened across all of the lanes in rush hour traffic I kept thinking of my girls and who would mother them if I died. I’ve experienced a few near death events in my life including being held at gunpoint a couple times but

I had never felt this kind of raw fear of dying before.

Having so much to live for makes a fucking difference, I’ll tell you that.

It was a life altering experience for me. It got me thinking about who I am and whether I am living by my principles. It made for a very vulnerable and emotionally difficult summer.

I remade the decision of not drinking.

I’ve done this before, going through dry spells to prove that I am nowhere near in danger of becoming an alcoholic like my parents. If you were raised by alcoholics, you know what I mean. The fear that you’ll end up just like them is real and can elicit feelings of shame, self-loathing, among other lovely negative self-attacks. But this time was different.

I didn’t want to keep using a drink here or there, ‘I just need a drink to unwind’, ‘I need a drink to brave this networking event’, etc. I was getting a bit too comfortable with the sentence ‘I need’ always ending with ‘drink’. So I decided to go cold turkey. First to just get a sense of being able to go without alcohol (without setting a goal bc you can’t fail if you have no goals), then to see how I coped with everything sober, then to remember that I am fundamentally someone who holds many negative associations with alcohol, and then because I feel so much more present with my family and to be honest because I like myself so much more sober. It’s hard when you get a memory flashback and you drink to drown it bc it’s too much to try to even acknowledge the memory, but then you get sad and you think of other effed up memories and you drink more so you can just sleep and forget. It’s not a good cycle and one I wanted to break. It’s been two weeks of not drinking and I am really digging the strength I have shown when these memories or my PTSD is triggered.

I feel like brave Susana again and I like that.

So here I am back on sunny campus and I feel light. I’m smiling as I bike through the engineering quad to get to class. I don’t get anxious at what a sweaty mess I am after the 4 mi bike ride.

I feel at home when I sit down on the front row with my friends and really take in that I am here, in front of Andrew Ng about to have my brain tickled with knowledge.

How to raise children while not being an asshole

17 May

I have been told many times, “You should write a book about raising children! Your girls are just magical!” And every time I heard that I thought, what a fraud I must be to let them think that I could be an authority on raising children. I’m afraid enough on how some day I may fuck up my own children, I really don’t need the stress of having rando 24 year old’s coming up to me to tell me how the book I wrote enabled their shitty parent. No thank you!

But…

I can write a blog post or two… Porque, well, my answer to people who ask, “How do you do it? How do you raise lovely girls?” I always kinda scratch my head and think, it’s quite easy…Don’t be an asshole and you’ll be fine.

But I’ll expand on that because I can understand that not being an asshole can be pretty vague. What I mean is treat your children the way you want them to approach their life. Let me break it down for you:

  1. Be kind. This one seems the easiest to forget. We forget what it is like to have unkind words, looks, actions, judgements, etc. targeted at us. When someone chooses to be shitty to you instead of you know, just providing a kind accepting smile, that hurts. It cuts. And it may not seem like it should hurt that much but do we really want our children to treat others as if they are an executioner a la Death by a Thousand [paper] cuts? This is a daily practice. It means leaving the crap you have accumulated throughout the day from stress at work/school/home outside of the relationship you have with your kid. And btw, it’s totally cool to let them know, “Momma/{insert your title} is having a bad day. I’m in a funk and I’m trying to shake it mija, can you give me a moment to shake it out?” Or whatever makes sense to you. In other words, communicate with your child. Let them in on what’s going on so they don’t feel like the only time you address them is to tell them what to do or what they did wrong.
  2. Don’t do the mean shit your parents did to you. Let’s be real, we all had parents that did something (or todo, osea everything) that totally still fucks with our head today. Yet, we don’t really talk about it. We deal with it. And yet we don’t because in moments of high stress we find ourselves turning around and doing the same damn thing to our own kids. Why? Because we let it simmer and boil and we dare not let off steam towards our parents but  somehow our kids are acceptable targets??? This makes no sense. So next time you feel the anger escalating, think, “How would young me respond to this? Would I do this to myself as a child?” You can’t imagine how many times I have stopped myself by asking, “What would my parent have done?” and then ask myself, “how would that make me feel?” and then after quickly surmising that it would make me feel shitty, I think, “Well, let’s not repeat that mistake.” and try to take it from there. You don’t need to have all the answers. Ask my 3 year old, I just answer most of her “Why [insert all matters that pertain to daily life here] happen?” with “Why do you think it happens?” Works every time. That golden nugget aside, en serio, a little humility and honesty in telling your kid (especially your teenager) that your job is to be a guide and cheerleader to help them find their path (while not living in your basement) and not to be the holder of all answers, will go a long way. Because we should raise our children to be flexible with life’s uncertainties and with our role as (human) guides.
  3. Love you child. This doesn’t mean just blindly claim that “I would do anything for you!” but instead to practice unconditional love is to know you who your child is. Because let’s face it, there’s a diversity of humans on this planet and they are not all delightful so don’t just say “I love you” —  show them that you are there to get to know them and truly SEE and HEAR (Listen Linda! didn’t go viral for nothing, we all need to be heard) them. You may be able to stop the next serial killer, I mean raise the next genius (insert whatever dream parents have for themselves, I mean their children). “What are their passions?” trumps, “What will get them into X school?” Because in a world of big data and algorithms that measure your likelihood of success and impact, most schools will not buy that your kid is interested in everything.
  4. You will have ups and downs. You will have moments where you think, fuck! I just totally screwed my kids. But keep in mind, as long as you are caring for your children (listening to them, feeding them, providing them nurturing), you will be okay. I mean you’re leagues ahead of what my set of humans did for me and look how well I turned out…potty mouth aside. With my girls I’ve learned to push and guide but to also step back and let them explore to have them find what they love. Once they know that, nurture that love and discipline to pursue it. That’s the epitome of passion and privilege and who doesn’t want to provide privilege and opportunities to their child? If you say no, you’re lying! Or you’re a [ insert your own adjective here ] parent…
  5. Your main job is to guide. To protect. To provide. To love. If you provide a loving, understanding, nurturing, and nutritive childhood for your kiddo, you are doing much more than most. But know that sometimes (many times) you will have to be stern and not fun. Many, many times you will think what the heck? How am I messing this up? How am I [insert your own definition of failure here] ? But the fact that you have that concern and are doing something to be a positive influence and presence in your child’s life is more than enough. You don’t have to solve all of your child’s problems. That’s like taking over the console and winning all the games while your children just sit back as quiet spectators. Life will provide many windy and interesting paths as well as straight lines (directed cyclical graphs.. DAGs – sorry I am currently taking an artificial intelligence class and well DAG is just the most awesome acronym) and you should remind them that not one decision they make will be the decision of their life. Each decision informs following outcomes and decisions but it never gets out of our control (thank you USA but actually know that your mind and thought process are yours, no one owns nor can dictate how they should function [again unless you’re that serial killer /harmer of living things]). You can find your way to the same destination by taking several paths so it is never the end of the world. Unless you’re that serial killer I mentioned, by which I hope you have been caught already.
  6. Raise your children to be curious and to have follow through. If your kid loves to dance, have them find classes they can take and see if they have the self-motivation to work towards it (with appropriate age-related guidance). Teach them to be lovers of reading – hint: love to read yourself and do it in front of them. They will want to follow.
  7. Be open minded and welcoming of who they are as they find and define themselves. Don’t put baby in a corner. Let them guide you when it comes to getting to know them. Because they will always be the expert (and should feel as much) on who they are.
  8. Raise them to love themselves. This means you have to watch what you say about yourself. If you say “love yourself” while complaining about how you look, how much money you make, what title you have or don’t, etc. you will not be effective. Practicing self-love is hard but worthwhile; so do it and be the kind guide that helps your children grow into self-loving, kind adults that are ready to treat the world with love.
  9. Raise them to seek happiness, balance, and independence. This means, help them derive happiness from the sound of trees rustling, the feeling of the sun on their skin, a hummingbird flying around your flower bed, [insert any of mother natures beautiful daily (by the second) gifts. Raising children who can cool off, who can look at life like a glass half full, who can rise above the gray…that is the mark of a good parent. And a healthy child and future adult.
  10. Many more things but this covers a big chunk of it. Just practice being a non-shitty parent over and over again and talking to your kids. Listening to them. Instilling in them the qualities you wish others had around you.

When All Else Fails, if you had shitty parents, do the opposite of what they did. Hasn’t failed me yet. 😉

While we Mourn We Should See

25 Apr

I wore the only dress I had that seemed semi-decent
It rolled up around my neck but hung dangerously low
so I pinned it
pin pin
fix it.

But nothing could fix your absence.
You were supposed to lift us.
I looked to you to save us.
You’d gone so far already…
Was it really that much to ask?

But mother effer, this life is so cruel
it doesn’t abide by our rules

Why won’t you do my bidding?
SO I won’t have to
Grieve
Someone like you.

I grew up in East Los.
I thought I was used to this.
The loss.
The end.

But no,
don’t you see?
You left a large gaping hole.
And it hurts,
because try as I might
I won’t ever fill it for those that loved you.

How dare you?
How dare you?
Leave?

New Words

9 Apr

You just don’t even see

You don’t even hear
How you not gonna see
me humpin a teddy bear
with my milk teeth
but you turn around
and walk out
Don’t even flinch and see you way out
What I gotta do to make you see?
But why I try?
Why I care?
for a woman who
don’t bother tryin’
don’t bother blockin’
what my future really be?
15 years flash forward
Baby on each hip
Who you think I learned from?
who you think I try to escape from?
Love
Love
Didn’t even know what that was
I thought college…College…College
Education?
No
It was my last line
Working at the office
library
Mervyn’s 11 pm – 3 am
Practically hoeing
on the metro
for cents on the dollar
tryin’ to be honest
trying to pay u bills
White man tender couldn’t see
No loan for you
keep workin’
keep hopin’
Thanks LMU
I’m lookin’ at you
But what you see?
what you hear?
Nothin
Nothin
Nothin
That’s all you remember
Nothin’ to do wit you
My mama
the one who should be caring
the one supposed to love me
Love at first sight
Or was it Hate At First Sight?
couldn’t get that hanger hook on right?
Boyle Heights walls be translucent
Paper thin
paper white
You wish
But let me know somethin’
if White ruled your world
why you sleep with that creep in me?
I thought I was garbage
Why you think I try those pills
and not one
but two and three
and more
was not enough?
Lying in that bed
probed
pumped
stripped
And all you and he could ask
What They Gonna Think?
Hell hole you had me livin in
Hell hole you seemed so content with
But I know now
I know different now
That hate you spilled
is me
Sad for you
but I love me
I could keep going
but only a lifetime can be told
and I’ve known
one or three

Why Does an Angeleno Move to Silicon Valley?

23 Mar

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.

 

 

 

American Dream

7 Feb

I want to climb big mountains

with my brown bare feet gripping the dry earth

skimming,

propelling forward at lightspeed.

But I live surrounded by hills that end in city dumps.

I want to consume large quantities of

knowledge

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

ghetto library.

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

primitive,

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,

the book,

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

but, but,

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

I will.

 

Sunny Mountain

7 Feb

We’re laughing,

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.

Lla, Lla,

Sssshhh!

Shhhhhh!

Mami and Papis nowhere to be seen.

The older girls resting their elbows on their knees,

lounging,

looking cool.

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.

Walk away.

“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.

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