The Kids Who Look Like Us

I grew up with privilege. I had my own room, went on vacation to the beach and Disney World, went to the dentist regularly, attended a fancy private school, wore a nice dress to prom. We had heat in the winter and AC in the summer and my parents were always around to help me with homework and college applications. My dad taught me to drive and play the guitar and my mom always had a garden in the backyard. I got a Bachelor’s degree in English, of all things, and then a masters in International Education from an ivy league school in New York City. My parents never deterred me from these less than lucrative paths and I knew I could always reach out to them if I was in need of practical or emotional support. My life has been one of opportunity and acceptance and limited struggle.

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The formative years of my life were spent in predominately white spaces in the suburbs of Atlanta. My peers were mostly white and our neighbors were mostly white. The girls in my ballet classes were mostly white and my teachers were mostly white and the people at my family’s church were mostly white.

But my dad is not white. My dad’s family moved to America from Ecuador when he was 7. He didn’t speak English but he quickly learned through being thrown into the American public school system with no language support. My Abuelita never learned English and my Abuelito hardly did either.

They came to America for the same reason everyone has always come to America: the hope of a better life. First came my Abuelito, to California, and then my Abuelita with my dad and his two brothers and one sister. They would work hard for that better life they had hoped for. My dad would teach himself to play the guitar with a shoebox, fishing line, and the Beatles on the radio. Later that year, for his birthday, my abuelita would drive to Tijuana to buy him a real guitar for $20 and he would play it until his fingers were raw.

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When my dad got to high school he and his older brother would get in trouble with an LA gang that would result in my abuelita buying them one way tickets back to Ecuador to finish high school. This would begin a chain reaction that would lead to my dad meeting my wonderful, blonde-haired, blue-eyed mother and consequently I and my siblings exist.

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But what if it hadn’t happened that way? What if my existence hinged on right now?

Our current president ran his political campaign on demonizing people who look like my family. He capitalizes on and perpetuates the racism rooted in our culture that results in christians at our local mega church asking my dad if he’s a mechanic or a gardener, in my high school classmates asking me if my family is “legal”, in police officers pulling over my dad for no reason (which my dad would have to go to court and prove). While minor, these instances show a larger problem. That because someone “looks” like an immigrant or is an immigrant, they must have less value as a person.

People in my family come, not just from Ecuador, but from Peru, Cuba, Mexico and Guatemala. What if they hadn’t come decades ago? What if they were coming to America today? Would your politics allow for that? Would the candidate you voted for in 2016 allow my family to start a life here? Or would the politicians you are voting into office right now support policies that make my family’s story impossible? Would your president chant to “build a wall”? Would he call people with skin like ours murderers, rapists, and animals? Would he create new policies that turn my immigrant family into criminals, that legalizes pulling my 10 year old cousin Gabriella away from her parents? What if our immigrant families were coming to America today? What would our lives look like? Would I even exist? Would you?

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Children are being taken away from their parents as part of a punishment for daring to think that they could belong in America. They have hope for a better life for their children. They have dreams of learning to play the guitar and going to college to study something trivial like English Poetry. They hope to one day be privileged enough to sit and read or write some blog post on the internet from the comfort of a nice computer in an air conditioned room.

What if we gave them space to do that? What if we leveraged our privilege, our white-washed, heteronormative, christian privilege, for those who were born into less?

Right now the news is filled with pictures of kids who look like us. And by us, I don’t mean me or my siblings or cousins. I mean all of us. No matter what your skin color is. No matter where you come from. Whether your family came to American 200 years ago or 2 days ago. Immigrants are not immigrants. They are me. They are you.

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For more information on what’s going on in regards to immigration, #wherearethechildren and new policies legalizing children being taken from their parents, PLEASE check out Glennon Doyle’s website and donate!! LINKED HERE.

 

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I live in the future

Cambodia and Thailand are 11 hours ahead of home. I live the whole day before the people I love have even woken up. So I wrote this poem about the way I feel here in the future.

I live in the future
And in the future
I lean out of windows
Gazing into the heat
Letting my hair cascade into the past
For my friends to use
As a ladder into my mind

In the future
I go fast
Kicking up the dust in my lungs
And the tuk tuk drivers
Make me feel safer
Than my last love ever could

In the future
My heart is steady
It doesn’t get dressed
Or put on makeup
It simply is fully loved as herself
Warm and beating
Basking in the sun

 

In the future
I am so free
And the whole wide world
Will watch the sunrise alongside me
And the sunrise
For all her heat and struggle
Will let me through the clouds of doubt
And she will hold me close
Letting me love her
In my broken way

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Reconciliation to self.

My sister wrote this poem and sent it to me the other day, and it was so exactly right, so exactly how I am feeling. I haven’t had the will or the strength to come up with my own words lately, but hers have filled my heart and spoken for me. I am learning how to hold the good and the bad, the light and the dark, because as long as we are in this world we will have both. We will live through both. Life is learning how to live in the tension. Learning how to choose good, to choose the light, and learning to forgive ourselves when we don’t. Learning to forgive the people we love when they don’t. And learning through all of it to remain rooted and grounded in love.

 

I promise to go away

I promise we will travel and see all the places we said we would

And we won’t wait, we’ll do it now.

I’m sorry we failed, I’m sorry we feel

Like it is not enough

To just lie on the couch and think about life

Because life doesn’t look like something we planned on

We will drink more cups of tea and less alcohol

We will hug more friends

And less boys who say they like to be with us

I like to be with us

I like to be at home

All alone,

Because I never feel lonely when I am at peace with what I choose to be.

I am sorry to my stomach for treating it like steel and

Sorry to my heart for pretending it was immune from feeling

And I’m sorry to my friends for the lies I’ve told them about where I’ve been

It is so isolating to hurt on the inside

Without being able to get the true words out from inside my mouth.

In my head I am trapped

But it will not be forever

I believe there is forgiveness and a bridge to walk over

To a field where there is peace

And freedom for the past

I have a friend there

He doesn’t need me to speak

He knows

And he felt the ache in my stomach

And the cold bathroom floor

I can feel he is with me

And I will meet him there

 

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Somewhere I Never Thought I’d Go

Writing this on my flight from DC to Tokyo. Isn’t that dreamy? In about 21 hours I will be in Thailand where I will be pushed into the culture, language, religion, and heart of a place that I know next to nothing about.

I’ve had a lot of anxiety leading up to this trip. Life has been so full of all the good and all the bad and all the in between. There is so much new in my life and it has been rubbing up against the old, and that doesn’t really feel that great. I imagine Thailand is going to feel that way too. I’ve never been to East Asia, and honestly, I’ve never wanted to go to East Asia. And yet, here I am.

This feels like the theme of my life lately. Doing things I never wanted to do or never thought I’d have the courage to do. Moving to New York was like that. Going to therapy was like that. Even, in its own way, falling for someone has been like that. And plenty of tiny things that are now part of my daily life are like that. I’m sure there are things like this for all of us, and it’s hard. There have been plenty of times where I refused to leave my apartment, skipped appointments, picked fights, and just generally closed off to anything that felt too different.

My fear is that I will build walls, shut doors, miss opportunities. In this trip to Thailand that is my fear. In my life back home that is my fear.

But I have learned (in therapy and elsewhere) that if I don’t at least attempt it, if I don’t open myself up to a new experience in love and light and adventure, than I am going to miss out. I will grow cold and hard and lonely. In Christianity we often talk about “looking for where God is already at work”. Buddhist monk Thich Naht Hanh would describe this as looking for the light in people, looking for the light in the experience or the moment. And as I’ve been pressing into this thought, I’ve begun to describe this as looking for love that exists around me. In a person’s eyes, in a father and daughter holding hands, in a group of friends laughing.

So I’ve made that my mission for my trip to Thailand, hoping it will become the mission of my life, a habit so engrained within me that it’s as natural as breathing. Each person in this world bears the image of heaven. Each person carries within their spirit pure and holy light. Each person has spaces in his/her heart still capable of giving and receiving love.

I am challenging myself even in this moment on an airplane to Tokyo to look for love. Even when I don’t feel like I carry it within me. Even when my heart is so tired and afraid. Even when I feel lonely and abandoned.

I will look for light and love in the spaces around me, in the people who I see only for a moment.

 

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It’s going to be alright

For young love that’s not so young anymore.

And for my 26th birthday.

We used to write 7 poems a day about falling in love. Now we can hardly form the thought. Our words used to spill out of us flooded, overflowing. Now we have grown comfortable with silence and when we speak it comes with a sob or two. We used to revel in the loneliness of the empty space next to us. Now we can’t remember what it felt like to not know how it felt.

We really don’t know what we’re doing anymore. But did we ever? I think some of us did. Some us found what we wanted or what we thought we wanted and then settled down with it just like we were taught to do. But even those of us whose lives came together are still waiting for our lives to come together.

And so here we are in our late-twenties, late for everything, late for our own lives. Or at least late for the lives we planned for ourselves at 16. Because even if it looks just like we dreamed it would, it doesn’t feel that way. No, it feels raw. It feels too realistic. It feels terrifying and boring and too much and not enough.

We waited so long for what, we don’t know. We waited for anything at all, for anyone who would listen. We waited for the timing to be right. We waited for a sign. But the timing is never right. Not really. And signs are not for us. Signs are for those who believe in fate and we know better than that. So we pick up and move trusting our own feet to do the work for us.

We are so tired, but there is so much more to do on this earth. So look back, but just for a moment. Look at all those adventures, flip through the snapshots of pain, reflect on the goodbyes and the change they brought. And then look forward. Remember that your earth shattering heartbreak and your sweetest love have the same name. Trust in your heart. Trust in your hands.

We are not as young, but we are still young. We know less now than we did, but that makes us so much more open to learning from the world. We love more carefully than before, but that makes our love all the more precious. Our lives are built from a scattered collection of things we picked up along the way. But we have built lives that are worth living, and isn’t that it? Isn’t that so much more than enough? We are enough. Look at all the good we’ve done. Look at all we still can do.

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April Poems

April is poetry month and I (along with lots of other writers) have decided to write one poem a day for the entire month. So far my poems are mostly terrible and I assume they will continue to be terrible as the month goes on. However, I wrote this poem the other day when I was sitting in a cafe and thought it wasn’t the worst, so I’m sharing it now. I hope it makes you feel something.

 

In a pastry shop

a man with a beard and a walking stick

s l o w l y

sat down next to me

his beard was grey

it was raining outside

and everything rearranged itself

s l o w l y

as the lunch crowd came in.

The man ordered coffee

and a cinnamon roll.

He placed gently

the cinnamon roll

in front of the empty seat

across from him

once twice

a dozen times

he glanced towards the door

expectantly

waiting

once twice

a dozen times

he picked up his phone

anxiously

waiting

eventually slowly

he took a sip of the coffee

eventually slowly

he stopped looking towards the door

and I felt my heart

pound

once twice

a dozen times

I have waited for something

that doesn’t come

eventually slowly

I stop waiting

eventually slowly

the man reached across the table

picked up the cinnamon roll

and took a bite

once twice

a dozen times

I have given up too soon

and eventually

s  l  o  w  l  y

being alone

is all we know

 

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A Moment

My life is quite full at the moment, but here is part of poem from Thich Nhat Hanh that spoke to me this morning. Take a moment to breathe and be and meditate on love and compassion.

 

The only thing worthy of you is compassion-

invincible, limitless, unconditional.

Hatred will never let you face

the beast in man.

 

One day, when you face this beast alone,

with your courage intact,

your eyes kind,

untroubled

(even as no one sees them)

out of your smile

will bloom a flower.

And those who love you

will behold you

across ten thousand worlds of birth and dying.

 

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