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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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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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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2016

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I can’t remember what words I’m supposed to use to talk about the past. I can’t remember words about my heart. I can’t remember words about how I feel when I go somewhere new. But let’s try for a moment to remember. This year was more than I ever thought a year could be. I didn’t know I could fit so many different moments inside my body. I live in New York now, but really I could be anywhere. I feel like I am everywhere. Because this year I went everywhere, always always always waiting to come home, and that’s when I found home in my own skin.

The first day of the year started in London with old magic that was wearing out, but the second day I went to Paris for the first time where I found new magic and I moved forward. For real this time. And the year went on like that tired and awake and always moving forward.

I turned 25 and my 25th country was a mountain

I wrote and I wrote and I wrote and I told no one

I got angry in the most righteous way

I burned bridges in the way I do, smiling and praying and filled with peace

I ended a whole life, an entire version of myself ceased to exist

I was brave in the exact way I wanted to be and it broke my heart

I fell in love with the sweetest regret

I didn’t regret it, not a single thing

I moved so many times, carrying everything on my back

I ended up in a city I never wanted to be in but it is exactly where I want to be

I lost people to the wind and I breathe them in every second of every day

I fell to pieces on the bathroom floor on Monday and picked myself up again on Tuesday

I carried on that way for several weeks

I blew over the last cardboard walls of false belief

I turned into love, more and more I turned into love

I held more secrets than usual

I opened my heart more than usual

I was brave and broken and brave again

I am in awe of my heart. How much it let in. How much it let go. How much it changed. This year was hard, ok? And next year will be hard. But it will also be good.

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Photos by my magic friend, Crystal Anne

A Brief Note on Grief

I don’t do grief well. Today I started crying in a coffee shop. The trigger? I couldn’t find the articles I needed to read for a class. And suddenly it is everything in the whole world that just feels so so hard, and the thought of never again getting a hug from one my dearest mentors and friends. Libby died on Tuesday and the funeral was Saturday and today is Sunday, September 11, which is significant but not significant, and I am in New York City trying to do my homework. I was told once that if I feel like crying but am in a place where I really should not be crying that I should focus on concrete facts. Fact: I am drinking black coffee. Fact: 2,996 people died on September 11. Fact: she gave the best hugs.

Have you ever had the experience where something bad happens but you can’t deal with it at the moment so you shove it down down down with the knowledge that it will inevitably catch up to you? And then here I am crying in a public place. Fact: my dress is grey. Fact: I live in Manhattan. Fact: she was someone who was impossible to keep secrets from.

I cant stop thinking about being seventeen. I was so dramatic and optimistic and hopeless and driven. I am still all of those things. I’m thinking about the way the living room carpet felt. I’m thinking about gingerbread houses. I’m thinking about that time I dreamed of my house burning down. I’m thinking about Wednesday nights and wishing it was Wednesday night eight years ago or Wednesday night eight years from now. There are too many memories, too many memories, and I miss everything. Fact: I’m crying again. Fact: people die. Fact: she called out all of the best things in me.

Grief feels so vague but so specific. There are no words except for every single word that races through my mind all at one time. Sometime soon I’ll have real words to put down and I’ll write some beautiful essay that says everything I want to say. But right now I don’t know what I want to say except, why? except, because. Right now I can’t write in the past tense. Right now I am so tired. Fact: I’ll find the articles I need to read for class. Fact: the weather is good in New York today. Fact: she loves us so much.

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Write about nothing

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Suhareke, Kosovo

I have so much to say and nothing to say and I don’t know what my life is. But I’m 25 and isn’t that exactly right? I like to write on here because I like to write, and because I like to think that maybe there’s someone who reads this who feels just like me. And so this is a post about nothing really amazing except for a few feelings (except that I think feelings are amazing). But just to sum up: for the last few months, I haven’t really felt like writing. I think that’s because I’ve had too many things to write about and just thinking about it feels overwhelming.

Here is a list of the things I have done since I last wrote:

-traveled to Turkey

-visited a refugee camp on the Macedonian/Serbian border

-hosted my mom and sister in Kosovo

-helped run a summer camp with my NGO

-packed up my entire apartment/life in Kosovo

-said goodbye to a million places and people and things

-traveled to Switzerland, Germany, Austria, and Italy with my sister, brother, and sis-in-law

-traveled to Jordan

-returned to America

-said hello to all my friends and family

-unpacked all my stuff

-watched my best friend get married

-packed all my stuff

-moved to New York City

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Ajloun, Jordan
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Atlanta, GA

 

Yeah. I’m not really sure how to sum all that up in words. I have so many feelings about everything that’s happened in the last few months and all those unspoken moments in between. There’s a fullness and an emptiness. It’s heartbreaking and wonderful. I feel simultaneously loved and alone. I’ve been curled up in the fetal position on the floor of my childhood bedroom and I’ve been dancing with my favorite people at my best friend’s wedding. There’s so much room inside the human heart.

All of that leaves me pretty unsure. Unsure about how I feel, unsure about my life, unsure about what to write in this moment at this coffee shop in NYC. I could write about what it’s like to pack up my life in a few suitcases. I could write about returning to places I’ve loved deeply. I could write about the new places I’ve been. I could write about falling in love with people, places, moments and watching my friends fall in love with people, places, moments. I could write about how excited I am about my life. I could write about how scared I am about my life. I could write about sitting on my windowsill in my new home in my new life in New York City. But I don’t think I’ve really leaned into any of that yet. I’m not quite ready to feel the whole weight of it. So for now I’m just going to say that I’m here, feeling what I feel, letting myself be blown by every breeze that passes through. My feet will touch the ground soon, I think. And then I will sit down and write something that makes sense. But until then I will just take deep breaths and go on walks in Central Park and try to remember all the good things that have come and let that heal me from all the bad. There’s so much room inside the human heart.

 

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NYC

Books and Books

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Daunt Books, London

It’s national reading day! I have big reading dreams this year. I plan on reading 50 books, or more if I get really ambitious. I’ve read 8 books so far. I’m also determined to diversify my reading choices. By now, we’ve all read a lot of books by mostly white Western male writers. These are books and writers that I love deeply (I just finished England, England by Julian Barnes and The Pearl by John Steinbeck, and both were so great), but I want to read different perspectives and hear new voices.

So here are the top 10 books I’m excited about reading this year:

  1. This Is Not Chick Lit Edited by Elizabeth Merrick. Shout out to my writer soulmate, David for this. He read it, knew I had to read it too, and gave me his copy. This is a collection of short stories from female writers (like Jennifer Egan and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie), and it is bomb. The stories are funny and sad and inspiring and irreverent. I’m already halfway through.
  2. Broken April by Ismail Kadare. I found an English translation of this book in a charity shop in Hackney and it was the greatest find. Ismail Kadare is probably the most well known Albanian writer. This book tells the story of an Albanian man who is forced to commit a murder under traditional laws. I’m so excited to read an author from my corner of the world.
  3. Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Liz Gilbert. PEOPLE. Liz Gilbert’s podcast, Magic Lessons has been killing me in the best way. It’s been teaching me so much about embracing my creativity and inspiration, confronting fear, and making art for the simple pleasure of it. I CANNOT wait to get my hands on this book (seriously considering the $20 shipping from Amazon to Kosovo).
  4. My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem. It’s the first book on Emma Watson’s Goodreads book club list, need I say more? Plus I mean, come on, it’s Gloria Steinem.
  5. Wise Blood by Flannery O’Conner. My sweet Georgia writer whose short stories I love but novels I have avoided. Now is the time.
  6. Unless It Moves the Human Heart by Roger Rosenblatt. The only white male on this list, but deserving of the spot. I’m a third of the way through this book, and it feels like I’m sitting in a creative writing workshop all over again. So funny and filled with tons of nuggets of wisdom about writing.
  7. Bad Feminist by Roxanne Gay. I listened to an interview with Roxanne Gay on the Dear Sugar podcast a couple of weeks ago, and it suddenly hit me that I had yet to read this book. So it’s about time.
  8. Sinners Welcome by Mary Karr. There’s a few from Mary Karr on my master list (The Art of Memoir and Cherry), but I’m most excited to read her poems. I don’t read a lot of poetry, but I’m trying to change that. Karr is a tremendous truth teller and in this book of poems she writes of finding faith.
  9. Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein. I love memoirs. I love Carrie Brownstein. And I love the title of this book. The trifecta.
  10. Brave Enough by Cheryl Strayed. Ah! You guys. Cheryl Strayed collected from every corner of the globe beautiful quotes that inspire and empower her and put them in a book! This is 100% my jam.

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Happy Reading!