You’re attending a quinceañera. You’ve never seen the birthday girl before. Everyone else in attendance knows you, but if you ask them how, they change the subject. The caterers kiss you on the cheek and ask you when you’ll give them grandkids. You’ve never seen them before, either.
I come from huge families. My mother was one of seven, and my father’s mother was one of nine. Between them, I have fourteen first cousins, at least five second cousins, eleven first cousins once removed that I know about, and more miscellaneous spouses and siblings than I care to track.
Mom never forgave her siblings for moving away from each other. Most of the brood ended up within driving distance of one another in the Great Northeastern Conurbation, albeit in three different states, but one stayed in Puerto Rico, one followed work to North Carolina, and Mom followed the needs of her husband’s family and moved to Miami. Most of the seven are involved in the US military in some way, and some of my cousins continued that legacy, and that meant being passed around bases and active duty for years at a time, far from their kin.
Dad’s family all ended up in Miami, sooner or later. My grandmother used to visit relatives in Cuba, but she is long gone, and it is likely they are as well. Most of Dad’s side of the family made Miami their first home outside of Cuba, but Dad’s path passed through New Jersey first. I grew up there, getting acquainted with Mom’s nearby relatives first and not really recognizing Dad’s side of the family until they became our frequent reality after the move. Even then, Dad was an only child, so all of the relatives were a generation apart from me, whereas my maternal cousins were close to my age, so Dad’s family and I are not well acquainted.
After picking through the family tree to survey my safety within it, I find this a tragedy.
I was asked to provide facilitation and a keynote address of sorts for “Violence and Trans Women of Colour: The Intersections,” an event hosted by Carleton University’s Carleton Equity Services, Graduate Students’ Association, Carleton University, and CUSA Womyn’s Centre as part of the university’s Sexual Assault Awareness Week. While my remarks during the event did not exactly match what I prepared, the original material is now here for others’ perusal.
I had a very special experience last night. I cooked for Ania’s parents for the first time, as part of her father’s birthday festivities. I made a point not to cook something elaborate and time-consuming, though, as one might expect of a holiday meal. Instead, I went with something simple that shows off Puerto Rican cooking techniques that is also very special to me: arroz con salchichas. I look forward to arroz con salchichas every time a visit to Miami is in the offing, and after long, tense absence, I missed it profoundly. As tensions with my parents continue to rise and fall like so many narcissist tides, bringing this dish to a family that accepts me with enthusiasm is an emotional coup. As I come to recognize my belated mastery of this dish, that I had tried to learn how to make intermittently since I moved to Ottawa, I am ebullient.
Images of people in my culture don’t look like me.
There’s a trivial sense in which that’s not true. My dark, angled eyes, curly hair, curvaceous figure, and diminutive stature all betray my origins. Our beauty queens and pop stars in particular look like me, conspicuously lighter in hue than even our own relatives. As distinctive as I always am in family photos, someone else who looked like me would not have seemed out of place.
But the image of us isn’t a scientist. She isn’t an atheist or a socialist. She isn’t dating outside her race. She isn’t deliberately far away from her parents. She isn’t autistic. She isn’t transgender. She isn’t gay.
CN child abuse, residential schools
Chandelure followed the sobbing. The lights of the flames on his chandelier-like body made for an obvious approach, even as his ghostly arms and flames left no marks on the wet trees. He paused, reaching the small gap where the sounds began.
The creature resembled a small tree stump with a stubby black body extending from one end. It held its tiny arms up to its wooden face, wracked with its sadness, its tears scarcely noticeable against the chilly damp. Chandelure weighed his options.
Mi familia no está aquí.
My family isn’t here.
CN sexual assault, Donald Trump.
United States, I will not forgive you for this.
After presenting a Cuban dish whose origins are primarily Spanish and another of West African extraction, it is only fitting that I present an unambiguous Taíno contribution to Antillean Hispanic cuisine: yuca.