Technically Brown

TW: anti-Black sentiments, racism, colorism, anti-immigrant sentiments, suicide, brief mention of Freddie Gray

My daughter TJ and I are Hispanic. We’re light-skinned and have curly hair. TJ’s hair curls into ringlets. My curls are a bit messier. Many times we’ve been told that while it’s a shame our hair isn’t straight, we’re lucky it isn’t “bad hair”.

Growing up in Puerto Rico, I always heard people talk about “morenos” in a negative light. When I moved to NYC several cousins warned me to be wary of Black men. My totally not White grandfather used the “n” word against African-American people. He used it against Afro-Latinos. His mother was not light-skinned and she had what he called “kinky hair” but she was loved in our family. He and his mother were brown but they weren’t THAT dark so they were OK.

When I was in elementary school in PR I was made fun of because of my nose. I had a mess of curls and a big nose. To my classmates I was “negra”, clearly from the Dominican Republic. I obviously must have sneaked into the country and lied about being Puerto Rican. There was another classmate who was dark skinned. He was so bullied he contemplated suicide. We were in fourth grade.

When I took my daughter to PR to meet my family, I heard a lot of back-handed compliments about her “white” skin and light-almost-blonde hair. Such a ‘shame it’s so curly’, but thankfully she’s “tan blanquita y linda” (so white and pretty). They were shocked to learn that her father is half-Dominican. “Como puede ser si es tan blanquita y rubiona” (how can that be when she’s so white and sort of blonde”?

I thought perhaps naïvely that I wouldn’t have to talk to my five-year-old daughter about racism just yet. In a previous post I wrote about having to explain to my daughter about oppression and some of the types she faces. We had to have that conversation again when her teacher’s White “cop friend” paid a visit to her class. Having the cop visit wasn’t what bothered me. What bothered me was that he handcuffed the kids. Her class was made up of primarily children of color. This was not long after Freddie Gray’s murder in Baltimore. It just seemed like this cop was normalizing this to these kids. I was upset and TJ asked why. “But we are peach, mama.”, TJ said after I explained systemic and institutionalized racism in the most age-appropriate way I could think of. “Yes, but we’re technically Brown too”, I said not sure if any of this stuck.

Once again, these will be ongoing conversations which will be expanded as she gets older and better able to understand. She’s only five yet she’s already had to learn about sexism, racism, misogyny, and classism. She’s already experienced them and will continue experiencing them.

I feel so powerless. All I can do is continue talking to her and make sure I arm her as best I can with the knowledge and self-esteem to know she isn’t limited by her gender, race or social status. All I can do is hope that as she gets older that previous sentence becomes true.

Technically Brown
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No Longer Homesless

Well, I finally moved in exactly one week ago. It wasn’t easy. Almost five years of homelessness and it’s hard getting used to all this space. All the other shelters I was in were small and cramped. I have to get used to having a full-size fridge. I was so used to buying the small size food items that when I went to the supermarket I grabbed those. My friend reminded me I could buy the regular sized butter, I can buy that ice cream! I can finally buy meat and be able to cook it properly. I have an actual, honest-to-goodness stove. I had become so used to cooking on hot plates that I forgot how to work the knobs on a gas stove. There’s so much storage space here. I don’t have to sign in and out every time I leave the building. I don’t have to worry about inspectors barging in. I don’t have a rude and loud neighbor. I feel so bad for the person who is in my old room now. That neighbor was the absolute worst.

Moving day was pretty tough. I had everything ready for the movers. They called me and said they were on their way. I started taking my things downstairs. It was hot and I was sweating a lot. At one point I got stuck in the elevator. I pushed the alarm, I banged on the door. I was stuck for about 15 minutes. I tried using my phone to call the front desk, but because life is cruel, my phone had frozen. Really, it was something out of a comedy movie. I’m finally freed and I hail a cab so I could meet the movers at the storage facility. After moving my things into the van, I then had to take another cab to meet the movers at my apartment building. All in all, it took about two hours to move my things from the room at the shelter and storage to the apartment. There were two movers. One was very friendly and helpful. The other while helpful was inappropriate towards me. He asked me when my husband would come home and he tried to ‘splain to my how I should clean my daughter’s things. I wanted to reply that my husband wasn’t coming home because I killed him, but being that this dude was moving my things I opted not to anger him. Men are the worst, right?

A friend came by and helped me unpack and sort through almost five years of toys and clothes. A lot of things were too young for my daughter so I’m donating them. I’ve taken in half of the laundry to be washed. I still have all the Winter clothing to wash.

I can finally work on applying for disability benefits. My daughter will go back to school soon so hopefully I can as well. Our first night here my daughter kept waking up, smiling and telling me she was excited to be in the apartment, then she’d go back to sleep. She seems so much happier now. We can have her Sailor Moon-themed birthday party. We can have a Christmas tree this year. I baked cookies for the first time in years. Such simple things but they mean so much to us. My first breakfast here were breakfast burritos. I don’t know if it was because I was happy or because I used an actual stove but bacon should not taste that delicious.

I’m so incredibly thankful to my friends and others who donated and shared my campaign. I would not be here in my apartment if it hadn’t been for them. My friends continue to be amazing. Thanks to them I got several things from my Amazon wish list, which helped a lot in setting up the apartment. I will never be able to repay my friends’ generosity. I’m truly lucky.

I feel as if a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders. It feels so weird not having any major issues to worry about. Getting in here was not easy, and I should not have had to wait so long. But I’m here now and I hope that this is the beginning of more great things in my life. Again, thank you all so much!

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Image above shows view from my apartment. Trees, some other buildings, a bit of the street are visible. Also visible, lots of sky and clouds.

No Longer Homesless

Deadlines Mean Nothing to NYCHA (UPDATE)

UPDATE Wednesday August 18th, 2015: I got the call today, just like the housing assistant had said. The supervisor I spoke with yesterday had no idea what she was talking about. She made me worry for no reason. I have my keys and move-in date. 

My daughter and I have been living in homeless shelters for close to five years. On Monday, July 17, 2015 I found an apartment in a low-income housing project run by NYCHA (New York City Housing Authority). I was told I needed to come up with 601 dollars by Friday, July 24, 2015 or I’d lose the apartment. I had no idea how I would come up with that much money in a week. My friends suggested I start a GoFundMe campaign. Thanks to the generosity of my friends and of complete strangers, I was able to raise the funds in less than a day.

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On Thursday July 23, 2015 I bought a money order and took it to the housing management office. The housing assistant told me the apartment should be ready within 15 days.  I saw the apartment and it was in need of a few repairs but nothing I deemed too worrisome. Since then I’ve called and emailed the housing assistant every day to find out the progress of the apartment.

On Friday, August 14, 2015 I received an email from the housing assistant saying the apartment should be ready by Wednesday, August 19, 2015. I called him on Monday the 17th, and he said the apartment may be ready by Tuesday the 18th but “not to hold (him) to that”. We had agreed I would call him that Tuesday morning; today. One of the shelter case managers has been in contact with the housing assistant as well, and the case manager was told the same thing.

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I did call and was told he wasn’t in today. I asked to speak to the supervisor. She told me and I quote, “We have no idea when the apartment will be ready. The housing assistant should have never told you it would be ready by Wednesday.” When I reminded her that it had been close to a month since I gave them the money she simply replied with, “Yup. Sometimes it takes more than a month. When the apartment is ready you will get a call to pick up the keys.”

It’s simply unacceptable that I as a homeless single mom, came up with that much money in such a short amount of time lest I lose the apartment and now I have to wait. My daughter goes back to school in less than a month. I wanted to transfer her to the school near the apartment. I don’t know if I should leave her in the school she’s currently enrolled in. If I register her in the new school and I’m still living in the shelter, she’ll have to be bussed. She was bussed last school year. She was a victim of bullies. I do not want to put her on the bus again. But I will be forced to if I’m not moved in before school starts. The bus and train fare in NYC is $2.75 for a one-way trip. I cannot afford 55 dollars a week to take her to school, but she has to attend because otherwise I run the risk of having CPS called on me for educational neglect.

All I want is to move. On August 24, 2015 it would have been a month since I gave them the 601 dollars. They have been telling me “soon, soon” and now this. I feel like the apartment is being held in front of me like a carrot. We’ve been homeless for so long. I have so many plans but I cannot move forward with any of them until I move. My daughter wants to move. She’s so excited about finally having her own room. Her birthday is coming up and this is will the first in our own apartment. Hopefully she can have her Sailor Moon-themed birthday party. This Christmas would be the first time she’ll have a tree. These are simple things but to us they mean so much. My five-year-old suggested we sneak into the apartment and just start living there and if anyone walks in we should freeze like statues.

If I haven’t heard anything about the apartment by September 1st, 2015 I’m going to reveal the name of the housing project, office telephone number and names of the people I’ve been speaking with. I’m tired of waiting and I have to do something for them to take me seriously. NYCHA  cannot jerk me or others around and think they can get away with it.

Deadlines Mean Nothing to NYCHA (UPDATE)

I am not your Teaching Moment

I’ve recently come across two well-meaning but horribly misguided posts concerning homeless people and I’d like to discuss them here. The first deals with a care package and the things it can contain. I’ll explain why some of the things inside aren’t a very good idea.

blessing-bag-contents21

“Blessing Bags” to keep in the car when you pass homeless people. Something special you can do with your children or grandchildren to teach them about caring/giving for those in need!
Gallon Size Ziplock bags
Chap stick
Packages of tissues
Travel size toothbrush and toothpaste
Travel size mouthwash
Comb
Soap
Hotel size shampoos
Trail mix
Granola bars
Fruit cups
Crackers
Pack of gum
Band aids
Coins or predetermined dollar amount, say 5.00 (could be used to make a phone call, or purchase a food item)
Hand wipes
You could also put in a warm pair of socks
A packet rain poncho
Tampons (for women)

The ideas could be endless!

Assemble all the items in the bags, and maybe throw in a note of encouragement. Seal the bags and stow in your car for a moment of providence…or….drop some off at a food shelter place.

The toiletries and socks are a great idea. Those are always needed. Feeling clean and warm is so important in feeling human. The menstrual products are a good idea too, although I would suggest asking the person you intend to give them to if they’d prefer pads. Foods like the ones in this list and shown in the above picture are good to donate to food shelters, but they should be avoided as hand outs because you never know what allergies a person may have. Sure, they could just say no thanks, but unfortunately a lot of people don’t take very kindly to a homeless person refusing help. Even if it could be something that could potentially kill them. Giving money, or if you feel weird about that, offering to buy the person some food is usually a better way to go.

I would rather not be used as a lesson in kindness for your children. I’m a person, not a teaching moment. It feels incredibly condescending to me. “Here’s this person that needs help, let me parade them in front of Jimmy so he can see just how kind I am? Aren’t I kind? Where is my kindness cookie?” It feels like you aren’t helping us because you want to, but rather because of how much you can pat yourself on the back afterwards. Which brings me to this post I found on Facebook. It’s a pretty long post and I’ll be addressing the points that I feel miss the mark, to put it kindly.

I spent Friday on the streets of Portland and learned so much. Here it is:

1. It’s not a big deal to hold a sign asking for money, because everyone ignores you. I found an unoccupied corner right off 405 and stood there for an hour holding a sign saying ‘Local business owner trying to understand our homeless problem. All funds to be donated’. Nobody made eye contact with me. They fiddled with the radio, texted, looked everywhere else. I did make $25.52 in that hour, thanks mostly to one woman that gave me $20. All the people that gave me money were women. I plan on donating $250 to Sisters Of The Road in honor of this experience.

To the people who stand out in whatever weather with their signs, it’s a big deal. Whether they’re ignored or not. Feeling ignored isn’t a very nice feeling especially when you’re in such a vulnerable position like asking for money from complete strangers. 

3. I saw a man washing his clothes in the Saturday Market fountains. He then laid them out to dry in the sun. They looked great! I was impressed.

You’d be surprised how crafty and resourceful homeless people become. 

4. I had some wonderful conversations with complete strangers. I wore my ‘Kindness Matters’ t-shirt and a woman commented that kindness is often mistaken for weakness and we had a deep 5 minute conversation on the philosophy of kindness on a street corner. I now also know everything about poodles, the breakdown of society in Somalia and the different types of immigrants (economic and political). These were deep, smart conversations.People are very lonely and just wanted someone to listen.

So then they’d become bit players in your pat-on-the-back story of kindness. She had a FIVE minute conversation but it was so deep, y’all.

5. It’s exhausting being homeless. My body hurts from walking and carrying a backpack. There’s nowhere comfy to just relax. By 4pm, I was exhausted and took a nap on a park bench. All of these years, I thought that the people sleeping on the sidewalk in the day time were just totally strung out druggies. I’m sure some are, but the people I met told me that they sleep during the day because it’s safer. They can’t rest as deeply at night and they are tired! After one day out there, I was grumpy, tired and dehydrated. It sucks! I can’t imagine the toll that a week out there would take on a body and spirit.

Oppression is not a costume. At the end of your day, you were able to go home and eat well, sleep in your bed and not worry if you’d eat the next day. Homeless people do not get that luxury. How incredibly generous of you to concede that not all homeless are “druggies”. So what, should those particular homeless people with drug addictions not be given the same consideration? This is why I’m wary of this post. When you so flippantly refer to people with an illness as “druggies”, you’re only adding to the stigma. 

7. Nobody tried to sell me drugs but 3 people asked me if I had some for sale.

Explain how and why this is relevant.

8. I fell in love with Portland in a whole new way. This city is alive and I felt alive in it. I saw a TV show taping, dancing in Directors Park, a dude beautifully playing a flute in front of Powells, three different music acts at the Bite, a miniature stonehenge made out of bananas, numerous history plaques, another band and the movie Grease on Pioneer Square. I walked by hundreds of people on their phones missing the whole thing.

 This sounds a lot like a platitude. There is no beauty in homelessness.

10. There are different groups of homeless. There are those interested in drugs down on the waterfront, there are those with mental illness wondering around everywhere, but most of those I met were having a crisis of spirit and trying to find themselves. There was an executive from Seattle whose life fell apart when his wife left him and he is trying to pick up the pieces. There were many people here from other cities because Portland is a great place to be homeless. I understand this after spending a day falling in love with the city too.

Drug addiction is a mental illness, dearie. “Portland is a great place to be homeless”, this is where I would flip my laptop over but I won’t because I can’t afford a new one. Listen, there is NOWHERE ON THIS EARTH where it is great to be homeless. There may be places where there is better access to resources and help, but that does not mean that it’s a great place to be homeless. You spent one day out in the city. You do not know anything about being homeless. You spoke to a few people, but you haven’t spent days starving, wearing the same clothes, hoping someone, just anyone will give you a few bucks for a cup of coffee. You know nothing, Renee Spears. 

11. What can we as a city do? Clearly we need to address the bigger issues of poverty, mental illness and addiction but we can do better right now. We need more public restrooms. There aren’t enough and they are too far apart. We need more water fountains. We need a public laundromat and bathing facility. We need a public place for people to come in from the elements and relax in safety. We need a place for people to store their belongings so they don’t have to carry them around all day, and it litters up our city.

Finally, something we can agree on. I’d also add that we need to talk about sexism, racism, bigotry against LGBT folks, especially LGBT youth who are disproportionately affected by homelessness.

13. I ended up going home in the early morning hours. My intention was to learn from the people there and I did that. I didn’t feel unsafe for one minute. I found the people kind and friendly. I wondered what would change if we all just opened our eyes to what is happening instead of ignoring it.

We are not your teaching moment. We are not your inspiration porn. We are not your feel good moment. We are people. It is incredibly condescending to think that you know anything about what it’s like to be homeless. Your social experiment has a lot in common with the social experiments of the woman who put on a fat suit to see what it was like experiencing fatphobia, John Howard Griffin putting on black face, non-Muslim women wearing hijab to “experience” anti-Muslim bigotry, men wearing skirts and heels to see what is like to be a woman and rich folks going on so-called Food Stamps diets. They’re offensive because however well-intention they may be intent isn’t magic. You all get to take off the fat suit, the hijab, the skirts; you get to go home to a warm bed and a stocked fridge. You don’t know what it’s like to live in the oppression you wear as costume because for you, it’s just that, something you can take off at the end of your experiment. For me and others, it’s our whole life.

I am not your Teaching Moment

Interview for Bi Any Means

I sat down with Trav Mamone of Bi Any Means to discuss my book, my new vlog, disability activism, atheism, and more. You should take a listen if you get the chance.

Listening through the podcast I realized that I accidentally used  an expression I’ve been trying to eliminate from my vocabulary because of it’s ableist implications. A good reminder that even people who care about these issues make mistakes and it is up to us to make amends when we do. To those who were hurt, I apologize and endeavor to do better in the future. Mea Culpa. I’m sorry.

Teal Haired Ania Cartoon blushing and looking apologetic
I’m sorry

As such please note: CN for use of Insane as a pejorative.

Listen to the Podcast Here

Interview for Bi Any Means

The Totally Biased Guide to Canadian Politics for my American, UK, and Aussie Friends

How it works:

Each city is divided into ridings based on populations, so smaller cities might make one riding, sparse rural territories might only have 1 MP, and each of the territories only has 1 (which is fucked up and is a slap of Native People). Each riding votes for a Member of Parliament (MP) who becomes the riding’s representative in the House of Commons. The party with the most MPs in the House of Commons has their party leader become the Prime Minister of Canada (get it, first minister). The party with the second highest number of MPs becomes the Official Opposition. If there are more opposition MPs than there are leadership party MPs then it is a minority government, if they have more than half the MPs in the House, then it is a majority government.

The Parties:

The Conservative Party of Canada:
Leader:
Stephen Harper (Douche King of Douche Mountain) aka Canada’s Bush.

For comparisons sake, this party is akin to the Republicans in America, and the Tories in the UK (in fact, we call them Tories here too), and from what I understand the Liberals in Australia. Just to make this extra confusing.

A little bit of history: The Conservative Party of Canada is actually a relatively new party made up of former right wing parties including the Canadian Alliance, the Reform Party, and the Progressive Conservatives. There has been a “Conservative” Party of Canada since the British were here so they kept the name for branding sake.

The current leader of the conservatives has been Prime Minister now for a decade and his tenure has been one of shifting the whole country into a recession, taking away people’s rights, and generally putting this country in the shitter. Oh and he committed election fraud. Multiple times.

The Liberal Party of Canada:
Leader:
Justin Trudeau (Pierre Elliot Trudeau’s Son, is overly fond of reminding people of that.)

Justin Trudeau wearing Buck Dewey's glasses and hear from Steven Universe, with the Caption I'm Trudeau's son.

Akin to the Democratic Party in the US, though I would compare them to Hillary Clinton Democrats shifted more right of late. Possibly similar to the Labor Party for Australia. He voted in favour of the controversial and messed up Bill C-51, which is akin to the US’s Patriot Act. He’s young and considered by some to be handsome. Basically high school Jock Legacy running for Daddy’s seat, and ironically he’s not the one who’s Bush… that would be Harper. This party used to be the left’s primary party of choice however in the last several years they’ve shifted to the right in an effort to go after the conservative’s base. The irony being that in doing so, they lost a lot of their support on the left.

There was some hope with Trudeau since his father was the Prime Minister responsible for the Charter of Rights and Freedoms which is akin to the Bill of Rights. But his vote for C-51 helps strip Canadians of a lot of those very same rights, no matter how much he might bring up his father in conversation.

The New Democratic Party of Canada
Leader:
Tom Mulcair

The NDP used to be considered the fringe left party, kind of like the kind of people who would want Bernie Sanders to run. During the last election, they replaced the Liberals as the official opposition which was kind of a coup. This year, they have a real chance of winning the election if the left can get adequately mobilized, kind of like how Bernie Sanders seems to have a chance now that people understand how much we need to shift towards better social policies.

Tom Mulcair lacks the charisma of the former NDP leader Jack Layton, but the NDP is also offering the only real alternative to Conservative Party policies, especially now that the liberals are catering to the conservative base by supporting scary bills like this one. The NDP does have a strong history on a lot of these issues.

The Green Party of Canada
Leader:
Elizabeth May

The Green Party in Canada is like the green party everywhere. Consistently the party that has the best environmental policies and seems to align well with most social policies. Invariably though they also seem to be more connected to woo policies including those like anti-vax movements which is seriously scary for immunosuppressed people like me.

Elizabeth May however is often discriminated against and not allowed to participate in any of the leadership debates. In the Maclean’s one, where she was, she came off a lot better than any of the other politicians, probably because as a woman she is used to being cut off by men and so knows how to be succinct. A lesson more politicians would do well to learn, perhaps by not talking for a while. Her history includes failing radically on issues relating to victim blaming, see also the Jian Ghomeshi Rape Case.

The Bloq Quebecois
Leader:
Gilles Ducceppe

Conceptually closest to the Scottish National Party. Their aim is essentially for Quebec to separate from Canada to become its own country. The support for this movement gains and recedes depending on what is going on at the time. Although they really only exist in Quebec, they have been the official opposition before since Quebec is a major population center in Canada. When that happened, Lucien Bouchard, who also was famous for losing his leg to Flesh-Eating Disease, made it party policy to only speak French in the House of Commons: a policy which is in place till this day.

They are relevant enough to mention.

The election is to be held on October 19, 2015. If Harper wins, I’m moving to New Zealand.

The Totally Biased Guide to Canadian Politics for my American, UK, and Aussie Friends

Family History

I come from a large family that I have never met.

My parents moved to Canada before I was born, leaving behind everyone. In Canada they knew nobody. My grandfather had 6 brothers, and 7 sisters. Most of them got married and had children. In Poland, we count our extended relations a lot more closely than they do in other places. My father’s cousin is my aunt, my ciocia, she is also my Godmother and her children are my cousins. My cousin’s baby daughter is as much my niece as much as any potential future niblings from my sister.

Growing up disconnected from all that, I felt the lack of family in my life. I was obsessed with having a sibling. I secretly wanted it to be a boy so that someone could continue the “Bula” line in Canada. When my sister was born, I made the decision then that I would keep some form of my name forever. For my father. The hilarious part is my dad has never cared. When I mentioned it to him once, he was confused about why that would matter.

Continue reading “Family History”

Family History

#MacDebate Final Impressions

Post Debate Thoughts:

‪#‎Harper‬ comes off completely disconnected from Canadians. I don’t think there is a more poignant example of this where when asked about changing away from first past the post he answered that Canadian’s don’t want that. The results of the Macleans poll was that 84% wanted it. There was a lot of double speak, like saying that a leader takes responsibility and that the senate scandal wasn’t his fault. Which is classic Harper: “I take responsibility by blaming someone else.” It’s what he did on the abortion bill, on the election fraud, on every single time his party was shown to me mismanaged and full of criminals.

‪#‎May‬ Had some great Zingers tonight and certainly represented herself well. Since she was often cut off quickly which helped make her sound more concise. However, I also cannot forget that when it comes to issues like sexual assault, May doesn’t side with women. I enjoyed the fact that she just seemed to be laughing and shaking her head at all the men there the whole time‪#‎lovemesomemisandry‬

‪#‎Mulcair‬ had his moments, and I think he presented himself fairly well. He pointed out both Trudeau’s and Harper’s hypocrisies. He made some good points. I think that while he lacks the charisma of Layton, he presents himself as an option. I hope that he continues the NDPs devotion to improving social policies including better funded welfare and disability programs so that people like me can stop living in crisis. Also I support wholeheartedly his promise to repeal C-51 which makes Canadians less safe not only from terrorism but from our own potentially tyrannical government. He could be stronger on environmental issues, but he is an improvement over the Libs and the Cons.

‪#‎Trudeau‬ sounded like a highschool polished jock running for class president. His awkwardness at the end of his closing remarks in not recognizing and sticking with a natural end point. He kind of reminds me of Buck Dewey from Steven Universe, ‪#‎ImMyFathersSon‬ We get it Justin. Protip, try not to mention that as much in the French debate. Also, anyone who thinks C-51 is a good idea is not someone I trust to make decisions.
‪#‎NoToTrudeau‬‪#‎YourFatherPutInTheCharterYouDontHonourHisMemoryByDestroyingit‬

Justin Trudeau wearing Buck Dewey's glasses and hear from Steven Universe, with the Caption I'm Trudeau's son.

#MacDebate Final Impressions