Social Justice y Mi Cultura

Content note: anti-immigrant, anti-Mexican sentiments, child abuse

This list brought back a lot of childhood memories (the tub of butter being something I do now but it bothered me when grandma did it) and things I had forgotten (Panky cookies! Now I must go in search of them!). It was mostly a nice trip down memory lane and reaffirmation of “Yup, I’m so Boricua”. However, two things bothered me. They’re something I’m constantly running across on Puerto Rican pride posts. Estas cosas me tiene’ harta and so here we are:

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(Image: Picture of a tanned woman, she has long black hair, is wearing hoop earrings. She looks displeased. White texts on the picture reads: How Puerto Ricans look when someone calls them Mexican)

This is implying something is wrong with being Mexican. It also speaks to the feelings of superiority that some Puerto Ricans feel towards immigrants. A perfect example is this T-shirt:

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(image is of a black t-shirt, with the Puerto Rican flag on it. It has white text on it which reads, Relax, gringo, I’m legal)

The joke is supposed to be that white people can’t tell Hispanics apart. But it pushes undocumented people under the bus. It’s saying, “hey don’t bother me! I’m one of the “good” ones”. Not to mention that no one is “illegal”.
I’m not exactly prideful or boastful of Puerto Rico being a colonia. Do you even know the history between Los United Estates and Puerto Rico? If you did, you wouldn’t think you’re better than undocumented immigrants. Also, someone explain to me why being confused for Mexican would be bad? I mean, Thalia, the food, the novelas, Selena (I know, she was from Texas but she was also Mexican) C’mon. The list is endless for reasons Mexico and its people are wonderful.

We’re all in this together. At the end of the day, Gringo isn’t going to care if I have a piece of paper or not. Racism doesn’t work that way.

And the second point in that list:

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(image of a medicine box, it has been digitally manipulated to say Bofeta, coco-taso flavored. Red text above the box reads, Trusted by Puerto Rican mothers, red text below the box, reads all over the world)

So, some translation is in order. Bofetada (in the Puerto Rican dialect the ending “da” is dropped) means “slap”. Cocotaso refers to a knock upside the head. Coco meaning coconut but in this instance it refers to the head.

Now, la chancla (the house slipper), la escoba (the broom) and la correa (the belt) are often looked back at fondly by Puerto Ricans as tools used by their parents for discipline. See, they were malo (bad) and needed que le rompieran la cara (literally: break their face, loosely; a beating). This glorification of child abuse is not something I can abide in mi cultura. I got la chancla and the belt buckle several times. I was constantly being beaten for being “malcri’a” (malcraida). Malcriada literally means that I was raised badly, but that meaning never seemed to bother the adults in my life who justified their abuse to me. I tried telling them and all it got me was a tapa boca (slap to the mouth). The abuse I suffered as a child is largely responsible for my being in abusive relationships as an adult. I believed I deserved the abuse. It was all I ever knew.  I under no circumstances condone child abuse. I don’t care if you say it’s a simple nalgadita (a spanking). I do not care if you claim it’s part of your culture. Machismo and homophobia are part of my culture too and I do not condone those either.

I love being Puerto Rican. I was born Stateside but raised in La Isla del Encato. I love las playas y la comida. I love that my hair and facial features easily speak of my African and Indigenous roots. Borinquen will forever be my homeland. I take the coqui’s song and the blue sky in my heart. I teach my daughter about la bomba y plena. Arrastro la letra R. I can talk to you about el campo y los Vejigantes. I am an atheist and I still ask grandma for la bendición. I consider myself Puerto Rican first, American second.

Just as I love my culture, I also repudiate it’s sexism, homophobia, it’s anti Blackness which seeks to forget Africa while wanting to eat una sopa de guingombo.

Acknowledging the parts of my culture I don’t like makes the love I have for the other parts stronger. I appreciate everything else so much more.
I’m proud to be a queer non-binary Boricua. La bomba y plena with it’s clear African influence makes my heart swell with so much joy. I hate the colorism that runs rampant in Puerto Rico and its diaspora. So con más gana’ muevo mis caderas and show off my big curly hair porque esas cosas son tan odiadas.
I’m a feminist and Latino Machismo is no match for me. Soy fuerte e independiente. A mi no me ganan. My daughter knows, unlike I did at that age, that she is just as important as the boys. She knows that gender is a spectrum and not a binary.

The day when child abuse and bigotry is no longer something celebrated in my culture cannot come fast enough. Yo soy Boricua, pa’ que tú lo sepa. But I’m also a social justice warrior and I will have my culture with justicia y concienca.

Header photo taken Sunflower Punk SJW, Puerto Rico 2014- Flamboyan tree

Social Justice y Mi Cultura
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Street Harassment and Me

CN: street harassment, catcalls, sexualization of young girls

 

 

I was 11 years old when I was first cat called. I remember it vividly. I was on my way to school when two men in a red sports car started yelling at me and honking the horn. I ignored them, they drove up to me and slowed down. They were commenting on my body and asking my name. I kept ignoring them. I was about 10 minutes away from school. I had my uniform on, I think at that time I was carrying my Rugrats backpack. I knew if I stopped walking they might have gotten out of the car. But if I kept walking they would know where I enter school. I was afraid they’d be waiting for me. I wanted to cry. These were grown men and I was just a little girl. I screamed that I was eleven. The guy driving said, “damn!” and then they sped off. They only left me alone once they realized they could go to jail.

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Clearly, a preadolescent girl in a school uniform carrying this bag was the ideal target for cat calls.(image is of a black, maroon and plaid backbag with three cartoon characters from the kids’ TV show Rugrats.)

I told mami and grandma later that day. They told me the usual; not to get in cars with strangers but to also not worry. I should worry once men stopped looking at me. That day I learned men’s pleasure was above my safety.

I stopped telling anybody about the street harassment I got when I walked to and from school.

Up until I was fifteen, the harassment was just verbal. Then it became physical. It was Halloween and I was out with a friend. We walked past some men and one of them grabbed my arm and asked “trick or treat”. Ever since, I never walk past a large group of men. I usually cross the street or wait until the group has dispersed.

I would tell my friends and the girls would commiserate with me, but also tell me I was being overly sensitive. There was nothing we could do, so we might as well endure it. The boys would tell me they wished they got cat called by girls. I wondered if they really meant that? Did they want to spend extra time on an outfit to determine whether or not that particular pant or shirt would get them more harassment than usual?

As a result of the daily street harassment, I started hating my body. The men who cat called me would comment on my thick thighs, my big butt and wide hips. Once, a man told me “tanta carne y yo sin arroz” (literally “so much meat and I don’t have rice”). That man literally said I was a piece of meat. That’s how I felt too.
People told me that I shouldn’t worry about street harassment since nothing would happen to me becuase I was “jailbait”.

I wanted to believe that was true. When I turned 17 the big joke was that now I couldn’t cry “jailbait” at cat callers. I was on the train once when I noticed this guy staring at me. He got off at the same stop I did. He walked alongside me. He was asking me where I lived, what I did, if I had a boyfriend. I figured I would lie about my age and he’d leave me alone. I told him I had just turned 16. He said it didn’t matter, that we could still be friends. I told him I was too young. He said, “with that body it doesn’t matter. You could kill with that body”. I held on tighter to my messenger bag. I needed to get on the bus and was afraid he’d follow me. I lied and said I was on my way to my boyfriend’s house. He eventually gave up and walked away. I stayed on the station platform for about 30 minutes just to make sure he wasn’t waiting for me.

And again when I told anyone, they’d tell me to be flattered.

The harassment has only gotten worse as I age. I may have a “baby face” but my body’s shape gives me away. It took me a long time not to hate my body. It was those men and the rape culture I should hate.

Walking with my mom or grandma doesn’t stop the harassment. In fact, the men think if they’re nice to mami or grandma they have an “in”. Walking with TJ also gets me harassed. I’m asked if I’m looking for a daddy for her. Once a man commented on my dimples and said he was sure we’d make “beautiful light ‘skinned babies together”.
The only time I’m left alone is when I’m with other men. It pisses me off that I’m only respected as some other man’s property and not as someone autonomous. As stated above I’ve been taught the only feelings which matter are men’s.
“Be flattered!”
“Don’t be rude!”
“Say thank you! It’s a compliment!”

I’m not safe from any age group. When I was 14 some boys, no older than 10 passed by me and said something about my ass. When I was in college, some teens hollered at me about how slutty my dress was. Another time, a man old enough to be my grandfather, told me I had a “great rack”. And yet another time, an elderly man actually used TJ to get to me. TJ was three years old at the time. It was a hot summer day. I was wearing shorts. The old man was walking towards us and said TJ was very pretty. I said thank you and kept walking. Then he said “she gonna be tall”, looks at me “just like her momma, she got legs for miles, hmmm”. I picked up TJ and ran away. I was disgusted and it got me thinking, how old will TJ be when she first experiences street harassment directed towards her?

Thinking about it fills me with dread. I don’t know what I will do, but what I do know is that she will know street harassment is unacceptable. She will most definitely know that her safety is paramount. She’ll know she can come to me and I won’t dismiss her fears.

Street Harassment and Me

Speaking Ill of the Dead

Growing up I was told it was rude to speak ill of the dead. I was told no matter how horrible the person was in life, we should respect them in death. I never questioned this until one of my grandma’s sisters died.

I got the news about my aunt and I felt like dancing. I thought I was being rude but then I thought, this aunt made my life miserable. Any chance she got, she reminded me how ugly and fat I was. She would tell me I would end up “jamona” (a spinster) because of how unattractive I was. I was 12. My grandma would tell her sister about my “bad behavior” and this aunt would say that what i needed was “un buen puño a la cara” (a good punch to the face). I was 7. She would make my school uniforms and I dreaded being measured. She always had something to say. “Oh, you’re so fat. You’re fatter than I am. It’s a miracle you fit through the door.”

She died when I was in my teens. I remember calling my grandma to offer my condolences. But I lied them. When I went to Puerto Rico, I visited my grandpa’s and another aunt’s grave. I left flowers for both of them. I didn’t ask to see that one aunt’s grave and grandma didn’t push me. I told my mother I was happy tia was dead. I would never say this to my grandmother. Not out of respect for that dead aunt, but for respect to grandma. That aunt never showed any respect to me, so I don’t see why I should respect her because she finally dropped dead.

I firmly believe it is OK and even cathartic to be happy someone died. If that person made your life miserable? Pop open a bottle. That person abused you? Merengue on that grave all you want.

My tia didn’t have any influence over legislation. Her opinions and ideas didn’t have the power to sway a population. Scalia on the other had opinions which hurt a lot of marginalized people. I will not judge anyone who is glad he’s gone. I’m sure no one is going to his family and saying they’re happy he’s dead, and I would never advocate that. But I don’t care for the for the posts I’ve seen chastising the people who are happy he’s dead.

“No hables mal de los muertos, que no pueden responder”. Don’t speak ill of the dead because they can’t defend themselves. Well, when she was alive I tried defending myself from her verbal abuse and I was told I was disrespectful.

Death doesn’t mean that person’s bad deeds are forgotten. Death doesn’t magically erase the pain that person caused. But death does guarantee that I’ll never have to listen to her opinions ever again.

Speaking Ill of the Dead

Barbie and Representation

Mattel recently revealed what they’re calling “The Evolution of Barbie”. It includes three new body types (along with new hair and eye colors, and funky new hairstyles) that will sell alongside the original doll. These body types are curvy, petite, and tall.

I love Barbie. I had about 30 of them when I was little. Most of them were the white, blue-eyed, blonde Barbie. I had a few brunettes, one Teresa (she was the Hispanic Barbie), and the Puerto Rican Barbie which was part of the Dolls of the World collection.

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(image is of two dolls. Both dolls are brunettes. The doll on the left is the Happy Birthday Barbie doll. She is wearing a pink and white ball gown with balloons and ribbons print. She has a party hat on her head. The doll on the right is wearing a pink and white dress. She has a pink flower in her hair. She is the Puerto Rican doll.)

When I was little, I hated my big nose and my huge curly hair. White skin was prized and I was always told it was a good thing I wasn’t darker. It wasn’t until recently that I started appreciating my natural hair. My mother was constantly buying hair straightening cream “para matar el rizo” (kill the curl).
I always liked the brunette and darker skin dolls best but I was always given white Barbie. So I would take my mother’s brown eye shadows, crush it and mix it with water and dunk my blonde Barbies hair in. It lasted until I decided to wash my dolls.

I got the message that my natural hair wasn’t beautiful. I was always told I was too fat. I would hear people say girls looked like a Barbie if they were thin, white and pretty. I would never be a Barbie. But I could pretend. My Barbies had fantastic adventures. They were singers, cops, teachers, spies, feminist bad asses who didn’t need Ken. Although that was mostly because I only had one Ken. So that Ken played different characters, while my Barbies had different names and personalities, I still remember most of their names.

My Barbies provided me an escape from my unhappy childhood.

It’s a little tough being a feminist and a huge Barbie fan. For a while I thought I was a bad feminist for loving Barbie. I didn’t realize I could appreciate Barbie but also critique her shortcomings. I was also hesitant to apply any critical thought to Barbie because I was worried it would tarnish my childhood memories of her.

Once I had a daughter, I realized I needed to look at Barbie (and all other media directed towards her) critically. My daughter doesn’t look like Barbie, and she never will. That is ok. That’s what I need to hear when I was little. Barbie was an unrealistic standard. I didn’t need to look like her to have worth and be loved.
Barbie didn’t make me have self-esteem issues. It was the adults around me with fat-phobia, anti-blackness and colorism who caused my self-esteem problems.
My daughter knows that her curls are beautiful. That her light skin doesn’t make her any better than someone darker.

Barbie has been pretty good in showing racial diversity. I always could say Teresa was “for me” but never “she looks like me” because Teresa was thin.

Having a fashion doll who’s curvy is a huge deal. Not only will chubby girls finally see themselves in a doll, but they’re also getting the message that they too can be fashion forward and fun.

Curvy Barbie is not without her problems. She could be bigger. Her figure is the “acceptable fat”; an hourglass shape. That’s a problem plus-size modeling and the body positivity movement have as well. But, I’m glad that Curvy Barbie is here. It’s a step in the right direction. Curvy Barbie is the doll I wished would have existed when I was little. Needless to say, my inner child is excited for this.

I’ve posted a review of Curvy and Tall Barbie! Click on links to read them!

Barbie and Representation

I’m not beautiful and that is OK.

I’ve started therapy at a new clinic. My therapist is a WOC who identifies as a feminist so she gets points for that. We’ve talked about growing as girl children in machista families. She understands where I’m coming from with certain things.

However, every time I mention the word ugly she stops to ask if I really think I’m ugly.

No, I don’t. By conventional standards, I am ugly and not very feminine looking. I’m fat, I have stretch marks and cellulite. I have jiggly and flabby skin. I have scars from self injury. I’m tall. I have short hair dyed an unnatural color. I have piercings and I’m hairy.

But I really don’t give a fuck if I’m ugly or not. Not anymore.
When I was little all I heard from my family was how fat and ugly I was. So, as I got older and the other girls were trying on make up and exploring their femininity I decided that those things were vain and frivolous. They were weak and I wouldn’t be.

I had internalized the misogyny hurled at me all my life. I would be one of the guys, not like those other silly girls. I shunned anything that could be called feminine while simultaneously adhered to other rigid gender norms like shaving. And why did I shave? Because hairy women are “ugly”. Men don’t like hairy women. So while I shunned certain aspects of femininity to protect myself I also chose to follow some to also protect myself. I was a mess. A chill girl mess.

As I’ve matured into my feminism, I’ve learned that femininity isn’t weakness. Once I learned to let go of that internalized misogyny, I realized femininity is powerful. I wear make up and dresses now because it makes me feel good about myself. It makes me feel pretty. Not pretty for other people. Pretty for me. I don’t shave because it’s too much hassle and I was only doing it for other people.

I’m going to have to explain that being ugly isn’t the worst thing. I’ll have to explain what I mean when I use the word ugly. I’ll have to spend part of my therapy session explaining 101 feminism/social justice stuff. And that’s exhausting. My thinking I’m “ugly” isn’t more important than treating my PTSD.

On a typical summer day, you’ll find me wearing a pretty dress, make up on my face all while my pits and legs are hairy. I’m not beautiful by conventional standards and that’s OK. I never will fit into the white ideal and I don’t want to. I’m beautiful for me.

I’m not beautiful and that is OK.

Birthday

Growing up I had my whole life planned out. I saw how miserable the women in my family were as wives so I decided I would be a Career Woman and never marry. Then I decided I would marry and have children after getting a Ph.D. I’d live fabulously ever after in a mansion with two daughters and one son and some movie star husband. I had the children’s names picked out. I had my wedding planned down to the color of the table cloths. All this would happen by the time I was 30. All of this planning and I was only about seven.

Obviously most of that was a child’s fantasy. As I got older I realized I didn’t want children or marriage after all. But I still wanted to go to college. Growing up that’s how I heard adults measure their child’s success; with whether they had a degree or not. I felt neglected and lonely as a kid so I thought this would be the perfect way to finally get some validation.

I’ve dealt with, and in some cases I’m still dealing with, mental illness, extreme poverty, homelessness, single motherhood and domestic violence. All things which prevented me from going to school. I did complete two semesters but the system being what it is, I had to decide between school or work at the time since the shelter I was in preferred I was working. Currently, I’m not in the right place mentally for school.

As I get older, I’m realizing I don’t need a degree to matter. While I would like to go back to school, I’m not as upset with myself as I used to be. I do have days where I think I am huge failure but most days I think considering the circumstances I am alright.

So I don’t have a huge mansion, but I did finally leave the shelter and have my own apartment.

I don’t have a husband. Thank misandry for that!

I have one child and she is just about the greatest kid alive.

I’m not living a fabulous life but most days it isn’t half bad. I have a loving support network of friends. I have this blog, that while it may not be widely known, some people seem to like. I have my mom who’s extremely patient and understanding. We’ve had many ups and owns but I can count on her.

Through all the shit I’ve gone through, I’ve come out more compassionate, caring and stronger. Which isn’t to say that those things were blessings. If I had to choose character over having an easier life, I’d choose easier life every time. But I have to deal with what I got. Life and lemons and what not, right?

No, my life isn’t perfect and these last few sentences aren’t meant to erase the bullshit I deal with daily; a racist, sexist, classist, ableist system, mental illness, poverty. I wish I was financially stable, I wish I wasn’t disabled. I wish my bodily autonomy had been respected. I wish for a complete system overhaul.

In the meantime, all things considered, I am glad I’m the person I am.

Birthday

“You matter”

You always see posts asking you what you would say to your child self. What advice would you give to teenage you? I usually reply with a joke but I’ve been thinking what would I have needed when I was a child that could have prevented at least some of the hurt I’ve gone through.

I needed someone to tell me I mattered. Someone to tell me my value didn’t lie in my appearance or intelligence. Someone to stand up for me when certain family members made fun of my weight or art projects. I needed someone to nurture my creativity and curiosity.

I needed someone to tell me morality had nothing to do with food. I needed someone to validate me when I protested my brothers being fed more than me or being let off the hook for behavior that would have gotten me in trouble.

I needed someone to introduce me to the words sexist and feminism. I needed someone who didn’t make fun of my interests.

I needed someone to tell me being pretty wasn’t a goal.

I needed to know someone cared about me.

To my teenaged self,

Life is pretty rough. It’ll get rougher. Actually, just when you think it can’t get any worse, it will. And surprisingly, you’ll always manage to get through it. But you don’t have to do it alone. Let people help you, ask for help. You’re strong, yes. But you aren’t Wonder Woman. Trusting people is hard. But you manage to learn how to tell who’s trust worthy and not. Trust your gut more.
No is a complete sentence.
Feed yourself when you’re hungry.
Your thoughts and opinions matter.
You aren’t defined by your mental illness.
You’ll be wrong sometimes but that doesn’t change that you are a person with worth.
Be the geekiest geek who ever geeked. The nerdiest nerd who ever nerded. In a few years all the stuff you were made fun of for liking will be cool. Then you can have smug superiority over all those poser losers.
Don’t ever lose your ability to laugh.
Have I mentioned trust your gut more? Because you should.
Embrace your feminism more.
For fucks sake, stop being such a chill girl.
Misandry
Finally, no is a complete sentence and trust your instincts. They’re good instincts and so are you.

“You matter”

When Santa stopped being real

I wrote a letter to Santa once. I remember it still. I asked him how he was, how the elves and his wife were and to please be careful on his trip. I asked him if the tropical weather bothered him. It was 1995 and I asked for a specific Barbie doll. I never got a response and I didn’t get the Barbie I wanted, although I did get a Dream House and another Barbie. I was happy.
That Christmas Eve, I went to bed earlier than usual. I woke up sometime in the middle of the night. I heard mami talking to someone. I go check and she’s sitting next to the dream house and the Hot Wheels race track my brother was getting. I asked who she was talking to. She told me I had just missed Santa. She told me to go back to bed. Which took a lot of will power because the Barbie dream house from 1995 was amazing!

The next Summer, I was looking for something in mami’s dresser and I found the letter I had written. At first I was upset because I thought mami forgot to send it which would explain why I didn’t get what I had asked for.
But I got to thinking, where would mami send it? I had all these questions but I didn’t want to push it.

We never left Santa milk and cookies. We left him Pepsi and Lays potato chips. I asked my mother why we couldn’t leave him milk and cookies like I saw on TV. She said Santa had that in all the other houses; he appreciated the variety. Then I asked if we could leave Doritos instead. She said Santa didn’t like those. I didn’t believe her because everyone loves Doritos, right? Then she told me that Santa couldn’t eat Doritos because the cheese dust would make his white beard orange. That made sense to my child mind, so I left it alone.

One Christmas I got a talking teddy bear. Grandma told me she had a scare when she was wrapping the presents because the bear had started talking. I had thought Santa brought them all wrapped! Mami explained that that year he was very busy so he left them with grandma and mami to wrap them.

I was eight years old when I finally stopped believing in Santa. I was looking for something in our armoire (curiosity didn’t kill the cat but it certainly made them question things) and I found lots of wrapped gifts with my and my brother’s name on them. I asked mami about them. First she said those were for other children who had our same names. I didn’t believe her but I left it alone. That Christmas, what do I find did under the tree? Those gifts I had found in the armoire! I asked mami how come the presents were the same ones I had found. She said they weren’t, she just used the same wrapping paper for our gifts.

Then it all hit me. Mami doesn’t like milk, she doesn’t like Doritos. Her favorite snack combo is Pepsi and chips. Then I realized I had heard voices that one Christmas Eve because while she was setting up our gifts she started playing with them. A huge doll house and Hot Wheels race track, who could blame her?!

As I get older I look back at those memories fondly. I don’t have any resentment towards my mother for telling me Santa was real. Personally, I don’t consider Santa a lie in the sense that it hurts a child or their relationship with their parent. It was a fun fantasy. I also think mami was very clever thinking on her feet the way she did. She never missed a beat when I had questions about Santa.

I do think she’s wrong about not liking Doritos, though.

When Santa stopped being real

Holiday Traditions: Old and New

 

A friend suggested I write about the holiday traditions I grew up with in Puerto Rico. So here you go!

Note: Links to recipes and music open up in new tab.

Music and Television:

I was familiar with American Christmas music because we had cable and watched a lot of American programming. However, the music I loved best during Christmas was the traditional aguinaldos. We’d have parrandas where people would play the Puerto Rican cuatro, drums, maracas, guitars and the güiro and visit their neighbors. This is similar to Christmas Caroling.

I grew up listening to a lot of Salsa, particularly Hector Lavoe and Willie Colón (along with the rest of The Fania All-Stars) because mami was a huge fan of them. For Christmas she’d continuously play Asalto Navideño I and II. Every year, we’d decorate our tree and listen to Hector’s unique voice, the lights in the tree would sync up with the music. It was always so much fun.

Like I mentioned before, we had cable so we watched ABC’s 25 Days of Christmas. Mami grew up watching the Rankin/Bass Christmas specials. She introduced us to Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town and Frosty the Snowman. We also watched CBS’ Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. However, our favorite special was Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas!
Every time it came on we’d all sit around the TV and my grandma would make an egg yolk and sugar spread that we’d eat on crackers. We called the Grinch, El Pillo Verde, literally the green thief.

The Food:

My favorite thing about the Puerto Rican holiday season is the food. We usually don’t have turkey but pernil (roast pork). My grandma would cook turkey on Thanksgiving though. One of my favorite memories from Thanksgiving was when my grandpa would carve the turkey because he’d sneak us pieces. Grandma would tell him not to because it would spoil our appetite but grandpa would keep doing it and would tell us in his heavily accented English “no listen to your mama. if you hungry you eat”.
Puerto Ricans are known for our rice and beans. But during Christmas we make arroz amarillo con gandules (yellow rice and pigeon peas). Along with that we have pasteles which are similar to tamales. I’m not a fan of them which is blasphemy to Puerto Ricans, but I was destined to be the black sheep, so here we are.
For dessert we have arroz con dulce (we really like our rice, that’s for sure). Arroz con dulce is rice pudding. Most recipes add raisins, but since I believe raisins are evil, I don’t add them to my recipe. We also make tembleque which is coconut pudding. From American television I learned people hate fruit cake. I’ll never understand why Americans have a dessert they hate. Our desserts are delicious!

Pernil (roast pork) is the shining jewel in our Puerto Rican Christmas dinner. The more cuero (fat) on it the better. Nothing reminds me more of Christmas in Puerto Rico than smelling pernil being prepared.
We have our version of eggnog, which we call coquito. It can be made without rum but we also like our liquor. I mean, we have a Christmas song that goes “si no me dan de beber, lloro” (if i’m not given something to drink,  I’ll cry).

Los Tres Reyes Magos y Santa Clos: 

Our tree went up after Thanksgiving and would stay up until January 6th.
This was because we also celebrated Three Kings’ Day. My younger brother and I would go out and look for grass to put in shoe boxes for the Magi’s horses.  For Santa Clos (as we called him) we didn’t leave him milk and cookies. We left him chips and Pepsi. That wasn’t a Puerto Rican tradition. That was what our mother came up with since she dislikes milk and cookies. My wanting to leave Santa something else was what lead me to stop believing in Santa, but that’s another post for another day.

There was a parade every year either in town or close to the beach. People in the parade would hand out candy to the children, while The Three Wise Men waved to the children from up on their horses. We’d also put on a show in school. I was picked to be a pastorcita (shepherdess). I recited a poem where I offered a gift to El Niño Jesus (Baby Jesus).  My aunt made me an outfit similar to this:

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(image is of a little girl wearing a shepherdess outfit in red, black and white)

 

Old and New Traditions:

 

I’ve lived in the States for 12 years. I no longer celebrate Three Kings’ Day or Thanksgiving but I still celebrate Christmas. We lived in homeless shelters for a long time, so our Christmases were very humble. However, I tried my best to teach my daughter the holiday traditions I grew up with. I learned how to make the Christmas foods and coquito. This year I’m going to learn how to roast a pork. This is the first year I’ve had my own oven so I’m taking every opportunity to use my kitchen. This is our first year with a tree.

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(image is of a decorated Christmas tree on a picture collage with different holiday stickers of wreaths, trees and ornaments)

We don’t have cable but we still watch the Christmas specials I grew up with.

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(image: DVDs of Christmas specials, clockwise from left, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town and, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!)

We’d started our own traditions too. In the shelters we weren’t allowed to have trees, so we’d decorate as best we could. This year we do have a tree so we made several ornaments.

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(image is of several handmade ornaments, made from wire, beads, paper and ribbons)

In Puerto Rico we’d put a manger under the tree. I even made one once in my Sunday school class.

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(image: handmade manger scene, the tree has a white skirt with a winter scene on it, the floor is terrazzo tile)

I am an atheist now so instead my daughter and I decorated her doll house and put that under the tree.

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(images are of a pink and purple doll house decorated with a small wreath and beads for lights)

This is the first holiday season where we won’t be homeless so it’s extra special. As I teach my daughter her heritage, we’ll also continue to make up our own.
I had a lot of fun writing this! Looking for links to songs and recipes I found stuff I had forgotten about. It brought a lot of memories. I hope you enjoyed this as much as I did writing! ¡Felices Fiestas!

Holiday Traditions: Old and New

“You’re so fat”

Trigger warming: weight discussion, actual numbers mentioned, fat phobia, fat shaming by doctors, mentions of death and suicide, mention of eating disorders

Author’s Note: When I mention “family” I mean uncles, aunts or cousins. I don’t mean brothers, mami or grandma.

I am fat. At 5 feet 9 inches tall and weighing (last I checked) close to 260 pounds, I am medically considered obese. Whenever I have physicals all my vitals are “perfect” but I’m told that will change if I keep being so damn fat.

The doctor’s scale doesn’t scare me anymore but it used to. I still remember being in the nurse’s office waiting to see the doctor. I’m weighed in front of some other kid who was waiting his turn. The doctor looked at the number and said “oh que gorda” (how fat!), looked at the boy waiting and told him not to worry, he wouldn’t weigh as much as I did. Every time I saw that doctor he had a comment to make about my weight. All he ever said was to go on a diet. He would ask if I ate a lot of junk food. No. He asked if I was active. Yes. It wasn’t until years later that another doctor figured out I had a “lazy” thyroid. And people’s reaction to that news? “Oh well that’s why you’re so fat!”

Anyway, I told my mom I didn’t want to see that doctor anymore. So, we go see another doctor (old doctor’s son-in-law because our town in Puerto Rico was small, apparently all the doctors were related. My dentist was jackass doctor’s daughter, but I digress). Son-in-law would tell me the same thing. I was fat and I needed to lose weight. But they wouldn’t tell me how. Mami and I ran into him once, I was already taller than my mother, who’s 5 feet tall, by that time. The “good” doctor looks at me and says that I was so “big and fat”, it looks like I was the mother and my mother the child. I was barely 11. My mother is short and thin. I’m tall and fat. People never believe she’s my mom. It’s a little frustrating having to justify my existence. “Your mom is so tiny! How did you get so BIG? Oh my, how was she able to birth you?” Well, I wasn’t born this big, for one. But whatever.

My weight has always been a hot topic in my family. Everyone would tell me I was so pretty and I’d be so much prettier if I wasn’t fat. I was told no man would want me. I was told not to eat so much. My brothers ate as if food was going out of style but they were never told to stop. They were growing boys after all. I barely ate and when I would indulge in the rare cookie I was told to stop being such a “puerca” (pig). If I didn’t do my chores properly I was chastised. “You’re so big and fat, why can’t you clean these dishes?”

Family I hadn’t seen in years would comment on how fat I’d gotten. Then I get my first period and since Puerto Rican grannies have no sense of privacy, soon all my aunts knew I had become a “señorita” (a young lady). So they hoped that now I would lose weight. I hoped so too. Whenever I would complain to mami about the fat shaming I endured she would tell not to worry because I just had “baby fat”. I believed that until I hit twelve and I needed a bra bigger than my mother’s.

Above I mentioned a doctor found out why I had such a hard time losing weight. At 14, I was finally diagnosed with hypothyroidism. Finally, my family thought, with the pills they give her she’ll lose weight and become beautiful.

I left Puerto Rico a few months after that. In NYC I had doctors tell me I was too fat but at least they gave me diets to go on. At my heaviest in my teens I was weighing 231 and wearing a size 20/22. I hated myself. I starved myself but nothing I did made the weight go away. So then I’d become depressed and binge. I’ve never been formally diagnosed with an eating disorder but I’m pretty sure I was displaying symptoms.Then at 15, I attempted suicide and the nurse at the hospital asks if I was depressed because I was “fat with no boyfriend”.

My teens were rough, I was battling depression, we were homeless, I was bullied in school. I wasn’t eating properly because 1) the shelter we were in didn’t provide adequate food and 2) I didn’t exactly go out of my way to eat properly when I had the chance. I went down to a size 9/10 in pants. I was weighing 175lbs. That was the lightest I had ever been. Everybody was so proud of me. That’s when I realized that people would rather see me thin and sick than fat and healthy.

I’ve gone back to Puerto Rico three times in these past 12 years and every time my weight is brought up. The first time I returned to Puerto Rico was for my grandfather’s funeral. I was 16 and worried that I was too fat. I was worried my clothes wouldn’t fit. My grandpa was dead and I hadn’t seen him in two years but I was worried about disrespecting his memory with my fat. Grandma told me not to worry. Grandpa was watching down from heaven and he was happy I was there. Grandma wasn’t very kind to me growing up, but she’s changed a lot since then and I’m thankful to her for easing my mind. That’s another post for another day though.

The last two times I visited Puerto Rico were so my daughter could meet my grandma. My family talked about how fat I used to be. My weight was a big topic. They kept telling me how tall and big I was. How solidly built I am. One elderly cousin kept saying I was so “skinny” compared to how I was when little. Oh, how thankful she was that I had lost all that weight. I’m far too pretty to be so fat. What they don’t know is that I weigh more now than I did then, it’s just that I’ve grown up and the weight has redistributed and I also have some muscle.

I’m bottom heavy and my legs have always been criticized as being too big, “like tree trunks”. My hips are wide and my thighs cause thunder; baby also got back.  It took me a long time to be able to appreciate my body. It was only last year that I finally conquered my fear of bathing suits and went to the beach in a one piece showing my legs in all of their fat, hairy glory. I walked on that beach and felt proud of myself. Then I see a cousin I hadn’t seen since I was 11 and he says my arms are flabby. I don’t feel anything. It doesn’t bother me like it would have back then. I acknowledge it as a fucked up thing to say and then I realize, well my arms do jiggle but so the fuck what?

I tuck his comment in the box in my mind labeled “fuck boy opinions” and told him if my arms are such a problem he was free not to look at them.

The scale doesn’t scare me anymore. I only weigh myself at the doctor’s. I see the scale and think in my best cheesy western movie voice “it’s you again.” I’m weighed and they tell me the number and I acknowledge it and just tuck it away in the box in my mind of “stuff about me that isn’t that big of a deal”. My weight is right next to “hates Twizzlers”. I think about it once a while, I may even obsess over it (why would anyone like that devil candy?) but when it’s time to get serious I put it away and focus on important things.

I spent far too long hating myself for something I can’t change. My genes are the way they are. I can’t change my bone structure. Even at 175 I was still “curvy”. That won’t change. I will always be fat and I have no desire to lose weight and that is OK.

“You’re so fat”