Grandpa Stories

I’ve been thinking a lot about my grandpa lately. I’ve written about my grandma, mom, dad, aunts (including one I didn’t even like all that much), and my younger brother but have only ever mentioned my grandpa in passing. To say he was a character would be an understatement. My grandpa was born in Puerto Rico two years before the Jones–Shafroth Act gave Puerto Ricans American citizenship. He grew up very poor and had to stop his education at the second grade becuase his mother couldn’t afford shoes for him.

He left Puerto Rico sometime between the 30-40’s to NYC. He worked in factories and eventually met my grandma. Coincidentally, they were both from the same town in Puerto Rico, except grandpa was a “jibaro” (a country person) and my grandma was from “el pueblo” (the city). He was trigueño, with what he called “gingy hair” (he meant kinky, but could never quite get it right), and a big nose. That nose! If you want to tell who’s related to him, you’d look at our noses. My mom, my brothers and I all have that nose. I hated it so much when I was little because I was bullied over it. When he went places, it’d take forever to leave because he’d strike up a conversation with anyone. He spoke English to us a lot and I regret not being able to mimic his accent. It was the best. He always wore a guayabera with either a trilby or bucket hat. His favorite cologne was Brut. Which is funny to me now, because a lot of people hate Brut but it always reminds me of grandpa. He was the reason I liked wrestling when I was little. He loved baseball. His favorite team was The New York Mets.

But anyway, I’ve written about my experiences with child abuse. My grandma was very old school in her thinking. Children were to be seen, never heard. And anything could be a punishable offense, worthy of a few smacks. Grandpa, however, never yelled or hit me. In the 16 years I knew him, I only ever got angry with him once. This isn’t to say he was perfect. The man was incredibly sexist and anti Black as hell. I’ve had to come to terms with these things while also remembering the good things about him. It’s been tough but doable.

So here now, I share some of my favorite grandpa stories

The Godparents who came to Dinner:

When my younger brother and I were little, we used to eat the chicken before the rice and beans. That would always upset grandma. After the billionth time of eating the chicken first, she yelled at us. Grandpa, who always defended me when grandma would get on me, told her to leave us alone. Grandma walked away angry and then grandpa told us:
When he was little, his family was very poor. One day while he and his brother were eating lunch, his godparents visited. His mom didn’t have anything to feed the guests so she took the chicken off the kids plates.
The moral: Always eat the chicken first because you never know when company will come and take it away.

Brothers are the Worst:

When he was about 7 years old, his brother traded him a nickel for his dime. His brother convinced him that the nickel was worth more because it’s bigger.

The moral: Brothers are assholes and it was OK to be mad at my brothers when they bothered me.

Killer Cows:

When I was about 7 or so, I asked my grandpa about his dad. I knew a lot about his mom but nothing about his dad.

Grandpa: I don’t know much about him. He died when I was a baby.
Me: I’m sorry. How did he die?
Grandpa: a cow killed him
Me: *imagines a cow holding a gun* uh how?
Grandpa: cow kicked him
Me: oh that’s a relief.

 (I thought I had to worry about killers cows)

 

Damn, Ju Cheap:

Every day after school, I’d buy myself a malta and a bag of peanut M&M’s. Grandpa was on a strict diet and wasn’t allowed candy. But that never stopped him from asking me.

Grandpa: What you got dere?
Me: Candy
Grandpa: Can I have one?
Me: Grandpa, sabes que no puedes. Tienes diabetes y te hace daño. Los doctores no te dejan.
Grandpa: Ah, eso cara’ de papa no saben na’. Give me one.

So I’d give him one or two and then, without missing a beat in his accented Enlgish, “damn, nena ju cheap”.

This is one of my favorite memories of grandpa. He always knew better than the doctors and he had the biggest sweet tooth. He always had candy and pudding stashed away and he always shared with me. You will understand then why coupled with his not yelling or hitting me, I liked him better than grandma.

Grandpa died in 2005, by that time I was already living in NYC. I hadn’t talked to him in about a year. He developed Alzheimer’s and talking to us would make him sad and then grandma would have to spend the rest of the day comforting and reminding him why we weren’t in the house.

We went back to Puerto Rico for his funeral. I tell people that it was like the Godfather had died. The whole town was there. People I had never met knew who I was because in Puerto Rico, people can tell who your people are by your “pinta”, basically what you look like. I didn’t go up to grandpa’s casket right away. I couldn’t. If I did, his death would become real and then who would tell me all those silly stories?

I wished I had asked him more about his childhood in Puerto Rico and his time in NYC before meeting grandma. He lived a long life; he was a few months shy of his 90th birthday when he died. I miss him every day. His stories live on in me and I’ve told a few of them to my daughter. We’ve looked at old pictures. She also has his nose.

Grandpa Stories
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Children and Boundaries

CN: brief mentions of SA, CSA, use of the word r*pe uncensored

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I recently saw the above image on Facebook. Long story short it’s talking about not forcing children to hug people that they don’t want to. To give children a choice and a say in how and when they interact and show affection to known adults. It explains that by teaching children they have a right to say no, that lesson could keep a child from being abused, or it gives them tools to be able to speak up about it.

While most of the comments were positive there was one commenter who balked at the notion of a child not hugging a grandparent, for example. They basically implied that teaching bodily autonomy in the form of hug refusal could lead to intimacy issues or emotional divides. They questioned what kind of family is it that would respect a child’s wishes to hug or not be hugged. They alleged that unless the child is Autistic or has some sort of other sensory issue then that child should always hug someone even if they don’t want to. Otherwise it is disrespectful.

Now please explain this to me: how is it respectful of me to force my child to hug someone she doesn’t want to? Is my child not worthy of respect?

The same person said that the idea of children having boundaries is silly because something about being potty-trained, so that obviously  children do not have the cognitive ability to make boundaries.

This person kept going on and on about respect. When I was little my family forced me to hug a certain family member. That didn’t teach me respect. It taught me I had no say, it taught me that anybody had a right to my body. I do not find it a coincidence that I’ve been raped and sexually assaulted. I was taught not to say no. Is that what we want to teach our children?

If I want to model good behavior to my child, if I want to teach them that they have bodily autonomy, if I want them to grow up to be people who respect others’ autonomy; then childhood is the perfect time to do so. It is in childhood when you set the foundation for who they will become as adults.

This goes back to an older post I wrote in which I said that as a culture we do not respect children. We don’t see them as fully fledged people with ideas and dreams and hopes of their own. We don’t think of them as people who can have opinions, wants, dislikes and likes. We see them as carbon copies of ourselves but they’re not.

If we want this current generation of children to grow into compassionate, emphatic adults then we need to teach them that they have value; they have worth. That they have bodily autonomy and that they have to respect others’ right to space and privacy.

We cannot tell them (whether through words or actions) that they are not worthy of respect. As parents, educators, as elders we owe it to our children to show them respect because otherwise,  why should we expect them to respect us?

Children and Boundaries

Se Llevaron La Luz!: Blackout 2003 and Reflections

It’s been 13 years since I left Puerto Rico with my mom and brother. It’s also been 13 years since the Blackout of 2003.

We were out shopping when all the stores went dark. At first people thought it was just on that block. Then we found out all of Southern Boulevard had lost power. We kept walking and found the train station, that’s when we found out there was a blackout so we could not get on the train. A few people were worried it was an act of terror. After all , 9/11 had happened less than two years prior.

Honestly though, my brother and I did not understand the problem. The light was constantly being “taken away” in Puerto Rico. The blackout was sorta welcomed to us because it made us feel at home. Growing up, it was a very common thing to yell, “se llevaron la luz!” out the window to alert the other neighbors that the power had been cut off the in the neighborhood for a while. We did the same when they’d cut the water supply.”They” being the Autoridad de Energia Electrica de PR and  Acueductos y Alcantarillados.  We’d go days without both so we had no problem dealing with the blackout.

Recently I’ve been thinking how much things change. When we moved to NYC I thought I’d never get used to all the noise and people. I’d never get used to swaying of the trains or the bumpy rides on buses. Everything was bright, loud and steel.

A childhood friend is visitng. They’ve never been to NYC. The bus and train ride home was hilarious. It reminded me so much of when I get here. My friend was looking at everything with such wide-eyed amazement. And I was telling them about the City and the “rules”, how New Yorkers  are. I told them they must have a NYC pizza because we are the best at it. They were asking so many questions and I was able to answer them.

I miss the coqui’s song. I miss how starry the sky is at night in El Campo. I miss the beaches.

I’ve never really felt at home in the States. Visiting Puerto Rico is always great but then I’m reminded of all the religious motivated bigotry on the Island; all the machismo etc. So, I feel too Latina for the States and too Americana for Puerto Rico.

But I’m starting to realize I have the best of both worlds.

I get to have New York City’s big slices of pizza and my friend brought me Puerto Rican candy. So, it’s a win-win.

Se Llevaron La Luz!: Blackout 2003 and Reflections

Privacy and Abuela

Privacy, bodily autonomy, personal space isn’t a thing for older Hispanics.

When I was little and there was company coming over grandma would yell at us to clean our room. It didn’t matter that it was clean. No, it had to be immaculate. It had to look like two small children (my younger brother and I) weren’t occupying that space.

If it wasn’t cleaned to her standards, she’d close the door. I’d ask why and I was told, “you know how people are. They might open the door and then see the mess.”

I heard this again when mami was teaching me how to cook rice and she’d arranged the rice in a neat mound in the pot when it was done cooking. I would never do that. She’d tell me to. I’d ask why and she’d say “presentation is important because people might open the pot”

I mean who the hell would care if the rice wasn’t arranged nicely? I only cared about it being cooked properly. (When I was learning, I always added too much waer and it would end up “amogollao”)

Who were these nosy ass people judging me about my unmade bed and messy rice?
Family, of course.

I learned family had a right to everything about me. I got my first period when I was 11 and my grandmother called everybody to tell them that “el gallo ya canto”. I got calls from my godmother in NYC congratulating me on finally becoming a “Señorita”.

I lived with my mom, my grandparents and my two brothers. My tio M* lived with is until he died when I was 8. The room I shared with my mom and younger brother was the master bedroom of the house. It had its own bathroom, but no door, instead it had a beaded curtain (no kidding!).

Grandma would walk in the bathroom all the time. It didn’t matter if I was showering or on the toilet because “we both have the same stuff”.

Sometimes, when I had the room to myself, I’d close the door. Grandma would yell at me because “decent young ladies” don’t close their doors. I was 12.

Once a boy who liked me walked me most of the way home. We passed by several older people who knew my grandpa (in our town people knew who you were by your “pinta”. They could tell who your “people” were by your coloring!)
I knew they would have all sorts of stories about A’s* granddaughter walking alone with a boy. So as soon as I got home I told my grandma that a boy from my class (and I made sure to emphasize how much I did not like this boy) had walked me part of the way home. Because if I didn’t tell her, she’d hear about it next time she went into town and I’d get yelled at.

I was forced to hug and kiss relatives I didn’t want to. I’d be shamed into doing it.

I told myself I would be different with TJ. For the most part I am, but then I have company come over and even though my apartment is clean, I start freaking out because a child’s messy room will be used as proof of how “malcri’a” TJ is; how shitty I am as a mom.

I know it’s all bullshit. I know that the people who matter won’t care about that stuff. I mean, a lot of this privacy and bodily autonomy stuff is tied into a lot of social justice issues and most of my friends are social justice minded. So rationally I KNOW that my 6 year old’s messy room won’t be a big deal. In fact, a child that age should have a messy room.

But in the back of my mind, I hear my tiny but scary grandma telling me to clean up. It’s the same voice I hear whenever I try to ignore abuelitas in the street when I have my earbuds on. It’s the same voice who tells me to keep my legs together when I’m wearing a skirt. It’s the reason why even though I’m an atheist I still ask my grandma for “la bendición”.

Because old habits die hard and disrespecting abuela is a no-no.

Note: Initials were used to protect family’s privacy (take that nosy family!)

Privacy and Abuela

Feminist Awakening

CN: ableist language, sexist double standards

Ariel India recently released this commercial:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xogBz71IHAo

It reminded me of my childhood. Seeing my grandma get up at 6AM every morning and tend to the chickens, the dog, the cat, her grandchildren, her husband. She’d cook every meal, every day. She’d served my grandpa who was always in his rocking chair in the living room in front of the TV. When everybody was fed, she’d go downstairs and start her chores. She’d water the plants, start the laundry, she washed a lot of it by hand and used and old wooden board and scrub brush to get tough stains out. If the cars needing washing, she’d wash them. She was the one who painted the house when it needed a fresh coat.
She drove my grandpa around.

Sometimes, she’d climb up on the roof to sweep up. Many times I saw her walking along the edge of the house to clean the windows. My brothers never volunteered to help her. I would sometimes volunteer but most of the time, she told me to help. I needed to learn this stuff anyway since I would be a wife when I grew up.

My grandmother would be running back and forth, and my grandpa would yell to her to bring him some water. I asked mami why he couldn’t get it himself. She told me not to ask him or grandma because I’d get in trouble. Then she explained that she wondered the same thing when she was my age, that she even told her father to get the water himself. Grandma hit her because mami was being “disrespectful”.

I noticed the disparity in the chores I and my brothers got. My older brother didn’t do anything. My grandma did everything for him. To this day, he doesn’t do his laundry or serve his own meals.
My younger brother had a few chores but once he was done he could go use the PlayStation. Once, I cleaned the room and bathroom I shared with my younger brother. So mami said that my brother had to clean the bedroom windows by himself. He thought that was fair.
So, there I am playing some Namco game and in comes grandma yelling at me and calling me lazy. I explained that I had done my chores. She made me turn off the game and help my brother wash the windows.

In kindergarten, we had a large classroom and at the back was the play area. One side was “the house”, it had a bed, a kitchen, table and a small sofa; the other side was “work”. It had tools and hard hats and work vests. I never liked playing house because it wasn’t fun to me. I had these chores at home, when I’m playing I wanted to get away from that. So I went over to the “work” side. The boys there told me I needed to leave because “girls do not play with tools”. I told them my grandpa had taught me how to use tools and mix cement. I told them they were “stupid” and went back to the house. One boy comes over and asked one of the girls for some juice. I tell him he could get it himself. The girl was “busy” washing dishes.  All the boys and girls told me that that’s how marriages work. And so they made me the baby, because babies don’t speak. After that I spent play time a the art table.

I didn’t know the word feminist. I just knew that the way I was treated, the way I saw women were treated was unfair. I didn’t learn the word feminist until I was in my teens. And then I realized, ‘THAT’S ME’. I had always felt like maybe there was something wrong with me because why couldn’t I just play along like everyone else? But no, I was fine. There was a word for what I was and discovering it was a life changer.

Feminist Awakening

Body Mod Revolution 

My lovely friend Alyssa recently wrote a post about body mods and how they’re helping her take control over her body. Her post inspired this one.

I grew up thinking tattoos were worn by “bad” people. These people didn’t obey the law, they cursed, they were probably atheist. Good ladies also didn’t have tattoos. Outwardly I thought those people were outrageous. Inwardly, I envied them.

I wasn’t allowed any creativity with my body or features. I had lots of curls but my mother constantly shaved my head because my “hair was too much deal with”. Once I became old enough to say I didn’t want the haircuts, she’d take me to beauty salons to have my hair relaxed. I remember crying because those creams burned my scalp. I was told to suck it up because ‘beauty is pain’.
In the past year and a half I’ve stopped straightening my hair. I realized why I hated my curls and have learned to love them. I cut my hair on my own terms and dyed it purple.

I was always fat and told I should be skinny. I wasn’t allowed, and I’m still not, to feel comfortable in my skin. I am fat but don’t I know I’m beautiful? I’m not fat, just chubby, thick, curvy, voluptuous, full-figured. Anything but fat. But, I am fat and I own that.

I didn’t bother doing my hair or my make up when I was younger because I didn’t believe those thing were for me. Those things were for pretty girls. “Don’t you want to have a boyfriend?”. “No”, I said lying. “Any dude who wants to be with me will have to deal with me without all the prep”. I didn’t think I’d ever have a boyfriend since I was convinced I was uglier than sin.

At 17 I got my tongue pierced. Kids in school said I didn’t look like the type to have piercings other than my ears. I got made fun of and accused of being a “poser”. I was much too meek to have a tongue ring. What they didn’t know is that under the insecure little girl who thought she was ugly was a BAMF who didn’t give a fuck what they said. I’m currently stretching my earlobes.The next piercings I’d like are a vertical labret, tragus and daith.

At 19 I got my first tattoos. They’re tiny wrist tattoos and they’re pretty cliche; one’s the peace symbol and the other the equality symbol. I do plan on covering the equality symbol. I’ve grown past wanting equality. I demand justice.

I’m currently not able to afford tattoos so in the meantime I’ve come up with ideas and designs for them. I want the ink I get to have meaning to me.

Thanks to Alyssa and another friend, I’ve started embracing my Taíno heritage. I want to get the sun petroglyph because that’s one of the things I miss most about Puerto Rico. The sun just doesn’t feel the same in the States.

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I want the Flor de Maga (Thespesia grandiflora) because it’s Puerto Rico’s official flower. I want them on the right side of my torso.
PR 2011 (262)
At right, the flor de maga in the garden of my grandma’s house.
I want sunflowers because they’re my favorite (obviously). They’re big and bright and provide edible seeds. I’m big and bright and hope my writing helps “plant” a more just world. Sappy? I’m aware. Meaningful to me? Yup. Those are going on the left side of my torso.

I want the words Paz and Justicia on each arm. I want them in Spanish. While Spanish is the conquistadors language, it is also the language I grew up speaking. It’s the one I’m handing down to my daughter. The Spanish I speak is peppered with indigenous and African influences. It’s the language el Yankí has had to learn how to speak. It’s the language that makes people upset they have to press 1 for English. Es complicado y es mio.

I want the feminist symbol either on my back or on my legs. Feminism has saved me time and again. I would not be who I am without it.

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I want my and my daughter’s birth flowers to form a heart-shaped wreath.

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Lastly, I want the lyrics “my heart is broke but I have some glue“. Nirvana is one of my favorite bands and that particular line has always spoken to me. I have different problems but I have a way to solve them or cope.

It’s taken me a while to like the body and features I was born with. My hairy body defies gender norms and conventional beauty standards.
My current and future body mods defy abusive exes, close minded family, and transmisogynistic beauty ideals.
The tattoos honoring Puerto Rico and my embracing my natural hair defy racist and Eurocentric beauty standards. My fat body is taking up space and I unashamedly call attention to it with body mods. I’m taking femininity and making it my own.
I’m slowly looking how I want to look, and that is a revelation and a revolution.

Body Mod Revolution