Welcome Home, Son

You get a text from your son: OMG, Mom, Some old lady just called me a n*gger. You blink twice before the rage sets in. WHAT?! What happened?

All I did was smile at this baby.

He tells you the woman was the baby’s grandmother and asked him why he was looking at her. What faces did he make. Did he mouth anything. Did he show her anything. I better not catch you doing anything to my granddaughter, n*gger.

You steam. You imagine airport seats, overhead announcements, food court bags and books. You see your son, fresh new haircut, white headphones, lost in his music. Wide shoulders. Black Under Armour jacket. Vans sneakers. Bronze skin. Shaved baby face. He’s 18. Older than Emmett. And Trayvon. And Jordan.

You’re scared. You’ve been scared a long time though. You live with it daily, ignore its hisses and forked tongue. You know he’s a target.

Like, I’m not even mad, Mom. All I did was smile at the baby.

But you are. All his life you knew this day was coming. You prepared. Had talks. Did due diligence to make sure your kids could dish it back. Stayed ready to fight. You knew this day was coming. It still hurt.

You remember the first time someone used that word to describe you. Seattle. 1986. You were 12. Sleepover with VHS movies. Lemonheads. Crushes. New Coke, which you didn’t like.

You bounced up the stairs from the basement and heard your friend’s mother and uncle talking in the kitchen.

What’s her friend again?

You mean race?

Yeah.

She’s Black. And Mexican. Something else too.

A half-n*gger is still a n*gger.

Stop. She’s a lovely girl.

A n*gger is still a n*gger.

Stop or get out of my house. She hasn’t done anything to you.

You stared at him through the pass-thru. His face was full of gruff, like he hadn’t slept in a bed in a long time. Flannel shirt and blue dickies. Dirty boots. Blue eyes. He spotted you and smirked. You went to the bathroom to cry. Then you went to the kitchen to get more popcorn.

So you’re part spic too?

No. Mexican.

He nods. Hmph.

You went back to the basement and watched “The Breakfast Club” and stayed awake after everyone was asleep. In the morning there was pancakes, bacon, eggs and more smirking. You poured cement in your face and stay quiet. Sipped your orange juice. Packed your bag and left a little early, blaming homework. Your friend’s mother asked you to stay longer, hugging you at the door. Said she was sorry for what her brother said.

You nodded, smiled and said thank you. Walked to the bus stop shrouded in gray. Sad and relieved that your mother was right.

You didn’t tell anyone. You can still hear the Marlboro cigarettes in his voice. You won’t forget his face. You wish you’d said more but knew you couldn’t have. You’re happy you didn’t explode in his face.

On the ride to the airport you think of all things you can say to your son to make this better, but there is nothing. Nothing. All you can do is love. Hope he does the same. Love makes you the ultimate fighter.

You’re late. You son rolls his luggage to the car, smiling. You hug him tight, for Trayvon, for Emmett, for Jordan. You smile.

Welcome home, son.

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Health Justice CT Blog Post: Your Silence Will Not Protect You

Please check out my blog post about race, assumptions and health equity on Health Justice CT and let me know your thoughts!

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The Mixed Girl Chronicles: An Introduction

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I’m fairly new at this personal blogging thing, but I have been blogging professionally for other sites for about a year now. I wanted to keep this blog interesting and engage people in some lively and deep conversation. I wasn’t quite sure how to do that though. Then the proverbial light bulb came on. Why don’t I write about race and identity? Every week. From my perspective.

What perspective is that? A woman who gets asked, “What are you?” nearly every day. I always ask what that means and it is always the same thing: race.

I look racially-ambiguous. I know this. My father is African-American from New Haven, Connecticut by way of Daytona Beach, Florida. My mother is Cowichan Indian and Mexican from Aberdeen, Washington by way of Duncan, British Columbia, Canada. They met in West Haven, Connecticut at the VA Hospital. More about that in another post.

This means, to most people, I look Puerto Rican. Or Hawaiian. Or Samoan. Insert any ethnically ambiguous race you’d like here. The most curious of those people usually tap me on the shoulder, make eye-contact or catch my attention in some other way and ask The Question. I have never, ever, given an answer right away. In the past, I usually said, “Guess.” Now, I answer with, “I’m human. How about you?”

This also means lots of people want to touch my hair. It’s wildly, naturally curly, of course. When straightened, people think it’s a weave. No ma’am. NO.

My tri-racialness (I believe I just made up a word!) is nothing and everything at the same time. I will explore what this means in future posts. But this ambiguity makes people who don’t even know me feel a strong desire to define me. Why? We’ll explore that too.

This also means I faced some push-back from all three of my communities — Black folks told me I wasn’t really Black because I was too light and I only had one Black parent; Native folk told me I was really Native because I wasn’t raised on The Rez; Mexican folk told me I wasn’t really Mexican because I don’t speak Spanish and didn’t have a Quinceañera. Do not read this as a, “Poor me, I didn’t fit in” sentiment, because nothing could be further from the truth. I have always been confident in my racial identity, thanks to my parents’ strong, assertive hand in making sure I knew all my cultures.

So, The Mixed Girl Chronicles will explore all these microagressions and pose hard questions about race and identity. Some of you won’t like what I have to say. That’s okay. We can still have coffee and hang out, even if we don’t agree.

Stay tuned!

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Saving Lives: Imamu Amiri Baraka, 1934-2014

Amiri Baraka

Amiri Baraka

I don’t have words for this loss, but I am going to try.

I took a one-credit poetry class at Rose State College, where I began my college career in 2000. I had not really read poetry since high school, but I liked it. I thought this class would be interesting. It was more than that. It changed my life.

There were about 10 people in the class, and we met for three intense days over a humid July weekend. We were given writing prompts and produced about ten poems in three days. We were also given poets to study and on breaks, we could browse the poetry books the professor brought in from her personal collection. The first book I picked up was by Li-Young Lee. The second was by Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones).

When I first read Li-Young Lee, I had an almost violent reaction to his work and knew I wanted to make people feel that way when they read my work. When I read Amiri Baraka’s work, I saw myself in it.

I read ,”Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note,” and was moved by this stanza here:

And now, each night I count the stars. And each night I get the same number. And when they will not come out to be counted, I count the holes they leave.

Who wouldn’t be moved by that? He was one of my inspirations to write in my adult life, when writing came back to me and said, “Come here. You need me. I need you.”

I found his poetry exactly when I needed it. I was roaming, a lost woman, and not really sure what I wanted to do with my life. When I read “Preface,” I knew I wanted to do THAT with words.

I first met him at poetry reading in New Haven in 2001.  I was beside myself with excitement and rushed to the front to meet him after he was done reading. As he signed my book, I tearfully told him what an inspiration he was to me. He thanked me, then told me to stop crying. He said, “What are you doing with those words? Where’s your book?” And that would be the way he greeted me every time I saw him. Always questioning, no filter, no bull shit, but full of love.

I didn’t always agree with what he said, but I always read whatever he wrote. He baffled me sometimes, but that’s what our elders do. They live their lives in a way that gives us answers.

I’m writing this post in a Starbucks, on break from my day job and trying not to cry. I’m feeling guilt bubbling up for not reaching more to him these past few years. I know he knew I loved him. And I know he loved me too. He loved us all.

And now, Donny Hathaway is singing, “A Song For You” in my ear. Amiri sang for us and that’s how I will leave you.

I love you in a place where there’s no space or time. I love you for  my life. You’re a friend of mine. And when my life is over, remember when we were together. We were alone and I was singing this song to you…

Rest now, poet. I’ll see you on the flip side.

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When Language Fails

My mother, Rosalie Hall, summer 2013

My mother, Rosalie Hall, summer 2013

My mother had a stroke on May 20, 2013. I cannot recall anything else that sent me into such a tearful, frenzied panic. My Uncle Daniel messaged me on Facebook, telling me he just got off the phone with her and she did not sound right. Puzzled, I tried to call her. No answer. I went back to work but I was scared. I kept going off the floor at work to call her. She never answered.

After a couple of hours of trying to contact her and trying to keep calm, I finally called the Hillsboro, Oregon Police Department to do a wellness check on her. Well, I did not call; I was too panicked by then. A co-worker called for me. By the time the police officer reached her house, my brother had already taken her to the emergency room at the VA Hospital in Portland, Oregon.

Relief and terror came when we learned she had a stroke. Just hearing the word “stroke” is enough to scare anyone. She had limited use of her right side and she really could not speak. We were relieved that her prognosis was excellent but we knew she had a hard road to recovery ahead of her.

At first, she could only get the first two or three words out of any sentence she was trying to say. Gradually, she has gotten better. But I can tell it is difficult for her to say what she really wants to say. My mother is a vocal, opinionated woman. There is nothing she enjoys more than telling someone exactly how she feels.

Talking to Mom requires patience and time. If she gets really excited or frustrated, she cuts the conversation short: “Well. I better. Get going. Now.” I always let her go, because I understand. I was her 30 years ago, a bewildered, stuttering little girl in that sad, lonely space where the only place language does not fail you is in your head.

When my mother used to talk about my stuttering problem, she said I came home from preschool one day and started mimicking a stuttering boy at school. I am fairly certainly that is not accurate, but, ultimately, it does not matter how it began. Some of my earliest memories include tripping badly over words and feeling shame when people laughed. My mother would get so frustrated with me, she would say, “Spit it out!” I would have if I could.

I became my own Wrap-It-Up Box. Anytime I saw or thought of a word that began with a sound my mouth refused to make, I clammed up and said nothing, sometimes mid-sentence. I began speech therapy in second grade. Once a week, I would quietly get pulled from class to practice consonant sounds and breathing techniques. It was hard for me not to feel like a freak. All my friends could speak beautifully; all my words sounded broken. I felt like I sounded stupid and other people thought I was stupid. I began defending myself by writing everything perfectly and making good grades. I practiced writing so much it became easy. The only way I could make my words sound pretty was on a sheet of paper. And that was okay.

After a cross-country move to Seattle, Washington, I continued speech therapy until the end of seventh grade. My speech therapist was impressed with my progress. I could read out loud well in front of her; now, it was time to test it out in front of others. She asked me to invite three friends to my last session to listen to me read a passage from my social studies book.

I invited Katrina, Korrina and Debbie and they met me in my social studies class. I read four paragraphs flawlessly — no trips, no pauses. I cried after I was done. A lot. I had never done that before. Ever. Debbie gave me a hug and said she was proud of me.

When I tell people I have this problem, not had, have, because it will never leave me, they are always astonished. I do so much public speaking and training that I think it is hard for people to believe I once struggled with this issue. They just cannot imagine me not running my mouth the way I do now.

Speech is less of a struggle now, but it is still a test. I still trip from time-to-time over a consonant sound. The difference is now, I do not stop. I breathe, say the word over again and keep things moving along.

So, when my mother grunts in frustration, I tell her to breathe. I tell her it is okay and I understand, because I really do. When her words fall all over the place, I patiently wait for her to pick them up in her own time.

If It Looks Like a Duck…

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Via A&E Networks

I wasn’t going to say anything about Phil Robertson from the reality show, “Duck Dynasty” because I don’t know much about the show. Reality television is not  really my cup of tea; shows about a family living in the sticks in Louisiana just don’t interest me. There is not a thing I can identify with in this show. I’m going to throw my two cents in though. Spend them anyway you like, even though you couldn’t get penny candy now.

So, I really TRY not to assume anything, mainly because I don’t want people to assume anything about me. I’m a little judgey. I can admit that now, publicly. I judge little things that in the grand scheme of things really don’t matter. Oooooh, girl, stop wearing pajama pants in public. They have matching toothless grins — that’s crack head love for ya. But I can’t say I was really surprised by his homophobic and racially insensitive comments. Seriously. Nor can I say I was surprised by A & E Networks swift suspension; his show, after all, is his job and he has certain contractual obligations. I can’t say those say those statements at any place of employment and expect to keep my job. You can say I’m comparing apples to oranges, but really, I’m not. The media is his office. But I don’t want to talk about his suspension.

Mr. Robertson muses about working along side “happy” Black folk on a farm where he worked, because, he says, his family was “white trash.” Then he says, “…pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”

Say what, now? Have a seat, Mr. Robertson. Have several seats.

Charles Blow from the New York Times wrote a fantastic op-ed; in it he talks about the mythology of historical Southern fiction. This whole movement in the South to erase or nullify slavery and the horrific effects still felt today just confounds me. This immediately brought to mind the 2010 proposal by the Texas Board of Education to replace the term “slavery” to “Atlantic Triangular Trade” — the proposal was defeated. And history cannot be erased. We all know history is told by those who write it and it is not always truthful. But no one can deny slavery. No one can change it. No one can make it sound better.

This notion that Black people were happy being oppressed and it wasn’t until the welfare checks started coming in that Black people became angry is absolutely insane. My father is 63, just four years younger than Mr. Robertson. He grew up in the Deep South as well, living in Daytona Beach, Florida until he was 13. My father tells me stories that still make me cry for him. The racism he experienced is nothing compared to the microagressions I experience now.

Have your people call my people, Mr. Robertson and we’ll do lunch. My father will give you a lesson you won’t forget.

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Now Playing: Christopher Cross, “Sailing”

http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=yyYhZ9HH8cI

It doesn’t get more 80’s than this song. It makes me think of my grandmother’s house. I’d look out the window at night and moonlight would skip across the Quinnipiac River.

I put this song on every time I’m about to write. It makes me feel like I’m floating.

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So…What IS the Tee?

What’s the tee? This is my blog, where I will vent about politics, gush over poetry, track my literary submissions to hold myself accountable, gossip about all things pop culture and ask questions you may not be able to answer.
If you read my About Me page, you know that I do have a bit of a potty mouth. So, if that offends you, do one of two things:
1. Forgive me.
2. Leave the damn page.

I’m passionate about a lot of things. Justice. Equal rights. Health equity. The correct use of your and you’re. My goal is not to offend anyone, simply to make you think outside whatever your box may be. So, stay tuned. It will be a fun ride. I promise.

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