Archive for ‘familia’

June 20, 2011

all of us.

by la rebelde

That’s me and Manito D in the photo.  Last weekend, my abuelita threw a giant graduation party for my prim@s, Manito D and I in Taos.  She invited 250 of our closest relatives and friends to celebrate at the Taoseño.  The Taoseño is an important building in our family because back in the day, it was a bowling alley, and my abuelit@s owned it for a short time during the 1950s.  Now it’s a favorite gathering place for family functions because the bar area (where the bowling lanes used to be) is big enough to host large parties.  They also have pretty tasty enchiladas.  Can’t go wrong there!

Anyway, I hadn’t had a chance to *really* celebrate finishing the pinche ph.d.  I’d gone out for drinks after my defense, and friends treated me to nice dinners here and there, which was great!  And I love them — I have great friends.  But I pretty much spent the next few months mulling over the mean things some profes said about me and my work.  Critique on your work is one thing, but critique on your integrity is another.  Yeah, still getting over that.

So the celebration was soul lifting because it was my family, my elders, who told me over and over how proud of me they are, how big an achievement it is for me, for us.  I definitely could not have done it without the hard work of those who came before me, or without the love and support of friends and family.  The degree isn’t about me, it’s about all of us.

Until a couple days ago, I hadn’t had a chance to read all of the beautiful cards I received that day.  Two, in particular, got me all teary-eyed.  One was from my older primo David, who is a healer.  At the party he came up to me, hugged me and told me that my grandpa is proud of me and watching down from heaven.  And he gave me a bendición.  I wish I had been able to talk to him more that day.  The other was from my good, good amiga, Nicole. She has an amazing gift for words that I can only hope to emulate:

“What I wish for you on this day of family celebration is that the difficulties lift for a moment so you can truly see/feel, as I do, just how much you have accomplished, how your life and work honors your family, your elders, your community.  Be proud of yourself, and everything you have done to get to this place.  You lift all of us with you.”

I will be forever thankful.

June 13, 2011

tortiller@s at sunrise.

by la rebelde

One morning during the weekend of my abuelito’s funeral, over 2 years ago, Manito D and I got up super early to go to my Tía Rafaelita’s house.  It was still dark outside when we pulled up in the driveway.  Tía Rafi, of course, was already up and looking beautiful as always.  I can only hope that I will look as wonderful as she does when I turn 92.

Tía had invited us to join her, her novio, Manjo, and my older prima, Eva, for breakfast.  As the oldest of thirteen, my tía had been responsible for much of the cooking at a young age.  She is still the best cook and baker of all of them.  And over the week prior, she visited my abuelita daily, always with a cake, or a pot of pozole, or chile and beans, in hand.

That day, she’d invited us over, so that she could teach us to make tortillas.  Now, we’ve made tortillas many times before.  In fact, Manito D has become quite the tortillero extraodinaire over the years.  Tortilla-making is a favorite activity that he and mi sobrino do together, whenever Sobrino visits, which unfortunately is not very often these days.

We stood in front of the oven watching the sun rise, a soft yellow glow over the sage-brush-covered llanos from the kitchen window.  Tía pulled tin canisters and bags from the pantry and began throwing handfuls of ingredients into a giant bowl.  Her voice still sings in the way that the voices of viejitos in northern New Mexico do.  Spanglish, always.  I could barely keep up, she was moving so quickly.  Before I knew it, she had 4 comales going at once and was expertly flipping tortillas, warm and fluffy and fragrant, with an energy I’d never witnessed in person, but only imagined.

After an amazing breakfast consisting of the usual — papitas, huevos, frijoles y chile, and of course, tortillas — we sat in the living room with our cafecitos.  Manjo had been talking non-stop.  Like my abuelo, he was a WWII vet.  He told me that he had recently been declared “legally blind,” but that many people didn’t believe him.  From his shirt pocket, he pulled out a tattered letter from his doctor and handed it to me.  Sure enough, the doc said he only had less than 8 percent vision.

Not before too long, Manjo got up from his chair and said it was time to go home.  His house was just up the street from my tía’s.  I motioned to Manito D to walk with him home.  But Manjo, insisted, “no, no, it’s not far and I go home by myself all the time.”  We hugged him goodbye and Manito D sat down, as Manjo walked out the front door with his white cane outstretched ahead of his steps.  Before we knew it, he folded up his cane, shoved it in his pocket, and hopped in his truck and was roaring out of the driveway!   We laughed until our sides hurt.

A few months later, my prima Eva passed after a long battle with cancer.  And just a few weeks ago, Manjo got very ill.  He had been in the ICU at the veterans hospital for weeks.  Manito D went to see him and they’d talked for a while.  To my surprise, Manjo always asked about me, even when he wasn’t completely lucid–your sister who lives out in LA.  For some reason the viejitos always ask Manito D about me, even if they don’t always know who Manito D is.  Strange.

Early morning phone call from Manito D today.  Manjo passed away last night.  Our elders have been leaving so often lately.  And I am just so grateful to have shared these small, but joyful, moments with them over the years.  From them I have learned so much.

A Manjo y Prima Eva, I send my love to the heavens and cherish the love and warmth you gave us in this life.

[Okay, you got me — this photo is of sunset, not sunrise.  I am just not enough of an early bird to get a good photo of sunrise…or to remember my camera when I do get up early.  I still think it’s an amazing sun photo, even if it *is* taken through a bug-splattered windshield.]

May 31, 2011

dreaming in color.

by la rebelde

It’s not often that I remember my dreams.  If I do remember one when I wake up, the memory of it is gone after about an hour or so, as if it drifted out of my head while I was busy eating breakfast.  Strange.

There are some that I remember quite vividly, and can still recall them as if they were real.  One I blogged about before.  Some of my more life-like dreams have recurring characters, who are not actually in my life.  One, in particular, used to visit me often.  He is brown and beautifully sexy…and faceless.

The first time he appeared, I was 27 or 28 years old.  The dream took place far in the future and I was in the midst of an argument with my mom.  She had grown old and was suffering from some kind of illness–Alzheimer’s maybe?  We were arguing about cleaning the house, only, the house wasn’t our house.  It was my tía’s house with the 70s-style wood cabinets and copper decorations along the ceiling to compliment yellow floral wallpaper.  One minute my mom was lucid, the next she was not.  We’d just eaten canned peaches from a gigantic costco-size can and were about to put the extra in the fridge.  I took a plastic container from the cabinet.  But she started obsessively opening utensil drawers, insisting that the extra peaches should be stored there.  Before I could do anything about it, she poured the whole can of peaches into the drawer with the spoons and spatulas.  A huge drippy, sticky mess.  She went on as if it hadn’t happened.

I was upset — frustrated about the immediate situation, and scared about what was happening to her health and how we (mis ‘manitos and I) would care for her in her older age.  But I had no idea how to talk to her because she could not hear me.  Faceless brown guy swooped in, hugged me, and took me to the other room.  We sat on the couch and he held me until I calmed down.  He told me it would be okay, that he would be with me, mis ‘manitos, and my mom as we struggled through this rough part of our lives.  I remember waking up feeling like things would be okay, like all the stress in my life was surmountable because I was not alone.

He came to me several times over the next few years.  One amiga used to call him “peaches guy.”  And just this afternoon, I shared the story with a different amiga.  Feeling a little bashful and silly, I asked her, “Do you remember those dreams I used to have with the peaches guy?” I thought she could not possibly remember that. But she did.

He has not visited me in at least 5 years…until this week.

Maybe the spirits of the universe have been trying to tell me something.  This time, I guess I should pay better attention to what’s going on with me that warrants such a nice visit.

March 28, 2010

did you run?

by la rebelde

When I was small—maybe 7 or 8—I was fascinated by my abuelo’s story about when he came home from the war.  I don’t remember his words, but I do remember the image in my head, which had nothing to do with war, but more to do with coming home after being away for a long, long time.  I imagined him, a young man, walking with his pack, wearing those old boots he always had on and a white t-shirt, his shirt in his hand.  I imagined his route from the plaza, past Our Lady of Guadalupe, across la loma to the house where my tío has lived since before I was born, where my great grandparents lived until they died.  I remember asking him, “Did you run home because you were so excited?”  He said no—he’d worked so hard, experienced injury and illness, so his body was tired.  My child self didn’t understand.

This story has been on my mind a lot lately as I’ve been writing—or at least the idea of being so excited to reach something that running seems the only sensible thing to do.  I dreamed a few weeks ago that I am standing in the center of the plaza with my abuelo.  It is 1942—four years after my dissertation ends, and before the hippy takeover in Taos.  My laptop feels heavy in my little backpack as I trot across the road toward the church and over to la loma.  And I’m not running.

I keep wondering why I’m not typing as fast as I possibly can, to reach the pinche dissertation finish line that is an email attachment to the profes.  If there is a crisis moment to be had, now is it.  My feet are dragging, but I really want to run.

August 2, 2009

all in a day.

by la rebelde

Home. I’m home for a week or so. Haven’t been home since my abuelo left us. His physical absence is everywhere. My grandma is having a hard time. I wish there was something I could do to ease the pain that brings the tears to sting her eyes. “There’s days worse than others,” she told me just minutes ago. When my grandpa became very ill, she stopped paying attention to her own body–only focused on caring for his.  Now she focuses on hers. Tomorrow we take her to have a cataract removed. The other eye will be done in a few weeks.  On the way to the casino, for her daily dose of bingo, she walks faster than I do.  And tonight we sat together in front of my computer with Manito D and youtubed her favorite mariachi songs.  I am grateful for her health.

Niños. Manito D has a way with the children. Over the last few weeks, he has been building a patio/porch from his own design. And he has been doing most of the work by himself. Well, almost by himself–the neighborhood boys from his block, about 13-14 years old, have all been coming over everyday to help out. Why? Because Manito D is “so cool!” This is what they have testified. I’d have to agree. Yesterday he helped them each make their own picnic table/bench to take home for their familias. Five minutes ago, he was up on the rooftop with two of the kids. They tap, tap, tap, nails into shingles to keep the rain and the snow out. Grandma pulled out a 5 dollar bill, “Go buy them a box of ice cream!” The patio is going to be beautiful…even more so, because it became a community project. Photos of the patio in-progress to come soon.

Writing. There’s always writing to do.  And writing I did…well, at least for a couple hours.  In between the rooftop banging, cleaning the bathroom, getting groceries and making dinner.

Sopa. This morning after I took my grandma to mass, we all had breakfast at García’s. They have a new dessert menu. Yum! We didn’t try any of the new items because, well, sopaipillas come with. I had the refried special: 1 egg, scrambled. frijolitos. papitas. chile, red. y una tortilla. I didn’t eat the sopa. My papa and I discussed how, for us, “sopa” means both breadpudding and a nickname for sopaipilla (not soup for us!) Then we couldn’t remember what other people call breadpudding. Took us at least 10 minutes before my papa asked one of the meseras, who is from México. Capirotada!

July 21, 2009


by la rebelde


Well I finally have the internets! Modernity is now at large in my new apartment, even if files remain in boxes, open, half-full. Files that document my many years in higher education, but which tend to be structured by my academic world, a world that butts up against the alternative worlds I struggle to create. Boxes of check marks—courses taught, courses taken, exams completed, articles read, papers written. Check. Check. Check.

These are the boxes that Manito D could not help unpack, lest I lose something super central to the course of my dissertation process, that I might “need” immediately…or soon anyway. In retrospect, the things he helped with were the really important ones—dishes, clothes, furniture arrangement, lights, fans. He moved the washing machine so I could have room to put the detergent in a place I could reach. He re-wired my shower caddy so I could reach my shampoo. He attached my bed to the headboard I have on loan from an amiga. He assembled my most crucial new purchases: A new bedside lamp that actually works without risking electrocution. A rug to cushion my footsteps. A step-stool that will allow me to reach everything in the kitchen cabinets because, well, I’m dang short. (If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’ve moved into an apartment designed for mutants. Literally, when I stand in the shower I can see the underside of the soap dish that is built into the wall.)

And finally, after a week of moving madness, we stopped dealing with boxes, grilled some chicken, and went to the beach. I sat chillin on the sand while Manito D dove through wave after wave. Then we had pizza and ice cream. I missed him even before I dropped him off at the airport for his return trip to the homeland.

June 13, 2009

stream of consciousness.

by la rebelde

PERHAPS it was a series of events. I don’t think I realized what was going on—the number of things I was mulling over inside consciously…or maybe unconsciously. My amigas seemed to know what was going on with me before I did. They know when I’m off my game. And I am lucky to have them in my life.

MOURNING. A couple months ago, I thought to myself, I’m not sure that I even know how to mourn. The last time I was in Nuevo México, I spent all my time taking care of my abuelita and everyone else, that I didn’t have time to confront my own emotions about my abuelito having left this world for a better one. Now, I haven’t been a mass-going sister since I went away for college when I was 18, just 3 years after I decided not to be confirmed and 5 years after I finished my 9th year of Catholic schooling. But during many hours spent at church, at rosarios, at mass, the novena, with familia, I was reminded of the power of meditation, of praying in a way that I find healing. In the weeks following my abuelito’s passing, three of my amigas have lost close family members. Praying, thinking, talking in my thoughts with ancestors past. I am still learning.

AMIGAS.  Jennifer’s and Joseph’s wedding.  A four-day-long reunion with amigas I’ve known for ten years now (ten years!).  Good times catching up, sharing tasty meals and lots and lots of dancing!  Despite my exhaustion from driving all around LA and Bakersfield, it was refreshing. And a welcome follow-up to my trip to Austin just a few weeks before (a reunion, as well, minus the dancing). It’s not that I’d forgotten how amazing it is to be around good friends, it’s just that it has been a while since I spent time with more than one good friend at once. There’s so much that doesn’t need to be explained when you’re with friends you’ve known for so long.

MANITO D. He had been working the graveyard shift at the drugstore for a couple of months, to make up hours lost since my abuelito’s health took a turn for the worse. He experienced not one, but two, robberies at gunpoint within a month. The second one was really scary. I’m so thankful that he is okay and that he has some time off to heal and focus on himself. He told me the other day that between my abuelito’s passing and having his life threatened twice, he’s been thinking a lot about life, how precious it is, and how he doesn’t want to put off spending time with people he loves and on things that are really important to him. For me too, it is a reminder.

BABIES. Two of my closest amigas in the whole world are making new life in their wombs. They will be the first mothers among my close friends. It’s exciting! And I anticipate that it will mean big changes for our relationships as well, although I’m not sure yet what these changes will look like.

MOVING. I wrote my last post in the midst of all of these things. For a month I spent a lot of energy weighing the pros and cons of moving to small-midwestern-college-town versus staying in Los Angeles. I am not one to think quantitatively. And in the end, I realized that I could make many different lists (I am good at making lists!). I could see which list was longer. I could make a good argument for either place, arguments that would be in my best interest in one way or another. But some decisions cannot be based on lists. Three years ago, during the oral defense of my comprehensive exams, my profes asked me, at what kind of institution do you see yourself teaching when you finish? I told them it depended on what was going on in my life, that place is more important to me than the type of school, that academia alone is not going to make me happy. They were shocked that I’d said it out loud.

LOS ANGELES. I decided to stay here. I still cannot quite put all of these thoughts that I have collected over the last year or more into words. Perhaps I don’t need to. Who knows what the coming year will bring for me and my loved ones? But I have a good feeling about it!

May 3, 2009


by la rebelde

“this morning

the people hanging out

by the coffee shop

laugh and languish

their carefree tourist manner void of history, of memory

neither attachment nor sentiment to time and place

no scars as enduring testaments

to the questions posed, the answers given”

–Leo Romero, “One Last Cruise: Taos Plaza”

Over the last couple months, my tío has been sending me email letters once a week, updating me on familia and sharing his writing. He’s been writing stories of his childhood and stories he remembers from the elders. It’s his latest post-retirement project. Clearly story-telling runs in the familia. But more on that later…

Last week, when an amiga shared with me the work of nuevomexicano poet, Leo Romero, I wanted to pass it along. I enjoy many of them, but this poem about Taos Plaza was especially striking to me because it tells the story of how the plaza has changed with the influx of large numbers of white hippie types and artists. Back in the day, local people—and by local people I mean, mexicano (no they don’t generally call themselves that in NM, but I do) and native people whose familias go way, WAY back on that tierra—used the plaza for everyday life, like groceries and sodas, passing time together, community events and meeting primos (if you’re from northern nuevomexico, you know that calling someone primo is not only about cousins, but is often a term of endearment and confianza). Back then, the plaza was not for perusing pastel-colored objectifying tourist-oriented artwork. And not for searching for cheap imported kitschy fake southwestern crap like teeny clear plastic boxes of “Mexican jumping beans,” tacky t-shirts and mass produced pottery, like it is today. But I digress.

I emailed the poem to mis manitos, prima and primo, like I usually do, and this time I included my tío. The next day, my tío wrote back very excitedly: Congratulations! I guess we will be planning a trip to small-midwestern-college-town to see you graduate! When I read your email, my heart leaped with joy about your accomplishments! He’d seen my “professional” signature, which says I’m a “Doctoral Candidate” and mistook it for an announcement on having completed the degree.

His email was so warm and so genuine, that I almost didn’t have the heart to write back and tell him that I’m not done, that it will be at least another year before I can even think about a graduation, that this has been a rough year and I’ve fallen so far behind with my pinche dissertation. But I did write back—within three minutes of his message—clarifying that I’m not graduating…not yet.

Then this morning my papá called to tell me that my tío had been over to visit, had informed my papá and my abuela of my news, and that abuelita “had better start packing her suitcases, because we have a graduation to attend!” Papá was worried that I’d told my tío before telling him. Primo called too, just to clarify, and asked if I was going to break the news to my tío or if I wanted him to.  Who knows what more is left of the fallout.

Even though I knew it already (well… sorta), it’s heartening to know how much my tío supports my efforts at this Ph.D. thing.  And even though we haven’t talked about it much, I know that we share the commitment toward story-telling, toward recognizing the importance of time and place in (re)creating histories and living memories.

April 17, 2009

the sun always shines…

by la rebelde


Cristoval Daniel Quintana, 1925-2009

“I miss his hands,” Manito told me a few weeks ago.  Me too.  My grandpa had the best hands.  Big hands that were worn from work and war. Hands that were graceful and precise with their movements, when he was tying fishing wire onto a fly he made out of rooster feathers, or when he would show me how to play jacks on the dining room table, or when he packed our lunch to go for a hike down into the Río Grande gorge.

When I was a little girl, he would come home from working at the mine, his hands black with soot.  I liked to run to meet him at the door.  But he wouldn’t touch me until he washed his hands with some thick dirt-and-grease-cutting gel stuff that he always kept by the sink.  It smelled like car oil.  Then he would swoop me up in his arms and take me to the doorway of the living room in the house that he built out of adobe and vigas from our part of the mountain.  That was where he kept his collection of bells—lots of bells on strings—and we would ring them together.

That morning, as I left mi manito’s casita in ‘Burque to catch a flight back to Los Angeles, I bent down to my grandpa’s eye level so I could say goodbye.  It was the last time I would see him before he left this world for another, some place better.  He was in a wheelchair, barely able to speak anymore, his body tired from years of hard living.  So very tired.

My grandpa gave me many blessings in this world.  And one of the last ones, he’d asked to see us for Valentine’s Day weekend.  Manito had called me a few days before and luckily, I was able to get a plane ticket right away. On some of those nights, when I’d go to his room to check on him, his eyes would be wide open as if he was looking for something, someone.  And I’d press his forehead with my hand to help relieve the pain—at least for a moment—before I held his hand until he fell asleep.  I never realized, not until he was sick in the hospital, that the tables would change, that my hands would be comforting to him as much as his were to me.

“I’m going back to Los Angeles today, Grandpa,”  I’d said, trying to be cheerful.  As I hugged him, he’d said, “The sun always shines in Los Angeles.”

Que descanse en paz and live always in our hearts.

August 29, 2008


by la rebelde

“Uncle Sam did this,” my tío said, as we stood around the hospital bed where my grandpa lay. I was glad my grandpa’s younger brother came by. Because my grandpa needed to look at someone else besides the four of us who’d been taking shifts, sitting with him all day and all the night. So he wouldn’t be alone when he woke up, so he wouldn’t be scared to be in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar faces. “It wasn’t as bad for me because when I was in Korea, I wasn’t infantry,” my tío went on, the tears welling. (Los most machos are the biggest llorones, I’m learning.) “But your grandpa and my brothers? They are suffering because of Uncle Sam. Uncle Sam did this to them.”

My grandpa is one of 11 children, the oldest boy of 8, the first of 5 to go into the service. The ones who are still with us in this world are sick too. He was 17, just out of high school. Too many mouths to feed at home. A real familial desire, passed down through generations, to be considered a part of a country that had occupied our land starting a century before. Conquest continues. War is bad. My grandpa has told me this since I was a little girl. And the soldiers are not often taken care of as promised, he’d said (especially the brown ones–and by brown, I mean not white).

He has been talking a lot about his experiences in the Pacific—more so as he’s gotten older. According to the doc, it is common that WWII vets don’t often get diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder until they are older—not like Vietnam vets or the vets coming back from Iraq now. When asked what he worries about, what he thinks about, what his concerns for the future are, my grandpa answered them all the same: War. War. War.

PTSD is not why he’s in the hospital—not directly anyway. But it is, apparently, what got him veterans benefits—health care that the vast majority of people in this world have no access to. I must have known my grandpa suffers from PTSD, but I don’t think I really thought about it until the last couple weeks. Sure I knew about his shoulder injury—when an enemy soldier hit him with the butt of a rifle. And the shrapnel that’s still lodged near his spine. And the missing lengths of intestine and spleen from when he was shot. (When I was small, I thought it was so cool that the scar on his abdomen can predict the weather!) Over the years I’ve heard a lot of stories more graphic than any war movie I’ve seen. His physical ailments right now have to be medically treated alongside the psychological–body and mind. Familia and comunidad is there for the soul.

I’ve read about PTSD in magazines, newspapers, and books before, but it was somehow abstract, distant from me and my world. I hadn’t realized—not really–that it’d been a part of my life since birth, a part of my grandma’s life since he returned to NM. Maybe I’d been avoiding thinking about it. Because I can’t fathom the kinds of things that run through his mind on the day-to-day. Because it makes me so angry–about my grandpa’s situation and all the young brown folks who get lured into fighting wars for Uncle Sam. Like bell talks about–“the killing rage.” Only this time it is really about the immediacy of life and death and global imperialism, not just some white girl acting a racist fool on an airplane.*

Who counts as a “casualty of war”? Seems like some are still living. And not all were in the service.

*Okay, I get how these things are related–global imperialism and institutionalized (US) racism. And I’m not saying that racist white girls on airplanes don’t piss me off too. I just don’t have the energy right now to break it down.