Each year I go through the motions of Christmas, rarely ever feeling fully present. I spend the days leading up to the holiday cooking for my family and baking for my neighbors. I send out Christmas cards. I purchase whatever gifts I can afford. I spend the nights sipping bourbon, wrapping presents, and wondering why the holiday doesn't fill me with the kind of joy and lightheartedness we see in movies. Then the day arrives and I remember why: my family can be intolerable.
I realize you’re not supposed to say that. To be clear, I don’t mean “intolerable” in a cute, bickering, loud kind of way. I mean that since my mom died, I’m the lone woman in a family populated by troubled white and brown men—white and brown men who seem to only be capable of bonding over one thing: antiblack racism.
Last week when my two young nieces were in town, we went to a local theater to watch Jorge R. Gutierrez’s The Book of Life, an animated children’s film that is part heavy-handed love story, part love letter to Día de de los Muertos, the holiday on which those who have died are celebrated, a ritual that goes back 3,000 years. On NPR, journalist Karen Castillo Farfán wrote that the practice was developed by the Aztecs, who believed one should not grieve the loss of a beloved ancestor who passed. Instead, “the Aztecs celebrated their lives and welcomed the return of their spirits to the land of the living once a year.”
The Book of Life is one big visual representation of everything we have come to associate with the holiday: “dark” Mexican folk art, sugar skulls, papel picado in every color, and altars adorned with seven-day candles, orange marigolds, and pan dulce. The movie is bright and visually stunning, despite being about death—and the same could be said about Día de los Muertos.
Diversity in literature is something I’ve been thinking about quite a bit lately. Last month I attended a workshop run by the Voices of Our Nation Arts Foundation
(VONA), which sponsors programs for writers of color working in a variety of genres. I sat at the orientation looking around in disbelief at more than 150 writers crammed into a room at UC Berkeley, thinking, “Holy fuck, I had no idea there were so many of us.”
May in Los Angeles is breathtaking. I know this because it’s all people talk about when the city explodes in Technicolor and flowers rip open. Everything is lush and living, or so they say. I live in Los Angeles too, but I don’t see it the same way. Not anymore. The sunshine is harsh. The colors unkind.
When I walk to the corner liquor store with my sunglasses on and hoodie pulled up, hoping to be left alone, neighbors still yell out, “It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?” I smile politely, nod. Always polite.
I stood on this same street four years ago, a few days before Mother’s Day. It was early in the morning, around 3 a.m., and I was on the phone with a steely 911 operator, wondering why she was being so cold to me. I realize now it was probably better that way, but in those moments I hated her. I remember saying, “This doesn’t feel real. This feels like a movie. Is this real?” There was silence on the other end of the line.
At the height of my teenage apathy, my mom made me squeal with delight by smuggling a kitten into our home in a cardboard box she’d found at work. She burst into my bedroom excitedly and shoved the box toward me. When I saw its tiny, grey nose and bright, yellow eyes, I fell in love just like my mom.
My dad, however, had a strict "no pets" policy. Caring for a cat would cost too much money, he said. He and my mom already struggled to afford food. For days, my parents fought over the kitten while I held out hope I could have this one little, good thing in a house that all too often felt devoid of good things.
At the heart of Sister, Brenda Davis' documentary debut, are three inspiring stories of an Ethiopian health officer, a midwife in rural Cambodia, and a traditional birth attendant in Haiti. When Davis met Goitom Berhane in Ethiopia in 2008, she was taken with his vivacious personality and dedication to solving the maternal health crisis in his country. Goitom's example encouraged Davis to explore women's health as an international human rights issue. Eventually, he became a central figure in her film.
I talk about race — a lot. I constantly initiate discussions with friends and colleagues, and find that even in our supposedly postracial world many still deem race to be an uncomfortable subject. Although I believe attempts to have a dialogue about race are important, another part of me does it for purely selfish reasons. These conversations help me to figure out my own relationship with race. They validate and invalidate my opinions, and give me a better understanding of where I fit as a light-skinned Latina.
After her mother's unexplained death, a young woman ponders the long-term toll of not having access to adequate health care. A toothache brings on psychic hysteria about whether her own eventual demise will align with that of her mom.
Like many children of immigrant parents, I was told story upon story that began, “When I came to this country…” But certain details of my father’s journey weren’t shared until I was twenty-six. Even after all these years, the story of how he emigrated from Mexico isn’t one my father likes to tell. He came from a generation where one’s citizenship status was something not to be discussed. I only learned of the specifics because I poked and prodded until he finally gave in, saying, “Tell my story when I’m dead.”
On July 21, nine Mexican nationals openly defied US immigration policy, and more than ten thousand people watched the event unfold through a live, global webcast. I held my breath as activists from the National Immigrant Youth Alliance (NIYA) — who are now known as the “Dream 9” — walked arm-in-arm through the streets of Nogales, Mexico. I felt the squeeze of anxiety in my chest as they neared the US-Mexico border. And I sent a silent wish into the universe that the gamble these young people are bravely taking won’t be in vain.
I was never confident that a jury comprised almost exclusively of white women would convict George Zimmerman of second-degree murder, but last night’s not guilty verdict still left me breathless. I had wanted to believe that my worst fears weren’t true, that I am not living in a country where a man can get away with killing a seventeen-year-old child because that child is black.
When my best friend’s partner said there was a play about “queer animals” featuring an undocumented cat that I simply had to see, I was wary. Frankly, I didn’t think the play would be any good. But I agreed to go anyway, reservations be damned, because sometimes revelations occur from doing the unexpected.