The Day After Tomorrow (written on Nov 5)

Tomorrow is important. Everyone I know is posting political opinions (one way or the other).  We are all waiting in anticipation for the imaginary voting bell to ring…and we’re off.  Most of us voted early. I am a fairly impatient person, and I despise lines. Republicans are right. If they want to win, taking away early voting is one way to possibly stop people like me from getting to the polls, but not this time.

Tomorrow is important because there is the possibility that progress can be undone, that “all the us’s” (Harvey Milk speech) will go back to being the outcasts, the marginalized, and the…well, squashed minorities.  Sometimes I cannot believe that we (LGBTQ people) are closer to equality than I had imagined we could be just four years ago.  We no longer have Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and my friends in the armed forces don’t have to hide anymore. Can you believe it? I have had more than a couple of friends who have been discharged, or worse, had to hide a part of themselves for their entire lives. Not anymore.

LGBTQ people now have hospital visitation rights. It seems like such a small thing, but it isn’t. It’s huge.  In my early twenties, my then partner was rushed to the emergency room. I couldn’t do anything. Her mother lived out of town, and was shocked when I told her they wouldn’t allow me to see my partner without her there. I was no one. I waited in the lobby all night, until her mother arrived  and gave the doctor permission for me to be there. It was one of the most painful experiences I have ever known. I even had a nurse spew hateful words at me. I didn’t want to be kicked out, so I remained quiet.

Earlier this year, the President of The United States of America stated that he believed that “I” deserved the right to be married.  There was a collective cheer from me and my friends I was with, and I couldn’t help but cry.  I can’t explain the feeling, but I’ll try.  When I was a teenager, like many, I hid.  I didn’t date. I didn’t care to date. I met a woman and I fell in love. I hated myself for it. When we broke up, I dated a lot of men…too many. I was pretending that I was straight, overcompensating for the struggle I was going through.

Thankfully, my struggle didn’t last long. I found a community of gay men and lesbians who not only didn’t care that I was gay, but welcomed me into their world, their families, their homes. I knew I would be ok. The outside world was scary, starting with my own family (excluding my supportive mother and a couple of cousins).  I knew life would be more difficult for me, for all of us. I remember hearing over and over that my “lifestyle” was a choice. My answer was always the same. Who in their right mind would choose to be a societal outcast? I had once been a servant team leader in my church.  According to my old church “friends” (granted, not all of them) I was going to hell. I was the worst kind of sinner.

So when President Obama voiced his support for same-sex marriage, it meant that he was acknowledging my full personhood. I know I’m a full person, who deserves the same dignity and rights that heterosexual people enjoy.  But finally, if in word only, the most powerful leader in the world, said “I” deserve the opportunity to pursue happiness in love and life.

I will never forget that.

But I am not “just” a lesbian. I am a Chicana, a woman of color. I am a brown woman. The brown part…I am a U. S. citizen, as is my mother, and her mother before her, but I remember the border town fear of the Border Patrol. I remember hearing the word “migra” and knowing that there was some reason I should fear them.  As I grew into myself, I changed that fear into activism.  I believe in the Dream Act. I loathe SB 1070.  I have protested, marched, written letters, and organized. Others who are brown like me, but have no documents, deserve the right to pursue their dreams and live without fear.

The woman.  I was not around when Roe v. Wade was decided, but I have reaped the benefits.  I have had the right to choose, and as a lesbian, you might think that it doesn’t mean much to me. It does.  It means that I am the master of my own body, and that I have the power to decide when and if I want to start a family.  Granted, starting a family is more complicated now that I have stopped trying to prove that I am straight…cause I’m not. And women’s healthcare and choices are so much more than pregnancy and termination.  I am the ONLY one who should have dominion over my body, period.

All of this means that tomorrow is indeed very important. If Romney wins, he has vowed to stand with right-wing-fundamentalist-anti-woman-anti-comprehensive immigration reform types.  This means that the day after tomorrow could bring the reality of a drastically different future, at least in the short-term.  History moves forward, and backlash is inevitable, but I am banking on the progressive momentum of this country’s people to keep the wheels moving in the right direction, towards equality and fairness.

The day after tomorrow I will be able to have lunch with my Republican friends again. I’ve been avoiding them pre-election. Come to think of it, I’m sure we are avoiding each other.  The day after tomorrow, I will unhide them from my Facebook feed.  I hope, that after Obama wins, they will unhide me also, and perhaps we will still consider each other friends.

Dia de Los Muertos

Today is November 1st.  Halloween parties have ceased and I only have gummy bears left in my candy jar.  We had our students color decorated skeleton masks and dedicate them to someone they have loved and lost.  It may seem morbid to some, but to me, and many of my culture, November 1st is a day to celebrate the lives of those who have passed.

My mother and I make a traditional altar every year. It has pictures of family members who we have lost, along with their favorite foods, and drinks, and trinkets. Sadly, we have added one more picture this year. After the altar is finished, all there is left to do is remember.

My Grandma was one of 11 children.  She was born in Terlingua, Texas in 1915.  She only finished up to the 6th grade, but she was the wisest woman I have ever known.  She had 6 children, one of whom died at the age of 3.  My brother is named after him. My grandfather was a hard worker, but an alcoholic.  My grandmother left him, but wanted to be buried next to him when she died. She was.  She knew English, but refused to speak it. She was a cook at an Italian restaurant in El Paso, Texas. I always remember her hating pizza and spaghetti.  She paid $12,000 for her small two-bedroom house.  I remember her always telling me how important it was that I finish school.  She warned that without it, I would be “dumb” like her.  We both knew she wasn’t.

She taught me to sing by loving singing herself, and if I close my eyes I can hear her deep melodic voice.

“Tengo una muneca vestida de azul, con sus medias blancas y sombrero azul.”

I still remember all the coros she sang to me, and sometimes I sing them out loud to myself…and she is with me.

In my early twenties I took my then partner home for the holidays.  I was the defiant niece who refused to hide in the closet or behind closed doors.  I never told my grandmother, but during that visit, she called my female partner my “husband,” in front of all of my family.  I never heard a negative thing about my being gay from anyone in my family again.

………………………………….

My Uncle Ray lived in Corpus Christi, Texas for all of the time that I knew him.  He was the only man in my life of any consequence.  I didn’t really know my father until I was 18. (a story for another day) My mother and I spent as much time with him as we could. We both adored him.  We lived with him when I was very young, and then moved back to El Paso at some point that I don’t remember.  Even in El Paso, so far away, my mother would curb bad behavior by telling me she was going to tell Uncle Ray. The behavior stopped.

Uncle Ray was a Vietnam Vet, and we always knew there were things we couldn’t talk to him about. Sometimes he would fall silent, and we knew he was somewhere else. Other times I remember hearing him sob from behind his bedroom door.  He wasn’t a mean man, but he rubbed and pinched my cheeks red when I told him I wanted to wear makeup. I didn’t ask again.

We went to the beach a lot. That was our favorite place. One time he was stung by a man o’ war. We were scared.  Another time a drunk man in a truck almost ran over me and my cousin while we were making sand castles. He pulled the man out of his truck. I didn’t see what happened next.

He didn’t like tv, but he loved his guitar, and so after dinner we would gather in his small livingroom and he would hand us instruments.  My favorite was a percussion instrument that had rows of silver beads you would turn with you palm. To this day I have no idea what it is called.

My mom would sit in the most coveted place in the room, by his side.  He would begin to strum Neil Young, and I would wait in anticipation of my mother’s amazing voice.

……………………………………….

My Aunt Julie lived in Philadelphia. She passed away this summer.  She had a beautiful family of a husband and three boys, one of whom is gay.  According to stories I’ve heard throughout the years, she never liked school.  My grandmother would drag her there by her braids.  She was a stubborn woman.  It runs in the family.

I didn’t get to spend enough time with her, but this Spring I was sent to D.C. for work and I was able to drive up and see her.  I am so grateful for that now.

Today is a day to remember, but it is also a day for the living to celebrate life.

It’s a time for us to be grateful for all the beauty and wisdom that has been passed on to us.

I remember, and I am most certainly filled with gratitude. Thank you.

Aunt Julie