The story of our skin

Adrian and I have recently had some great discussions surrounding ethnicity, race and self-identification. I came across this fantastic article that challenges the way in which we define Blackness here in the States and how people articulate their own identities. It looks at how the world sees us and how we see ourselves.

The very last photo in the series is of a woman named Biany PĂ©rez and I've been thinking about her comments ever since I came across the article over a week ago. She states:

"Most times when people ask me, 'What are you?' I say I'm Black. Although I do identify as Afro-Latina, I'm very careful about saying it because I want you to understand that I'm Black first. Yes, I'm Latina, but I know that my lived experience is not as a Latina. I'm treated as a Black American first. I'm Black first, and it is because of my experience." (Huffington Post)
My experience has mostly been that of a White American. My pale skin, my blue eyes, the rate at which my face turns red under stress and embarassment betray the story within me.  Inside, I am both third generation Mexican-American and White. But outside? Outside I am White. 

My experiences and interactions in the world have varied greatly from those of my own sister, owing mostly to the variations in our skin tones. While I sailed relatively easily through both high school and college, my sister struggled with racist remarks and discrimination. Once, while in college, I confided in a classmate how I struggled with handling racist jokes and comments, particularly when someone discovered that my family was in fact of Mexican descent. Her response? If I didn't tell anyone of my heritage, I wouldn't have a problem because no one would know from looking at me. If I just kept quiet and carried on as the White American that I was perceived to be, I wouldn't have a problem.

In this country of continually mixing cultures and backgrounds, one would think that the notion that skin color tells the whole story would have long ago disappeared. 

In 2014, can I be both White and Mexican American, despite my pale skin and blue eyes? Is there room in our national dialogue for us to not have to choose one? To honor our whole story rather than simplifying it into something more readily pigeon-holed? Is there a space for me to talk about my whole experiences as both a White American and a Mexican American, recognizing that I am, at any given moment, both? And can my sister also be both White American and Mexican American, though her skin tone varies so greatly from my own? 

Are we ready to engage in difficult conversations with difficult questions and even more difficult answers? Is it acceptable yet to check off multiple boxes when confronted with defining ourselves? And are we willing to let go of the idea that we know each other's stories with one glance at our skin?

And will my (one day) children's experiences be defined by the lottery of their genetics or will there be a space to share the complex history of mixing races and cultures and love and languages that eventually led to them?

So tell me, how do you define yourself and what has been your lived experience?

(Note: I do also want to point out the other side to this which is the "What are you?" questions. I have chosen not to write about that because that hasn't been my experience. But perhaps a better thing to say might be, "I'd love to hear about your family" and mostly like not in the first five minutes of meeting someone. And then a good question to ask ourselves would be, why do we feel the need to define that person by racial/cultural identity so quickly and so definitively?)

A Spring Party for Two.

Good morning, all! I am guest posting today at With Love +. I created a Spring-inspired party table for two in hopes of ushering in warmer weather. No luck. But I hope this little tablescape brings some sunshine into your (freezing cold) Monday.

Once you're over there, be sure to check out Lindsey's blog. She and I became friends years ago when she lived in Chicago and I am thrilled that she started a blog now that she lives far away. She has the kindest heart and a deep joy. And amazing vegan recipes. So go say hi to her and then stay for the Blood Orange and Vanilla Doughnuts. Sigh.

A weekend well spent.

Friends. This weekend turned out fabulously. Don't you love when that happens? Adrian had the weekend off, which is rare and exciting. He spent some time with his sister and his nephews Friday evening while I relaxed alone after an intense all-day training for work. I ran some errands and ate at Panera alone. A few years ago, I would have categorized that as a boring, lonely evening. But now? Oh, how I enjoy the chance to sit and think quietly. 

Saturday morning, Adrian and I woke up early and set up a photo shoot for a friend's blog. It was one of those projects that turned out just as I had originally envisioned. That is most certainly not always the case, so I was positively beaming. I love how it turned out and am excited to share in the coming weeks. Adrian has been learning to use a DSLR camera and snapped the above photo of me.

Saturday evening, a friend got free tickets to the symphony at the last minute and invited me along. The Chicago Symphony Center was simultaneously stunningly beautiful and jaw-droppingly frightening. We were in the uppermost balcony and the stairs were steep and the view terrifying. Also, in the two hours we were there, I discovered I am not a symphony person. Intellectually, I knew the talent of the musicians was beyond measure. But I wasn't moved. So there's that. Am I uncultured and unsophisticated? Maybe. But honest, at least.

Sunday, we slept in and had breakfast and watched lots of House of Cards. Then Adrian cooked and made macarons while I edited the photos from the previous day's photo shoot. And we called my grandparents to wish them a happy anniversary. They were celebrating their 62nd. Can you imagine? 62 years of marriage. My grandmother said it's been an adventure.

Then came Sunday evening. Oh, Sunday evening. Back at Christmas, my grandparents gave Adrian and me a gift card to use on whatever we liked. We decided to hold on to it and take ourselves out to dinner sometime. So Sunday evening, we did. We went to Carnivale and we absolutely. loved. it. Loved it. The drinks. The food. The decor. The atmosphere. I mean, there are balloons and you can order cotton candy for dessert. I would gladly go there every weekend. And the best part? We toasted my grandparents and imagined what it will be like for us after 62 years together.

(If you're interested in Carnivale, go check out the gallery on their website for more pictures. Seriously, so good.)

A bit late, but tell me about your weekend!

On slivers of that Kingdom Come.

Friends, how often are you around people who are different than you? A heavy question for a Wednesday morning, I know. But follow me through this thought, no?

I went to this coffee shop not too far from my house a couple nights ago. I like to go because there are big tables where I can spread out and work. This week I brought my nephew. He's in 7th grade so he brought his homework and at those big tables he worked and I wrote.

My nephew and I, we both live in a mostly Mexican neighborhood. And by mostly Mexican I mean that when we see someone who isn't Mexican, one of us inevitably asks, "Where did he/she come from? I wonder what they're doing here" and crane our necks to watch where they go.

Segregation is here in Chicago. Sure there's lots of different kinds of people, but there's also lots of different neighborhoods for those lots of people and rarely do they mix. The neighborhood of that coffee shop we went to is mostly Black and there are these train tracks that run between my neighborhood and the coffee shop neighborhood. This side is Mexican and that side is Black. And everyone knows and mostly everyone sticks to their own neighborhood.

A few years back, I used to live in that coffee shop neighborhood.  And I'd walk down the street and people would look at me with that "What's she doing?" look. One time, the cops pulled over to see if I was lost. I was on my way to the grocery store down the street from my house. But there are two assumptions when you're somewhere where you "shouldn't" be. Drugs or lost. And because I wear a Gap jacket and loafers, I must be lost. It breaks my heart for those who don't land on the "lost" side of judgment.

But right there on that line between my old neighborhood and my new neighborhood, there's this church. And they started a health center and now a coffee shop. And in that coffee shop, there are lots of different kinds of people. And those people even interact with each other. They work on projects together and eat together. And they laugh and lean in close to share ideas. And they spread out on those big tables and stay for hours.

Maybe you have to live here to know how beautifully magical that is. How profound a miracle because you know how rarely this happens. Or maybe you live somewhere like this so you know. You know.

I don't much discuss religion, but there is something truly Kingdom Come about that space. I think that when we see God (or whomever you perceive God to be), I think we'll see little pieces of each of those different kinds of people. And I think that if we're not spending time with those different kinds of people now, we are missing out now. On beauty. On knowledge. On slivers of that Kingdom Come. On wow and I never even knew. Each culture, language, immersion, friendship, misunderstanding, difficult conversation, compassion, patience, and understanding is that piece you never knew was missing. Is it easier to stay within our own family, neighborhood, culture, language, etc? Sure but oh what we would miss. Things worth doing are rarely easy.

So how much time are you spending with people different than you? And where are you finding those slivers of Kingdom Come?

The language of my dreams

I read this great little article the other day about possible reasons some of us remember so many of our dreams and others of us don't. I am of those who remember the majority of my dreams. They are vivid and bright and sometimes leaving me wondering if the events actually occurred. Adrian is of the latter. He rarely remembers dreams.

After reading the article, I was talking to Adrian about it the other day and I asked him this question:
What is the language of your dreams?
He told me, of the dreams he remembers, he mostly dreams in Spanish.
What language do you dream in? He asked.
Me, I dream in English, mostly. But I've noticed that in my dreams, the people who speak Spanish in my waking life, well, they speak Spanish in my dreams, too. And when I speak to them in my dreams, I speak to them in their language, Spanish.

And then I thought, how amazing are these brains we have to not only recognize which people speak which language when we are awake, but also when we are asleep? Every now and then, when I'm awake and speaking one language for too long, I turn to someone who speaks the other language and I speak to them in the wrong language until I realize their face is telling me that they have no idea what I'm saying. And I apologize and I make the switch. But for the most part, my brain makes that switch with little prompting. And the fact that my brain recognizes those faces and people while I'm asleep and speaks to them in the appropriate language? Astonishing, no? The brain is a fascinating thing.

Spanish is my second language. I learned to speak Spanish in school so though I use it daily, I still commit grammatical errors. And my sleeping Spanish is no different. Sometimes, in my dreams, I hear myself speak in Spanish and I hear the errors. And while still dreaming, I apologize to whomever I'm conversing with and correct my errors.

The brain is a fascinating thing.

So tell me, what is the language of your dreams?

This time, with tulips. Or why my soul has become a graveyard.

I watched far too much "Bachelor" yesterday. I had it on in the background as I attempted a couple of projects in preparation for our Oscars party. Much like the Bachelor, my projects fell flat on their faces. My printer ran out of ink, my Cricut didn't want to cut cursive letters, my glue broke and I had run out of gold glitter cardstock. Such first world problems, I know. The combination of the Bachelor's dismissiveness of women and their feelings and my failed projects sent my day into tailspin.

Adrian came home from work. I changed into some jeans and one of the winter sweaters that has come to define my winter style, which I should note has become more middle-aged woman and far less "Adorable blogger lives in city!" We had to pick up a few items for the party as well as all the supplies for my projects. On the way, we drove past a cemetery and the snow was falling and there was an absolute lack of life and color and excitement and yes.

"That cemetery is like my soul," I mumbled.

"Don't be so dramatic," Adrian laughed.

I think I have finally hit that wall I've heard so much about. I am done with winter and gray and cold and socks and failed projects and oversized sweaters and silence. There is no magic left in hot chocolates or fluffy comforters or cozy socks. And there is certainly no magic in snow.

In the grocery store, I waited at the end of the aisle for Adrian as he carefully chose his ingredients. This little girl sat in a cart a few steps away from mine, by herself. I wondered where her parents were and then she started yelling and they came to her rescue. And I thought, this could very well be where I break. Right there, next to screaming children in a grocery store, wearing this awful fuchsia sweater because I need some color. Groceries stores are typically unbearable to me but when your soul is a cemetery, well, it's just too much.

As we were leaving, there were pink tulips by the check out. Adrian grabbed them and told me I needed them.

And I did.

We went home and I didn't even notice the cemetery as we passed. I put my tulips in water and told Adrian to be careful not to knock them over. In our small apartment, accidents happen. 

I woke up this morning and started again on my projects. This time with all the right materials and with tulips.

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