Our child, her father’s daughter

4a79ea48c20f9d5210e1cb5225b451ddAs usual, Rambo and I are five to ten years behind the cultural zeitgeist so we are halfway through Season 2 of Game of Thrones.  We are both impressed with Arya Stark because she reminds us of M.  We would never allow M to watch the show with us. But I definitely see the similarities between the two girls.

Arya is strong-willed, physically strong, and fearless. Her older sister is the traditional “princess,” wrapped up in beauty, popularity, and romance. Arya is not interested in typical activities nor do her parents restrict her to these goals.  In Season 1, Arya aspires to wield a sword. As we watched an episode, Rambo said, “That is our child. She is our child.”


M is a strong girl and has been from the get-go. When I was pregnant and before I knew my child’s gender, I was convinced she was a boy. She was active. Though I identify as a feminist, I had accepted the notion that activity, motion, and physical strength must mean a child is a boy. When I had my ultrasound, we could not see her gender. We could see the child kicking and punching. I was amused. (At that time, fitness and strength weren’t priorities: I was more focused on being mentally and emotionally strong to parent.  The commitment to physical fitness came much later. ) I immediately decided I was expecting a son. Via blood test results, I found out she was a girl. It was a thrilling moment because I had a sense she would be the kind of woman I like.


As a woman, I understand we have interesting dynamics. I find strong women inspirational. I am uncomfortable around more traditional stereotypes of women. I had an opportunity to raise a girl in a different way than I was raised. My mother wasn’t huge on making me a girly girl (thank goodness.) If anything, my mom was the “bad cop” disciplinarian. She was my role model of a strong woman.

My daughter has always been physically active, physically strong, and fearless. As she gets older, she exhibits some anxiety but a lot of that is social or emotional. She is not afraid to fight and is intrigued by martial arts. She’s physically unafraid. She’s not intimidated by boys. She is comfortable in the company of all kinds of people of different ages, ethnicities, and genders.

Rambo and I often play fight about whose child M is. I argue that she’s more like me; she is attracted to the arts. She loves dance, music, reading, and art museums. She admires photographers and painters. Rambo believes she is more his child because she is strong, fast, and good at math. We go back and forth on who M resembles more. She is the wonderful amalgamation of her two parents. She is the daughter of a writer and a soldier, a peacemaker and a professional warrior.  Basically she is Wonder Woman. Rambo says, “She is all mine.” I reply, “Did she spring from your head like Athena from Zeus?”  Rambo likes that image since Athena is both intellect and war.


Zeus “birthing” Athena

To further strengthen their bond, my family attended their first father-daughter dance. It took some doing. When it was initially brought up, we were declined. I told M to accept her father’s decision. We were both so excited when he became open to the idea. I was told they would not dance but was pleasantly surprised to hear they did grace the dance floor. They bond over building projects, technology and math. Now they have made a new memory together.


My family


In celebration of mujeres

adelita we can do it

M and I didn’t take part in the January 21st Women’s March. She was nursing a cold that rainy morning and had cheer sometime that day. I had mixed feelings about it. I was a student activist at Cal. I fought for tenure of professors of color, the expansion of Ethnic Studies, protested anti-POC investments and connections the University had made, and rallied against Prop 187 and then-Governor Pete Wilson. I took part in walkouts, marches and expressed my views via my writing and through discussions, and also participated in positive events like Raza Day. I believe in taking it to the streets but the pink pussy hats didn’t speak for me. I grapple with the idea of a monolithic unity. We are divided along lines of ethnicity, class, and life experience. Though I don’t often speak on it, I feel like a distinct sense of difference and otherness, particularly in my professional life more so than in my personal life. Those circles do not co-exist; they are very separate. While I do cultivate positive relationships with the women in my immediate work circle, there is room for growth.


Tee says it all


As I strive to foster strong connections with other women, I am modeling that commitment for my daughter. As I wrote in my blog,”Mothering a warrior,” I want to empower my daughter to be a chingona, una mujer poderosa y fuerte in the face of challenges. She’s growing up in a different time. She’s not held back by the cultural ideas that held me back.  I’m a lot more introverted and am less confident than my daughter. Many Latinas grapple with confidence issues which are rooted in cultural experiences. I was blessed I didn’t have a machista dad. I am blessed to have a badass for a mother. My daughter has the advantage of having a mujerista for her mom. Despite his quirks, Rambo loves that M is a powerful girl. Rambo and I have recently started watching Game of Thrones and we both have been impressed with the character Arya Stark. I’ve pointed out, “That’s your daughter” and he agrees. M is the daughter of a feminist and soldier. M is Wonder Woman. She is powerful. I love that she is growing up in a time when powerful women are celebrated. I am, however, conscious of the many ways sexism continues to pervade popular culture. I want my daughter to be aware of sexism and misogyny along with racism and white privilege. I want her to be active and not allow these realities to oppress her.

On International Women’s Day, I reflect on the importance and power of women. I honor my mother and my wonderful friends. I am surrounded by strength, beauty, grace, and integrity. I am a greater person because of the women I am related to and those I have chosen as my extended family. My daughter and I are blessed to have so many beautiful mujeres in our lives.


A pajama party with purpose

“My sister my sister, tell me what the trouble is

I’ll try to listen good and give the best advice that I can give…”

Monie Love


Photo by Natasha Vinakor

In a time of grief, I am blessed to enjoy moral support and a sense of community. From my newest dance community to the beautiful women of my samba community, I am surrounded by positive energy. That strengthens me in the face of ignorance and negativity. Though our weekends are busy, I’m grateful I made the time to attend a women’s salon with my dance sisters.

The salon, “Let’s Talk It Out,” allowed for structured conversation about many topics.


Photo by Natasha Vinakor

While #election2016 weighs heavily on our minds, it did not come up in the conversation, other than one mention at the beginning of the event.  Yes, our lives go on, despite all the emotions dredged up by the state of the nation. But we get to do so on our terms, not because of a shared op-ed article or meme on Facebook(Holding the door open). I digress, though, from the gratitude I feel for last night’s gathering.   While I kept relatively silent during the active discussion last night, I heard each and every voice.  I stood with my sisters in their worries, questions, and fears. Of course, there were light-hearted moments. We shared food, drink, and laughter. It was an experience I hope we continue.

One question I had prior to the event was whether or not to include M.  She’s an impressionable eight-year-old; would a women’s salon that would likely address controversial issues be appropriate?  I decided she would join us. She was so excited to choose a onesie to wear (recommended dress code for the evening.) Already an active member of our dance community, M felt right at home. She played with our hostess’ toddler daughter. She cuddled with a few of my dance sisters.  She sat on my lap and kissed my cheek every so often.  Given all the girl drama she already experiences as an elementary school student, I thought it was important for her to witness genuine, respectful camaraderie between women. These are women she admires and loves.  These are women who love her mother.  It was a win-win.

Nearly five years ago, I committed to mastering a dance style but also to opening my heart to new people and new relationships. As I’ve shared before, my dance community has enriched my life deeply(More than a parade).  As I make an effort to reach out and be included, I will continue to benefit from the blessing of sisterhood.


Onesie crew

The newest name in the family Litany

M and I have said nightly prayers since her infancy. This past year, we began reciting the Rosary daiily on commutes and long drives.  We also pray various versions of litanies, some short and some long, but also a daily or nightly practice.
In light of my recent illness, I have discovered Saint Agatha, a Sicilian martyr tortured to death by a vengeful man she rejected. Due to her most infamous punishments, she is now the patron saint of breast cancer and breast disease.

The two paintings depict the wounds that are often associated, sometimes implicitly, in art featuring St. Agatha. One of the most famous is “Saint Peter Healing Saint Agatha,” a 1614 painting by Giovanni LanFranco that shows a traditional St. Peter tending to Saint Agatha’s wound, a gash over her right breast. The modern painting depicts Agatha’s wound as tradition has often indicated, a complete mastectomy on the right.

While some may argue that these images are distasteful and grim(and I won’t deny that many of the stories of martyrs are violent and dark), our tradition holds that we can seek solace in knowing that other people of our faith endured trials and tribulations.  I personally sought out a patron saint with whom to connect during this experience with breast disease. It was one of my many ways I have faced this challenge with strength and faith. 

Saint Agatha, pray for us.

Diva without drama

     The power of women’s friendships is constantly being undermined by pop culture’s obsession with cattiness.  From mean girl Top Model contestants to Real Housewives reunion show drama, we are inundated with scenes of women attacking, humiliating, and betraying other women, more often that not supposedly their “friends,” for laughs and ratings.  On the other hand, anyone who has experienced girlhood and womanhood knows that the authors behind Queen Bees and Wannabes and Odd Girl Out weren’t exaggerating; friendships between women can be challenging and sometimes traumatizing.

     I admit I have had my share of frenemy drama starting in elementary school and as recently as last year.  So-called friends have talked behind my back, excluded me from activities, revealed my secrets, and turned others against me.  I admit I have been a participant in chisme, backbiting, backstabbing; we are told that this is what girls and women do by our elders but especially by popular culture.  Those who want to say Latinas are much more supportive and sisterly need only look at a telenovela or watch an old episode of Laura en America to see that catfights are part and parcel of the love story mythology; you cannot trust your sister, friend, neighbor to not covet what you have.  
     I have seen my straight and gay male friends as superior to my women friends at several times in my life, sometimes to the detriment of the many healthy friendships I have had with women.  In turning to men as my support network, I have sometimes alienated the women who have been loyal and supportive.  It has been a challenge to maintain a balanced perspective, to not buy into the stereotype that women don’t know how to be friends. 
     For the past two decades, I  have been blessed with the best friendship I could ever imagine.  My friendship with my bestie has survived through family losses, health battles, career shifts, boyfriends, and singledom.  I am proud to say that of all my friendships, both old and new, it is the one relationship that has been drama-free.  There has never been a separation or conflict that was rooted in envy, insecurity, or miscommunication.  She has been my co-worker, club buddy, and labor coach. I don’t give her enough credit for being such an amazing woman and friend.  
 I hope my daughter is blessed with a friend as true as her Titi has been for me.  

This further lets me know…*

I got an email from a former associate last night. I’ll admit I panicked. Truth be told, I loathe confrontation.  I would rather avoid a person I dislike rather than argue.  We can retreat to our own corners of the universe and not perpetuate the cycle of negativity.  So I saw this person’s name appear in my inbox and I felt flustered.  After consulting my boyfriend, I decided to open the message.  It turned out it wasn’t for me at all.  In fact, it was clearly meant for someone else, including names and situations of people I have never met (though I did know of one in passing.) 
I have made mistakes in choosing friends. I have befriended people who eventually brought little into my life or even caused damage.  Having learned from various experiences, I have chosen more carefully.  As I looked over this mistaken message, I realized I chose wisely to end the budding friendship. This email shared judgments and details about someone’s marriage and health problems.  The email ends with the telling line, “I got this info from a mutual friend.” While this may seem like harmless gossip, I’m sure the woman and man being discussed would be embarrassed and angry to know their troubles are being transmitted across the Internet. 
Now I am guilty of continuing that cycle of chisme, too, by writing about this bizarre incident. I intend to work on that bad habit.  And I intend to “block sender.” 

*Props to comedian Steve Harvey for his bit in _The Original Kings of Comedy_ and making this phrase one of my catchphrases.  

Claws and jaws that should give us pause

“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves”—Carl Jung

Just when I thought it was safe to get back in the churning waters of reality TV…Silly me. Whatever made me think I could get away from mean girls and bullies? Recent personal events have made me super sensitive and yet once again, I find myself cringing at the deplorable, disgraceful behavior of women in competition, this time on Celebrity Apprentice.
As on Top Chef, a clique of female bullies is creating drama(and boosting the ratings.) The bombastic duo of Lisa Lampanelli, the aptly-nicknamed Queen of Mean, and Aubrey O’Day, a Neely O’Hara for the Millenial Generation, are the sharks in the waters. Rather than simply get snarky and attack these women as has been done by dozens of fellow bloggers and YouTube commenters, I want to ponder what makes women move away from collaboration and compassion to ruthless aggression. 
Lisa Lampanelli claims that her mom was a tough Italian mom. She has survived in a male-dominated field through her foul humor and ball-buster persona. A self- avowed couch potato who aspires to be driven around in a wheelchair despite not being disabled(at least this was one of the soundbites we got on last week’s episode,) she is set in her negative ways. They have meant success for her and it’s a formula she is not about to change.
What to make of Aubrey who went from UC Irvine sorority sister to Pam Anderson lookalike Playboy centerfold? She is two-thirds of The Valley of the Dolls storyline, without the sentiment. Once P.Diddy’s protégé, she has become the arch-villain on Celeb Apprentice for her narcissistic ways and what Trump has dubbed her “mouthpiece,” a way with words that can only be described as vicious.Still, as much as I want to strangle her for her on-air cattiness and crocodile tears, I also wonder what is beneath the layers of makeup, hair dye, and colored contacts.  She is someone’s daughter.  This beautifully made fan video haunts me.
It makes me question what it is we tell women about what it means to have power and influence, identity and image.  Why, rather than be a facilitator who fosters understanding and cooperation, does someone choose to be a predator?  Male or female, it is high time we move away from attacking and destroying one another, even if it means we don’t win the prize of cash, popularity, or an ego boost. 
On a personal note, Aubrey and Lisa’s antics serve as stark reminders of my own struggles with being bullied and being a bully. I have made a conscious effort in the last few months to work on being a person of greater love and openness. 

My newest heroine

“We must encourage girls to embrace respectful acts of assertion and provide them with representations of female aggression that are neither sensationalized nor the stuff of fantasy.” Rachel Simmons, Odd Girl Out

“…you put your head down, let your work speak for you, and try to avoid conflict. If someone was questioning my ethic or principles, I always spoke up. Ultimately, the best way I stood up for myself was working hard….” Chef Beverly Kim

Award-winning Bravo reality competition, Top Chef , is in its 9th season and has had no shortage of drama.  At the center of a key storyline, Chef Beverly Kim has become a hero to me.  After dealing with bullying at the hands of a trio of her fellow female chefs, she bounced back into the competition during a secret, online Top Chef spin-off Last Chance Kitchen, much to the chagrin of her rivals. Though eliminated in semi-finals, I’m positive I’m not the only fan of her classy, confident behavior. 

In the earlier part of the season, Beverly became a target for the louder, more aggressive women chefs. They complained of what they saw as one-note lack of depth as she continually worked Asian flavors into various dishes. They found  her methodical and thorough approach to be slow, stupid, and selfish. They rolled their eyes at her sensitivity.  Though the TV viewer learned this through filmed asides and editing, we also saw the confrontations and cruel comments.  As more of her personal allies got eliminated, Beverly could often be found in the company of the male chefs, purposely excluded from the intensely close rival clique.  But her work seldom suffered as critics and guests alike enjoyed and praised her cooking.  

I have to admit I was not a Beverly fan at first. Though I disdained the bullies, I wanted her to be a mouse that roared. I wanted her to bust loose of her quiet, humble demeanor and defend herself aggressively.  Then I realized I wanted her to stop being me.  Like Beverly, I was brought up to be quiet and work hard.  Like Beverly, I have been bullied, underestimated and misunderstood.  I have responded by being patient or by refusing to take part in confrontations.  At times, I have retaliated in bullying ways such as  gossip, backbiting, or passive-aggressive behavior. So I began to appreciate Beverly, how she would defend herself with truth and calmness, and most importantly, through expressing her passion and talent.  As a woman of color in a predominantly white competition/industry, she embodied the values of her cultural community and taught us an alternative to dog-eat-dog on national TV. The remaining women chefs may continue in the competition and ultimately win(best believe I will pitch a fit ) but they have lost face and the respect of millions of people.  

Beverly cooked, cross-country-skied, and literally shot her way to success while never resorting to cattiness or mean girl tactics.  So she is my Top Chef. 


Reasons explained

“You never I’ll never understand men, how they play us girls too short and then try to place the fault on you. This time I’m speaking candid because I don’t think that it’s right for them to have their cake and eat it, too…” Michel’le, _Keep Watchin’_

Forget chips, expensive shoes, and Degrassi the Next Generation. Men and dogs. Those are my two weaknesses. I brought home my new dog today. He’s got big brown eyes and ribs I can see. Like any cute boy, he’s warmed my heart and I want nothing more than for him to be happy. I’m quite sure he’ll be easier to manage than my nearly non-existent personal life.

I say “nearly” because the adolescent melodrama I enjoy watching has carried over into my life. I joined a Catholic young adult group thinking I could make new friends and maybe get a few dates. How did I know I’d end up in what could potentially become a soap opera? Lecherous playboys. Gossip and rumors. Cold shoulders and sizzling sparks. Sexual tension. All of a sudden, I find myself having crushes once again–and the subsequent bullshit that comes with venturing back into singledom.

My new favorite song is “Sorry.” At first it was the retro Jackson 5 hook. Then I started learning the lyrics. At about the same time, Paradox made his appearance on the scene. Paradox who seemed to be my dream come true in terms of faith, language, looks, and sense of humor but turned out to be a nightmare straight out of He’s Just Not That Into You meets Jaws. Paradox went from being Abba’s “Take a Chance on Me” to being “Sorry.”

I should stick to dogs.

My girl on the TV show

“I’m all about Manny Santos and her sinful affair with Craig.” Kevin Smith

Most people who know me know of my affection for neurotic, self-absorbed romantic Carrie Bradshaw of Sex and the City. A few people know, but don’t understand, my bond with misunderstood former bad girl Manny Santos. Most online quizzes peg me as more like Emma, Manny’s on-again, off-again best friend. I know I’m more sanctimonious schoolgirl than sparkly sexpot. Still, there’s something about Manny that resonates with me.

At the beginning of Degrassi the Next Generation, Manny was the petite, bubbly id to Emma’s more practical superego. With a bright smile and tender warmth, she was everyone’s little sister, if a little repressed by her strict Filipino parents. Then the pressure to be popular as well as a long-time unrequited crush on It Boy Craig Manning soon turned Manny into the stereotypical naughty girl. She went from sticker-covered binders and pigtails to low riding jeans with visible thongs. Manny had realized her beauty and took to using it to get male attention. She became involved with shady Sully but in a familiar turn of events, hooked up with Craig while he was with Ashley. She then settled for being Craig’s other girl until she realized Craig had played them both. By then, she had lost her childhood friends so she was on her own with a bad reputation to keep her company. In a controversial episode never aired in the US(and which I can’t wait to see on DVD next spring), Manny discovered she was pregnant by Craig. Their short-lived reconciliation ended when she decided to have an abortion. Manny seemed doomed to be a loner.

Perhaps it is this that made me care about Manny, the way she was cast out. While I would never pursue someone who was taken, there have been people who remained under my skin for years and therefore had a hold on me. I have definitely done stupid things over men and suffered the criticism of others. Like Manny, my own friendships have undergone tumultuous evolution. Today I am blessed by an enduring bond with my best friends from middle and high school but it wasn’t always so rosy. Even my adult friendships have weathered conflicts, misunderstanding, even some competition and envy. Finally, Manny’s troubles with sex and relationships is something universal and not age-specific. I cringe every time I see the label “slut” in reference to Manny. As comfortable as I am with my own choices, it is strange that those old adolescent slurs still linger, if only in my own mind.

What may be the final season of Degrassi is a month from premiering. Rumor has it that Manny will take some risque photos in hopes of an acting career and that a reconciliation with Craig is imminent. No matter what plot twists come about, Manny is my girl.