A Letter to My Students on the Day After the Election

BY VERONICA VARELA

Courtesy of Veronica Varela

Courtesy of Veronica Varela

November 9, 2016

Hey You,

    Have I told you lately that I love you? I love you so much. When I was 5 years old, I would dream about being a teacher when I grew up. I have dreamed about teaching you for decades. You are my dream.

    And I know last night didn’t go how we expected or wanted it to. I know you’re afraid. I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t scared too. It can be scary to think that the majority of the people in this country see our community as invisible, unlovable, and unworthy. I want you to know that I completely disagree. They don’t know what hell they’re talking about. I want you to know that you are seen, that you are loved, and that you are worthy of so much more than this shitty world has offered you. I want you to know that you are wildly brilliant, and beautiful, and resilient, and wise. I want you to know that you’re the reason why I get up every morning and hope for tomorrow. I want you to know that every day I’m fighting for you, and your mom, and your sister, and your family, and my family, and for all of us.


 

I want you to know that you are seen, that you are loved, and that you are worthy of so much more than this shitty world has offered you.

 


    Today is a day for mourning. It is a day we cry, we squeeze each other a little tighter, and we sit in the ashes together, and tomorrow we begin the process of moving forward. On some days we run towards justice, but today is a crawling kind of day. I want you to know that I’m here by your side. I’m crawling with you. I haven’t given up. We can’t. In the coming days and weeks and months, we will pick ourselves up off of this floor, and we will walk, and we will run, and we will keep pushing, but today I pray that we are okay with just sitting and just grieving and just healing our broken little hearts in this community together.

    I’m here in this fight to stay. I’m here because I stand on the shoulders of giants, and I’m here so that you can stand on my shoulders too. If I could, I’d build a wall around us all and keep us safe and keep us sane and keep us loved - but I can’t. We can’t. We have too much to offer, too much to share with this world, too much fight for. We have too much to lose if we allow our fears to dictate our tomorrows. 

    So, my sweet babies, I want you to know that you mean the world to me. We are the sum of a million tears and dreams and prayers from the mouths of our ancestors. I want you to know that, even though it may not feel like it, there are people who are rooting for you, and I want you to know that I have a small army that loves you and prays for you and cheers you on from a distance. Today was hard, and tomorrow holds one thousand uncertainties, but if there is one thing I have always been certain of, it is you. It has always been you.

 

With Grace and Grit,

Ms. V

Self-Care As A Routine Act

BY MARIAH COWSERT

I sit in the bathtub, coated by the comfort of the steaming waters while I sing and let myself be free from my to‐do lists, e‐mail drafts, and mental check lists. Self‐care is a routine act that changes with each person as often and as swiftly as the seasons.


You are your own home — treat yourself like it.


 

I started making time to take care of myself after last fall. I found myself diving deeper into my studies, relationships and heartache, work, writing, and family troubles and realized I couldn’t swim. My depression and anxiety was making it increasingly difficult to get through each day as I attempted to drag my feet out of my room like anchors settling unable to free themselves from their port. I let my roots grow further into the ground beneath my sheets and grew physically ill from my clouded headspace.

I visited a therapist and mapped out what I needed to do for myself. “You are your own home — treat yourself like it,” she told me as I clutched my arms tight to my body in order to take up less space and fade into the background. I took a full day off for the first time that year and spent it with myself. I went to breakfast and read, walked around my favorite spots in the city, I ran until my lungs stirred angrily like a swarm rumbling in a bees nest, and I wrote until I let everything out of my head in order to drain my anxieties.

Did it take a long time to feel comfortable in myself? Yes, it fucking did, but I put my foot down and fought for myself. I make the conscious decision to fight for myself daily. I schedule self‐care into my weekly planner, whether that be getting coffee alone, writing, running, or letting myself cry it out like a warm summer rain.


Self‐care is fundamental to being human, but we lose touch with ourselves as we pour out our efforts to others. 


Self‐care is fundamental to being human, but we lose touch with ourselves as we pour out our efforts to others. Be kind to others, build each other up with support, but never lose sight of yourself in the process. Do not drain yourself for someone, you do not have to say yes to projects if you don’t have time, and you sure as hell do not have to go against yourself to be with someone.

It’s easier said than done. You are continuously growing and embracing who you are, you will never “be ready for someone once you work on yourself”. There will never be a perfect time to start something like self‐care, relationships, a new health routine, or a form of exercise. You have to dig deep into yourself and find out what you need from self‐care and what your routine looks like. Take it in as much or as little as you’d like but allow yourself to be alone and to notice when you are happy. Do not brush away happiness with the vision of it ending immediately. Soak in it, save it for a rainy day, and take care of your damn self. You are worth it. You are always worth it.

 

 

Why I Feel I'll Never Be "Mexican Enough"

“You can’t speak Spanish?”

I dread the question. I do. It’s loaded with more than the inquisitor is prepared for. My culture is more than a language, and no, I don’t speak Spanish.

Most days I feel as though I’m caught between two worlds, two identities. You see, I’ll never be “Mexican enough” to most people. I stumble over words in Spanish. My hips don’t salsa like they should. I’m further removed from native traditions than I’d care to admit. I’m just not “as Mexican as you thought.” And even still, I’ll never be quite “American” either. It doesn’t matter what I do, the words will still roll off your tongue — Mexican-American. The hyphen that keeps me at arm’s distance from you — the hyphen I prefer over the multitude of other things I’ve been called instead.


When you balk at the idea of a Spanish-less Mexican, I can’t help but feel the tension, frustration, and resentment of all I have lost. Because in order to be worthy of the American Dream, my family was convinced that we had to let go of much of who we were, and at 24 years old, I’m trying to get that back.


And to be honest, it is one of the greatest pains of my heart— to long for a country I’ve never called home, a language that should have been mine, and the depths of a culture that is so far removed. My heart aches. At 24 years old, I am grasping for straws, trying to reclaim an identity that has only been my shadow.

When I think of how I got here, I am pointed to the American Dream, and the work of my family to do everything they could to get us here. Don’t speak Spanish — you don’t need it, and they’ll treat you differently at school. Don’t leave the house without enough sunscreen to keep you from getting darker. Don’t wear those pants with the hole because they’ll think you’re poor. Don’t put your hands in your pockets at the store. Don’t do anything that would make you look “different.” Walk the walk. Talk the talk. Keep your head down. Work hard. Assimilate.

And we did. The Aguilars did. We moved to White suburbia. We forgot our native tongue. We straightened our hair, and we left Tito Puente for the Rat Pack. We got college degrees and the careers they only dreamed of. We let go of one world to embrace another, but as an adult, I’m still wondering if we really had to. How much did we have to lose?


I’m taking a Spanish class. I just signed up. I’m taking a Spanish class so that I can talk to the parents of my students, and sing to my grandmother in the language of her heart.


When you balk at the idea of a Spanish-less Mexican, I can’t help but feel the tension, frustration, and resentment of all I have lost. Because in order to be worthy of the American Dream, my family was convinced that we had to let go of much of who we were, and at 24 years old, I’m trying to get that back.

I’m taking a Spanish class. I just signed up. I’m taking a Spanish class so that I can talk to the parents of my students, and sing to my grandmother in the language of her heart. I’m taking a Spanish class so that I can build connections in this community, and I’m taking a Spanish class so that I can read Latino literature. I’m taking a Spanish class so that I can listen, and learn and understand. I’m taking a Spanish class so that one day my students and my own children can be proud of their heritage in ways I never could.

And though my language skills will improve, even without Spanish, I am Mexican. It is the way my hair curls, my skin bronzes, my heart loves. It is in the way I drink té de canela and sing old canciones with people I love. It is the way my fingers caress the strings of my grandfather’s guitarra. It is my tia’s laugh, my grandmother’s abrazos, and my mother’s tortillas on Sunday morning. It is a family willing to give up so much as long as they have one another. And you can take my language away from me, but you can never take away my culture. I am Mexican, and I may not quite speak the same tongue as my people, but my heart will always speak the same language.

“I can’t speak Spanish, but I’m learning,” I say. “I promise you — I’m learning.”

Catching Up With Amber From Femsplain!

We’re so excited to share this quick interview with Amber Gordon, founder of Femsplain, in particular, because we here at Lumen Magazine empathize deeply with the Amber’s journey to create more inclusive literary and narrative spaces.  We’re so grateful for the space they provide, and the voices they highlight, and we’re so ready for what they have in store.  Enjoy!

YESI PADILLA (YP): Thanks for talking with Lumen, Amber! First things first: Can you share with us how Femsplain came to be? what was the spark that started it all? How has Femsplain grown - and maybe changed - from your initial ideas about the project?

AMBER GORDON (AG): Sure! It's a really really long story but I'll try to summarize. Femsplain started out as no more than a side project that three of my friends and I began doing in the fall of 2014. I was working as a full-time creative strategist at the time and was feeling particularly uninspired. We wanted to replicate a space on the internet that felt like a group chat we had going on (open, safe, understanding, communicative, not judgemental). The only way I know how to best create a community is through a common passion, and for Femsplain it's storytelling. So, two weeks of staying up till 3 am and lots of coffee later we were ready to call for story contributions from 20 of our closest friends. We launched October of 2014 and it's been a wild ride ever since!

Initially we only accepted submissions from people who identify as women, but soon after opened to non binary, agender and other gender nonconforming individuals. Inclusiveness has always been a priority of ours. We also used to publish three times per day but have since moved to a publishing schedule of once per day. We're hoping in the future we might be able to increase that with more staff and resources. Another big change is that we're finally able to pay our writers! Initially we had zero budget for that, but due to a successful Kickstarter campaign and other crowd source initiatives we were able to start! Compensation has always been a goal of mine and I'm really happy to be able to say we do.

YP: Femsplain is a very unique and important project, in that it creates dedicated space for women and non-binary people to share their unique life experiences and narratives.  What have been the challenges in curating and maintaining this space?

AG: The main challenge for us has been spreading awareness as well as funding. I think we've done a great job at getting the word about Femsplain out into the world but there's still so much more for us to be done in the near future. Mainly I wish I was a celebrity so all the good of Femsplain would get more attention, but I do also enjoy our small niche community. :) Funding is also another big challenge. It's hard to find the right people who'd be interested in supporting/investing in a for profit website like ours for one reason or another. I'm hoping this year we'll have an easier time finding those people.


Think about those people who will value what you have to say and write it for them and most importantly, for yourself.


YP: You and your colleagues have been working on Femsplain for a little over a year now.  In this time, have you noticed an increase in literary spaces for women, non-binary and other gender non-conforming people? What are your thoughts on ways we can all foster these spaces?

AG: Yes absolutely! I think last year was really a spark of something big for women's literary spaces. Broadly, Lenny, The Establishment are a few that come to mind that sprang up and I'm really excited to see everyone helping and amplifying each-other. Facebook groups are a great way to start a smaller space for you and your friends to communicate with, but mind you that I've seen the smaller the group the less diversity there will be... and diversity is very important. So as with everything, be mindful of this.

YP: Are there any of the aforementioned projects/spaces that you're really interested in, or think others should check out, and what qualities attract you to these projects?

AG: Recently I've discovered Girl Develop It, which is a nonprofit org that provides affordable and judgment-free opportunities for adult women interested in learning to code. It's an amazing organization and I truly believe everyone should have access to learn these languages.

YP: What are some lessons you've learned about making a space for one's voice that you'd like to share with other young writers?

AG: Definitely to remember always that your story matters. When I first came to love the Internet, the Internet did not love me back. I was very used to hearing from trolls to "shut up," that "no one cares" etc. about anything I had to say. Growing up I was picked on a lot because of my weight and whatever-else-have-you, so my self confidence was usually, negative 9000. BUT, as I started gaining my confidence and self-worth back through the work I put out into the universe I cared less and less about what those voices were saying and more about the voices who were thanking me for sharing my stories. Think about those people who will value what you have to say and write it for them and most importantly, for yourself.

YP: Can you tell us a bit about what you have in store for Femsplain in 2016?

AG: Absolutely! I'm really excited for more workshops and live events for our NYC community. I'd like to do a workshop/event on the west coast later in the year. More partnerships, sponsors, I'd like to hire more people. We're also hoping to launch our community platform this year as well! Overall, really exciting times ahead.

YP: And finally, because we'd love to know:  Is there a question you wished more people asked you about Femsplain?

AG: I would love if people asked me more about what comes after sharing a story on our platform. The great thing about Femsplain and our stories is that they're always relevant. Just because we published them 6 months ago doesn't mean the story still isn't worth reading. I love seeing all the different positive reactions and conversation that comes after a story is published. Honestly, I could talk about it all day.

Keeping What I Can

I first got my eyebrows threaded at my mom's insistence during my junior year of college. We were walking around a Christmasfied mall — the best in Northern California — when her quiet suggestion became a stern assertion. So I sat my ass down and got ready for the pull.

My eyebrow form is now my greatest pride and insecurity. I make sure to get them threaded the very day of any long anticipated OkCupid dates, and more often than not, too soon before they're ready to be shaped again. And every time I am caught with embarrassment and surprise when my threader asks, “Would you like me to do your mustache as well?”


We were told never to take a Ouija board from it's original home, so we left it in a place we hoped might scare the new home owners.


I've witnessed this question directed at others from the sidelines. At a small salon on a university block in Manhattan, a youthful young lady had her eyebrows done between classes. And just like I've done before, she asked with fear, “Do you think I need to?”  

Needs and wants have become quite nebulous since moving to NYC. I often need to go to a bar to socialize after a long day of writing in dark, empty rooms. But I often want to give my stomach a break from the constant, acidic flow post-work drinks. I often want to go home to make myself a large, cheap meal, but need to both find and consume 500 calories within a 15 minute window. The privileged life of convenience often comes at the expense of ourselves.

Back in California, many Christmases and mall trips later, my parents left my childhood home in favor of a smaller mortgage. My sisters and I sat upon the floors of our old bedrooms, trying on drill team uniforms and digging through family board games. We were told never to take a Ouija board from it's original home, so we left it in a place we hoped might scare the new home owners.


I threw away hundreds of issues of the The New Yorker that I'd read poolside during California summers, dreaming of a fulfilling future in which I actually understood what the magazine was talking about.


I burned a letter from my college boyfriend listing the things he loved about me (three of the items: “titz”), I donated an electric guitar from my high school parody band (we're still on MySpace), and I threw away hundreds of issues of the The New Yorker that I'd read poolside during California summers, dreaming of a fulfilling future in which I actually understood what the magazine was talking about.

Perhaps the hardest part of this moving purge, however, was the tossing of my 20-year-old furniture, bought for my oldest sister and repainted by me with enough layers of color to increase its size. Three-thousand miles away, I live out of stacked bin boxes. I want a dresser. I need to find one on this side of the country.

And while I am still unsure whether or not my upper-lip hair poses a distraction when I'm faced with it each time by my chosen Manhattan threader, I now know with certainty my answer to her question.

“Do you want me to do your mustache?”

“No thanks. I need to keep what I can.”