9/11

9/11

Before September 11, 2001:

I spent the better of the year trying to establish a life in New York City. It was a long-held dream, one that came to fruition after I decided to leave my cushy job a studio publicist. Those months from the fall of 2000 to spring of 2001, I lived in the Carroll Gardens area of Brooklyn. The day to salad day experience of it all seems like a hazy dream to me now. However, certain things will forever stand out. Like making these little trips downtown with my brother and his friends to see movies at a cinema in the Water Garden building, followed up by a little trip to Krispy Kreme, then we’d mosey on over to Century 21 looking for deeply discounted fashion treasure or head into the Borders bookstore. I still have that copy of “Left Behind” in my bookshelf. Don’t ask, but I can’t part with it. Because, by that fall of 2001, it was a final reminder of a place that wouldn’t exist anymore.

September 11, 2001:

I was overwhelmed by the complete selflessness of total strangers helping out the many stranded people all over the US after the horrific events of that morning in NYC. I was one of those Americans, away from home in Toronto, unable to locate my brother Ernesto in Manhattan and frantic for any shred of information that could explain such a heinous and tragic act of cowardice and violence. It was a humbling period of time, where national pride hit this extraordinary and wonderful peak. People did what they could to help those who were lost, who lost someone or simply needed help in coping with the concept of such a staggering loss. Like most of you, I will never forget those who assisted my colleagues, my family and I during those chaotic days. I am forever grateful.

September 11, 2017:

I am overwhelmed by how our now warped sense of national identity has been corrupted through wrath, paranoia, mendacity, narcissism, conspiracy and total ignorance. It has been, the definition of what it means to be an American — to be a citizen of this world. And all for a lousy soundbite to be aired like a Boomerang clip over and over again until it becomes truth.

While you take a moment to remember the past, take a good look at our present because it will dictate our future. We’ve changed in the last 16 years, and not for the better. The very men and women charged with protecting us — from the military to local police and fire departments — are not being given the respect, resources or benefits to aid them in their time of need. More, we have gone from being humbled to something so right of center, I don’t know who we are as Americans anymore. Don’t let these homegrown infidels appropriate our future with more of the same. Remember who were and what we lost 16 years. We have so much to gain through optimism and being proactive. Let’s stop playing the blame game in an endless pissing contest for ratings and attention, tweeting and turning our nation into a reality show that undermines all that it is to be a strong nation of honest, true people.

It’s been 16 years since we faced one of the greatest tragedies in our modern history. Life hasn’t quite been the same since. What we’ve lost still hurts, but who knew whatever precious gains achieved would dissipate in the hateful rhetoric that’s led us to a crossroads moment we are facing as a nation today. As we honor the fallen, we owe their memory something more than toxic tweets, societal unrest, walls and other travesties weighing this great nation down. We owe them love, liberty and the pursuit of happiness who call continue to call America home — or continue to risk the journey here. Because that is the American Way.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men and women are created equal…”

#neverforget #september11 #truth

“Of spare parts and DREAM Acts 2.0: La Vida Robot Revisited” — #SaveDACA

“Of spare parts and DREAM Acts 2.0: La Vida Robot Revisited” — #SaveDACA

In my first conversation with President Trump on Inauguration Day, I thanked him for the positive things he had said about the Dreamers. He looked me in the eye and said: “Don’t worry. We are going to take care of those kids.”

Despite many of the terrible immigration policies this Administration has put forward, I have always held out the hope that President Trump would keep his word and “take care” of the Dreamers. After all, the President told America, “we love the Dreamers.”

But today’s announcement from Attorney General Sessions was cold, harsh, threatening, and showed little respect, let alone love, for these Dreamers.

Starting this countdown clock will require Congress to act fast to stop rolling mass deportations of hundreds of thousands of young people—students, teachers, doctors, engineers, first responders, servicemembers, and more. Families will be torn apart and America will lose many of our best and brightest unless Republicans join with Democrats to right this wrong immediately. I first introduced the Dream Act sixteen years ago to ensure these young people could stay here, in the only country they’ve ever known. Now Congress must act on this bipartisan bill, and act now. These families cannot wait.  

— A statement from U.S. Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), ranking member of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration. 

The intent of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy signed by President Barach Obama in June 2012 was to allow undocumented immigrants who entered the country as minors to receive a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation and eligibility for a work permit. As of 2017, an estimated 800,000 young people, also referred to as “Dreamers” (after the failed DREAM Act), enrolled into the program. As for September 5, 2017, DACA is no more. Now, they face an uncertain future, whether they enrolled into the program or are no longer eligible for its protection.

FullSizeRender
Political Cartoon by artist Lalo Alcaraz, 2017

Living in fear as an undocumented individual is just one of the many realities faced by millions of people living in the United States today. Historically speaking, to be an immigrant is to be responsible for all the societal ills and woes of a nation. We’ve seen what humanity can do when it vilifies and turns against “The Other,” that group of people who become the target of genocides and “final solutions.” How anyone can venerate such monsters, as witnessed in Charlottesville, Virginia last August is beyond the pale. Yet, we have only begun to see the ramifications of a president who has inspired those living with white privilege to exact a sense of revenge, of taking back a country they feel has gone to the dogs. That’s what many of us are to certain sectors of America, animals unworthy of being deemed human.

Since Trump took office, he’s made an art of playing to the cheap seats, that coterie of angry trolls sporting those damn red caps with the legend “Make America Great Again.” His propagandist rhetoric continues to target journalists, Women, the Muslim community, Black Americans, the LGBTQ community, the Latino Community, anyone who just isn’t white. He targets anyone with a brain able to deduce just how dangerous his screaming brat mentality really is for us all.

Trump wants to be worshipped, not challenged, even by those he chooses to marginalize. He demands your respect, although he’s done nothing to earn it. To challenge him is to stir his pitchfork mob of fans while most the members of his political party of choice opt to stick its head in the sand or stay silent. All fear to lose their moment of power, even if it means sacrificing the greater good of the nation. I often wonder who will stand up for anyone if most of the nation is excluded from the bullshit Trump country club our president and his acolytes have chosen as its manifest destiny for our nation.

Our most treasured national icon, the Statue of Liberty, is an ageless beacon, offering shelter from the storms of inhumanity elsewhere. Trump has turned our borders into the frontline of class and racial warfare, its motto is “Keep Out. You Don’t Belong Here.” If we are now known for turning people away, mercilessly deporting the rest, how will that not stop the war on terror? How will it not inspire new groups to target this great nation with their own brand of wrath? We cannot keep punishing the many for the sins of the few who refuse to honor decency and peace.

This entire nation owes its very identity and soul to the millions of other immigrants who have risked life and limb for decades to secure a better life for themselves and their families. To believe otherwise is absolutely un-American. Perhaps if those who fear “The Other” understood that not everyone who dares to call America their new home is a criminal run amok. Perhaps they need to be reminded of the ones who come here for a specific reason, to find their version of the American Dream. Like my parents. Like many of my friends’ parents and families. Who knows what immigrants can offer this nation in terms of innovation, inspiration, and beneficial to us all lucky enough to be citizens of the United States. Perhaps they need to know that not everyone who comes here is looking for a handout or abusing the social welfare system. I offer one reminder for your consideration.

In 2005, writer Joshua Davis penned an extraordinary article for Wired Magazine chronicling the lives of four undocumented teen boys from Arizona. What made them unique? They bested universities such as MIT and Harvard to win a robotics prize at UC Santa Barbara. Titled “La Vida Robot,” Davis’ meticulously written story of Cristian Arcega, Lorenzo Santillan, Luis Aranda and Oscar Vazquez’s journey to victory was truly the stuff of Hollywood films. A decade later, that film, rechristened “Spare Parts,” was produced.

The Carl Hayden Robotics Team and Coaches
From left: teacher Allan Cameron, Lorenzo Santillan, Oscar Vazquez, Cristian Arcega, Luis Aranda, and teacher Fredi Lajvardi. Photo: LIVIA CORONA

Directed by Sean McNamara and starring George Lopez, “Spare Parts” benefited from the momentum of the early DREAM Act (DACA) era, when the Latino voice had never been more urgent in terms of our national narrative. While the film relied on the “feel good” tropes of the underdog story, it did not shy away from the fact that these “illegals” are not the enemy in this ugly, paranoid era of fear mongering and reactionary politics.

La Vida Robot Revisited -- #DACA
Writer Jorge Carreón with Oscar Vazquez and his wife Karla on the New Mexico set of “Spare Parts” in November 2013.

I had the privilege of meeting journalist Joshua Davis and the real boys of Carl Hayden High, interviewing them and their cinematic counterparts for Pantelion Films. Along with producer and star George Lopez, they first expressed the importance of the Latino imprint in terms of mainstream films. However, their ultimate goal was to not only provide quality entertainment, it was to also illuminate an essential community still undervalued or unfairly marginalized by some Americans.

“Spare Parts” opened in January 2015, renewing attention on the lives of Vasquez, Arcega, Santillan, and Aranda. Over the course of a decade, the group from Carl Hayden High School inspired countless newspaper and magazine pieces. Writer Davis followed up his “La Vida Robot” article with a book, also titled “Spare Parts,” catching up on the lives of the boys. Director Mary Mazzio was inspired by the Hayden students to create the documentary “Underwater Dreams.”  The quartet was also included in “Dream Big,” an IMAX feature-length documentary about engineering achievements. Even the team’s famed robot Stinky had its moment when it was put on display at the film’s premiere at the Smithsonian.

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

— President Donald J. Trump during a campaign speech, June 16, 2015. 

Yet, with all the attention and praise for their underdog story, life after high school for Vasquez and several of his classmates has not been without its complications. As of 2014, Vasquez was able to secure his American citizenship after a challenging decade that saw him return to Mexico at one point. His return to his homeland meant a 10-year ban of re-entry to the U.S. It was or the assistance of Senator Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who helped overturn the ban, allowing Vasquez return to the States with a visa. Enlisting in the U.S. Army, Vasquez saw combat in Afghanistan before returning and finishing his college education. Now a U.S. citizen, he and wife Karla moved to Texas with their family, where he works in an engineering-related job with BNSF Railroad.

Dreamers in Action
Photo: Livia Corona

Aranda was already a citizen when the team won the robotics contest. Arcega and Santillan both attempted college careers but ultimately were forced to drop out due to the changes in Arizona state law that required all students without legal status to pay out-of-state tuition fees. Today, Santillan runs a catering company with former classmate Aranda, appropriately called Ni De Aqui, Ni De Alla. Translation? “Neither from Here Nor from There.”

“The Making of ‘Spare Parts'” featurette produced by Jorge Carreon @ Monkey Deux, Inc., edited by Steve Schmidt and Drew Friedman for Pantelion Films.

The effect of this unilateral executive amnesty, among other things, contributed to a surge of unaccompanied minors on the southern border that yielded terrible humanitarian consequences. It also denied jobs to hundreds of thousands of Americans by allowing those same jobs to go to illegal aliens. —

From U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions statement on the Trump Administration’s rescinding of DACA, September 5, 2017, 

As of  September 2017, the more than 800,000 undocumented children brought to the U.S. by their parents are awaiting the other chancla to drop now that “President” Donald J. Trump has announced the end of DACA. Its effect will be catastrophic, breaking families apart and ending opportunities, like finishing an education or gainful employment, that have been hard won. What we stand to lose as a nation, however, is on par with a lobotomy.

Screen Shot 2017-09-06 at 2.53.33 PM

The hope generated in 2012 when President Barack Obama signed this bold piece of legislation into effect was designed to protect them from a growing sense of paranoia and fear stoked by members of the GOP, and especially, Trump. They don’t know who are the Dreamers affected, nor do they care. Trump’s campaign engaged classic fear-mongering tactics, stoking the fires of intolerance with his supporters. It didn’t matter if the facts were true or not. The lack of employment, our border safety, our homes, our lives, we were all under attack by this scourge of evil from Latin America or elsewhere. We smirked that Trump could never be elected on such a brazenly racist and xenophobic platform. No one was laughing as the election proved otherwise. Now we have the sound of fear and it is palpable. (That American-born Latinos even voted for him because they deemed “her” unpresidential and untrustworthy is a testament to self-loathing that deserves its own essay. I say to them now, “Look what you’ve done to your brothers and sisters in blood. Shame on you.”)

As the child of immigrant parents, I am beyond angry. As an American citizen, I am ashamed. I wasn’t raised to hate people. I was raised to believe in the innate good of humanity, because good can flourish, even in the direst of times. Yet, to be told that I’m not good enough to be an American because of my Latino heritage or my sexuality is enough to make me want to take up arms. This is not the America that raised me and I’ll be damned if I let it harm anyone else out of fear and intolerance. What Trump offers is not the American Way. It is HIS way. That’s not good enough, not for this beautifully diverse nation.

Immigrants are not here to eradicate white history or white privilege. Nor are they here to tear this country asunder. That is a total lie to keep the status quo of xenophobia. We excuse the horrors of white terrorism, but movements like Black Lives Matter are deemed dangerous, inspiring legislation to declare such movements as being illegal.

American history was never just white. It is every color and creed and orientation, no matter how hard people try to obfuscate it. We are at a crossroads that will have consequences for generations to still to come. What we lose by excluding the many undocumented individuals now forced to live in the shadows again won’t be felt immediately, but it will be felt. Nothing stirs up a public more than paying for the poor decisions of our leaders. And we will pay for the loss of DACA is many ways, socially, morally and economically.

We are deporting the wrong groups of people. To be silent is to be complicit in this cruelly interminable series of unjust and un-American traitorous political acts. If we continue down this path of eradicating those deemed unworthy of citizenship, we will cease to be the United States of America. We will become the Dishonorable States of Trump, a soulless and rudderless nation offering nothing but a smirk, hatred, and violence to the world that once looked to us for guidance, protection, and inspiration.

Screen Shot 2017-09-07 at 10.38.45 AM
Ana Rice, 18, of Manasas, Va., holds a sign that simply reads “SHAME” outside the White House. Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post

**Now that the DACA program has been shut down, here is a breakdown of the Trump decision and what people should know:

Some DACA recipients won’t lose their DACA on March 5, 2018: People who have DACA now and whose DACA doesn’t expire until after March 5, 2018, will continue to have DACA and the work permit that comes with it until the expiration date of their DACA.

It’s too late to apply for DACA: The president ended the program so from Wednesday (September 6) on no more applications for DACA are being accepted.

A deadline that shouldn’t be missed: People whose DACA expired Tuesday, September 5 or will expire Wednesday, September 6 through March 5, 2018, can renew their DACA, but they must apply by October 5.

The ball is in Congress’ court – or Trump’s?: Between now and March 5, 2018, Congress can draft legislation to revive DACA, come up with a substitute or even do away with what the administration has put in place. Some opponents of DACA disagreed with the program being authorized by the president but may support a congressionally created program. Late Tuesday, Trump tweeted that he may “revisit” the DACA issue if Congress doesn’t act.

Legal challenges could play a role: There’s always a possibility of a court case. President Donald Trump came up with the DACA phase out plan under threat of legal action by a group of state officials. A young immigrant and immigration group filed a lawsuit in New York Tuesday challenging Trump’s action. There could also be discrimination lawsuits as a result.

 

“Dad”

“Dad”

Dad: How far is your house from here?

Me: About 14 miles.

Dad: I’m tired. I think you should go.

Me: But I promised Mom I’d watch you.

Dad: Where’s Mom?

Me: In Mexico. Visiting her family. She’s coming home today.

Dad: I’m fine. I don’t need you here. I’m tired. You should go.

Me: Okay.

That’s when I called my sister…

The day didn’t start out this way.  That exchange happened around 6 pm. We’d made a day of it, Dad and I. We ran errands, had lunch, even went to a movie together. Then things got a little complicated, ending with my saying to my older sister, “Thank God for pharmaceuticals.” In the end, I had to turn my Dad into Neely O’Hara to restore order. Under normal circumstances, this day out with Dad should have been like it was 40 years ago when we were father & young son. Now the roles are reversed, but with one crucial difference: Alzheimer’s.

Being with an Alzheimer’s patient is a bit like being in a scene from “Groundhog Day.” Repetition is the name of the game and it requires a decent amount of patience and humor when they are this stage. You push away thoughts about the silence still to come when they enter a state of haunted immobility as they no longer engage with the world. For now, we can still have conversations. These are comprised of lightning rounds of the same group of questions as they fixate on specific topics. In my Dad’s case, it usually involves the measurement of space or time.

I was assigned one day to sit and care for Dad, which was also the day Mom was to return from visiting her family in Mexico. Dad’s mental long play record was stuck in one groove. His current jam was the track about where was Mom and when would she return. My younger sister had gone to work and I was chuffed by the idea of getting to spend time with Dad in during the regular week.  I sat in our family home living room, taking care of Emails as Dad took his usual spot, the outside porch. Yet, for the next 90 minutes, he’d rotate from the living room to the porch. Each time Dad would enter the room, he’d ask:

Dad: Tu viniste a cuidarme?

Me: Si, papá.

Dad: Muy amable.

He seemed touched to know I had been asked by the family to take care of him. He’d rap on the table, an emphatic gesture that made me smile. An hour or so later, his pacing evolved into that of a caged animal. His eyes glittered in a unique way and the rapping, which at first felt like a war buddies fist bump, now had a tone of anger. Without hesitating, I took Dad on a Target run.

My Dad has been afflicted with Alzheimer’s for well over a decade. We’ve been fortunate to have him mentally present with us for so long. He recognizes my mom and sister, who care for him 24/7. As for the rest of my siblings, we are in iPod shuffle mode. Sometimes he knows who we are and we ignore the times he doesn’t.

Sometimes we are simply “los muchachos,” a catchall term that refers us as being his “kids.” It offers its own comforts, being part of that group memory. We’re still his children. Then reality takes over. One time, he told Mom I couldn’t be his son since I’m too old as he’s only in his 50s. I go, “Mom, that makes you an OG cougar.” We both laughed. You have to laugh, otherwise, you cry.

Dad’s eating habits are changing. Texture matters, in addition to the color of his food. At times, he can forget when he’s had a meal, then he’ll insist that he hasn’t. He is losing weight. He’s irascible at times, the Latino machismo surging to a boiling point when contradicted. Again, those glittering eyes are a sign for us to be calm. That’s when he’s in that “mad” mode.

My mom and sister have learned to wait out the tantrums instead of fueling them further, although I see now why Mom has no fuse at all anymore. Their matrimonial sea roils and it calms itself just as suddenly as if nothing happened at all. Yet the after effects are revealing the wear on her, too. The one saving grace? Whenever things do get too intense, Dad’s physician has prescribed Dad a mild sedative. Yes, it is on par with giving a screaming toddler Benadryl, but sometimes…

IMG_5787

I can see Dad’s age now. He’s 92. I regret not getting him on record to capture his view of the world, the chronicle of a Mexican immigrant father, businessman, and world traveler projected against the canvas of contemporary history. Today, he can’t differentiate what he sees on the television screen, fictional or otherwise, from his real life.

When we do receive those treasurable moments, though, it is on par with winning the lottery. Like the time, I went to meet Dad and my younger sister for a showing of “Atomic Blonde.” As they entered the cinema, he saw me and instantly opened his arms for a hug. Usually, he just offers a gentlemanly handshake and a pat on the shoulder, which was his way. But this was wonderfully different. For a moment, we were on the track many grown sons are with their older parent.

Families, particularly Latino families, do not like to share the truth of their loved ones’ health, especially serious conditions. For whatever reason, illnesses are a “private matter.” We become traffic wardens, telling onlookers, “Move along. There’s nothing to see. Everything is alright.” But everything is not alright. Our parents will get sick. They will change because of an illness, not because of some cosmic punishment.

I understand the desire, particularly when it comes to our parents or grandparents, to want people to remember how they were and not as their infirmed selves. It is such a waste of time, time left with us that we can’t possibly measure or gauge. Family can become so entrenched in denial. Better living through chemistry, at least when it comes to Alzheimer’s, yes. But the truth is it is just a stop gap.

I see where we are heading with Dad. That’s why I choose to laugh now about his, “Yo soy el dueño de esta casa” demeanor. It wasn’t easy knowing he wanted me to leave his house. My work caring for him was done and he wanted his independence and space back. Later that night, I regaled my Mom and younger brother about how Dad refused to go to sleep because he wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to “steal his shit.” Eventually, like a toddler, sleep caught up with him. Granted it was aided with the sedative I gave him a few hours earlier, but our cherished Poppadoodles was finally having a well-deserved rest.

I do not regret the frustration I felt at times that day. At times, I wanted to just yell, “Why don’t you understand?” I felt robbed because I can’t stop thinking about the conversations we could be having now we are both able to communicate again. It all seems so unfair. I can’t tell him I finally understand what he tried to teach me when I was a kid. I can’t tell him how he hurt me when I came out to him 17 years ago. I can’t tell him that I forgive him. I can’t share with him how I think this full circle reality we share is so good and inspiring to me.

Like “Groundhog Day,” we will be back at the same starting point the next day and the one after that. Our “Dad’s Day Out” will be forgotten, but how marvelous to know that when we do get to do this again it will be like a brand-new adventure. We have nothing to mourn or feel sorry about here. Dad is a part of many lives, not just with the family here and in Mexico, but our friends, too. As long as that smile still shines through I will remember what his mind can’t hold anymore. It’s the ultimate privilege and the best story I am ever going to be able to tell.

From the Alzheimer’s Greater Los Angeles website:

“Alzheimer’s Greater Los Angeles is a leader in developing culturally and linguistically appropriate programs and services, including those for Latinos.  Research shows Latinos with dementia are low users of formal health services and less likely than non-Latinos to see a physician.  Given the significance of familia in the Latino community, families (particularly daughters) provide a disproportionate share of Alzheimer’s care.

In order to reach these women (and their families) ALZGLA has taken a creative approach…we produced a bilingual, educational telenovela.  Lost Memories tells a story familiar to many Greater Los Angeles families.  It also disseminates complex medical and health information to caregivers with the goal of raising awareness of Alzheimer’s, fighting stigma, and encouraging Latino families to seek help sooner.

In honor of Latino Heritage Month,the 4-episode web series will debut September 19 at alzgla.org and on YouTube.

 

“Glen”

“Glen”

Dad was a big fan of Glen Campbell. That these formidable men have been afflicted by Alzheimer’s is still tough to fathom. Today, Mr. Campbell succumbed to this disease. He leaves behind generations of fans, a loving and supporting family and a legacy of art that is without compare.

I will never forget the sound of his music playing over the car radio as my family and I drove through the Southwestern desert on our way to visit family to Mexico in the early 1970s. My Dad would hum along, tapping the steering wheel, offering back-up. It was a late night, our family Impala cutting its path through the star-filled darkness. Dad didn’t know I was awake, his silent co-pilot, determined to remember it all.

Years later, before Mr. Campbell retired from touring, my siblings and I took Dad to see him perform live at the Pala Casino outside of San Diego. His own family shared the stage, with his daughter carefully guiding her legendary father through the songs. I remember holding back tears as my father smiled and tapped along to the music, clearly engaged by the Campbell musical experience like it was those many nights long ago.

Both men were in the throes of dealing with Alzheimer’s at that moment, never knowing what they had in common that evening. That one of these two men is no longer with us fills me with a surge of fills me with a surge of emotion. I am very blessed t still have my father in my life, despite the hardships of this disease. While Dad was far from being a rhinestone cowboy or a Wichita lineman, he still towers in my heart and life. And the music created by Mr. Campbell? It is a shame I can’t tell him it will forever be something so profound and poignant for my family and myself, now and forever. Thank you, Mr. Campbell, for leaving us this gift, too.

As posted on the Glen Campbell website: “In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Glen Campbell Memorial Fund at BrightFocus Foundation through the CareLiving.org donation page.

“50”

“50”

Forty is the old age of youth; fifty is the youth of old age. – Victor Hugo

Nature gives you the face you have at twenty; it is up to you to merit the face you have at fifty. – Coco Chanel

Just remember, once you’re over the hill you begin to pick up speed. – Charles M. Schulz

“Youth has many glories, but judgment is not one of them and no amount of electronic amplification can turn a belch into an aria.” — Alan Jay Lerner, “The Street Where I Live”

Age ain’t nothing but a number – Aaliyah

Todo lo he hecho a sabiendas y no me arrepiento de nada. Ni de lo bueno ni de lo mano ni de los momentos felices ni de las tristezas. Al final, tengo el alma llena de paz y de tranquilidad.  — Chavela Vargas

Holy fu*k! I’m 50! – Everyone else

I turned 50 today. I figure all that’s left for me now is getting an AARP membership and let those discounts begin! Hahaha. Nah. That’s not how I started my countdown to turning 50 earlier this week. It began by my pondering how I would look with the new Chanel Gabrielle bag in black lambskin. I mean, if it works for Pharrell Williams, who is an elder fashionista statesman of 44, it should look amazing on me!

Masculine. Feminine. It doesn’t matter anymore to me. I am finally settling into loving me as I am today after years of thinking happiness could only be found in constant reinvention or letting perception dictate who I was as a man. Capes. Open-toed shoes. Painted toe nails. And that’s just cosmetics, an expression of my evolving style. It’s on the inside where I am discovering where real beauty lies and I think I can safely say “I am beautiful” now. Maybe not at the top of my lungs, but I can say it, dammit.

Helen says this classic ad for the fragrance named Charlie, starring that golden blonde Shelley Hack and New York cafe society crooner Bobby Short, summed up my 40s. I’d have to concur. It was a decade filled with high-end glamor and high street drama. As I venture into the next 10 years, I think I’m gonna favor a life like a Chavela Vargas song.

I think about where I was 10 years ago. I was preparing for my 40th birthday party in my patio, complete with taco cart, a wide assortment of boozy drinks and a lot of fun people, family, friends, co-workers. I’d reached a personal peak. I was vice president of a content agency. I had a boyfriend that I loved so much. My duplex apartment was the first dwelling of mine to feel like home. The night of the party was soupy warm and full of expectations for the decade ahead. My worlds were colliding again, but I felt confident that it would be a night to remember. And it was.

That was 2007.

It is now 2017. The company I worked for at that time went bankrupt, leading its charismatic owners to an acrimonious and shocking divorce. Most of that crew went their separate ways, starting families, moving abroad or across the country. I love that they are all living exciting new lives today.

I broke up – twice — with my musician BF. In 2010, we stayed apart for good. While communication between us is now sporadic, it is still better than it was during the volatile early years of our split. However, I have yet to be able to call anyone a partner since, much less a steady date.

My duplex remains my chosen sanctuary, complete with pictures on the wall and other examples of a life less ordinary. The occasional screech of wild parrots still makes me smile as they break through the tree-lined quiet that makes this stretch of South Pasadena wonderful.

My family remains a unified front, even though some of us are starting to rebel as we finally make awkward attempts to curate lives on our own. Dad’s struggle with Alzheimer’s has run its inevitable course. While he is still very much with us, the realities of his age (92) and the illness have shrunk his capacity to stay in the moment. His dependency on my mom and sister is at a critical mass and I wonder how much more they can endure. Now I am starting to think about what will THEY need once he longer requires their selfless care.

I am three years in with the most extraordinary – and award-winning – agency. Career remains at a peak and I am surrounded by a constant source of creativity and inspiration. Yes, my political incorrectness does get me into trouble from time to time. However, is altering my unique voice a good thing or is it a means of being oppressed by those who can’t dominate me? Either way, the struggle keeps me alive and bristling with an energy I still possess, no matter how hard I try to obfuscate it.

But the journey since 40 has not been easy and I worked hard at making it unnecessarily complicated, which may be my biggest achievement to day. It can’t be explained away through depression, family loss and a voracious need to be liked anymore, although I continue a mighty battle with them all. What I discovered in the last decade is that I am my own worst enemy and we have reached a moment of “high noon.”

I gave turning 50 a lot of thought and my taking this milestone to Mexico City was the answer. I wanted to step away from all that has given me pause these last few years. I wanted not to worry about my weight, my lack of romantic pursuits, my stagnating friendships, the visits to the nutritionist, the shrink, the anti-depressants, the meds for diabetes and high blood pressure, all of it. I wanted to pay homage to my identity as an American born of Mexican parents. That I remain proud to be parte del mundo hispanohablante. I wanted my parents to know I owed all that I was, more, I wouldn’t be able to even stand before them if it wasn’t for their bringing me into this world. I wanted my siblings to know that they mattered, despite this surprise round of growing pains we are experiencing now.

2017 has been a watershed year for friends. Weeks on the road brought the most wonderful energy to my life, taking me out of my self-imposed inertia because of my forging these new friendships. And the effects, which started out as confusing and frustrating, have evolved into a refreshed perspective on the roles my close circle of friends plays in my life. Loyalty was never an issue here. They are the epitome of tough love and I need them for that alone. More, it was high time for them know how they still make me try to BE a better person. Period.

The weekend’s wine soaked dinners, and there were two, truly became the stuff of a dream. The theme of “Details of Diego and Frida” that was taken too literally by my cousins who drove three hours from Tlanepantla to reach the first dinner. The all-female salsa band that played a theme as I entered the antro at the Sheraton María Isabel. The post-dinner mariachi performance as the “final-final.”

Perhaps the greatest moment was seeing Dad literally bolt from his seat at the table at Balcón when he laid eyes on his nieces, that sonorous blast of color and love I’ve grown to cherish so much more in the last decade. Dad KNEW who they were in an instant, Alzheimer’s be damned. The hugs and kisses and tears were a harbinger of things to come, too. Annie G captured the moment, broken ankle y todo, the sweetest gift preserved by one of my best friends, herself a purveyor of honest sentiment and great care.

At each stop that weekend, I offered my thanks to everyone, triggering a series of testimonials that were better than any AFI tribute I’d ever seen. As I faced my family, my friends at the Saturday night dinner at Rosetta in the colonia Roma, I was overcome with such emotion. I felt nothing when we dined at the Balcón del Zócalo on Friday night. I was too worried about having enough seats for everyone. Yet, after a day’s cultural excursion to the Museum of Anthropology and the visit to see the art of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo at the Museo Dolores Olmedo in Xochimilco, I was in a fight to keep the buzz of happy from dissipated too soon. It was all going so fast! I just let the emotion take over. I couldn’t keep it in and I didn’t want to anyway. The hot tears I let fall were wonderful on my skin.

Screen Shot 2017-07-20 at 7.48.56 AM

This was the unification of the two Jorges, the American and the Mexican, and it was ultimately an out of body experience. I looked around the family-style dinner table at this grouping of family, friends, co-workers and more. I could see and feel the presence of those family members and friends no longer with us. Tío Ernesto and Tía Tayde. Aunt Susanna. Melissa Duke. I know they enjoyed a trago conmigo, that was the source of my emotion.

I was reunited with esteemed Mexican film journalist Daniela Michel, herself now a major figure in world cinema. It may have been an absence of 10 years, but the distance in time was quickly shored up the minute I saw her. We spoke at length that night, sharing the details of our lives in the effortless manner that belied the reason we became friends in the first place. Her influence on my life goes without compare and how I’ve missed our epic conversations. She’s a lot like Alan in that she brings out the best in people she trusts in friendship. Walking her through the colonia Roma streets, sitting down with her husband Jim and friends for a quick drink after the dinner encapsulated what my I envisioned my life to be as I enter this fifth decade.  It’s about the power of community, of creating a family that is made of strong ideals, true conversation, and absolute joy.

The next Sunday morning, we staggered through Reforma for an oh-so necessary pozole brunch at La Casa de Toño in the Zona Rosa, I was determined not to cry again. I had to keep some sense of strength and avoid the calling of the chillón. But then I looked over at my Dad, and his face was one of such love that his tears gave the order to allow for my own to march again. I’ll never forget that image, swiftly banishing all that we said and did so wrong to each other as father and son when I was growing up. In it is place was a recharged soul, one that I had let become airless and dull. My father. My mother. My family. My friends. They all brought me back to life. Having them in Mexico City was an affirmation of the following:

I am alive.

I am getting better.

I am looking forward, even as things change anew.

I wanted to wax lyrical in this post. Perhaps the flourish is steeped in the hyperbole that is the curse of being a former publicist, yet it’s something I’ve done since I first penned my first paragraph. Ego dictated that I write the sort of essay that gets quoted and/or added to some basic DIY Pinterest wall with a deep thoughts pic. Instead, I am happier with keeping 50 closer to my heart. The intimacy and emotion of the entire weekend were the culmination of a journey that’s never failed me, even as I failed myself in the process. What I’ve discovered as I start this chapter is that everything changes for the better in an instant when you finally let love take its rightful place within yourself. Once people see that emanate forth, nothing will stop another person’s love from being returned in kind. That’s the gift we are so lacking these days of acrimony and confusion. And we need to fight like hell to restore its place in us all.

“Everything changes
My heart’s at the wheel now
And all my mistakes
They make sense when I turn them around
Everything changes
What I thought was so permanent fades”

— From “Watiress,” score written by Sara Bareilles

The gifted singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles is the Carole King of our moment. I am drawn to her music for its honesty and poignancy. Like Ms. King, she is so cognizant of the universal emotions we experience at any age, at any moment, in life and in love. Her score for the musical adaptation of the film “Waitress” represents some of her best work as a songwriter. Near the end of the second act, the character of Jenna sings about how her view on life has changed because of the birth of her daughter, Lulu. That song, titled “Everything Changes,” resonated like a thunderbolt as I penned this essay. I may not never know the wonderful sense of achievement of being a parent. However, I do understand the importance of being reborn when we begin to shake loose from the torpor of our discontent and fear. Because, as Bareilles writes, “Everything changes. My heart’s at the wheel now and all my mistakes, they make sense when I turn them around. Everything changes. What I thought was so permanent fades.”

I don’t want my past mistakes to fade, but I know they will not represent me, either. And if it takes another half century to right these many wrongs, so be it. Most people forget you 10 minutes after you’ve gone. We don’t own this time on Earth, we pay rent. Don’t you want it to count, to know you were the best you could possibly be while you’re here? Don’t you want to cast aside the standard of mediocrity and narcissism we’ve let define our time? We need to deserve each other again so when the time comes for our departures, all that remains is what was felt with truth and love. That’s my goal for the next 50 years or however many years are left in my narrative.

And I have a whole lot of writing to do…

 

 

 

“Gender”

“Gender”

“Nobody wants to be alone
Everybody wants to love someone
Out of the tree go pick a plum
Why can’t we all just get along?”

From “Androgyny” by Garbage

It was an unusual Sunday at home in that it was quiet and I was totally alone. I’d just returned from my umpteenth work trip this year to discover that, unlike the gorgeous temperate weather of Vancouver, LA was as hot as Satan’s asshole. While I wasn’t exactly loving making sopa in my Hanes t-shirt, I occurred to me that it I could finally be a puta in my own home! Without hesitation, I reached over to my iPhone, whispering, “You whore,” and ignited the Growlr and Scruff apps with a newfound purpose. That was before I realized I was better off making soup in my undies. Behold this exchange with Bachelor No 1:

HIM: Are you masculine?

ME: What?

HIM: Would you define yourself as masculine?

ME: I find that question rather insulting. What the hell does that have to do with anything?

HIM: It’s just a question. I’ve never had anyone react this way to it before.

ME: People want to see us dead. Why are we wasting time being shitty to other gay men by judging whether they’re masculine or not?

HIM: I’m not responsible for Prop. 8. LOL

ME: Come over, decide for yourself. But I’m not answering the question.

I sat there, annoyed, sticking to my guns as he continued to insist I define my level of masculinity. I know it is a part of this era of people seeking guarantees so they don’t waste on anything like being committed to a single choice. No one takes a chance, but they extol the virtues of being on PrEP. They’ll list “Daddies” as a like, but won’t even acknowledge you if you’re really age of true Daddyhood. They say they hate douches who judge or have a long list of criteria, but ignore you if you dare to “Woof” them.

As we continued to volley back and forth with the texts, my anger stared to refine itself. Heat be damned, I was sticking to my original point. It IS a fucking stupid question. If you’re gold star homo who enjoys sucking dick and engaging in butt sex, how can that make you LESS of a man?

ME: I paint my toenails and I am skilled enough to tackle you hard.

(That brief period of playing football at Meller Jr. High and ERHS had its benefits after all. Thanks Coach Peterson!)

HIM: So, you’re masculine then?

ME: For fuck’s sake. Yes.

HIM: I’ll be over in 40 minutes.

So, how was he in person? Like any other friend of Dorothy’s I’ve met and nowhere near my chosen example of “All That is Man,” otherwise known as the great porn star Zak Spears.

IMG_4142

The experience left me quite pensive after he – mercifully — left. It wasn’t anything like the incredibly gratifying experiences I recently had in NYC and Vancouver of late. Both gents could not have represented the evolving gay identity of today’s homosexual any better. Confident and honest, they were very much in tune with their sexual selves, proving themselves fantastic lovers as a result.  So, why are some of us determined to make these distinctions of what qualifies as the measure of masculinity? It annoys me as much as that current vogue of telling people you’re being a grown up or “Adulting” or whatever the hell that means.

img_4083

I can joke that we are barely over the period when Metrosexuals jammed the “gaydars” for many of us – and women. That we’ve gone from playing Gay or European to Gay or Hipster!

Yet, gender fluidity continues to spill over into fashion, with men wearing skin tight jeans and even just plain ole tights as their daily uniform. As many men explore once feminine tropes, today’s younger generations continue to take great pains to redefine their sexual or gender identities, eschewing the use of traditional pronouns. He and She have given way to Cis, Latinx and a list grows with each year as these “woke” beings lead the vanguard as to what defines sexuality and identity. It’s hard to keep it all “straight” anymore! (I know, low hanging fruit.)

IMG_4132

I spent the better part of my adolescence and teens being subjected to a litany of slurs that were just variations of one word: “faggot.” The damage caused followed me into adulthood. I still bristle at the mere suggestion of anything that diminishes my sense of masculinity. I like being a man very much. I am out, proud and part of a community that has so much to teach the world. Yet, how is it, despite all the prejudices and intolerance that want to see us eradicated off this earth, gay men can be their own worst enemy?

We slut shame, even though we proudly crow being in “open relationships.” We femme shame even though we love watching those divine queens serve up glamour realness on “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” We poz shame as we brag about being on Truvada, ignoring that the rise of STD’s that is not slowing down or that our brothers of color are experiencing an unspoken genocide because of HIV/AIDS in certain parts of our country.

We are still playing that stupid “straight acting” card, despite the great strides taken since Stonewall. I wonder, is it because we want to protect ourselves from the grotesque hatred against our sexual selves? Is it self-loathing about being a cocksucker or buttfucker? I wish I had an easy to qualify answer. I know the space between who we desire and what we fetishize is rather small indeed. We want to fuck who we want to fuck. Period. But if we homogenize ourselves into being one type, we ignore the incredible diversity that populates our community, itself such a disservice.

We can choose a lot of things in this life. How we look on the outside. What we think we know about the world. Who we want to love or make love to in those moments of blissful carnality. But we cannot change who we are on the inside as men and women of the LGBTQ community. That is not a choice. That is our reality. We are truly born this way. If we are ever going to move forward as a group, like the greater section of our woefully ignorant society, we need to stop shaming or disavowing those who don’t fulfill some outdated criteria many of us had NOTHING to do in establishing.

IMG_4131

I get ignored on these stupid apps on the daily for a variety of reasons and I’ve let that beat me down to the point where I feel that awful sense of being invisible again. I will be leaving them soon. But, it is important to note that I know what I can offer a man and it has been appreciated. And it will happen again. So, if a quasi-queer, but butch in bed, sweater wearing, Chanel Le Vernis sporting, Phil Donahue-era and book smart homo is your thing, you know where to find me.

By the way, I forgot to mention Bachelor No. 2, himself a Latino. After a few texts, he wanted to know if my voice was “very very masculine.” At first, I played it flip and responded by saying I was a “raging, but awesome queen.”

Of course, he wrote, “Really?”

I responded, “Actually, no. But I’ve been told I sound really white.”

I didn’t hear from him again.

 

“Wear Sunscreen (or Graduation Day)”

“Wear Sunscreen (or Graduation Day)”

Whatever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much
Or berate yourself either
Your choices are half chance, so are everybody else’s

— From columnist Mary Schmich‘s essay for the Chicago Tribune, June 1997

Finally, a reason to write an essay about being proud and happy. I’m hitting the “Pause” button on my ravings to concentrate on an experience shared by many of us: the day we graduate from high school.

It goes without saying that we are never really ever out of school. Classrooms are either ground zero for inspiration and imagination or a repelling force that hurtles bodies into other stratospheres of life. I will never judge those who deem the classroom as their Waterloo, either. Valuable lessons can only be learned if we’re open to them, whether out of a book or experience. But the act of graduating, of moving forward, is such an empowering reality.

I’ve never been good about letting go of things or moving forward. Hell, I didn’t even graduate from college. But that’s another story. It’s just too easy to choose the safe confines of avoiding confrontation or making decisions that can alleviate all that ails or stagnates us. But, sooner or later, you get your PhD in courage and strength. You walk, head held high, smiling at all that you’ve accomplished. You’ve shed that extra weight, that 10-ton magilla of emotion and/or fear, and you move forward.

It was a glorious day to see the photos and videos of my godson graduating from high school in June. He was the first grandchild of my aunt and uncle to graduate from high school. I know my cherished aunt, his forever Nana, was smiling that glorious smile the moment he made his way down the aisle to receive his diploma. Lord knows the family has endured some trying times, but my godson has grown into one of the most sincere, intelligent, genuine and decent human beings on this planet. We need more like him and that’s a testament to his parents’ upbringing, my divine cousin and her husband. I admire their tenacity, more, I admire their ability to remain a unified front against that could tear them asunder. They were not destined to life an acrimonious life of arrogance, keeping up appearances and regret like Las Hermanas y Hermano Coraje, That in itself is a lesson for all of us to uphold and appreciate.

IMG_3450

It is going to be exciting to see what happens to my godson next. And rest assured, we will all be there to cheer him on to his next achievements. That goes for all of the grandkids, because that’s what family does. Whether by blood or choice, you stay together through the challenges, emerging stronger and more united. Even if it seems like the pain and emotion will never subside, you will survive intact, and most of all, loved.

I recalled the famed Mary Schmich piece for the Chicago Tribune as I was writing this essay. Immortalized by producer Baz Luhrmann as a surprise pop hit, “Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen),” it is the perfect commencement speech. It is a delicious slice of life advice that any columnist worth their Pulitzer Prize would like to represent their abilities. So, in a rare bid of optimism, I am concluding this essay with a special address to the Class of 2017…and anyone else who is taking a step forward into becoming the person they were meant to be.

IMG_3419

Wear Sunscreen

By Mary Schmich of the Chicago Tribune

Ladies and gentlemen of the class of ’97: Wear sunscreen.

If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience. I will dispense this advice now.

Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Oh, never mind. You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they’ve faded. But trust me, in 20 years, you’ll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can’t grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked. You are not as fat as you imagine.

Don’t worry about the future. Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blind side you at 4 PM on some idle Tuesday.

Do one thing every day that scares you.

Sing.

Don’t be reckless with other people’s hearts. Don’t put up with people who are reckless with yours.

Floss.

Don’t waste your time on jealousy. Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind. The race is long and, in the end, it’s only with yourself.

Remember compliments you receive. Forget the insults. If you succeed in doing this, tell me how.

Keep your old love letters. Throw away your old bank statements.

Stretch.

Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don’t.

Get plenty of calcium.

Be kind to your knees. You’ll miss them when they’re gone.

Maybe you’ll marry, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll have children, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll divorce at 40, maybe you’ll dance the funky chicken on your 75th wedding anniversary. Whatever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much, or berate yourself either. Your choices are half chance. So are everybody else’s.

Enjoy your body. Use it every way you can. Don’t be afraid of it or of what other people think of it. It’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever own.

Dance, even if you have nowhere to do it but your living room.

Read the directions, even if you don’t follow them.

Do not read beauty magazines. They will only make you feel ugly.

Get to know your parents. You never know when they’ll be gone for good.

Be nice to your siblings. They’re your best link to your past and the people most likely to stick with you in the future.

Understand that friends come and go, but with a precious few you should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle, because the older you get, the more you need the people who knew you when you were young.

Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard.

Live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft.

Travel.

Accept certain inalienable truths: Prices will rise. Politicians will philander. You, too, will get old. And when you do, you’ll fantasize that when you were young, prices were reasonable, politicians were noble, and children respected their elders.

Respect your elders.

Don’t expect anyone else to support you. Maybe you have a trust fund. Maybe you’ll have a wealthy spouse. But you never know when either one might run out.

Don’t mess too much with your hair or by the time you’re 40 it will look 85.

Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.

But trust me on the sunscreen.