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Despite my efforts and her fantastic Halloween costume, Ammie refused to go trick or treating this year. I told about all of the candy and fun she'd miss out on and Ryan called from work to try to convince her to go.
"Mom, I just think I might see one of those scary things from my pumpkin book," she's said and I couldn't argue with that. I put her down for a nap and resignedly texted the friend we were supposed to meet up with that we weren't coming.
I'd been looking forward to this all month. We were going to trick or treat through the art galleries on Santa Fe's Canyon Road. I was going to finally see all of the beautiful spaces I haven't been able to yet. I was going to get some desperately needed social time with really the only friend I have here so far. I sulked around after laying her down and then cleaned house.
Later that night, we had some neighbors over for dinner and one of them shared a story about being terrified of a specific house growing up, and how one year, her father forced her up to the front door. "I think I hated Halloween until my twenties after that," she laughed.
As I was loading the dishwasher after everyone had left, I thought about Megan’s story. I considered how amazing it was that not only was Ammie able to articulate why she didn’t want to go out this Halloween, but she was able tell me that she didn’t want to go at all. She was able to name her fear and express her needs in ways that I still struggle to on a regular basis.
I went into her room and thanked her for telling me that she didn’t want to go trick or treating. I told her that I was proud of her for sticking with what she needed even when Ryan and I tried to change her mind. She smiled and responded with a “Goodnight, mom.”
I’ve said this before, but kids are wise. They are intuitive. They know what they need, even when they can’t articulate it. But when they can, it’s my job as a parent to pay attention. I know that some folks my read my story and think to themselves that I shouldn’t have let my daughter decide what we did Thursday afternoon. Some folks will think that I should have encouraged her to face her fears. Here’s the thing, there are so many people, most of us I would say, who have stories like Megan’s. People who were forced to do things that scared them, who were cajoled into doubting their instincts, doubting themselves.
My daughter felt free enough to tell me what she needed, confident that I would respond to her. I affirmed her sense of self by not making her do something she didn’t want to do. I think when the time comes for her to “face” her fears, she’s going to be just fine.

“yeah, man, the ride is gooooood…” or something like that.

A week ago, in the young stretches of the morning, my daughter sat with me at the kitchen table as l worked on an illustration. She watched intentently, occasionally complimenting my work and asking what was happening in the picture. I would ask her what she thought was happening and what she thought the characters were saying. I listened as she wove together an entire story for the pair, assigning thoughts and emotions to each of them, her excitement about what was happening for the characters growing more palpable the longer she went on. Until she had to slip off my lap to get ready for daycare.

My immediate thought after she left was, “I want this to be my life. I wish that I could wake up every day and have these moments with her. Do this work that fulfills me.”

After she and my husband left for the day, I wandered around the 800-ish square feet of our apartment. I picked up books, tossing them on the unmade bed just as quickly. I walked in and out of the bathroom debating taking a shower. I started a pot of tea. All the while, battling the gnawing in my gut; the   sadness, the longing. “I want this to be my life….but it’s not.”

I’ve wanted to be a full-time, professional illustrator and writer for a long while now. The past few years have been riddled with half-assed efforts and false starts. With doubts. Mostly with doubts. In the last couple of weeks, I’ve worked harder to move toward my goal than I ever have since I started pursuing it three years ago. It’s been wonderful, it’s been terrifying. I’m exhausted. I’m applying for a mentorship program that I’m uniquely situated to get, but with very limited spots for illustrators. If I don’t get it, after all of my hard work, I’ll no doubt be devastated. Albeit internally, and maybe only just a little bit. But still. 

I, like most other people, am terrified of this devastation. I don’t want to work hard just to be let down. I don’t want to sacrifice time with my family, a clean house, and good personal hygiene to meet deadlines for programs I only have a slim chance of getting into anyway. But I also don’t want to just have my desire for that sort of “dream life,” and do nothing with it. Eventually it will start feel like loss and regret, like grief. And it’s not going anywhere. Believe me. 

There are a lot of books and mantras and philosophies about the journey being more important than the destination. But it’s so hard to live that way. It might just be the people I surround myself with, but I don’t know a single person who is all like, “Yeah, man, the ride is good and I don’t give a damn about where I’m going and how I’m going to get there. This shit is awesome.”

I also know that that isn’t actually what that philosophy is implying but, it can certainly feel that way; this idea that it’s the journey that’s beautiful, and transformative, and holds the meaningful stuff of life. Who doesn’t want that? 

But the reality is, a lot of a fair amount of time, the journey effing SUCKS. It’s painful, and it’s hard, and it requires so much of us. Most of all, our attention. The journey wants us to see it, to notice the routes it’s taking us on to get us where we’re going. And we’re all going somewhere. 

God, the entire Universe, is pushing us out into world. It’s not pretty. Some of us are poor, beautiful, sick, educated, afraid, thin, undocumented, content,  fat, wealthy, happy, Queer, White, sad, unhoused, Cis-,  addicted, healthy, People of Color, and so on. All of us can identify with several of these catagories. These things matter and impact us, and it is a reality that some of these circumstances and identities make the journey significantly more difficult, but we are not victims to them.  We can live with them more intentionally, letting them shape us and lead us toward goodness, and we can keep them from taking the driver’s seat entirely. 

When we notice our journey, our life, and the bearing it has on us as people,  we can commit to it and work together with it. The u-turns and the pitstops and the busted tires can suddenly become deeply consequential. It’s largely been in those places where I’ve found what I most wanted or needed. When I’ve paid attention, I’ve seen that in moments like the one with my daughter, I DO have the life that we want; even if it’s not quite how I want it, yet. 

And for this, I am deeply grateful. 

El Paso, 08.03.19

I have to confess that up until last night, I’ve been too inconveniently/conveniently embroiled in my own personal drama  to pay much attention to the details of the massacre in El Paso this Saturday. I use the language of confession because it feels sinful to so easily dismiss the loss of so many lives; to feel so overwhelmed by the sea of white folk’s social media posts boasting generic political statements like “melt the guns,” that I don’t let myself feel anything but empty. 

Listen, I’m all for gun reform: universal background checks, assault weapons bans, gun buy backs, and even straight up taking them away from civilians. I don’t think we need them. 

But don’t get it twisted, the massacre in El Paso was not about a lack of gun control; to focus on that is to put a bandaid on a gaping wound. It was about an ideology that has been allowed to grow and even thrive in our progressive, modern times. It was about race, it was about hatred, particularly of Latinx folks, and it was about fear. A fear that has gone largely unsubstantiated. This insidious combination absolutely will destroy our country if we allow it to continue.

In a Facebook post, Beto O’ Rourke shared details about the people murdered by Patrick Crusius in his hometown; a city once considered one of the safest in America. I read about the TWENTY-TWO lives lost: Jordan and Andre Anchando, the couple who used their bodies as shields to protect their baby, who will now have to grow up without them, the man and his son who sat in the parking lot waiting for Elsa Mendoza Márquez, a wife and mother who will never return to them. Couples who had been married for decades, who grocery shopped together on Saturdays and who will never do so again. I wept, and I thought to myself, “well, at least it wasn’t more,” and then I wept twice at the sentiment. 

While listening to a podcast about what’s next for our country, I heard a sound bite from a Fox News segment in which the Latin and Central American refugees detained at our border were referred to as “illegal invaders.” And remembered that that was what Crusius called us.  “Us” Latinx folks, “Us” Black and Asian and Native folks at other points in US History. Those of us who have been deemed threats to White Power and White Supremacy and objects to be feared, hated, oppressed, and eventually destroyed.

 I think that if I had been in that Walmart in El Paso, instead of celebrating my anniversary in a town a few miles away, I would probably be dead. To Crusius, I would simply be a faceless, nameless, meaningless member of his so called “Hispanic Invasion.”

Now, I shouldn’t have to tell ya’ll that this country was originally inhabited by a multitude of Indigenous peoples before it was literally invaded and stolen from them by Europeans. People who, at first, the Natives largely treated with hospitality and considered with curiousity. 

AND Texas, host to this “Hispanic Invasion,” used to be part of Mexico before it was populated by a majority of White immigrants, many of whom were slave owners with firmly held racist beliefs that they applied to the Tejanos indigenous to the land. Beliefs that have clearly outlived them.

I didn’t need for there to be a mass shooting targeting Latinx people to know that I will be hated because of my race. I’ve had enough experiences throughout my life to teach me that. Albeit, before it was systems and institutions that tried to kill my cultural identity. Now it seems evident, as New Mexican representatives fight for extra protections from domestic terrorism against our largely Latinx state, that there is a target on my brown-skinned, dark-haired body, too. 

I am natural born citizen of this country, and so are my parents, and my grandparents, and their parents before them and so on and so on and so on. I am indigenous to New Mexico. This is my country of origin, my homeland. I should be able to feel safe here. But even if I wasn’t a citizen, or I wasn’t born here, I should still have the right to leave my home. To go grocery shopping, or pick out a new backpack for my freshman year of high school, or supplies for my daughter’s birthday party without being murdered by someone who thinks he has more right to be alive than I do, simply because of the color of his skin.

Some have said that Crusius is a “madman”, but hatred is not a mental illness. It’s not isolated.  Hatred and racism are learned.  They are preached through the news and media. They are woven into the our systems and ideologies, into our history that we are too quick to forget. 

The lynching, enslavement,  torture & terrorizing of black folks, the internment of Japanese-Americans, the genocide of the Navajo people, the Apache people, the Cherokee people, the Seminole people….I could go on, this is our history. Not  just the history of the people groups I named, a paragraph in a fifth grade history book, a niche course in undergrad; this is American history. White folks, this is your legacy.   

I don’t share this because I’m trying to lay the blame on White folks, or stir up any sort of contempt against them. That’s the furthest outcome from my goal. I know that we don’t have any choice in our ancestral heritage, but we do have a choice in our future. And that choice has to lean toward ending this senseless hatred if any of us are to survive.

I often think of the family of Mollie Tibbetts, how when the Trump administration tried to co-opt the murder of their loved one for their own anti-immigrant agenda, they fought back. They made several public statements condemning the racism and fear-mongering of the propaganda campaign. They continued to defend the Latinx community. In fact, in a ceremony for Mollie, her own father shared how he had been embraced and comforted by the Latinx community around him. “As far as I’m concerned, they’re Iowans with better food,” he said. 

Mollie’s family could have chosen to grieve privately, to let propaganda go unchecked. They could have become bitter and hardened against the Latinx community and given hatred reign. But they didn’t. They did this beautiful, countercultural thing where they didn’t lump an entire race of people together and label them as evil. They acknowledged them as individual members with full humanity. I cried when I first read the articles about their response and I’m tearing up as I think about it even now. 

This is what it looks like to choose a different way; this is the way of Love.      

And Love is our only hope. But it requires soul work, it requires that we search within ourselves for the places where we have allowed White Supremacy to take root, for the places where we have given ourselves over to it for just a taste of the privilege it offers. This is necessary for everyone, but it will be admittedly most difficult for White folks. It might mean that your identity has to shift, or even be given up entirely. You will have to question your existence, your experiences and how they line up with the experiences of the BIPOC around you. You will have to realize that, no matter what messages the news or books or music or movies are sending you, you are not the most common or important denominator.  This is hard and painful work, and it will probably take a lifetime and then some. But it is honorable and good. It will teach you how to love. And in turn, Love will teach you empathy; it will teach you how to listen and see. Love will teach you to honor our shared humanity. And that is what will save us. 

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