Reflections on Growing Up Biracial in 2017 // Part 2: At the Dinner Table

poetry

At the Dinner Table

When we sit down at the table

in my home

My mom can make arroz con habichuelas as well as my dad

And crispy tostones to rival his, too.

 

My dad turns on Ismael Rivera’s “Negro Bembon”

Which was a favorite song of mine when I was a little girl.

I feel the rhythm in my head

And I smile,

My hips subconsciously moving to the beat

Although my feet do not know the steps.

 

My dad says I remind him of his mama

Who died when he was 11.

Carmen Gloria:

She was a fighter and fierce.

He says I look like her

And I smile and agree

But in my head I know I am not a fighter.

We talk about how lucky he was to come to Seattle.

This is my home, filled with the music, the aromas, the taste of pegao.

 

 

When we sit down at the table

In my Oma and Opa’s house

My Oma sets dishes of gado-gado, croupouc and Telur Bumbu Bali on the little mismatched trivets

And spicy peanut sauce to accompany the sticky yellow rice.

 

We listen to my Opa talk about growing up in World War II during the Japanese occupation

And how he biked an hour each way from his house to see my Oma

And how Japanese soldiers were quartered in his family’s small home as a boy.

He talks about getting a visa to come to the US and how he was so afraid

With just my Oma and his little children— all 7, 5, and 3 years old—

And giving up everything

(His home, his mother, his three sisters, his job as a doctor)

To come here.

He talks about the first time he had a hot dog

He didn’t know what a credit card was when he went to Sears for the first time either.

I smile

But inside my heart yearns for something out of reach;

I’m not sure what.

 

 

I’ve been to Puerto Rico four times in my life

I’ve never been to Indonesia or China

I don’t speak Spanish

I don’t speak Indonesian or Mandarin

 

Yet all these things don’t count

 

Because when I sit at the table

I am simply Luisa.

 

Copyright Luisa C. Rodriguez September 27th, 2017. All rights reserved.

 

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Reflections on Growing Up Biracial: “Imposter”

poetry

Imposter

Sometimes

I feel far

Far far away

From Puerto Rico

From Latino heritage

From 1/2 of myself.

I don’t “look” Hispanic. I don’t fit

The stereotyped image of what a Latina looks like.

What “looks” Latina? Who has the right to claim that “look”?

The lighter-skinned hispanics, whose ancestors were colonized from Spain?

The indigenous Latinos?

The Afro-Latinos?

All these names swirl in my head

And my label doesn’t fit one.

 

My dad says we’re mostly white because of the colonization of Spain

And his dad came from that lineage.

But my dad’s mom— mi abuela— had a mother of Taíno blood.

What am I?

 

Half is what I am,

It is all I am.

It is all I will ever be.

 

Because the other half is entirely different:

Chinese Indonesian.

In Indonesia, my family wasn’t allowed to be Chinese.

It was dangerous to be Chinese.

That is why they left the island of Java.

They dropped their Chinese names in America.

My mom, aunt, and uncle were so little when they came to America— my mom, being the eldest, was no more than 7 years old.

 

My grandparents don’t speak Chinese,

Though they have Chinese names.

 

They speak what they were taught in school: Indonesian and Dutch.

I call my grandparents Oma and Opa… the Dutch way.

I am not Dutch.

 

My mother doesn’t recall too many memories about her childhood in Indonesia

But when at the dinner table with my Oma and Opa, they tell stories of living in Indonesia during Japanese occupation in World War II

And my heart aches for the gap between their experiences and mine own to be filled. Filled with what?

With Indonesian culture? With its rich language?

Why does it feel like there is a gap?

 

Am I Chinese?

Am I Indonesian?

My grandparents don’t say they’re Chinese, and they weren’t fully accepted by Indonesian culture either.

 

Who am I?

 

I stare quietly into the mirror and a thousand questions and accusations fly off of me…

Back at me.

What is your right to claim you are half Latina? You were born thousands of miles away from Puerto Rico and don’t speak Spanish.

How dare you? 

Remember, you are only half. What does that even mean?

And the other half? Chinese Indonesian?

You don’t speak Chinese or Indonesian, you’ve been to neither country, you certainly don’t look full Chinese or Indonesian.

 

But when someone asks me, “what is your background?”

All I respond with is:

“I am Chinese Indonesian and Puerto Rican… China Latina.”

 

 

 

 

Note: Although the original poem contains names of her family members, the author has omitted their names for sake of privacy.

Copyright Luisa C. Rodriguez September 27th, 2017. All rights reserved.

Perpetual, Imperfect, Intersectional Feminism: Carrying Feminism in our Daily Lives

Musings

People wearing red, walking out/striking/protesting, changing their Facebook profile picture to the Women’s March rectangle: all of these actions have been taken for today, March 8th, A Day Without Woman (aka International Woman’s Day).

But what does this all mean? 

Today we have come together to celebrate feminism. Specifically, today we voice what feminism means to us and why we need it.

A year ago, however, this day meant something a little different for me: it was a day to be proud of being a woman. While I still believe 100% in the beauty of all women, I also have come to realize that “feminist” is not just a title, but a constant state of being. A movement that has life and breath. 

Feminism is a call to change. It is something we must carry in our lives not just today, but every single day. We have to voice our belief in equal rights. We must practice intersectionality. And we must be willing to make mistakes AND LEARN from them.

I guess a good way to put it is “perpetual, imperfect feminist.”

Perpetual: continuously, not stopping

Imperfect: not perfect, never perfect, yet always striving for improvement. 

Feminist: the belief in equitability, the practice of equitability, and a part of a movement bigger than myself.

Here are some everyday ways that can help us carry the Feminist force beyond today:

Be kind. Celebrate fellow women and their accomplishments. Gossip is poisonous and a cheap way to make conversation. If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say it. Giving kindness is a small gift that leaves a big impact. 

Eliminate derogatory terms from your vocabulary: Slut. B*tch. Whore. Many people use this word as a “joke” with friends, but is it really funny to call your friend something that has historically been used by men to degrade women? 

Know when to speak up- and when to listen. We are all born under varying circumstances and have different experiences, from race to gender to sexuality to mental/physical disability to economic status (etc.) check your privilege and be active on causes that not only affect you, but others as well (see point #4)

Follow organizations such as ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union), change.org, and Women’s March on social media to stay informed about current events. A personal favorite website of mine is called http://everydayfeminism.com, which features so many amazing articles, videos, and comics on social issues. 
Of course, there are so many more things we can do to help one another, but these are just a few ways that helped get me started on my personal journey with feminism- maybe they will help you too! 

I vow to speak up more and be a better listener for issues that don’t directly affect me, but largely impact marginalized groups.

I vow to not apologize/humble myself for my accomplishments, my opinions, and my rights as a woman.

I vow to learn more about my Chinese-Puerto Rican heritage and love being biracial.

We will never be perfect, but that doesn’t mean we can’t strive to become a more accepting, empowered, and equitable human race. ❤