Son las historias que permiten, convertir lo pasado en presente y lo distante en cercano, lo que está lejano en algo próximo, posible, visible.
They say that memories are more easily retained if you don’t move around a whole lot. I don’t remember where I read this, but it makes sense. As I think back on my childhood, I don’t think I can remember anything before the age of four. I would have to double check with my father, but I think by this age we had moved to Argentina and were living in the northernmost province there—Formosa. Below, I have written a brief and rough poem about the memories that I have from this time. Some things are a bit anachronistic, but so is my memory of chronological occurrences, so that’s fine—creative license inserted et c’est tout bon !
It’s interesting to note, as well, that I recently posted on Facebook that I was trying to take life a little less seriously. As I try to make this happen I feel like I am transported back to a time period as a child that I didn’t have anything to worry about because I had my parents that were protecting me and taking care of me. Furthermore, since both my parents celebrated birthdays this month, this poem is dedicated to them. My dad’s calm and collected demeanor who likes to draw people in by telling stories, alongside my mom’s curious and creative knack for everything homemade, home-grown, and made from scratch is what I admire the most about these two. Felicidades a los dos por un año más de vida. ¡Los quiero mucho!
A bucket my dad has piled full of mangoes from the backyard tree
sits next to us as the lightning bugs start blinking faintly.
Little by little the mosquitos start buzzing around the uncovered parts of our
bodies, scantily protected by summer outfits.
The day becomes night.
Each of us,
with mangoes in hand,
suck the fruit with gusto until our sticky hands nearly make the slippery seeds
resembling “Bart Simpson’s head” slip from our grasp.
Dad doesn’t say much but when he does I feel like his words make perfect sense.
We sit out on the yard in dumpster dove lounge chairs,
newly re-upholstered with polyester fabric from La Cooperativa.
My dad turns his head in shame when my mother trash picks.
“Your mother is crazy,” he says shaking his head.
Later, I realize that, “My mother is ingenious!”
Deep down, I know he feels the same.
He sits in the chair, doesn’t he?
We play in the sandbox daily, but later the play spot is banned.
“You can’t play there until we clean it up!” My dad insists.
We realize the ringworms circling the pale undersides of our feet and the
calloused palms of our hands are the result of all the stray cats in the
neighborhood using our favorite play area as their litter box.
Antifungals, covering the pink rings every night before bed, should work, but we
are forbidden from entering the sandbox until the problem is fixed.
As an adult, I tend to be a serious person, but remembering the simple things in life
helps me to stay grounded:
Mangoes for dinner,
trash picking for furniture,
and cleaning the sandbox in order to play.
Finally, in relation to the title above, a song from a group I deeply admire:
Last week, a man of intrepid convictions, ingenuous words, and an indissoluble understanding of one of the most diverse parts of the world passed away and now I want to take a moment to remember him. I listened to a short interview by Galeano the other day and I was deeply moved (anyone out there that knows Portuguese or Spanish should definitely watch this). I had never really listened to him speak. In fact, I must admit that one time I tried to read Las venas abiertas de América Latina in the not so distant past and I got about half-way through because I became depressed, helpless, and frankly, a little bored because of the dense nature and textbook-like narration of the book.
Nevertheless, I think that I will give the book another try, especially since I can download Galeano’s books on this website so I have access—the first step in knowledge formation.
As my time in Guadeloupe is nearing a close, I can’t help starting to think about my experience as a whole, even though it’s not quite over yet. In Galeano’s interview, he related that in order to really understand something you have to look at things from below because from above or as an outsider you won’t understand anything: “Si uno mira las cosas desde hace arriba o desde afuera no entiende nada.” I would agree, in fact, I think we all have to start from below to then eventually, if we are lucky, get at things from within, the best place to understand things as they truly are.
In Guadeloupe I have had the privilege of living with a Guadeloupian woman who has been nothing but welcoming and patient as she has opened up her home, her family, her culture, her language, and her heart to me. I feel like she is the reason that I know Guadeloupe as more of an insider than I ever could have otherwise.
Even though I have my foot inside the insider’s camp, it doesn’t mean that everything goes smoothly. There are still many differences of culture; language is most obviously still a barrier since I am still learning French; and in general, things are just plain different because it’s hard to be something or even just getting used to something that is foreign to you.
Today I became slightly frustrated with myself and with my students. It is interesting because one of the things that makes me feel alive, makes me feel happy, makes me feel like I have purpose, is when people really understand me (for more on this you can see my last post on soul mates). This may come from the way that I like to approach the world. I like to be able to be part of cultures, languages, and people, that I can truly understand, at least on some level. Part of my challenge to myself in most of what I do is to be able to really understand people so that I can offer myself to them in the best way possible. That may sound a little weird to some people, but I bet social workers, teachers, and people interested in service to others out there will understand where I am coming from.
Getting to learn new things is not always reciprocal, however. Just because you have the desire to know someone else, learn about another culture, speak a new language, etc., doesn’t mean that the other people around you have the same idea or intention. I think one of my greatest challenges to myself and others is to make this a reciprocal relationship, in this way we can learn more about each other and get out of ourselves in order to grow.
In the meantime, I realize that it really irritates me when I try to teach other people aspects of my language, my culture, where I come from, and they could care less. They would rather listen to the most recent rap trap song, even though they don’t know what the lyrics say. Their ticket to knowledge is right at their fingertips, but the motivation isn’t there. Same goes for some teachers that I have been working with. They are not open to learning new things, they are stuck in how things have always been and they don’t trust in change.
Trying to motivate others to learn from me and alongside me was a great struggle (both good and bad) of mine while working with homeless youth in SF for four years right after college. My first year I was just trying to take everything in. It was more of a learning experience for me than it was a service to others or a way to work for social justice. During years following, however, I learned about motivation and how it needed to be invoked, introduced, and mined in the youth themselves in order for them to be able to find the inner motivation to do something for themselves. Called Motivational Interviewing, or MI, I have used these techniques in great length as I teach as well. The only problem is that currently, my teaching isn’t based on forming relationships, it is based on some fake illusion that students need to learn something in order to gain a score, in order to get a passing grade, in order to pass their BAC, in order to do the next thing in life. Again, we brush up against the problem with traditional education and the fact that you can only get so far in such an environment. Additionally, with the program that I am presently working with there simply is not enough time to form relationships with teachers or students. I work with well over 200 students (I haven’t really counted but it’s 14 different classes with between 10 and 25 students per class) and ten teachers and the time I have with each simply does not allow me to form many connections.
Recalling my own experiences as a middle-schooler and high-schooler I was able to learn things that have stayed with me until now, only when I was able to use all my five senses and when I was given the opportunity to establish, foster, and maintain relationships with others.
And so, I hope that in my next job and wherever life takes me next I am able to have these meaningful relationships in order to make meaning out of daily exchanges. In this way things are not rote, based on false assumptions, fake, and whatever else might impede us in the path of creating meaningful connections with others.
On an upside, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes from the interview:
El mundo no está hecho de átomos, el mundo está hecho de historias. Yo creo que sí, que el mundo debe estar hecho de historias porque son las historias, las historias que uno cuenta, que uno escucha, que uno recrea, que uno multiplica, son las que permiten convertir el pasado en el presente y las que permiten convertir lo distante en cercano. Lo que está lejano en algo próximo y posible, visible.
Let’s keep on telling our stories so that we can become closer as a result.
The other day my brother sent me a YouTube video of a TED talk from a friend of his from college. His friend talked about his experience as a Third Culture Kid and the fact that later in life he had experienced a series of rootlessness and restless years, moving from place to place without having the real ability to connect to a community or to people in an intimate and intentional way. I appreciated his talk, but I disagree with the fact that my own moving from place to place and wanderlust tendencies hinder my ability to connect to people in a meaningful way, and even, I would argue to lay down roots. If you know me at all you know that I am both intense and demanding (both inwardly and outwardly). I am also someone with a great longing for intimacy and connection in order to form what I think of as a meaningful relationship.
I admit that these predispositions stem from the fact that I am an outgoing introvert (I hate these lists, but this one sums up my tendencies pretty well), or an extroverted introvert, but they also are rooted in the fact that my childhood, and now adulthood, has had many rootless qualities and I believe I have honed these different personality traits as a defense mechanism for my own sanity. I am a person who likes to bridge people, feelings, cultures, languages, etc., together. These bridges, are not root systems, but they provide a way for me to develop serious, intimate, and profound relationships with people in a very short period of time.
Today I thought about the TED talk mentioned above, I thought about all the different soul mates I have had the privilege of knowing and continuing to know. I define a soul mate as either someone who has very similar views and philosophy as me or someone that completely understands me even if we are very, very different. Both of these qualities can be present, but either one or the other if present in someone I know, I think can characterize a very good friend. I have encountered and connected with quite a few soul mates in my life due to my penchant for travel (you know who you are) and remembering all these people today made me feel a little sad. I wanted to write a little poem—an ode—for all those wonderful souls in my life that have been my root system as I seem to be always lacking that which keeps people in one place. You are my foundation, you give me direction, you give me the strength to grow bigger and stronger. I love you all!
Here in Guadeloupe, I have had the pleasure of living with such a soul and the experience has been marvelous, albeit short and soon coming to a close. Additionally, I have had the privilege of connecting with some very interesting people, one of which, has given me some balance, as we are probably on quite opposite ends of the spectrum in numerous characteristics. Nayra, hablo de vos, ¡gracias por la perspectiva y los lindos momentos que hemos pasado juntas hasta ahora!
That poem has not yet been written, but I wanted to just give you all a shout-out so that you know how much I value you! Much love!