Immigrant stories Part II

Today on my way to yoga I was listening to a Radio Ambulante podcast that happened to report a story on Oakland International High School. A school I never worked with, but her sister school in San Francisco is one that I am very familiar with because I worked them and many unaccompanied youth that attended there.

I felt somewhat uncomfortable listening to the story because it felt like an invasion of privacy. This radio journalist was gathering stories of Central American youth who had come across the border in some way or another, but she only wanted to report those stories of youth who had come on their own. Because of their age and many of them not having family back in their home countries, many youth were able to stay in the U.S., and I am assuming that they are now in the process of filing refugee or asylum paperwork or some other kind of visa that will get them citizenship here. The story mentioned youths’ names and I winced each time a last name was said. I remembered what it was like to work with immigrant youth. My first job out of college was in San Francisco working with homeless and many immigrant youth. I worked at this organization for four years and everything about these years has impacted my life and work trajectory (for good).

One of the things I most dreaded while working with this particular population was the intake we had to do when someone new first came through our doors. There were many things that were lacking in terms of hospitality at this particular organization so I just took this issue with the intake forms as par for the course.

On countless occasions I would welcome youth from El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Guatemala, and others, and after saying hello and welcome I would have to ask all about their personal information including their education, health, family, etc. It felt like I was really invading their privacy and I felt bad each and every time. Even more culturally significant is that I am a woman and most of the intakes I did were with adolescent Latinos. After taking intakes for a while I realized that it was just a matter of how I approached the form and the situation. I am mostly a friendly and kind person so I was just very nonchalant about the whole process and I made sure the youth felt comfortable with me (this is something that comes naturally but you have to learn to quickly cultivate initial trust too) and that they knew they could divulge as little or as much as they wanted…we could fill in the blanks later more accurately.

“Just tell me what’s on your mind now, because I know it is awkward to tell me some of these very personal things having just met me.”

After these intakes, getting to know each of the individual youth I worked with was my favorite part of the job. They would sometimes tell me stories, but really I just liked chatting with them about whatever it was that was going on in their lives at the moment. They probably had plenty of other people that were asking about their personal stories, so I didn’t want to intrude. Now, looking back, I wonder if I did the right thing or not…just letting them tell me the things that came to their mind. Of course, this is the beauty of being an educator, is that there are many different tools you can pull from for students to share information and for them to get things off their chest. Tapping into these different methods was really important in being able to read, relate to, and react to each youth’s story. Some youth expressed themselves via art or music or writing or silence or dance…etc. Other youth still hadn’t found their voices and were in search of how best to relate to the world around them.

I feel like sometimes, in the U.S., we are very intrusive and we like to know everything about someone, especially if they are an immigrant or if they have some kind of cross to bare, so to speak. To everyone else, we could care less, but when you have a grueling, or harrowing, or simply, just interesting story, we want to hear it. What do we do with these stories in return? Where do they go? Do they exist with us for shock value? Or do we actually get to know someone, a people, a culture, a history, as part of the process?

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Immigrant stories

I don’t really have much to say today…except for the fact that I didn’t write all of January so my new intention for the month of February is to write daily.

Today, I listened to Junot Díaz reading a short story by Edwidge Danticat entitled “Seven”. Both these individuals, Junot from the Dominican Republic and Edwidge from Haiti write about their and their families experiences as immigrants and are a couple of my favorite writers because they are able to pin-point a feeling, a situation, a time in history that resonates with the social worker, educator, and writer in me.

Junot, before reading the story remarks that in this country the immigrant has been recently portrayed as a “menacing and dangerous figure” and the only softening of this blow is when he relates that it is only by stories that writers like Junot and Edwidge have told, do these menacing and dangerous people are able to be seen in their real light.

That’s all I have for today. Go read or listen to or ask someone about their immigrant story…and become closer to the American we are today and the one that we always have been.

 

 

Nothing is real until you have a relationship with it

Today I applied to jobs in Argentina, Burma, and San Francisco. Then I read the news. Then I signed a million petitions. Called senators and only got busy signals. Then I listened to a podcast with Ethan Knight, founder of the American Gap Association and during the talk he said something that resonated with me more than anything has in a long time:

nothing is real

until

you

have a relationship with it

True story, I thought. You don’t really integrate something until you have actually made it part of your narrative and made it part of your life in concert with everything else. Then I read a short piece in the New Yorker by Edwidge Danticat (Haitian author who I admire and enjoy immensely) who talks about the power of poetry in times like these where liberty and freedom are hopes instead of realities.

Cultivating a relationship involves

benching your imagination

and letting reality take the floor.

Courting an idea, a person, a place

Making it part of who you are in some small way.

This weekend I visited Mendocino

mingled with hippies

smoked various kinds of joints on a stranger’s porch, living room floor, kitchen

Shared hugs and smiles

One with Willow, a woman who personified the tree remarkably

her smoky white, woolly dreads, nestled in a very messy bun

draped around her delicate head

like whisps of willow branches (yes with an “h”

because that sounds quieter and more serene).

She is weathered and alive,

kind and open,

forgetful and caring.

“I can’t remember your name, but you remembered mine very well,” she whispered knowingly.

I drummed to the beat of someone else’s drum and rhythm

and my world stood still

the metronome of time only ticked

to the tune we made together

my own was not noticeable as it mingled, mixed, and eventually became muted.

And this is what we learn in times like these.

How we are better served when we work, live, sing, chant, rage, protest

all

together

and our own voice, our own experience, becomes something louder, bigger

than we ever could have projected.

The truth you’ve been waiting for is something we construct

Yesterday, I read about different interpretations of reality. I’m reading this book little by little since it takes a while to process each chapter. “The wisdom of no escape,” by Pema Chödrön, a Buddhist teacher and someone that I really admire and whose teachings I’ve really tried to meditate on, ponder, and implement in my everyday life. What she describes and talks about is all very simple, but once you have to practice the concepts, the difficulty surfaces.

I was first introduced to mindfulness and loving kindness during an undergraduate class more than a decade ago. I don’t quite remember the name of the class but what I do remember is that I had to journal everyday and that I was supposed to do some kind of mindfulness exercise daily as well. For me, anything besides the basics–eating, sleeping, and going to the bathroom–is hard for me to commit to on a daily basis. I am not a fan of routine and I am happy with changing habits, scenery, and company most days. At any rate, this practice was something I had to work hard to do and at the end of the semester I realized that sticking to something was very rewarding. I felt that I had grown and was shaped by a commitment to myself. Ever since this time, I have formed commitments to myself, in yoga practice, in meditation, in my relationship to others, etc. It is powerful to commit to yourself and to others through a variety of forms. Yesterday, as I read Pema, another commitment surfaced that I’d like to share here with you all.

In the particular chapter I read yesterday, Pema explains that, “The truth you believe in and cling to makes you unavailable to hear anything new.” She talks about the fact that some people are going out, becoming curious about the world around them and far away from them, and they are growing in their understanding of everything they encounter. On the other hand, there are others among us who become set in our ways and in our truths and we hold on, steadfast to what we believe in–unchanging, unmoving, and headstrong. At one point in my life I felt as though this steadfastness was something to work towards and it was actually a goal of mine. I realize now, however, that it is only in the evolving of my being that my truth is able to be set free in order to evolve and to garner new truths.

I just had a discussion with my roommate the other day about tech workers in the Bay Area, also known as techies for those of you not in the Bay Area or not privy to the workforce development here because of Silicon Valley and the tech boom. We were discussing the fact that these techies are stereotyped, put down, and looked on badly by many people that think they are out-pricing individuals and families that have lived in the Bay for years and years. We judge these young, mostly white, men, parading into the area on golden chariots of resources, freebies, perks, and incentives. Meanwhile, the rest of us set on the sidelines and stew.

I admit, I haven’t been the most open-minded about these individuals coming into the city and making it a playground for all their adventurous dreams. Interestingly enough, the day after this heated conversation with my roommate, where she invited me to be more open-minded about people working in tech, I volunteered at an event where low-income women in the community were coming to get a taste of what it was like to learn to code. The day workshop was to entice and get ready for a 6-month program where a former techie, now turned non-profit startup director, was going to lead the charge, bridging the gap between the lack of women in the technology sector as well as the lack of lower-income and Bay Area residents having opportunities to work in their own backyards in technology.

I was the only volunteer who didn’t know the first thing about coding, and it was a very real way to confront my truth. First, I learned that there was much to learn about technology, the gap that exists described above, and the very people that work in this sector. I tried my best to have an open heart and an open mind and tried to soak everything in. I must say, the experience is pretty pertinent to the experience we are facing as a society and even the world as a whole right now. Maybe we should take a second and tap into what our truth is and how it is we can go deeper into that truth by connecting with that of others. Maybe in this way we can discover new realities and grow together, better.

To the roots of our humanity: Hasta la raíz de nuestra humanidad

After eating one whole candy bar (a Mantecol, 110 grams of buttery goodness and favorite Argentine treat from when I was a child), four home-made golden raisin cookies chock-full of butter, and making various phone calls to the San Francisco airport, Board of Supervisors, and signing a handful of petitions to offset the ridiculousness, totalitarian, and xenophobic mess we find ourselves in as a nation, I think it best I set down and contribute to the world in a more creative way by writing a post.

One of my favorite singers for the year of 2016 was Natalia Lafourcade, a Mexican singer songwriter that you should definitely check out. One of her songs, “Hasta la Raiz” or “To the Root” describes a scene that I felt during the duration of last year and acutely now:

Pienso que cada instante sobrevivido al caminar
Y cada segundo de incertidumbre
Cada momento de no saber
Son la clave exacta de este tejido
Que ando cargando bajo la piel
Así te protejo
Aquí sigues dentro

roughly translated as:

I think that every instant I’ve survived by walking
And every second of uncertainty
Every moment of not knowing
Is the key that fits perfectly into this weaving
That I wear under my skin
This is how I protect you
Here you remain within

I’ll come back around to this particular verse of the song later…but first some context…

In general, I feel that anything I write about Machu Picchu will be lacking. I have to say it was probably my favorite part of visiting Peru, at least this first time around en el país andino.

Before daybreak we got up early, hurriedly dressed, and stumbled outside in the darkness to wait in line for the buses. Our hostal host said people would start lining up as soon as 4 am. Once we got in line there were probably already 100 people ahead of us. We waited for about an hour, sandwiched in between a trio of Portuguese speakers (a couple from Brazil and an over-fifty, eager and rather annoyingly opinionated man from Portugal) and a family from Argentina (the parents of which expressed the ridiculousness of the price of entering Machu Picchu, mentioning at least a couple of times the fact that this wonder of the world was far more expensive than the pyramids and, ni hablar, that the last two times they had come were less crowded and had done less damage to their pocket books). It never ceases to amaze me, the conversations, mannerisms, and just raison d’etre people exude, even at 4:30 de la madrugada.

At 5:30am, after I had eavesdropped to my heart’s content, eaten a couple of bananas, and drank my five dollar espresso with water (this is what I insisted on because the Americano was $1.50 more: quejas de una gringa menonita en un país en vías de desarrollo no más/ complaints of a white Mennonite girl in a developing world and my raison d’etre at this early hour), we started boarding the buses. As soon as we all crammed on we started our short journey out of the valley and up the windy mountain.

We went around and around the mountain and with each bend we turned the more mountains we saw in the distance yet the foggier the whole landscape seemed to get. About 20 minutes later we got to the top and from the buses spilled expectant tourists from all corners of the earth. We walked to the lines leading into the ruins, which only took a couple of minutes. Once in, it was about 6am and I didn’t really know where to go so I just went straight ahead. We had gotten tickets to go up the mountain just behind the ruins but that entry wasn’t until 7am so we could just wander around until then. While I was wandering in the foggy ruins, hardly able to see even just a few feet in front of me and worried that I was never going to see the ruins in all their splendid glory, I heard someone sobbing. It sounded like a girl and it was coming from the mirador, or lookout, just ahead. I followed the sobs and came across a young Argentine girl who had tears running down her cheeks and was crying quite a bit. Mid sob she said “¡Todo el mundo dice, guau, Machu Picchu y yo pensé que iba a ser cualquier cosa pero realmente es una maravilla! Y la verdad es que soy tan privilegiada de estar acá.” And her sobbing continued.

One of the park guides looked on and inquired concerned yet with a smile on her face about the young woman. At the same time, I put my hand on the back of her shoulder-blade and I let her just cry for some time. I wanted to have some kind of contact with her so that she could fee the closeness of another human being in the moment of such an emotional time. And little by little, the sighs and sobs grew further and further apart until she got out a tissue to wipe her runny nose and her eyes, having finally dripped the last of tears of this particular cry. Eventually I asked her if I could hug her and she graciously accepted my arms around her small frame. I felt the warmth of her emotions and her body heat emanating out, even though it was technically trapped inside the confines of her plastic impermeable; we hugged each other and held each other as tightly and as long as we could.

Moments like these are the threads that make up the cloth of my life and the weaving that Natalia talks about in her lyrics. We are indeed in uncertain and trying times, but becoming closer to our brothers and sisters is how we wear each other close and don’t let go.

Lima

Esto fue lo que escribí el domingo cuando se canceló mi vuelo de regreso a los Estados Unidos:

Se supone que hoy me iba a SF pero el universo tuvo otros planes y en vez de estar en San Salvador en éste momento preciso, haciendo escala para mi vuelo a California, me encuentro en un parque en el centro de Lima escuchando los supsiros de los que han trajabado toda la semana, besos de novios, y una música andina electrónica que chilla a todo volúmen por altoparlantes viejingos y baratos.

Lima

A paso lento

la gente hace su trayecto

no tan programado

Subiendo el bus

nadie te da bola

y recién para mediados del viaje

el asistente al chofer pide tu tarifa

–¿A dónde baja señorita?–pregunta planamente.

–En la cuadra 22 de la Brasil–respondo como si nada.

No sé exactamente donde queda eso, pero sé que el bus va “toda la Brasil”

como me ha prometido el cantadito al subir.

El chófer en los semáforos

aprovecha de los segundos contando hacia atrás

para leer las noticias del día

59, 58, 57

Usa las dos manos

levantado el diario como si estuviese en su propia casa,

sentado en la silla de su mesa, tomando el desayuno en familia

dando vuelta las páginas sin prisa ninguna

de a poquito leyendo las noticias

y bebiendo su café con leche a sorbos

02, 01, 00

Verde

Pone la mano en la palanca de marchas y arranca de nuevo.

…….

En el parque que estoy la gente también se siente en casa

Novios abrasados

Muchachas alzando sus miradas hacia el cielo,

cuellos alargados y estrechados como cisnes

sabiendo que en esos instantes sus joven amantes les recibirán con dulzura

Saboreando los bellos pescuezos como si fuese por primera vez.

Manos dondequiera

Total, ésta plaza es de todos y para todos.

…….

Esto voy a extrañar, el amparo y el apego que tiene la gente entre sí.

Es cuestión de encapsularlo y practicarlo donde sea que esté

Total

Para mí que sí

Lo público es privado y lo privado público y en realidad éste mundo es mejor compartiéndolo lo máximo posible con la mayor cantidad de gente posible.

…..

El calor me llega por los pies por el aislamiento térmico creado por el sol y el cemento

Y me llega a la cabeza por el mismo fenómeno entre el sol y las capas de nubes.

Y recorre mi cuerpo con un calor latino que quisiera llevar conmigo donde sea.

Y cuando se me agota se donde encontrar más.

Back to reality

I’m back on the wagon. I was off for some days as I thought I could write while still on my little recorrido of Peru, but I decided that I needed that time to just be present with other things and be in the moment with revisiting the Southland. So, here goes again…I’ll make up for lost time and just write into February as my blog per day…

Today, the 25th of January, it has been a month since I left the Bay Area to go on a little escapade. Now I am back. Trying to re-integrate everything it is that I learned and I experienced. Let me tell you a little about this experience…

Yesterday I was happy that it was my roommate’s day off so we jumped in the car, floated across the Richmond bridge (figuratively speaking of course as we were on the pavement part of the bridge, but it did feel like floating all the same), and up the 101 to land in Marin for a little hike. In California, whilst I was gone, the rain has come down non-stop and on the radio I have heard that we are no longer in a drought, so I guess there has been some good news during this tumultuous time of changing the hands of power. As we made our way into the Tennessee Valley and were approaching the Pacific I felt a sense of calm come over me and it felt like the perfect end to a trip.


For Christmas I made my way to Denver to see my parents and sister. I always like going to Colorado but the plains, the wind, the dryness, and the flightiness of the people there tends to leave me chapped and feeling like a tumbleweed at the end of my time. On New Years day I made my way to Quito to visit my brother and family (namely Deli and Aliyah). It was good to see them after a year and a half of Whatsapp and Skype. When you live far away from family, as I have for the last decade, you start from zero but you also start from wherever you left off. It’s like an awkward but very familiar encounter each time.

Then, I made my way to Peru to explore a country I had never been to before. While in Peru I came to realize that the Andean people are extremely friendly, down-to-earth, and very economically driven. They have no qualms in striking up a conversation with you and like to get to know new people in a very informal way. At the same time, everything has a price and many people that I encountered were very concerned about where there next soles were coming from and if they were going to be coming from my (the wealthy tourist’s) pocket. As a person that isn’t necessarily money-driven this came as a bit of a shock. At the same time, I come from a country that is capitalist in nature and the reason it keeps on going is because the monetary engine that drives it. Of course, our economy is a bit more structured and integrated into the daily fabric of everything. In Peru, everyone is trying to get their piece of the pie and sometimes these pieces overlap and I am sure that this leads to distrust in one another and to competition between friends and neighbors. I could talk about a particular woman who owns a hostal just south of Peru who talked to me at length about just that, but I will save that for another post.

Today I just wanted to briefly discuss how it is we integrate our experiences away from home into our lives. I will venture to say that most people go on vacation and then come back and try to go back to their daily rhythms and routines. Might this be you? They dream of the beach they were on a, reminisce over all the pictures they took, and use some of what they learned about a culture, country, state, or people, in conversation at the next dinner party or happy hour. There’s another category of people that like to integrate what they have learned and experienced into the very fabric of their beings. This is the person that I am. Sometimes this takes time, because you have to process the things you witnessed or were part of and see how you can really make sure they can come into your life in a meaningful and poignant way. If not, yes, you risk culturally appropriating and the like.

For example, one of the things that I hope to do in the upcoming weeks and months is to cook some of the dishes that I most enjoyed during my time in Ecuador and Peru. Some of these dishes include sopa de quinoa (a simple quinoa soup with vegetables in a light veggie broth), salteñas (a kind of empanadas that have a sweet doughy taste to them normally made with ground beef and veggies and is a mix between sweet and savory), ají (a spice that is put on almost anything in both Peru and Ecuador, and uses different hot peppers and other spices to make a great accompaniment to whatever you have on your dinner table. I’ll just start with those three and then go from there.

Other than the food I’d like to continue to eat, one of the reasons I love going to the South is because I love the cadence of life there. It is not pressured or hurried, it is tranquil and at-your-own-pace. Sometimes this can prove to be irritating or annoying if you have somewhere to be, but really, I think it’s a good reminder that humans are not machines and shouldn’t be treated as such.

Another aspect of this travel that I’d like to take with me in my everyday life is best said in a quote by Walt Disney, who, by the way, I never thought I would be quoting:

“Whatever you do, do it well. Do it so well that when people see you do it, they will want to come back and see you do it again, and they will want to bring others and show them how well you do what you do.”

It seemed like everyone I saw had a job that they were doing and they were proud of the fact that they were doing it well. They didn’t have there brain off in some unknown place thinking of all the other things they could be doing. Don’t get me wrong, Peru was full of entrepreneurs, but they were focused on doing what they did well in the moment without too much concern for the future. I loved this sense of presence and of being in the moment. Something that I have been working on during the whole of 2016 and something that I will probably be working on the rest of my life.

These are just a few of the things that I will be trying to integrate into my Californian life. I’m curious, what to do you do at the end of your vacation? Do you compartmentalize pleasure and day-to-day life, or do you try to have the two worlds meet? Or maybe there is a whole other category out there worth creating…

volando vengo, volando voy

A poem surfaced from my flight from Ecuador to Peru:

Volando vengo volando voy (yes, this is a lyric from Manu Chao)

Flying across a stillness of white

the lady behind me, mouth slightly open with red-orange lipstick

pronouncing her fat yet flat lips

closed eyes, forrowed brow, but just in the area where her eyebrows meet the top of her nose–her wrinkly third eye.

Her hair has been through the wringer

It’s been bleached and dyed on countless occasions and I imagine it as the same texture of those head’s of doll’s hair that my sister, cousins, and I used to play with at grandma’s house–matted and rough, a cloud of blonde mass, the comb was just a prop.

The guy in the seat in front, has eyes closed behind rectangular frames.

I can only see the back of his head and the tag on his baseball hat is visible–hecho en Guayaquil–probably his final destination.

And then a small granule of hail falls on my journal, and then some more.

The pellets melt into words and run the ink.

I’m not sure what to say, but it is cold up here, quite visibly, and the little pellets pelter my journal as I look out on the white expanse–a seeming tundra of snow–untouched and only appreciated by those coming by this high up.

Landing, everything comes back to life.

The lady opens her eyes and the space between her lower and upper lip is no longer visible, her lips are pursed.

The man’s eyes, once closed, now gaze through the window at his left.

And the hail stops falling from the ceiling.

And the plane breaks through stillness to ride over the beginnings of civilization–little houses all around, buildings become bigger, and finally, we land.

Quito and Goodbyes

I’m currently in the airport, about to leave Quito and in route to Lima, Peru. My brother dropped me off at the old airport (to take the bus to the new airport) where I left Quito a little less than 12 years ago. At that time, I was leaving at least one loved one behind. During my study abroad I had gotten close to a Chilean guy who was in Quito studying to be a lawyer since the degree and the process was a bit easier to come by in Ecuador than in his home country. I was young and maybe I was in love, but I was probably just enthralled with the encounter, once again, of my second home and someone that understood the part of me that I could never get in touch with in the United States.

Cuando me despedí de él le entregué mi gogó negro que tenía alrededor mi muñeca, era bien usado, y le dije q que sin duda me iba a ver de nuevo, y corrí las escaleras de mi apartamento y no lo volví a ver hasta lo que pareciera una eternidad después.

When I said goodbye to him I gave him my hair tie which was wrapped around my wrist, it was black and well-used, and I told him that without a doubt I would see him again, and I ran up the stairs of my apartment and I didn’t see him again for what seemed like an eternity.

Luego, en el aeropuerto me despedí de todas mis amigos queridos con quien me había pasado mucho tiempo de los últimos cinco meses. Y con algunos los volví a ver, y con otros he perdido más bien el contacto, pero siguen en mi corazón y en mi mente. Perdidos solamente cuando hay un fallo en la memoria y recordadas siempre en momentos adecuados. 

Then, in the airport, I said goodbye to all my dear friends that I had spent so much time with during the last five months. And some of them I saw again, and others I lost touch, but they still live on in my heart and my mind. Lost only to the glitches in my memory and remembered whenever an appropriate occasion arises.

Hoy día la despedida fue mucha más tranqui. Es difícil igual, desperdirte de las personas a quien más quieres. Pero a la vez, te vas con la confianza de que los volverás a ver en el futuro no tan lejano y que ellos viven siempre en ese pedacito de corazón que has reservado para las personas quienes más han sido parte de tu vida y quienes más te quieren–sin importar lo que hacés. 

Today the goodbye was a lot less difficult. At the same time, it’s hard to say goodbye to the people that you love the most. But you go on your way with the assuredness that you will see them again in the not-so-far-off future and that they always have a part of your heart that you have reserved for those people whom have been the biggest part of your life and who you love the most–no matter what.

Touch me if you can

I have been on buses in South America ever since I can remember and they are always an interesting experiment in cultural appreciation and adaptation.

Just the other day I was talking to some Americans here in Quito that are visiting and learning about different projects that are going on with the Mennonite Church here that my brother and sister-in-law works at. Of course they asked me the usual questions that most Americans ask: Where are you from? and then the elusive (for me at least), What is it that you do?

I told them that I was an Educator (in the nontraditional sense) and that at the moment I am between jobs. As we were talking, one of the ladies, a member of the Cheyenne tribe in Montana asked my advice. She said that she went to the juvenile detention center at the reservation every week and did different workshops with the youth there and that one of the things about her work that she found astounding is that the kids were starved for touch. At the same time, one of the rules in the center was that visitors, volunteers, whomever, wasn’t allowed to touch the youth in any way.

When she led workshops she realized that whenever the opportunity arose for the youth to even brush her hand, they did, just because they were so starved for touch. She let them know that when they got out of the detention center they should come by her thrift shop (where she works) for a hug. And she said, to this day, the youth come by for their hug as soon as they are out.

I commented that in my experience, most people in the U.S.A. are touch-starved. I realize this as a yoga teacher in my classes when you approach people and touch them even lightly it’s almost as if they startle and then lean into your touch. This signifies to me that people are not used to being touched (especially  not by “strangers”) and that when they are touched they realize how much they like it and want more of it.

Her direct question was asking if there is any research out there to suggest that touch is something that helps with healing and growth and overall nurturing. Of course this has been proven in a psychological sense since the near beginning of psychological experimentation. Once such study was by Harry Harlow that studied monkeys and their attachment to mothers. One experiment he conducted had monkeys choose between a “mother” monkey made out of wire and wood versus one that had cloth on it (to make it softer). He found that even when there was a bottle the monkeys could feed from, they still preferred being close to the mother monkey that had a cloth on it, seemingly for the comfort that provided them.

We humans are much the same. We like to be close to each other, touch each other, receive contact in a loving and nurturing way. Here in Latin America, this is more the case, and even on the buses you can see this happening. People like to touch you and push you and press into you (in the States if you touch anyone’s finger even, the person will excuse themselves profusely). Aquí, no hay disculpa ninguna y el roce y el tacto en los buses es algo usual, común y corriente. Here excuses are not even thought of and brushing up against someone or touching someone on a bus is something that is pretty common. Today on the bus I was doing a kind of unintentional dance with the fellow next to me as we were both swaying back in forth with each lurch of the bus. Our hips bumping together to the rhythm of the ride. Of course, I can tell you of some pretty awful moments on buses when hands went where they were not supposed to go, but in general, this particular cultural phenomenon in this part of the Americas is fascinating.

So, my invitation to us all, is to touch more freely and readily, those we love, because you never know when a hug can bring the human connection that person really needs.