Archivos de la categoría politics

How We Learn To Put Ourselves Down

Question to just about everyone out there, but particularly women: what do you respond when someone compliments you for your appearance, intelligence or merits? Do you say  “thank you” and leave it at that? Or is that “thank you” followed by “but it’s just…”: just shooting down the compliment and yourself in the process?

At what point did we learn to become so critical of ourselves that we do it automatically, without giving it a second thought?

I’m pretty sure it’s not in the womb. When babies are born, they’re almost invariable considered  “the cutest thing in the world”, and any criticism towards the child will only be met with horror.

Later on, as toddlers, we become aware of ourselves in the mirror early in our lives, but we don’t really stop to think about appearances in the beginning. It’s later. As we hone our powers of observation, we copy and mimic. It’s animal nature: adults are our models, and our survival instincts dictate that we follow suit in everything they do and say to ensure our own development. Girls learn from their mothers and other female role models in the family. Aunts, grandmothers, big sisters, cousins…  And what we observe invariably leads to this: a female adult looking in the mirror and tearing herself down bit by bit. Hair, face, nose, eyes, chin, neck, breasts, arms, thighs, stomach … no parts are exonerated from this process of self-annihilation. We observe this. We copy this.

7305208-little-girl-rouge-lips-and-looking-at-mirror-black-and-white-portrait1

In the best of cases, this lesson of self-hate runs counter to what our parents tell us (you’re beautiful, you’re smart, your worth does not depend on others…) This is usually not the case. When I turned 8, my body started storing what they call “baby fat” (why “baby”? this is an ailment that plagues us in our puberty, more than a few years too late to be described as “baby” anything … ). Soon enough, the females in my family started treating my weight and appearance as a problem. They started marching in with food scales and Weight Watchers programs, grapefruits and yogurt, measuring tape and modeling classes… The tearing down of me was a coming-of-age ritual filled with criticism and self-hate.

This was a ritual that never let up. ‘Til the day she lost her memory to Alzheimers, my grandmother had a one and only topic of discussion whenever we met: my weight. At some point it was too low, then too high… I was never asked about my studies, my career, my interests. As a matter of fact, I was never asked anything. Every family reunion was an opportunity to pass judgement on me. Well, in our family, it is always an opportunity to pass judgement on one another. My mother meets with her sister (whom she hasn’t seen in over a year)? First and foremost topic when telling me about it: her weight. Same goes for any poor lost soul who may pass her on the street. Weight, clothes, hair, demeanor… all are torn down systematically by my mother and her kin. My sister and I have lived through this. No wonder our way of rebellion has been to not give a fuck.

But ours is close enough to a worst case scenario. What about the rest? The euphemism for the destruction of the female psyche and self-image: humility. We’re taught to never praise ourselves, lest we be thought of as conceited. Compliments and commendations should be met with a gentle rebuttal for the same reason. It all stems from I don’t know which fucked up Rules Book from the 50s, and it reeks of patronizing bullshit. We have assimilated this conviction so well, that we even shoot each other and ourselves down whenever we have the audacity of thinking something kind about ourselves. Case in point?

Me. Ninth grade. After P.E., girls would swarm around the one full-length mirror to apply makeup, gossip and examine themselves destructively in front of each other. You know the drill: “my thighs are too fat,” “my hair is so bleh,” “my shins are so skinny”… etc, ad nauseum. And yes, guys, these comments are a fishing pole for compliments. That’s the only way we have learned to actually get a little bit of positive feedback on ourselves. Of course, the cycle goes like “oh, no, your thighs are fine, but look at my stomach! it’s sooo flabby!” We profer a compliment and pour some more shit on ourselves, expecting others to take it upon themselves to build us up a little while they tear themselves down. We never take it upon ourselves. And if we do … I dared take it upon myself one day, when one of the girls asked me why I didn’t wear any makeup. My response: “I don’t like it. I’d rather let my natural beauty shine through.” The general reaction was mockery and derision. My own effort of loving myself a little was shot down collectively by the pack. I was brought down to my level, in a sense.

So it follows that there is no place in society for people with a healthy self-image. If we so much as insinuate that we entirely approve of ourselves, someone somewhere will inevitably try to challenge that. So our way of coping: beating them to the punch. Even the healthiest of egos will put themselves down over one tiny detail or another. We all do. This is what society expects from us.

Today I found this:

 

 

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And I realized some of us DO notice the vicious cycle of self-hate taught upon us by our mothers, grandmothers and so on. “Never love yourself too much,” is the lesson. Akin to the shaming we go through regarding our own sexualities, masturbation, our yearning for more knowledge (if it is deemed sex- or age-inappropriate), etc. We are kept in line to fit in with society.

How about let’s not? How about we decide to fuck it all and start loving ourselves as we are? Fuck the media and their message that our bodies are not good enough, that thinking outside the box is undesirable, that deviating from the standards assigned to our sex is an aberration. Fuck that shit. And fuck them all: society, the media, the powers that be, our families, coworkers, friends… fuck EVERYONE for telling ME how much self-love is enough! How about we finally arrive to the conclusion that we’re worthy of ourselves more than anyone else will ever be? Be your own lover and admirer. Cherish yourself today.

Self-Esteem-i-love-myself

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Everyone Deserves a Prom

I never told my whole prom story (in blog form). I mentioned it in passing in one entry about three years ago, but I never went into detail about the whole tragedy of it. A few weeks ago we were talking about this among friends and I told them the whole story, and one of them – bless her soul! – said: “Everyone’s entitled to a prom night!”. Prom night was a myth I pursued after my own prom had passed. I insisted in participating in my brother’s and my sister’s proms, seeking to capture whatever I thought I had missed in my own. Some would call it pathetic, but I know I was desperate.

My brother’s prom came a few years after my own. I had already graduated from college and had one of those temporary office-clerk jobs after a disastrous stint at a computer systems corporation. I jumped at the opportunity of spending the night at my brother’s hotel room with my then-boyfriend, Oscar. It wasn’t half bad: we scrammed early off the dance floor and beelined to the hotel room, we ordered room service, we got drunk, we went to sleep, and I woke up a few hours later when my brother and his friends came in with a bottle of rum. I had my rum shot, and then it went up my nose. Epic. Hilarious. But not my prom.

My sister’s junior prom was epic too, for all the wrong reasons: I got a flat tire and I had to change it. Imagine that: a girl bedecked in a spectacular, long evening dress full of glitter and satin… changing her car’s tire with great effort, getting all sweaty and dirty (and bloody knuckles too). Yeah, some may see it as a sexy fetish. I won’t judge you, guys, but I beg to differ. Her senior prom was a disappointment too, although I did see one of my elementary school ex-classmates attending the same prom. Maybe this disorder isn’t so strange after all. The Prom Vampire Syndrome.

So what went so wrong that I had to go stealing my siblings’ prom? I’ll tell ya…

It all started on the planning phase, I suppose. Back in 1995, merengue was all the rage (I think it still sort-of is, you won’t find a party in Puerto Rico without its merengazo long set). The artists of the moment were Olga Tañón (complete with pre-op nose) and Tony Vega (where IS he now?), and the class president would simply NOT have prom night without ‘em. These merengue divas were fucking costly, so the budget had to give somewhere else. I’ll tell you where it got cuts: the yearbook (it never got printed. Instead, each of us got it in digital form in a CD-ROM… about 8 years later), and the location for the prom.

It’s important to think about the size of our graduating class: each grade was composed of 9 – 10 classrooms, each classroom had at least 20 students in it. Being conservative, the number would be 180… then take off about 10 (dropouts, people that chose not to go, etc) … 150 – 160? Okay, let’s go with the 150, it’s nice and round. Now add parents and prom date for each one of those students – let’s say, to compensate, that each student brought only one parent and one date – and you get the sheer number of 450 souls to attend the event.

Where was my prom being held?

Parque Julio Enrique Monagas: it was a fucking tiny room at the top of a fucking tiny mogote (flat-topped mountain). The place is perfect for a small wedding, a business meeting … something small.  My class prom was not small. I’ve seen hotel ballrooms filled to the brim for a prom of a graduating class of 60 students. My class was NOT small. But they HAD to have Olga Tañón and Tony Vega. I hate merengue, so you can guess where that left me and like-minded people: very, VERY upset and resentful. I wasn’t gonna enjoy Olga Tañón! I definitely wasn’t gonna enjoy Tony Vega!!! Why did I have to lay low and accept this decision? Well, maybe ‘cuz I was way stupid!

Now, on the personal front, you’d think I had more control of the variables. I had a pretty clear idea of what I wanted as a prom dress:

The original one was way cooler: it was a white underskirt with black overskirt. Very ska!

(Something like) this, of course, paired with my dearest Doc-Marten-style boots… And I also had a very precise picture (as in: “I had a magazine cutout”) of the makeup job I wanted… minimalist, sweet, just a bit of attention to the eyes, nothing fancy. I was never a huge fan of makeup.

The gown was the first let-down. Money was short, this much I knew, but I was never told. So, when the time came to choose a prom gown, I was painfully aware of the price tags over anything else. I didn’t dare to go over $100, and I ended up choosing an $80 dress in the kind of slinky fabric I hate (you know the one! sticking to all the wrong bulges and seams…) It didn’t even look like a prom dress: slinky black little number, long but only down to my ankles, with a double row of silver-colored buttons down the front, with a ruched section of fabric in the middle, criss-crossed with thin bands of the same fabric … sort of going for classic-greek, but not quite getting there…

Then my mother thought it wise to get me some control top pantyhose AND some control-top panties …

..now do NOT breathe!

oh, yes! The same! So you can guess how many muffin-tops I had … about a THOUSAND! And I couldn’t do anything about it because I only thought of trying the whole thing out the same fucking day of the prom! Stupid stupid me!

My mother also thought it would be a great idea to have our personal stylist (of that time, she’s long gone, thankfully! Dreadful woman!) do my makeup for me that day. To be honest,  I thought it would be a great idea too – I’m less Michaelangelo and more Pollock with my makeup brushes. The woman arrives and I show her the magazine cutout I had saved for months (!!!), told her “I want something like this!” … and to this day, I remember her words “¡Ay, no! ¡Esos ojos de vaca cagona!” (translate for yourself, if you don’t speak Spanish, but … yes, something to the effect of a cow shitting … enjoy!) Then, she proceeded to do whatever the hell she wanted to my face.

And I swear, to this day, that the woman did what no other living creature has dared: she made it look like I was wearing another woman’s face as a translucent mask.

THIS woman's face. Desiree Lowry: beauty pageant queen extraordinaire. COMPLETELY different face! C'mon!

Nothing has ever been more unbecoming ever again.

(and let’s not even talk about The Hair, although, to be fair, I only acquired peace with my own hair within the last few years)

So, feeling completely unlike myself and very self-conscious about my general appearance, we set out to the prom. The first warning flag of All The Things That Would Go Wrong was the line for the elevator: long, serpentine… The ballroom was on top of the mountain, and the only way to get there was a single elevator. Now, why it was taking so long would be a surprise. We were first supposed to walk in one by one as a few words on each student would be read over the mic. I don’t know how in the world they were keeping the order straight: 150 students arriving randomly at any given moment would not make it easy. However, for me, this would be a highlight – or so I thought.

The wait was long and tortuous. My feet were killing me: no boots for me, my mother wouldn’t have it! So instead, I was wearing shiny black high heels. I have flat feet, so you can imagine. I never wear heels.

After more than an hour’s wait, we were finally at the top, albeit still at the end of a long line that ran from the ballroom all the way across a hallway that led to the elevator door. Then I saw it happen: the diva Olga Tañón whooshing past us in a fucking hurry. And then the line started to move.

As I pranced into the ballroom, I realized they had completely skipped the idea of reading anything other than the students’ names as they walked in, so it was “Diana Campo”, quick picture with my father, and that was that! Later on, I learned that Ms. Tañón was in such a hurry that she gave the ultimatum that she either started within 30 minutes, or she was gone (with full pay, of course!). So, any glory that dissenting students would have at least walking into the room was foregone in favor of this fucking bitch.

Way to go! You can stick that manicured thumb up your flaccid twat, you miserable whore!

Moments later my father pulled me apart and told me my mother was feeling sick, so we had to go. I don’t blame her: the ballroom was small, its ceiling was quite low, and by 15 minutes in, I was feeling like fried fish under the spotlights. It wasn’t a nice place to be. I bid my adieus and went home for the night.

So, does everyone deserve a prom night? Maybe.

I was thinking about this today and I realized that maybe I should have taken better control of the variables I could control: the attire, the makeup, the hair. I didn’t have to accept what was being handed to me right off the bat.I could have gotten creative, like sewing the dress or look for bits and pieces off older garments from home or the Salvation Army. I could have practiced the hair and the makeup at home, maybe raid mom’s makeup box. I could have taken the whole thing into my hands and run with it. It was my prom, after all. If it were today, that’s what I’d do.

But then I remembered what was really going through our minds back then: mom was surviving cancer. Plain and simple. There was no time nor energy for anything other than that. My involvement in school issues was limited, competing with my other escape (boyfriend, sex…). The whole teenage-side of my life, I think, was sort of a cardboard facade waiting to peel off at any moment. It was gone long before my senior year, but I kept up with the motions of being a graduating brat. My heart wasn’t into it, though. Had I really been into it like a normal teenager, I would have gotten a $200 dress like my step-sister’s (2 years down the road):

..not so great for leaping and prancing...

… oh, wait, I did wear that one … to fuck some other boy in his car… jeez, I’m such a smutty fucker. Nah, I don’t deserve a prom. 😉

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Luce y la lucha

Nunca había terminado un curso en una nota tan triste…

Ayer fue el primer día de clases después de más de dos meses de ausencia . Entre la huelga estudiantil y el cierre administrativo previo y posterior (como elemento de intimidación e invalidación o producto de la ineficiencia), el semestre quedó desplazado para finalizarse exactamente en las fechas en las que el próximo semestre regular habría de comenzar. Esto significa que  – al estar ahora en pleno medio del verano – hay un gran porcentaje de estudiantes fuera del país, o fuera del área, o fuera del estado anímico para estudiar. Este dato no se le escapa a una porción importante de los profesores. Mi profesora no es la excepción.

Ayer el ánimo antes de clase era de ansiedad mezclada con la alegría y camaradería de vernos de nuevo. Sonrisas nerviosas eran el canvas desplegado en ese saloncito. Y un silencio de cámara se apoderó tan pronto entró la profesora. Luce López Baralt es una persona que, aunque pequeña y delicada en su aspecto – y absolutamente elegante – provoca un respeto absoluto. No es por lo seria: la profesora imparte sus clases con un placer y una estima hacia su profesión y su estudiantado incomparable. Sólo de los alumnos de ella – ahora profesores – con quienes he tomado clases (menciono al Prof. Emilio Baez y a la Prof. Maria T. Narvaez) puedo decir cosa similar: fueron excelentes profesores, y espero poder volver a tomar clases con ellos algún día. Les debo en gran parte la posibilidad de hacer una maestría. La Profesora López Baralt, no obstante, es La Maestra de entre todos los demás.

Profesora Luce Lopez Baralt

… y ayer la noté por primera vez perturbada. Su temple de dignidad estaba intacto, pero la tristeza le inundaba los ojos y, contrario a otros profesores – estoy segura – abordó el tema que ha estado sacudiendo los cimientos de la UPR desde hace mucho tiempo ya. Respetó nuestra inteligencia y, en lugar de continuar “como si nada”, se tomó la molestia de preguntarnos “¿Y ustedes qué piensan de esto?”. Le dedicó una gran parte del tiempo asignado a la clase para hablar del tema: la huelga, lo jodido que está el país, lo que nadie se atreve a decir. “Fascismo” salió de sus labios y, sabiendo que ella es apasionada pero cautelosa, quedo asegurada de que lo que llevo tiempo temiéndome, lo que a veces he pensado que es producto de mi paranoia y tendencia a la crisis, todo eso es VERDAD. Lo que está pasando en el país, lo que está pasando en la UPR, no es “cañiña de mono” (como diría papi). Estos no son escarceos entre policías y Che-Marleys. “Ya entramos en la barbarie,” como dijera Luce, y el que todavía me insista en que no somos un país tercermundista está viviendo en una fantasía agarrado de las pelotas con Luis Fortuño.

La profesora entonces nos notificó que “no es el momento de continuar el curso”. Pudimos notar el ausentismo grave y luego enterarnos de que muchos de los ausentes no lo estaban por vagancia o desinterés, si no por planes previos. Mucha gente ubicada allá afuera. “No es justo darle la clase sólo a algunos,” nos dijo ella, y tiene razón. Acordamos una serie de trabajos repositorios para los que no teníamos nota, y los que sí la tienen pues ya se la quedan. Y presencié lo que estoy segura no muchos presencian: ver a esta mujer, esta prócer de la academia, ilustrísima profesora con lágrimas saliéndole de sus claros ojos. Eso me resquebrajó el corazón.

Nos despedimos y me le acerqué para agradecerle su gesta en los momentos en que la comunidad universitaria lo necesitó tanto, su presencia en los portones en los momentos en los cuales la policía le negó la entrada de alimentos a los que estaban allí apostados, sus escritos, su presencia, su clase… y ese abrazo fue tan fuerte, me dolió tanto, me traspasó el alma… “el país te necesita,” me dijo. Y, aunque me jode decirlo, es verdad. El primer impulso ha sido huir. Miramos para afuera mucho porque adentro se nos está haciendo imposible pero, si vaciamos el país, la isla se queda desamparada y entonces ellos ganan.

(foto de Rojo Gallito)

Ezequiel también el otro día lo dijo: “Éste es el momento de quedarnos y luchar.” Hay que dar la batalla. Nunca he sido muy aferrada a la idea de una patria, creo que es porque siempre he dividido el alma en dos: una parte para el Puerto Rico que quisiera que existiera, y otra parte para la Colombia idílica que me creo que existe. Ver el país que de pronto se fue a la mierda, el país en el que crecí, que esto no era así, que se podía salir sin miedo a que una bala le cruzara el pecho a uno porque saliste en mala hora, que no era cosa de todas las noches las ráfagas de tiroteo por las guerras del narcotráfico, que podías disentir sin que un policía te cruzara la chola a macanazos… esto no era así, pero esto fue lo que nos dejaron.

Y sé que me tengo que quedar, luchar, ser inteligente, conscientizar… pero a veces atisba la parte de mí menos madura, de pronto se asoma la niña que aún sigue viva, aún está ahí y cree en unicornios y extraña a papá … y esa niña llora porque la dejaron sola en esta isla. Mi hermano se fue, mi papá se fue … y la lucha que tengo q hacer quisiera poder hacerla hombro a hombro con ellos, pero las distancias se me hacen más largas, especialmente cuando las macanas se nos acercan.

La depresión es general, eso lo he podido ver. Muchos estamos tristes porque sabemos que se están quedando con todo, que el país se fue a la mierda mientras el pueblo dormía en la misma cama que La Comay. Ahora nos tocó despertar y encontrar la casa en llamas. Sólo falta despertar el resto antes de que el techo se nos derribe encima hecho cenizas…

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Yes, we have no bananas

... nope, no bananas here either...

My grandmother used to have an odd sense of humor. “Yes, we have no bananas,” is a sentence she used to repeat in context of derision towards third-world countries. In retrospect, this could have been odd to see, since – as I learned later on in my life – my grandmother was born in Cuba and was raised there for at least the first 3 or 4 years of her life. She faintly, yet fondly, remembered the hacienda she lived in and the servants that used to work for them. My grandmother, it seems, was on the right side of the Habana Hotel. Yet, if you ever mentioned Cuba to her, just like it would happen to almost any conservative Puerto Rican in the heyday, all that would spout from her mouth would be clichés about bananas and dictators.

Living it up at the Hotel Calif-... no, wait...

Later on, through observation and interaction with Cuban families, I realized they are like a race in a permanent state of flight: a flight from their island, from their situation, from themselves. The ones I’ve met have been the kind of people to keep their nationality on the down-low, their exile has erased all identifying traits from their skin and tongue. Cuba is an ideal relegated to porcelain decorative plates and the occasional tiny tattered flag swaying in the wind.

… and I’ve realized that the constant throughout these refugees, the ones that claim to be from Habana and nowhere else, the “cubanos gusanos” (like my father-in-law has been herad to say), is that they hate themselves as a nation. They hate what they’ve come to belong to, so they decide to belong to it no more.

… and I’ve realized that this is exactly what’s happening in this island as well. We’re in decay: last few decades have seen to that. But the downward spiral flow has accelerated in these last few years, few months … and suddenly, all I see in my timelines and friend-feeds, all I hear from my loved ones is that we’d all prefer this island to blow to pieces. We’ve lost optimistic hope. Suddenly, I’ve even read people saying that we, as a people, deserve the brutal injustice to which we’ve been submitted… and I can’t help but understand, because there’s a side of me that thinks so too.

Every time I read a friend or family member justify the police’s violent response to pacific protests and what is mainly citizens claiming for their given rights, I cringe, and I tend to agree that this island needs some bloodshed, some fire and brimstone, some death.

We’re going down the same way as Cuba, or maybe not. I think the political details are completely out of my scope. But the self-hatred I see in Puerto Ricans today seems to be the seed of the dull resentment and silent rage the Cubans have come to live with for decades.

Yeah, we’re all out of bananas … but we sure have the fascist government that goes with the Banana Republic combo!

Thanks (?), grandma, for the lesson... I guess..

PD: My apologies to all Cubans and those of Cuban descent. My intention is not to offend nor judge in any way. These observations are purely personal, and more of a comparative relflection on what’s happening in PR during these days.

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Padre

WTF #HuelgaUPR Edition (Gorillas in their midst)

This man was hit over the head and arrested because he attempted to bring food to his son, who is participating in the strike at the local state University.

… what the fuck is WRONG with this island? When did we stop questioning authority and started mistrusting each other so much, that even a parent’s love is something to be submitted to external judgement and punishment.

If it had been my father … I would have jumped the gates and kicked away at the world :( I would probably be bathed in blood too.

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