Archive for July, 2012

Manic Me

Posted: July 31, 2012 in Bipolar
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I was properly diagnosed as having manic depression (i.e. bipolar), very late in life.  When I described my teenage years, my psychiatrist said that was when it manifested.  I should have been put on mood stabilizers, antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication at 13.  Instead, I suffered.

Even in Mexico, I was prone to mood swings.  I had triggers everywhere. I actually felt terrific when I was manic.  I felt everything in a heightened, euphoric state.  I was my own drug.

It was the crash from euphoria that cursed me with a racing mind, nonstop tears and ultimately, suicidal thoughts. My bipolar monster stalked me everywhere.

So, when I arrived to Pasadena, I was a ticking time bomb.  I already resented being there, at least initially.  My siblings, I surmised, were beneath me.  I was better than them because of my Mexican transformation.

When Esteban and I had our expected fight, I fought back and ignored the bruises.  I loudly complained to my mother and threaten to report him to the police.

He was given an ultimatum.  No more fights or he’s out of the house.  At 17, Esteban opted for living with his girlfriend. He got a job and graduated high school.

Due to financial reasons, my mother decided to move  to Rosemead, California.  She still wanted me and Carmen to go to Pasadena schools.  So, she used a friend’s Pasadena address to register us.

At 15, I was a freshman in high school.  I was held back a year in the first grade, because I was bullied and wouldn’t fight back.  That scenario wasn’t going to play out this time. If anyone tried to hurt me, I was going to hurt them three-fold.  Even the occasional innocent party got hurt.

I had lots of boyfriends.  My first one was a 6 foot, gawky, junior varsity football player.  He had blonde hair, blue eyes and a coveted jersey.  Back then, every girl wanted a football jersey to display.  Once football season was over, my interest in the goofy giant was over too.  He was crushed and I was free.

I flirted like crazy with all the cute guys white, black and yes, even asian. None were freshmen.  I was too good for freshmen. Boyfriends came and went in no particular pattern.

Then two guys, both black, changed the nature of the game.  Tony, was insanely in love with me.  We were off and on, depending on which way the wind was blowing. If we were off, it was because of me. On, because I enjoyed his begging.

I, on the other hand, was in love with an ROTC uniform wearing, studly, Afro-American god named Steven.  This coveted god already had his goddess.  She was biracial, also in ROTC, tough and vicious.

Steven and I messed around in secret for months.  I finally got tired of Tony and told him we were done for good because I loved Steven and never loved him. With a heartbreaking look in his eyes, he handed me a gold necklace with a heart pendant, with the inscription ‘for my lady’ on it.

Congratulations, Monica! You’re a certified heartless bitch! I tried to give back the necklace, but he wouldn’t take it. He never bothered me again. Even though I wanted the break-up, I plummet into a depression that was horrendous.

Now I needed Steven to make me happy or more to the point, make me manic. Everything was better when I was manic.  I was wild, crazy, funny and hot.  I just needed a springboard. Steven, my springboard, wasn’t always around.

Adios Torreon

Posted: July 30, 2012 in Mexico
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I flew back to Tijuana from Torreon after a tearful good-bye. Leaving my familia was scary. With them, I was safe. Their were no predators in Mexico, as far as I was concerned.

I absorbed all things Mexico and was honored by the experience. My understanding of the Mexican culture made me critical of the American culture.

I learned that Americans ate way too much. My food intake was controlled. Breakfast and dinner were light meals and lunch was the main event. And the quality was surpassed by nothing in the states. Nevermind the fat farms, my Mexican family was all I needed to lose 20 lbs.

I was transformed into a poised young lady. I felt good about my body, heart and mind.  It’s amazing how years can go by without you looking at yourself. This time, I liked what I saw. I was beautiful and I was seeing it for the first time.

I learned how to speak Spanish without sounding like a Chola. This, I believed, made me better than most. I went to Torreon an American and returned a Mexican.

Mexico possessed a natural flow in all things urban and rural.  The city buses, noisy markets, parks, villages, colonies and the country side all seemed explosively quaint, edgy and colorfully real.

Mexicans, I also learned, came in all shapes, sizes, colors and ideologies. Black, Chinese, Muslim, Jewish and homosexual Mexicans lived side by side with their devout and morally flawed Catholics.

There were also the indigenous tribes who had their own language and religion.  Mexicans had blonde hair, blue or green eyes!  Who knew?  This cornucopia of humanity was overwhelming and wonderful.

Stories of the Mexican Revolution, were passed on to me. Daughters being hidden from soldiers to avoid being raped, was common.  Acts of revenge were frequent and expected.  Disease, hunger and corruption was found everywhere.  When people have nothing, they resort to anything.

The lack of literacy crippled the masses that didn’t reside in cities.  I saw illiteracy as a self-imposed prison. My mother and her siblings never got past the 8th grade, but they never stopped learning. Books were always available and utilized.

Education came in many forms for my family. You had street smarts, business savvy, social rules and book smarts. All these disciplines had to be mastered.

When I stepped off the plane in Tijuana, I was different. I could feel Mexico seeping out of me and it felt like death. I was mourning the death of the Mexicana Monica.

I embraced my mother half-heartedly and found myself locked into idle chatter with her. The drive to Pasadena was 3 hours and I mostly slept. My heart was breaking, but I didn’t shed a tear.

I was back home based on tears and promises, issued by my mother. It was a mistake that I would repeatedly pay for.

I think it’s important to note certain variables that play a role in my cousins’ upbringing.  All my cousins had extended family to help out,  very self-sacrificing parents, a college education and great male role models.  As I said, my Tio Miguel worked for everything he had.  He was a self-made man who loved his wife.

These, I think, are the elements that were sorely lacking in East L.A.  Tio Miguel and Tia Maria Luisa weren’t raising Vatos.  They were raising the kind of men Mexico needed.  My Tio Miguel never allowed himself or his sons to forget about their responsiblity to society.

My family didn’t dream of crossing the border via coyote in the dead of night.  They flew first class and had passports.  They were tourists with every intention of returning to their huge house and satellite TV.  At the same time, they never forgot their own upbringings.

Often times, I would ask my mother why she never raised us in Mexico after my father left.  Her answer seemed like a cop-out . She said it was because my disabled sister, Carmen, would have no chance of a real life in Mexico.  Mexico didn’t have any independent living programs for the blind.

I think it was a lack of independent living for anyone in Mexico, that kept her away.  In their lies the rub! My aunts, uncles, cousins never, ever lived alone.

My mother wanted her freedom, period!  She wanted to go to sleep with dishes in the sink and no one to nag her about it.  She wanted to cut her hair short, wear pants (didn’t own pants til after the divorce), eat too much and laugh way too loud.

I, on the other hand, loved how my aunts, uncles and cousins lived.  They were selfless, happy, lacked for nothing and family oriented.  I wanted to be a Mexicana.  I wanted to be their kind of Mexicana.

Sadly, I didn’t qualify.  Like the majority of Mexico, my family was Catholic.  I was not Catholic.  My mother converted to the United Methodist Church. By association, Maria’s kids converted too.

Upon hearing this revelation, my abuelita immediately sought council from her priest. Since I had been baptized a Catholic, all I had to do my First Communion.  This of course meant, I had to study, God help me, in Latin!

It bored me to tears. I was a teenager! And I argued with my abuelita about how I was still a Christian.  Her response was, only Catholics lived in her house.

The next part of this story is terrible.  I screamed, yelled and cried .  I could feel myself turning into nothing.  I had one thought. Curse my abuelita with my rotting corpse.

I ingested every pill I could find in the medicine cabinet.  Hugo found me, hugged me and asked if I was alright.  I confessed what I had done.

After having my stomach pumped, Hugo asked why I did it.  I couldn’t tell him about my life in Pasadena or what my abuelita’s threat meant to me.

He told me that everything was going to be okay.  The family had to decide what to do with me.  After calling my mother, it was decided that I was live with Tia Ana and the girls.

My Tia Ana was good for me.  I never misbehaved, was always happy, helpful and thankful for a safe, loving home. I went on trips to the mountains of Durango with Tia Maria Luisa, Tio Miguel and their extended family.  Lerdo, the ice cream capital of Mexico, was also a frequent destination.  I was so happy. Then my happiness ends, again.

My mother called and begged me to come home.  She promised things would be different.  Hearing her sobbing over the phone was enough to make me want to come back. So, at the age of 15, I went back home to Pasadena.  I was thinner, taller, spoke perfect Spanish and was completely unsure of myself.

Mas Familia

Posted: July 28, 2012 in Mexico
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My Tia Ana was kind enough to occassionally bust me out of Abuelita’s prison.  Tia Ana was the eldest of my grandmother’s children.  My mother saw my Tia Ana more as a motherly figure than a sister.

Tia Ana reprimanded my abuelita for dressing me like some ‘old lady’ when I was presented with a dowdy tweed skirt. Boy, did I love my Tia Ana!  She was old enough and brave enough to confront my abuelita.

Tia Ana’s children, from her only husband, were Patty, Ana Luisa and my beloved Hugo.  I love them all.  The lot of them were funny as hell, kind and generous with their time.

My Tia Ana, Patty and Ana Luisa were the first to transform me into a young lady.   They purchased make-up, jeans, adorable tops and heels. I had never walked in heels before and it was a daunting task! They laughed at my futile efforts of trying to look like a runway model.  I had to join them.

Patty had her, then boyfriend and now husband, Ruben.  I liked him.  He was a giant teddy bear. Ana Luisa took me out to movies, clubs and restaurants with her friends (male and female).

Although I was only 14, I was much taller and curvaceous  than my cousins.  So when one of Ana Luisa’s male friends hit on me, I was beyond shocked.  Ana Luisa laughed and advised the surprised fellow of my actual age.  He quickly apologized.

That incident would be play a huge role in how I saw myself for years to come.  The message was clear.  I can pass for a woman and forget about being a girl.

This new way of thinking could not be utilized in Mexico.  I wanted my family to love me and they might not if I became too coqueta (flirtatious).  So I kept that feeling in my back pocket.

My other aunt , Tia Maria Luisa, was married to my wealthy uncle Miguel. Tio Miguel made his money by owning a trucking company. He started with nothing and turned into a millionaire (US dollars).  He was , like his wife, kind , funny and generous.

Tia Maria Luisa was funny, loving and beautiful.  It was easy to love her.  Tia Maria Luisa had three sons and no daughters.  So, she doted on me and I was grateful.

Cousin Gustavo, was a doctor and married to another doctor, Alicia.  To this day, they are happily married and very loving to each other and their kids.   My cousin joked with his wife habitually.  She was just as crazy as he was.  Match made in heaven!

Gustavo’s brothers were very withdrawn, shy and studious.  Luis Miguel, I think, was some sort of engineer.  Emilio was so shy, even with his cousin!  I don’t recall what he did, except of course, play soccer.  That’s fine, Tavo (short for Gustavo)  was the best of them, as far as I was concerned.

He was yet another example of a more than decent Mexican male.  Just like Hugo, I couldn’t help but admire, love and respect him.  My Latino loathing wall was coming down brick by brick.

 

I understood why my abuelita was so jealous of the rest of the family.  They had far more dimensions to their personalities. I could talk to them all night, in sheer delight!

My cousin Hugo lived in a detached studio in the corner of the courtyard behind the house. Hugo was in his early 20’s.  He was tall, handsome, funny, bright and kind.  He painted a giant Snoopy on his door, which instantly endeared him to me.  Hugo was an artist and architect.

He and I had long talks about every subject.  His favorite subject was the love of his life, a girl named Leti (short for Leticia).  He use to write her love letters and asked for my opinion on the content.  They were wonderful.

I asked questions that were none of my business. Questions of how he loved Leti.  Rather than putting me in my place, he simply smiled and laughed. Good deflection technique.  He was in love with the look in her eyes, her accepting heart and her happy spirit. I’m sure it didn’t hurt that she was absolutely beautiful, in a playful, jovial way.

Hugo made me see that love could exist in a pure, tender way within a Mexican couple.  Hugo’s true character and demeanor was yet another step to seeing Latinos is a good light.  He was the kind of son any parent would be proud to call their own. And I was very proud to call him my primo.

As usual, abuelita told me to stay away from Hugo.  It wasn’t proper for me to be spending so much time with him, she said.  This was ticking me off.  What did she think we were doing as we chatted in the kitchen or courtyard?  Funny thing was, she never confronted Hugo.

Mas Torreon

Posted: July 26, 2012 in Mexico
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At the ignorant age of 14, my expectations of what life would be like in Torreon were way off base.  As I mentioned before,  I had a handful of visits to Torreon prior to my permanent move.

During our treacherous auto trips, I learned how to read a map and I was my mother’s co-pilot.  With no A/C in her VW Rabbit, the trip was long, hot and full of car sickness.

So when we finally arrived, I was denied nothing.  If I wanted coke with my meal, it was done.  If I wanted an ice cream trip to Lerdo (famous throughout Mexico for its ice cream), it happened.  My Torreon world was my oyster, until I arrived to live there.

My abuelita, as mentioned before, was a hard woman.  I was to be her companion and housekeeper. And she was going to possess me.  Abuelita was quite jealous of anyone that took me away from her.

My grandparents owned a three bedroom, beautifully tiled house with a lovely courtyard. My aunts and uncles built it for them.  My Tio Antonio financially supported my grandparents.  He was a jovial, kind and hard-working truck driver.

Antonio was referred to by abuelita as ‘mi rey’  (my king).  Ever since he was a teenager, he volunteered to hand over his earnings to his mother.  Antonio and my mother were fathered by Don Nacho.  It’s no wonder why I love Antonio so much, his father was a good man , which in turn, made him a good man.

Once or maybe twice a week, we went to market.  I was to carry the sturdy nylon grocery bag.  It weighed a ton.  How did she manage before me?

I swept and mopped the tile floors throughout the house, dusted furniture and washed dishes. My favorite chore was hand washing my clothes and my abuelito’s clothes.

The courtyard had a laundry sink where both scrubbing and rinsing was done by hand.  I had very strong hands and would often get wet as I washed and rinsed the clothes.  Then of course, hanging them on a clothesline.  I got great compliments from abuelita, as she observed my laundering prowess.

Abuelita wanted to whip me into the greatest ‘ama de casa’ imaginable.  Sorry abuelita, I thought, it’s not going to happen.  My aspirations were much loftier than being a super housewife.

What was truly important to abuelita was keeping me by her side. Para que quieres ir a casas ajenas (why do you want to go to houses that have nothing to do with us)?  This was funny because it was my aunt’s house! If I spent too much time with my abuelito, she would get jealous too.

This is how I punished my abuelita when she angered me.  I took away my affection and attention.  I was an expert at dispensing the silent treatment, but my abuelito saw my game and told me to knock it off.  So I did.  I could never go against the most decent man I’ve ever known.

Torreon

Posted: July 24, 2012 in Mexico
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My mother drove me to Tijuana from Pasadena and entrusted me to an unsuspecting Mexicana at the bus station. I had to transfer to a second bus at the seaside town of Mazatlan.   I remember having my money taped to my torso and crossing my arms for good measure.

Mazatlan greeted me with children selling shrimp tacos and cocktails.  As I enjoyed my much-needed sustenance,  I was being robbed of my Duran Duran memorabilia.  I promptly snatched up what little I found from the impoverished thieves.  Next stop, Torreon.  We were traveling at night and I remember the road being treacherous.  I imagined the bus diving off a cliff.  It was impossible to sleep.

When I finally arrived in Torreon, I was faced with a problem.  The phone number given to me to call my grandparents was wrong. I told myself not to panic.  I had been to Torreon a handful of times via mom’s VW Rabbit.  I knew my grandparents lived across the street from a hospital on Blvd. Revolucion.  So I got a cab and quickly found my familia.

I was home.  Torreon was going to coax me back to a love of all things Mexican.  I needed to be coaxed into something that was honest. It may as well be my heritage.

My Spanish was abysmal in the beginning. I was forever being corrected by everyone within earshot.  To explain away my lousy Spanish, my abuelita informed everyone that I was American.  Abuelita’s first advice to me was promptly ignored.  She told me not to be like her.

My grandmother was hard, inside and out.  She had a head for business.  Was tough on everyone, especially herself.  Affection was never her thing.  I didn’t care.  I was going to attack her with my affection everyday.  Whenever complimented, my grandmother would scoff. What truly brought us together was storytelling and housework.  How happy she was as she observed my manual labor!

She had been betrayed by her first husband, Raul.  He decided one set of wife and kids was not good enough for him.  So he had a second family.  Their divorce was a Catholic one.  He dropped dead and the divorce was final.

Her second husband, my beloved abuelito, worshipped her.  They passively argued every day, without fail. This is how they loved each other.  If I ever got angry with my abuelita, my abuelito was going to put me in my place.  He did this, even when I was defending him.

Abuelito was known as Don Nacho in the neighborhood. Nacho was short for Ignacio.  Everyone loved him (myself included).

He towered over everyone. He must have been over 6 feet.  His hands were huge and rough. His voice made the windows tremble.  He was my gentle Mexican giant.  My grandfather was self-educated.  His room, above his garage, was rife with books on every subject. He had a corny sense of humor and a temperament foreign to me.  Nothing fazed him.  He rarely lost his temper with women.  Men, on the other hand, had better mind themselves.  Abuelito was not keen on displays of machismo.

Abuelito was my initial reason for loving Mexico.  It was safe to trust and love him.  He made me feel perfect with the way he spoke to me and the way he looked at me.  Thank God for Don Nacho!