Telling abuela you are going on a long term, solo-backpacking trip across SE Asia

—No vas a ir ningún lado. ¿Entiendes?

I sat at the edge of my grandmother’s bed, listening to her scold me about my decision to visit South East Asia and Africa for a few months.

—Tienes que encontrar un trabajo fijo —There was a brief silence, as she focused her attention to the mirror—Ya tienes que establecerte— she said as she finished curling her hair. 

—Pero quiero pasear con los camellos abuela— I replied jokingly.

—Ay Karen—she shook her head and rolled her eyes at me —En ves de buscar novio, andas buscando camellos. Pareces niña chiquita.

Niña chiquita.

The fact that I am 25 years of age, unmarried, and do not have children makes me a little girl in my grandmother’s eyes. Nevermind the fact that I hold a bachelor’s degree, that I am about to finish my master’s degree, that I have completed competitive internships in Washington DC, that I have chosen career fields in which women are underrepresented, and even studied in a foreign country on a scholarship. In my grandmother’s eyes, and in the eyes of the rest of my family, I have not truly “made it” until I have gotten married and birthed some children.

How can I explain to my grandmother—a woman who was raised in a small town, who comes from a generation where women were expected to get married and bear kids as soon as they were able to— that my goals and dreams have nothing to do with finding a husband.

I want to experience new cultures. I want to learn about poverty and what it means to be a woman in different parts of the world. I want to inspire young women and break the mold of what it means to be a Mexican-American woman.

Who says we can’t take off into the world alone? Who says we have to be married and have 2.5 kids by the age of 25? Who says we cannot have dreams of our own—dreams, which are not constructed by our families and Mexican culture? Who says…

-¿Y como que solo vas a llevar una mochilla? Haber ¿como vas a lavar tus calzones? 

There are hardly any minority, solo-female backpackers, and this does not help my case. The whole backpacking scene is new territory for me, and sometimes I cannot answer my grandmother’s questions. I am not sure how I will live out of a backpack for a few months. Whether she knows it or not, my grandmother is a strong woman and she has taught me to persevere in the face of adversity. It will be difficult living out of a backpack for a few months, but I know I have the mental and emotional tools to do so.

-¿Y con quien vas a ir? No vas a ir sola, es muy peligroso.

This is what surprised me the most.

When my grandmother was 14 years old, she left her small town for the big city. At just 14 years old, my grandmother supported herself by cleaning houses for rich people in a foreign land. How can she say it is too dangerous for me to go on my trip?

Of course, I understand the safety aspect. Being a solo traveler can be dangerous if one does not take proper precautions. But if I were a man, no one would question me. If I were a man, my family would congratulate me and say how fun and adventurous I am. There would be no talk of a “ticking clock” or a “train leaving me,” as my aunt likes to put it.

I stayed quiet, with my head bowed low, and waited for mi regaño to be over. When she was done there was a long silence and a distant look in her eyes. It was the same look my mother had when I told her about my decision—the look of disappointment. What will I tell others? What will they think of me?

The last thing I want is for my grandmother and mother to feel judged by family members and society because I have chosen to go “off the beaten path”, so to speak. The last thing I want is for them to feel like they have failed because I have chosen to do something so unheard of in our community.

The only thing I kept thinking during mi regaño was that there must be at least another Mexican-American girl in a similar position—a girl who wants to explore the world on her own, but is faced with resistance. And what will she end up doing? Will she let someone talk her out of it? Will fear and societal pressures convince her not to do it?

If this girl had someone to look up to would she feel more courageous and more sure of her decision?

Tengo que ir.

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first adult cry, winter 2002

I decided to start something new.  I will write a series of short stories/narratives based on true events. The first one is titled “first adult cry, winter 2002”

It was Sunday afternoon. I know this for a fact because she was in the kitchen cooking for the entire week, and Sunday was the only day she had time to cook. That week it was Pozole. I was at my little black and white desk writing, when I decided to go into the kitchen.

“Ma, can I have my own room for my thirteenth birthday?”

She was at the sink washing radishes. She stopped for a moment and turned to her left.

“Pleeeease” I hugged her as I looked up into her glasses.

“I’m sorry baby, I can’t give that to you right now. But maybe I can get you your own bed. Do you want your own bed?”

No. I want my own room. I want to bring my friends over and hang out like a normal kid. I want to have sleepovers and talk about boys without you listening to everything. 

“Whatever.”

I knew there was nothing she could do. She couldn’t afford to rent a one-bedroom apartment. Even buying a bed would be expensive for a housekeeper who made $190 per week. I don’t know why I even bothered asking.

I sat back down at my desk and turned my spinning chair to our living room, analyzing our apartment. Everything blurred. My face, now hot, had tears running down it. But this wasn’t the cry of a child—the one a kid cries during a fit because he knows that with that cry, he will get whatever he wants—that loud, hysterical, annoying cry. No.

This was different.

This was a silent cry. The type of crying you do when you know there’s nothing you can do about your situation. The crying you try to hold in because there is just no point. No one will help you. No one will take away your pain. It was my first adult cry.

I stared at the queen-sized bed we had been sleeping on since I was born and then to our brown wardrobe, with all our family photos. I’m not staying here forever. I slowly shook my head and angrily wiped the tears off my face. I’m fucking not.

abandoned

When visiting a new city I always look for abandoned houses, dangerous neighborhoods, and written-on walls. I particularly enjoy abandoned houses; I find these beautiful and for whatever reason, these places provide me happiness and pleasure. Recently, I was able to exchange words with someone who is equally as obsessed with abandoned places as I am. He is a rule follower and said that in his life he feels rigidly controlled and confined by the city he lives in, his job, and daily transactions. There is something alluring about the places where control breaks down. I definitely relate to him, and I think many of us can also relate. So why aren’t most of us flocking to these traditionally ugly and deserted places? There must be something more.

Visiting an abandoned house is aesthetically stimulating. Normally an abandoned house will be covered by wild grass, ferns, and animals. It’s chaos. The contrast between a man made object and nature makes for some interesting pictures. If the house happens to be in a remote area, even better because it is guaranteed that no one else will be there, or anywhere near. This is the true beauty of an abandoned place. It is also the exact reason most people are not urging to visit.  Being alone, in a desolate area, is not everyone’s idea of fun. I can see how some of these places can be scary or dangerous. Still, the only thing I feel is incredible freedom and appreciation and calmness. That, and a tendency to imagine what was there before- the history of the place, the devastations, tragedies, and the why’s. Why was this place abandoned? Where did the people living here go? What happened to make them leave? Who, What, Why.

raval

The first day I walked around my neighborhood in Barcelona I was pleasantly surprised. I had never been to Europe and I don’t know what I expected, but I certainly did not expect to see what I saw in Raval. This post focuses on one aspect of Raval-its diversity.

If Barcelona were Los Angeles, El Raval would be all the ethnic communities in L. A. meshed into one.

El Raval is a small neighborhood in Barcelona known for its large immigrant population and so-called sketchy streets. During the day this neighborhood is alive and vibrant with colors, artists, and multicultural restaurants. Walking around, one immediately feels welcome—and at times inspired—in this inclusive community.

For those familiar with Los Angeles, imagine all the ethnically diverse neighborhoods blended into one (i.e. the Indian community in Hollywood, the Latino community in Downtown, the Asian communities in Chinatown and Koreatown, the Armenian community in Little Armenia, etc). This new, blended community would be the equivalent of Raval.

The drawback about Los Angeles is that the multicultural neighborhoods are physically apart from each other. A car is needed to go from Hollywood to Downtown, for example*. In Raval, all the ethnic communities exist within a   3 x 1 mile area. People from Pakistan, Philippines, China, Morocco and Latin America live side by side in this densely packed space. This makes for an interesting stroll along its streets and for an interesting place to eat.

Since Barcelona is somewhat paralyzed on Sundays (businesses are closed) many people relax and spend time with friends and family. On Sunday evenings in Raval, parents are seen playing with their children on the streets. During these hours there is an air of both joy and melancholy as the children play freely and carelessly, not knowing they live in the poorest part of Barcelona—not knowing of the struggles going on around them.

*Unless you really love excercise.