Notes from an Intimidating Woman

Hair slicked back with a part down the middle made to perfection like Moses parted the Red Sea, her hand is usually met with a lipstick pressed bottle of Heineken before it reaches yours, and she can recite the words to “Juicy” before she can “Call Me Maybe”. Maybe you love “Party and Bulls**t” instead? No? Okay. She’ll teach Biggie 101 later on.

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She smiles a smile that is hard to trust…there is a Heineken in her hand. In an unlikely matter, this is the woman that deems it appropriate to crack a joke before her counterpart does. She calls it breaking the ice; others may crown her the title “intimidating.” It is true, she judges all those who cannot recite Biggie’s “Juicy” with her, everyone should know at least the first lyric and her expectations cannot be met. This appreciation for classic tracks is enough to decide whether or not she’d be a challenge one wills to accept or not. If she takes her music this serious, what else does she take too seriously? Her beer purchasing talents must prove she has a higher degree of testosterone in her system than the vodka-loving queens, and the joke that was actually funny couldn’t be developed from the mind of a simply wit-filled woman…those are only found in the movies. She can only be Mila Kunis.

Her taste is impressive yet put in question when she orders whiskey. Who taught you about Jameson? From a woman that is consistently considered for questioning (and I am fully aware that my taste in drink, music, and hair style has only half to do with the reason for being donned intimidating), my brother taught me dark liquor was the better way to go and I listened. Maybe the past 4 years of different Cognac and Jack have enhanced my funnies? I am told I inherit more of my brother and father’s jovial personality after a couple of those.

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The answer to the above questions can be found in this Chula’s upbringing, and amazingly enough has more to do with what my mother taught me rather than my uncles, cousins, brothers, and father taught me.

My beautiful mother taught me my greatest lessons right after basketball practice: stand tall and walk well in your heels. I spent 15 minutes against a wall every night Monday-Friday for the latter part of my grammar school career while my mom cooked and looked over my homework at the same time. She would test me by making me walk a straight line in heels while bearing her choice of books on top of my head and force merengue parties for 2 in my room on Fridays. There was no way the hips of a Dominican woman would stay stiff for life. I was to learn to have pride in my femininity while playing basketball, and building ramps, and running neighborhood-wide games of manhunt and red rover, which added a new scar to my growing collection every time.

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As the mother to the only young female in her United States family, Mami had quite a challenge on her hands. All this child loved was wrapping her hands in oversized tube socks and learning how to fight with her brother via Jean Claude Van Damme: Street Fighter edition. Her favorite pastime consisted of practicing Michael Jackson’s Bad video, and beating her score on Crash Bandicoot. She was super good at the Crash Bandicoot and the Snowboard Kids (got lucky on Tekken, Sonic the Hedgehog was Eh once she couldn’t get past a certain level) and she wanted to be just like her older brother. She tried breakdancing, but was never really balanced enough to do that correctly. She picked up the piano for 10 years, but chose to develop writing skills instead of furthering a music career. She was coming into her own and  had a rather unique rhythm to her femininity because Mami said she could do it all, so long as she remembered to stand tall, practiced her walk in heels, and dance while she could still swiftly move her hips.

When I re-tell this story, people who are opposed to gender roles are astonished and look at me with sympathetic eyes. I know they don’t understand yet, my mother was teaching me to be proud of myself. I would become an American woman with traditional values tuned to Dominican culture. A good woman, as much she gave to her husband and family, had certain demands to be respected. She would work to not give anyone, especially a man, a reason to throw something in her face. She’d work hard, play what/when she saw fit, and could not be told what to do. She knew what needed to be done, and would make sure she could count on her partner for their part as well.

Mami Chula was fierce, and it took me about 23 years to appreciate her purpose.

This intimidating woman has pride, the good kind, and rarely seeks for attention further from the one her style or Heineken may attract. She may only speak when spoken to, or have high expectations of herself and her ambitious goals, but it is doubtful she seeks to be compared to. She has standards, as all people should, and only seeks to be tended to correctly by a potential partner with whom she can mutually understand and meet needs. Mutual is the key word in this intimidating Chula’s standards.

I can admit to being the type that is usually surrounded by friends, dancing, and then when I do get approached I have the nerve to poke fun at a bad pick-up line to make the situation less awkward. I once got asked if my personality matched my face, IT’S AWKWARD. I rarely feel the need to walk up and start conversations with strangers, but I LOVE meeting people randomly…when it isn’t uncomfortably forced. The bar is not the place where I am considering anything too seriously (unless a you invade my personal space or threaten my life) so no one else should either. I am usually hoping for someone who dances well, can talk music, and has a beautiful smile. I choose whether or not I’d hand out a number based on how well a person smiles and dance, yet I’m met with men who would think it proves intelligent to start a debate or test my vocabulary. I ONLY care if you can say “drink?” and are wise enough to extend your hand to ask for a dance. If you happen to get excited when the DJ plays some 90s hits, that is just a drizzle of Hersey’s chocolate syrup. . .

Too much?

With Love,

Mary B: The Intimidating Chula

‘Hood Talk.

If where you come from taught you to disrespect where I come from, what’s so great about not being from the “hood”?

In my definition education encompasses more than what we are taught at school and through textbooks, for the textbooks have forgotten to mention a lot of the history that has created my presence in the United States. I was born and raised in an urban center, less politically referred to as the “hood”, and I learned how to be a woman of morals, respect, wit, and intellect in this place. I have encountered situations that have challenged my naivety, at the same token my city has instilled in me an innocence and a childhood filled with an imagination that created and nurtured my talent for reading and writing. In the ‘hood we don’t swim easily, but for the most part…we refuse to drown.

I am disturbed by the amount of ignorant comments some folks make when referring to people that come from these communities. Some like to call us “uneducated” because our people react negatively, sometimes violently, to abandonment, discrimination, racism, stereotyping, etc, on a daily basis. Some like to judge our culture, and call our style of dress and music “thuggish” or say we are “gang bangers”. Some, especially, like to remind us that because our school systems are “failing”…so will we. I am a product of this very neighborhood that taught me to not be so outlandish with my judgements of people because one day I would find myself needing them. And for the people who judge us as though we have created this bad reputation for ourselves and state their opinions strongly…I strongly suggest you create more consciousness for yourself. Most of our history isn’t in the books.

We epitomize human behavior in the ‘hood. Acts of violence, need for family, love of pride, attachment to an escape factor. Mine was art over drugs, that exists in the hood too.

It is true we speak loudly, we learn to be defensive because sometimes we are judged just a little too easily and a little too harshly in a society that should know better.

I am a graduate student, an entrepreneur, an idealist…contrary to popular belief, I am not the only one of my kind. The spirit that drives me can be found in the heart of your favorite revolutionary figure. The odds were against them, the odds continue to be against the “hood”…folks around here just fight the cause a little differently. Malcolm X vs. Martin Luther King, Jr. There is not a way for our streets to constantly be clean and our individual issues to consistently be solved and monitored.

I was taught to value my family, to question my neighbors, work hard to move forward and gain respect, and keep my head high at all times so people don’t take advantage of me. As a woman, I was taught to be a little less friendly so a man would take me a little more seriously. As a spirit, I was taught to humble myself…I never know where this life will lead me.

Hip hop is my culture and its poetry and integrates me to popular society. I’m afraid it’s the only thing greater society may respect of me.

I’ve never tried drugs, but went away to college and witnessed most of the action there…from kids who weren’t from the ‘hood.

My mother is a big believer in Christ and as a result I am too. I carry her words constantly in my brain because I trust her.

I am not better than anyone because I am a college graduate, rather I am better equipped to fight administrators and continue to uplift the younger generation of my neighborhood. We respect each others history in these parts, and we take the time to listen and get to know the path which we all come from.

I understand that gang violence is detrimental to our community, but I also understand that a lot of our mothers and fathers need to work beyond 9-5’s to pay for rent and food, and I also understand that more public programs need to be implemented to occupy the time and minds of children so they can grow in purpose, and I mostly understand that the outside world needs to stop doubting where we come from. As we all know, school is forced upon us in our early age and a lot of students have greater issues than getting an A. I AM proud to say that more and more of our children are learning about college, career, and a world outside of their own. They are finding more mentors to look up to, more books they can relate to, and listen to stories that keep them motivated.

This piece is a personal one. I share my thoughts as a woman who was born, raised, and still resides in my neighborhood. I come from an immigrant family who started their work in factories as they saved enough money to own businesses and perfect their craft. I don’t condemn those who express their disdain negatively, I don’t congratulate them either. I speak a certain dialect, it does not make me less capable of communicating and understanding my surroundings. I have a different and more flexible way of adjusting to the world. I don’t hate it.

I am openminded and opinionated because I want to extend and explore my intellect across different worlds. The lack of respect for mine has created my will to learn as many cultures and worlds as I can. 

My pride comes from a sense of confidence I have in myself. I know I could not be who I am without my knowledge of how things work in the ‘hood.

Mary B.

Is Getting Your Closure Beneficial?

So you and your ex ended without “closure” and now you are contemplating whether or not it is worth contacting him again? Get that last “open” conversation about your failed relationship and get some “answers.” Welcome to the club. Let’s take a good look at this…

What is the purpose of this so called “closure” anyways? Is it just another opportunity we’d like to give ourselves to rationalize the fact that is, we just didn’t work out? Whether it was bad timing or a falling out of love…we didn’t work, isn’t that the only fact that matters? Apparently NOT. We want the chance to speak all those unspoken thoughts, because now is clearly the opportune moment.

I am a woman who was taught to “grab the bull by the horns; you want answers go get ‘em.” Best advice I have ever gotten, and only recently have I begun to follow it in all relevant aspects of life, like: career, academics, personal goals/dreams, food, water, cute dude at the bar, etc., etc. I’m starting to believe that love, cannot really be placed in this category as relevant. Although love needs to be worked on so that your relationship can progress, it also cannot be forced. Both parties have to be willing to put in the work, if your ex has seemingly moved on…don’t doubt it… (this is quite difficult to grasp in the actual practice of life).

I am professional at opening my mouth and speaking my every thought, it’s a gift and a curse. A gift, because I admire my fearlessness to expose just exactly who I am.  A gift, because it is a staple in embodying the whole “I don’t play games” vibe, which is the energy true bad-asses thrive off. A gift, because regardless of what I revealed about my crazy, inner, just straight feminine thought process, the right person would listen and not judge and just understand I needed to hear myself speak and I needed to see him nod along the way before he spoke his one sentence that would clarify everything. But it is a curse because I feel I have the right to the answers I seek for, simply because I ask the question. A curse, because I don’t have a great concept of just letting things play out as they should. This whole “Let Go and Let God thing” is a new practice for me. Part of maturing is learning that there are just some things you cannot control, and be honest with yourself…how ready are you to hear the truth? Because it will not be as pretty as you imagine. And are you ready to take yourself back to that place of heartbreak? Because my guess is, you’ll be dragging yourself back to that space for a few days after. And most importantly, will that person be as open to this revisiting and re-opening of wounds as you are?

I am also a professional at creating stories to help me manage my life a little easier. As much as I hate the dreaded line “it is what it is” this is the one time it’s not really a full of shit statement.  (True Story: my mother has been using this line like it is written in the Scripture). What answers are you truly looking for, after the break up? If he cheated and that came out of the dark, what more do you need to know? And can you really be “just friends” if you were in love? (Maybe after you both have found another ‘love’).

The closure process makes sense in that it ties everything that was unsettled in your mind into a nice bow for the Fvck You and Please Miss Me, you truly want to send. Because if he was an absolute douche there is no and, or, nor, but, ifs, but maybe, why about it…you KNOW that you deserve better. And if they decide they want to change and you believe it, then go ahead and throw your whole heart back into it and celebrate love. Obviously not everything in life is black and white.

Ending a relationship that you have categorized as special is NOT easy. You can spend years referring back to it, dwelling on why it couldn’t last, you can be dating someone else and still catch yourself thinking back to that one relationship. But I begin to question this idea of “closure” as I realize that my guy friends don’t mention this “closure” topic to me, and I have witness them equally suffer from a break-up as much as I have. And it could be fear of allowing yourself to be vulnerable to this person once again, of bringing up the past when you are trying to move forward in your future, of coming face-to-face with the reality that maybe you just didn’t want that relationship to end and you’re actually still wondering, could it have been saved?

Things happen for a reason…right? And let’s be real. Is closure an opportunity to close the door? Or officially keep it forever slightly opened?

I don’t know if this thought process is one driven by fear, but it is one that I am letting be…at least for another couple of months.

Share your thoughts and experiences with getting your closure. We’d love to hear from you!

With Love,

Mary B.

 

The Art of Domesticity

The smell of the blue colored Mistolin reminds me of Saturday morning cartoons, dry frosted flakes in my bowl, legs up as my cousins and I sat on the couch for what seemed like an eternity. Abuela was cleaning the floor and we needed to wait until it was dry before our feet could touch the ground again. She would not allow us to ruin her work and she was not waiting until our parents picked us up so that she could do her work. We respected when our grandmother cleaned because she took it very seriously. Her floors were pristine; we could eat our dry ‘confle’ off of it, practice our moonwalk in our bleached white socks (which we did often) and still not disappoint Mami, slide across the floor “surfing” in California like Zack Morris and crew did. She never stopped us because number 1, we were entertaining ourselves and staying out of her hair as she made 12 o’ clock feast, and number 2 she was confident her house was clean. She created the perfect situation for us and our mamas. It has always been her joy to teach us how to start cleaning and she believed that people would maintain their lives in tune with the upkeep of their private space (…and vice versa). Needless to say, spring cleaning happens 4 times a year in my house because we need to create a new positive space at the change of every season. That is the finest piece of psychology that has ever been worked on me.

I am a 23-yr old woman now. I identify as feminist and Latina, and cleaning is certainly not against my religion. It’s the talent I’m learning to perfect as I mold myself into a woman that respects herself, her morals and values, her spirituality, her ancestry, and her home. Contrary to popular belief, feminists are indeed women who want to be women. There is this huge misconception that feminists are only women, and that feminists put down men. I am a self-proclaimed feminist not because I witnessed men disrespect the women in my family, or because I refuse to play a woman’s “role” but rather because I was taught to respect the labor of creating home as equal to the work that brings money home. My grandmother never expressed disdain to being attached to the kitchen. She enjoyed cooking for her family, I enjoy the art of cooking for myself.

We are women who are proud of this domestic space that allows us to be innovative, and sometimes we are celebrated for it, in this place. I started cooking when I was 12 years old and it was not by choice or admiration of my grandmother. It was because my grandmother decided it was time I learned the craft of being a woman: white rice, red beans, sazon, and meat. She made me cook it all by myself and it was horrible, but it was worse for the rest of my family who had to eat my meal because she wasn’t saving anyone.

I recognize this rule as one my grandfather upheld. I do not recall ever hearing my grandfather disrespect my grandmother’s work; he would always make us eat what was placed on the table because it was the food she made. Even when she started cooking with less salt and cut rice and red meat from their diet, I don’t remember him fighting her. Abuela’s cooking bettered them, and they now enjoy great-grandchildren together. They taught me a marriage is partnership; man and woman recognize and respect each others contributions daily through their actions. In her eyes, women were in charge of keeping the family alive and creating harmony at home. Now this is an extremely large feat and I don’t think she is being too fair, but whether in the kitchen or not the mother ‘nurturer’ is an innate feature.

It is an art to exemplify nurture through domestic traits well, and I do not believe every woman has to perform these traits nor do I agree men are exempt from these talents. I write this piece to highlight that domestic work is neither demeaning nor subordinate work. I use the example of my family Matriarch because she is my inspiration. Because that was my example, I enjoy cooking for others (so long as they don’t insist I do it their way) and I enjoy cleaning my home. I want it to be a place of love, comfort, and peace …much like Abuela’s house was for me. She and I both share the same love and understanding of art. Where she had boleros blasting, I jam to the likes of Jill Scott and Ms. Keys for peace. Where she plays psychologist and shares her wisdom, I read books. Where she makes her infamous tea that cures every disease (as far as I’m convinced), I get inspired to write and bake pies. The kitchen is our meditation room. Every meal she made was to feed everyone she could, every time she cleaned it was so that her family could live comfortably in the confines of their home. She was in charge of creating home. When my grandfather and all my uncles came home from work, it was her pride to present them with café bustelo, seasoned with a hint of cinnamon; her added twist furthered her family’s enjoyment of her creations.

I sing the Spanish spirituals learned in church, just as she does when she cooks and cleans, and I have a slight obsession with mopping my floor. I share my art with myself and my roommate for now, but she has always taught me there is greatness in tradition and innumerable strength in a nurturer’s role.