Tuesday, January 29, 2013

On Broken Hearts, Hopelessness & Letting Go

For three days now, I've pondered sharing something so deeply personal here but I'm writing it anyway for catharsis, to set my thoughts free and in hopes that someone, somewhere may benefit from my experience as well.

Early 20th century Valentine's Day card, showi...
Three months ago, my mother suffered a heart attack, at close to 70 years old and struggling with Diabetes, she had been apparently dealing with chronic heart disease silently as happens to many diabetics for a long time now.

At first, they sent us home with pain medications and told us that surgery was not even an option, the blockage was so severe, her heart under such duress that there was nothing to stop the ongoing death of her heart cells until the moment when her weakened heart stopped. Forever.

Numbness and denial set in. My mother, both stubborn and courageous, grasped at the idea she had very little time left. A few weeks later, it turned out that open heart surgery, bypass, was an option for my mother after all. However, my mother, after having survived a hit and run by a drunk driver in the early 1970s, major reconstructive surgery and skin grafts on her leg, decided enough with the surgeries. She was going to leave her destiny in god's hands.

You can imagine how heartbreakingly agonizing and frustrating this was for me. On one hand, I felt obligated to respect her wishes and on the other, the shrill scream of "PLEASE DON'T LEAVE ME, MAMI!" selfishly resounded through my entire being.

My brothers and my sister all had different thoughts, fears and ways to deal, which also included getting into arguments amongst ourselves about the best course of action. We finally decided on tackling it together and our plan is already underway. I know, I believe, as my mother's youngest daughter, her baby, I have the power to sway her to reconsider surgery. Perhaps that is just ego but after all, I am my mother's daughter, and just as stubborn and strong as her. But this post is only partially about my mother's broken heart.

Letting Go

Life of PiThis past weekend I rigorously sought escape, I watched the finale of American Horror Story, followed by This is 40, and Life of Pi. These may all seem very analogous in terms of content but one of my talents, lays in being able to connect threads from disparate categories that lead to breakthrough ideas and new insight.

American Horror Story made me contemplate the horrible plight of having to give up a child. While This is 40 resonated with me, I related to it on so many levels, the absentee dad, the loving moocher, the   identity crisis caused by getting older and having kids. Then Life of Pi, it was beautiful, visually, and full of deep, meaningful, epic discovery.

In many ways, the common denominator, was the idea of Letting Go, of surrendering, of not fighting the things you cannot change, the things you have no control over, but instead embracing them for what they're worth.

Daddy Issues

A year or two ago, while watching a reality show on the Logo channel, where a gay man dealt with his biological father's refusal to accept him as his son for being homosexual, I had a moment of clarity when the man's mother comforted him and told him that his father had served only one purpose, really his life's purpose, bringing the young man into being, and after that point, he wasn't necessary to rest of the journey.

I have been plagued with the repercussions of my biological father's abandonment my entire life. I've dealt with all the classic issues from overcompensating and being a perfectionist in hopes of winning approval to dooming my personal relationships by latching on to people who are emotionally unavailable.

As I folded laundry this weekend, my thoughts circled back to my mother, by no means a saint or perfect, but a good mother, who has always loved me unconditionally and protected me as best as she could and this gay man's father's purpose. My mother took this job on, of nurturing me willingly when no one else wanted to or did.

I thought about having to give up a child, if you had no choice, and how if I were in those shoes, I would leave my child in the hands of the person who could love them the most. All those years, I had sought to understand WHY my father left, how he could just simply walk away.

In that second, it became clear, he had left me with the one person he could trust to always love me and to care for me. The one person who would love me the most, who would give her life for me. In that moment, I understood this act of love, this act of kindness and saw it came from this stranger in my life. And although, make no mistake, that his actions are horrid, irresponsible and monstrous, I felt blessed instead of the usual anger or self-pity. This chasm, this void, that had haunted me for so long with its barrenness, in an instant ceased to be.

While this may all be speculation, of course, and who knows ultimately, what my father's plight was really like or his true motivations, what was obvious to me, was that his "WHY" was irrelevant, of no consequence to this narrative or my mother's. His purpose was accomplished, my mother and he brought me into this world and when he left, my mother shaped me into who I am today. That we know to be true.

Empowered by Crisis

As we approach Valentine's Day and become entrenched in the hyper commercialization of the holiday with hearts and candy everywhere, it's hard for me to reconcile the irony of my mother's diabetic heart-striken predicament against the backdrop of season.

There is also irony in that the pain brought on by the fear of losing my mother granted me the pathway to release my father and honor my mother for stepping up to the plate. In a couple of years I, too, will reach the age of 40 that milestone of mid-life, and perhaps, even have a child of my own in tow.

A former coworker used to stop by my desk, every once in a while and kindly tease me with this encouragement, "You is kind, you is good, you is important" to remind me that I was not alone and that I was appreciated. My mother always imparted her belief of self-efficacy - that I could, if I chose to and wanted to, could and would impact and change the world, and as a global citizen it was an imperative to leave this place better than I found it.

As I struggle with the plight of urging her to not go gently, to not succumb to the ease of giving up, I embrace the lessons of accepting what I actually have control over and what I don't. As painful as this may be, I exchange it, for the beauty and the wisdom of the future ahead of us.

Release has never been sweeter.

Monday, January 28, 2013

New Book: Sugar in the Blood: A Family's Story of Slavery and Empire

I love this clever new title: Sugar in the Blood: A Family's Story of Slavery and Empire by Andrea Stuart

In the late 1630s, lured by the promise of the New World, Andrea Stuart’s earliest known maternal ancestor, George Ashby, set sail from England to settle in Barbados. He fell into the life of a sugar plantation owner by mere chance, but by the time he harvested his first crop, a revolution was fully under way: the farming of sugar cane, and the swiftly increasing demands for sugar worldwide, would not only lift George Ashby from abject poverty and shape the lives of his descendants, but it would also bind together ambitious white entrepreneurs and enslaved black workers in a strangling embrace. 
Stuart uses her own family story—from the seventeenth century through the present—as the pivot for this epic tale of migration, settlement, survival, slavery and the making of the Americas. 
As it grew, the sugar trade enriched Europe as never before, financing the Industrial Revolution and fuelling the Enlightenment. And, as well, it became the basis of many economies in South America, played an important part in the evolution of the United States as a world power and transformed the Caribbean into an archipelago of riches. 
But this sweet and hugely profitable trade—“white gold,” as it was known—had profoundly less palatable consequences in its precipitation of the enslavement of Africans to work the fields on the islands and, ultimately, throughout the American continents. Interspersing the tectonic shifts of colonial history with her family’s experience, Stuart explores the interconnected themes of settlement, sugar and slavery with extraordinary subtlety and sensitivity. 
In examining how these forces shaped her own family—its genealogy, intimate relationships, circumstances of birth, varying hues of skin—she illuminates how her family, among millions of others like it, in turn transformed the society in which they lived, and how that interchange continues to this day. Shifting between personal and global history, Stuart gives us a deepened understanding of the connections between continents, between black and white, between men and women, between the free and the enslaved. 
It is a story brought to life with riveting and unparalleled immediacy, a story of fundamental importance to the making of our world.
 Andrea Stuart was born and raised in the Caribbean. She studied English at the University of East Anglia and French at the Sorbonne. Her book The Rose of Martinique: A Life of Napoleon’s Josephine was published in the United States in 2004, has been translated into three languages and won the Enid McLeod Literary Prize. Stuart’s work has been published in numerous anthologies, newspapers and magazines, and she regularly reviews books for The Independent. She has also worked as a TV producer.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

New Book: Alejandro Zambra’s Ways of Going Home

Español: Mapa de la comuna de Santiago, en San...
Mapa de la comuna de Santiago, en Santiago de Chile (Photo : Wikipedia)
Out this month,"Alejandro Zambra’s Ways of Going Home begins with an earthquake, seen through the eyes of an unnamed nine-year-old boy who lives in an undistinguished middleclass housing development in a suburb of Santiago, Chile

When the neighbors camp out overnight, the protagonist gets his first glimpse of Claudia, an older girl who asks him to spy on her uncle Raúl.

In the second section, the protagonist is the writer of the story begun in the first section. His father is a man of few words who claims to be apolitical but who quietly sympathized—to what degree, the author isn’t sure—with the Pinochet regime

His reflections on the progress of the novel and on his own life—which is strikingly similar to the life of his novel’s protagonist—expose the raw suture of fiction and reality.

Ways of Going Home switches between author and character, past and present, reflecting with melancholy and rage on the history of a nation and on a generation born too late—the generation which, as the author-narrator puts it, learned to read and write while their parents became accomplices or victims. It is the most personal novel to date from Zambra, the most important Chilean author since Roberto Bolaño."

Monday, January 21, 2013

New Book: Juan in a Hundred: The Representation of Latinos on Network News

A timely new read: Juan in a Hundred: The Representation of Latinos on Network News by Otto Santa Ana

Latinos constitute the fastest-growing and largest ethnic minority in the United States, yet less than one percent of network news coverage deals with Latinos as the focus of a story. Out of that one percent, even fewer stories are positive in either content or tone. 

Author of the acclaimed Brown Tide Rising: Metaphors of Latinos in Contemporary American Public Discourse, Otto Santa Ana has completed a comprehensive analysis of this situation, blending quantitative research with semiotic readings and ultimately applying cognitive science and humanist theory to explain the repercussions of this marginal, negative coverage.

Santa Ana's choice of network evening news as the foundation for Juan in a Hundred is significant because that medium is currently the single most authoritative and influential source of opinion-generating content. In his 2004 research, Santa Ana calculated that among approximately 12,000 stories airing across four networks (ABC, CBS, CNN, NBC), only 118 dealt with Latinos, a ratio that has remained stagnant over the past fifteen years. 

Examining the content of the stories, from briefs to features, reveals that Latino-tagged events are apparently only broadcast when national politics or human calamity are involved, and even then, the Latino issue is often tangential to a news story as a whole. On global events involving Latin America, U.S. networks often remain silent while BBC correspondents prepare fully developed, humanizing coverage. 

The book concludes by demonstrating how this obscurity and misinformation perpetuate maligned perceptions about Latinos. Santa Ana's inspiring calls for reform are poised to change the face of network news in America.

Monday, January 14, 2013

New Book: Fresh Off the Boat: A Memoir by Eddie Huang

 (Photo: Silicon Prairie News)
Another one for your to-read list:  Fresh Off the Boat: A Memoir by Eddie Huang

Eddie Huang is the thirty-year-old proprietor of Baohaus—the hot East Village hangout where foodies, stoners, and students come to stuff their faces with delicious Taiwanese street food late into the night—and one of the food world’s brightest and most controversial young stars. But before he created the perfect home for himself in a small patch of downtown New York, Eddie wandered the American wilderness looking for a place to call his own.  

Eddie grew up in theme-park America, on a could-be-anywhere cul-de-sac in suburban Orlando, raised by a wild family of FOB (“fresh off the boat”) hustlers and hysterics from Taiwan. While his father improbably launched a series of successful seafood and steak restaurants, Eddie burned his way through American culture, defying every “model minority” stereotype along the way. He obsessed over football, fought the all-American boys who called him a chink, partied like a gremlin, sold drugs with his crew, and idolized Tupac. 

His anchor through it all was food—from making Southern ribs with the Haitian cooks in his dad’s restaurant to preparing traditional meals in his mother’s kitchen to haunting the midnight markets of Taipei when he was shipped off to the homeland. After misadventures as an unlikely lawyer, street fashion renegade, and stand-up comic, Eddie finally threw everything he loved—past and present, family and food—into his own restaurant, bringing together a legacy stretching back to China and the shards of global culture he’d melded into his own identity. 

Funny, raw, and moving, and told in an irrepressibly alive and original voice, Fresh Off the Boat recasts the immigrant’s story for the twenty-first century. It’s a story of food, family, and the forging of a new notion of what it means to be American.

Monday, January 07, 2013

New Book: My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor

English: Sonia Sotomayor, U.S. Supreme Court j...
Sonia Sotomayor, U.S. Supreme Court justice (Photo: Wikipedia)
My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor is out this month, put this biography on the to-read list.

The first Hispanic and third woman appointed to the United States Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor has become an instant American icon. Now, with a candor and intimacy never undertaken by a sitting Justice, she recounts her life from a Bronx housing project to the federal bench, a journey that offers an inspiring testament to her own extraordinary determination and the power of believing in oneself.

Here is the story of a precarious childhood, with an alcoholic father (who would die when she was nine) and a devoted but overburdened mother, and of the refuge a little girl took from the turmoil at home with her passionately spirited paternal grandmother. But it was when she was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes that the precocious Sonia recognized she must ultimately depend on herself.  She would learn to give herself the insulin shots she needed to survive and soon imagined a path to a different life. 

With only television characters for her professional role models, and little understanding of what was involved, she determined to become a lawyer, a dream that would sustain her on an unlikely course, from valedictorian of her high school class to the highest honors at Princeton, Yale Law School, the New York County District Attorney’s office, private practice, and appointment to the Federal District Court before the age of forty. 

Along the way we see how she was shaped by her invaluable mentors, a failed marriage, and the modern version of extended family she has created from cherished friends and their children. Through her still-astonished eyes, America’s infinite possibilities are envisioned anew in this warm and honest book, destined to become a classic of self-invention and self-discovery.
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