Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Undocumented Mexican Women's Experiences

For my Feminist Theory class this summer, I interviewed several of my friends (and former English students) about their experiences crossing the border from Mexico to the United States. They bravely shared their stories with me, including what it feels like to live as an undocumented immigrant in the United States. After hours of interviews, I narrowed down their stories to a short podcast-style format - who knows, maybe I'll use the extra 5 hours of interviews to make some more of these someday.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Kids Quotes of the Week

I ate three bags of pizza last night.


Kid: What's your dog's name?
Me: Arlo.
Kid: Aww! I like his eyes. They're creepy.
Me: You have a dog, right? How many?
Kid holds up one finger.
Me: What's your dog's name?
Kid: Wait, what was your dog his name again?
Me: Arlo.
Kid: That's it. This my dog name. This my dog name.
Me: Really? Your dog's name is Arlo too?
Kid: Mhmm. 
Me: Did you name him after my dog Arlo?
Kid: Yes. We did.


Friday, May 1, 2015

Kids Quotes of the Week

Kid: Wolfs have marathons.
Me: They do?
Kid: Yeah. It means they run really fast. I've raced a wolf before.


"Umm... what happens if your brain explodes? Like if you swallow a bomb?"


Counselor: Are you sure you don't need to go to the bathroom?
Boy: Hold on, let me just stop walking and see if the pee comes out . . . . . . Yeah I better to go the bathroom.


Boy: Liar, liar piece of fire!
Me: Wait, what did you say?
Boy: You're a liar, liar piece of fire, Miss Molly. I don't see any games in there!


Me: Do you think they're twins?
Girl: No, they don't have the same shoes . . . or face.


About two bubbles that a 5 year-old boy caught on the bubble wand.
Boy: Look! I made butt cheeks!
Me: HA! You're funny, but I don't know if that's appropriate.
Boy: Maybe they're rocks?


Boy in Kindergarten.
Boy: I feel sad.
Me: Why?
Boy: Because I didn't brush my hair this morning.
Me: And that makes you feel sad?
Boy: Yeah. And because I didn't get to gel it either.


"This one time a centipede landed in my lap! And then I threw it on my sister! And she was so mad! And then my brother! Oh! Oh, you're not going to believe this! He said  'raisin squashed!' It was the best day ever!"

Friday, April 17, 2015

Kids Quotes of the Week

"A devil-fat dog kicked me in the wiener."


"One time we killed a snake and he was full of babies."


Kid 1: "What came first, the wheel or food?"
Kid 2: "The wheel was first! Then after they finished the wheel they were all like, 'where's the food?'"


Friday, April 10, 2015

Parenting Feminism

Three times a week I teach adult ESL/Parenting classes at Tulsa Public Schools, and it is often my favorite part of the week. I love teaching English and watching these amazing parents become empowered and confident in their daily life. I've developed a great rapport with my students and consider some of them to be my good friends. Many of us have shared very personal stories and have created a little community of support around each other. It's the best.

Last night as I was trying to fall asleep, I realized that all of my materials for class were on my desk at a different school. I jumped out of bed, paced the hallway for a few minutes whispering a couple four-letter words and then made a list of as many activities that required no preparation or materials. My students are exceptionally flexible and forgiving, but I consider it disrespectful to show up to class with no direction, no plan and no grammar points. And half of my duty is to show them respect and let them know that they are valued members of society, not illegals who jump the border to steal our jobs and infect us with measles.

When I arrived to class, my students were organizing all of their casserole dishes on the library table, and it dawned on me: it's Raul's birthday! (All names have been changed, by the way. This shit is confidential!) On birthdays or holidays or when the wind blows in the right direction, we organize - or more accurately, they organize - a party. I attempt to make the party educational, and we play vocabulary games or have discussions about birthday traditions in their respective countries which are mostly Mexico, but also Colombia, Puerto Rico, and El Salvador in this class alone.

Today I was saved by enchiladas verdes and rojos. Also, by chocolate nut cake and arroz con leche. All of my last minute preparation was perfect for one of our party days, and they didn't bat an eye at the lack of worksheets or materials.

While we shoved our faces full of comida, I presented the class with a question, let them discuss it in their small groups and then worked through them as a class. The first couple questions were easy. "What do you like/dislike about your culture?" and "What do you consider to be rude in your country?" The question about rudeness resulted in me trying to help the upper-class Colombia couple understand that context is everything, and even though they believe everyone who lives on the coast in Colombia to be rude and uneducated, they might just be living in two separate cultures (which they are). I can't help myself with power and privilege. It is in my bones. I have to talk about it.

And then I dropped the bomb.

"In your culture, are responsibilities the same for mothers and fathers?" As soon as I started writing fathers on the board, a collective "oooh!" filled the room. My Salvadoreña mom who is a single parent, works two jobs and got residency because she was running away from an abusive husband in her country was raring to talk with her group about the question. The Evangelical Colombian woman asked me how to translate the word machista into English (misogynist or chauvinist, if you're so inclined).

I expected a subject like this between a raging feminist and somewhat traditional, conservative Latin@s to be rather tense. I expected to have to grit my teeth and nod. But it was beautiful. It was my dream class!

We discussed generational sexism, cultural differences and perspectives on gender roles, and the difficulty and stigma of attempting to overcome those traditional gender expectations. We shook our heads as we listened to each other share stories of oppression. We tsk-tsked as some of the women talked of their ex-husbands or fathers or mothers who told them that their whole purpose in life was to be a wife or caretaker. We confessed of the unfair responsibilities we felt that we had to bear in order to be a good wife or a full woman in society's eyes. And we did it all in the library of an elementary school in the middle of Tulsa in their second language.

Never was I prouder.

Kids Quotes of the Week

"We have 5 minutes left, okay?"
"I love 5 minutes!"

Kid 1: Why do they call her Miss Hawkins?
Kid 2: Probably because she likes hawks.
Me: Do you like hawks?
Kid 2: No. They suck!
Me: Oh really? Why do you think that?
Kid 2: They can't even fly good.
Kid 1: And they don't even know how to eat fish!


Can't Even Blame it on the Moon

I check the local news website every morning to make sure that whatever tragedy or arrest that occurred last night didn't happen to one of my clients. If I see "East Tulsa" or "Kendall Whittier" on the headlines then my heart begins to race, I start to sweat a little and I begin praying that I don't recognize a name or face. Unfortunately, this is not based on unfounded fears. I have flipped open my computer on several occasions to find out that a client's mother was being arrested for some very gross neglect and abuse, that a family's home was burned down, that a father had been caught driving under the influence, and most horrifically and recently, that a client's mom had been murdered.

Sorry if that's too disturbing for a little blog post. I'm not sugar-coating any of this job, because there's not much sugar to coat it with. Don't get me wrong, it is the most fulfilling job I have ever had, and lately I've been coming home saying, "This is it! I know that this is what I am meant to do!" However, just because I'm being fulfilled doesn't mean that I'm not being a little traumatized as well. 

I am learning how to leave my work at work, but some days it is impossible. I am a very emotional and empathetic person by nature. Ever since I was a child, I've felt the emotions of others so intensely. It is impossible for me to watch someone get embarrassed, it pains me to see someone cry, and I'm prone to putting myself in others people's shoes and then tying the damn laces so tight that I can't get out of those shoes as I obsess about their pain the rest of the day.

This week has been a sad one. My high school kids are losing their shit: one was placed in a psychiatric hospital, one is spending all his time with gang members, two are waking and baking and skipping class every day, one is awaiting a court appearance, another is in juvenile detention and yet another is realizing that high school graduation may never happen for her. On top of that, a school bus crashed and a client broke his leg. ITS BEEN A WEEK, Y'ALL. And it's not even a full moon!

Although I don't agree that there is always a silver lining or that everything happens for a reason, I do believe that life cycles through the shit and the blessings. Right now, we're on a shit cycle. And so to cope and get through it, I choose to find joy within my job. For example, when asked who her favorite person in history was, one of my adult ESL students said, "St. Patrick because he was good to the black people." And as I attempted to keep my face neutral, as any good ESL teacher must learn how to do, she added, "Yes. St. Patrick Luther . . . Jr. . . oh wait . . ." And then we all burst into laughter. Her excuse was that the two holidays were very close to each other, and also she's not from here. If that's not joy, I don't know what is. 

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Kids Quotes of the Week

Kid: Why is your mama so fat?
Me: I don't know. Why?
Kid: Because she eats too much and she was born that way.


Kid 1: My uncle killed a snake this weekend. He stabbed a stick right through the neck.
Kid 2: I'd kill it with a beaver.
Kid 3: My dog would eat the face first.


Me: So I talked with your mom.
Kid: Did you touch her hair?
Me: No... what's up with her hair?
Kid: It's so soft.


Thursday, March 26, 2015

Among Us

You're not supposed to have favorite clients or get too emotionally attached, and for the most part, I abide by these rules. Except when it comes to my little 5 year-old sugar pie. He moved the US barely a year ago and used to whisper to me in Spanish during group activities when he first arrived and was confused by everything. He has since gained an (almost) complete understanding of the English language as well as a whole hell of a lot of confidence. He still holds my hand though and jumps into my arms on a weekly basis. And sometimes tells me that he misses me, and I melt into a puddle.

A few weeks ago, he told me a story about theses scary monsters on TV. Kids have the ability to talk for minutes uninterrupted, and I have to admit that I have developed a nasty skill of tuning them out when they are describing TV shows or movies. I hate it when adults do it, and it is even more confusing and unbearable when children try to explain plots to shows that I will never watch.

After a few minutes of planning what to eat for dinner that night while he sweetly relayed information in the background, I realized that he was possibly describing the Loch Ness Monster and other water dwelling creatures. And then he floored me with his language acquisition and said, "And the man on the TV said that they still live among us today. Cool, right?"

I thought, whoa. Did he just use the phrase "among us?" So I prodded a little to see if he was simply repeating the phrase or if he knew what he was saying.

"They live among us? Really?"
"Yes. Among us."
"Does that scare you? Or give you nightmares?"
"I mean, is among us in this world?"
"Well, yes in a way, I guess it is."
"Ok because I decided that I kind of want to go to mungus, but I am a little scared too"
"Oh really?" (I was trying to figure out what he was saying)
"Yeah. I mean, if my dad wants to go to mungus, then I want to tell him to be careful, but he could go there if he wants to see the monsters."


And those are the less heavy days when kids are sweet and innocent and words are new and exciting.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Get Your Kicks on Route 66

The Route 66 Roller Dome is situated right off the highway in a small town near Tulsa. It has become one of the options in a never-ending stream of activities for our clients when school is out of session.

As one of the more stressful and potentially painful activities that we do with the kids, I am never fully prepared to deal with the chaos that is the Route 66 Roller Dome. Turns out that kids these days are also never fully prepared to skate. It's like watching a Whack-A-Mole game of children on roller skates. One falls, then another, then WHAM! one really falls, then another. It's tense, but it's good for the kids to try new activities. Rightfully so, many kids are a little weary to try out this hazardous activity, but my job is to help them overcome their fears and gain more confidence in themselves.

This day, I was targeting a particularly apathetic kid. He has a tendency to refuse to participate in activities and then incessantly complain about being bored and having nothing fun to do. In other words, he has a tendency to drive me nuts.

When he got out on the rink, it was like watching a baby walk for the first time. It was unbalanced, halting and so exhilarating. He was doing it! He had his PVC pipe walker to keep him at a 90 degree angle, moving precariously one foot, then the other. My baby bird was finally leaving my nest.

Fast-forward 30 minutes or so. A dramatic little client comes bounding down the rink frantically yelling, "Miss Molly! HE NEEDS YOU! He ripped his pants!" 

I could vaguely see him through the smokey fog and disco lights of the roller rink. He was sitting awkwardly on a bench in the alcove-turned-arcade on the opposite end. I casually walked over, bobbing and weaving past uncoordinated monsters on roller skates. "Miss Molly, I need your help," he inconspicuously said to me as I approached. I assumed it was a bad tear since most of the kids' clothes are very, very worn. And then, there was the problem. There it all was. The boy had left his house that morning forgetting a very integral piece of clothing: his underwear.

To make matters worse, the tear wasn't a small rip. It was the entire seam of the pants. Zipper to back belt buckle.

I mean. How. How do I even. One of my coworkers found a beach towel in her trunk, and we wrapped our client up as if he was headed to a luau. He refused to take off his skates until we convinced him that the walk of shame back to the lobby would be much more graceful without wheels.

On the ride home he was very quiet but didn't appear too upset. We had a quick chat about remembering to bring all necessary items of clothing before the next activity, he agreed, and I watched as he hobbled into his house the towel constricting his regular stride.

Weeks later, we ended up needing to bring him with us to the roller skating rink since his older sister wanted to join us. As he peered over the wall, watching all the other kids skate, I assumed he was still embarrassed and couldn't bring himself to try skating again after such a traumatic event. I didn't blame him.

"How are you feeling? Do you want to try skating again?"
"No, not really."
"Is it because of what happened last time?"
"What do you mean? What happened?"
"Well . . . you know . . . "


I love it, because I know him well. And this was not traumatic or even the least bit interesting enough to remember two weeks later. Thank the good Lord for that. 

10 Cars and a Helicopter

Some days are heavier than others.

"I don't want to be successful. Everyone says I'm going to end up in jail, and they're right. It's no point trying no more."

He is 17 years old. He was caught by the police ("like 10 cars and a helicopter") for stealing and selling puppies last weekend. When he told me, I laughed out loud and said, "Puppies?! Puppies are what brought you down?" He smiled and said, "I do whats I do, Miss Molly." After attempting to exchange money for some wiggly pure breeds, the police arrived in full force, surrounded him and his brother, told them that if they moved an inch that they would be "shot in the ass," slammed their faces against the car windows and took them to juvie.

Unfortunately, I've become accustomed to the arrests and the asshole cops and the drugs and the guns. I'm unfazed but disappointed in my clients' decisions when they make choices that are so detrimental to their future and when they don't express much regret. But as frustrating as it can be to hear no remorse, it is far worse to to hear the sounds of utter defeat. I taught my client what self-sabotage means, and he agreed that he is indeed sabotaging himself. When I asked him who believes in him, he said, "Just you. And my mom." He has reached a point of no return.

This boy was born into poverty, kidnapped by his dad for a year, taken back by his mom, sent back to his dad then back to his mom, and told he was stupid and incapable of making anything of himself over and over. This is real life.

No matter how many times I try to get him to identify positive qualities and talents in himself, no matter how many options to his gangster lifestyle I present, no matter how many times I advocate for him with schools and programs, no matter how much his mom loves him and works hard to provide a life for him, he is still a young, Latino male living in urban poverty with little chance of success. And days like this are very, very heavy.

We ended the session by shaking hands and agreeing that he would take it one step at time, call me before he attempts a felony again, and start completing some assignments for school. It isn't life-changing, but it's a step. And at this point, a step is monumental.


But good news, y'all! He's been telling me for years that he's got my back. Today he told me that he doesn't like it that everyone is afraid of him. I told him that I wasn't afraid of him and he said, "We got you, Miss Molly. If anybody messes with you, just let us know. We'll take care of it."

Monday, January 5, 2015

We got robbed . . . in 2013

This is a post that I wrote in 2013 after getting robbed on our vacation back to Mexico. I'm not sure why I didn't post it, but alas, here it is.


"Are you sure? Shouldn't we take a taxi?"
"We are fine. We've got Antonio with us. He's Mexican. If he think it's fine, then it's fine." 

We knew we shouldn't have done it. We were so stupid. How many times did we tell the students not to walk down that alley? We never did it when we lived there. Not once. Why in the world did we do it then? Alas, safety is indeed the best policy, and comfort is dangerous. 

Cue the flashing lights, the 15 Mexican police trucks with machine guns, the cops that wanted a bribe, the gawking neighbors shaking their heads, and the two drunk men claiming "I'm not going to lie, I've been drinking a little bit, but we can help. We know them! We know where they live." 

So for the third time in as many years, I had my wallet stolen. The difference was that this time it felt personal. It was maddening. It made me feel like an idiot and a spoiled brat. And it reminded me that even though my "skin is a nice color, it's not so white like other gringos" according to one of my Mexican friends, my skin still radiates rich, white, privileged American girl. 

The most sickening part of the whole ordeal was when I realized that it wasn't actually that harmful or detrimental to our lives. They took so much from us, and it didn't even truly matter. If we wanted, we could just buy it all again. Obviously that would be a big financial strain and student loan payments would stop for a while, but we could. We could buy two nice, expensive cameras, a pair of sunglasses, a necklace and a wallet. It wasn't life changing. How pathetic is that? 

These kids - honestly, they couldn't have been more than 17 or 18 - face the consequences of oppression and violence every day, and live in such poverty that they bought a gun, pointed it at three friends walking down the street and then clumsily and fearfully took their possessions. They risked their lives for a couple hundred dollars, and although it may seem trivial and meaningless for such little payoff, but it means something to them. It means that they have money to give their moms to buy food for dinner, or to buy a new pair of baller shoes from the mall, or maybe even money to buy pot to smoke with friends after school. I'm not sure it really matters what they will use our pesos to buy. What matters is that it does matter to them. The point is that they aren't criminals or drug runners or gangsters. They're kids who live in a colónia in Mexico that doesn't have enough money to go around and even the educated and skilled can't pay their bills.

When I told my boss (a Mexican woman) about the incident, she shook her head and said, "Isn't it so sad what the situation in Mexico is doing to people?" And by "people" she didn't mean Ryan and me. She meant the boys who robbed us. I loved that she responded that way. Of course she did, she's a social worker! But she wasn't shocked or upset on our behalf, she was upset because she saw the context in which the robbery took place, and she saw the kids who stole our things as people who are hurting and struggling to make a life.

It's easy to dismiss those who hurt us as a label (i.e., "thief," "con-artist," "bitch"), but it's much harder to look at those who hurt us as real people with real problems and a real past. I can't begin to imagine their lives, but I think it's pretty safe to assume that I won the lottery in life by being born where I was to the family that I have and to the opportunities that I was given, and they weren't awarded those same chances in life.

Yes, being held-up at gunpoint in an alleyway in Mexico is a crazy soundbite and a pretty good truth for the game "Two Truths and a Lie", and yes, it's scary as shit to look back on the event and realize that someone actually pointed a gun at us. But if all Ryan and I took from that experience was the soundbite and a sense of loss for our things and thought "poor us! We only have ONE digital camera left," then that would be the biggest travesty of all.


One roll of film was recovered from our day in Puebla, and herein lies the final 3 photos of my LOMO camera, may it rest in peace.

The brightly colored street in the center of town exposed over the Cathedral - look closely!

Two different streets in Puebla - look closely!

Our Stable Existence

Our vagrant life has become our stable existence in middle America. It has become an adventure less about discovering new things and more about rediscovering what it means to live near family in the buckle of the Bible Belt. Ryan and I are both full-time workers and part-time graduate students. We have a dog. And a duplex. And an expendable income, ladies and gentlemen! We still speak Spanish and eat chilaquiles and sopes like nobody's business, but we also go to baseball games and eat apple pie.

I'm getting my Masters in Social Work while working as a case manager for Spanish-speaking families in Tulsa. I spend most of my days counseling elementary kids who can't control their anger, middle school and high school boys who sell and/or consume drugs and make bad grades, and moms who desperately need an advocate as well as a translator. I teach English and parenting skills to Mexican and Central American women three mornings a week. We practice the simple tenses together, but mostly we converse about the struggles of being an immigrant, the pain of living with abuse, the confusion of the US school system, and sometimes (often) they make big potluck feasts at 8 in the morning - and sometimes (once) they bring me tequila in a Walgreen's pill bottle to add to my coffee.

Although it has been a transition from the mountains and brightly colored homes of Cuernavaca to the rolling hills and Mid Century homes of Tulsa, we are happy. Very happy.

I am busier than I need to be, and my job stresses me out on the daily, but one of my New Year's Resolutions is to write more often. How many days have I stumbled home, drunk with exhaustion but dying to share a part of my day? Well . . . to be honest, not that often. I try to leave my work at work. I rarely tell Ryan about my day, because more likely than not, it was a hard day with sad shit. However, there are moments that I need to record. And as the interwebbies as my witness, maybe I'll write more than once every 2 years.

Now I will leave you with a picture of why our little duplex in the heart of Tulsa is a very happy place for us. Look at this face!