A week later…

My emotions are still reeling. That is not a weakness. It’s a reality. The pain, confusion, shame, fear…it’s all real. They are feelings I’m positive I share with many.

While it is important to turn our emotions into action, here’s what I know: acknowledging our pain and sitting with it for a while is essential to the healing process. So while we act, may we all have the courage to let ourselves hurt, cry, experience rage, and reach in far enough to find love. When we do this, our ability to meet others in their struggle increases. We grow in our capacity to see them as humans just as complex and confused as us.

Let’s be all in. With all the layers and ambiguity that abound around the issue of race right now, can we vow to just be all in? I do. I vow to be right here. To feel, question, love, and be one more voice towards a more loving world.

#AltonSterling

#PhilandoCastile

#DallasPolice

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They Are Ours and We Are Theirs

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Photo Credit: Pedro Julio Serrano

I don’t know what to say. All I know is that I share in the collective grief of those lost in the Orlando tragedy.  I believe in the power of story and its ability to bring us closer to ourselves and others. So I want to share a few short personal stories that light up as I’m processing what’s happening in our world right now.  These are in no way intended to bring any attention toward myself. On the contrary, I hope that they will help us all look inward and find something in ourselves that helps us connect more deeply with humanity.


When I was 19 years old, I lost my best friend.  She was my sister.  She forced me to watch movies like Blood In Blood Out, Stand and Deliver, and Mi Familia – over and over. No, we weren’t Mexican American. We were Boricua. But these films were the closest thing we could get to seeing ourselves on TV.  She was by my side for every sacrament, milestone, triumph, and disappointment.  Her companionship was everything.  Her loss left a gaping hole in my heart that will live with me forever.

Each of the 49 victims was someone’s best friend.  

When I was pregnant with my second child, I met a dear friend who was the most beautiful, radiant, pregnant woman I had ever seen.  Her child became my child. My child became hers.  We did everything together. When she lost her child due to a tragic accident, we mourned together.  Every June on his birthday and every September on the anniversary of his passing, we are overwhelmed by love and grief.  That feeling will never fade.  He was our baby. We were his village.

Each of the 49 victims was someone’s baby, the child of a village.

When I was in college, I began to dance and teach Bomba y Plena, the traditional folkloric dances of Puerto Rico.  In the most unexpected ways, this art form connected me to something greater than myself.  The dance floor became my sanctuary, the music my safe-haven.  In this America, which taught me everything about me was wrong and that I did not belong, my people, heritage, and identity made life a little more bearable.  I found a place where I belonged.

Many of the 49 victims were Puerto Rican or Latino.  They are ours and we are theirs. An attack on one is an attack on us all.

On the morning of June 26, 2015, I sat in a room with a group of people I had recently met studying issues of diversity and equity.  Among them was a gay woman who became my instant friend and unknowingly impacted my life.  I had spent a great portion of that diversity week processing my biases and faulty LGBTQ+ narratives.  When the news came in about same sex marriage I watched my new beautiful friend express the full range of emotions from gratitude to despair to love.  In that moment, I realized how deeply these narratives were rooted in me and I wanted desperately to rip them out because I had seen her humanity in a way that was different than anything else I’d ever seen before.  That day, she allowed me the privilege of living that experience with her. For this I am grateful and forever changed.

Many of the 49 victims were part of the LGBTQ+ community.  They faced real life dangers to their physical and emotional lives on a daily basis.  Their stories and courage are something we may never know.   

May we choose to share in others’ pain and grief even if it means having to walk into the dark and painful places of our own.

May we choose compassion and empathy in a world that tells us it’s not safe to live with our hearts wide open. 

May we choose to take care of ourselves in the process.

Above all, may we choose to walk in unrelenting love for the humanity that connects us all. 

Voices of Diversity: 11 TED Talks to Broaden Our Perspectives

I love TED Talks!  Someday I’ll be giving one about a really cool topic. In the meantime, I love watching, dissecting, sharing, and discussing them with colleagues and friends.  I had the pleasure of collaborating with Lauren Kinnard, Kim Washington, and Jill Gough to compile this list of 11 TedTalks that help us see the world from multiple perspectives.

Jill writes on our Trinity School Blog:

Selected to further our diversity work, the following TED talks are offered to help us reflect on and engage in conversation of how we understand ourselves and others.

The videos will play from this page.  To see and read the corresponding transcripts, use the associated hyperlinked text. You are invited to add [“aha” moments ] in the comment section below as you watch and reflect. (Please be sure to include the title of the talk in your comment.)  

Angélica Dass: The Beauty of Human Skin in Every Color

O Tillett Wright: Fifty Shades of Gay

Yassmin Abdel-Magie: What Does My Head Scarf Mean to You?

Vernā Myers: How to overcome our biases? Walk boldly toward them

Temple Grandin: The world needs all kinds of minds

Norman Spack: How I Help Transgender Teens Become Who They Want To Be

Rita Pierson: Every kid needs a champion

Emilie Wapnick: Why some of us don’t have one true calling

Aimee Mullins: The Opportunity of Adversity

Sarah Kay: If I Should Have a Daughter

Clint Smith: How to Raise a Black Son in America

Cultura, identidad, familia…through a child’s eyes

 

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When given an essay prompt about her favorite day, my ten year old wrote the following piece.  This piece shows the power of family traditions in steeping our children in their culture and fostering a rich sense of identity.  It also beautifully illustrates the juxtaposition of growing up Latina and American; embracing both cultures in a world where eating plátanos and playing congas are followed by playing in the snow.  She gave me permission to share it here.

My Favorite Day 

My favorite day was on Thanksgiving in 2014.  My family and I had gone to Buffalo, NY to celebrate Thanksgiving. We started the day with my Abuela’s Thanksgiving feast.  We had rice with beans and some chicken. There was sweet potatoes with roasted marshmallows on top. Of course there was a turkey that had been soaked in Puerto Rican flavors all night and stuffed with sweet plantains. We had every pie you could think of on our table. My cousins from my mom’s side came over to enjoy the feast.  After a morning of talking and eating, we got ready for Thanksgiving on my dad’s side!

When we got to the party, there were all my relatives waiting to see me. I hadn’t seen them in 5 years! It was just like a buffet, I could not stop eating the delicious food. There was every type of Puerto Rican food you could think of. There was rice and beans, some of the best plantains I’ve ever eaten, and turkey I just couldn’t resist. We played the congas, danced Bomba music, and listened to my Tio Angelo play guitar. We danced and sang the night away!  We took pictures to remember the night. At the end we were all stuffed!

My sisters and I never wanted the night to end, so we asked our parents if our cousins Eden, Leasah, and Daniella could sleep over. To our surprise, our parents said yes and we were all so happy! We started the night out with a game of hide­-and-­go­-seek. We found a closet that had space like Narnia, no one would find us there. Soon enough, it was time to go to bed.  At a sleepover you never sleep, so of course we didn’t. We were up all night doing prank calls. It was so funny! Before we knew it, we were asleep. We woke up in a daze trying to remember what happened. We looked out the window to see snow falling from the sky. We got in our winter clothes and played in the snow until their parents came. It was the best day ever!

Kyla Quiñones is a 4th Grader at Trinity School in Atlanta, GA. 

Taking Off My Running Shoes

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I am a learner. I study things obsessively. I question life. I question questions. I don’t settle for simple answers. I consider the perspectives and nuances of every situation. I wonder. I grow.

But sometimes I get tired.

I’m exhausted because I’m currently learning with running shoes on.   I’m racing to be part of the solution in a world that desperately needs to reconcile across race, faith, gender, sexuality, ability, among many other things that separate us.  I’m also racing to my own enoughness with a deep fear that my perceived lack will disqualify me from being a voice for the voiceless and a respite for those in pain.

Jumping into the work of diversity and justice after a lifetime of complete blindness and lack of social consciousness, I have found that the increased awareness of my world makes me feel like a bruised toe that is constantly being stepped on.

It all hurts.

When a pastor makes a homophobic joke or a friend writes a hateful post about transgender people, it hurts.  When my high school and middle school daughters share stories of invisibility and injustice that they see at their schools, it frustrates me.  When I experience or read about the inequity of medical treatment based on race and socioeconomic status, it makes me angry.  When I come face to face with my own biases and how they manifest in my language and actions, it defeats me.

On a daily basis, I feel.

What I once thought was an everlasting fountain of empathy and compassion has become an empty well of vigilance and disappointment; a deep dark feeling in the pit of my stomach that nothing will ever change.  I don’t like this feeling because pessimism is not in my nature.

So I reflect.

Reflection reminds me that knowledge is a process of discovery, never an absolute.  This process requires willingness to engage with new information and the discomfort that may arise.  I also accept that despite my impatience, information needs time to metabolize and synthesize.  With this steep of a learning curve, I have to remember that the stakes will be high and the emotions will be deep.

Today I decide to take my running shoes off and slow down.

Let it all sink in.

Reach for no answers.

Simply rest.

 

 

Waking Up Latina

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To wake up Latina means to return to that proud four year old moment when I finally knew all of the lyrics to “Alegre vengo de la montaña, de mi cabaña que alegre está!”  

It is…

to put on my Bomba skirt for the first time and dance to a drum beat that has lived in my soul for a thousand years

believing that Hispanic is a race, going about life with an ambiguous sense of racial identity

walking into a room and not knowing where I fit, not being white enough or black enough or Latina enough…never enough

learning from a young age that the greatest skill is that of adaptability

arroz con guandules, pernil, y tostones

the joy of connecting with my blackness

the process of accepting my whiteness and acknowledging the privilege of my light skin

a longing to reach for and touch my indigenous roots

praying the rosario before bed and never missing church on Sunday

the pride of my language and the unmatched beauty of a Spanish bolero

an ongoing process of decolonization of my mind and reclaiming of my independence

unraveling a painful and messy history while standing in awe of the resilience and heart of mi gente

mangú con salami y queso frito

falling in love with the curls in my head and realizing that pelo malo doesn’t really exist

having a conversation with another brilliant Latina and rejoicing at the revelation that she is really a mirror

reconciling with all that it means to be who I am

knowing that I stand on the shoulders of fighters, revolutionaries, scholars, and artists

To wake up Latina means that I now become the shoulders. I now become the mirror. And a little girl might say “she looks like me” and instantly know deep within herself that she is more than enough.

Photo credit: Linda Nichols Photography

**Lilliangina Quiñones is a World Languages Teacher and Diversity Practitioner in Atlanta, GA. She is of Dominican and Puerto Rican Heritage, born in NYC and raised in Buffalo, NY – the place she proudly calls her hometown.

Sing, Sing A Song

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I have three daughters. My first one was born three weeks after my 20th birthday.  Recently I shared a story with her about the day, about a week after her birth, when I looked at her and was hit with the reality that someone really important was watching me.  Let me just say, I was not the greatest, most dedicated student up until that point. But when I saw that little baby’s face, a wave of motivation and refusal washed over me that drives me to this day; the motivation to be the model that she needs and the refusal to make my fears and lack of accomplishments her responsibility.

Needless to say, these last fifteen years have been a balancing act of motherhood, marriage, housekeeping, studying, charging towards new opportunities, and supporting my husband and children in their dreams.  I’ve done all of this while losing myself in the process and having to find me, time and time again.  I have also spent a great deal of time digging myself out of periodic holes of apathy and resignation. One such moment, a few months ago, led me to myself in a way that has created new momentum for my life and career, opened doors I thought were closed forever, and taught me a valuable lesson that I must share.

The lesson is this:  If what you long for is to sing, then you MUST sing. If you don’t sing, you will die. 

Replace the word sing with whatever happens to be your unique gift or passion and say the statement again.  What did you feel?  For me, it was a game changer.  This lesson meant admitting that the many projects and busy-ness of my life could never compete with or fulfill the desire of truly living and pursuing what I am convinced I was created to do.  But I was petrified…actually, I still am.  So to work through the fear, one day I sat with my colorful pens and fancy journal and wrote these words that have become a guiding light in this new journey of authenticity.

What makes me shake?

What terrifies me?

When I sing, I open the door to myself. With every note and lyric, I tell my story, my pain, my joy, my rejection, my lows, my highs, my mistakes, and my victories. There is no truer expression of the essence of who I am than a song.

Singing is the most intimate, vulnerable space in my world. This vulnerability carries with it greater risk than most things in my life. It is not the risk of not getting the role nor is it the risk of making a mistake.

No, it is the risk of opening myself and spilling my soul unto deaf ears.

It is the risk of not being seen even when I am showing you all that I am.

It is the risk of allowing my brilliant, unhindered light to shine even when it is misinterpreted or misunderstood.

It is the risk of responsibility…that my imperfect self can serve as a model for others and in the process they will see that really…I am broken.

Today, I decide that the cost of resisting the risk is no longer worth it. I decide that I must uncover the person who has been in here all along. I decide that the only way to live this life is wide open with a song flowing from my soul.

*Breathe*  *Sigh*  It takes a lot to share this with you.  But I believe that I am part of a collective experience and that there is power in sharing our stories. Power for me as I process through writing, for my daughters as they watch me model courage and authenticity, and for you as you connect with some part of this narrative.  Through this story, I wish to tell you that there is someone out here walking this messy thing out…completely exhausted and deathly afraid but here…present and willing and holding space for you to do the same…whether I know you or not, for we are connected by something greater than ourselves.

I leave you with Gloria Estefan singing one of my favorite songs from Sesame Street. I hope she inspires you to sing your song…whatever that song may be.

Sing, sing a song, sing out loud, sing out strong…..