White-Skinned Hispanic

On this Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I can’t help but recognize the color of my skin. It blares out at me in condemnation, convincing me that I am not worthy of celebrating such a day, stifling the voice of the minority inside me because, you see, I’m a White-skinned Hispanic, and as such I feel I am the brunt of some kind of oxymoronic bad joke. Throughout my life, my family, who are darker than I am, mocked me for being white-skinned, and as such, I developed a love-hate relationship with my skin, one that appreciates its beauty and Spanish heritage, and another that hates its misrepresentation of my race and ethnicity.

In the onset of recent racial tensions, I am no longer one to comment on the inequality of justice, or the institutionalized racism that plagues society simply because I have been told (and quite recently) that I could not possibly understand the plight of the Black race since I can pass as a Caucasian; that my children will never fear for their lives when stopped by a police officer; that I cannot empathize with the inequalities of dark-skinned minorities because I will always be white.

I cringe. But my voice is silenced because of my skin color.

And today, as I commemorate my respect for a true man of God and the people, I wonder if my multicultural voice will once again gain momentum and speak as I did when I was in college; if it will cry out for minorities whether they trust me or not; if it’ll raise the concerns of the disenfranchised and stand for the less boisterous. But until then, I am subdued simply because I’m white and because I’ve let others dictate what that means for me in society.

Death Has No Sting

dandelions

I’ve been hearing that death has no sting for as long as I can remember, and I believed it blindly, trusting that my elders knew better and not realizing death all around me, even as they slowly passed away. In truth, I had avoided death, or rather, death had skirted around me like a prowling tiger, not striking, but ready to strike. As a child, the father of a boy I really cared for died of diabetes, and it was the first time I had seen grief caused by death in someone else’s face. He was so strong, yet that rainy day when the body was lowered into the ground, there was no avoiding the pain he was enduring. But it was distant for me, and while I empathized with the boy, I did not yet understand death.

When my favorite grandfather died, I was already an adult and I did not have to face the reality of it since he lived in another country and I hadn’t seen him in years. But when a dear friend died of AIDS, leaving behind a loving husband and four children, it was like I had been hit by a truck and lay numb on my bed for days. I did not even go see her in the hospital those last months because I could not bear to see her deterioration, and wanted to remember her in her vibrancy, not in her illness. I could not bear to go to the wake or the funeral, and so I continued to be numb to my grief until it was in the back of my mind, hiding away beside the death of my grandfather.

When I was told over the phone that my sister’s mother-in-law, a wonderful woman whom I loved, passed away from cancer, I remember banging the wall in grief, falling to the floor, crying. No one really understood my reaction to someone else’s mother-in-law’s death, but it was the third death, and one can only hide so many deaths before they pile up in one’s heart. But she, too, lived far from me, so I avoided her death completely, and bypassed having to deal with it even as I cried every time her name was mentioned and the last movie we watched together, El Barrendero, was showing on television.

Finally, it hit me that death did sting and hurt and caused grief to those who live on carrying the memories that haunt them. When my best friend’s mother was diagnosed with lung cancer, I knew I had no way of avoiding it. I loved her too much and love my best friend and her family, and when she was very ill, I visited her at the hospital and kissed her tenderly for I knew it would be the last time I would see her again. She was unresponsive, of course; it was too late for me to tell her anything, and I recognized that there was so much family members needed to tell her, that whatever words I shared would be like dandelions in the wind.

She died two days later and my grief was complete. It overwhelmed me even as I stayed strong for my best friend. She would cry, full of memories, and I would cry in private and write poetry. I went to the wake and kept so busy that I did not grieve and I did not cry then, but something changed inside me; what I’d been hiding for years broke free and it poured onto the page.

I write this because there have been so many deaths lately in my friends’ lives, and I wonder if I’m next, if someone I love will die and my faith will be tested. I realize from my friends’ experiences that grief is a process that needs to unfold carefully. It’s the memories, I’ve noted, that overwhelm me with sorrow more than hope, remembering their nuances, their laughter, their voices. I don’t know how I will deal with it when it comes my way, but I do know that when it does, I hope to have my pen as voice and my faith as shield.

fearfullyThere are awakenings that are like giving birth – painful even as they are rewarding, taking a part of who we are and bonding it with vulnerable creation.  But there are other quickenings that are full of hope and initiated by a deep desire to pursue passions and goals, that innate pull towards something greater that what we have and who we are, an inclination toward divinity rather than simply succumbing to the weaknesses of human nature.  And while these are not painful in a physical sense, they make demands of our time and convictions, pruning us with careful expertise, cutting away at the wastes of life and the overgrown habits of detriment in order to increase spiritual fruitfulness and inner growth.

I feel that awakening in my soul, the desire to be a different (if not better) person, but not by my own efforts because it then becomes a process I’m enduring rather than one I’m enjoying like new year’s resolutions that have good intentions but no foundation.  This awakening is spiritual, a yearning for closeness and relationship with the One who not only created me and loves me, but actually likes who I am just as I am.  I don’t want to woo Him with good deeds and actions to impress Him because He is not One to be seduced by those things.  I want to love Him the way He deserves, giving Him priority in my life like I do with my husband and children.  I want to build a relationship with Him so real that it supersedes all other actions and decisions, a blind faith in the One who knows me so well and created me just the way I am… and likes me just the way I am.  I am not perfect, but I am fearfully and wonderfully made.