Saturday, December 24, 2016

The "Worst Year" is My Best Year

2016 has been an awesome year. Here is a list to prove how magical it has been:

1. I got to see Xiomara, a wonderful, artistic woman who was my teaching assistant when I worked in the high school program at Hostos Community College, years ago. She introduced me to her artistic friends and family at the Botanical Garden. It was lovely!

2. I celebrated Papi's 79th birthday! Here, he and Mami kiss over birthday flan.

3. Vincent and I celebrated our 11th anniversary! We went to the Russian Tea Room.

4. I was accepted into the Kweli Writing Workshop and received invaluable mentorship from Laura Pegram. I strongly recommend it to any writer at any stage of his/her/their career.

5. I was accepted into a Creative Capital Fellowship program and received incredible tools in order to continue my work as a writer.

6. I had the opportunity to be one of the preliminary judges in the Nelson Algren Stort Story contest; this was so exciting for me because I always list Nelson Algren as one of my favorite writers (a fellow-Chicagoan!). Thank you, Nancy Mendez-Booth for recommending me! 2017 submissions are open now!

7. I had a second monologue brought to life by In Full Color, a production which highlights the experiences of women of color. Thank you Summer, Paola, and The Art House!

8. I had my monologue, "Hardcore Chica Punk Birth Fragments," produced for a second time (the original was by In Full Color last year), by the Reproductive Freedom Festival. This was live-streamed worldwide. Thank you Cindy Cooper and Words of Choice.

9. Both monologues mentioned were published in two anthologies: The In Full Color Anthology and The Reproductive Freedom Anthology.

10. I was able to be a part of Montclair State University's Live Literature program again. Thank you Melissa Adamo!

11. I got to perform with Vincent, as our collective GRITO, at the Bronx Community College English Department's Faculty Lecture Series, and it was amazing!

12. I got to see the incredible Buraka Som Sistema and dance my ass off!

13. It was wonderful to provide Mami with tickets to see Michel Camilo, one of the best jazz pianists alive. Yay!

14. I was able to provide a modest scholarship to a student graduating in the Social Science Department at Bronx Community College; the scholarship is the Rev. Dr. Samuel Acosta Memorial Scholarship. It will be provided every year.

15. My panel on social justice and creative writing was accepted by the "Celebrating the Poetic Legacy of Whitman, Williams and Ginsberg: A Literary Festival and Conference," at The Poetry Center at Passaic County Community College (which has hosted Poet Laureates, Inaugural Poets, and Pulitzer Prize-winning poets from all over the U.S.). The conference is in June 2017 and the folks on the panel include Vincent Toro, Marina Carreira, Ellen Hagan, and Jeremy Michael Clark.

16. Maria Mazziotti-Gillan was a featured speaker at Bronx Community College, upon my recommendation, and she rocked!

17. When Vincent featured at NJPAC for its Oigo a Cantar event, featuring Bobby Sanabria, Mr. Sanabria brought me up on stage to help him teach everyone how to salsa properly. Vaya!

18. I had the honor of celebrating Vincent's beautiful book, Stereo. Island. Mosaic., at his book party at the Nuyorican Poet's Cafe'. The poets who read include Carlos Manuel Rivera, Ellen Hagan, Marina Carreira, Rosebud Ben-Oni, Rigoberto Gozales, Kamilah Aisha Moon, and Michael VanCalbergh - all of them so wonderful and genuine. Thank you to Kweli for supporting this event.

19. I was asked to write about my vision for the 1st ever Hall of Fame, housed at Bronx Community College. The essay is here. I still think Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall belong there.

20. My poems were accepted by the Lauren Hill Reader project. They are forthcoming.

21. My short fiction was accepted by the BASTA: 100 Latinas Write on Violence Against Women project. The anthology is forthcoming.

22. I was asked to organize Hispanic Heritage Month at Bronx Community College by Prithi Kanakamedala and Ahmed Reid (of the BCC History Department). Thank you, Carmen Rivera, for providing your papers and ephemera for an exciting exhibit, and thank you for the wonderful conversation with a packed house of students. I tried to facilitate many other events, including a poetry reading featuring J.F. Seary, organized by Prof. Melissa Coss-Aquino, an exhibit of Latinx artwork, and a dance class that featured Latinx traditions which come from Africa. A special thank you to Prof. Gloria Rodriguez (who is known for her work as a Young Lord) for supporting this event.

23. I was voted to be on a Task Force at BCC where we focus on how to address issues of equity for faculty and staff of color and female faculty and staff. It is an honor to have such a great responsibility at my college.

24. I was able to visit the beachy side of Long Island, including legendary Cherry Grove, which was so much fun! This trip allowed me to understand New York in ways I hadn't before.

25. I had a wonderful visit by Nova and her wonderful mother and family. The time is never enough!

26. I had so much fun going to Afro-Punk and seeing Fishbone, Bad Brains, Living Color, and George Clinton jam onstage!! Wow! We also saw the Prophets of Rage a week earlier. What an August!

27. My dear friend Chris, who I hadn't seen for over a year, visited and we had such a wonderful time chatting in our backyard. Miss you so much already! When in Los Angeles for AWP, we got to see my dearest, most fun high school friend, Jen (so much fun!) and her man, Brian, while staying with Vincent's college friend Derek and his fiancee, Callan. Thanks for the hospitality! Vincent and I also visited our dear friend, Andrew, in Vermont; again, never enough time.

28. I had a poem accepted for the special Mendez v. Westminster issue of The American Studies Journal; that is forthcoming and I can't wait!

29. I was commissioned by The Dodge Poetry Foundation, NJTV, and the Center for Investigative Reporting to write a poem in response to the heroin crisis. The poem was debuted at The Dodge Poetry Festival in October, and it is published on NJTV's site here. I am extremely proud of this work because a lot of research went into it. I followed the journey of the poppy, and learned a lot about our economy in the process. It is not an easy truth to bear.

30. I wrote two pieces, upon request by the incredible poet, Rosebud Ben-Oni. The first is on Latina intellectuals, and it went viral. A million thanks to everyone who shared it. It was published by VIDA here. The second piece was a collaboration with other writers, and it was in response to the election. It is published by Kenyon Review, and it is here.

31. I also wrote a longer essay in response to the election, published by English Kills Review, and it is here. Thank you Ian MacAllen for publishing it and to all who shared it.

32. I was asked by Cindy Cooper to be part of a series of creative workshops with women at Greenhope. This request came later in the year and I was so tired and depressed because of recent events; it was a gift to receive this opportunity and to have good conversation with truly generous artists. I thank Cindy for that.

33. I had the honor of seeing SC Justice Sonia Sotomayor accept the Tisch Award in Civic Leadership, and the double-honor of asking her a question. She was delighted to tell me what the most exciting thing about being "the only Latina in the room" is: "Having a voice."

34. Marina Carreira invited me to celebrate the life of LGBTQ activist and amazing poet Louie Crew Clay, who just turned 80! I and many other poets I admire read at the event and had cake. He made me blush when he said, "I always want to hear you read more." I don't feel deserving because he is the real deal, but I'll keep remembering the words when I doubt myself.

35. I was able to take Mami to Carnegie Hall to see the New York Pops play Christmas tunes, in celebration of her 78th birthday. It was the happiest I've seen her in months!

36. I had a wonderful lunch with Ysabel Gonzalez and learned that she is cousins with DZine, the artist who brought life to my Chicago underground youth (at places like the warehouse party Club Naked and Wicker Park club, Red Dog)! Small world!

37. My 45th birthday party this year had all my friends and family dancing, and Papi was the highlight of the event when he was practically breakdancing to house classic, "Din Daa Daa." Alzheimer's has nothing on Chicago house!

38. My dear friend Norma had open heart surgery this year. I was so fearful, but I knew she was strong. It has been such a blessing to see her recover so well. I can't wait until I see her next summer. I will be in town then, Norma! Abrazos!

39. GRITO also performed at my old alma mater, The University of Texas at San Antonio, as part of its Creative Writing Reading Series (something that I never in my wildest dreams I thought would happen). It was pretty dope. Thank you to Wendy Barker for inviting us and thank you to Norma Cantu for coming to see us. I also thank all of our former students who showed up (a special shout to Blanca Hurley who has never ceased to be supportive).

40. The biggest gift has been seeing how my family - from both Vincent's side and my side - have come together to support my parents. I am eternally grateful.

I write this list because I must remember the blessings. It has sometimes been hard to remember the blessings when watching my father's mental state decline, watching my mother suffer because of his condition, and struggling to create special moments with Vincent when we are so busy with caregiving and work. It is also difficult when we are constantly being told that it is the end of the world because of our political situation. Yes, there are many challenges ahead, but it is clear that I have such wonderful people around me, and so many of them are supportive and giving and generous that I wonder how in the world I can repay them for their generosity. All I can say to my friends and family (especially Vincent, mi vida. my love) is this: