Archive for June, 2010
It’s been quite a week, full of events and opportunities to meet new friends, acquaintances, allies, and – why not?! – possible love interests. Last night, United Latino Pride closed its first ever Chicago Queer Latin@ Pride Week with the annual Queer Latin@ Picnic sponsored by Orgullo en Acción and then later in the evening with a night of partying and dancing at After Dark. A fitting way to end a stellar week of events that highlight our unique Queer Latin@ experiences.
But what made it such a fitting end? Well, as activists, we often are forced to give up our social life for all the work that needs to get done, much to the chagrin of our friends, families, and loved ones. Every member of the United Latino Pride coalition has contributed their own time, money, and energy to ensure this week was a success. But not everything should be all work and no fun. Food, music, and yes, alcohol have a certain je ne sais quoi that allows even the most uptight among us, to let loose and celebrate.
Yes, a lot needs to get done to ensure that one day we may all be treated with dignity in this society that currently looks down upon us because of our language, our culture, our gender, and our sexuality. But, it does us all a lot of good to get together with friends, family, and loved ones and celebrate the life and love that we currently have. It reminds us all exactly why it is we are fighting for justice. It’s not just for ourselves, it’s for those we love most as well.
I can’t help but be a bit sad as I write this. I regret not being able to go to as many events as I had anticipated. However, I am also excited for next year. Who knows what is in store for us all. Let’s hope it’s bigger and better! A very big thank you goes out to all the members of United Latino Pride and all the organizations and sponsors for the events. Without all your tireless effort, we wouldn’t have had any of this. You are our real orgullo! ¡Hasta el próximo año!
I’ve been talking a lot to some friends about Miguel Villalba, the 15 yr old boy that was killed last Sunday night in Cicero. Maybe it’s because I once knew him personally, or maybe it’s because he is, sadly, just the first youth in a string of more to come and lose their lives to gang violence this summer. Whatever the reason, I haven’t been able to shake off his death. During one of these conversations, someone said that she hoped the killer would be found so that there would be closure to Miguel’s murder. At the time, I agreed. But that comment got me thinking, will we really get closure? Based on media reports, Miguel was arguing with the shooter moments before his death. Because of this, I imagine the assailant was around Miguel’s age. If he is arrested and prosecuted, we didn’t just lose Miguel’s life to a senseless act of gang violence, we lost his as well.
As adults, we normally find easier to punish the bad child. Maybe it’s my bleeding liberal heart, but I don’t believe there are genuinely bad people in the world, simply misguided people. Yes, that means I don’t consider even racists, sexists, transphobes, homophobes and xenophobes to be bad. Our youth are in transition. Everything that will happen to us as adults — love, friendship, pain, stress, sex, violence — is happening to them in a very intense and compressed manner. But instead of guiding them, we dismiss their problems as petty. I know, because I’ve done it.
I’m guilty of assuming that, because they are young, the problems and feelings they are experiencing aren’t real. The truth is, while their problems may feel unimportant or small to me, to them they are much bigger and very real. Yet when whenever they act up, I simply punish them for it, often not bothering to know why they are behaving that way. Yes, we could find Miguel’s killer. We can arrest him, prosecute him, and throw him in jail. But did we really accomplish anything? I don’t think we did. All we succeeded in doing was losing two more youths to gangs.
So what are we to do? First, we as youth service agencies need to encourage parents to become a part of their children’s lives. We need to encourage healthy dialogue. This is especially true for us in the Latino community. Our parents (usually) come from a culture where complete respect for the authority of the parents was unquestioned. While this may have worked for our parents back home, it doesn’t make sense here. Life is different in the US. The way we shape our families needs to not only take into consideration our culture but also our current surroundings. Secondly, we as youth service agencies need to follow our own advice. Yes, it’s often easier to just discipline the child; but fundamentally understanding gets us much farther. If our youth feel welcomed within our doors, they won’t go looking for the false acceptance gangs give them. If we are their second family, gangs will not be able to compete. We lose too many of youth to gangs, both buried and jailed. It’s not easy raising a child. But in the world we currently live in, it’s not easy being a child either.
Last night, Miguel Villalba (15) of Cicero was killed by a bullet in front of Roosevelt Elementary School. Shot, according to news reports, in the back of the head. I only live about 3 blocks from where it all happened. I walk past it daily. Today, on my way to work, I looked around for any sign of what had occurred the night before. Of course, I found none.
The sad thing is, this is nothing new in Cicero. Summer vacation is also the time of year when the gangs are most active. I just heard loud noises from outside, as I write this blog. I recognize the sound very well. But for my own sanity, I dismiss them as fireworks.
I knew Miguel Villalba. He was once a member of the Boys Club of Cicero, where I work. Sadly, I can’t I remember much of him. Since discovering who exactly had been killed, I have been racking my brain trying to remember anything about him. Did he like dodgeball? Had I ever made him laugh or given him a band-aid after hurting himself? Did he feel safe at the Club? It frustrates me that I can’t think of anything. I feel as if I have failed him. My agency has failed him. All of Cicero has failed him.
Miguel wasn’t just a Boys Club member. Miguel had been moved out of Morton East and into the Alternative High School. He was referred to a CeaseFire Meeting with Corazón Community Services. It becomes painfully obvious that people around him knew he was at risk. Yet, as Youth Service agencies, we often feel our job is complete upon referral. We have, after all, so many youth to serve. We don’t have the resources nor the time to focus all of our attention on just one child going through a difficult transition into adulthood. Just today, I was surrounded by approximately 100 kids. Every one of them deserving my attention. Every one of them at risk by the simple fact of living in Cicero and being, well, brown.
I feel the same impotence that many do. What are we not doing? What am I not doing for our kids? Something is seriously wrong in Cicero. Everywhere I look, I keep hearing about the New Town of Cicero. But it looks like same old to me. Larry Dominick’s government is too busy worrying about parking ordinances and towing that it has forgotten about our kids. Just a few weeks ago I was ticketed for having a blown out tail light. The time it took the officer to check my insurance, write the ticket, and send me on my way could have been used to stop crime. But crime-prevention doesn’t put money in the coffers.
I can’t say I have answers or solutions to any of these problems, and that gets to me. I wish I could say, with certainty, that I knew what the Cicero government had to do to clean our streets and rid our community of violence. But I don’t. I wish somewhere in the deepest recesses of my brain an epiphany would come, guiding me in the right direction. But instead, I will go to work tomorrow knowing that I one of my kids is dead, and I did nothing to stop it. Who knows which of my other kids may be next. I ask you not to dismiss Miguel’s death. He wasn’t perfect. He made his share of mistakes, just as we all do. But he was a person nonetheless. He was someone’s brother, someone’s son, someone’s friend and grandson. Today it was Miguel. Tomorrow it can very well be you.
The opinions expressed in this blog are my own. They do not attempt to speak for or represent the opinions held by the Boys Club of Cicero, its Staff, Donors, or Board of Directors.
I like to think I’m pretty well-connected. I have, after all, been working (legally) in non-profits since I was 16. I have spoken on behalf on LGBTQ Immigrants at the May Day March in 2007. I’ve been on air at Homofrequencia with the amazing Tania Unzueta (@ilehlainat) twice. Not to mention that I’ve performed at various Latin@ events while studying at UIC. If anything, I’d say I’m very well-connected.
Then I went to last nights event. It was the kick-off party for the first ever Chicago Queer Latin@ Pride Week at 2nd Floor Gallery in Pilsen. I had decided to go because I wanted to support fellow San Antonio artist Ana Fernández (yes, I am aware I’m not actually San Antonian, but I’m San Antonian adjacent). Upon arriving, I realized I didn’t know anyone! How is this possible? Had my year and a half in absentia in San Antonio really affected my network that much? I was starting to feel pretty pathetic. However, as time went on (and that refreshing vodka pink lemonade started to sink in) I began to work the room a bit. Or maybe I should say, the room worked me; I am after all, a bit of a pasivo
During one of the conversations with Vivian González & Lisa Martínez (co-founders of the soon to be launched Lesbian online publication The L Stop), I realized something. This is exactly why we need a Queer Latin@ Pride week. If someone like me, who [once] thought of himself as well-connected, isn’t at all, then what about everyone else? I probably have seen many of the amazing people at this event before. The problem is where did I see them. I most likely saw them, and they me, at a club or at Market Days. We probably didn’t give each other a second thought. Just another brown face in the mix.
But we need to give each other a second thought. We are the fastest growing ethnic group in the nation. Our voice, while always important, is becoming louder. And the talent is already here. I was very impressed with the work everyone is doing. But few people, outside of our small network (as I added all my new “friends” this morning on Facebook, I was surprised to discover we already have 16 mutual friends; go figure!), know of all that is going on. Queer Latin@ Pride week will allow us space where we can meet new friends and talk to many of the amazing leaders in our community. We are more than just potential make-out partners at Circuit or small talk recipients at Spin on Dollar Drink nights. We are potential business partners and collaborators. Possible allies and advocates in the struggles we are all mutually fighting for. After last night, I’m more excited than ever for this week. ¡Qué viva el Orgullo! Bring on the pink lemonade!
“He didn’t call today,” Carmen thinks as she pours a cup of coffee for herself – six creams, no sugar. With the cup in her hand, she walks over to the calendar and writes it down: no llamó. Tomorrow is the 23rd; only eight days until the end of the month. She counts the days, caressing each boldfaced number as if, like a magic lamp, doing so would return the days. “Catorce,” she mutters aloud. It’s been fourteen days since the last time her son called. Before then, it had been eleven. “A new record,” she thinks. The thought, like an onion, stings her eyes. “Run cold water.” Her mom taught her that. She turns the faucet and proceeds to wash dishes, ignoring how numb her hands get.
“Y Ériq, ¿cómo está?”
“Pues bien. El pobre anda trabajando mucho.”
Carmen looks down at her coffee cup. Staring hard at the conch swirls of the cream, she wishes they would reveal something: how he’s doing, where he’s been, or even when he’ll call again. But her mom never taught her how to read coffee grounds. Even if she had, this one’s instant.
The phone rings.
“It’s him,” she instantly assumes. Wiping her hands on her apron, she picks up the phone.
“Would you like to change jobs? Are you tired of working from paycheck to paycheck not knowing if this is the month where you fall under? Do you have mounting…”
Carmen sits down and listens to the recording loop over and over again, quietly nodding to herself.
“Hola, mi’jo. Qué bueno escuchar tu voz. Sé que has de estar ocupado, pero cuando puedas, llámame por favor. Te quiero mucho.”
She hangs up.
“He’s at work,” she assures herself. “Yes, probably busy at work.”
But it’s 9 pm.
She wakes up late. It’s past 9 am; she has missed morning mass.
Instead of doing her usual daily cleaning, Carmen goes down to the basement. From inside a large, blue Tupperware tub, she takes out all of her photo albums. Upstairs, as she flips through it’s yellowed pages, she comes across a lock of Eriq’s hair. She remembers it very well.
It was from when he was 18 months old. On his highchair, he had been eating his vegetables, most of them ending up on his head instead of inside his little tummy. He had been giggling, shaking his head, peas and carrots flying everywhere. When he stopped, a curl – a little upside-down “e” – landed squarely on his forehead. It was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen. She couldn’t help but want to remember that exact moment forever. With her manicure scissors, she carefully snipped it and placed it in the album.
It doesn’t seem like 26 years have since passed. She takes out the lock and smells it, but it doesn’t smell like the Johnson & Johnson’s shampoo she recalls using. Instead, it smells like nothing at all.
She drops her cup. “World’s Greatest Mom” shattering on the floor: a birthday present from Ériq from when he was 9.
She bends over and attempts to pick up the pieces, but slips and falls on her knees.
She angrily bangs her fist on the broken shards, pieces of cheap porcelain puncturing her skin.
“¡Con razón no te llama!”
She burns her hands on the hot coffee – six creams, no sugar, some blood, plenty of tears.
“¡Eres una vieja inútil! ¡No sirves pa’ nada! ¡Mejor ya muerta!”
Sobbing, Carmen lies in the hot coffee until it turns cold, reading her misfortune in the pieces; “World’s Greatest” now reads “Wor/st”
“He didn’t call today,” Carmen thinks as she carefully pours a cup of coffee for herself; the bandages on her hands make it difficult for her to hold it by the handle. With the cup in both hands, she walks over to the calendar and writes it down: no llamó.
The phone rings.
“Hola, mami. ¿Cómo estás?”
“¡Mi’jo! ¡Qué bueno que llamas! Yo muy bien. Ya pensaba que ya te habías olvidado de mí.”
“¿De ti ‘ma? ¡Nunca!”
As her son proceeds to tell her, with white lies and half-truths, what he’s done since they’ve last spoke, she walks over to the calendar. Scratching out the previous sentence, she writes “hoy se acordó.”