Yo soy de sandia eaten daily by my mother while she carried me and grown by my father along with sugar cane in our yard in a little bit of Tejas in Califas, called Bakersfield, with oil drills and transplanted Texans and Oakies y Mejicanos and Buck Owens and Merle Haggard and rancheras on the red radio in the kitchen.
I am from the voices of “Chente” Fernandez, Pedro Enfante y Lidia Mendoza – and my mother drinking and crying and smoking and singing to all of them in the dark, and Patsy Cline, too. Lorena, a mighty Leo who’s name sounded to me like La Llorona, the Crying Woman, who murdered her children, so I thought the story might be about her, and she was the only thing I was scared of as a kid, not the boogie man in the closet or el cucui como mis primos. Lorena drank and yelled unpredictably. So I monitored her moods, but, boy I loved to watch her get dressed up to go dancing with my Pops on Friday nights, putting on her tight dresses and the red Max Factor lipstick that she always wore (even just to get milk from the Hob Nob market).
Soy de mi Tio Baldy’s mariachi band playing at three-day long parties at Tio Elijio’s rancho in King City and us kids stealing sips of tequila and making fun of that “old people music” yet joining in when they sang Guadalajara, Guadalaja or Volver, then running wild, no one feeding us, no one watching us, a teen-aged cousin with no license but a stolen bottle of tequila between his thighs, driving the old truck with six of us in the back and more in the cab up into the hills.
I’m from Willie Mays and Muhammad Ali and being confused with how they were celebrated and mistreated and noticing how they showed up, especially Ali, and now knowing this was an early introduction to taking a stand.
I am from watching the news about the Watts Riots con mis primos, the same ones in the same living room, on the same huge console TV that we watched the Beatles on Ed Sullivan – and then on that TV watching the news of all the assassinations: JFK, RFK, MLK.
I am from my best friend y primo Jerry who directed us in lavish musical performances where he always took the female leads – dark brown face and blue-black hair (in a buzz cut mandated by his father) covered with a scarf he pretended was long hair. Jerry convinced me to move to San Francisco in the ‘70’s when he was a member of the Cockettes and we’d go to the Trocadero Transfer and The Stud where I got to dance with a lot of cute guys trying to get Jerry’s number and Jerry was the first but not the last person I loved who died of AIDS.
I’m from the nonprofit sector and endless staff meetings and consensual decision-making and oh-my-gawd so many pot lucks and dancing in the back offices to Prince (and earlier womanist music), and racing through a torrential rain storm in Friday traffic to turn in the huge federal grant by the 5:00pm deadline. We did multicultural work, which became diversity work, which became cultural awareness and cultural competency and diversity, equity and inclusion- and we know, the work (by whatever name) will evolve and continue as long as racism and white supremacy continues. And all the regular fundraising and sacrifice and scarcity and burn-out and door-to-door canvassing and fixing the toilet the day I was promoted to being the ED because someone had to and our handyman’s last bill hadn’t been paid yet and I was an accidental ED – because no one else would do it – and there needs to be better ways to sustain our movements.
I am from coaching BIPOC activists and being a coach trainer as maybe a way to partner and sustain leaders and movements and to strengthen community and promote healing and self-awareness and connection and transformation so we can deconstruct the systems that are killing us and create systems that honor our humanity and need for liberation.
I’m from creating chosen family because blood wasn’t able to be family. And Mama – my mom-in-law – loved and cared for me and we loved and cared for her, the second (white) husband and I, this 90+ year old grand daughter of John born into slavery and Virgil who talked back to the racists. Mama, who as a girl in the hills of East Texas, witnessed burning crosses and once ran through the woods with her brother, Uncle Harold, away from men in white sheets on horseback and she taught me unconditional love is possible and (some) patience and I have co-created several beloved chosen family circles around the US and beyond.
I’m from two marriages to two men who were / are musicians and more importantly who were / are big-hearted and weren’t/aren’t afraid of a powerful, opinionated, messy woman and loved/love me at my worst and at best.
And I’m La Madrina Chingona to lots of coaches (who gave me my nickname) and I am Madrina/Nina first and foremost to my God Kid Posse, six black and brown beloveds who inspire and teach me daily: Oni Rabiah, Marya Imani, Olivia Sophia, Avery Madelyn, Diego Elias and Carter Xochi. They are my heart, they are my ground, they are my reason.