Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween

My writer's group,, have created a little Halloween display of drabbles on the website. Check it out. In the meantime, here is my drabble:

Zombies, and ghosts and ghouls! Oh my!
Zombies, and ghosts and ghouls! Oh my!

Dark shadows and eery street lights cast elongated, shapes on the sidewalk.
Frightening pumpkins encase glowing candles that set an ominous mood to any dwelling.

Zombies, and ghosts and ghouls! Oh my!
Zombies, and ghosts and ghouls! Oh my!

Trick-or-treat bags are swollen with mounds of candy. Parents scour through the candy ensuring the safety of their children.
Children gorge on this delectable feast of sweets resulting in belly-aches and relentless moans.

Zombies, and ghosts and ghouls! Oh my!
Zombies, and ghosts and ghouls! Oh my!

(Drabble(n) - an extremely short work of fiction exactly one hundred words in length.)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Essay Writing . . . My Worst Enemy

Today, I shared a very personal story with my students. I felt the need to not only make a connection with them, but also to have my students understand that we are not just "born" writers. Writing is a craft that is honed over time through practice. Writing is a process where we move the emergent stages in kindergarten and first grade to proficient and excellent writers in secondary schools.

In high school, I could not write an essay. I was absolutely horrible. My essays were generally three to four paragrap
hs with missing punctuation, poor grammar and no subject verb agreement. My introductions were unorganized and off-topic. My concluding paragraph was actually just one sentence. It is amazing that I passed the ELA Regents at all. I struggled with college admissions essays. I was in utter agony when I had to write my first paper at Long Island University's C. W. Post Campus. Needless to say, it received an F. I did not pass freshman composition with an A, instead I earned a D. I was put on academic probation for a low grade point average and almost lost my financial aid.

It wasn't until I was approximately 23 years old that I learned to write a coherent and effective five paragraph essay. I had a wonderful professor at Bronx Community College who took the time to break down the rules of writing an essay. I had never used transition words before and then they suddenly became my best friends. She provided me with a grammar book that helped with subject-verb agreement, run-on sentences, fragments and rules of punctuation. I remember thinking to myself, why didn't I learn this in elementary, middle or high school. Why is it that I am a grown woman with two children and just learning to write properly? I had no answer.

Needless to say, my students w
ere shocked. They couldn't believe that a teacher could receive such bad grades in high school and college. I explained to them that they need not see where they are right now, but instead focus on where they want to be in a year from now. I wanted to be a good writer and with a supportive teacher, I was able to accomplish that goal. I had them set their own goals, what steps would be necessary for completion of these goals and write out their hopes and dreams. They now have a plan and will, with support, possibly achieve these goals.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

When We Reminisce . . .

Today was the first time, in many years, that I rode the subway. My journey began in Greenwich Village, West 4th Street, where I boarded the D train northbound to the Bronx. I began thinking about the times I rode this same train, but in reverse, to my grandmother's house on 96th Street and Central Park West or to the Museum of Natural History on 81st Street with my 5th grade class. These memories were very positive and brought that warm, fuzzy feeling you get when reminiscing of good times.

The train moved on
from 59th Street and went express to 125th Street in Harlem. I remembered the crowded platforms of yesterday. There were also the blaring radios that crooned smooth R & B music or poetically profound Rap songs. Girls wore "door knocker" earrings in those days with bright red lipstick, stone or acid washed jeans and asymmetrical hairstyles. Those who were into techno, grunge and alternative music were ensconced in black. Some individuals danced on the train platforms to the tunes of Stevie B, Noel, Cynthia and Johnny O. Free-style dance music was all the rage.

The train then by-passed 135th Street. This is where A. Philip Randolph Campus High School is located. I call it "my castle on the hill." Years ago, and I will not mention how many, this was my home. My friends and this school were my safe haven from my hellish home-life. I had stopped getting off at this stop because one had to walk through a very dark park with a never ending staircase. I had my necklace snatched by a crackhead and decided that I would no longer place myself in that type of danger ever again.

The D train pulled into 145th Street. I remember walking ten blocks to my high scho
ol every morning. My friends and I would all meet up, with precise timing, and accompany one another on our long arduous journey through the streets of Harlem. We walked from St. Nicholas to Convent Ave and then on to 135th Street. It didn't matter if it rained or snowed, we trekked through the urban jungle all in the name of education. Okay, maybe not education but definitely for social interactions. I no longer keep in contact with many of my friends. The only regret I have is not keeping in contact with Rodney Robinson. He is that friend that had your back in good times and bad. He moved to California about 18 years ago. I have not heard from him since.

When the D train pulled into 167th Street, my stomach began to knot. This is where my story begins. This is my birthplace, my roots and my "hood." This is where as a child and a teenager I dealt with my father's alcoholism, family drug abuse, child abuse, my mother's schizophrenia, the parental neglect of my siblings and suicide watches. I was the observer, care-taker and the only one with any ambition. There were good times also but these were overshadowed by my family's flaws.

The train moved out of the station and I immediately began to breathe easier. Is it any wonder why I can't go back to the Bronx? To any other person, it's just a train ride. However, for me, it was an emotional roller coaster of memories.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Life Gets in the Way

I really wanted to plug away at the keyboard and possibly get some writing done. Well, life got in the way. My daughter is at a stage in her life where going to the right high school makes all the difference in achieving future college and career goals.

I am really proud of her. She is in Arista Honors Society, has a 93 average, is on the basketball team, takes cooking classes after school and is part of a program where Middle School students go to elementary schools and read books to the little ones.

For the past two weeks, we have gone to several open houses looking for the best possible high school placement. Yesterday was the Staten Island High School fair. It was very productive and she even became interested in a high school that is based on a college campus. The students at the school are able to use the college facilities which include swimming pool, tennis court, racketball and libraries.

Today, we ventured into Manhattan. She looked at several schools and asked many questions. I am a little scared. I know she is growing up and wants to come into her own but I get butterflies in my stomach just thinking about my little traveling on public transportation. She would have to take a bus to the ferry and then a train once on Manhattan. I am not sure if I am ready to let go.

However, she is a smart girl and I know that she will make the best decision possible. Still, it is so hard to let little girls grow up.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Latino in America

This week on CNN, there was an interesting segment by Soledad O'Brien. What does it mean to be Latino in America?

I asked myself this question and it was very difficult to come up with a coherent answer.

As a child, I made it clearly known that I was Puerto Rica
n, "Boriqua", Latina, Hispanic. I took pride in my culture, music, food and customs. Every year, I went to the Puerto Rican Day Parade and waved the Puerto Rican flag. My grandmother would comment, “Nosotros somos ricos hoy,” (We are rich today). It was the one day in which we were economically prosperous since the parade was, and still is, held on Manhattan’s posh Fifth Avenue. Consequently, it was a cultural wealth versus a monetary wealth.

Interestingly, as an adult, I still hold on to my roots but I don't flaunt the fact that I am Latina. I feel that it is one part of me that should be apparent without my having to proclaim, or wear a tee-shirt saying “Boriqua,” that I am Latina. Whether at work, home, on the street or simply shopping in the mall, I know that my ethnic background is a big part of how I perceive myself and also is the critical lens through which I see the world.

A significant part of our identity as Latinos is our food. Food is more than just sustenance to us. Cooking and preparing food is a way for the family to get together, talk, relax and reconnect those strong familial bonds. It is a way for us to feel accepted, loved and comfortable in a safe haven.

I remember visiting my grandmother’s house on the weekends. Novelas, Spanish soap operas, would be blaring from the living room’s television. I could smell the sofrito, adobo, sazon and various other Spanish seasonings, sizzling in the kitchen. The radio in the kitchen would be playing a song where Tito Puente kills it on the drums. My mother would be smoking a cigarette and moving her hips to the rhythm of the music. Kids would be running back and forth in the hallway and some adult would yell at them, threatening a beating. This is just a glimpse of what it means to be Latino in America.

Music is very important to us Latinos also. Salsa, Merengue, Bachata, Bolero, Tejano, Reggaeton, the list goes on and on. Our music is the part of our identity that connects us to our ancestors. We are of African, Native American and European descent. The rhythm of the drums links us to our ancestral tribes. Again, it is a way for the family to connect. It is also a way for sending a message. It is part of our sexuality and gives us a release from our every day toils.

Spanish, our language, is another facet of our identity as Latinos. I found it interesting that in the CNN segment, there was an American woman, who felt that all Latinos should learn English. I do not dispute that in order to function in today’s American society, the learning English is essential. However, many of us who are not economically well off, must work. Some Latinos work twelve-hour days and then go home to take care of their families. It is very difficult to find time in the day to learn a new language when providing and caring for the family. The family was considered more important than the individual.

Another interesting issue, which I can closely identify with, is the generational barrier between those who have just immigrated from a predominantly Spanish speaking country and those who are born here in the United States. The CNN segment stated that there is a significant rift between Latino mothers and their daughters. One reason is the language assimilation of the children to that of the American culture. I found that my grandmother and all of her children experienced this same conflict. My mother only spoke Spanish with her mother. My mother would speak English the rest of the time.

There is also our religion, Catholicism, which defines our character. My mother never really pressured me to go to church. At the age of seven, I asked her if I could go Sunday school. I went alone and completed my communion, second of the seven holy sacraments. Next when I was sixteen, I completed my confirmation. My saint name is Catherine. However, as an adult, I broke away from the church. I discovered that the people who attended that particular church were very hypocritical and required my then rebellious adolescent self to conform.

With adulthood and logical reasoning, I “came out” of the closet and told my family that I did not believe in their version of a benevolent God. Well, needless to say that I was a pariah, blasphemer, and every other name they could throw at me. Abuela (Grandma) would start quoting scripture in Spanish. My aunt would scold me and tell me “Don’t say that!” or I would get “You don’t really believe that.” So, I did what every other Latina would do in my case, I lied and said that I was just kidding, that I did believe in the Roman Catholic God. It is very difficult for my family; I will not speak for other Latino families, to consider that there may be a different reason for our existence here in this universe. Perhaps God is really change. Perhaps there is some supernatural force out there that does not care whether we believe in it or not because IT just IS. I don’t know, but as a Hispanic female in a fanatically religious family, I choose not to speak about religion or just disappear whenever the topic comes up.

Will I really ever know what it truly means to be Latino in America? Perhaps not. But I can definitely delineate what it means to be Latino in New York City.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Executive Decisions

The intention of this blog entry is to release the growing anxiety and tension that's been building up for a month. I have not written a single word in two weeks. Hopefully, this will clear some of the mind clutter and writing ruts.

Have you ever had to make a really hard decision, knew what course to take but because of the uncomfortable consequence of the decision, you just want to take the easy way out? It's kind of like editing a novel. You have to make the difficult decision of removing a paragraph here or chapter there. Perhaps you may even need to eliminate a character altogether. Well, this week I have had to make a really difficult decision in how to best serve the needs of my students.

I have several students who need immediate intervention. My students have severe emotional disabilities, travel with paraprofessionals (teaching assistants) and will probably be on medication for the rest of their lives in order to manage the hormonal imbalances in their bodies. One student, who resided in the Bronx last year and now lives in Manhattan, is particularly disrespectful, cuts school, is gang affiliated, and regularly disobeys his parents. I have made phone calls, had a conference with the parent, delineated the various consequences of his behavior, made checklists, late sign in sheets and threatened to put him on a school bus!

Well, the only thing I didn't try was changing the teaching assistant who travels with this student. I have avoided taking this action for the simple fact that it would cause a very uncomfortable rift amongst the team members (the coordinator *me*, the three paraprofessionals, nine students). Well, today I let one of the paraprofessionals know that I would be placing her with this difficult student. She replied that this is unfair because we need to get rid of the paraprofessional who is ineffective with the students. I explained that the NYC Department of Education will not send me a new teaching assistant and I have to make do with what I've got. From that moment, she has refused to talk to me so we can resolve the conflict. I thought that we could both separate friendship and our duties as educators. It was something that I had to do because it was best for the students. I am baffled that she did take it personal. She even walked away and ignored me as I tried to reason with her.

Well, I can only hope that Monday will bring a fresh start and better disposition. As I haven't finished my book yet, I wonder if it's easier to edit a book than it is to manage people?