The Teresa Jusino Experience

Create Like An Activist

Tag: Mom (Page 2 of 3)

TJEVlog #1: Introducing the Pound By Pound Pledge Drive!

My dad and my mom. Probably from the 1908's sometime. Not sure exactly when, but I just love this photo. They both look so fabulous, and so happy.

My dad and my mom. Probably from the 1980’s sometime. Not sure exactly when, but I just love this photo. They both look so fabulous, and so happy.

As I mentioned in my previous post, today is the anniversary of my mom’s passing. It’s been seven years, and I still miss her all the time, usually when I’m doing something awesome that I instantly want to tell her about…but can’t. I’m hoping she knows.

It’s also my friend Adam’s birthday! He’s one of my BFF’s in New York. I miss him, too, and I wish I could celebrate with him this weekend. Have fun being old! 🙂

Anyway, I thought it appropriate to do my VERY FIRST VLOG this week, because I wanted to announce an effort I’m taking on this year in honor of my mom, and I’m hoping that all of you who read this will want to get in on it! So, watch the video below and do what it says! 🙂


Grupo Bronco

Today is the anniversary of my mom’s passing 7 years ago. And what am I thinking about most? All the telenovelas I used to watch with her. 🙂 So, today’s Song of the Day was used as the theme song for a novela called Dos Mujeres, Un Camino, which starred Erik Estrada (!!), and was about a trucker who loved two women at the same time.

So, my mom let me watch this with her regularly, but made tut-tut noises when I was watching Rocky Horror Picture Show when I was little. Huh.

Then again, my mom LET me continue watching Rocky Horror Picture Show at 11 years old, despite all the transvestitery, polyamory, and general sexual mayhem of that movie.

My mom was awesome.

Today’s Song of the Day is “Dos Mujeres, Un Camino” by Bronco.

And in case you’re interested in the hilariously overwrought opening credits to the Dos Mujeres, Un Camino novela, here they are:

The Twelve Posts of Christmas, er, New Year’s #2: “She’s Just Smart and Has No One to Talk To”

You’d talk to me, WOULDN’T YOU?!

Yeah, yeah. It’s a bit late for these. But I was sick through Christmas and, well, busy with awesome people who are more important than this blog through New Year’s. 🙂 So there. But far be it for me to deprive you of stupid stories from my childhood! And so, my Twelve Posts will continue.


I wasn’t exactly a quiet child.

I know. You are totally shocked. Try to contain yourselves.

While I’m not an only child, I was the only child growing up in my parents’ house. My older siblings were already into their twenties when I was in elementary school, and they were off earning Master’s Degrees, going out on dates, and generally leading grown-up lives. My parents, while wonderful to me, also each worked, and between that and keeping the house in order (or socializing elsewhere, in my father’s case. He was definitely the Social Butterfly of the two), I was often left to my own devices. Not that I minded. I had a glorious imagination, and could often be found on the couch, pretending it was a boat going down a river (after an African Queen-inspired episode of Muppet Babies); or outside making piles of leaves I’ve picked off plants, because I was on a deserted island and had to forage for sustenance. I was a solitary kid, as I first grew up in Queens, which meant that traveling around the neighborhood on my own was out of the question. Since I relied on my parents or older siblings to take me to visit friends, and they were all often so busy, I spent a lot of time playing on my lonesome. So much so that, even when I was playing with friends – and I did have friends – I often had a whole other game going on in my head that I was playing by myself.

Hell, I still do that.

There are two responses to being a solitary kid growing up. Some people become very quiet. I guess they get so used to turning inward for company they stop looking for it elsewhere.

Me as The Tooth Fairy one Halloween. Yup, that’s a toothbrush wand.

And then, there are kids like me. Kids whose brains are so filled to the brim with ideas and feelings and imaginings that they might burst. They need an outlet – desperately – and so whenever they’re around other people, they’re constantly making noise to make their feelings known.

For example, I got “in trouble” my first five minutes into kindergarten. Ask me why.

It was my First Day of Real School. I’d gone to nursery school, but this was different. This was school. Like, in a real building. A building with fifth graders in it. A school so big that my kindergarten class had to be escorted up several flights of stairs in two lines from where we’d lined up in the schoolyard to our classroom. When we entered my classroom, I was amazed. It seemed huge! An entire wall just for our coats! We each got a cubby! Each of our desks opened up so we could put our stuff in them, too! Toys and games everywhere! And how did I express my amazement? I whistled. That whistle that pitches up and slides down in a way that says, Whoa. This room is friggin’ huge! Apparently, it was loud. I thought it’d be drowned out in the low murmur of all the other kids having similar reactions, but nope. My teacher (whose name I forget – I remember my nursery school teachers, and all my teachers from 1st grade on…but for some reason, my kindergarten teacher’s name escapes me) looked right at me, shushed me, and said, “Excuse me! We’re quiet in school.”

Um…you’re quiet in school, Lady.

In kindergarten or 1st Grade – I don’t remember exactly when, but I was young enough to sit in a circle for Story Time – I was, well, sitting in a circle for Story Time. Now, I loved Story Time, because I loved stories. I loved listening to them, and I’d started to enjoy making them up. So this particular story must not have been interesting, because while it was going on, I became obsessed with the velcro on my sneakers.

Ffffrrrrip! *press closed* Fffffrrrrip! *press closed*

My friend, Cynthia, was sitting next to me and was very amused by my velcro-plying. She, too, had velcro closures on her sneakers – hey, we knew how to tie our shoes by then, OK? We just had better things to do! – and she started fffffrrrrip-ing right along with me. Then, she randomly asked me how that Madonna song goes. You know, the one about material? And I totally knew, because I had a big sister and a big brother who kept me in the know. So I started singing it. We are living, in a material world, and I am a material girl…YOU KNOW that we are living, in a material world…


I looked up, and my teacher was not happy, which scared the crap out of me, because I was totally the teacher’s favorite. Or, one of them, anyway. I was a gifted student and I never misbehaved. I just couldn’t shut the hell up. Though, to be fair, that time was totally Cynthia’s fault. She talked to me. What was I supposed to do? Not show her how much I knew about Madonna songs? Please.

Me giving my nursery school VALEDICTORY speech, because I was a super-genius. 🙂

My mother was called into school to speak to my teacher once when I was in elementary school, which was weird, because as I said – I never misbehaved. I was the kind of kid teachers liked, and so my parents never saw my teachers except during Parent-Teacher Conferences once a year where my teachers fawned all over my adorable, brilliant little head. Anyway, when my mom asked what the problem was, the teacher apparently started by telling her how much she liked me, how smart I was, what a good girl I was, and how I was such a great student. Then, she dropped her complaint. “But your daughter just won’t stop talking. It’s non-stop. She talks to the other kids, and it’s very distracting.” My mom apparently told her, “I’ll tell her. I know she has to stop. But she does that because she gets so excited. She doesn’t have children her age at home, so she comes to school and wants to talk to everyone. She’s just really smart and has no one to talk to.”

My mother told me this when she got home, and I thought it interesting, even then, that she told me the entirety of her explanation. She didn’t just come home to reprimand me and say “You have to learn not to talk so much in school.” She told me that she told my teacher that she understood why I talked so much. My mom wasn’t giving me permission, exactly, but she was also letting me know that there has to be a balance. That rules aren’t meant to be followed blindly. That sometimes, the people who make the rules need to understand that there have to be exceptions. She was also letting me know that she saw my talkative nature as a bit of a positive; a sign that I had so much creativity and intelligence floating around in my head that I couldn’t help but let it out.

Yes, I know that there are plenty of people who talk incessantly who aren’t brilliant and creative. 🙂 But I like that my mom thought the best of me. I like to think that maybe what she thought about me is true.

“I Want You to Do the Right Thing Because It’s the Right Thing”

Me and my nephew, William.

One day, I hope to be someone’s mother. As I get older, I don’t know when or how that will happen, but I know that it will – whether I have children of my own, whether I adopt, or whether I have a series of foster children. I will be someone’s mother someday. I say this with confidence, because of all the things I do well, the thing I always think of as my best skill is my way with children. And the reason I have this confidence, as well as this skill, is because I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by some amazing mothers in my family who have and continue to teach me that it’s possible to nurture children completely and wholeheartedly without giving up on yourself.

(from top) Caroline, Janette, and Colleen.

I was in college when my older sister, Janette, had her first child, and I thought it was so weird. This was the same person with whom I’d go to the mall and Great Adventure. The same person for whom I took phone messages from many gentleman callers for a quarter each when I was a kid. Now, she was all married and having a kid of her own. It was weird.

She now has two daughters, and I continue to be amazed by how well she is raising them. She always seems to strike the right balance between “fun” and “parent.” She’s not stingy with discipline, but she also realized that discipline starts early – she took her babies out to restaurants and church and other people’s homes from the time they were infants, teaching them how to behave as they went, so they wouldn’t grow up to be the kids you see running around restaurants like little animals. She (and my brother-in-law, Denis) works so hard to give them opportunities that she and I didn’t have growing up – stuff like gymnastics, and dance classes, and martial arts, and Girl Scouts (I couldn’t afford more than a year), and sports. She encourages their talents without pushing anything on them, raising Caroline and Colleen to be caring, hilarious, intelligent, creative people. I don’t say this often enough, but my sister is an amazing mother.

Ann with my nephew William and his little sister, Hannah.

I met my sister-in-law, Ann, when I was a senior in high school and my brother took her on a date to one of my school plays. 🙂 I liked her from the beginning. So much, in fact, that I wondered what, if anything, would change once she became a mom. You see, she was too cool to be a mom (despite the fact that she, for some reason, wanted to marry my brother!).

What I realized later is that the very things that made her “cool” – her laid-back manner, her friendliness, and the matter-of-fact way in which she’d talk to my brother – are also the things that make her an amazing mom. Her son, William, is autistic, which is not always an easy thing to navigate, but you’d never know it to watch Ann, who seems unflappable most of the time, never afraid to discipline him when needed and never unwilling to coddle him when needed. Meanwhile, she’s raising Hannah to be a brilliant, fearless, verbose girl who makes excellent imaginary tea and can recite Toy Story in its entirety. 🙂 Ann is an incredible mom.

Dad and Mom at Lake Ronkonkoma – 1994.

And then there’s my mom, who managed to teach me some of the biggest life lessons in the smallest moments. The main thing she taught me? The thing that stands out, and dictates the way I try to live my life? One day she said to me, “I don’t want you to do the right thing because you’re afraid we’re going to get mad at you. I want you to do the right thing because it’s the right thing.” My mother was a person who taught by example. She hardly ever told me what to do. She showed me what to do. She just lived it, and because she was someone that everyone liked, who always made miracles happen despite not having much money, and who seemed to have God on speed-dial, she was someone I wanted to emulate. And so I did what she said. It’s because she (and my dad) did that that I now feel free enough to stumble and make mistakes. Because I know I’m not being judged, and I know that I only have to answer to my conscience and God, and I think I’m a better person for it. I never really had a “rebellious period” growing up. Don’t get me wrong, I was bratty plenty of times. But I rarely got into trouble, and I never really had an entire rebellious phase, because I never needed one. Because my mom never gave me a curfew (so long as I called when I was gonna be really late), never forced me to go to church, and told me how she felt about certain things (like smoking, drinking, sex, etc) without making it sound like “rules.” And so I always called, and I went to church on my own without my parents, and I never did anything overly sordid substance-wise or sexually (not as a kid, anyway). My choices were my own, and had nothing to do with rules set by my parents. It was about doing the right thing. And thanks to my mom, I think I’ve done the right thing more often than not. She made me believe that I could choose the right thing, and that there is power in that choice.

I have the pleasure of knowing so many amazing mothers. Eileen, who’s gone to hell and back for her kids. Jean, who stalks the playground like a lioness for Charlotte. Katie, who is raising her (now) two children with an abundance of love and patience. And even Robin, who’s become quite the stepmom to Marissa. And then there are my surrogate mothers, who’ve at various times taken care of me and taken an interest in me long after my own mother no longer could. Gloria, who’s opened her home to me from the time I was about six, and who worries (just like my own mother would) about when I’m going to finally settle down and get married. 🙂 Arlene, who’s been treating me like a daughter since I was ten. Joan, who manages to make everyone her son (my good friend, Adam) cares about feel like family.

There are more of you out there, I know, but then this blog post would go on forever. 🙂 Basically, I wanted to wish all the mothers out there a Happy Mother’s Day. And I’m grateful that, when the time comes for me to be someone’s mother, I’ll have plenty of amazing examples to follow. I’m a lucky girl.

Birthdays and Anniversaries

It took me all day to post this, because I was out at a really long meeting, then had a really crappy internet connection for a bit. However, as it’s only just after April 5th on the West Coast, I’m going to post this video I made earlier this morning.

It’s a celebration of birthdays and anniversaries. In honor of my mother, and in honor of a good friend.

Twelve Posts Of Christmas #1: Ode to Pasteles

When I steal, I steal from the best. 🙂 Paul Cornell has been doing The Twelve Blogs of Christmas for years, and they’re something I always look forward to. I also very much like the idea of them, giving your readers special gifts/opportunities/insights for the holiday season. Now that this blog is going on two years old, I thought I’d start a version of that tradition here. I hope Paul doesn’t mind. 🙂

My friend, Heather, made me rice and beans tonight, which I haven’t had in a long while! 🙂 As it’s close to Christmas, it got me thinking about the specifically Puerto Rican food that my mom would make (around the holidays and otherwise), and I thought I’d share that meal and the memories associated with it w/you for my first Christmas post. So, without further ado…


Let me just be perfectly clear about this. I hated pasteles. Hated them with a fiery passion. They were gross, and ick, and yuck, and made of every tuber (yuca), banana-like fruit (green plantains), and other gross vegetables (olives and capers) I hated. My mom would be all, “But they’re a Puerto Rican food!” And I’d be all, “Well then, Puerto Rican food is disgusting!” What mystified me more than the fact that someone would wrap something this gross in a banana leaf and call it dinner was the fact that my dad and brother could not get enough of them!

Because they are so labor-intensive, my mom only really made them once a year. One big batch around Christmastime that seemed to last through the New Year. And while I hated pasteles and never ate them, I loved helping her make them. You see, my job was to help her grate the veggies.  Luckily, while I didn’t like eating them, using a grater on yuca and green plantains was hella fun! So, she’d sit me down at the table with a big pot and a pile of vegetables and a grater and I’d get to work as she did other stuff in the kitchen. And we’d talk about stuff. Or not; sometimes there would be music on. Or her novelas on Univision. But even if we weren’t talking at all, it was one of the times I felt closest to her. And it also made me feel important. After all, if I didn’t do my very important job, there would be no pasteles for anyone! It would ruin Christmas! I was an elf, and my mom was Santa Claus. (or, I was a camel, and my mom was one of the Three Kings if you wanna get really Boricua about it)

So, thank you, Mighty Pastel. You may taste nasty, but you helped me find closeness with my mom, and I guess that’s something. 🙂

For those of you who want to try your hand at this culinary “delight” (the quotes are mine. Remember, some people actually love these things!), I’ve included a recipe below, courtesy of While there are as many pastel recipes as there are cooks, this one seems the closest to how my mother made them. Enjoy!


Yield: 16-20 Pasteles

  • 1/2 cup lard or 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon annatto seeds
  • 1 1/2 lbs lean pork , cut into 1/4-inch cubes
  • 1/4 lb pork fatback, cut into 1/2-inch pieces or 1/4 lb bacon , strips cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 -3 garlic cloves , minced
  • 1 medium onion , coarsely chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper , seeded and coarsely chopped
  • 6 small sweet green peppers , seeded and coarsely chopped (aj?es dulces) (optional)
  • 2 medium tomatoes , seeded and coarsely chopped
  • 4 leaves fresh culantro , coarsely chopped (or cilantrillo, or both)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano or 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 (16 ounce) can chickpeas (reserve the liquid)
  • 1/3 cup pitted green olives , sliced into thin rounds, with 1 tablespoon liquid
  • 1 tablespoon capers (optional)
  • 2 cups raisins

Ingredients for the dough

Ingredients for the wrapping

  • 1 lb frozen banana leaves, spines removed or 1 lb fresh banana leaves , cut into 12-inch squares spines removed
  • 20 sheets parchment paper , 12-inch x 18-inch (If banana leaves are not available, parchment paper may be used for entire wrapping)
  • string or butcher s kitchen twine


  1. Add oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the annatto seeds and heat for one minute to release their orange color.
  2. Remove from heat and drain the oil into a separate container.
  3. Discard the seeds and return half of the oil to the skillet.
  4. Return the oil to medium-high heat and add the pork and bacon. Brown for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  5. Add the garlic, onion, bell pepper, small green peppers, tomatoes, culantro, and oregano, and sauté for another 5 minutes.
  6. Stir in the chickpeas and olives (with their respective liquids), capers, and raisins.
  7. Cover and simmer over low-medium heat for 40 minutes. When done, uncover and allow to cool.
  8. Drain the broth into a separate container and set aside.
  9. Make the dough by peeling the plantains and the bananas, first cutting off the ends and running a knife tip lengthwise along one or more of the ridges.
  10. Insert and run a thumb just beneath the cut peel to lift and remove it. Peel the yautia.
  11. Place plantains, bananas, and yautia into a large bowl of salted cold water to prevent discoloring.
  12. You can grate them using the fine side of a hand grater, or instead, cut into 1/2- to 1-inch pieces for the processor.
  13. Fill 1/3 to 1/2 of the food processor or blender container with the cut vegetables, slowly adding broth to form a smooth, porridgelike mash. It should not be runny.
  14. Transfer the purée to a large bowl. If you run out of broth, substitute water as needed.
  15. Stir in the salt and the remaining annatto oil.
  16. Place a banana leaf on a sheet of parchment paper.
  17. Drop a scant 1/2 cup of the dough onto the center of the leaf and spread it several inches all around with the back of a spoon.
  18. Drop 2 tablespoons of the filling a bit off center. Fold each long side and then the ends toward the center.
  19. Slide the encased leaf toward the long edge of the parchment and wrap again.
  20. Fold end flaps over.
  21. Tie two pasteles together, with folded edges facing each other.
  22. To cook, put a batch (4 to 6 tied bundles) into a large kettle of salted boiling water and cook semicovered at medium-high heat for 30 minutes.
  23. Turn the bundles over and cook 40 minutes more
  24. When done, drain them well, remove the strings and wrappings, and serve hot.

Update – “For Mom”

Hey there! So, I’m actually going to be babysitting later than usual tonight, and will have to cancel my memorial reading. I’ll be doing that tomorrow night at 8PM ET instead. Yup, still at my UStream channel, if you’re interested.

However, it still stands that all the proceeds from any sales of On the Ground Floor that I make today will go to the American Diabetes Association in honor of my mother. And yes, your purchase will count toward the donation even if it’s after midnight in my timezone, but still April 5th where you are. 🙂 If you’d like to purchase one and make a $5 donation, click HERE.

Thank you.

For Mom


My dad, me, and my mom after my high school graduation - 1997

My mom, Mariana Hernandez Jusino, passed away on this date in 2006. I can’t believe it’s been five years. On one hand, it seems like just yesterday. But in many ways, it feels like forever ago. I think it’s because I was another me then. Her death marked a huge shift in me, and everything that made me who I was got shaken out, held up to the light, discarded where appropriate, dusted off where appropriate, and rearranged.

Five years on, and there isn’t really much for me to say on the subject, except that it still saddens me that she won’t be here for all the big stuff. I think she would’ve been proud of the Whedonistas thing, for example, and would’ve loved hearing about my trip to Gally. She’d most certainly be worried about me living in Bed-Stuy now, no matter how many times I’d insist that it’s not really as dangerous as all that! Every time I’d call her, I’m sure she’d say something about how I should be making more money, and that maybe I should go back to my old PR job. 🙂 At the same time, she’d tell me she loves me, and despite her practical advice, I wouldn’t feel judged. She never made me feel bad about being all artsy and useless. She just wanted to make sure I had a plan, which I always try to have. In fact, the only reason this is working for me at all is because she always showed me that, even when following your dreams, you shouldn’t follow them willy-nilly.  I’m trying. I’d like to think she’d see that. That maybe she sees it right now.

Other than that, there’s nothing much to say. You can read my observations of grieving HERE, my eulogy HERE,  and my 1st Anniversary post, a piece about grief I wrote that involves Neil Gaiman and Kanye West (it relates, I promise), and last year’s anniversary post.

And I decided that this year, I wanted to try and do something to commemorate the occasion more than just post about it. I’m planning a big something that you’ll be hearing about soon, but first, the small something. Actually, two small somethings:

1) My mom died of diabetes-related complications, and so in her memory, I’d like to donate the proceeds of any chapbooks I sell today to the American Diabetes Association. So if you’ve yet to purchase a copy for yourself, like your copy and want to purchase one for a friend, or just want to donate to a worthy cause in honor of my mom, today would be a great time to get a copy of On the Ground Floor. Again, all the proceeds from sales of the chapbook today will be donated to the ADA. So, if you can’t purchase one/donate yourself, please feel free to spread the link to this entry around!


2) Tonight at 8PM ET, I’ll be doing a an online reading of my short story, “Talking About William,” which was inspired by my mom. It’ll be happening at my UStream channel. If you’re gonna be near a computer then, I hope you’ll consider joining me. It’s only a 9-page story, and I won’t be doing much else other than reading.

Aaand, that’s it! 🙂  Love you, Mommy.


My dad, me, and my mom (did we always stand in that order?!) at my sister's house - 2005

Corn Flakes With Orange Juice

While I was supposed to be making potato-leek soup and a baked good to bring to the first annual Friendsgiving today with my BFF’s, I had to back out of those plans when I heard some sad news. The grandmother of Vanessa, my oldest childhood friend, passed away this week, and the wake was today. I was touched when Vanessa texted me to tell me, as we haven’t kept in the best of touch over the years, and I knew I had to go.

First, Doña Juanita, as I called her, was a huge part of my childhood. She used to watch Vanessa and me after school, and I was always over at her house to play. She was a fiery woman with an easy to spark temper, but she also cared about her family immensely, and was one of my dad’s closest friends (I guess great tempers think alike?).

That’s the other reason I felt compelled to go to the wake today. In addition to wanting to be there for my friend, and wanting to pay respects myself, I went because my father can’t, and I know that he’d want to if he could. It was a strange feeling, sort of being there as my dad’s representative. As Vanessa’s mother, daughter of the deceased, introduced me to people and explained how I knew the family, I felt the weight of history. Not just my own, but of a history that existed before I was born, when my father used to have a factory, and Doña Juanita used to work in it, and how my mother and Vanessa’s mother knew each other when they were pregnant with us, which is how she came to be my oldest friend. And now, here I was with Vanessa at her grandmother’s wake; my now-married-and-six-months-pregnant friend with whom I ate the orange juice and Corn Flakes concoction we stupidly served ourselves at her Doña Juanita’s house when we were about six after she made us finish it, yelling at us for wasting food. Crazy.

Also, today was the first time in a long time that I prayed a rosary. I’d forgotten how meditative it is. I have my own rosary here somewhere, and I’m going to find it. It’s a really helpful way to pray. And with thirty or forty people in a room all praying it for the deceased at once? It felt like our hearts and thoughts and energies were all working to send this woman directly to Heaven. Do not pass “Go,” do not collect $200. 🙂 And we were praying it in Spanish. If it’d been a while since I’d prayed a rosary, it’d been even longer since I’d said prayers in Spanish. Yet there I was, reciting the Our Father and the Hail Mary in Spanish as if I’d never stopped. Yet another part of my childhood that resurfaced for the occasion. It was nice to be reminded of a time when Spanish-speaking culture was more a part of my life, as well as to be around people who remember me from when I was under the age of five.

I’ll be attending the funeral service on Monday morning, because I know my father would’ve wanted to attend that, too. If you think of it, send your prayers/good wishes to Vanessa and her family, as they’ve lost a powerful matriarch. Though, since she was 95, it’s not as if she didn’t live a full, long life! She’s earned a good rest.

RIP, Doña Juanita. You were truly a one-of-a-kind lady.

Caprican in a Tauron Body (or, Remembering Mom)

From whence I get my good looks! Mom in the late 50's/early 60s.

My mother, Mariana Hernandez Jusino, passed away on April 5, 2006.  I’ve been posting the eulogy I read during her wake for the past couple of years as a memorial.  This year, though, what I’ve been thinking about are my feelings about my mother and how they relate to my connection to sci-fi.

Yeah, I know.  Yes, I am that much of a geek.  Bear with me.

I actually addressed it in a blog post shortly after my mom’s death, where I talk about watching the “Sarek” and “The Offspring” episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation to help me through the grieving process.  But lately?  It’s Caprica that makes me think about my mom.  However, it isn’t the stuff actually having to do with death that does it.  It’s the Tauron elements.

But first, some back story…

Joanna, Me, and Eileen. I was about 13 here.

Some of you may have heard this one before: I was in seventh grade, and it was just after gym class.  I was getting changed, when two girls in my grade, Bridget and Myra, came up to talk to me.  This was strange, because they were “popular girls” and never voluntarily came up to talk to me.  They were also fellow Puerto Ricans.  “What are you?” one of them asked (I forget which one, as they’ve become a composite blob in my memory).  I knew what she was asking, but I wanted her to ask me outright if she was going to ask me.  “What?” I replied, playing dumb.  “What are you?” the other one asked. “I’m a New Yorker,” I said, a bit annoyed that they were asking me this out of the blue when they never talked to me before. “No!” the first one said, frustrated. “What are you?  Like, what’s your background?”  “I’m Puerto Rican,” I said.  The two of them in their doorknocker earrings and slathered-on red lipstick looked at me as though I had five heads.

With knit eyebrows, one of them said “Really?”  And the other said “You don’t act Puerto Rican.”  And then they just walked away.

I was 12, and I wasn’t prepared for my identity to be called into question like that.  Certainly not while I was putting my pants back on after gym class.  I didn’t say anything, and I tried to forget about it for the rest of the day, but I couldn’t shake it.  On the walk home from school, their words kept playing over and over in my head.  You don’t act Puerto Rican. I wondered what this meant.  I speak Spanish, and spoke it at home.  My mother watched novelas on Univision every day, and sometimes I’d watch them with her (Maria Del Barrio and Te Sigo Amando were favorites).  I was raised loving arroz con pollo even though I hated pasteles (“But they’re the food of your people!” my mom would say, to which I’d reply “Well, the food of my people is gross!”).  I attended Spanish-language mass with my parents… It was one of the first times my being Puerto Rican was called into question, and it wasn’t the last.

A couple of years ago, Robin and I went to Puerto Rico on vacation and stayed with my aunt Ana on my father’s side.  We visited my mom’s relatives in Guaynabo, and I nicknamed it The Place Where Everyone Looks Like My Mom.  On a day trip, Robin and I took a cab, and I chatted up the cab driver in Spanish.  After a while, he asked me where I was from.  I said “Yo soy Boricua!”  He asked me in Spanish, “No, where are you from?”  I told him I was from New York, and he said “Ah…you’re ‘Nuyorican.’ That doesn’t count!”

I’m rarely given a hard time about my ethnicity by non-Hispanics.  There was one instance in my teens when I was walking down the street with a non-Hispanic friend and when we were stopped by a cop and asked a question about a robbery that had happened near our high school, that “friend” said completely seriously, “He probably stopped us because of you.”  But usually, I just get surprised reactions from them when I mention I’m Puerto Rican.  “Really?” they ask, and I know they’re thinking But you speak so well! even if they’re not saying it.  Also, as an actress, I’ve definitely been “too ethnic” for many roles.  However, I’ve always been given the biggest hard time by fellow Hispanics, fellow Puerto Ricans.  Because for some reason, despite the language I was raised with and the food I grew up eating, despite my skin tone and a town on a Caribbean island where everyone kinda looks like me, I’m never Puerto Rican enough.

Sam and Joseph Adama on Caprica

Sam and Joseph Adama on Caprica

So on Caprica, when Sam Adama tells Joseph Adama that he’s a “Caprican in a Tauron body,” I know how it feels to have someone in your family, your culture, your tribe say that to you.  It hurts.

Honestly, the Taurons are the reason why I love Caprica rather than just like it.  I understand Willie Adama not liking the Tauron food his Tsattie makes for him (pasteles, anyone?  Ick.).  I understand Joseph Adama and his desire to be educated and successful and part of the establishment, even as he’s proud to be Tauron.  I understand his frustration at being too Tauron for some people and not Tauron enough for others.

But I also understand Sam Adama.  I understand being the youngest in a family and clawing at your heritage, desperate to hang on, because you’re the furthest away from it.  I understand being frustrated by the distance of years, and by seeing that your heritage doesn’t seem to mean the same thing to your older sibling(s).

And I understand that culture means even more to you after you start to lose family.

It’s always upset me when people call my heritage into question, because I’ve never believed that Being Puerto Rican required any one set of criteria.  “Puerto Rican” is a broad label that encompasses a million shades,  body types, interests, and experiences.

Though both my parents are Puerto Rican, I’ve always associated my own Puerto Rican-ness with my mother.  She was the one I spoke Spanish with at home.  She was the one who cooked the rice and beans, and it was with her that I watched trashy Spanish-language TV.  It’s mostly her family I visit when I go to Puerto Rico, because most of my father’s family came to New York.  So it’s especially painful to think of Not Being Puerto Rican Enough in the years after her death.  It hurts that I’m starting to lose my Spanish from lack of practice.  It hurts that I never asked my mom to teach me how she makes her rice and beans.  And it hurts that, for whatever stupid reason, my memories and the life I’ve lived aren’t enough to “qualify me” for Puerto Rican status to a lot of people.

So, let’s make a deal, OK world?  Let’s just agree right here and now that this IS what Puerto Rican looks like and acts like.  I was raised in Queens and on Long Island, and I’m Puerto Rican.  I spoke Spanish only at home, and I’m Puerto Rican.  I’m a sci-fi geek, and I’m Puerto Rican.  I’m a writer, I’m smart, I’m well-spoken, and I’m Puerto Rican.  I’m Puerto Rican whether anyone likes it or not.  I, however, happen to like it.  I’m proud.

I only wish my mom were here so that I could practice Spanish with her.  I always imagined that she’d help me teach it to my future kids.  I’ll have to do that myself, I guess.  And I will, in her memory, with lots of love.

RIP, Mommy.  I love you.

Photo from Mom & Dad's first date! Late 1950s. The inscription reads: "For Ray, Save this as a memento of our first day together. With all the care and love I profess to you, Mariana"

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