Thursday, February 16, 2017

There is no right way

Not every immigrant story starts out the same way.

Case in point: "My parents came over on a sponsored visa program, backed fully, and entered the port of NYC with the sun on their backs and a good road ahead. They did it the right way."

There is no right way. There's only the way it happened.

Some of us arrive in the dead of night on a rocking sea, vomit-covered shirt soaked and stained - the boat of tied-together rafts and tires falling apart as it hits the shore. Others stowaway on big steamers that chug their way towards the assumed golden shores of America, weeks and weeks hiding beneath cargo. Then there are others who strip down to their underwear, their belongings in a single plastic bag, plunging their bodies into the cold waters of that snaking river to rise, shaking yet determined, on the other side. 

Before these the many who sought their dreams boarded boats and simply arrived, suitcase in hand. Our ancestors out there dreaming and doing. There were no papers, no illegal entry, just people who were seeking the pinnacle of dreams that had been lost, destroyed for whatever reason in the world of their birth.

You see, we beam our brightest light out into the world, welling hope into people who have lost theirs. The "huddled masses" as we see them from our lofty high point. Then, as they reach our shores, having been beckoned by the false reveries and blinding promise, we shut the light off and leave them stranded. 

"I'm sorry, you can't really come here. Yeah, we're pretty proud of our country, but wait in line for twenty years and do it the right way."

We're big on bragging on who we are as a nation, the all-giving U.S.A. 
Look at how grand we are! 
Look at how benevolent are our people! 

And in the next breath we are shunning the ones who seek entry, judging them by their countries who spit them out, or a country that can no longer help them rise. 

In one big breath I've seen praise for God tumble out of lips, the whispered words imbuing a sanctity to living for Him - the one above all. In the next sentence are muttered words of fear and restraint saying, "We mustn't allow any more people in. We must take care of ourselves first!" 

I no longer care to hear your words on God. I, too, know him well. He has been my solace and keeper. He loves me as he loves you. The wide spectrum we now find ourselves on puzzles me, that to think we are to turn inward instead of outward as He demands. 

The condescending slide of words that inject a vicious stream into my blood saying, "You know what's right. Stop thinking differently than the rest of us." 

But you see, I know who I am.

I reject that because maybe for the first time in my life, I know that I am thinking for myself; I know that what I believe is true. I see the shaking heads and those of you walling yourselves in for the long haul. The sealing away of what we think are helping hands, now only meant for those who are deemed worthy to be helped.

If it weren't for that snaking river, the one that cuts through some of the harshest terrain in the U.S.A, I would never have met the one for me. My children wouldn't exist. Today I thank God that there are those that do defy our system for entry, that swim or run or drive across the border - any border - and inject LIFE into a place that would stay singularly desolate. No longer open to the diversity that brings culture and openness. 

We make it harder than it needs to be. 
Hard to enter a country with so much room to breathe.

In the rejection of that otherness, is the rejection of usurped land and the peoples that dwelt on it for thousands of years. We want to paint it with white, forgetting and leaving behind the history of its devastation. The slow creep of "civilization" that overtook, killed, burned, and cast out the brown faces that lived and dreamed there. Faces painted as "natives" and "heathens" and "uncivilized." The sweep that also took over Mexican lands and made them American, forgetting that the border is not now where it once was. With one fell swoop it erased the lines and in doing so erased a people that while still living there, are now invisible. 

Let them all in. Let them live. Open up the borders. Stop fearing.

There is no right way to enter. There is only how it happened. 

And whether we welcomed, or didn't.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Today I found out that I'm classless and vulgar.

Today I found out that I'm classless.

That I "don't know what a real woman is like."
That I "have no self respect" or "common-sense."

Today I learned that I am a pig. 

On Saturday I marched in a Women's March that was held in Wooster, Ohio. I knew that after this very divided election that I must march; that there was never any other choice for me. My husband gave me a kiss and told me to knock 'em dead up there.

"Hold your sign up high!" he said.

I met up with several other ladies and we arrived at the square. For two hours we felt solidarity, love, and people speaking words of unity. I'm mostly a semi-introvert who writes words from home. We all had our reasons for marching, and I didn't need this march to find somewhere to belong. I needed to do it to stand against hateful words, and for those who have no voice.

There's a quote by Albert Einstein that says, "If I were to remain silent, I would be guilty of complicity." I had never marched for any issue before, so it was daunting for me to get out there and do it. But I work hard: hard at my job, at being a wife and mother, and to be someone who doesn't silently stand by and let others voices call me classless and vulgar, while mine is silent. For the voices who say to "get off your ass and quit whining."

I marched for my Mexican husband who loves me unconditionally. I marched for the undocumented and the documented, who are all worthy of receiving dignified treatment because they're human. I marched for all Mexicans who have been demonized in the public eye for the past 18 months, who have struggled and lost work because of the color of their skin.

I marched for my kids so that they could see a mother who loves them completely and wholly, and stands up for them. I marched for my kids who are filled with a hunger for justice, and are already stronger than me in their quest to proudly bear their Mexican-American viewpoints given by their father and I. This, after years of offhand remarks telling them to "swim back where they belong" when they were born right here in Ohio. 

I marched for the girls, the ones who've been reviled and blamed and for rape culture making it worse. I marched for the girls who've had entire communities turn and blame them for being victimized and supported the offender. I marched for the people who can defend people who say they can "grab 'em in the pussy" and explain it away as "men will be men." Isn't that kind of talk vulgar? I reject it.

I marched for myself so I will never, ever forget the words that have been said. That "all Mexicans are rapists and drug dealers" and how everyone fell into line and believed it, affecting an entire swath of our country. 

When WAS America greater than it is now? When everyone that didn't look like us fell into line and kept their mouths shut, drinking from their own fountains? 

This is why I march. I march to never forget. I march for love and for the respect I have from my husband and children, from family and friends. I march for the office of president, one I respect, and sorrow for the words that now come from it unfiltered. I march for all the people typing posts and comments, the ones who glorify Jesus in one breath and call women like me who marched

not a real woman
a pig
with no common sense or respect

Words matter, and there are always imperfect ones that come out of any event. Ones that don't quite resonate and sound harsh. But just like is said of our president, "He doesn't always say the right thing. He's not perfect, but I'll support him. Let's make America great again."

I'm hoping you support other women too, instead of tearing us down with words that seek to cut and slice. Words that deem me crude and not a "real woman." Why harbor hatred of something you don't seek to fully know? 

We all lean one way or the other, and Jesus isn't choosing sides. 

Asking us why we marched might be a start, instead of condemning the whole march entirely. If you're seeking to do this, to understand the why's, then thank you. We have some answers that might stun you with their complexity. I would love to hear your side. 

And I won't call you names if you do. 
That only divides us. 

Monday, October 24, 2016

We are Ghosts

"We are ghosts to you. We don't exist until you want our sympathy or help. You don't think your vote will really count, because you want to see what "happens." It's a vote against us and you don't see that. It's a vote against me. We are ghosts until you want us, but we were never there if you didn't see us until it counted." -quoted by someone I love, 9/24

I am lost. 
Drifting in a sea of distractions.
Fraught and edgy.
Simple and deep.
My thoughts betray me
and I cannot sleep.

We the people. No longer are we the people we say we are. 

We are washed in the blood of Jesus and drowning in our own hypocrisy. We cry out for the blood to flow from the bodies of our brothers and sisters in lands far away - those who cry for our help - as well as turn a blind eye to the ones dying in our streets at alarming levels, shouting, "He should have listened." 

We cry "Save the babies!" while we kill those in prisons for crimes committed, by injection or the slow burn of hatred. Or in war, our soldiers dying and the twisted collateral damage of the beautiful faces from the land they're bombing. Do they not matter? Do the bodies burned and blackened mean less than lives in our clean, non-war-torn tidy nation? 

Is one life of more worth than another? 

My prayers have stopped flowing and my mind is a mess. This election season has dimmed a light inside of me that once knew tiny fractions of truth and goodness. I walked through an idyllic life, sheltered from most duress and harm, knowing that mostly things would turn out well. 


But we are no longer nice. None of us. I lean one way, you lean the other and we play a vicious tug of war with words that have the unpleasant ring of ugliness and spite. Our civility is mired inside precious packets of "I love Jesus and he loves you too!'

But Jesus loves us all, not just those you deem worthy to be loved. 

Jesus loves the babies aborted, and loves the moms who made a wrenching choice as well. He doesn't love them less nor heap judgmental words on them. We kill too, in different ways. We kill every time we say, "Those people are so lazy. Get 'em off welfare! They're leeching off of us!" Where did the love for that unborn baby go? Does it transfer to the mom, struggling to survive, or only to the baby as it's growing in utero? Does God judge the soldier who killed ten men in battle? Isn't each life the same if this is the context we view it in?

I am strong and solid.
I am filled with good words.
But I have stopped the flow of them.


The atmosphere in my area is thick as butter, dripping and melty. There are signs, countless signs, showing support for one who hates people I love. The immigrant, the different, the one with skin that is brown, the one who has loved me day and night, unconditionally, for twenty-eight years. The one who has shown love, spread love, been selfless to the point of not being able to anymore. The one I love who has been peppered at every place he goes, on every angle. 

He uses his words in a second language learned.
A language he learned on his own.
And uses today and every day.

Things he is not: rapist, thug, killer, drug dealer

Things he is: husband, lover, father, business owner, thriver

Things my bi-racial children are: entrepreneur, business owner, movie-maker, public speaker of words, girlfriend, boyfriend, women, man, human

Productive people, giving the gift of their talents to this country. Not people to be thrown out because of fear. 

Countless discussions on this election, some with family and some with friends, have yielded differences of opinion. I've mostly shut off as I struggle to understand the contradictions that are being displayed. Six months ago a Transgender person simply could never use a bathroom with your children, and now someone who demeans women is simply "talking locker room banter." Decide which way you're standing, friends. 

"We just want to see what he does. He's surrounded himself with good people." 

Why are you voting for the people surrounding him? You are using him to further the agenda of conservative supreme court justices that you think will repeal things you bleed for. Things you believe deserve the utmost merit. But can't you see? There is so much more than a single-issue vote. 

There is widespread hatred that has spread uncontrollably, frighteningly. There is hatred from the one you would want, the one who would see mass deportations and people denied their right of religion - whatever religion that is. If it's not yours can you see it's worth? 

Would you find our country shut off, sealed, from the world? Would you feel safer then?

We have been affected. Jobs, our life blood, have become scarce because his rhetoric has been believed and found to be true. We've lost jobs and battled mightily for nine months, hesitantly wondering what was happening. Then it hit us. It was him. His words were working. And we were floored, yet determined.

Your vote is yours to cast, heavy and dull in your hands. 
But remember there is more than just your issue,
the one you hold too tightly, too close to your chest.

"We are ghosts to you. We don't exist until you want our sympathy or help. You don't think your vote will really count, because you want to see what "happens." It's a vote against us and you don't see that. It's a vote against me. We are ghosts until you want us, but we were never there if you didn't see us until it counted." -quoted by someone I love, 9/24

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

I'm mostly a writer of small pages

On the home stretch of finishing my novel. 62K words! But right now, this is how I feel. Come read me on The Holmes County Bargain Hunter

I don’t want to write anymore. My brain is tired, and my novel is snugly tucked inside Microsoft Word, where it can’t hurt anyone; yet, I can feel its sharp teeth biting at me, pulling me slowly under where I must acquiesce to the venom it exudes. When it’s done, I will offer it to you like a sacrifice on a golden alter because it had to be written.

I’m mostly a writer of small pages, words made shiny and formed cohesively to hold your attention for 10 minutes at a time. I can take a subject and spin it on its head, the heft of the word document filed neatly in the time it takes to ride the words to their crest. I’m a wordsmith of tidy detailed musings, and what possessed me to think I could write a novel still baffles me as the coffee goes down bitter.

My husband, lover of all things me, born adrift on a story that propelled him to me long ago, he is why I am compelled to finish. His story, told to me over and over, the words gently orbiting in outer space, presses me to go, go, go. It’s a novel born of blood, love and warm countries where joy are found in the daily lilt of life. 

It’s a story of hate and consuming loss that didn’t define him and the pulling up of who he was into the relentless partner he is to me today. His words and life swirl in my brain, savagely mixing until all I can do is sit at my computer and either purge or be stifled. 

I am nearing completion, paragraphs methodically arranged, sentences that await their birth, spilling from brain to finger to screen. I’ve said repeatedly that writing a novel is like having your guts spill onto the floor and rolling around in them. Too graphic? Well I’m not sorry because I feel that every day as I sit down to write. I’m awash in a sea of grit. The last words are in me, and they’re coming down the pike hard and fast. Blessed culmination is near. 

I’ve told others I have more books to write, which is like choosing a dare instead of a truth. It’s a thrill that never ceases to perplex and amaze me as I hurtle through the cosmos, but until my husband completes the cycle of his younger self in this book, until he finishes these feral and vicious years I’m writing and looks up and sees my younger face for the first time, I will be unable to write anything else. 

This afternoon I will take his 16-year-old hand from 1984 and sit down to find the concluding content. I will do this every day until I’m done.

Monday, June 27, 2016

The evil that grows inside us

Read this, and all my columns, weekly at The Holmes County Bargain Hunter

We are not immune to the horrors of this world. It will live in us until we cast it out and then rein in carefully with love. This morning I woke to a world that had the breath of valued human beings taken out yet again. They were ripped, targeted and snuffed out in the terrible minutes and span of a hot June Florida night. 

Stories of grown men are trickling out, stories of them texting their moms, pleading for help ironically from the stalls of a bathroom, the terror building as the communication was cut short and they were gone. Lives taken away by someone who deemed them unworthy to live. 

I mourn with those who mourn. My murmurings felt dry as my mouth is a burning desert sent into the stratosphere with a tongue that has uttered the same laments over the years in alarming fashion. It’s another massacre, another shooting, another day. 

On cue my social media feeds blew up: talk of gun control, the targeting of the LGBTQ community, radicalized Muslims and how our immigration system has failed because this man was of Afghan descent, but he was born in the U.S.A.

In reading the words typed by others in the immediate hours after this happened, I gleaned that I was to do this: wake up, blame our president, buy a gun, stockpile guns and ready myself for war. I saw words of lament as well, the beauty of empathy, sadness and mourning pouring out like a waterfall. What I didn’t see was the immediate change of temporary profile pictures that happened after the Paris attacks, the support coming in droves as the French flag flew over hundreds of my friends’ faces. 

I puzzled a bit, wondering why this was any different, something that had happened in our very country. We just had 50 beautiful souls murdered, just as the Parisians had been, out and about in their town eating, drinking and living, and as the blood was still drying on the floor of a nightclub, I felt a terrible rumble through my soul.

Instead of dining on a continuous meal of online words and commentary of which I’m wont to do we slipped away to the cinema to lose ourselves for precious minutes inside a movie. I shut my phone off, my lifeline to the outside world. 

Highly anticipated, we took in a movie called The Conjuring 2. It was a famous case about a family who were menaced by evil spirits, a true story, and the people who helped them claimed freedom from what was happening. 

I relish horror movies, and I admit that readily. I sat in tense moments, riveted by every second of this feature, my skin crawling with goose bumps. If you haven’t seen this particular set of movies, know that they are some of the scariest you will see. You might say, I don’t ever watch scary movies. Why would I subject myself to that? They’re evil, but you see evil exists in this world. We mustn’t hide from it. 

It’s in the mind of a young man who murdered tiny grade school children in Connecticut. It exists inside the brain of a shooter who shot moviegoers in a Colorado theater, and it lived and grew inside a boy who murdered churchgoers that welcomed him in with open arms. It dwells inside the minds of people who believe religion calls them to murder for their faith as well as the people who have shot their friends and classmates in a myriad of schools across this country. It lives within those who target a community, and it also lives within us the moment we decide that fear will reside in our hearts.

In the end of the movie the evil is banished in highly tense moments after many endless days of terror. I felt electric surges course through my body in response to what good film-making can make you feel, and I walked out of the theater alive and well. My brain was thrumming with thoughts. 

What do we deem evil? Darkness can be defeated, but not always how we think it should. It doesn’t reside in all the brown faces that have immigrated here, nor does it reside in all the faces that look like our own. It does, however, reside in us when we become fearful, intentionally choosing to see only what is in front of us instead of investigating and probing to see what might be involved. 

I won’t hide, nor blame, nor live in fear. I want to live amongst and show love the only way I can. I want to take root and grow branches that cover those who are targeted by hate, try to help instead of run away from those who are lost inside a religious frenzy. I want to believe in redemption and be a shelter from unfiltered words, which in the end are more powerful than taken-up arms on either side.

Friday, May 6, 2016

In which I learn that cooking equals love // Part 2

I'm posting the second part of my column on cooking here on my personal blog this week. I need a good reason to get you here anyway! Find all my columns on The Holmes County Bargain Hunter. 

In which I learn that cooking equals love: Part 2
By: Melissa Herrera

I sat at the table in my first kitchen looking out over the vast expanse of valley outside my window. I’ll admit to not making coffee before I got married, as I didn’t learn to love it while living at home. But I could smell it, so I figured I was doing something right. I was twenty-one, and had years of Holmes County cooking under my belt, with a husband - who while loving my cooking - sometimes longed for the tastes he’d grown up with. When we left Mexico for home months before, got married, and moved into our own home – I was unwavering in the task set before me. I would learn to cook proper Mexican food even if it killed me.

In between tuna casseroles and chicken and rice meals, I experimented. I started off with the basics, but even that was hard as ingredients for authentic meals were difficult to procure back in 1990. Tortillas had grown in popularity and were readily available, but anything else was a search in vain. Most of what I made had a Tex-Mex bent to it, as that style was – and still is – very popular here. Having lived in San Antonio, Texas where I met George, I was introduced to those excellent and dreamy cooking styles. There ain’t nothing a big, cheesy enchilada with gravy won’t cure.

So I persisted, having set aside the disaster that was my chicken soup and his family. I sliced potatoes, carrots, and onions and boiled them in a soup – adding raw pieces of chicken to the pot. Salt, pepper, and thirty minutes from end cooking time I added a handful of rice. When all was cooked, I sliced up jalapenos, cilantro, and several limes to which I garnished the hot steaming bowl of soup. Setting it in front of George, he smiled and dug in. I knew I was on the right track. When he moved to this area he fell in love with the cream sticks and pan-fried chicken, so there was no love lost for our food. But when he took a bite and was transported to his mom’s table, I knew then that my kitchen would forever be a bilingual one. Thin, pounded round steaks fried with onions and smothered in a spicy tomato-based sauce became another meal I perfected. And rice, let me tell you about the rice in Mexico. There is no small secret to it except that it’s perfection. Huge vats are made at parties and family meals – every single grain cooked to non-mushy perfection. I could hear his mom’s voice in my ear as I prepared it, and my family suffered through many pots of soft rice, hard rice, and almost-right rice. Those long-grain bits of tiny whiteness were a burr under my skin and I had to get it right. I will tell you that my children, now, complain of the rice anywhere they eat it. “Mom, there is no good rice anywhere. Will you send me some?” I am still highly critical of my rice, but I’m the only one. It is gobbled down when I set a steaming pot next to a plate of bubbling enchiladas.

Like white sauce, I consider my success at Mexican rice the penultimate achievement. It’s a rite of passage that must be accomplished before you can move on. I’ve now moved on to tamales, moist and flavorful, tucked inside corn husks, as well as learning to make homemade sopes (thicker tortilla-like discs) that hold beans, cheese, and salsa. Special shout out to Tyler, my eldest daughter’s boyfriend, for buying us a tortilla maker for Christmas – he loves to sit at my table. My kitchen is now stocked with clear containers holding dried guajillo, ancho, and chile de arbol peppers – to which mouth-watering chile salsas (no tomatoes) are created and consumed. I have masa flour on hand and can whip up homemade tortillas on my comal, and cans of chipotle peppers to which I blend with ingredients to make Tinga – a singularly fantastic quick meal of shredded chicken in sauce piled on tostadas. Giant bowls of Posole, a spicy hominy and pork soup - which shredded lettuce, radishes, onions, and oregano are piled on top of – has been perfected and is eaten during the holidays. My tastes tingle when I think of the robust flavors of Mexico and the years it’s taken me to get it right.

If I cooked a meal for them in Mexico – now – how would they react? I still get a flutter in my stomach at that very thought. Do we ever reach the end of learning? If his mom, now in her seventies, could visit us I would make her a well-crafted meal that I believe would make her smile. She worried that this pale girl from America would keep her son fed, and to this I chuckle and think of tonight’s supper. Maybe I’ll make a delicious Cochinita Pibil, a roast shredded pork in a spicy sweet sauce, and raise a glass to cultures that teach us new ways.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Missy's Life inside the Fence

I write what I feel and lately I've been feeling a lot. A little bit like life inside our fence is a bit narrow and tight. Read on from my column on The Holmes County Bargain Hunter

Missy's Life inside the Fence

We built a fence around our yard when we bought our house back in ‘96. Our kids were tiny, and my husband had grown up knowing many fences that surrounded baked-tile courtyards, with stucco buildings. They were warm, happy places you could sit and have coffee in the morning or find shade in the late afternoon as the hot sun slipped away from the day. It wasn’t a way of keeping people out; it was part of their culture, a way of affording privacy in tightly packed streets full of people. I had never had a fence, growing up in the center of Berlin, and was used to running barefoot through the neighbor’s yards. It didn’t matter where you ran; you were always welcome, allowed to roam at will through the neighborhood. There was a wild freedom to it, knowing your light footsteps through your dad’s straight mowing lines and onto the next lawn’s curvy ones wouldn’t get you yelled at. 

From the road, you might not know that our backyard is a nice size. It used to be hemmed in by a grove of pine trees in the back that are now lost to chain saws and pictures. But when we built the fence, it closed the backyard in on all sides except for the back stretch where the pines began. Our kids would cross into the pines and build forts in there, dragging broken branches and leftover trellis pieces to create mansions. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t our land because they were welcome there, unnoticed really, but not causing anyone harm. 

I loved the feeling that the fence created. I could weed in my flower beds when I wanted to, or lay out in the sun on our concrete patio without concern for prying eyes. The kids frolicked in their plastic swimming pools, making a mess of the backyard that most would cringe at. I relished it though, knowing that it was our space in which to create havoc and memories. Childhood is so fleeting and full of emotions that leaving a mess is sometimes easier than constantly trying to clean it up. It’s a futile effort that’s best left for the days when you find yourself, startlingly, in a home that’s empty yet neat as a pin. It’s those times when you long for a bit of mayhem. Tidy, stark rooms — just like safely ensconced empty backyard spaces — aren’t the same when there’s no one there to inhabit them. 

The fence, bit by bit, started to deteriorate. It wasn’t an expensive one, and aside from painting it occasionally, we didn’t do much upkeep on it. The kids grew, not needing to be fenced in anymore, the pine grove was cut down, the swing set sold, and one day I found myself staring forlornly at warped boards that needed repair and replacement. It was in disarray, and I became embarrassed by it. Every year, as the seasons turned the corner and became spring, then summer, I hesitated to look at it because of how ugly it had become. It became a barrier to what was outside of it. The inevitable happened, and as we were re-siding the house, we tore the worst of the old fence down – opening it up to see our neighbors yard for the first time in nearly 20 years. 

I sat awhile, pensive and thoughtful, thinking how closed off we had been. We erected the fence to protect our kids from running onto driveways, or to stay safely away from the several ponds that were/are still behind the house. We did it to stop people from coming into the yard, tucking ourselves — and only us — into its safe confines. But life isn’t always safe. Maybe we’ll tear the whole thing down and never replace it. I want to see what’s on the other side — as well as welcome people into my backyard. That’s what neighbors should do.