Writing

How an Instagram Challenge Improved My Writing Life

The battle proved long but victorious.

She Writes Press came up with a challenge for writers at the end of April and I thought, ‘why not.’ This seemed to be an easy way to post on social media and see what other people experienced in their writing life.

Scanning my feed on Instagram is quick because I don’t follow a bunch of people, after weeding out those men who post 101 selfie pics. Some guys use Instagram and FaceBook like online dating sites. Not interested.

But back to the topic and the 31-Day Challenge:

WhySheWrites Challenge

The questions lent themselves to introspection, figuring out how to show an answer, and exposing some of the more challenging parts of the writing life.

Here are a few of my Instagram responses.

Share the reason you write:

Growing up, I didn’t read any books with Latina characters who reflected my experiences until I was in college. Those books were few and far between, written mostly by men.

So when I began recording my words (about ten years ago), I found myself writing about loss, abandonment, and other challenges encountered by women and girls to amplify their strength and resilience. In doing so, I increased my own.

 

Why I write? alvaradofrazier.com

Share a photo of your writing space:

My grand-kitty Heidi Ho lets me know when she thinks I’m staying too long at my laptop. She has a routine: jump on my chair, leap to my desk, and if I’m still typing she wedges herself behind my computer where she glares and meows until I shut it and pay attention to her; which means taking her outside in the garden to stalk lizards.

She helps me balance my writing day.

 

Share your writing space.

 

What is the first/worse job you’ve ever had:

My first job and my worse job involve strawberries. I grew up in and live in the strawberry capital of the nation. Mom made us work in the strawberry fields, para que sepas (so you’ll know). We had accompanied her on weekends to pick walnuts before but picking strawberries at age 11 or 12 was harder. Walnut trees had shade. The strawberry fields went on forever, the heat blasting your back, the hot dirt. I lasted two days.

My worse job was working in the strawberry packing house on the graveyard shift the summer before college. I was not well treated by older women. As far as they were concerned, I took a job away from a mother, but that was the only decent paying two-month job I could find at seventeen.

I sorted strawberries on a conveyor belt while standing for eight hours. The cold water running through the belt splashed with each rotten or damaged strawberry I flicked into the dirty reservoir. The best fruit went to Japan, and the rest were sorted by better, good, average, and jam.

Overhead fluorescent lights beamed down, making the warehouse seem otherworldly at three in the morning. Strawberry and dirt odors lingered on my body the entire day and in my sleep.

What is your first and your worse job?

 

Women writers who inspire you:

There are so many, so I listed the ones who authored the books I buy/borrow. Usually, I have three or more books written by the same author.

 

Share one line from your own writing:

She was sober enough to remember that liquor and men were a bad combination, but drunk enough to think she could drive.

I’m glad I took the challenge, and in the process, I found out more about my own writing life and what informs my writing.

Finding several like-minded people, who run the spectrum of age, life experience, and writing backgrounds, was a plus and illustrated how the ‘social’ in social media work.

Over on the right hand column I list my Instagram and Twitter account links if you’d like to visit my sites or follow me so I can follow you.

Thanks for reading.

César Chávez on the cover of Time Magazine 1969
Cesar Chavez Day, Social Justice

Why César Chávez Day Needs to be Remembered

César Chávez on the cover of Time Magazine 1969
César Chávez on the cover of Time Magazine 1969

César Chávez was an Arizonian, WWII Veteran, a father, husband, organizer, and a leader.

Chávez’ legacy as a leader among farm workers’ unions is honored on March 31st, on what would have been his 92nd birthday.

On this day, the UFW martyrs also need to be remembered. These were men and women from Yemen, Mexico, and the United States. They were Jewish, Muslim, Catholic and Protestant.

The Spanish phrase: “Si Se Puede” (Yes, You Can), coined by Dolores Huerta, became the rallying cry for César Chávez during a 1972 fast in which the Mexican-American farm worker rights advocate protested a signed Arizona bill that denied farm workers the right to strike and boycott during harvest seasons.

From the depth of need and despair, people can work together, can organize themselves to solve their own problems and fill their own needs with dignity and strength.-

César Chávez

In 2012 former Secretary of Labor, Hilda L. Solis hosted the Induction of the Pioneers of the Farm Worker Movement into the Labor Hall of Honor and the naming of the César E. Chávez Memorial Auditorium in Washington, D.C.

Thanks to César Chávez and the UFW the actions led to these accomplishments:

  • The abolishment of the short-handled hoe that crippled generations of farm workers.
  • Unemployment, disability and workers’ compensation benefits for farm workers;
  •  Establishment of labor contracts with employers that require rest periods,
  •  Toilets in the fields.
  •  Clean drinking water, hand washing facilities,
  •  Protective clothing against pesticide exposure.
  •  Banning pesticide spraying while workers are in the fields.
  •  Outlawing DDT and other dangerous pesticides.
  •  Eliminating farm labor contractors and guaranteeing farm workers seniority rights and job security.
  •  Creation of a pension plan for retired farm workers; a credit union.
  •  and comprehensive union health benefits for farmworkers and their families.

Not many people know of the men and women who participated in and fought for the establishment of the UFW. They were inducted into the Labor Hall of Fame:

Nan Freeman: an 18-year old college freshman from Wakefield, Massachusetts who gave her life while picketing with striking farm workers in central Florida in the middle of the night because of her love for justice. In Cesar’s words, Nan was Kadosha in the Hebrew tradition, a “holy person” to be forever honored.

Rufino Contreras: a 27-year-old husband, father of two and a dedicated union activist who was shot to death in the Imperial Valley lettuce field for demanding a more just share of what he himself produced during the 1979 vegetable industry strike

Nagi Daifallah: a young Muslim immigrant from South Yemen who was killed during the 1973 grape strike after he gave himself completely to the union to escape the trap of powerlessness. Nagi immigrated to this country to escape poverty, only to rediscover it in California’s rich fields and vineyards. He learned English, could communicate well, served as a translator for UFW organizers and became active with the union.

Juan De La Cruz: a 60-year old immigrant from Mexico, a gentleman who knew firsthand the benefits of a UFW contract. He was also a grape striker and an original union member recruited by Cesar in the early ‘60s. Juan died two days after Nagi’s killing when shots rang out on a vineyard picket line and Juan shielded his wife, Maximina, with his body.

Rene Lopez was only 21 when he came home and proudly told his mother, “Here is my first union card. Now I am important. Now I am a man.” A short time later, grower goons gunned Rene down just after he voted in a union election at Sikkema Dairy near Fresno, which he and his co-workers were striking. Rene was young, but, as Cesar observed, “he had already felt the call to social justice.”

César Chávez has a special connection to my county, Ventura, because he lived in Oxnard as a child and returned as an adult to organize protests and boycotts to secure better wages and working conditions for farm workers.

My mom marched until the age of 89 yrs.

Chavez march oxnard
Mom at C.C March, Oxnard 2016

Here are some old posts: Remembering Cesar Chavez and My Mother

A March Down Memory Lane

There is no such thing as defeat in non-violence.

I hope you commemorate the day with serving others, doing random acts of kindness, or teaching others about Chávez’ legacy.

Healing, Latino culture, Mexican traditions, Writing

Heartbreak, Love Potions and Curanderas

If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it-Toni Morrison

Writing, especially novels is a long hard road. Sometimes people ask, “Are you finished yet?” “What’s happening with that story you told me about?”

Oh, that story. Well, three years later I’m finished with the Young Adult manuscript and I believe I’m ready for the next step: finding a literary agent or publisher to bring the novel to fruition.

The book is about an eighteen-year-old young woman named Maya who suffers from a heartbreak that is so bad that she, an honors student, ditches school and finds a job selling herbs and potions in a botanica (Botánica Sirena) opened by two curanderas.

Maya’s newfound knowledge of curanderismo (the art of healing) intrigues her but proves disastrous when her novice love potion backfires leaving her ex-boyfriend in love with her mother and her nana’s 75-year-old boyfriend in love with her. 

Her divorced parents are furious with Maya’s behavior as it disrupts the plan they had for her life: valedictorian, university, and a career in politics.

So Maya needs to make things right again but her novice potion is not something the local curanderas can help her with so off to Oaxaca she goes to meet with the Gran Curandera who might be able to help her with an antidote. The trip leads Maya to a journey of self-discovery.

But what is a curandera?

Curanderismo is a healing art and curanderas/os are healers in the Latin American world. For centuries, the Mexican culture has had curanderasSome cultures call these people shamans, or medicine men or women. Some people call them, incorrectly, witches.

Curandera practicing her healing

 

A curandera/o uses herbs, ointments, and cleansings to cure illness. They also conduct spiritual healings. Sage, sweetgrass, and copal are used to cleanse a house, a room, or a person of evil spirits and negative energy. 

A spiritual cleansing, limpia, and is often used by bunching together selected herbs into a small hand broom. This is whacked across the entire body and removes negative energy. After this, an egg is held above the head, moved around the body, and cracked open into a container which the curandera inspects.

Why an egg? It is believed that an egg has the natural ability to absorb energies around it. Finally, water is spit on the person. I know, sounds strange but this is what happens and there are some variances to the ritual dependent on what the client needs.

The Latin American community believes the curandera has a spiritual calling to heal and they are often descendants of other curanderas.

mayan, healer, maya
Margarita, Mayan Healer

The photo above shows a Mayan healer in Mexico. In the U.S and my experience, the curanderas were usually grandmothers wearing aprons or elderly men in work clothes who conducted their ritual healings in their home or garage. Now they are more likely to work in a botanica which sells candles, oils, herbs, and other items such as amulets.

Using the services of a healer involves a small fee or a barter. This is probably why most Mexicans and Mexican Americans used a curandera. Either a doctor visit was too expensive, wasn’t available, or the doctor dismissed an ailment. 

When I was a kid, most mothers knew of a local curandera. When a mother thought her baby was ill a visit to the curandera would be in order; the likely culprit was mal ojo (the evil eye).

In some countries like El Salvador the infant would be given a red bracelet to ward off mal ojo; in Mexico, the curandera passes an egg over the baby’s head and body.

Herbal remedies from curanderas were brought to the U.S (many were in the Southwest before it was part of the US) and these cures were passed on for generations.

When we were kids my mother didn’t take us to a curandera but she used Vicks Vaporub for fevers and colds. If we vomited or had a stomach ache we drank 7-Up or any other lemon-lime soda. There was a special tea for stomachaches and periods, a rice water mixture for diarrhea, and a few dozen more for colds, coughs, and other illnesses.

The use of candles and ointments are also part of curanderismo. In our house, there was always some candle burning for some ailment, loss, or protection.

The subject of curanderismo is one that has fascinated me so much I had to write a novel featuring curanderas. The story also has alibrejes (spirit animals) and other magic realism elements. Take a look at my storyboard for this novel.

The blue Jaguar is a spirit animal in the novel

And curanderas are just the tip of the iceberg of Mexican healers. There are also specialists for massage and herbs. But that is for another post.

There are websites such as Erika Buenaflor who can give you more information on curanderismo as well as other healing practices. She is a modern day curandera. I wish I had known about her site three years ago when I started my writing project but better late than never.

 

 

Disclaimer: This post is not suggesting you use a curandera in lieu of a medical practitioner; that is your own decision.

 

 

 

Family

February, My Own Personal Valentine

 

Mothers of daughters are daughters of mothers and have remained so, in circles joined to circles, since time began.

Signe Hammer

Ah, February, a month that begins with love. This is not because of Valentine’s Day but rather because my daughter was born on February 1st.

I laid on the chilly stainless steel bed in the operating room pissed off that I couldn’t bear my child ‘naturally.’ After hours of labor, I needed a C-section.

“You’ll be awake, at least. Not like the first time,” my husband said.

The memory of the emergency cesarean I had with my son, after twenty-four hours of labor, an epidural and a spinal block, shifted through my body.

I pushed aside my feeling of failure, for that’s what I believed having a c-section meant instead of vaginal birth.

The intake of breath of the doctor and nurse made my heart sink until both of them said,

“Look at that hair!” and my husband yelled “A girl.”

I held my nine-pound bundle of a baby girl with her halo of dark hair and creamy soft skin and breathed easy.

There is an old Mexican tradition of naming a child after the baby’s grandmother but we didn’t need another “Maria,” much to my mother’s chagrin. I gave my daughter a name that is a combination of my mother’s name and my middle name.

Already having a rambunctious son, I wanted a daughter to cuddle for more than a minute but as she grew, she had her rowdy times too as well as her playtime talking with her dolls and the family dog.

Now my daughter’s hair is dyed chrome silver after having been aqua, green, and jet black in earlier years. So hair is a focal point even to this day.

It’s a wonder how a baby shoots up to a kindergartener, a teenager and on to a young adult.

If I could give my daughter…

Sometimes, I forget my daughter is no longer a dependent kid but an independent woman who lived on her own for five years in Denver, bought her own car, pays her own bills, takes good care of her cat, and has managed to travel to Chicago, New York, and Houston on her own dime.

In the years between those two spectrums I hope I’ve given her the three beliefs that are listed in the quote above:

  • The confidence to know her self-worth
  • The strength to chase her dreams
  • The ability to know how truly, deeply loved she is

I am a definite on the last two and I’m reminding myself to speak out on the first one more often.

So, on February first I celebrated my daughter, in the month of love, and with my own personal Valentine.