I like to end my posts with a quote that best relates to the topic, but this time I thought I would start it with one. It just sounded like the perfect title as it describes perfectly what this post is all about. A brown girl, living her best life as she reflects on how far she’s come in life after driving through her old neighborhood and being hit with a never felt before melancholy. I’m Sure Tori Burch would be okay with her words being used in this manner.
“Dream Big, Baby Girl… even if it scares you!” These words have been repeated so many times in my head that they have become my mantra. On some days, they were the start of a heated argument with…well…myself. I mean, the nerve…of myself (?), what the hell do I know about dreams and the crap I’ve gone through. The shit that made me scared to dream of a life past 18, a life where I succeeded, a life where I did get everything that I wanted. A life where I was actually a person of VALUE to the community, my community. I would huff and puff and let out an angry, “easier said than done.”
Oh I know, I can win an award for Negative Self-Talk. No need to sound the alarms, though. These moments come every once in a blue moon. They are no longer the constant tape on replay in my brain. This negative self-talk has been replaced by moment’s of “girrrrl!!!!” mixed in with “Abuela are you seeing this?” along with “ỉGracias Dios!”
This was most evident last week, I had so many moments that made me stop, take a deep breath, exhale, and smile. I was living my dream. This was made most evident on Tuesday of last week, when I was invited to a presser where Governor Newson was going to sign the latest California Budget and announce his ComeBack Plan for California. This presser was in El Sereno, the city I lived in before I left the country to live in El Salvador.
When I mentioned this to my mom, she was like “oh you’re going to relive some memories” I laughed it off, she just looked at me. I was wondering if I really saw concern in her eyes or was it just me. But once I got off that freeway and started making my way up Eastern Avenue, I started feeling it. A melancholy, like nothing I had ever felt before. Then I saw the first sign I recognized “Troy’s BURGERS #10”, I couldn’t help but smile. That was our hamburger joint, that was our Friday night spot with my mom and baby brother. As mother told us “la cocina está cerrada los viernes” so this is where we would go when she got off of work.
I saw the next sign of my childhood, the park where I tried my luck at playing softball. I remembered their pool, 50 cents for an afternoon to cool off and play for hours on end with no adult supervision. It was a group of about 10 of us, diverse in every single way, including age. I think the oldest was 12.
And we all lived here. Except for two that lived next door. I lived here for two-three years before moving to another home in El Sereno. That would be the last place I would live before making la Colonia Monserrat my home.
I passed my old Junior High and was grateful for the green light. I didn’t want to stop, out of fear she would recognize me and make fun of me for leaving. This school was rough, but you wouldn’t think of that if you saw it today. The outside looked welcoming, with its colorful banners and refurbished buildings. Across from it was the corner liquor store where so many people ate concrete after meeting a fist or an open hand. Have you ever wondered why in Black and Brown communities there always seems to be a liquor store near schools? I mean sometimes those chips were a godsend, it was all some of us would eat the entire day.
Then came the bus stop at the corner of Huntington Drive and Eastern Avenue. So-so many things happened there. Some good, some bad. Some forgotten. On those days when I was too tired of surviving at school and didn’t want to walk, and had the luck of having a bus token I would wait for my bus and silently ask whoever was available to hear “Is there more to this? Is this all I have? All I’m going to get? Please let there be more” These were prayers, thoughts that seeped through my tough and angry girl armor.
Across from this bus stop was an AM/PM. I couldn’t help but smile. Those 99 cent burgers were also a blessing. I’ll never forget walking in there with a group of kids, we were all still in elementary school. I had just sold some cans to buy my family groceries and we had enough left to buy four burgers (that means $2). We were five, what were we going to do? Luckily for us, the young guys at the counter understood what was happening and told me to give them all of my change, they apparently needed pennies. They probably didn’t, but we believed it. They give us extra burgers and two big drinks for all of us to share. We were the happiest kids ever!
When I arrived at the venue for the presser, I realized that it was across the street from that very grocery store where the above-mentioned groceries were bought. It was now a Food-4-Less, then it was a Viva Market. Another smile crept up my face. The melancholy was being lifted, by the memories of childhood and good deeds.
Although, I left, scared for my life.The fun times outweighed some of the bad times.
I sat in my car, flipped the visor to apply my Ruby Woo. As I applied my Chingona uniform, I said a small prayer. Tears started to come, I swallowed hard, “Girl, none of that shit! You’ve come a long way and you can’t mess up your make-up!”
I was right, I had come a long way. I was on my way to a presser with the Governor of California. I’m standing in a room of community members, electeds, and organizational leaders. Some know me, some will get to know me (I’m sure), this me, the today me. I smile and greet the folks I know.
You know what made this moment even more epic? As I’m standing there listening to the Governor proclaim how California is going to make a comeback. I’m also on my phone, texting and emailing with other orgs and contacts because I’ve been tasked with finding some families for President Biden’s live event for July 15th to celebrate the Child Checks (CTC). Yes, I’m trying to get families to the White House!
I mean, “Mamasita did you ever think this would be your life?” No!
Things have changed so much since my days on that bus stop. Those prayers are constantly being answered.
When I left home to start undergrad my goal, my dream, was to serve my community. As I sit here and look back on the work that I’ve accomplished this week, I can say I’m doing it. There’s still more to do, but I’m doing it. I allowed myself to dream and you best believe that it scared me. What if I was setting myself up for failure? What if there was a cap on how much I could do? On how far I was supposed to go?
Maybe there was. Maybe I left it behind when I decided to take a bold step in the unknown and make my way to that campus in Berkeley. Or when I realized that motherhood didn’t make my dreams smaller, but made me stronger to achieve them no matter what the size.
“There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure. When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”Paulo Coelho, “The Alchemist“
It hasn’t been easy. I’ve come to realize that nothing really is, but even in those challenges there’s always a silver lining. A lesson, a tool, a teacher that comes through and guides you. Then down the line you realize that all those lived experiences are part of the magic that makes you-you! You are authentic, one of a kind because of it. We stand out because of them, we are able to connect to folx at different levels because of them.
We succeeded despite what we’ve gone through.
A friend checked in on me, and asked how I was coping with my PTSD after driving through my old neighborhood. I never imagined that was what it was. But I guess it is, because I hadn’t gone back, it’s been 28 years. I was fine. Still digesting the week I’ve had.
As I drove home it no longer seemed scary, the melancholy was gone.
I allowed myself to dream big. It didn’t happen at 13, but it happened and I continue to do it today. It scares me at times, but I acknowledge the fear and then release it. My fear no longer stops me, it now serves as confirmation, I’m on the right path. “Dream Big, Baby Girl… even if it scares you!”
“The path from dreams to success does exist. May you have the vision to find it, the courage to get on to it, and the perseverance to follow it.”Kalpana Chawla, American astronaut and engineer, who was the first woman of Indian origin to go to space.