An Ordinary Body in Miami

Do I like Miami? Yes. Would I live in Miami for the rest of my life? Leaving out the fact that I can’t be at one place for too long (on this humongous planet with so many places to go and see), I can’t see myself calling this place home for the long run. However, when in the US, I can’t see myself out of Miami now either.

It’s been eight months since I made the move from previously living in Spain and Philadelphia. It was supposed to be Los Angeles. I had dreamed of California living for a long time, so I was very excited to go there and test the waters. In the end, things didn’t go as planned; I didn’t quite love any weather that wasn’t summery. So, I packed my trapos and came to Miami. I’m leaving a bunch of little details out to make this story short, but there was no financial planning when I moved here. I made that decision almost overnight.

It helps that I’m a single woman, unmarried, nomad-spirited as aforementioned, and with my only baggage being my checked-bag and my carry-on. (Life is so much easier that way throws peace sign up in the air.) I can afford to wake up and completely change my route. So that’s just what I did.

In Miami, I found better perks for me personally. There’s the much warmer December weather, rent is a tad cheaper than LA’s, and the nightlife scene isn’t just a thing of the weekend. I still use Uber or Lyft to move around (because I’d never drive in Miami), but so far it has been all right.

Some things I’ve found to complain about? I’d say, in general, LA folks were more polite than Miamians, especially on the road. There is no respect for pedestrians in Miami and I have a huge problem with that because I walk a lot. The non-walking culture that exists here, especially in suburban areas, may have something to do with the disregard for pedestrians. Unless you are in Miami Beach, you won’t see many people walking—and if you do see a person, it’s probably me.

But my main complain about the Miami culture, as I like to call it, is the insane hyper focus on women’s bodies. When I say insane I mean it in every sense of the word. I’ve been trying to understand what drives women to plastic surgery here, and according to my calculations, it’s very likely that the body issues were brought here from South America. I’m from the Caribbean, but we’re all about the same. Considering how relatively small the Caribbean is, this one is on South America.

From an early age, watching Telenovelas, I learned that a woman with a big round bust, small waist, a big butt, and straight long hair was seen as the epitome of beauty. We all know that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but sometimes when you’re young you’re kind of afraid to voice your opinion and contradict the public. Truth is you can’t aspire to be what you don’t know exist—and all they forced us to see was that specific concept of beauty. It was the main representation on Hispanic television. That concept continues to this date in our society. It is probably less intense in some parts this country, but never too short of body-shaming.

I’ve come into direct contact with this beauty concept again in Miami. Young girls in this city are under a lot of pressure, as proven by the insane amount of butt and breasts implants. Also, the hair. When I wear my curly hair I stand out, and it’s a funny thing because I know that, under that chemically straightened or flattened hair, most of these Caribbean and Latina girls have beautiful curls. I understand the humidity must be driving them crazy, but…everyone?

Reminds me of a time when I went to a club in South Beach and had to make sense of what I was seeing. Every girl looked the same. They had straight black hair (think Kim Kardashian) and wore tight mini dresses with a plunging neckline or some type of low-cut line. Cleavage is important here. It was like looking at the Latino version of the Stepford Wives. Must I remind them that our (physical) differences make the world more interesting?

For someone who’s been defying society and its beauty standards, moving to Miami has been a step back. I highly doubt that I will change anything in my body in order to “belong.” I’m too old for this sh*t. I already went through all that pressure and reached a point where I’m completely comfortable in my skin. I don’t see things changing much around here, either, since body shaming and sexism is so embedded in the culture, but there is also a good amount of young women here defying that idea, so there is hope.

What I’d say to any girls living in places like Miami is: it is up to you. Resist the urge to blend in because society says you should. Standing out is a lot more fun, anyway—trust me on this.

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Sh!t Dominican Moms Say and Do

You’ve got to admit it; Dominican mothers are crazy (in the demands department). I have yet to meet a semi normal one. What I mean by that concept, which meaning we don’t truly even know anyway, is a flexible, laid back and carefree mom. They’re a kind of their own. Who the hell came into our country and taught these ladies the old-fashioned things they say and do today? Was it you, Columbus? Do we owe it all to you? In the Dominican Republic, some parents raise their children under rules so ridiculous that somehow they’re effective.

I sat down — trying to keep myself from falling off my chair from laughing — and wrote down a few sayings, actions, and beliefs of some Dominican mothers. I thought, HOW THE HELL DO THEY COME UP WITH THIS STUFF? The list is not written in any particular order and it doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of all Dominican moms, obviously, but are so typical that if you brought up any of these subjects to a Dominican person, she will immediately know that you’re either Dominican or know one.

Here is what they say:

ONE: No ir a lamber a casa ajena. (Do not go freeloading at someone else’s house.)

Don’t you dare eat someone else’s hard earned food! I don’t know if anyone even abides by this command or if this was something that only my incredibly considerate mother believed, but growing up I sort of rejected a lot of eating invitations. My guess is that the Dominican Republic being a country where so many families lack the resources to provide a meal three times a day, some parents are concerned and considerate enough to keep their little ones from going to the neighbors’ during lunch or dinner time. It is customary and a polite gesture to invite visitors to eat if you’re eating when they arrive. That means the visitor would be taking food from someone’s plate. It might also be that parents don’t want others thinking that their own children have no food at home. (That Dominican pride never fails.) Maybe this explanation is total bullshit and I’m just trying to make sense of this etiquette because, in my opinion, it is okay to say yes to food offers.

Getting to someone else’s house at lunch or dinner time, which I tried to avoid at all cost, was torture. Neighbors would offer me food and I always had to choose between what I wanted and what my mom would’ve wanted me to do. If it were up to me, I would’ve chosen free food any day. But I’d say no because that is what they taught me at home. Sometimes, I think even the ones making the offer secretly wished that the person, in this case me, rejected the invite. On that note, when going out to eat, no leftovers on the plate meant you were still hungry—and that looked bad. Yes, you read that right; if you cleaned your plate that meant you were probably still hungry. Because, nothing says ‘I loved my meal’ like leaving it all on the plate? I can’t even begin to count the amount of plates I’ve seen over the years where a piece of meat was left, or a small pile of rice, or two tostones (since one would make it too obvious), just so that the other people sitting at the table wouldn’t think that you were still hungry.

Again, these are just unwritten rules, but as it happens with any unwritten law, people follow blindly.

TWO: Su novio tiene que venir a verla a la casa. (Your boyfriend has to come see you at the house — if he wants to be with you at all.)

I say boyfriend only because girls are the “weak” ones who need protection. Boys are always regarded as independent grownups, at any age, who can take care of themselves, thus not requiring parental supervision when they have a girlfriend. Amazing stuff.

So, forget about being sneaky with a forbidden love, young girls. What happens is, a Dominican mom will always find out and it may never be known who the tattletales are. Or could it be that nothing stays a secret in small towns? Forbidden love was such a thing when I was a kid that the lovebirds had to get very creative with their meet-ups. They almost always met at a friend’s house or at a park. And if you were my cousin Saul, you’d end up making a baby in the woods.

The thing is that neither fathers nor mothers want their girls meeting with any man outside of the house. So, the mother would say something like, have that son of a gun visit you here or else it is not happening. And you have better not contradict your madre. It is not a fun adolescent experience; you’re under the supervision of an “actual adult” and you can’t do the things that you would otherwise, and very willingly, do had the parents not be present.

Now, why would a parent who doesn’t like a boyfriend still ask their daughter to have the boy come see her at the house instead of anywhere else? They do this to prevent the girl from doing something crazy, like running away with the guy — because we all know how well banning humans from doing something has worked out. Also, parents want to be in total control of the situation, and that’s the only guaranteed way to do so, under their supervision, they think. Furthermore, and perhaps more importantly, they want to keep neighbors from starting rumors because, as any good Dominican should know, other people’s opinions of you have the upmost value.

THREE: Hay que besar la mano. (You have to ask for blessings.)

The exchange goes something like this: “¿Bendición, Mami?” the kid says. And then the mother responds with “Que dios te bendiga, mi hijo.” It’s a game of words where the kid essentially asks the parent for their blessing and the parent responds by saying “May god bless you.” And woe betide the kid who doesn’t ask his elders for their blessing… adults may think he’s a brat with bad manners. Or that might’ve only happened to me, who knows.

Asking for la bendición is a most normal thing to do in my country and it is not only expected from children; older people ask their moms for their blessing, too, all the time. It is actually one of those traditions I see no harm in. I didn’t feel too comfortable saying it to my far uncles and aunts, though, and so when I ditched religion, I quit asking for blessings altogether. My own mother thinks I’m being ridiculous and I’m committing blasphemy. So, whenever I greet her, on the phone or in person, she ignores my will and wishes blessings upon me because, “Even if you don’t believe it, a mother’s blessing is very important,” she says. “Blessings protect you from evil.” Oh, mother…

If it is uplifting for mothers to bless their children, I see no problem with it. It’s good to know that not all their rules are always bordering with crazy.

FOUR: La mujer no se sienta en la pierna del hombre. (A lady doesn’t sit on a man’s lap.)

From the creators of “be a lady” comes don’t sit on a man’s lap because that makes you a whore. Shit, and all this time I had thought a whore was someone who exchanged her body for money. Looks like I was wrong; sitting on a man’s lap, a non-issue, can also make you a prostitute? Clearly, anyone other than a prostitute sitting on a random man’s lap should check herself. It doesn’t need explanation — it’s just weird. Maybe that’s what Dominican moms mean by this, but you never know with them. But to label a woman “easy” or a whore if she sits on a man’s lap is extreme.

In the case of a couple, where the two are more than likely already getting it on, why would it be unacceptable for the woman to sit on her man’s lap? I’m not talking about sitting in a suggestive way, a way that makes it uncomfortable for everyone around; I’m not talking about having sex with their clothes on. I’m talking about a woman innocently sitting on her boyfriend or husband’s lap because maybe all of the seats are occupied. What is wrong with that? Apparently, everything. I learned it the hard way one day when, at a house party, I was accused of committing this same crime with my then boyfriend. And I wasn’t even in the Dominican Republic…

FIVE: El señor es mi pastor. (The lord is my shepherd.)

If you ever become friends with a Dominican, you should know that everything happens because it was the “Lord’s will.” And I’m sure this is part of almost all Christian cultures I know, but Dominicans take that belief to new levels. Everything is done only god-willing. And everything, absolutely all the good things that happen to you, certainly come from god. If they’re bad things, then it’s because you were probably an a-hole and you deserve it. That’s on you, friend. But don’t worry, “god will fix it.” (Do they ever think that if this god were so powerful he would stop the bad things from happening in the first place?)

Look, I get it: if you’re insanely religious, like my aunt Fran, or mildly religious like my own mom, that is going to be your thing. You’re going to make god your priority; you’re going to make god your reason (though it is a total contradiction). God comes first, we get it. But would you, dear moms, also please understand that not everyone is, or should be, into god? Freedom of religion, moms! It is totally okay to be an atheist if in nothing you trust.

My mom is not the biggest fan of flying, so she always asks my aunt to send prayers her way. She thinks that because Aunt Fran is at church day in and day out her prayers would be heard with urgency. [INSERT LAUGHING WITH TEARS EMOJI] How was your flight, mom? I’d say. “Well,” she responds. “Fran did her thing and I had a very pleasant flight. I said, god please, take control of this plane and get us to our destination safely.” That’s sweet — and a bit hilarious — but that pilot went to school for years to get you from point A to point B and back safely. Can we give him a little credit?

The point is Dominican moms are always saying that the lord did it, unless it is something awful. In that case, you messed up, child. And, what’s with the shepherd thing? Are you all sheep?

SIX: ¿No tienes nada mejor que hacer? Toma una escoba. (Do you not have anything better to do? Here’s a broom.)

What is it with some Dominican moms’ obsession with cleaning? Hey, I’m all about that, but to them there seems nothing more satisfying and time fulfilling than cleaning. It is their favorite thing to tell you to do when you’re just chilling, and therefore, according to them, wasting time. Go do something productive, like polish some utensils! It doesn’t matter if you had just cleaned a spot five minutes ago; they’ll find something wrong with it and tell you to redo it. Also, they want you to clean every freaking day. I literally cleaned the house every single day when I lived in the Dominican Republic. When I think back, it was crazy, but at the time it had already become such a habit that I did it unconsciously. It wasn’t until I moved to the US that I realized that my mom had been overdoing it. I don’t think it’s necessary to clean the whole place on the daily now — but do clean your dirty dishes as you go.

I guess I could see why some moms in the DR feel the need to clean every day, though. It is a tropical country where windows and doors may be open throughout the day, allowing for dust to easily find shelter on every piece of furniture. Maybe that’s the reason why cleaning is the first thing that comes to mind when they want to tell you to get busy; it is a task that always requires attention.

I prayed that my mom didn’t notice me doing nothing whenever I was doing…nothing. It was almost as if relaxing was a sin in her head. “Don’t you have something to do?” Yes, mom, I’ll go grab a broom now.

SEVEN: ¿Cuándo se piensan casar? (When do you think you’re going to get married?)

A couple dating for over a year, sometimes less, is expected to get married soon. No questions there. If a girl has a boyfriend, there must be an engagement at some point; there must be plans for marriage. It can’t just be a relationship where two people who love each other decide that they just want to live one day at a time and go with the flow. Nah. You’d better forget that flow and start planning that wedding. Or else, every vecino, every member of the family is going to bug you about it until a cake is laid over a nice white laced table cloth, wedding rings and bows are exchanged, and a contract between you and your mate is signed at a big fat Dominican fiesta.  

Dating or not, the question when are you getting married? will come, so you might as well have a nice comeback ready.

EIGHT: Tú eres parte de la familia ya. (You’re part of the family now.)

Picture this: a Dominican girl brings her all American boyfriend home on a Sunday, and by Thursday, he’s on his way to the farmacia to pick up some medication for his future mother or father-in-law. He becomes part of the family right away and that means “my problema is your problema” now. He is expected to help out with whatever is needed (and he is expected to do so eagerly). That’s how he earns the trust of the family because, NEWSFLASH: he’s in a relationship with the whole family, not just with the girl.

NINE: Eso se cura con Vivaporú. (Vicks VaporRub will cure anything.)

This one is light and is more on the comedic side. If you’re not familiar with what Vicks VaporRub is, it is basically an ointment that is supposed to help relieve discomfort from coughing and soothe minor body aches related to the common cold. Somehow, someday, in the mind of the Dominican mom, this became a miracle drug in a jar. I think there’s a mutual agreement that it can’t cure cancer, but everything else…it can.

Do you have a fever? Worry no more; Vicks VaporRub is the solution. A headache driving you crazy? Dip a finger in the jar, rub it on your temple, and relief you should find. Chickenpox? VaporRub! Diarrhea? VaporRub got you there, too! Okay, I haven’t heard that one yet, but I surely wouldn’t be surprised.

If they haven’t, Vicks VaporRub should select a Dominican mom as their spokesperson because, at least, there would be no doubt that the marketing is genuine and it is done with high enthusiasm, and a peculiar kind of passion.

By now, you’re probably feeling some type of way about Dominicans. In your mind you’re saying, avoid and abort any mission that is currently underway. It’s understandable, Dominican moms and consequently their daughters can be intense and demanding as f*ck. This article is not meant to demean the Dominican culture — I’m Dominican, ta da! I have no problem with self-deprecation. I think it’s funny, all these nonsense they say. But despite anything negative I might’ve suggested, I promise you this: there isn’t a culture as hospitable, welcoming and FUN as Dominicans. You’re in for a treat. Think about it; would you rather have an unstable but fun family or a sane but lame as hell one? Look, if I can find no balance in between, I’d pick the crazy one. We have a lot of living to do, might as well have fun on the way.

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Trump’s Cover-Up

Could it be it? Could it be that he’s worried the nation will find out that that awful thing resembling hair atop of his head is made in China?

I think we all secretly wish that was it. But, no. We’re witnessing the unraveling of a major cover-up here. Way to go, Electoral College, for placing this corrupt orange monster in charge of the USA.

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Dancing In and With the Rain

When you are caught in the rain, do you let it ruin your day or do you flow along with it?

I get why people are so afraid of the rain — no one wants to get their brand new shoes wet, or the clothes they just ironed, or the hair they just blow-dried, or smudge the mascara they just applied. How many times haven’t this happened to any of you? It’s happened to me so many times and, maybe by instinct, my first reaction is to run for shelter. Well, it happened again. I went to a street festival the other day where no one seemed to suspect that it would rain. Vendors had their deep-frying pans and meats all laid out on tables; artists painted on the sidewalk; musicians soaked in sweat played their dry instruments, and pedestrians, like my friend and I, walked in the middle of the street with beer in hand.

All of a sudden, it started pouring and we had not many options for shelter. My first reaction was to put my hands over my head to cover my hair. (What is it with women and hair?!) We entered a bar in the meantime and waited there for the rain to go away. It never did. So, my friend said, “Let’s just get wet!” (Wording is everything.) I hesitated, but then I agreed. It was pure elation.

It was liberating to walk and dance in the rain. And I don’t know why, but it felt as if I was doing something illegal and, as it happens with the forbidden, I had to quickly enjoy it before I got caught. But it’s easy to understand why doing something that we’ve avoided our whole life feels that way.

The rain had no plans on stopping. If we had waited until it went away, about an hour later, we would’ve missed out on most of that fun day. Sometimes, we’re too restrained. These are the little things that make life a bit more enjoyable. It was also great seeing how many people didn’t give a cucumber and just poured themselves out on the streets, like the rain, and danced the day away. Yes, my mascara smudged, my hair curled up, and my clothes got soaked. But the good memory from that wild rainy day will remain.

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Across the Bed

Why do you think we lie on our back sometimes across the bed when for answers we search? Arms spread out, down in defeat, as if by doing so the world would change a thing. Is it because it feels like the most comforting thing ever, or is it because we think the ceiling can hear us, can talk? Maybe baring our souls to the unknown gives us some weird kind of hope?

I have more questions than answers. Thus, if you do know, say so.

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Batsh*t Crazy Makes Me Drink

Here’s a little story.

I remember the night of November eighth. I wanted to go to a bar, be in the middle of the action, get ready to celebrate Hillary Clinton’s victory–just as I had for Obama last two elections. But sh*t escalated quickly.

My friend wanted to go to her brother’s house instead, so I went with her. Now I was stuck at this house with nothing but one glass of wine and a baby sleeping upstairs. Add personal troubles to the mix and here was a worst-case scenario at its best. Meanwhile, as the results kept coming in, all I wanted to do was go outside and scream. At the moment, I could not believe this was the people of the United States of America digging their own grave. (Now we have a pretty good idea of all the shade behind this election.) Everyone around me started feeling sick. I wanted to puke. The last time I felt that sick to my stomach it was September 11, 2001. How did we get here?

This election has been particularly tough to assimilate for pretty much any person of reason and morals.

We ended up going back to my friend’s house that night–no longer needing to celebrate–and downed a couple of tequila shots as if it were water. I can never do straight non-chilled shots, mind you, but I had to calm my anxiety somehow. I tried drowning my repulsiveness in alcohol, but it didn’t work. It was a hell of a terrible, sleepless night. And, if the Electoral College doesn’t come through on December 19th, I’m hoping to be drunk for the next four years.

Drink responsibly.

 

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