mini revolutions

This is the piece I read at the recent blogtitlan feminista gathering in Chicago.  This piece I felt was apropos for the event in that it was about Chicago, and about me finding my independence in the Windy City.  I didn’t want to post it here until I’d read it and until my companion on my mini-revolutions had heard it as well.  It is long but I hope you find yourself laughing and picturing me fierce with emotion.  (The other two pieces I read were Why I, and maybe we, blog   and ay no se que hacer..)


I like walking down the street with him, holding hands enjoying our contradictions. We are opposites here. The city is his; he is comfortable in its clamorous chaos, while I weasel and fake my way into the big city, leaving my insecurities as the small cow-town corn field, naïve girl behind.   I feel like a grown-up, but you know, the kind that is free? The kind that isn’t concerned about where they need to be, or who they need to be answering to.  I am free; I am a big city woman, not a little girl from Ohio.   I am a woman in Chicago!

We walk into the bank alcove and our hands let go, as he fumbles with his papers to make the atm deposit.  Still in the alcove of the bank, he fixated on his banking, in complete oblivion to the revolution I’m about to instigate.  I am about to start the kind of revolution Michele Serros of Chicana Falsa fame would incite.  You know the story, where she grabs the “Hispanic Vegetables” from the frozen food section and asks why they are cut up so small? Is it because we are smaller? We are less of a people?  She unites the shoppers of the grocery store and they walk out united in the revolution against chopped up frozen food labeled “Hispanic vegetables”.  THIS is the kind of revolution I’m about to start!  Oh, if he only knew about the revolution and wasn’t so concerned with his deposit.

I’m staring into the bank, glaring at six picture frames, and in each frame is a head shot with a name beneath it.  Each frame holds a picture of a white man, named either Mike or Michael.  They are the branch manager, the loan manager, the small business manager etc.

I stare fiercely at the frames; the revolution is boiling within me and it makes me laugh out loud.  Inside the tellers have caught on to my staring.  Mind you again, he is still oblivious to my revolution…he is doing his banking.   I can see the three tellers discussing what it possible is I could be staring at, belly laughing at, and it is decided one of them must approach me and ask.

The lone woman teller walks towards me opens the glass door that separates us, and inquires “Is there something I may help you with?”  I smile, that revolutionary smile, the smile that will get you a chanclaso from your mother, and I respond “Oh no, I am just laughing at the fact that all six of your managers are white guys named Michael”

It is at this moment he comes out of his banking distractions and realizes I am up to something.  The teller, a middle aged plump white lady, looks at me and says “Yeah, we really can’t help how they are named”.  I chuckle again “Yeah, you really can’t help it either that the only people who know how to manage well, are white men”.  It is now her turn to stare, albeit at me, and she is completely dumbfounded.

He of course, has understood that this isn’t going to be a normal banking day.  He pops his hoodie up and with the utmost haste begins to walk out.  I follow him, glowing in the fact that I have started a revolution!

With my head swimming in thoughts of the revolution, he affectionately jests “That’s one more place in Chicago I can’t go because of you.”  I quip “Don’t worry, at the bank, all you black men look alike, they won’t be able to tell the difference and next time, don’t try to be inconspicuous by throwing your hoodie up and quickly walking away.  I hear that doesn’t work well for black men”.

He non-verbally mends the situation by restoring our clasped hands, and I begin to think of all the places he says he can’t go back to because of my many one woman mini-revolutions: the Wicker Park Walgreens, the Logan Square Chicago Deli, all three Sultans, the stop where the blue and orange line connect, and now the bank.  Maybe I have created my independent Chicago woman persona; I’m a revolucionaria without a cause.

Knowledge through Music

Going through old emails and found this exchange with a friend.  I asked him first if I could post it here and he agreed.  For a bit of background, my friend is a pretty well known underground (isn’t that an oxymoron?) hip hop artist and dedicated father.  He helped me put together a nice compilation of music for Olga after her accident, and via that still claims Nina Simone as one of her favorite artists.  Also, as an aside,  to the exchange below I let the students in the after school program curse.    I explained to them that my goal was to help them be as eloquent as possible and that sometimes curse words are necessary and powerful but we have to know why we use them.  I showed them the following Saul Williams clip where he explains what he means by “mother fuckers” and I told them, that if they were to curse, I wanted them to defend their word choice as eloquently as Saul Williams, if not, there was no point in using that word (skip to 1:14).

im running an after school program.  all the kids live in the same apartment complex (subsidized housing)  all are on food stamps and only two families have dads.   some of my kids also, don’t go to school because they have been suspended (yes i know it is called an afterschool program).  Not one of my students is white.

anyway been trying to get them to learn about the history of hip hop.  tired to watch “Fresh” with them, tried to assign each of them a hip hop artist like KRS-One and K’Naan.  Aksed them to research how spoken word is related to hip hop, same with graffiti and break dancing.  Tried to get them to listen to some Saul Williams.  Today I am going to do MURS with them and his song “The Science”.

I just don’t know how to get them interested. I am really struggeling.  They’ve talked through the documentaries.  Called Saul Williams a fag and blew him off.  Don’t understand why we can’t do mainstream “artists”.

any suggestions?
elena mary


and his response:

if the names you picked where what I was exposed to I wouldn’t have fallen in love with hip hop the way I did. Now I’m from a different time and its hard to get a young kid today to get into some shit that came out before they were born because they are programmed to like what they hear all day.

Judging by there responses here are some concious but not soft suggestions.

Eric b and rakim – start with juice (know the ledge) and then give them the paid in full album.
Public enemy – it takes a nation of millions
Kool g rap – the streets of new york
What krs did you give em? Try by all means necessary. My philosophy specifically.
Dead prez – its bigger than hiphop and I’m an african
Nas is a good bridge. Genius. Conscious. Positive but street level at the same time.

Its tough because I listened to a lot of ignorant shit but I was balanced by positive and educating parents so I knew the ignorant shit was just entertainment. These kids don’t.

Without any interest fresh would bore them. Have them watch “the show” but screen it first alone since I haven’t seen it in a while and might not be appropriate.

Start there and let me know how it goes


I’ve been thinking a lot about this email exchange and that program.  I didn’t realize how fulfilling it was, and how good I was at it.  It has taken years.  You know, my attendance quadrupled (yeah quadrupled) compared to all previous teachers and I took back students that had been suspended (the administrators made it my call).  I had a soft spot in my heart for those kids that had been suspended, although I am not sure they ever fully trusted me.  All of my students increased their grades and attendance not just for my program but for their schools too.  It was awesome.  I wonder if this is what people like Gustavo, and Cesar EMC, and Cindylu feel all the time.


Ladies and Mountain Bikes

I participated in a mountain bike race in Tunchang, Hainan, China, I believe February before last.

Elenamary in Tunchang, Hainan International Mountain Bike Race

Elenamary in Tunchang, Hainan              International Mountain Bike Race

There were to be prizes for the top finishers in the men and women’s categories. At some point during the day, it was decided that the prize money that was originally to be awarded to the 3 first placing women would be given instead to the men.    They then added on the amount of money and the number of places that would be given prizes in the men’s categories thus completely eliminating any prize for the women.  As annoying, as it was, it was not my country nor culture, and I was pleased enough to have been invited to compete.

I received an invite earlier this week to be a spectator in Taxco, Mexico (my hometown) for the Down Hill Taxco 2012 mountain bike race at the beginning of November.  It looked so awesome that I messaged the organizers and asked if there was still room to compete and if not could I at least volunteer.  I received a response back that competition was by invitation only and nothing to my question about volunteering.   It seemed odd to me, and so I messaged back and asked how many women had been invited to participate.  In fact I have now messaged them a total of 6 times asking how many women have been invited to participate without a single response.  I’m guessing the answer is that zero women were invited, and zero will compete.  Here is a promotional youtube video of the race a few years ago, when it was then sponsored by Red Bull beverage.  The only pictures or videos I have ever seen of women participating were of women scantly dressed as Red Bull cheerleaders or as beauty queens for the competition.  What are the men afraid of that they won’t even invite a woman to compete?

I am going to re write this in Spanish and send this to the organizers in Mexico, letting them know that yes mountain bike racing in China was sexiest but at least they never stopped us ladies from participating.

The Black Nerd

The black nerd.  Not sure if  people are saying the phrase “black nerd” more or if I’ve just been reading so much on Donald Glover (swoon) lately that I’m reading the phrase more.  I’ve always had a place in my heart for the social awkward, for the nerds, for those who become fanatical over obscure and typically inherently anti-social pastimes.  Like my old friend Miles Curtiss who is obsessed with open source software, community gardens, and playing really bad music, and throws susagefests where he and the boys pay dungeons and dragons.  My long time friend Derek M, who was the lone black kid in our high school, on the chess team ( I was the lone Latina), and super into Magic the Gathering (GIANT NERD alert).  There are the black visual artist nerds like my friend Derek Stewart and my ex El-Amin Asadi.  Ashley the classically trained performance artist, Jahi the cycling enthusiast (another word for nerd), and KyJah who once said, and it has stuck with me forever, “solving a difficult math problem can be as beautiful as finishing a great novel”.  All the black people in my life are some kind of nerds, or more accurately, all the people I let in my life are nerds, in some way or another.  What I am also getting at, is that black nerds aren’t as a rare of a breed as some would have us believe.  (Did you know there are more black cardiologists than NBA players?)

A friend of mine was ranting about how someone had told him, he thought he was better than others and I interrupted and said “You are better than others” he disagreed with me and I argued that the world is full of a lot of people and limited time.   The people I choose to let in my life better be awesome or why waste my precious moments?  My friends are better than the average person, and I enjoy their company way better than I do the average person, that is why they are my friends.  Who wouldn’t want to embrace the black nerd?  Who wouldn’t want to embrace nerds in general?   Why is it brilliance and creativity is supposed to be foreign or new for black folk?  Or why does the idea exist that as the non-dominant group we reject nerds?  I sure as hell don’t.  Like it is a bad thing to be around, smart, creative, individuals who wrap themselves in the vivid colors of life.

I encourage you to seek out creative, brilliant, loving, inspiring people, and I promise to do the same.  Here are a few good places to start I think:

Read It:

We Are Respectable Negroes“He is also a resplendent purveyor of negro wisdom and collector of Black wit. Holder of the sacred chalice of the Ghetto Nerds. A believer in Black Pragmatism and the glories of the Black Freedom Struggle.”

Listen to it:
Roosevelt Franklin Something’s Gotta Give:  “The sing-a-long chorus of “S N M” sums up Roosevelt Franklin’s/conundrum: ‘Smart nigger music/that’s how they label it/like we should be ashamed for saying it/cuz the radio stations they ain’t playin it but I don’t care man, I’m a stay makin’ it.’ “

Watch it:

Comics Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele  Comedy sketch about being black nerds


SIDE NOTE:    yes i recognize only one black female nerd getting mentioned here…but that is a whole other post… please remember the black man got the right to vote long before women did in this country…so yeah i am keeping today’s post very heavily male dominated.

Cinco de Mayo in the Gateway

I live in a neighborhood commercially known as “The Gateway” (read government supported gentrification) although I prefer calling it by the more historical name Weinland Park.

While walking home from the gym last night I saw this advertisement:

Cinco de Mayo at Gateway

I did check out the website and the “events and specials” seem to be discounts on alcohol at two bars, the “Irish” one and the “Mexican” one (Kildare’s and Made Mex).  Which to me is personally interesting because an Irish friend visiting the US called me a couple days ago and asked what this Cinco de Mayo thing was all about.  I told her it was an annoying holiday only celebrated in the US.  I compared it to St. Paddy’s but the difference being in Ireland people have actually heard of St Patrick’s day.

My Mexican aunt who first witnessed cinco de mayo a few years ago, asked me why all the college students were sitting in their yards drinking beers while wearing sombreros.  How would you answer that one?   Anyway, back to the advertisement,  I am offended by it but am having difficulty articulating why, and was hoping my readers could help me out.  On a positive note, it is less offensive than the “spicy” one the North Market had a few years ago:
Cinco D' Ohio