I can't tell jokes in Spanish so instead I wear a muzzle

Wearing a muzzle...   Wearing a muzzle...  I wear a muzzle. 

Its hard to think that I wear a muzzle in conversations as I am so outgoing, so grounded in my purpose. And yet I do wear a muzzle in my conversations with extended family. 

Its more than a muzzle. Now that I think about it.

It's a muzzle with a straight jacket. But let's just call the whole thing a muzzle. 

I am a fluent Spanish speaker. I should not have to wear this muzzle. 

"So what!" screams my otro yo! The other part of me that fills me inside with doubt, mockery, concern. Don't get me wrong. That part of me is totally useful in helping me keep my mouth shut from time to time and we've made friends. I get her.

But sometimes she gets cocky and just puts the muzzle on before I can get a word out. Or she leaves it on too long. And then the rebellious part in me rips that muzzle off-- right when the dam of conversation building up in me is about to break.  

Its a dangerous game these two play. My true self just laughs at the game of Russian roulette they play. And me, I am left searching for what to do. 

I speak fluent Spanish. I am super social, lovingly sarcastic. Hella funny.

"So What!" 

I can't discern jokes or make them in Spanish. Jokes are so important in Colombian life - they are practically a rite of passage. I can't tell them or get them in my family's native tongue and only like two people get my jokes in English and they are not here. So I sit there unsure of what to say. I feel uneasy in my own skin - like I could crawl out of it and that would be easier than staying in this awkward moment. 

Ooh, wait. I can tell that joke... in Spanish. But...what if my face doesn't say -- this is a joke. I will need to announce the joke before I even tell it - just in case no one can tell I am about to tell a joke. 

"Well, that's not funny." -- drum beat in the back. 

My self-critic is so active. Okay - so no jokes. Now what?

Maybe I should tell them I wish I could tell and get jokes in Spanish. Maybe they could help me? Maybe we would bond?

Checking back in to the conversation. Hey look! The moment has passed. They are back on baby pictures, again and who's walking. 

A sigh of relief and wait... what's that. Another part of me shows up to remind me this is another missed opportunity.

I speak and hear fluent Spanish. I am funny. Hella funny. 

"You ready now." 


I guess put that muzzle back on... voluntarily. 

One thing is clear. I am not practicing patience or mindfulness.

I am simply wearing a muzzle. 

Finding Freedom in a Broken Immigrant Family

The day after our independence day in the US, I reflect on my struggle to be American and maintain family ties in Colombia and the US. This is a personal account of my experience with family reunification and not at all a full account. I have a sizable, loving, opinionated mostly matriarchal family who will have other version of our story AND all our stories are right. For now, this is my story and it matters for me to tell it:

I sometimes wonder if we would have been better off just starting over and separating ties completely. What would our lives be like now?

Curiosity, being a fixer of relationships and love got the better of me, so I will thankfully never know the answer to that question. And in the meantime, I can reflect on how hard love is between immigrant families.

One of the struggles with my migration is the break in the family relationships. As we have moved to different countries, all of us picked up and learned new cultural habits, made new friends and created family by choice -- we essentially formed new bonds and these bonds change us completely. This is also true for the family that "stayed behind." They changed and experienced the world in new ways, influencing who they are today.

One of the most painful and uncertain things for me is trying to reestablish the connection with family over the last four or so years. In my effort to reunite with my family, I find sometimes there have been more failures on my part that successes. I have been actively working on it, investing, time, resources and mostly emotions to put myself out there and also to encourage my mother back into relationship with her own siblings. The road to doing so has been fraught with ups and downs, glimpses of real love and joy, followed by long roads of confusion, silence and misunderstanding. To be clear, it has all been worth it.

And I know this because of my visit to Greece. Greece is a country of beautiful people, wondrous food and amazing views of the Aegean Sea. I spent time in the Cyclades islands and they are also a place filled with rocky terrain, dryness and parts that seem rough and untended to. This is thanks in part to a very large goat population who can eat almost anything in sight. And they are very effective and committed. Despite their efforts to keep the land arid and the vegetation prickly, the Greek community keeps growing new vegetation. They never give up - or maybe they do for sometime - and they keep coming back and finding new ways to maybe outsmart the goats or live in harmony with them. Who knows. What we do know is how much love and commitment that the Greek community has to grow something and make the islands green. A lot of resilience.

My family and the reunification process is no different than the Cyclades islands and the Greeks who tend to it.

Like growing a new tree, there are huge expectations in the reunification process when families are trying to come together again. We expect to know something about each other because of our family ties, some shared family values, some glimpse of looking alike or having similar mannerisms brings a desire to know each other. But the truth is we know very little to nothing.

Yet we expect to know each other -- to instantly fall in place. We expect to get along, to know each other’s personalities and moods. We stay under the same roof, hoping that it will work itself out. And then, nothing….

The shoe doesn’t drop but it doesn’t stay on either. We seem to be suspended in time. It’s the only place where we can meet safely. That time you were six and we got stuck on the monkey bars… The old pink house we all grew up in… the parties at Christmas… Those are safe memories we all share and while we don’t remember them the same, we do remember some part of them, keeping us linked in time.

If we want to grow together, we must move past these stories that have us suspended in time and place. We must cultivate a beginner’s mind and allow for a new story to grow, one we all have a stake in.

Trying to tell the stories of our life after the break is scary, fraught with expectations and perceptions of each other. Explaining why we have been apart and the pressures of migration and separation which no one wants to hear or even tell, are even scarier. After all being suspended in time, means nothing happened, we are all good. We feel good and our lives are in tact. We look like what society wants us to be.

And yet telling the real stories would heal our wounds, fill the break in the river that has run dry. Fill it with enough water to get us to the ocean—to fill our hearts with the love and compassion necessary to know each other again. What would it take to tell these stories?

First, vulnerability – a level of stripping down to stories of change, love, shame, embarrassment that really bring to life who we are today separate and apart from our collective identity. When those stories show up, they are like glimmers of hope that we might be together.

Second, commitment – be willing to hold hands while disagreeing or even fighting about the choices we have made -- good or bad-- in our relationships with each other. This is essential to figuring out the road ahead.

Third, unconditional love – be willing to believe the other person’s story as real even if it differs from your own experience. This may be the glue between vulnerability and commitment. I have my share of stories of why our family broke apart, why we moved on without each other. They also have stories that may differ. Can we love each other beyond the differences? Can we hear the stories with love and compassion without trying to make someone right or wrong in the process.

This is the bridge the lies between my family and I. This is also one part of my American-Colombian-Dominican-Migration story.

Some of them will hate this exposure of us and I am okay with that because this is a part of who I am. And so maybe this puts a crack in the glass, so we can feel more, see each other with different eyes. Or maybe this helps someone else ready to do the work with their own family.

How to be an instrument of change during a time of Extreme Division

Like an indecisive 18-year old college student trying to choose a major, Americans are literally trying to sort out who we want to be when we grow up. Everyone in my orbit, including me, are working through the question – what do we do now as we face a divided country?

Some say do a little bit of everything while others say focus on what's most important and do that well. I think there is value in both of these things and I see a bigger problem on the horizon. Our inability to develop a shared vision for change.

I find myself wondering if during this time of high impermanence, we could give birth to something beyond our wildest dreams -- something better than what we have built to date. As part of a community of progressive leaders, it is really easy to default to what we know, rallies, protests, policy actions, research, etc. These are important actions and we should be thinking about what else is possible.

So what question could we be asking ourselves in favor of advancing greater connection?

If I want to be an instrument of change, I find that I need to be deeply grounded in a set of core values that speaks to me. This is easier said than done. We receive signals about values from many directions over the course of our lives. Yet we spend little time developing, honing and deepening our relationship to those values in order to stay focused on what we want to accomplish in our careers, our communities and with our families. 

As a woman of color, and the daughter of an immigrant mother who came to this country seeking feminine liberation, growing in a rich and diverse community, it was hard to locate my identity. So many stories and lost histories and separation of migration, made it difficult to have a clear identity. At best I knew I was a good daughter, who feared God (thanks to Catholicism) and at worst, I knew I wasn't white and that being white came with privileges I didn't have. So over my time in college, It became more about who I wasn't and less about who I was. There in fact was no space or time to find my own identity as I worked to provide at home and send money to Colombia. It took me almost 15 years post college to get back to me and 20 in total to relocate and grow my core values. 

So what happened while I was searching for those values? I advanced everyone else's cause. I learned the stories of communities, survivors of violence, I learned to listen with different ears to women who were struggling to be heard and others who were being treated liked second class citizens. I listened to stories of blackness, the African diaspora and tried to locate myself somewhere in there. I also learned to listen to my body and let go of the suffering that I carried in my self from being told my stories were not true, my insights invaluable and my body was not beautiful. I was tossed around by my own people, by white communities and by men who felt they had the right to speak about me even when not spoken to and the women who were willing to listen --- and much more. 

I tell this story, as a means of highlighting reconciliation. If we want to be agents of change, we have to begin with ourselves. I had to be committed to the constant evolution of my own identity. Even as I emptied out the labels others had given me, I still had to choose what I wanted for myself and what my unique gifts were. In order to stretch my ideas of compassion for others, I had to deepen the compassion I had for myself.  This country needs to learn to listen with new ears. 

As a coach, I hear stories of oppression, shame, humiliation coming from women no matter their economic status. They literally and energetically reject their identities to fit into the mainstream identity which is impossible-- impossible because the mainstream identity refuses to identify itself in any deeper way. Women are complex beautiful beings with deep and unique gifts that can transform society. If we allow ourselves to explore those gifts, individually and collectively, the possibilities for change and intervention are limitless.  

So let's stretch ourselves and our ideas. Let go of the egos and ask ourselves, what healing and reconciliation do I need to do with myself before I work with others? What transformation do I need to undergo before I can support transformation in my family and my community? Can I go deep into each aspect of my identity and its complexity to reflect back a sense of purpose, energy and clarity that is not about the deficit of who I am but the wholeness of who I am becoming? 

If I can do that individually, I can work with others toward wholeness. It doesn't mean we have to wait until our garden is tended. It means we have to be active, engaged and bring a deep sense of cultural humility to every conversation. 

That depth is the beginning of making ourselves an instrument of change.