My Abuela: Mariana Gonzalez

She was a typical Puerto Rican woman in so many ways that pain me to explain:

  1. She never went to school and was illiterate.
  2. She had ten children and raised them alone.
  3. She lived in Brooklyn, NY in her adult years.
  4. She was taught to serve men.
  5. She sacrificed her entire life for her children.

 

My grandmother was a warrior. A luchadora. She passed from pancreatic cancer when I was 11 and therefore I really don’t know much about her. I’ve been taught that she had a difficult life but she always kept a smile on her face. She believed that no matter how little you have, you always have a plate of rice and beans to give someone. That’s love.

As I transition back into NYC, the place my grandmother called home for so many years, I’ve decided that I have to collect her story. I will go back to her old apartment in Downtown Brooklyn and find neighbors who remember her. I’ll book a flight to Arecibo, Puerto Rico and learn about her island years, the years that shaped her beginnings. I will write her story because she deserves to have it known to the world.

 

I love you, Abuela.

 

 

Stay tuned…

 

 

Gabrielle G.

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Strands and Roots

She combed my hair. I screamed, warning my elder brother to stop his mocking or he was seriously going to feel my eight-year old’s wrath. Tears streaming down my face, I cursed this black, curly mop atop my tender head. Why did it have to hurt so much? Why couldn’t my hair comb out gently like my friend Heather’s? Her auburn waves swished from side to side as she walked. My hair never moved; it defied movement. My favorite time of the day was when my hair was wet and in a ponytail. Although it dried to a curly poof, when it was wet, it swished for a few minutes. I felt pretty when my hair swished and immediately felt unworthy when it dried.

“Gabby! Look! You have blonde and red strands in your hair.” Sniffling and snotty, I ceased my sobbing. “I do? Where?” My mother pulled them over my head so I could see them and there they were. Indeed, this brown-skinned girl had blonde and red hair on her head. “But why?”

“That’s because your father is German and Irish, Gabby. See?” At that age, I wasn’t aware that red hair is actually not as common in Ireland as we all think it is, and I was swept up into the mystery of it all. My seemingly homogeneous black curly head was invaded by these straight blonde and red strands and I decided to find out where they started.
I used to study my face in the mirror next to my parents’ bedroom. Their union had created me, mixed me. I could clearly see that my skin resembled my mother’s although her tone seemed more of a true brown and I could glimpse traces of yellow and white in mine. My eyes were definitely hers: large and dark brown. I’ve been told that I have “mysterious” eyes. I think the only mystery is that you can’t see through them, like you can with blue and green eyes. I’m grateful for my dark eyes. My eyes hide the secrets I dare not tell. My hair I always assigned to my beautiful Puerto Rican mother, although her curls were looser and softer than mine had ever been. The day that my mother pointed out the different colors and textures of my hair, my mixed hair, I began to feel different.

Instead of studying my face, I began to spend time pulling my hair apart, separating the black coils from the blonde strands, desperately looking for the root. Where did this madness all begin? I could not explain it. There they were: different colors, different textures, co-existing on the same head, my head. This new discovery excited me! I used to look for evidence of my father in my features. I’d look in the looking glass and see brown, only brown, all over me. Now, I saw my father’s roots in my roots, even though the evidence was small. It seemed like only I could see these blonde and red strands. They were a private secret I kept inside. If anyone discounted my Germanic claim, I had the evidence in and on my head.

As a woman, I reflect on experiences like these and I think about the deeper significance of it all. What was eight-year old Gabrielle searching for? When people made jokes about her father, claiming that she wasn’t actually his biological child. She couldn’t be. She was brown and he was white. When people became investigators, picking apart her features and announcing which were “white” and which were “Puerto Rican”, as though the two are mutually exclusive. When people asked her why her name was Gabrielle and not Gabriella. When people made fun of her last name, Greiner, and asked why she had such a harsh name for a Latina. Oh she’s German? Maybe she had Nazi blood in her.
What was fifteen-year old Gabrielle searching for? When she got her first decent haircut of her life because none of the hairdressers in upstate NY were aware that curly hair exists. When she feared going grocery shopping with her father, lest the other customers think he was her sugar daddy or something. She made sure she always called him “Dad” and talked about “Mom” who was home cooking something delicious for Sunday dinner that night. When she faced questions as she got off the bus with her elder brother, her brother with the light skin. Her brother with the straight hair. “Is he your boyfriend, Gabby? Oh, your brother? You don’t look alike at all.” When she faced the daily micro-aggressions from white people and was rejected by Latinos at the same time, leaving her with her small family as support.

What is twenty-three year old Gabrielle searching for? When I check out travel books on Germany from the library. When I endeavor to learn German and end up laughing at how silly I sound, although this language is the language of half of my ancestors. When I make mistakes while speaking Spanish and feel such disgusting shame like a black cloud, hovering over me. They ask a lot of questions. “Oh, you don’t speak Spanish? What are you?” With every question, the rain drops fall quicker and thicker on my head, soaking my hair and impeding my vision. When I plan trips to Germany and Puerto Rico, even if I can never afford them, because I’m desperately searching for something. I think about eight-year old Gabby pulling apart her hair, searching for her roots, investigating for the evidence of her whiteness. That’s similar to what I’m doing now. But, I feel different. I’m not looking for my roots to prove myself to anyone, not even myself. My identity rests in a higher place, with my Heavenly Father. No, I’m looking for my roots because I can. I’m free to explore every aspect of myself. Even if I never learn German and my Spanish remains at a beginner level for a while, I am and will always be proudly Ricandeutsch, with my various colors of hair swirling atop my curly mop.

I Am Biracial (¡Guau! ¡No Me Digas!)

I am biracial.
Two races.
Two groups of people claim me as their own, or maybe they actually reject me.
I try to squeeze into the boxes you’ve placed in front of me, but somehow I can’t fit in.

Maybe it’s my hair that coils and springs freely.
My hair that moves wildly like an ocean wave crashing upon a Puerto Rican beach.
“Oh, girl you’re such a fiery Latina!”

Or perhaps it’s my skin color,
That mezcla of brown, yellow, and white.
“Your skin is so light, if you straighten your hair, you could pass.”
For white.
So you’re a Nazi.

I’m sorry, but I didn’t know this was a test. And what’s a passing score? White?

If so, I guess I’ve failed, because I got 50%.

And if this is a test, I was doomed to fail from the start.

Starting to think about my ethnicity the more you play games with it.

“What are you?”

What am I? A beloved daughter of the King.

You toy with my identity like we’re on the playground but half of me is on the wall waiting to be picked.

Which half? Depends on who YOU are.

People of color love to reaffirm my Puerto Rican “sassy” flavor.

And Caucasians are thrilled when they hear me speak. You see, I’ve been told I “speak well.” Speak well for what?

What do you think this is? Is my identity something malleable that you can stretch and stretch to fit your preconceived notions of what you think I should be?

Because I want to know when my ethnic identity became in any way related to our dependent upon you.

You need to know that I decide how I express my cultures. I choose which to identify with.

But you know, maybe I identify with both! That’s something we both know is unsettling to the idea of me in your head.

But, thankfully, even if I claim both cultures equally, shocking I know, you can still choose how you see me.

Because I am biracial.
Two races.
Two groups of people claim me as their own, or maybe they actually reject me.
I try to squeeze into the boxes you’ve placed in front of me
But somehow I can’t fit in.

And I don’t want to anymore.

Being a Bruja Isn’t Cute

Dear readers, there is a disturbing trend going around the young Latino community: Brujeria (witchcraft). Now, brujeria has been in Latino culture since the African slaves came to the various Latino countries and brought it with them. Latinos have mixed brujeria and Catholicism together, culminating in a different religion called Santeria (still witchcraft). I have a previous blog post on Santeria, which I’ll link here:

https://parakajol.wordpress.com/2017/07/09/restoring-distorted-family-legacies/

 

In this post, I want to discuss the trend that is becoming popular lately. Young Latin women are “reclaiming” the word “bruja” (witch) and using it as a way to identify themselves. To them, “bruja” means a strong, assertive, culturally-aware femme. Some of these women may participate in brujeria, but some may just use the term to describe themselves.

Readers, being a bruja isn’t cute. These modern-day brujas have turned withcraft into an aesthetic they can try on for a while, but they are certainly not prepared for the intense spiritually evil ramifications that come with this “play”. They play with crystals, tarot cards, and Ouija boards, thinking that they’re connecting with their culture.

To be frank, if a person calls themselves a bruja and they engage in brujeria, they are inviting demonic spirits to inhabit their bodies and ruin their lives/the lives of those around them. Even if the person claims to practice “white magic” (magic for the benefit of people), magic is magic. Magic is evil. Magic is wrong. Just because a culture claims it as a cultural practice does not mean that it’s beneficial for you or for anyone around you. The spirits may be your friends in the beginning, but they will turn on you and abuse your mind and body to get what they want, which ultimately is human destruction.

If we’re honest, we have to admit that not every aspect of every culture is beneficial or positive. I’m sure no one would argue that the gender inequality in the Middle East or South Asia is acceptable because “that’s just their culture.” So, why are we accepting witchcraft as a potential pastime for Latinos just because it is a part of our culture?

Whether you believe brujeria is real or not, whether you think the spiritual realm exists or not, I pray and hope that you understand that brujeria is not the way to get what you want. It is not the way to find the peace your soul seeks. We all want control; we want to feel like we have some say in what happens to us on Earth. This life is so hectic at times and we wonder what the purpose of it all actually is. Readers, the only One who can give you peace beyond human understanding is Jesus Christ. 

Jesus Christ says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” – John 14:27

 

Here’s what the Bible says about witchcraft:

https://www.gotquestions.org/Bible-witchcraft.html

I pray that you read this article with an open heart and mind. If you’re caught in witchcraft or know someone who is, call out to Jesus to set you free! He will answer those who call on His name in earnest.

 

Here’s the story of one Latino man who was caught in brujeria:

 

 

Blessings,
Gabrielle G.

Restoring Distorted Family Legacies

If you ask me what my family has been known for throughout the generations, I could easily list several negative things: drug abuse, domestic violence, witchcraft, poverty, lack of education, etc.

We’re also known for our resilience. Many of us have served the US through military service. Most of the younger generation has dedicated their lives to serve The Lord. 

These positive aspects of my family’s legacy don’t really outweigh the negative aspects, especially when you consider the spiritual realm.

One of the more painful parts of my family’s legacy has been the involvement in witchcraft, or Santeria, as Latinos like to call it. Santeria is not considered witchcraft by many Latinos, rather it is viewed as the cultural expression of Latino Christianity. Yes, those who practice Santeria believe themselves to be Christian, most of the time. They pray to saints with candles (the ones you see at the botanicas on the street), they have statues of saints that they feed, give money to, or do some other type of ritual to. But, many of these people will tell you that they love Jesus and they do these rituals for good. This “religion” came from our African ancestors who were forced into Catholicism. Rather than give up their paganism, they simply molded the two together and worshipped their idols under the guise of Catholicism.

Readers, Santeria is NOT Christianity. Jesus tells us that we cannot mix light and dark. Light has no fellowship with darkness. (2 Cor. 6:14-17). Jesus repeatedly tells us in Scripture that He is the only way to God (John 14:6), and that He is the ONLY mediator (I Timothy 2:5). Scripture warns us in multiple passages against becoming involved in the occult and gives us examples of people who give up that life to follow Jesus. (Deut. 18:10-11, Lev. 19:31, Acts 16:16-18, Acts 19:19).

Santeria was the legacy of my family. It kept my Puerto Rican family in bondage for generations. The Lord in His tender lovingkindness looked upon my mother and chose her to be the one to break this generational sin. He did this by instructing her in His ways from her childhood and as a result, her mother (my abuela) came to faith as did I, also in my childhood.

Praise be to The Lord!

Since Santeria is witchcraft, we know that those who practice it are exposed to demonic activity and to possession by demons themselves. I have to wonder if the vicious cycles of drug abuse, domestic violence, molestation, poverty, and lack of education are all due to my family’s involvement with witchcraft. I’m inclined to believe that it’s the cause, because we know that The Lord brings restoration, peace, and comfort to our souls.

It’s tough for me to swallow this part of my family’s legacy. I wish it were not so, but then The Lord reminds me that He takes the most unlikely candidate and turns them into one of His fiercest and bravest soldiers. Although my family was bound in the past, the generations to come (should The Lord tarry), will not be bound by any of those generational sins and curses.

Who would have thought that the great-granddaughter of a woman who practiced Santeria would be a strong-minded, discerning, loyal follower of Jesus Christ? I thank God that He is restoring my family’s story through my mother and through my own life as well.

How does one restore their family’s legacy? Simple. Jesus! Give your life to Jesus and He breaks any generational sin and/or curse. He will restore what has been broken through His hand over your life.

 

Rest in His arms,

 

Gabrielle G.