Self-Denial and Your Calling (Puerto Rico?)

Readers,

I’m sure you’ve been keeping up to date with the news on Puerto Rico, as we all should. Although the President says that the government’s relief efforts have been extraordinary, the faces of the people in Puerto Rico are telling me otherwise. The incredible mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulin Cruz, has given passionate pleas for Puerto Ricans, using such strong words like “dying” and “genocide.” Wow, and that’s the capital city.

So if those in the capital city are suffering so viciously, we must accept that there are many in the campo (countryside) who are worse off. They have no water, no electricity, no food, and no medical supplies. I’m certain that the death toll is much higher than the government believes it to be. I have no doubt that there are many Puerto Ricans in the campo who have died in their homes and relief workers simply haven’t found them yet.

This disastrous hurricane has raised so many feelings inside of me. I’ve been turning various options over in my mind, trying to find how God could be calling me to respond in the wake of this tragedy. The Lord knows that my Spanish isn’t the best and I don’t have enough work experience to convince myself that I can make a difference in Puerto Rico.

While many Puerto Ricans are leaving the island, as recovery is likely to take decades, there are countless others who have no such luxury. They cannot leave the island. They must stay until their dying day, which may be quickened by the terrible conditions Puerto Rico now suffers from. 

How can I get involved? What are my talents? Well, I can teach English. I can work with children. I can hand out supplies to those in need. I can be a mentor to teenage girls.

What are my spiritual gifts? I have the gift of exhortation, empathy, teaching, and faith. NO DOUBT God can use those.

But, what do I lack? Language skills. I know that on my own, without the Holy Spirit’s help, it will be incredibly difficult to share the gospel with anyone in Spanish.

This is what keeps me from moving to the island and investing in my fellow Puerto Ricans. Funnily enough, a lack of language skills hasn’t deterred me from thinking about serving God in India, because I’m not Indian. No one would expect me to know Hindi, Bengali, Malayalam, Tamil, etc. But, because I’m Puerto Rican, I face some backlash for not speaking the language as well as I’d like. I face shame. I face rejection, I face questions about my upbringing. 

I think of Moses. When God called him back to his own people, the people he wasn’t raised with, he kept complaining that he wouldn’t know how to speak to the people. God gave him Aaron for that. I hope to find my own Aaron along the way to be my mouthpiece until I can become fluent in Spanish.

Will I move to Puerto Rico? Perhaps. Do I want to? Hell yeah. To go back to the island my grandmother called home would be an honor. To return to my roots and invest in my people would be a gift. I pray that the Holy Spirit helps me get over myself enough for me to actually do this.

 

I don’t want to meet the King of Kings face to face and say I never left New York City because I was scared to be rejected. I want to tell Him that I left all I ever knew, planted myself in a poor country where I hardly spoke the language, and loved the people well. All for Him. It’s all for Him. It’s time to pray.

 

Blessings,

 

Gabrielle G.

 

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Hurricane Maria and Puerto Rico

It is very hard to be a Puerto Rican, which is to be an American, and to read some of the nasty comments people post online about how the US government should or should not help Puerto Rico in Hurricane Maria’s wake.

I have read many racist comments about Puerto Ricans, saying that we are unintelligent, incompetent, rude, white-haters, etc. These people tend to be the first to island hop throughout the Caribbean, tasting the delights of the islands, while simultaneously hating the black and brown hands that serve them Mojitos on the beach.

My mind is blown when I read these comments, but it should not be so shocking. Most Americans are terribly ignorant of the fact that Puerto Rico is a colony of the US. Oh did I write “colony”? I meant “commonwealth.” (We’re really a colony.)

When Spain and the US fought over our island, we were shifted from Spanish hands into American ones. America granted us citizenship in 1917, oh how convenient. Right when they needed men for WWI.

The US is the country that denied us the right to fly our flag and to govern ourselves for quite some time. It is also the country that forced sterilizations on Puerto Rican women, most of whom were completely ignorant of the operation and the repercussions of it.

Why did they sterilize us? Well, it was an effort to “help” us, they proclaim, yet we know the truth. They were tired of using their precious money to care for poor, colored Puerto Rican children. They thought that sterilizing us and testing birth control on our women would rectify that situation.

So, does the US owe anything to Puerto Rico in terms of humanitarian aid? You bet your ass they do. They stripped us of our autonomy and our right to be free. US taxpayers should pay for the restoration of a land that so many Beckys enjoy during Spring Break.

Puerto Rico is a beautiful island, filled with resilient, intelligent, colorful, joyful people. I am one of them, although I was born in NYC (Puerto Rico #2). We are teachers, doctors, mothers, sisters, nephews, shop-owners, preachers, and above all, people. We are people. We are American. Help us.

 

Moving Back to NYC! (#Adulting)

Well, it’s been a week since I’ve been back in NYC. I’ve done so many things:

 

  1. Saw Miss Saigon (I’m obsessed. See it NOW!)
  2. Indulged in happy hour at a hipster bar in the gentrified part of town (it’s still cute, doe)
  3. Got my first massage (I’ve been missing out!)
  4. Frolicked around Spanish Harlem (PR food is the best)
  5. Ate lots of arepas (#VenezuelaLibre)

After all of this fun, with my friends back to their normal schedules, I’m left sitting on my new bed, a couch in an apartment that belongs to a friend of a friend. I have no private space of my own in this place, but I like it. It’s spacious and in a “good” part of Washington Heights. “Good” means there are fewer PoCs and more hipster bars.

As I dash about the city from doctor appointments to job interviews to laundromats to Target (I need cheap furniture), I think about the past few months. My life was essentially on hold while living in Georgia. I was stripped from all familiarity, so to come back to NYC, my home, should be thrilling right??

Yes and no. I love NYC. My heart beats with the chug chug of the A train as I zip uptown to Wash Heights. I enjoy buying pastelitos and piraguas from the street vendors. (Support Latino street vendors!) I love being with my friends again.

But, something has changed.

I’m older now, not in number but in wisdom. I’m wary of this city. I know this city has the power to build but also to destroy to the point of desperation. I was there.

I pray that this city is kinder to me this time around. I ask God to expand my friend groups and to grow my faith community.

I’ll keep you guys updated.

 

Blessings,

 

Gabrielle G.

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.

Mezcla by Gabrielle Krystal Greiner

Growing up biracial in upstate NY was like living in two different worlds that ignored each other: a white world and an “other” world. The white world consisted of the Italians, Germans, Jews, Irish, and other European descendants. The “other” world housed…everyone else: Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, East Asians, African-Americans, Indians, Pakistanis, etc. We were all lumped into that suffocating group called “other.” That word always baffled me and it still ticks me off when I see it listed on governmental forms that ask me to tick off my “race.” What is other? What’s “other” to me may not be “other” to you, and vice versa. It just seems like it’s a word with no weight: it’s empty.
In my household, my brother and I had parents from two different worlds that loved each other: “German white man” and “Puerto Rican other woman.” My last name is very German and since my first name isn’t Maria or Carmen, most people assume I am completely white before they meet me. I imagine prospective employers glance at my name on my resume and think, “Oh she’s white. Let’s call her.” Maybe that’s my own insecurity, but maybe not. I wonder if the interviewer is disappointed to see that I’m not fully white. Or maybe they’re excited to see that I am a person of color, so I can help them appear to be “diverse.” It’s something to ponder.
Since I grew up in a suburban neighborhood, this means that I grew up with white kids. Most of my friends from my childhood were white and I saw nothing wrong with that. The concept of ethnicity, I hate the word “race”, never really impacted me. Yes, my parents are of two different skin colors, but what does that signify?
Unfortunately, when I was around fourteen, my notions of ethnicity shifted and I felt pressured to give in to cultural stereotypes. The other Latinas at my school, none of them my friends, silently pressured and persuaded me to drop my “white girl act”, and start speaking in Ebonics. If I were to wear earrings, they must be massive hoops. My jeans must be so tight that my stomach bulges over top and my t-shirts must be equally tight so my body looks like it’s in sausage casing. My preferred music choices, namely the Beatles and Edith Piaf, had to change. Now I was to listen to Daddy Yankee and Marc Anthony. Oh, and the fact that I’m not fluent in Spanish? Huge problem. I should learn Spanish because I’m not Puerto Rican enough without the language constantly flowing off my tongue.
All of these things I could pretend to enjoy for a short while, but one thing made me realize that I was indeed “other” and no amount of reggaeton or Apple Bottom jeans would change that: I had light skin. You see, prior to this point, I always assumed that my skin was a caramel shade of brown. It was compared to my white friends, but the other Latinas were darker than I. In my mind, to be a Latina, you had to be dark. One winter day, meaning one day when I was especially pale and yellow, my father drove me to school and I asked him to buy me a self-tanner.

“Why do you want a self-tanner? You’re already tan.”

“I know, Dad, but I’m not dark enough. I want to be darker because I feel like I look weird. My skin is so light but my other features are very Puerto Rican. I just want to look…normal.”

My dad was quiet for a long time but his silence said everything that he could not say to his vulnerable mixed child.

Finally, he said, “I’ll buy you that if you want it.”

What I realize now is that my hatred of my skin was actually a form of hatred of him. If not hatred, then rejection. By rejecting my light skin, I was rejecting my father and his German blood that rushes through my veins. I was telling him, “I’m ashamed to be related to you. My conception was a mistake. Now I’ve got to fix that mistake you’ve created.” Perhaps I’m being a bit melodramatic, but you get the gist. After much prayer and careful consideration, I changed my mind. I didn’t buy the self-tanner and I thank God that I didn’t. I still struggle with accepting my skin color. Some days, I wish I were darker. Others, I wish I were lighter. I know that it will take my entire life to understand who I am as a woman, a Puerto Rican, a German, and a Christian.

But, it’s a process that I aim to enjoy as best I can. Everyone has an opinion on my ethnic identity but mine is the only one that matters. As a person who is Ricandeutsch, yes I coined my own ethnic term, I have allowed myself to enjoy eating rice and beans while I watch Jane Austen films. I can sip on the sweet coconut syrup from a piragua, a Puerto Rican snowcone, while vehemently arguing why When Harry Met Sally is the greatest film ever made. I don’t adhere to anyone’s definition of Latina or “white.” I create my own definition and dance through my own world, knowing that I’m breaking the borders society built around me. I pray that while I walk in freedom, I can bring this liberation to so many other young girls and boys who are told they are not enough, simply because they were born in between.

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.