y si quieren saber de mi pasado, es preciso decir una mentira, les dire que llegue de un mundo raro, que no se del dolor, que triunfe en el amor y que nunca he llorado…
Every week I buy roses for my wela. My maternal grandmother passed away over a year ago and since I don’t live close to where she is buried, I buy her roses and put them next to her picture on my altar at home. Funny thing is I don’t even know if she likes roses, I can’t recall her expressing a love of any particular kind of flower, in fact I’m sure the only plant she loved was the bougainvillea that was in her front yard, because she had planted it and had been there since she purchased her home on good old ‘H’ Street in the early 1950s. I’m sure if my wela was alive and I tried to bring her flowers she would yell at me for spending money on something like flowers. But that’s how moms and abuelitas are, right? Their scolding is their way of showing appreciation, since they probably don’t feel appreciated as often as they should, I think a lot about how much my Wela gave me in her lifetime and all the promises of vacations I planned to take her on or things that I would buy, promises I never got to keep. There’s a comfort in thinking about that performative scolding that comes with buying something for my mom; its as if she has perform a slight anger so that she doesn’t cry because she feels really loved and appreciated by a gesture like flowers. In my family, we are not so good about telling each other how we feel, so often it is communicated through action rather than words. At least that’s what I grew up seeing in my family; my mom is not very affectionate at all at least not to my siblings and me. I will say, though, that in the lowest points of my life that she was there for, the breakdowns I let her see – she stepped in and consoled me in all the ways I imagined a mother’s touch of affection was supposed to feel like, the touch I often longed for but never knew how to ask for. To my mother and grandmother, two women who have worked tirelessly and sacrificed material luxuries to give their children and grandchildren a better life – a bouquet of flowers is something quite frivolous.
Back to the roses. Each week I buy a 7 rose bouquet that trader joes carries (on special occasions or when I’m needing some spiritual back-up or intervention – I shell out the big bucks and will buy a dozen). I’ve been living in Tucson for the last year and I know it won’t surprise you when I say that living in Arizona has its challenges. For me, those challenges have been more than just the overt hostility to Mexicans and immigrants in the state, but rather understanding how my transgender brown and male presenting body gets folded into that discourse. Growing up in the borderlands, along the US Mexico border I am no stranger to acts of racism – but in the first months living in Tucson I encountered something I had not expected to, nor was fully prepared for. My first month living here I was accosted and harassed by two young white males, in a parking lot. As I walked through a busy parking lot to my car with bouquet of roses in hand, these two guys walked by me and as they looked at me, one pointed and said to the other, look a “greaser”. To that the other replied, “that’s not a greaser, it’s a fucking beaner.” The look on my face of both surprise and indeed fear only further provoked them, the faster I walked the louder they shouted, beaner! Fucking Wetback! All the while others in the parking lot just stared at me, not at the young men, but at me. I was again an “it”, not the same kind of “it” I was used to being before I began transitioning and before I passed as male – I was a Mexican it, subhuman, a racialized brown masculine body to be disdained, at that moment I realized if only minutely what my father had experienced as a young Mexican American growing up in a small segregated and racist town on the border. I still fear that their faces will appear in one of my large 100+ person introductory courses. This is one textured example of the many experiences I’ve had as I’ve been reintegrating and reeducating myself to living in the borderlands. Living in Arizona or rural California towns is not the same as living in the urban sprawl of Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego and their surrounding suburban locales. The topography of the rural southwest, the rural borderlands are a tenuous topography of racism, violence and the wounds of manifest destiny, conquest and extermination. These wounds are continually reopened and deepened through both the everyday interpersonal physical and psychic violence we inflict and the structural violence of laws like SB1070 and HB2281. I find myself with no one to talk to about this experience, my parents do not yet comprehend that while they still see me as their daughter, the world sees me as their son, a young man, a Mexican man. So at the end of the day, the only person who is waiting for me when I get home is my Wela, the fierce and piercing stare of strength in her picture never fails to tell me, “no te dejes.”
Again, back to the roses. The folks at trader joe’s who ring me up (the ones who are into small talk) almost always ask or assume I’m buying the flowers for a girlfriend, wife, etc. The dudes give me a reassuring smirk that signals their approval and the women who check me out, smile and let out a bit of a sigh. It’s a good feeling, I’m not saying that it feels good to be read as married or partnered or that I dislike being single, but its interesting to imagine the narratives people might make up in their heads, we all do it all the time. I’ve been thinking about the fact that I buy roses every week, because lately I’ve been feeling really lonely. It used to be that I would buy roses or flowers for partners, and I miss that. I miss the reaction that comes along with surprising someone flowers: the hug, the squeal, and of course the besos.
I’ve been single for over three years now; the first year was spent recovering from two equally devastating and back-to-back break-ups. The next year was a conscious decision to be single so that I could focus on transitioning, or at least trying to figure out whatever the hell that meant to me at the time. The third year was me getting my shit together, and finishing my dissertation so I could just graduate already and get a job. Now I find myself about start on the fourth year of singleness, and at this point it has become a way of being rather than a conscious choice. However, I enjoy the inordinate amounts of attention I get to give myself, and work on myself and work through my shit and really interrogate what manhood really fucking means to me. But then there are those days like the day I was called a wetback that are really lonely and then there are those big life moments that are supposed to be so gratifying and pivotal but instead make you feel so empty and literally alone once you’ve gotten off the phone or have finished exhaustively texting everyone you know to share your glory, achievements or breakdowns with. I had quite a few of those moments this year, I got a job, I’m an assistant professor of gender and women’s studies, my dream job – after working my ass off this year, I was able to secure what I thought for so long was impossible. I also legally changed my name to more reflect how I see myself and honor my grandmother’s memory, she is my namesake. In these moments, I don’t think that I had ever felt so alone as I did those days – moments I had been looking forward to felt so anti-climactic
So what did I do? I bought my wela flowers, like I always did and put them on my altar and talked to her, as if she was sitting in my living room. I talked to her because I didn’t talk to her about my life as much as I should of, at least the last few years before her dementia started to get bad. When I was a kid, everyday after school it was just my Wela and me all alone, finding ways to pass the time each afternoon until my mom came to pick me up. We would talk about her novelas, or go visit her friends, or I’d watch her sew – and she would always ask me; “Que me cuentas, mi reyna?” I’d tell her about school, about what I wanted for myself, my dreams, my hopes and I would make all sort of promises of things that I would buy her when I was a grown up. Well, here I am all grown up, and I never got to buy her any of the things I promised. But I do buy her roses, red roses every week.
I like to think of our time together, because it makes me a little bit less lonely when I remember that I was and will always be her reyna. My abuela made me feel like I was somebody, whose life was valuable to this world. These days, it can become easy to forget that my life too, is valuable given the multifaceted dimensions of power and how they work in relationship to my trans* Chicano body. When I talk to my wela after I’ve said my prayers as I light the veladora on my altar, I wonder if she would understand me as trans* and see me as the boy-man I’ve always been, I wonder if the words, “mi rey” would have ever passed through her lips. When she was no longer able to recognize anyone other than my mom, she would sometimes call me muchacho, galancito or guapo – but its like I was a stranger, that same cariño just wasn’t there in her voice, like it used to be. I guess I’ll never know and that’s okay.
I plan to continue enjoying bring single despite the loneliness and have hope that in my lifetime, I actually hear “que me cuentas, mi rey?” from a pareja, amante, whatever – whoever she ends up being, I’ll devoutly buy her roses, or lilies, or tulips, or..
© 2012 Francisco J Galarte