What I learned about Latinos (and myself) when I moved out of Florida

Note: This is 3 of 3 essays that was written for and published on The Flama last year. However, the site has since shut down (mostly) and my essay has disappeared… But the internet gods allowed me to find it in its entirety, so I am re-posting it here since a) it was fun to write & b) I live in Florida again and it’s… well, different. Enjoy!

I was 17 years old when I first made real friends with another person of Hispanic heritage, and in my early 20s when I made friends with another Latina.

That might come as a surprise, but the truth is that it took me a really long time to realize that not all Latinos share everything in common. An embarrassingly long time, actually.

My family moved to Miami, Florida, when I was just eight years old. I didn’t know much about the world, but like all kids what I knew came directly from my parents. Living in Little Havana, and later in Southwest Florida, the only Latinos I got to know were the other Cubans that were friends with my parents.

If you came to my house growing up, you’d probably find me snacking on guayaba y queso crema on crackers, helping my mom clean while Celia Cruz played in the background or yelling at the top of my lungs for my little brother to come over.

“I’m not yelling, I’m just Cuban!” was the motto of the house, and one that I had to gently explain to any friends that came over for dinner. No, really, we can’t talk any quieter. Sorry.

But for all of the things I loved about my family and culture, I never quite connected to other Cubans on a deeper level. Sure, we all enjoyed La Caja China for Christmas and cortaditos are a way of life, but the Cubans I knew were mostly papi’s friends and they, like my dad, were a bit machista. And Republican. And I didn’t understand why.

In my young experience, I was the only Cubanita I knew that was a proud Democrat who didn’t really love coffee (shhhhhhh!) and had a pretty huge aversion to the subtle racism and sexism spouted by some of the people who surrounded me. Somehow, I began to associate those traits with all Latinos.

It wasn’t until I met the whitest Cuban I’ll ever know, and the guy who quickly became by gay BFF, senior year of high school that I started to suspect I wasn’t the only one.

The next year, I moved to New York City for school… and things quickly started to change.

I started to meet other kinds of Latinos. Latinos who spoke Portuguese (thank you, Brazil!) and who didn’t have a Virgen de Cardidad del Cobre statue in their home. Latinos who loved spicy food and introduced me to tacos. Latinos who were second or third generation and those whose Spanish sounds a little different from my own. Seriously, what’s with this órale business?

In New York, I was able to meet Latinos who were fellow feminists, who introduced me to bachata and who argued with me about why tequila is superior to rum (as if!). Slowly but surely, I learned the differences between mangú, fufú and mofongo.

Most of all, I started to meet Latinos who were my age and who shared my open mindedness and values when it came to politics, and life in general.

It’s no surprise to me that the two Cuban presidential candidates for 2016 are Republicans, but it’s a fact that I honestly kind of hate. They remind me of the Latinos I grew up with in Florida, and not the diverse group of pro-gay rights, pro-women’s rights and pro-immigration Latinos who I am proud to call my friends today.

When I go back to Florida now, after almost twelve years of living in New York City, it feels as if I am stepping back into my youth. I’ve found new things to appreciate about the state now, like the occasional fun-filled visit to South Beach or having a truly authentic cubano sandwich that I can’t find anywhere else, but it still doesn’t feel like home. It never did.

Thankfully, some of my parent’s views on politics have changed. But my papi will never stop supporting Rubio and I’ll never stop hating his conservative politics.

Instead, I consider myself pretty darn lucky to live in a city where I can interact with all kinds of different Latinos. Some that grew up religious, and some that didn’t. Some that are a little conservative, but most that are socially liberal. In fact, Latinos tend to lean a little more to the left on issues like abortion and homosexuality – especially when they’re second or third generation. As a bisexual Latina myself, this is a pretty important distinction.

And so, while visiting Florida isn’t as much of a pain as it was when I lived there, I’m glad to have grown up in FL if only because the Latinos I met helped me to realize who I am and who I’m not. And the Latinos I’ve met since have given me a better sense of community and pride than I ever could have hoped for growing up.

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2016 was an exceptionally happy year for me (and I’m not afraid to admit it)

We’ve all been saying it all damn year, haven’t we? 2016 IS THE WORST.

I know that I’ve definitely been guilty of this sentiment, and it wasn’t really just because of the election (although that contributed to my year-end complaints). But in the past few days, I realized just how much we’ve all been doing it lately…

Look, I get it. This year has kicked us all (figuratively) in the balls. Between the celebs that died throughout the year and especially around Christmas/Hanukkah, it’s been tough. The election was, well, pretty awful for those of us who care about other people and maintaining our rights. And that’s not even to mention Aleppo and Brexit and… ugh, I can’t go on. This year has been the WORST, right?

Or has it?

The truth is that 2016 is not killing people, but people die because of complicated things like a history of drug and alcohol abuse. That’s not the only reason why so many of our fave celebs passed away this year, but that’s certainly a theory that makes sense too.

Then there’s just the general thinking that… Hey, if we call 2016 the worst, then what about all of the bad years that came before it or the bad years that are still to come? (Ya know, with President Trump actually possibly accomplishing some of the vile things he said he planned to do during his campaign.)

Here’s an idea: Let’s all stop calling 2016 “the worst” ASAP.

The truth is that a lot of bad things happened this year. I’m not going to deny that. But a lot of bad things happen every year. When we put all of our blame on a year for doing bad things to us, then we’re taking away our choice – our choice to do something about it, our choice to see the positives, our choice to move on with something more than just feelings of anger.

So I’m done. I know it’s the last day of the year, but I am not going to look back at this year and talk about how it was “the worst” because, especially for me personally, it simply wasn’t.

In a nutshell, two major things happened to me this year that have actually made 2016 my happiest year yet:

1. After 12 years, I moved out of New York City and started a full-time freelance writing career that’s actually been going really well.

2. I met Adam, who turned out to not only be the most generous and loving person I’ve ever met but also an incredibly supportive life partner.

In fact, the first decision actually led to the second. I had been dealing with some recovery issues in NYC and simply no longer felt all that happy there. Plus I was turning 30 and needed to do something different in my life. By circumstance (not all under my control), the best thing for me was to move back home to Florida for a while.

I decided that I would do this for six months to a year, and that this would be my time to figure out what my next steps were and what I wanted to do for my career. It turned out that going all-in on my freelance writing was the right move, and I love where that part of my life is now.

Of course, when I moved to FL, I didn’t think that my personal life would go anywhere. I had been single for many, many years… And although I was sick of that life, I also thought: Who the F am I gonna meet down here?

Well, you know what they say: Life is what happens when you’re making other plans. In comes Adam…

Here’s the story that I tell friends when they ask how we met:

I moved out of NYC after 12 years on a Friday and, needing to find something to do and feeling like I was ready to “get back out there” after a 5-month dating break, turned my favorite dating apps back on the following Tuesday (meaning OKCupid, Tinder and Bumble).

Meanwhile, Adam had finally signed up for online dating after an even longer break when his last relationship ended… And so there we were, both finally “ready” for something real. We started talking on Bumble that Wednesday morning. By the next Saturday (exactly a week and a day after I moved to Florida), we had our first date. It lasted four hours, and only ended because I had a family obligation.

The next week, I cancelled another date in order to have a second date with Adam… and the rest is history. I never went on a date with anybody else. Neither did he. And we moved in a month and a half later.

Not only has my career and my new relationship made me really happy this year, but I learned a lot about myself throughout 2016 too. I’ve also met some great new people (mainly, my boyfriend’s family, and also many other writers who I now call friends) and I learned how to accept love.

Before this year, I never truly knew how to be kind to myself (my NYC therapist’s parting words to me). I still have trouble with that, to be honest. But Adam reminds me every day that I am worthy of love.

Although I’ve had a few relationships, even a two-year one where my ex lived with me, I never truly knew that I was worthy of love. In fact, I had never heard anyone say the words “I love you” to me. Sure, I mean, family and friends… but never anyone who truly loved me in every way that a person deserves to be loved. Until Adam.

He taught me how to accept love and that I deserve it. He continues to teach me that every day and, the more I am with him, the more that I realize that he is truly the love of my life.

I know how cliche that sounds. I know that it’s a funny and kind of ridiculous statement to be saying at 30 years of age. And yet… I’ve had boyfriends and I’ve had countless dates in the past 14 years of my life. But I’ve never had love. And now I do.

So when I look back at 2016, I can still recognize all of the bad things that happened this year. This year, though, is about more than that. This is the year that I fell in love for the first real time of my life. This is the year that I truly found what I want to do with the rest of my life. And this is the year that I learned what it takes to be my best self (even if I’m not totally there yet).

To be honest, I don’t know what 2017 will bring. But I have plans! Plans for my career and plans with my love. If 2016 taught me anything, it’s that a year isn’t to blame for bad things and it’s not really to blame for the good things either.

My year was great because I made it great. Because I learned what I wanted and went after it and accepted the things that came to me unexpectedly too. 2017 will hopefully be more of the same.

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To car or not to car? When buying one is the question…

To car or not to car? That is the question…

Here’s the deal: I have been living in the state of Florida for almost three months now, and I have yet to purchase a vehicle for my transportation needs. And I am starting to seriously consider whether I actually need one or not…

The truth is, I’ve been living in New York City for the past 12 years and it’s been really easy to get by without a car. It’s really the best city this side of the Atlantic for public transportation. There are tons of subway lines and the buses aren’t too bad either (though many of my NYC friends have never been on one, I like them!).

In fact, nobody I know in the city has a car because nobody really needs one. And if they do have a car – and there’s been a friend here or there – it’s for a very specific need. One friend has a car at his family’s home in New Jersey, one friend has a car because it’s easier to conduct his business, one friend has a car because it’s MUCH easier to travel with his baby and another friend has a car because he needs it for his band equipment.

The general trend, though, is to not bother with one at all. To be honest, the only real reason to have a car is if you live in an outer borough (Brooklyn and Queens, mostly) because it is a shorter commute to go from one outer borough to another in a car. But even for those friends that have a car, not a single one of them uses it to commute to work or to go into the city.

I’d heard stories of other friend’s friends having cars for various reasons, such as going to the Hamptons during summer weekends or for monthly Costco trips. Those seem like pretty decent reasons, actually, but none of these were really reasons good enough for me.

I was pretty happy to not own a car for the past decade, and I honestly sort of continue to be happy about it.

The truth is that my main reason for considering owning a car at this very moment is because it has always seemed impossible to NOT own one everywhere outside of New York City.

Sure, you could probably get away with it in smaller cities like Chicago and Atlanta. But in general, if you want to live anywhere outside of the metropolis that is the biggest city in the United States, then you needed to invest in your own mode of transportation.

No longer can I depend on the trusty old MTA to get me to the beach, to get me to work or to get me to dinner with my friends.

These days, I really can’t get anywhere without a car – but to be honest, I am still having my doubts about needing one.

The truth is, I’m very comfy without one right now. I work from home (as the freelance food editor at Brit+Co) and find very little cause to use a car on a daily basis. In fact, if I had a car, I definitely wouldn’t need to use it every single day because of my very cushy remote work situation.

I’m currently in the process of officially moving in with the boyfriend, which is partially another reason why I’m both considering getting a car and considering NOT getting a car.

You see (and I know that I am SUPER spoiled in this), he pretty much drives me wherever I need to go. And the truth is, it’s not like he’s going out of his way to go somewhere special. Nope! For the most part we are going somewhere together and that’s just fine by me.

With very little exceptions, our arrangement has been working for us.

I know that this might not always be the case, which is one reason to get a car. I know that as the “honeymoon” period of our relationship fades or as my needs become greater (or his needs, for that matter), having one car for two people is not going to be ultimately sustainable. And even worse, I know that in cases of emergency, if I need to get to the hospital or bring one of our pets to the vet, I am REALLY going to need a car.

But right now, all of that seems really far off. At most, I can see myself maybe needing a car once or twice a week – and at the moment, it’s kind of easy to just say “meh, I’ll just have Adam drive me or borrow a car from my parents in dire straights.” If I started to spend the money I am planning to budget on a car FOR the actual car, I would be spending more per ride than if I took an Uber or rented a car three times a week.

Now doesn’t that seem just a little silly?

I know that a car will provide me with plenty of freedom. Should I start to feel cooped up or want to go out and run an errand or want to just go to the store and surprise Adam with something, or even just buy flowers for myself because it’s gloomy outside and I want them, having a car will definitely be a huge advantage. And that’s not even to mention one or both of us needing some alone time or time with a friend. Coupledom, while extremely awesome, isn’t everything.

But then again, I’ve survived 12 years without one. And although I’m not saying I will live the rest of my life without my own mode of transportation and simply depend on my partner when and if I need him (or, ya know, an Uber), it’s also nice thinking about all of the really AWESOME things that I could do with the extra money I’d be spending on a car that I barely even use…

So, for now, I am holding off. In a couple of months, after my work situation is more stable and I’ve paid off my 2015 taxes (don’t ask) and our rent has gone up a bit with a lease renewal and we are just more stable as a couple in our lives together… I will reconsider. Yet at the moment, I just can’t help but think: do I really want a car when an extra vacation or two a year might just be so much more fun?

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The weirdest part of moving out of the city I called home

One of the weirdest parts of moving out of the city I’ve called home for the past 12 years is actually getting rid of all of the furniture things that I collected over the past several years.

For me, anyway, that was absolutely the weirdest.

To be honest, when I decided to leave New York City this past April, I was filled with fear, with hope, with a renewed sense of life and with a lot of doubts about the choice I was making. And the original choice didn’t exactly work out as I planned, but I ended up exactly where I needed to end up for reasons even beyond my understanding – and I’m certainly very grateful for all of that.

But as I was entering into the transition of “hey, look, I’m MOVING!”, I wasn’t fully prepared for what that actually meant.

You see, I never really planned to move out of New York. I had wanted to live there ever since I could remember and it was the city where I felt most at home. But when opportunity knocked, I decided to take the chance and see what happens.

And then I was faced with the reality of actually doing it.

I’m a bit of a conundrum as a person, I think. Sometimes I feel very sentimental towards the things I own, and other times I am really quick to just want to get rid of it all. That’s why, when it came to much of the furniture that I had owned for the past 8 years or so, I was feeling a whole mix of emotions that I really didn’t expect.

On the one hand, moving over 1,000 miles away didn’t exactly warrant bringing all of that stuff with me. On the other hand, the furniture was still good and sturdy, and had served me well.

But I knew I had to get rid of it. So, on a fateful day in late March, I took as nice of pictures as I could of my bed, my armoire, my dresser, my vanity table, my lingerie chest, my matching bookcases, my desk, my couch, my kitchen island, my dining table and my TV stand.

So many things! So many memories!

The bed frame, armoire and dresser were all purchased in early 2008. It was my first real big girl act as an adult, and I was proud to have an oh-so-pretty matching set. The armoire that held a small TV for many years, the dresser that had once become The Place Where The (now ex) Boyfriend Kept His Things, the bed frame that I always thought looked so pretty… It all had to be sold and sold ASAP.

I knew it was the right thing to do, especially as that particular matching furniture set had also given me plenty of headaches over the years. The pieces were sturdy but heavy AF, and moving with them every year became a pain that I absolutely hated reliving.

The couch and the desk and the bookcases and the kitchen things didn’t pose as much of an emotional attachment, and I know that’s largely in part because they had only recently come into my life.

Still, the bookcases had made me very happy as they perfectly held all of my colorful cookbooks and dreams of becoming a Food Network star one day. The desk held all of my important things and documents and, although I rarely worked sitting directly at it, still held a very important place in my home and in my heart.

And then came the vanity table and lingerie chest. Purchased not too long after my initial furniture buy eight years ago, these were prized pieces that I had come to love more than any person should probably ever love a piece of furniture. But something about these two pieces just made me smile.

Maybe it was the silly girly girl in me or maybe it was… No, wait, that was probably it. The vanity table, which was big and bulky and WAY too much for a New York City apartment, was still something that I wanted year in and year out. Whenever a new apartment move came up, I held on to it.

The way it stood there with two large storage units on either side of me, a big mirror to look into, a cute little bench to sit on – I loved it all. Even as I tried to downsize the amount of makeup and beauty trinkets I had, I always found a way to fill its drawers with plenty of lovely little things.

Getting rid of that was probably one of the hardest things I had to do in terms of my move. Sure, all of the furniture held some value in one way or another, but it was the vanity table that I had loved the most.

Having never considered myself a particularly sentimental person when it came to pieces of furniture, I was shocked by my reaction as Craigslist people came to pick up one piece, then another, and another, until all of it was gone out of my apartment.

It was a sad sight to see all of the things I had gotten so comfortable with over the last decade, and all of the things which had kept me company through six apartments, gone forever. FOREVER.

That word seemed like an awfully long time.

And maybe the truth is that the power of that word in relation to my furniture and my life in NYC is what I feared the most.

If I could get rid of my New York apartment furniture so easily, could New York itself get rid of me just as easily?

Friends assured me that this would never happen. That New York will always be here for me, should I want to come back in a year or two or 10. And I knew they were right – I know that because thousands of people move to the city every year.

I know because I was one of them back on August 28, 2004, when my parents and I drove from Florida to New York to drop me off at NYU. I was a scared little freshman who knew nothing about life in the big city and, let me tell you, had NO idea how to dress or how to act, but I found my footing there eventually. I found my sense of style, I found my career, I found my group of friends, and I just found myself in the city that never sleeps.

There are many reasons why leaving NYC when I did was the right call for me, and many reasons why I might never live there again.

But it’s not because the city didn’t love me or because I didn’t love the city. Even as I look around my current apartment, so lacking in all of the things that used to make up my home, I’m filled with a renewed sense of hope – exactly what I was looking for in making this transition.

Just as my beloved former vanity table helped to brighten up my house every single day, I know that I’ll find a new furniture item to do the same. I’m not yet settled in where I now live in Southwest Florida, but I’m getting there.

As I think about the weirdness of getting rid of things in New York, I also think about the excitement of getting things to build my new home.

It’s not the transition I thought I would make, and it’s definitely not where I thought I would be six months ago. But getting rid of those things, strange as it still kind of feels, was also liberating. Giving up my furniture helped me to let go of my life in New York.

And while sad, I know the truth is that it doesn’t necessarily have to be forever. And if it’s forever, I know that it doesn’t necessarily have to be sad either. It’s just what the next chapter of my life is.

With a vanity table or not, I’m excited to turn the pages.

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I’m about to turn 30…

In the past few months, and I couldn’t tell you if this is coincidence or some weird algorithm or simply because I am more aware of it, my Facebook feed has been full of “hey you’re turning 30!” articles.

And it’s true. I am turning 30. In exactly a month, to be precise.

To be honest, I am not yet sure how I feel about the whole thing. At times I feel like the it is kind of silly. All of the pressure that we face, as women and as human beings in general, to have checked off certain life milestones by this age. A great career, a nice home, a semblance of independence and some vague definition of being a real adult now that our twenties are behind us.

Oh yeah, and can’t forget the whole life partner thing.

Whether married, engaged or simply paired off with the person that you’re thinking you probably *will* marry, the pressure to “Have It All” seems to really start at this age when we have graduated from those years of growing and finding ourselves to these years of settling into our lives.

But what if you’re not actually quite settled or ready to be settled yet? Is the pressure to have it all figured out by 30 real, or is it something that’s just in our heads?

Irina25thBdayAs I read through what seems like the 27th list of things I should have done/read/watched/experienced/learned by the time I hit the big 3-0 next month, I’m left wondering: isn’t there more to figure out after this? After all, life doesn’t begin at 30 and it definitely doesn’t end there either.

So that’s where I find myself now, thinking that turning 30 is both a really big deal and absolutely no big deal at all.

Sure, I have some things figured out, like that really awesome career that I love. But some things are still in the To Be Determined folder, like that life partner-type figure that’s looming somewhere on the horizon. Maybe.

In the end, though, I know I still have some work to do on myself. I don’t really think that work will ever end, because what’s the point of life if you just stop improving yourself? But since I’m turning 30 and all the hoopla that supposedly comes with it, I am taking this year to especially focus on some of the things that are important to me.

I’m calling it the Map Your 30s blog. It’s basically a vehicle for me to focus on the things that are important to me and the parts of my life that I want to work on, strengthen or improve in some way. That means my career, relationships, finances, home environment, health and confidence/spirituality.

I doubt it’ll only last a year. That’s quite a big undertaking that I am planning to tackle. But the truth is that it’s really not about a year-long project or because I’m turning 30 and all of a sudden some sort of alarm is going off in my head (it’s not), but simply because I want to do it. And I want to do it now.

Being 30 (and maybe having learned a thing or two in the last decade) is just a perk.

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