Essay 2: The Double Commie [#52essays2017]

This essay is part of the #52essays2017 series focusing on my memoir, Moscow Chica: How Growing Up in Cuba and Russia Made Me an American. For more, please follow this publication and subscribe to my newsletter.

I had this “friend” in middle and high school who used to love to make fun of my heritage.

Year after year, the words “double commie” came out of his mouth whenever he talked to me, whenever he described me, whenever he talked about who I am.

I’m sure it started out innocently enough, but I honestly don’t remember. It was his own little joke about me and constantly said with humor in his voice. I’m sure he didn’t intend to be mean, but I realize now that his words were hurtful.

Growing up, I was always a little confused about my heritage.

I was born in Moscow to a Russian mother and a Cuban father. We lived there for most of my life, had a brief stint in Havana when I was 2-3 years old, and finally settled in the U.S. shortly after my 8th birthday.

I was closer to my mom, so I always considered myself a little more Russian than Cuban (but that’s a whole other story). And then you add in the American, and my brain has always been a jumbled mess of identity.

Being called a “double communist” throughout my youth was extra confusing, to be honest.

I understood what he meant: My parents met because of communism.

There is no other period in the history of the world where a Russian woman and a Cuban man, being born 5,953 miles away from each other, would have so easily come into contact. But when people hear about my background and ask how my parents met, the story is simple: They met in college.

Sure, their college was in the U.S.S.R. in the 80s and my dad was only there because Cuba was (and continues to be, sort of?) communist too. But neither of my parents were part of the Communist Party. In fact, they embraced the ideals of capitalism the minute we came to America.

So when that guy friend teased me about being a “double commie”, I didn’t really know how to respond. How, exactly, did being born under my circumstances transform me into a communist?

The simple impossible math aside (how exactly did half and half make two?), it took years before I realized how much the comment stung. I didn’t want to be seen as a communist and I didn’t want to be seen as an “other” anymore.

But that’s exactly what the comment meant. It was meant to draw a clear and distinct line between myself and everyone else at school.

I was the different one. Forget the fact that I spoke English as well as anyone else (hello, I’m a writer now, see?!) or that I had an American passport. It didn’t seem to matter that I asked for the comments to stop (they never did) nor that I got good grades and was basically a pretty tame teenager.

The label stuck, even if it was just the one “friend” that said it.

Over and over and over again.

I’ve never been able to forget being called a “double commie” for the better part of my middle and high school years. Maybe nobody else said it, but I always had a sneaking suspicion that they thought it. It’s like that invisible “L” for loser that we all used to make fun of, but this time I was the one wearing a big ole “C” for commie.

The teenage years are gone now, and I’m actually a confident person now. As an adult, I’ve been able to tell friends about the old days of being teased for being a “double commie” and they’ve mostly laughed it off. Today it’s actually funny that this guy was so ignorant that he couldn’t see beyond our differences.

Who knows? Maybe me and him could have been better friends if he’d for a second thought about what his bullying was doing to me or how hurtful his words, even said jokingly, could be.

But that’s not my loss.

In a weird way, his confusion over my identify ultimately helped me to realize who I am. And maybe I am a little bit of a double commie… and I’m a bisexual Latina immigrant too and any other label that I decide to come up with to describe myself.

Ultimately, despite the hurtful things that we hear when we’re younger, only we can truly determine our identify. For today at least, I’m a Moscow Chica – a woman who grew up Cuban, Russian and all American too.

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(Image via midiman/flickr)

Essay 1: The Day I Became an
American [#52essays2017]

This essay is part of the #52essays2017 series focusing on my memoir, Moscow Chica: How Growing Up in Cuba and Russia Made Me an American. For more, please follow this publication and subscribe to my newsletter.

My grandfather shook me awake suddenly.

My eyes slowly opened, feeling groggy and tired from our overnight flight. It was five in the afternoon there, in the suburbs of Moscow, as I woke up from a much-needed nap.

“Something is happening in America,” he said.

I didn’t understand what he meant. My brain was foggy and I was in no mood to be woken up. I know that I hadn’t seen my grandparents in years and that this next week was meant to be spent with them, but the jet lag had gotten to me pretty hard this time around. I stretched and tried to figure out a way to stay in bed.

“Something is happening in America,” he said again. Finally, I got out of bed and walked lazily from the bedroom in which I was staying, through the living room and kitchen, to the enclosed patio where my Russian family often spent their evenings.

The little TV out there was turned on. This wasn’t really an unusual occurrence. In fact, despite having a perfectly decent (and much bigger) television in the living room, we almost always sat on the patio to eat and relax.

But this time our family reunion wasn’t relaxing.

As I joined my mother and little brother, both of whom had come on this family vacation too while my father remained in the states to take care of my parent’s real estate business, I could not have prepared for what was on that television screen.

It was September 11th, 2001, just after 9 a.m. in New York City.

Images of the plane that had just hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center were all over the tiny TV. Instantly, my body froze. I didn’t know what I was seeing. I didn’t understand.

As my grandfather had said, something was happening in America… but what?

The rest of this day is a hazy blur. The only thing I remember feeling is confusion. What was happening? What were we watching? What were were going to do now?

Before long, we started to understand what was happening: America was being attacked. And my family was stuck in Russia.

Yesterday had been a perfectly normal day. A Monday like any other, I was excited to have the week off from school. We had flown from our home in Florida to New York City for our transfer flight before continuing on to Moscow.

I had seen the iconic skyline with the Twin Towers standing proudly at the southern edge of Manhattan when our plane departed at 8 p.m. That time is now forever burned in my memory.

This morning, as I greeted my grandparents at the airport gates, I took my first steps on international soil as an American citizen.

My parents had become naturalized the year before and my brother and I joined their ranks just a month earlier. Thrilled about our new journey as a family, my parents expedited our U.S. passports and booked these tickets. We would be missing a week of school, sure, but the trip was sure to be worth it.

Never in a million years could any of us have imagined what would happen.

Nobody in the world did, of course.

The entire world watched that day as the Twin Towers were hit, as they crumbled, as what seemed like the greatest and strongest country was attacked by what later was revealed to be terrorists.

I can’t imagine what my dad felt, hearing the news this morning. All I remember is my hysterical mother on the phone with him, anxious and crying. By that point, we knew that all airports in the U.S. had been shut down indefinitely. So what now?

My mother, my brother and myself were stuck in Russia… Almost 6,000 miles from home… indefinitely.

With the tragedy that we had just seen unfold in America, my only thought was that I wanted to be reunited with my dad, that I just wanted to go home.

I no longer cared about having a week off of school and even the visit with my grandparents had been soured. My mom spent hours on the phone with my dad, trying to figure out what we were going to do if it came time for us to fly back and there was, well, no airports to fly back to. The winning plan was to fly to Canada and drive down.

I didn’t care. All I wanted was to be home.

Before this tragic day that shook the world, I still very much felt like an immigrant. I had spent the first eight years of my life in Russia (mostly) and only the last seven had been spent living in America.

Although I didn’t have an accent, I looked different than my peers and classmates. Whenever someone asked, I always told them: I’m Russian and Cuban.

But after this day, I realized that I wasn’t just Russian and Cuban anymore. I was an American now.

My desire to just go home after this tragedy showed me what my true home had become. It was no longer about the things that made me different and it was no longer about where I came from before. It was about what made me the same as my countrymen and women. It was about the place that I, and my family, proudly chose to call ours.

As they say, home is where the heart is. And this is the day that my heart, now and forever, was America.

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(Image via Patrick Nouhailler/flickr)

7 Fearless things I’m doing for my writing career in 2017 [#yearofwriting]

Please subscribe to my newsletter and read more of my writing on my personal blog, The Cookie Dough LifeThank you!

It’s the start of a new year and, as always, that has me (and everyone else in the world I suppose) thinking about what this year will bring.

It’s no stretch to say that 2016 wasn’t everyone’s favorite year. Despite some personal successes, I know that I still have a long ways to go. And despite what will be happening in this country and around the world when President-Elect Cheeto Dumpster Fire (#sorrynotsorry for calling him that for the next four years) takes office, I’m fairly optimistic.

In fact, as I look a head to the coming year… I am feeling optimistic for the first time since the morning of November 8th. With so much going on, I’m particularly feeling good about where my freelance writing career is going. Right now, I am looking to strike a better balance between some of my regular work as the food editor at Brit+Co as well as my regular contributor gigs at Mom.me, Dose and other personal projects.

And other than a big post-it note that says “YOU BETTER SAVE FOR TAXES ACCURATELY THIS YEAR!” above my fancy new desk, there are a few major things that I am going to be doing in 2017 in order to advance my career. If you’re a writer or otherwise creative, read ahead for a few useful tips on how you can do it too.

1. Creating a business plan: This is probably the scariest thing I can imagine because, well, I’m not exactly very business-minded. What writer truly is? We write because we have thoughts and ideas fluttering in our brains, not because we want to deal with numbers and taxes and complicated terms that I don’t care to learn. But that shouldn’t be an excuse anymore. Inspired by a four-part business plan writing series on Virginia Sole-Smith’s blog on freelance life, I actually think I have a pretty good handle of this one now. And, GULP, I might even know what I’m doing now? If you’re interested, check out part 1, part 2, a handy chart and the finale here.

2. Hiring a writing coach: This one was even more difficult than the above, because it required me admitting that I need help. I am not someone who enjoys admitting it, because I fancy myself Wonder Woman (clearly). But I’m not. Nobody is, right? Toward the end of the year, I was feeling so frustrated by some of the issues I was having with writing (primarily the fact that I wasn’t doing more than the bare minimum) that I finally broke down and decided I could use some guidance. By PURE coincidence, the day after I had this tough conversation with my boyfriend, Mridu Khullar Relph’s newsletter revealed that she would be taking on clients on January 2, 2017. And the rest, as they say, is history…

3. Committing to a #yearofwriting: I just posted about this on Instagram, but this year I got Gretchen Rubin’s A Happier 2017 daily calendar. I’ve been a huge fan of daily calendars for the past few years, but this is my first time getting one that wasn’t just filled with my own Instagram photos (which I still think is a cool idea, if you’re interested). Today, her suggestion is to pick a word to focus on. I’ve seen friends do this in the past but last year I focused on three words (which have subsequently become really important to me): creative + passionate + fearless. Well, taking those two ideas and combining them, I decided that this is the #yearofwriting and I want to do more of that kind of writing. Writing that ignites my creativity, that helps me pursue my passions and that’s ultimately fearless.

4. Launching a newsletter: Speaking of those three words that made my 2016 pretty special, I’ve decided that I want to launch a newsletter that focuses on living a creative + passionate + fearless life. I don’t yet know what it will look like or exactly what I hope to accomplish with it, but this is something I really want to do. I’m going to give myself a couple months to fully research what’s already out there and how I want to do it, but I want to focus on how I am accomplishing those goals myself and also feature interviews with other people who embody those ideals. I’ll write more on what those words mean to me, but let’s just say… You’ll be hearing about them more in the future.

5. Writing 52 essays in 2017: Yes, this one’s a little crazier. In fact, I’m still not fully sure that I will be able to do this whole #52essays2017 thing because I admittedly suck at challenges… but I want to try. In terms of being more creative and writing more, it’s important to me to have something to push myself. I’m not great at pushing myself on my own, though, so I am hoping that having a community of other writers behind me doing the same thing will help. Plus, I figure, what’s the worst that will happen? I’ll have an hour or two a week where I just write about whatever I want. It’s not about earning money, it’s about just letting my creative juices flow. Cliche as that may be, sometimes my best writing comes out when I don’t plan anything. So let’s see what happens if I do that for a whole year!

6. Finding an accountability buddy: Since I am not good at finishing my own challenges and Linda Gonzalez, a writing coach I met back in October during BinderCon in NYC, even mentioned that an “accountability buddy” may be a good strategy for me, I think it’s time that I do it. I have plenty of other writer friends and people that I can talk to about my career. In fact, my (poor) boyfriend Adam often hears more than he probably cares to and he’s always there to listen and be supportive. But finding someone who can be supportive and also hold me accountable to some of my goals (you know, those outlined in my business plan) will be truly wonderful too. And so I am on the lookout for someone who has a similar career trajectory to mine and wants to work together to help each other out. It’s sort of like with the writing coach: Hard to admit that I need some help in this area, but really glad that I’m doing it anyway.

7. Better organizing my clips: This is kind of less complicated than the ones above, but I want to make this website better. Not necessarily because I expect a whole lot of people to come and read my thoughts or writings (though, you know, if you’re here, WELCOME!) but because I want to be better organized in my writing in general. And so there will be some updates throughout the year and the biggest of that will be how I publish and talk about my clips. Right now you’ll see that I just do monthly roundups by publication, but I am going to be switching this up. It’ll likely be a monthly roundup still, but this time I’ll do one post with all of my writing. I’ll probably also divide it either by publication or by category. This might be much smaller than the things above, but I’m hoping that getting super organized with my work will encourage me to do more of it. That’s reasonable, isn’t it?

Anyway, that’s it for now. Happy 2017, everyone! And I hope your year will be as productive, successful and awesome as I am hoping mine will be.

As my good friend (and fellow writer) Amanda Farah said to me in a text this morning, “Make this the year you kick all the ass.”

Want more? Subscribe to my newsletter to get writing news and updates on my memoir (Moscow Chica). Then check out my personal blog and find me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest!

Here is exactly why I’m signing up for the #52essays2017 challenge

Please subscribe to my newsletter and read more of my writing on my personal blog, The Cookie Dough LifeThank you!

I love a good challenge.

I think that’s been sufficiently demonstrated this year alone when I decided to start writing for my Map Your 30s project and even signed up to write every single day during the month of July. The only problem? I suck at keeping up with them.

I am really good at coming up with new ideas and challenging myself and getting really SUPER excited about something… for about a week. Or a month. Or maybe somewhere in between. But I’m not good at actually finishing any of the challenges I set forth for myself.

Hell, this past year I started and quit Whole30 early (for good reason, though!), wrote that I am happy to have quit my July writing challenge early too and finally promised to write more about why turning 30 is scary, but haven’t actually had the time to do so lately.

Okay, so I’ve had some wins: My freelance career is taking off. I’m continuing my favorite kind of work as the freelance food editor at Brit+Co, plus finding time to do writing on the side (primarily at Dose & OMGFactsMamasLatinas and now also Mom.me). Plus I got to write about some truly scary things this year, and that’s been great. I even wrote about how I wrote about things that scare me!

But I’ve had some frustrating moments, too. Besides having issues finishing any of my so-called challenges this year, I’ve also had some motivation problems in my personal writing and the election didn’t actually help with any of that.

But now I’m here… at the end of 2016, with some career highs and still some frustration to show for it. So what’s a girl to do?

Apparently, the only thing I can think of to do is to sign up for yet another challenge.

I know, I know. I must be crazy! But hear me out: Though a writer’s group I am a part of on Facebook, I found one brave woman (Vanessa Mártir) who wrote 52 personal essays this past year and is now inviting other writers to join her in what is being called the #52essays2017 challenge.

To be honest, I was really inspired by it because of the first rule: “This isn’t about producing a polished essay. This is about surrendering to process. This is for you, no one else.”

Some of my favorite things that I wrote this year actually started off on this very blog. Sometimes, just sometimes, I take the time to write down my thoughts and let them flow… and I love those times.

When I read another writer’s post about why she’s signing up for this challenge, I knew I had to also: “And I always learn the same thing from each challenge: when I push myself to write more and to write regularly, my writing improves. In each case, I feel as if my brain became more attuned to writing. Ideas flowed more easily because my brain settled into its “writer” space — and I didn’t give it time to slip out.”

I love that sentiment. And I think I need that sentiment, that feeling, in my life too. I felt wonderful and free when I was writing every day this past July, so will writing an essay once a week just for me really be all that different?

Yes, it will be difficult. Not only am I shit when it comes to keeping up with challenges I sign up for, but I also have other work to do and other projects to focus on. But there’s another line that I keep thinking of over and over lately: “Why do you write like you’re running out of time?”

It’s a line from the musical Hamilton, which I was lucky enough to see last week while visiting my boyfriend’s family in Chicago. It was, to say the least, even more spectacular than I could have ever imagined (and yes, I imagined it being THE EFFING BEST). And, well, I was inspired.

Inspired by the story of founding father Alexander Hamilton and inspired by Lin-Manuel Miranda’s amazing writing. The man is likely going to win an Oscar for his songs in Disney’s Moana, too, which will effectively make him an EGOT at age 37.

Well, I’m 30 now. Where do I want to be at 37?

I don’t think I’ll be eligible for an EGOT (hah!) but I can do something to take steps and improve my writing. This year, those steps are going to include writing 52 personal essays that are messy and fun and challenging and, most importantly, just for me.

Maybe this will be yet another challenge where I say “oh well, didn’t finish that either!” but it’ll also be a challenge that teaches me something. I don’t know what yet… but, to be honest, I’m getting excited.

Want more? Subscribe to my newsletter to get writing news and updates on my memoir (Moscow Chica). Then check out my personal blog and find me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest!

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