Sometimes I fear that my lens has become hyperactively inclined to analyze the minutiae of everyday life; it’s exhausting, really. A constant struggle with remaining fully present in the moment, as my mind insists on unpacking and examining the past – the past minute, the past hour, the past week – while thinking about where that all leads and what needs to be done next.
I treasure those moments when I get lost in the moment and overlook how effortless being present can be. In the moment, while walking with my dancing daughters to drop them off for a small town parade, I noticed the clear blue of the sky. How crisp the air felt on my face as I pushed my little ones in the double stroller. How comfortable I felt walking and talking with my friend of over 15 years. How excited my 9 year old was to see both of her cousins dance while not having to perform herself.
Then later, how the stress of my endless list of grading and cleaning was temporarily forgotten as I waved to my daughters on their parade float while holding on to my three year old who was insisting that she needed to get her sisters, “Now! Now! Now!”
Then even later, as I found myself appreciating sitting across both of my parents surrounded by family as we waited for our pizza at the locally owned spot, often filled with raza celebrating –birthdays, team milestones, joyous events.
As is often the case with our family, we had trouble fitting our party in one table, so we expanded into the next table. Naturally. It’s what anybody would do. The kids chose to sit there with their cheese pizza. Content to be spending time with their cousins, they did as kids often do when not formally sitting down for dinner –take a bite, run around, take a bite, run around the table again, take a bite, hide under the table. Spare me the judgment. There’s plenty to get judgy about as this post progresses.
At some point, a familiar woman entered the little pizza joint. We noticed her standing over our kids and we found ourselves slightly intrigued. More accurately, I believe we were all holding our breath hoping what appeared to be happening was not indeed actually happening. We watched on shell-shocked, yet with a familiar frustration, and possibly a slight disbelief as our children’s plates were relocated and some thrown out. Being who we are, we gave the situation the benefit of the doubt as this woman with her fancy nametag proclaiming her affiliation continued to stand over the table with a posturing that seemed to send a message, while the owner of the establishment continued to prep the table for her by cleansing it of our Mexican and Asian children.
When my 3 year old approached me sobbing about her pizza having been thrown away, my micro-aggression detector blared on in the form of a tugging at my vocal chords and a pulling of my body out if it’s chair. I found myself asking the owner if he had indeed thrown away my child’s pizza. “Excuse me. My daughter says you threw away her pizza.”
His response: “I asked if they were done and they said they were.”
I’m not one to take things at face value. Logically, I asked the adults at our table if any of them had confirmed that the children were done because of course, that would have been the logical and polite thing to do – ask an adult if we were done with the table. As the adults continued to look on with their own frustrations and disbelief at what had just happened, we pieced together some of the omissions which may have been intentionally misleading on the owner’s part; or maybe, that’s just paranoia talking.
My nine year old had been asked if they were done. I repeat: my nine year old soft spoken daughter had been asked by a burly adult male if they were done. She took that as her cue to relocate for fear of “getting in trouble.” You see, she lives in a context where her daily cues remind her of her place in the world. As much as I try to undo the daily damage of that context, she is still learning about the beautiful legacy of that articulate voice she has inherited and will surely refine in time.
Additional context: I am very much governed by a sense of justice. I have beautiful and compelling talks with my college students about the power of our voices toward reclaiming a more just and humane world.
So, I followed my gut on the spot. I couldn’t sit by and not say anything. My senses wouldn’t allow it. My conscious wouldn’t hear of it. My intellect refused to idly accept my silence.
Meanwhile, the woman who was wearing her work badge as if it were a sheriff’s badge of authority and power, the whole while, appeared content with her accomplishment of having had the world accommodate to her demands. No child would be spared for her comforts. I didn’t make the connection in the moment, but this woman micro-colonized the damn table.
My daily deconstructions of macro, micro, and outright aggressions, racial dynamics, humanity, and decolonization, among several other topics including voice, compelled me to at least ask this woman if I did indeed understand what had just transpired— ok, I was really trying to clarify what the hell I had just witnessed. Ok, mostly I needed to know that even though this person did an assholey thing, that she might in fact be a decent human being with a temporary lapse in judgment. And, my mama bear kicked in because let’s be totally real, and by real I’m not disregarding all of the other stuff: grown people should not go around bullying kids.
She, of course, kept her back to me as if she wasn’t trying to see me voice any concerns. Or I don’t know, maybe she was trying to remind me that I was unimportant, invisible, and irrelevant in her world.
“Fulana, is it?”
“Yes.” Fake smile stretching across her face. Maybe she was smiling in anticipating of the angry brown girl getting all hot, fiery, and inappropriate.
“Fulana from the chamber, from x school, and from blah dance school, right.” Phrasing in the form of a question but delivered as a statement.
“Yea” with another feigned smile of phony politeness.
“Yea I’m not sure what happened back there with the table but the kids weren’t done.”
“Oh, no, we asked if they were done and they said they were.”
“No, you asked my 9 year old daughter who is very agreeable and doesn’t want any trouble if they were done and she responded by relocating herself.”
“Oh I’m so sorry I have 3 kids myself and I would never do that.”
Turns her back to me. In my “paranoid” hyperactive lens, I would say dismissed me.
I almost decide to walk away but my feet don’t budge. My child is staring up at my face because yes, I’ve been carrying my nearly 40 lb. child this whole time. The one who was crying about her pizza.
“Yeah, Fulana. I want you to know that I couldn’t not say something because those are my kids and we are going to have to interact with each other because of school and dance and all of that and I don’t want it to be weird.” Let’s be honest. It’s always been weird.
“And also, I now have to deal with my 3 year old who has a tendency to obsess with things crying about a cheese pizza that got thrown away.”
“Oh no. like I said, the owner did that.” Didn’t ever really say that before, but ok.
“Well ok, but like I said, I had to say something. I couldn’t not say something.”
I did the adult thing and addressed the thing itself in the moment as opposed to feeding an ongoing silent resentment toward her. No curse words, no foul language. Just a straightforward declaration of what I thought was so not cool. 5 foot tall
Latina Chicana to 5 foot 8ish blonde woman. I’m not the blonde.
True to form, I’m glad I was done with my food by then because the next thing I had to deal with was an awkward school yard bullying dynamic. I seriously felt like I had just pissed off the captain of the cheerleading squad and of course, there would be consequences. The consequences of the “Do you know who I am” variety, or alternatively, “You messed with the wrong b— variety.”
While I thought we were done with the issue, this woman proceeded to “inform” her friends, who admittedly looked “Latino,” of what had just gone down. We call this chisme. You might call it trash talking. Some might call it relaying facts. I assure you based on my bland account and reading of her body language, the facts were most likely manipulated to garner sympathetic outrage; and of course, how could this be any form of racist micro-aggression when you’re obviously sitting with your brown friends?!
So, I did what my reflex called for and I smiled and waved during one of the awkward stares as the shit talking was transpiring across from me. Other than that very courteous wave, I didn’t make any eye contact and I actively refrained from staring. To clarify lest your imagination run wild, it was a full hand, five fingers kind of wave, like I had just seen a friend get off the bus; not the one finger like I just wanted to push someone in front of the bus. I’m not spiteful like that.
Somewhere in there, this woman managed to ask the owner to ask me to leave the establishment. Things just kept getting more interesting. By then, we had finished with our food and were getting up to leave. Before leaving, I felt compelled to quasi-apologize to the dude for the inconvenience of the request to eject me from the place. Again, no acknowledgement of my presence. “Excuse me” – for about a fourth time. “Yeah, excuse me, you look like you’ve got some boss man presence.” Yes, I am a total ham in the world with my social skills.
“Yeah I’m the owner,” with an air of rudeness to the tone, but who am I to judge.
“Yeah so with all of that I didn’t mean to make it awkward. I’m a professor and I —“
“That doesn’t matter. I have 2 masters’ degrees and I own this restaurant and another business…”
“That’s great. I wouldn’t imagine anything less than that, but my point with that was to say that we talk about voice and I –”
“You were rude to that woman. You need to be apologizing to her.”
“I’m not sure how I was rude to that woman when my entire premise was based on making sure we were good because our kids go to the same school, the same dance place, and I know she’s out doing event coordinating stuff.”
“Your kids have nothing to do with her. Like I said I own two business and I see all kinds of people in here—.”
“Yeah you’ve got a great spot. Lots of respect. Business owners are amazing like that.”
More dismissiveness with the ultimate message received was that he didn’t give a flying fuck about what I had to say and that he had already made up his mind with regard to what I was about. Much more convenient of a version as it justified the pettiness all around.
Cue in my hyperactive lens. My kids have everything to do with all of this. I’m already lightyears into the brown girl being put in her place and the “don’t you dare speak out for yourself or your kids” story and it’s playing on repeat. I also start to wonder if I was being goaded, agitated, and tested. “Let’s see if we can either get this brown girl to lose her cool and come at us all aggressive-like.” Or, “Let’s make it clear that you have no right to assert any form of dignity or humanity. I’d call you a spic or a beaner but I’m not racist like that. My last name sounds Latino and my friends are Mexican.”
All of this against a backdrop of living in a small town with a gated network –latent residuals of old blatant dynamics. Up until now, I’ve had no interest in playing. I do the work that I do to combat these very forms of exclusivity. My conscience would not have allowed me to remain silent. The irony is that in speaking out, I chose to do so as a mother, an articulate and educated mother who knows how to speak her mind. No vulgarity. No hostility. No hand gestures – and this I can guarantee as I was holding my 40 lb. child with both hands to comfort her and distract her from her discarded pizza.
Even so, I was being accused of being inappropriate, rude, and who knows what else was being said about me in the moment, but then again that is none of my business. I don’t play with that mean girl vibe. I am, however, well aware of the ongoing latent racial dynamics in this town, and throughout our nation. With that awareness, I can offer up an equally lengthy critique of my own tone policing and the quasi-apologetic tone with which I approached these “conversations” in that moment.
And, while this scenario played out like the modern day version of moving the colored folk to the back of the bus, all of this also took me back to a frustration that seems to be on a repeat feedback loop begging for my written attention.
We constantly talk about bullying in this town. Constantly. Nationwide too, I suppose. I can’t go to my children’s school without hearing about it at least once every time. We teach our children that character counts and have them act in skits about speaking up against bullying. And yet, these same adults who tout their leadership horn lead by a counterproductive example that brings bullying to life, and dare I say, may very well be the source of the symptoms we have been unable to treat.
My theory is this: kids mimic their environments, and while adults continue to reproduce the mean girl dynamic of the high school days, the kids are watching, absorbing, and learning how it is they believe they should be in the world. So, you’ve got the kids replicating the example set forth by their parents, but then, on the other end of that dynamic are the folks on the receiving end of that bullying. The kids on that end, guess what? They become bullies too because they are fed up with the frustration of being stripped of their power, humanity, and dignity. So, they rebel, and they rebel by seeking power, and if the examples of power they have are of adults being bullies, then we’ve got a problem. We multiply the bullying under a façade of respectability politics where the lines have been made clear for decades.
The woman who had our six kids cleared from the table was playing her part in making that clear, and she chose to do so repeatedly over the course of under an hour, and I’m sure there will be ongoing repercussions to remind me of my place in the world.
The owner of the establishment co-signed on all of that and threw in his own insecurities by creating meaning out of what he chose to half-hear while not hearing me at all.
Every person who entertains either side of this story will continue to play a role, but I’m less concerned with roles and “my place” in society and more concerned with living with integrity and leading by example for my children. I’ll never be a part of that squad of “cool” moms who walk in sync with each other with their coffee in one hand, cell phone in the other, glamourous shades hopping on their noses while the gossip spews off of their glossed up lips. Keep your playground. I’ll stay off of your committees, having served on my fair share of boards and commissions and I’ll keep focusing on what matters. In truth, my lens isn’t hyperactive; it’s symptomatic. It’s a living truth that extends beyond me.
We can’t control how other people respond to us, but we can most certainly control our course of action, and I’m teaching my girls to live in the fullness of their humanity, to know their worth, to speak their truth, and to live in alignment with a higher purpose in the fullness of their unique magic. As for me, I’ll spare the rod and bleed the pen because life is my muse and my words gain permanence in written form.
In the words of Gloria E. Anzaldúa, “A woman who writes has power, and a woman with power is feared.” Fear me. I’m done being afraid.
The Woman with the Glasses