Blog, Writing

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

This is going to be on the short side, and while I should be going straight to sleep, I have to make this transition from end of book to the mundane (have I mentioned I like that word?).

I just finished The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, and I had to take a deep breath. This was a toughie for me. I spent the good first half of the memoir shaking my head and wondering whether I really wanted to keep reading through this dysfunctional family. I kept wanting the Department of Children and Families to go in and swoop the four kids away from those reckless parents. But then again, it wouldn’t have left as much of an imprint, I think. By the end of the memoir, I want to know what happens and I’m rooting for Jeannette and her siblings to get out of that oppressive hole.

The Glass Castle is certainly a memoir about acceptance. Where Eat, Pray, Love contained a self-conscious, woe-is-me tone, Walls writes without blame. She is matter-of-fact, here is what happened, and she doesn’t succumb to lamenting her childhood. It proves how strong she really is.
It’s also a memoir about love, in a dysfunctional, different kind of way. It astounds me that two brilliant people like her parents could be so irresponsible. I have an almost-three-year-old son and I could never imagine doing the things Walls’s mom did. I shook my head many times during this past week, while I read her memoir. I shook my head in incredulity.
I brought out my imaginary pom-poms, though, when she finally had enough and told her mom and dad off, and when she and her sisters and brother broke free. The parents became the children and the children the parents. Sometimes it’s more obvious than others, and in The Glass Castle it certainly was obvious.
But the end. Oh the end. The part when her dad asks to speak to her and, in the same call, asks for a bottle of Vodka – that part reminded me of my dad. Not because of the alcohol, because my dad didn’t drink, but because my dad’s addiction to smoking was just as bad as her dad’s with alcohol. In the end, I gave up fighting his smoking habits and indulged him. It killed him indirectly, in the end, but I still indulged him.
So I definitely recommend this memoir, but it’s not for the faint of mind. Those with children, beware, because it has you clutching on to your own kids more dearly. I’m still amazed that after going through such a childhood, Jeannette Walls came out brilliant and overcame the set backs in which she was born.
Blog, Writing

Half-Colombian

I’ve always considered myself both Colombian and American. I am a first-generation Colombian-American whose parents migrated to the US as adults. I was born and raised here, although in my younger days I spent a few summers in Colombia. My nostalgic attachments to all that’s Colombian come courtesy of my parents and the displaced version of Colombian foods and rituals I grew up with. However, as I enter now into my 30’s, the idea that I’m really half-Colombian really hits home. It’s almost like an identity crisis. I am not the Colombian girl I thought I was. Sure, I speak Spanish a lo paisa, I enjoy bunuelos for Christmas, and I can dance vallenatos and cumbias, but in Colombia, I’m a gringa, an extranjera, a daughter-of-Colombians. Whenever someone asks, I say I’m Colombian, but then I have to quickly clarify – when asked “de que parte?” – that I was born here to Colombian parents I wasn’t born in Colombia, so how could I claim it as a nationality? I’m a half-Colombian.

The same could be said about being half-American, although I guess if you really want to get down to the basics, I’d be three-fourths American and one-fourth Colombian. After all, I don’t like natilla or sancochos, and I’m not that fond of sporting the yellow-blue-and-red bracelets and bands to sport my nationality. I was born here, and I am proud to be an American where we have the ability and freedom to work hard and bask in the opportunity of getting ahead. I even enjoy country music. But I’m not really “American” here; I’m a Latina or a Hispanic. American-born but not really American, whatever that means.

I’ve noticed, though, that the older I get, the more American and less Colombian I seem to become. It makes me sad because I still live in the memories of Colombia and I want my son to grow up with that, only I have to concede that he is second generation American, born to a Colombian-American mother and a Chilean-German-American father. He will know the fragments of Colombian-Chilean-German culture that my husband and I have brought with us. For me, the memories that I hope to pass on include the music, the alegria and the bunuelos and empanadas.

Yesterday, I was almost Colombian again. We got together to celebrate a birthday and most of my mom’s family was there – seven of the eight women and three men that make up my mom’s siblings (as an only child, I absolutely loved having such a large, extended family). In addition to my mom and aunts, the house was decorated with cousins ranging from the mid-thirties to the pre-teens, our grandfather – the patriarch of the family – and other in-law family members. As in most of our celebrations, the men took out their guitars, passed out miscellaneous musical instruments to those willing participants, and the voyage into a musical past began. The songs were mostly those that they grew up listening to although a few current ones made their way into the repertoire, such as “Camisa Negra” and “Esta Vida.” As in my memories, my grandfather danced a cumbia with each of his daughters and one of my aunts video-taped the celebration.

When I was younger, such celebrations were many times met with crafty resistance on my part. When we had the Noche Buenas or New Year celebrations, the locations were filled swiftly with family and friends, and then just as swiftly divided by age groups. The children would run and jump and play around the adults, while the teenagers sulked in corners at having to attend such “boring” events. The adults would sit around in fold-up chairs piled neatly against the walls and the chatter would be nostalgic reminiscences of times past- who married whom, who died, who had left, who was now working for so-and-so, and who had migrated to another country. They would laugh and cry and say, like Alan Jackson’s song, “Remember when…” Then, I was one of the teenagers, sipping aguardiente behind my mother’s back (because my father never went to these events – he always stayed home) and thinking about the other things I could be doing that did not involve being there. Today, though, I miss those gatherings. The responsibilities of adulthood and the change that comes naturally with time prevent me from being part of those celebrations as much. Now, most of my family lives a good two hours away that, while not that much, prevents family-hopping during holidays since most of my husband’s family lives locally. So the times, like yesterday, when everyone comes down here to celebrate, I immerse myself in the memory-made-real.

And it leaves me feeling almost Colombian, at least while I’m there. Once I’m back in my car, going back to my Colombian-Chilean-German-American home, I lose some of the “Colombianness” and become half-Colombian again.

Blog, Ramblings, Writing

Mi Viejo

The previous post got me googling and looking up Piero and his songs since I couldn’t remember all of them. It had been a long time since I’d heard them and the more I remember my father, the more I remember tidbits of music; his life revolved around his music many times, and these songs usually trigger specific memories.

This one song in particular was beautiful. It is an ode to the aging father. It brings me to tears now, when I listen to it, not only because this was one of my father’s favorites, but because of the poignant words.

Here is a youtube video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x36zzkUB2tc.

And here are the lyrics:

Es un buen tipo mi viejo
Que anda solo y esperando
Tiene la tristeza larga
De tanto venir andando

Yo lo miro desde lejos
Pero somos tan distintos
Es que crecio con el siglo
Con tranvia y vino tinto

Viejo mi querido viejo
Ahora ya camina lerdo (lento)
Como perdonando el viento
Yo soy tu sangre mi viejo
Soy tu silencio y tu tiempo

El tiene los ojos buenos
Y una figura pesada
La edad se le vino encima
Sin carnaval ni comparsa

Yo tengo los años nuevos
Y el hombre los años viejos
El dolor lo lleva dentro
Y tiene historias sin tiempo

Vejo mi querido viejo
Ahora ya camina lerdo (lento)
Como perdonando el viento
Yo soy tu sangre mi viejo
Soy tu silencio y tu tiempo

Yo soy tu sangre mi viejo
Yo soy tu silencio y tu tiempo

Yo soy tu sangre mi viejo