My 8 yr. old beat me at Scrabble tonight...

And his winning word was, yo! We looked it up in the urban dictionary and found this common word among teens,  tweens and rappers has an amazing bit of history. The word captured the nation's imagination when underdog boxing hero Rocky Balboa uttered it every five seconds in the 1970's cult classic film. But the word has deep roots in Philly culture.  According to the New York Times, South Philadelphia residents in the 1930's were mostly Italian immigrants from the southern region of Italy, Campania, which is part of Naples. In the Neopolitan dialect guaglione (pronounced guahl-YO-nay) means young man. The immigrants, as most immigrants have and will continue to do, (hello, Spanglish) shortened the word to guahl-Yo, which became whal-YO which was inevitably shortened to yo. The common greeting among Italian-American males was, "Hey, whal-YO," them to simply, "yo." And so it is today. 


My son was bored out of his mind when I read the etymology of the word, and basically said, "Yo mom, bottom line, I won!"



Of body image and women

It used to be that eating disorders was something that happened to teenagers and women in the 20's. It rarely happened in poor neighborhoods. And certainly not to women in 40's or 50s. By then, women would have worked on all their body issues and learned to live in their healthy skin as they approached middle age. Not so. A new phenomenon is taking hold.  More and more women in the 50's are showing up at eating disorder clinics battling anorexia, bulimia ad laxative abuse.  When does hating our bodies stop? At what age, do we women have Aha moments and learn to love ourselves one muffin top, or chicho at a time?

In the last two months I have noticed a beautiful change in me and a more loving attitude toward my body. It started with hot yoga. I completed a 30-day self imposed hot yoga challenge and have seen all aspects of my life improve. Hot Yoga or Bikram Yoga is a series of 26 poses that stretch you from head to toe practiced for 90 minutes in a studio heated 105 degrees. It sounds worse that it really is and I get it's not for everyone. It is for me. I went to the yoga practice to help heal an achy back and what I have learned in the process has been transcendental.

I have a new relationship to my body. I listen to it more closely and I respect it more. During the stretches--I am not super flexi, so I feel them--I learned that my body tells me when it's reached it's limit. I don't judge it, I accept it. I work to stretch it a little more at a time, next time. I learned that our bodies have the capacity to heal. I also learned that what you put into it--food, drink, drugs--can be poison. If I have two beers, the next day I feel it during practice. It's all moderation, it really is.  The other thing that has happened is more patience with myself and a more open heart. This patience and open heart has trickled to the people I love too. I am more patient with my kids, and those I love. And it's done wonders for my creativity. I am inspired more than ever.


Does planning your funeral make you morbid?

Death is a taboo subject in American society. If you bring it up, people think you are suicidal, sick, morbid or all three. Something is definitely not normal for a healthy person to bring up death and if you do it happily, forget about it-something is most definitely up with you! So my mother's recent obsession with planning her funeral has the family in a bit of a tizzy.

My brother texted me today worried that our mother--a healthy and vibrant 67-year old-- was a little too obsessed with planning life six feet under.  This weekend, she went casket shopping. She went at it hoping to find the perfect box like a bride does a dream wedding gown. My bro asked me to phone her because something was definitely not cogent.  And I did. After chatting about the kids, writing and the banalities of life, I point blank asked mother what was up with the sombre planning? She immediately blamed my little brother for telling on her and laughed out out, more like a LMAO if we were texting, and said that we worry and does protest too much. There she was quoting Shakespeare again, or at least his Puerto RIcan cousin.

She broke it down for me:  "Death is the most certain thing in life," my love, she says, "in fact, it's so close to each of us that it's right behind our ears." And with that, she went on to explain that she wanted to make sure that she "liked" the casket she would be viewed in. Color of choice: white. Style: elegant.  She explained herself eloquently too: It's not morbid and nothing is "wrong" with me. I want to leave everything planned so all you kids" -- her five children and special grandchild whom she considers a son -- "will be there surrounding me in my beautiful casket without having to run around grieving and planning. My dad did it and so did mom." Hilarious. We both laughed. I couldn't believe it, I laughed...


Perspectives

A friend shared with me one of his life philosophies for getting past moments whenever he gets stuck: "if you change the way you look at things,  the things you look at change." Sage words from Wayne Dyer.

Flowers come out in the Spring and so do the wolves...

This morning, as I stepped outside my door, I saw a gaggle of male construction workers gathered on the corner waiting to start an honest day's work. You know where this is going right...  I took a deep breath and proceeded to walk past them refusing to cross the street. I immediately noticed how my body--covered head to toe because winter freeze refuses to leave us--tensed up. And for the first time in a long, long time, I wanted to be invisible. In fact, I said to myself, "I am invisible, they don't see me" as I walked proudly between the thick wall of testosterone. But of course I wasn't invisible and several of them muttered some ish under their breaths about how "hot" I was. I wanted to throw up. Now, some men and yes, some women will argue that these are harmless compliments, nothing to get mad about. You know, males just expressing themselves. But, the issue is more complex than a woman not liking male attention or knowing how to accept a compliment. Sometimes, these alleged harmless advances turn sour or deadly when women don't acknowledge them. I've been yelled at, cursed at for refusing to smile or say thank you.  One young woman was killed in DC last year for refusing to respond to a male aggressor. Thanks to HollabackNew York City is considering banning cat calling near school zones.


I know what you are made of... do you?


This morning I spotted this beautiful reminder scrawled on a gate guarding a store on 14th Street in New York City. In case you've forgotten, you are the universe. You matter. You are filled with beautiful potential to achieve great things. Don't let it go to waste. Nurture that good angel and live life to your highest potential.

Is violence fundamentally part of human nature?

Is violence fundamentally part of human nature? What triggers it? Why can some people talk themselves out of anger and others attack with their fists or words, shoot to kill, maim, or declare war? Is evolution--education, progress--making some humans more peaceful?  Or do we just have better tools to control ourselves--think counting one through ten, thinking happy thoughts, repeating Ohm...

The Spaghetti Subway fight of a few days ago and a brawl I bumped into yesterday has made me think of violence in a more profound way.  

I was walking to get my fancy flax seed quinoa bread at Whole Foods in my fancy downtown neighborhood of Manhattan yesterday when I bumped into a fight between two men outside the famed hot dog City spot, Chelsea's Papaya. A man was punching the lights out of another man. It was brutal, one man on the floor was gushing blood out his mouth, I think he'd lost a tooth. I had been blissfully listening to Prince's "Purple Rain," when I came across this frightful sight. I screamed. The crowd that had gathered was just looking--and I was reminded of the stories I've read about the brutal gladiator fights. Everyone seemed to be enjoying the gruesome spectacle. I kept screaming, what are you doing, stop it, stop it.. stop it... I'm not quite sure if that was what made man number one stop swinging,  but he did. 

I don't know why these two men were going at it--did one cut the other in line for a hot dog, did another guy make an unwanted pass at him (this is Chelsea, after all and the homophobes are everywhere.)  But just like that, man number one, a beefy dude who'd clearly f**ked up the other more scrawny male, stepped away from his victim on the floor and into the shop and ordered his two hot dogs for a dollar, the Recession Special. The other wobbled up 7th Ave, dizzy and bleeding.

What could have triggered this madness in the middle of a beautiful sunny Spring morning. And whatever it was, was it that serious? My anthropological mind was not about to go digging.  I was left shuddering and wondering about violence.

And I thought, have I become a wimpo? I mean everywhere around there is violence--Darfur, Congo, Puerto Rico, Iraqu, Afghanistan War, Middle East, name the county--but, these are all images and stories I read and see in media, steps removed. It's not inside my home or family, and I work to keep it far away. Violence was part of my childhood neighborhood, home, and after seeing lots of it, I made a conscious decision that I did not want it in my life. Yes, I've had hiccups here and there, ie, I pushed a woman on the subway who was suffocating my 6-year old, but on the whole, violence of any kind, physical, verbal, spiritual is a no no. Only sweetness is allowed. Even negative people have been exfoliated from my surroundings.

It may seem naive but this violence free life makes me happy. I can't control the world, and random violence, but I certainly can control me and infuse my life and children with the same kind of spirit. So the morning sight, in front of me, not on TV or iPad, ruined my stomach, it made me feel pained for both the one who was beat up and the one doing the beating. Why couldn't they talk it out? Why resort to punching each other out?

Jasmin's moon over Harlem is so lovely

Jasmin K. Williams photo of the moon in Harlem

Supermoon over New York City skies

 The moon looked like it swallowed itself.

How you walk speaks volumes about you...

It was the beautiful Spring day in the City which got me thinking about walking--maybe it was the sun but everyone seemed to be walking the happy walk. How you walk reveals so much of the goings on inside your head--whether it's strife or joy, fear or confusion, daze or amaze--how you stand, stride, shuffle, glide and move forward in life tells the world what you think about yourself or how you're feeling that day.

Everything is revealed--whether you are confident or scared, shy or annoyed, sick with the flu or insanely in love--all of you is on display. And the truth is that most people go through life blissfully unaware of the message that they are sending to the world.

I know that I walk with confidence. One ex-colleague told me that I walked like I was on the runway--and though I am sure she was being a snarky frenemy--I know what she did notice was that I radiate comfort in my skin. The pep in my step shows that I am a confident woman aware of my body and the moment--a don't mess with me kind of attitude. I occupy the space right.

A couple of years ago I was on a tour of a majestic waterfall in the Costa Rican forest near the Panamanian border. The eight tourists, myself included, were climbing up a steep hill and holding on to rocks, trees, branches and the earth as we steadily made our way up the lush terrain. Everyone was second guessing each step, temerity was on the menu. I went up the mountain like I was walking up Madison Avenue, with gusto. And it's not that I was or am an experienced hiker--it was my first time. Rather, I embraced the new terrain and moved gracefully, with respect for the earth, but with certainty. Doubt can get you in trouble when you are hiking up a steep hill just like it can get you mugged in the wrong neighborhood if you are not careful. The Rasta guide turned to me and said, "lady, I could tell you know how to walk right... the way you are climbing the mountain shows me you are not afraid of the earth, you honor it and yourself." True to that!


How did I learn to walk this way? I watched my fierce mother for one. She walks with authority and even in her golden years, she has this way about her that says, I know who I am and where I am and don't mess with me. She'd always remind us to walk right, straight when we slouched. One of my sisters especially got hit on the head because she had a habit of walking with her head tilted to the side. Mom watched us, and guided us and made us aware of our body language and what we were saying to the world. 

I notice that people today really don't pay attention to how they walk-- they slouch, rush, and clog up sidewalks with their waddles. It's amazing to watch. 

A tiny miracle in Japan in the midst of catastrophe

A friend sent me a note that he received from a musician in Japan. It was a sad and powerful read. My heart shattered so I searched for inspiring stories in the midst of this harrowing nightmare to fill me with hope. I found the story of a four-month old baby girl who was rescued in the rubble yesterday. She was reunited with her father who was at a local shelter. A tiny miracle that radiates hope in the midst of a harrowing nightmare. 

This is note I received from Japan written by someone on the ground: "As each day goes by, we realize that how serious this is becoming. We constantly receive new information about everything from everywhere…what's really happening there now. Besides more than 4,000 died and more than 15,000 are missing and 500,000 lost homes and evacuating without electricity, food, water anything at all. The worst and the most dangerous problem is the nuclear power plant. Four of them are seriously in trouble. They keep having more accidents and they can't even explain anything because nothing like this ever happened before. It is getting so close…massive meltdown. 

Poor Puerto Rico, so close to the US, so far from God

Puerto Rico was in the news today and it wasn't because of the beat downs suffered by the UPR student demonstrators.  (Check out the fine coverage on the issue by my smart friend, writer Ed Morales.) The White House's Interagency Task Force on Puerto Rico's status issued a report that answered some questions on the future relationship between the island and the US. The people of this enchanting Caribbean isle are still--500 years after a lost Columbus landed there and claimed it for the Spanish throne--trying to figure out its place in the world. It's a long report, but boiled down to: Don't get dressed, you ain't going no where..."no te vistas que no vas." The White House report confirms what the United Nations has been saying forever--PR is a colony. See Guam and DC. Yes, Ricans have fought in American wars since 1917, and many, many have died or come back from these conflicts limbless, maimed and with all sorts of mental health issues. Yes, Ricans vote in presidential elections, see the confusion in the 2008 primary but their elected Congressional Representative, is a non-voting member of the institution. Confused? Not alone. Many Americans are. But, this is Obama's attempt to fulfill a campaign promise. His Taskforce determined that it will take two plebiscites to figure out the island's future. Only residents of the island will get to vote. Taskforce co-chairs Tom Perelli, from the Department of Justice and Cecilia Muñoz, from the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs held a conference call which PR's main newspaper El Nuevo Dia printed in its entirety. By the way, neither chair would go on the record to say what will happen after the islanders make a decision - independence, statehood, or stay the same. The future of the island's status remains in Congress no matter what the voters decide. When I think of the island's political situation, I am always reminded of that famous Mexican saying, "Poor Mexico, so close to the US, so far from God."

99 problems and a soap is one...

A trip to the local 99 cent store can be so trippy. You meet up with crazy, big time. First, nothing is ever 99 cents! Then there is the weird array of products you find, a sea of rejects--from expired toothpaste with no frills names, NoGate to Goya beans that defy description--all bound for some third world nation, except of course this is New York, New York. Today's find was particularly intriguing. A bag of detergent labeled, Hispanic Soap. I had to buy it. Of course, it was not 99 cents--set me back $1.49. Did  little digging because I was filled with questions: who would manufacture Hispanic Soap, what does it smell like and does it really work? What kind of crazy marketing gig is this? Is this a gag? Who are the "brains" behind this product. Oh, the questions were endless. So far this is what I've learned: The detergent smells like an industrial complex, very harsh, it hurt my nose and gave me a slight brain freeze. I'm afraid to wash anything because it might disintegrate. The texture is like grated parmesan cheese, except it's yellow.

She does not know her beauty...

No Images

By William Waring Cuney

She does not know, 
her beauty,
she thinks her brown body
has no glory.

If she could dance
naked
under palm trees
and see her mage in the river,
she would know.

But there are no palm trees 
on the street,
and dish water gives back 
no images.

Sammy Sosa Syndrome Spreads to US Latinos

THE BLACK and indigenous grandmother all but disappeared from Sammy Sosa's face two years ago and now it seems it's gone from US Latino homes too. According to a USA Today analysis of the Census 2011, the majority of Latinos, when given a choice to choose a race, checked off white. I am not shocked by these findings. The fact is that Hispanics -- here and South of the Rio Grande -- have a very complicated history with race. As a group at the core we are delusional and self-hating when it comes to race. When we look in the mirror, we refuse to acknowledge the black or brownness in our DNA, a tragic result of colonization.

While many people of African and indigenous descent live in every Latin American nation, both because they are descendants of the native peoples of the region or because their ancestors were stolen from Africa and brought over during the slave trade of the 15th, 16th and 17th century, descendants of these populations have been exploited and invisible and in some countries even denied, see Mexico, see Sammy Sosa. Hispanics prefer to boast about the Spanish, i.e European grandma with blond hair and blue eyes, and conveniently forget la india or la negra. As the rapper Tego Calderón eloquently told me during an interview in 2007, "we were lulled into thinking we are the same."

A DNA study in Puerto Rico may tell the story of the entire region. While in the 2000 Census 80% of island Puerto Ricans self-identified as white, a maternal DNA study found that only 12% of the population has maternal European ancestry. The majority had 61 % Native American (as in Taino, Arawak, Igneri) and 25 % African. The whitening process that happened on the island in the early part of the last century was replicated all over the Spanish Americas.

No surprise that in 2011, the descendants of a glorious people, when looking at their reflection in the mirror see ivory not ebony. And some tragically reach out for the whitening cream.

Is there racism in telenovelas?

I WAS RAISED watching Spanish language soaps and as a little girl I wondered why all the stars looked more like my mother and sister, light-skin, freckles and blond by birth, not Clairol, than my oldest sister and me, wooly black hair and African and indigenous features. As the children of a black father and a light skin mother, we lived diversity in our home. It was never lost on my precocious child mind that girls who looked like me or my big sis were never the leading lady. When I tuned into English language TV shows, the lack of diversity in programming was just as bad, which may explain why I wanted to change my name to Sandy Rodgers. (Read more on that tragic and hilarious episode of my life in my book.)


But I remember that my mother - who spoke very little English -- made the entire family watch the groundbreaking miniseries "Roots." I'm not so sure if mom realized the impact that the show would have on us, her tribe of multi colored children, but I will always thank her for turning me on to the saga of Kunta Kinte. As much fun as some of the kids in my grade school made of Kunta and Kizzy, I was able to feel a little bigger because I witnessed perseverance, bravery and beauty in black people on TV. These characters left an indelible mark on my very young soul.

Fast forward to 2011, and the situation is pretty much still the same. Arturo Arias-Polo's column in today's El Miami Herald eloquently raises the question of whether the invisibility of black Latinos in telenovelas translates to racism. (Read article after the jump.)


To me that question has long been answered, and it's a huge sí señor, sin duda! The bigger and more important question is, what are Telemundo and Univision going to do about it. There is a lot of hope now on Univision since the appointment of Cesar Conde, a US born-and-raised Peruano. Conde may have the looks of a soap star himself with his European good looks, but Peru has one of the largest and prolific Afro Latino communities in all South America, so if he knows his native country's history, he might want to challenge the status quo and shake things up and the behemoth network. I have hope in Conde. But he might need a little push. More of us writers raising the question. The audience demanding diversity in the programming? And perhaps, even  getting the FCC involved?  

Hug yourself today...

WHY DO WOMEN have such a hard time practicing self-care?

I write and talk a lot about the importance of self-care in The New Latina's Bible and in my talks. It's a practice that involves taking care of your mind, body and soul before attempting to meet anyone else's needs. As a lifestyle, it involves incorporating a philosophy that is infused with a first me, then the world attitude. Women of color, especially, find this a very challenging concept.

A friend tells me of the airplane story. The flight attendant encourages that in the case of an emergency, oxygen masks will drop and adults traveling with small children should place the mask on themselves before the child. For most women of color, that is a no no, "the mask goes on my child first!"

I get it... I have two children. But the thing is, a mom can only help her child when she is breathing right! That kind of sacrificed love is dangerous because ultimately a child needs a healthy mother, not a martyr.

During my talks, I usually ask women in the audience to raise their hands if they are at the very top -- as in number one -- on their daily To Do lists. I ask them for real honest answers, not the kind-a answers that impress the speaker or others in the audience. And 8 out of 10 women usually fess up -- no!! Sometimes, some confess that they are not even in the top 10 things they got to do for the day list! The reasons on why run the gamut from, "I have more pressing issues - my newborn, my toddler, my wayward teen, a sick parent, an intense job... etc etc" As they explain their many reasons, many of these beautiful, smart, professional women catch themselves in the apparent contradiction of their justifications.

Another reason to love Idris Elba

MY ALMA MATER, Rutgers University, hosted Len's Project "Artist Spotlight," featuring the talented British actor Idris Elba last week. And his candid exchange is worth checking out. Said the Golden Globe nominated and British born actor: "The Oscars are not made for us, lets focus on making films."