American Headlines

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Returning to Santana…

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(Originally written March 2011, revised September 2011)

I still remember the first time I passed the funeral home upon my return to Santa Ana, California in 2008. The local commuters easily dismissed the mundane building, but to me Brown Colonial Mortuary marked the end of my childhood. It was difficult returning to Santana since it reminded me of my father’s death but I have to admit, leaving it the second time was more heartfelt than the first.

Brown Colonial Mortuary is located on 17th street and it was the first place I witnessed my father lay in a coffin at his young age of 36. A coffin I chose for him when I was merely 13 years old. I sit here only six weeks away from outliving my father, and yet I still think of him at every successful event in my life, as well as at every disappointment. And well right now, I feel a bit of both, success with some disappointment.

Mourning my departure from Santana has been like mourning my father. I feel like a part of me lives in the past, kind of like a childhood memory, which eventually grows to be embellished and retold to friends who only see the façade that is being described by the narrator, which in this case, it’s me.

Santana is where I grew up. But since everything that surrounded us served as a reminder of my father, our mother decided to move away months after he died.

Twenty years later I returned. Foolishly thinking, I used the little book I wrote to make them proud of me. But to be honest I didn’t know who they were. So part of me was this little girl going back to her childhood community to receive approval from the dad she left behind.

I returned with great pride and tried my hardest to promote my book, a book that was poorly edited and in which I have yet to hear from my publisher since 2008. But yet I’m grateful for the experience. I couldn’t wait to present in Santa Ana schools, I hoped the youth of Santa Ana would find some relevance in my life.

Upon entering a local middle school, I felt like the Sunday morning before church, I was dressed in my nice clothes, ready to see my friends and celebrate our culture and pride. It was the moment I had built up in my head, I was going to present my book for the first time in a Santana school and in the end the youth and teachers would be inspired to follow their dreams. But I came out of the event highly disappointed about the changes that had occurred since my childhood. I thought I would be sharing struggles form the past, struggles that only their parents felt. Again, I felt so naïve.

The circumstances seemed worse than before. Teachers wore tired faces and some students were simply not interested while others were too embarrassed to admit in front of their friends that they were. Then some others reminded me of the stigma I received as an ESL student, except the new label was now identified as undocumented. I found myself thinking of my dad’s death and reflecting on how it had opened my eyes to the real life.

Some days later, I started a quest to find a way to help the youth feel my pride and ambition. Along the way I met several amazing community leaders from a local cultural center. I even fell in love with one but I still felt like an outsider to this place that had for a long time lived in my heart as my home.

In my mind, I had glorified Santa Ana to be culturally unified. My memory shows it as a vibrant mural that portrays my parents in arms with loyal friends protesting for tenant rights, next to an image of my sisters and I walking down the church isle to deliver the blood and body of Christ to a Catholic priest, while my childhood playmates of various ethnicity, Caucasian, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Mexican-American, African-American, Samoan and Tongan, all play together on a beautiful, lush school playground.

But yet somehow now I found it segregated and arid, nothing like the image I had created as a memory. You may be reading (hearing) this and thinking that I write with disappointment, I truly do not. I still refer to Santa Ana with great pride but my vision of it is not as naïve, possibly too realistic now. My memories from before have been replaced with amazing experiences, good and some bad that include gentrification and a split community.

With the help of a great high school teacher and supportive community members, I started a program to empower youth, but unfortunately, two years later I had to leave. I couldn’t make ends meet and couldn’t find my place in the local politics. Sadly, I feel like I failed rooting myself in Santa Ana, not just professionally but also personally. Now I’m starting to think that I will never find a place, if I can’t make it work in my childhood city, where will I be able to plant myself?

With my reflection, I have grown to appreciate that we have to experience some negative circumstances in order to appreciate those small moments of triumph. To me, that is what Santana is, small moments of triumph. Not just because of my personal experience but also for the multitudes of people and organizations that I have witnessed strive to nurture its culture and create new resources, which aim to serve real Santana residents.

I know I will return one day, but I feel like I need to be much better prepared, financially and spiritually because that is what our city deserves. And well, I have also come to terms with the fact that no one is going to be more proud of me than me, nor can I really expect anyone to understand my reasons but I should honor the roots created by the youth I have served and who continue to give back to our community relentlessly, representing all those who have paved the road and supported their future.

I once thought memories meant something, but it’s not the memories, it’s the people in my memories that make it meaningful. Now, I have a lot more people in Santana to define its existence.

So although 17th street will always cause tears, 5th and Broadway, Calle Cuatro, my bike fall on 1st, my first love on Cedar Street and my last heartbreak on Parton Street will now remind me of the many seeds I planted in Santana. From my partnership with an amazing teacher to everywhere the youth roamed in 2008 through 2010, from protesting against gentrification to spontaneous dancing in a driveway to open mic on a full moon and the congregation of wild womyn — among them all I have witnessed our future create history! All these memories wipe my tears away and give me pride to say, “I will return one day!”

Next time, I will not seek anything in return. I will simply go to appreciate what Santana is and has always been with and without me.


Written by sarahrafael

September 14, 2011 at 7:48 am

Lesson: 2011

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In a time where a new year brings reflections, I have started this piece by stating my 2010 lessons.

I have learned that love is more than passion. I have learned that in order to teach we must be willing to learn. Humans are all human. No one is better than the next unless the one next to you is someone who believes you are less because you are different from him or her, proving that your beliefs are actually better.

2010 was not about accomplishments. It was about enlightenment. I learned that friends are far and few between, but the ones that do exist are ones I will have through heartaches, moments of despair and will be there to see dreams come true, even if they take a lifetime. Additionally, some of my truest friends were first my students…I guess people must full heartedly believe in me so they can actually take time to get to know me.

We, as humans, are often tainted by money. Money creates ignorance, ignorance creates selfishness and selfishness well its just develops into segregation…regardless if you are working for the people or against the people, segregation is still segregation.

People perceive bluntness as bitterness…so if you speak your mind you must have a chip on your shoulder. If you take a favor from someone, you must repay the favor or it will be counted against you (unless it’s someone who does not expect reciprocation). And well if you don’t know someone that well…you have no obligation to respect him or her for more than what they do for you, after all that’s capitalism. So sad, that some of this is actually true (except for those in parenthesis).

But here is what I really learned: My 2010 enlightenment. I will not let any of this taint how I live, love and share my life in 2011.

I will continue to speak my mind, share my writings and love like I’ve never been loved before. Because if other’s perceptions outline our outcomes, well we may never realize that we can create change. Change is what keeps us evolving and brings us closer to reaching equality, inevitably humanity.

2010 was not about what went wrong, but what changed our lives and who, what and when it happened. It’s not about the things that didn’t happen, it’s about those small moments that did happen. I enjoyed each tear, smile, and moment of pride, state of disillusionment and broken heart. Without such lessons, I will not be able to appreciate the ones that are different in 2011.

So here’s to 2011, to my friends, family & all changers! To the DREAM Act, the youth, & all artists! Here is to all who believe we must unite to keep up the fight!

Here is to LGBT rights and all Queer lives! Here is to those who love unconditionally in order to perpetuate the idea that we can live as ourselves & still love ourselves!

Here is to 2011, the year of all lives, the year of being nothing but human. Here is to 2011, may we all be free to be who we are & still live our dreams!

I am who I am. I began before 2010 and will continue to be in the year to come. And I expect you all to do the same. This is my first lesson in 2011.

Written by sarahrafael

December 31, 2010 at 7:38 pm

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Living in the Moment…

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In the moment…I am captivated by the minute speck of forest green in front of me. Its origin is unknown but it expands to another green dot that is also connected yet to another. More dots start to interlink but now they transcend to other colors. Hues of green and blue are hovering over me, as if their presence was destined to be there in front of me at the exact moment in time. All sharing that particular space, in my presence. They continue to take form, lending themselves to a transparent white film that sways into different dispositions as time passes. My mind begins to wonder.

I have often heard the phrase “live in the moment,” it is usually used by those trying to comfort me in a time of insecurity. Either in stressful matters like a vacation mishap or an unexpected intimate situation. It has also been used as “live in the present,” which I try to apply when admiring nature or observing small victories in regular life.

Upon pondering such concepts, I usually make it a point to follow through. I pull it off for awhile. In fact, I think I convince others to do it as well – while on my journey to living in the moment. But with time, which can be a couple of days or possibly a series of months…I seem to return to planning, predicting, nostalgic memories, reminiscing through past lessons and even wishing to go back in time to change the near future.

It’s as if those periods have become my daily moments. My past and future have infected my present. How do I live in the moment, when I have been taught to constantly plan out my life and remember my mistakes and past experiences?

I’m sure if I had the answer I would not be writing this now. At this moment, you are in my moment. You are reflecting on your past to relate in this present we are both in, well actually it is now my past. Your mind is making the connection with each word you read, each letter you encounter is a just a speck connected to another which eventually forms something you can understand and grasp with your own past experiences or future expectations. Or maybe you have stopped reading and I am back in the moment on my own.

Do you see my dilemma? How do we decipher what is in the moment? I mean, doesn’t it feel like each moment is just a reflection of our past and possibly just transcending what we expect in the future? Do we ever really live in the present?

The colors have taken shape. Brown limbs dangle the green leaves over me. I feel the moist wet grass beneath me as the blue skies peek through a cluster of green. A gap between two tree branches allows for the white clouds to wisp by slowly in my presence. I lie under the aged oak tree, taking it all in. It makes me think aloud, “I could definitely live in this moment for a life time.” Yet the mere idea would only result in each day reflecting the last and tomorrow would be as expected.

Written by sarahrafael

August 23, 2010 at 5:33 pm

American Headlines – Youth in Solidarity

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Dedicated to the many Youth taking a stand against SB1070, advocating for human rights & demanding to pass the Dream Act. Special acknowledgement to Abraham, Iuri, Pavis, Jonathon, UMER, Barrio Writers, Youth Speaks & OC Dream Team!


Murmurs disperse from various directions. Her palms hide her nervous face and quivering lips. I am not sure if her actions are part of the presentation or if she is getting ready to bolt from the stage.

Arms stretch out from those that once surrounded her when she was part of the audience. But now, they don’t dare disrupt her concentration under the spotlight. Their fingertips wiggle out to her as if they give off good vibes, empowering her to speak into the lonely microphone.

Free yourself poet,” a whisper comes from the young man sitting next to me. He sits staring at her, not moving a single limb. He centers his energy on his lips. I stare at him closely as his licks them once again. He bites down on the bottom lip and sounds off the words delicately, “Free yourself poet.”

While uncovering her face, the words begin to make their way from deep in her stomach, to up her chest and once they hit her lips, they belt out of the microphone. Her heart pounds through each word that was carefully chosen to make a point, to defend her passion.  She lowers her harms. They hang to her side with tightly held fists.

His own fist waves over his head, punching in repetition. The megaphone covers his mouth. “What do we want?” he shouts as the the wrinkles on his forehead form and his nostrils begin to flare. The young man resembles a Vietnam soldier from the seventies. He wears camouflaged pants, an army jacket and a t-shirt that reads “Legalize Arizona.”

Justice!” shouts back the crowd of students that circle around eight others lying on the ground, restrained together for a cause. Those marching around them include youth of all skin colors, shouting in different languages. The majority of them wear t-shirts demonstrating their cause or resistance. The streets are blocked off by police. They keep marching, shouting and resisting.

She resisted. She resisted the officer’s command to stand up. After cutting off the chain and pipe from their wrists, their symbol of solidarity, she regained strength to continue the resistance. They dragged the young woman to the police van. Eight of them were arrested on Santa Ana Boulevard. They lied there for hours. Under the sun, some grew thirsty, others fatigued from the anxiety. One young man shouted poetry to proclaim his commitment to human rights for all. He laid out on the black tar resembling the man at the cross, with his arms sprawled out and beads of sweat dripping off his brow. They were oblivious to the police lines forming. All they could see were the faces of those over them, protecting them from the heat, voicing their support and quenching their thirst.

He was thirsty but had just been declined to use the local café’s restroom because they assumed he was not a patron. In fact, they sent the brown-skinned employee to explain to him. He had planned to purchase a tea. Since he is aiding those participating in the hunger strike, he can not think of purchasing anything else because his friends were sacrificing their daily meals, 5 days have passed and they will continue to dream.

After the conversation, his thirst was coated with anger. But the only desire he gave into was to continue demanding education for his best friend. After all, they both had the same dreams in life. He just did not understand why his friend had to go through the obstacles alone. He was tired of others starving for equality, so he decided to take a stand.

After years of loyalty as a soldier, he found his own country had a bigger battle to fight than those on foreign lands. He volunteered his military training as a medical assistant to allow others the opportunity to fight for their lives in the United States, fight for their dreams.

Dreams are what keep me going. I couldn’t help but look around me. I wanted to get a glance of their faces. I want to see that moment in which it hits them. The moment in which they become motivated because I know when I see it, that feeling will consume me too.

I look around to my students behind me, to those on my left, to those high in the back of the theatre. They probably think I’m checking up on them. But I’m not. I trust them more than anyone else I know.

I just don’t want to miss it. When their eyes widen, their hands clap, when their smiles stretch across their faces. I don’t want to miss when they sit there inspired enough to contemplate obtaining their own success because they finally believe that it can be done.  It is youth, like them, showing them the way.

We sat there amongst other groups with similar backgrounds, some traveling away from home for the first time, some from far away places like England and India. We are all there to listen to youth present poetry, life stories and life lessons.

Free yourself poet!” someone yells from back of the theatre. Two young men stand before us with smiles and pride as bright as the spotlights that shine above them. In solidarity they begin to share opinions, encouragement and above all a change that will lead us all to better days.

Written by sarahrafael

July 27, 2010 at 1:25 am