What Richard Blanco’s Looking for the Gulf Motel Taught Me About Identity

Aracely PictureAs I lay curled up in an armchair reading Richard Blanco’s third book Looking for the Gulf Motel, I was struck by his diversity and approach. In my personal life, when my writing suddenly shifted towards interactions with my father and references to Mexican culture- I housed a fear that I would be pigeon holed. Surely no one wanted to read ten poems all dealing with my father, and italicized Spanish words. However, words like chiles and tortilla popped up again and again, along with whole lines of dialogue in Spanish.

Somehow,- it wasn’t enough, just to talk about my father and discovering culture. There had to be something else, a layer or theme hiding from me I hadn’t explored yet. Blanco poetry showed me just that. Knowing he was a Cuban writer, I expected unbridled praise for his culture, imagery upon imagery of joyous family gatherings, and ethnic dishes. It wasn’t quite what I imagined.

Reading the poem for which the book is named, I realized there was so many other layers to exploring culture. In the poem he touches on the intricacies of poverty, shame and trying to exist in a society that is not completely forgiving. Amidst this, he celebrates, he creates the true immigrant experience of being out casted, a pariah, and in that humility rebuilding pride, but accepting the weight of practicing culture in different country.

Blanco also explores how his sexuality relates to his culture. He does this in a poem about his grandmother suspecting he was gay, and what the cultural implications of that were. Knowing how the LGBT community is viewed from the traditional Hispanic lens, I felt for him.

More than that, Blanco taught me that even though culture can be beautiful, and rich, you can walk the line of being an in-between, you can criticize it, and be fond of it.

Most recently, with this nugget of knowledge, I’ve been exploring the difficulties of having mixed heritage, being Irish American on my mother’s side and Mexican’s on my fathers.

For a long time I suppressed this desire to voice this confusion. Now I see I can, I have permission to celebrate, and express my identity and its intricacies.

Aracely Medina, Senior Poetry Editor

The Biggest Change

PICTURE BrianaMan is not only made of skin, flesh and bones, but also of personal history. What influences someone to grow and shape himself or herself into the person they wish to be, is heavily affected by their experiences. Each of us has a story, some tragic and emotional, some simple, all equally as impactful.

At the start of my teenage years, when I became far more aware of the world around me, I began to recognize the emotional depths of people, specifically my father. As a kid, seeing him upset always registered as something temporary, something he could mend with a good night’s sleep, and his favorite snack. Soon, I learned, it wasn’t that simple.

I learned my father had clinical depression when I was fourteen and he was admitted into a mental facility for the first time. The weeks leading up to his admission, he had drastically changed. He lost twenty-five pounds and all the color in his skin.

He had always been the kind of man who danced on tabletops in fancy restaurants and laughed loud enough for an entire room to hear. He empowered others with his wisdom and he was a role model. He was a man who, more than anyone else, loved the art of living. He was also a man who was fighting for his life.

He didn’t experience another episode until the months leading up to August of 2015. The patterns remained the same. He lost weight and ambition and on August 6th, he took his life.

Often times in dealing with death, people express the hurt in losing someone else. They describe the pain felt in never seeing them, hearing them, or being with them again. I felt a much different pain.

Losing him meant losing my knowledge. He was the one who stayed awake with me at three a.m. eating peanut butter only sandwiches and discussing the history of the world. Losing him meant losing perseverance. He was the only one who always reminded me I was capable. The one who pushed me into the pool to prove to myself I knew how to swim. He showed me that words were art and that with them I was capable of changing the world. Losing him meant losing heart and passion.

With any loss, other things are gained as a consequence. I’m waiting for those things and, slowly but surely, I am learning that they do come eventually.

-Briana Lopez, Senior Editor-in-Chief

Dancing Queen, Only 17

Chelsea's Blog Post Picture In the card department of any drug store there is a section called, “Mile Stone” that holds cards for 5 year olds, 13 year olds, 16 year olds, 21 year olds, and 50 year olds. It’s doubtful that you’ll find a card to give your seventeen year old, sort of mature but not really daughter or cousin. You might find one out of one hundred cards for a newly 16 year old, because someone at the Hallmark factory accidentally typed a seven instead of a six. That’s how it feels to be seventeen, not necessary and almost accidental.

When I woke up this morning the first thing I thought of was the popular 1976 Abba hit, not the fact that I was a year older. I even avoided thinking about getting a year older when my dad sat me down during breakfast and told me that he was proud of the young lady I’d become and that I was so mature at seventeen. Seventeen, he emphasized the age like I was turning seventy and he was one of my kids describing how old I was.

When you turn sixteen, there are more perks than not. You get to finally retrieve your license, unless you’re like me who waited too long to get her permit. You are officially a teen, a title many value and many more loathe. When I turned seventeen, I only thought about the cons. You’re one year older than a teen, but one year younger than a legal adult. You’re closer to being able to get a tattoo than you were at sixteen, but you still need your parent’s consent. I almost found myself wondering why we didn’t just skip age seventeen and let sixteen year olds just go straight to eighteen. Then I realized that fourteen year olds, eleven year olds, and forty three year olds probably feel the same way. Some of them might want to go backwards, while others want to fly into the future. These in between ages are a time to cringe about what you did when you were a year or two younger and dream about what you’re going to do when you’re older. In between ages are necessary, whether cards to cement them exist or not.

-Chelsea Ashley, Junior Website Editor